What we’re reading: Alice Nelson, Jenny Hval & J.P. Pomare

Each week we bring you a sample of the books we’re reading, the films and TV shows we’re watching, and the music we’re listening to.


Bronte Coates is reading The Children’s House by Alice Nelson

The Children’s House is the first book I read in the new year, and I found it incredibly moving. This is a generous story about trauma and displacement, family and finding home. Alice Nelson’s prose is beautifully crafted and contains that same quiet, yet intensely wounding, power that can be found in the fiction of authors such as Marilynne Robinson and Colm Tóibín. I know it’s always easy to get overwhelmed by exciting new releases at the start of the new year, but if you tend to this kind of prose, I definitely recommend making space on your TBR pile for this Australian novel.


Chris Gordon read through recommendations from her colleagues over the break

The following list of books were all originally recommended to me as suitable downtime reading material by people I trust and admire. All are confirmations of their excellent taste.

First off, if you are fortunate enough to still have time on your side and haven’t read Andrew Sean Greer’s Less yet – WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Get on it! This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is funny and sad, and a tremendous anecdote about how coincidences can be fateful and fruitful. I loved every single word.

I read Heartland from social commentator Sarah Smarsh. This is an analysis of her life growing up in the ‘heart’ of America. It’s not an easy read and actually, at times it was completely heartwrenching and baffling. However, it is a powerful reminder about how some people live and why they make the choices they do. We should never think Australia is immune.

The Book of Ordinary People by Claire Varley is the type of novel that focuses on the ways different peoples' lives intertwine. I enjoyed this story’s gentle pace and would recommend it for its authentic portrait of five ordinary (Melbourne) people, and the sometimes affecting stories we tell ourselves in order to make sense of who we have become. Perfect for a long weekend read.

Finally, I’m presently reading Anna Snoekstra’s very fast-paced novel about nasty teenagers. The Spite Game centres on the need for karma to be on the side of the victim, whoever that may be in this case. This is a tremendously fun book about a female protagonist who is downright disturbed – a thrilling joy to read and escapism at its very best.


Ellen Cregan is reading Call Me Evie by J.P. Pomare

In this tense debut novel, a young girl is being held captive far away from home. Her captor says it’s for her own protection, but as their time together goes on, she begins to question his intentions and sanity, as well as the truth of her own memories. It’s sort of hard to say much at all about this novel without giving too much of the plot away, so I won’t. What I can say is that Pomare is an expert at drip feeding details to his reader, and the result of this is a taut plot that is slowly unravelled. If you enjoy a slow-burning psychological thriller, this is a must-read.


Kara Liddell is reading Paradise Rot by Jenny Hval (translated by Marjam Idriss)

Jo, our protagonist, has moved to a strange new country for university. She moves into a house with no walls and shares the space with a woman who has no boundaries. This very visceral book sways between wakefulness and sleep deftly, and the lines between the body and the other are blurred and skewed with the turn of each page. When I’m not reading this book, I’m thinking about it. Every sense is heightened. If you want a book that makes you feel as though you’re somewhere new – somewhere strange – this beautifully packaged debut novel from one of Norway’s leading musicians is definitely for you.


Suzanne Steinbruckner is reading Jackfruit and Blue Ginger by Sasha Gill

I’ve been making a cooking hit list from a new cookbook. Subtitled ‘Asian favourites, made vegan’, it looks to be exactly that. The book is by Sasha Gill who, while studying away from her native Singapore, didn’t want to miss out on her favourite flavours, but also didn’t have the time or money for costly ingredients and over-complicated recipes. With useful introductory sections for basic recipes and techniques including a quick and easy recipe for ‘kewpie mayo’ using ingredients already in your kitchen, this book features loads of delicious looking dishes from India, Thailand, China, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia. I can’t wait to get into the kitchen and whip up a mound of these.


Paul Goodman is reading Outline by Rachel Cusk

After a (lengthy) discussion with a customer about Karl Ove Knausgaard, Rachel Cusk was brought up for the hundredth time; and so I finally purchased Outline, the first in her trilogy of the same name. Having read it in a couple of sessions I think it’s misleading to compare the two: while both are excellent examples of hyperrealist fiction, either loosely or fastidiously retelling parts of the writers’ lives (and both incredibly readable), that is where the similarities end. Where Knausgaard holds you by the lapels as he goes through life, forcing the reader to experience every embarrassment, revelation and joy as if it were happening to you, or rather you were his shield and bearing the brunt of these emotions, Cusk places a distance between the reader and the protagonist’s experiences as well as the reader and author herself.

The protagonist/author, known as Faye, arrives in Athens to teach a writing course. Through conversations with friends and strangers we learn the grand self-perceptions people like to spout if given the chance, and also by proxy, an outline of the protagonist herself. At first this detachment jarred, but then I got used to the idea that I wasn’t reading Knausgaard (I’ll stop saying his name now) and was in fact being presented with a very different character study that breezed past if you let it, or if you decided to engage, still left a lot to inference. The end result is a little left wanting because I’m desperate to know more about Cusk herself, and with this trilogy of novels this is certainly teased – in not so many words. The characters she meets are often bombastic and would be exhausting if true, but in these discussions much is said about memory and ego that helps to inform the reader about the difficulties of writing a series of books like the one they are currently reading. Nevertheless, events are still arranged in a way that makes narrative sense; so what we have is a book about someone who may or may not be Cusk, discussing what makes us human and how we as humans perceive ourselves and one another, with the line between fact and fiction intentionally blurred.

Outline is a really interesting, intellectually stimulating read, and I’ll be looking to grab the others in the series soon.

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Call Me Evie

Call Me Evie

J.P. Pomare

$29.99Buy now

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