May Highlights

Several books likely to make my best-books-of-the-year list are released this month – and also several surely bound for literary prize shortlists. It really is an extraordinary offering!

So, let’s dive in to the exceptionally strong range of new Australian fiction. First up is a debut from Maxine Beneba Clarke, Foreign Soil – a short-story collection that forswears any sort of literary comfort zone and represents a riveting encounter with our world through the prisms of race, class and gender. With stories ranging from white-fence Australia to an English slum, Jamaican emigrants to Sri Lankan refugees, Clarke initially faced rejections from publishers. Though accolades soon started to flow – Clarke was awarded the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript award in 2013 – and it quickly became apparent that there was something special in Clarke’s writing. In an interview earlier this year, Clarke reflected: ‘Australian readers are hungry for new voices, and they realise that the “new Australian” has local grounding and a global perspective. There is something in them that thirsts for writing that reflects this, even though they may not know it yet.’

A work also likely to make waves will be Ceridwen Dovey’s extraordinary second book, Only the Animals. It’s one of the boldest Australian story collections in recent years, and I was left simply in awe of this writer’s imagination and ability: though Only the Animals wears its literary antecedents (Kafka, Collette, Woolf, Coetzee et al.) lightly, it actually belongs in that sort of company. In short, it’s darkly imaginative and delightful. This statement could also describe Angela Meyer’s wonderfully dexterous debut book, Captives, a collection of micro- or flash-fictions. Emily Bitto, meanwhile, has written an utterly immersive first novel, The Strays, set in the Melbourne art world of the 1930s; and Tony Birch returns with another short-story collection, The Promise. Janette Turner Hospital also has a new novel, The Claimant, and a final local literary event of note is the publication – for the first time – of Elizabeth Harrower’s last novel, In Certain Circles.

I’ll finish up with mention of a doorstop of a book (yes, hasn’t every book been huge lately?), but one that will have you briskly turning the pages – indeed, you might not have read this quickly since Stieg Larsson. Joël Dicker’s The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair is entertainment of the exceptionally clever kind, with a particularly appealing cast of characters. For our reviewer, this is ‘a story that has such a twist I almost called in dead to work so I could stay home and finish it’.

Martin Shaw is Readings’ Books Division Manager.

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Foreign Soil

Foreign Soil

Maxine Beneba Clarke

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