Mulligan’s Reading Recco’s 2017
tl;dr: Go read some Emily Maguire
An Isolated Incident — Emily Maguire
This was by far my stand out novel of the year. I’ve told everyone who’ll listen to go an urgently read it. I could easily grab your lapels right now, make you a cup of tea and sit you down with the book so we could talk about it more.
An Isolated Incident is a fantastic yarn about a bypassed highway town reeling from a murder. It had me hooked with a rough as guts main character and a recognisable setting of a tumbleweed country town.
I spent weeks after finishing it thinking about the characters. I love books that are squarely in Australian and probably indecipherable to Queen’s English. Hilariously, Emily Maguire wrote the story starring a truck stop sex worker from an authors retreat in Paris.
She’s excellent at capturing female characters, writing about sex in a relatable way and capturing the grit of how an Aussie country town runs. I don’t remember any of the men from the book and I endorse that.
Taming the Beast — Emily Maguire
I went back through Emily Maguire’s back catalogue after enjoying An Isolated Incident so much. The lady can write.
This book is a huge kick in the guts. It was her debut and it’s not one you forget. I’m not sure I enjoyed it but again, I couldn’t put it down. It’s incredibly heavy — the book centres around a relationship between a male teacher and a young female student.
It’s hard to read the graphic and frankly abusive account of the relationship and the impacts it has on the main character as she grows up and goes steadily off the rails. There’s no lovely resolution to this story, but it’s undeniably gripping.
Again, she can write! And she’ll go there with sex, vulnerability, self destruction… all the interesting stuff.
Fishing for Tigers — Emily Maguire
Continuing on my Emily Maguire streak — this was my least favourite of her books. Still the same entrancing writing diving into relationships and sex, but I think the “dull Aussie expat living in Vietnam for no discernible reason complaining often” is a little hard to empathise with.
A Little Life — Hanya Yanagihara
I loved A Little Life and I need to immediately follow that statement with a warning that it’s highly traumatic and a constant brick to the face for the reader.
It follows the lives of four male friends in New York City exploring their backstories and coming of age years. Beyond that, well, fuck.
I promise it’s worth it, but only read it if you’re in a good headspace. You will have a lot of feelings. It will stick with you. The writing is incredible, the characters are interesting and you end up really fond of them, they change and develop, there are moments of utter joy you get to experience with them. Overall though, you will be crushed into a morose paste by this book.
Black Rock White City — A S Patric
If you love Christos Tsiolkas, you’ll love this. This debut novel follows some weird goings on in a suburban Melbourne hospital and the life of the hospital’s janitor nursing a broken marriage. It harks back to the life of the characters had in Yugoslavia before and during the war.
The writing is interesting and evocative. The story keeps you turning pages.
All the Light We Cannot See — Anthony Foer
I was less than enthused about reading another fucking WW2 book but I found it to be nothing short of beautiful.
Burial Rites — Hannah Kent
I ignored all the recommendations and resisted reading this book for ages (what is an Aussie chick doing writing an Icelandic historic fiction?) but I really enjoyed it. What a cracking yarn.
Salt Creek — Lucy Treloar
This book centres on a family living in frontier SA and their interactions with the Aboriginal community. It covers the familiar colonial themes of isolation, precariousness, getting owned by nature well.
I found it to be good for the genre but there is something cringeworthy in the focus on this particular point in history endlessly being covered by white people and the huge amounts of “realistic for the time” racism.
The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies — Liane Moriarty
Glorious. So good, so easy to read. Love this variety of North Shore Yoga Mum drama. A strong “men ain’t shit” theme runs through both these books.
Homegoing — Yaa Gyasi
This super ambitious book follows multiple generations from West Africa at the time of slavery and tracks the trajectories of two families to present day. It necessarily leaves you a little unsatisfied at the conclusion of the time allotted to every generation.
Terra Nullius — Claire Coleman
Colonialism, only sci fi. This was so clever and honestly I found myself processing the invasion of Australia on a whole new level. About three quarters in I felt like I’d gotten what I was gonna get out of it and realised I didn’t care that much about the characters.
This was a debut novel, excited to read what comes next.
The Green Road — Anne Enright
I enjoyed this book. It follows four siblings of an Irish family and their mum back in County Clare through their various adventures. I have been harking back to one sibling in particular who had the seemingly most dull life but was the happiest. Goals I guess.
The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness — Arundhati Roy
Am I the only one who finds her writing to be utterly frustrating? Similar to God of Small Things, I found myself groaning reading this, wishing she’d just say what she god damn meant. On paper I should have loved this book who’s characters include the trans community in Delhi and Kashmiri freedom fighters. Nope. Interminable.
The Japanese Lover — Isabel Allende
I’ll read anything she writes let’s be honest.
The Return — Hisham Matar
I don’t understand how it is possible to write so beautifully in your second language. After spending most of his life in exile Hisham Matar returns to Libya and tries to wrap his head around what happened to his dad and watches with despair as the post-Gaddafi years spiral.
Books I couldn’t get through:
Trinity — Leon Uris. This is such a shame I was looking forward to reading this book for ages. It gave more time to the occupiers and English overlord twats than the actual Irish who were all mythical drunk caricatures. Miss me with that shit.
Swing Time — Zadie Smith. On paper, I should have loved this. The main character was such a pathetic pain. I found the writing to be a bit tedious too.
Beauty is a Wound — Eka Kurniawan. There are only so many rape scenes a reader can be expected to endure. I reached my limit about half way in. This book is a huge hit in Indonesia, I didn’t have the stomach for it. Would consider reading her other books.
Tender is the Night — F Scott Fitzgerald. Liked his other books. This was painfully racist and sexist. Couldn’t enjoy it.