August Highlights

It’s August, which of course means Melbourne Writers Festival time, and the maiden festival of new director Lisa Dempster. After some puzzling years seemingly chasing the extra-literary, I’m hoping they will be placing books and their authors front and centre this time around – for connecting them to readers is to my mind a festival’s sole raison-d’etre. That Laurent Binet is one of the internationals coming is a terrific early sign: his HHhH was one of my favourite novels of 2012.

The-Swan-Book-cover-shadow New releases in August are a diverse bunch, but no less exciting for that. The major Australian fiction release is Miles Franklin winner Alexis Wright’s follow up to Carpentaria, The Swan Book, which is set in a dystopic future Australia, ravaged by climate change. New Readings newsletter editor Belle Place reviews it here, and it’s clear that if the reader is prepared to give themselves over to what can be at times a demanding prose style, the rewards are very deep indeed. As Belle writes: ‘for those that hold tight, the majesty of Wright’s storytelling, like the wisest of old tales, is the type that should be returned to again and again.’

Two fascinating novels in translation are also appearing. From Italy, Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend had our reviewer transfixed: one of the freshest takes on female friendship she had ever read. Text is bringing out several more hitherto untranslated books by this author in the coming year. Meanwhile German writer Eugen Ruge has written an epic take on what it meant to live in East Germany both before and after reunification in In Times of Fading Light, using his own family history as a basis.

A couple of American novels must also be mentioned – an epic Southern tale in the tradition of Cormac McCarthy and more recently Philipp Meyer – Kent Wascom’s The Blood of Heaven; and the contemporary master of Southern Gothic, Daniel Woodrell (of Winter’s Bone fame), brings us The Maid’s Version.

Girt-Shadow In non-fiction, booksellers around the country have been very taken with their advance reading copies of Girt – a take on Australian history which is both informative and hilarious. Antony Loewenstein’s Profits of Doom is necessarily a more sombre read, but no less important for that – his thesis of a world increasingly operating under the principles of ‘vulture capitalism’ has special relevance to our own country’s refugee detention practices.

Finally a selection of assorted literary highlights: Peter Goldsworthy’s entrancing memoir of childhood, His Stupid Boyhood; Australian Love Poems 2013, an exquisitely produced selection from new Melbourne publisher Inkerman & Blunt; and the re-launch of Penguin’s famous green-spined crime fiction titles, now brought under the ‘Popular Penguin’ banner at just $9.95.


Martin Shaw is Readings’ Books Division Manager.