With winter officially upon us, it’s time to indulge in one of life’s simplest yet greatest pleasures – getting lost in a good book! Now, more than ever, Australian writers are taking their place on the world stage and their works are proudly displayed on bookshelves around the nation, without a hint of tall poppy syndrome about it. So grab a blanket, claim a spot on the couch, and curl up for five of the most enthralling Australian novels of recent times.
‘Boy Swallows Universe’ by Trent Dalton
Bestowed with the ultimate title of ‘Book of the Year’ at the recent Australian Book Industry Awards, this fictional novel has its roots in author Trent Dalton’s real childhood, growing up in some of Brisbane’s rougher parts, and defined by tragedy, violence and upheaval.
As a journalist, Dalton became used to dealing with harrowing stories, but it wasn’t until three years ago that he decided to write his own down, albeit cloaked in the tale of 13-year-old Eli, who in 1983 finds himself with a lost father, a mute brother, a mum in jail, a heroin dealer for a stepfather and a notorious criminal for a babysitter.
As strange as it might sound, ultimately this is a love story – not between any two particular characters, but rather an ode to life itself. Dalton has so beautifully captured the complex web of emotions that come with the terrain of growing up that finishing this book and leaving the characters behind is akin to giving up oxygen.
Luckily the story will be adapted both as an international television drama and a stage play, so fans can continue to get their fix of Eli and his beautiful, tragic, magical and crazy world long after they leave the written words behind.
‘The Erratics’ by Vicki Laveau-Harvie
Apart from being a gripping read, one of the coolest things about this memoir is the fact it was written by first-time author in her mid-70s, and it then went on to take out the coveted $50,000 Stella Prize in 2019 (a major literary award celebrating Australian women’s writing).
‘The Erratics’ is a work of non-fiction that recounts the horror Vicki faced when she travelled to her elderly parents’ isolated ranch home in Canada after her mentally unstable mother was unexpectedly hospitalised. Estranged from them for many years, Vicki is shocked by what she discovers – the systemic starvation and imprisoning of her father. Along with her sister, Vicki sets about trying to extricate her besotted father from the physical and metaphorical clutches of their deluded mother.
As dark as the subject matter sounds, and for all its terrifying and heartbreaking moments, there’s also humour, tenderness and a vivid portrayal of the stunning Canadian landscape in Vicki’s excellent writing.
‘The Nowhere Child’ by Christian White
Breaking the record for the fastest-selling Australian debut novel ever, this is a true page-turner that people around the world are devouring.
It’s a classic thriller that starts off in Melbourne, where photographer Kim Leamy is approached by a stranger investigating the disappearance of a little girl from her home in Kentucky (USA) twenty-eight years earlier. What follows is ripping yarn that introduces the reader to a host of fascinating small-town characters in a story laced with trauma, cult behaviour, conspiracy, memory and identity.
Strongly influenced by one of his writing heroes, Stephen King, Christian has managed to craft a tale so compelling that an early draft of ‘The Nowhere Child’ won the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. It’s been shortlisted for several major awards, will be published in 16 countries and translated into 11 languages, and made into a screen adaptation.
‘Axiomatic’ by Maria Tumarkin
Divided into five chapters (of sorts) that each explore and expose a different axiom (a statement that’s regarded as being established and true), this powerful piece of literature comes from the pen of Tumarkin, a Melbourne-based writer, cultural historian, teacher and translator.
Through a unique combination of storytelling and reporting, the book addresses heavy issues as it examines the axioms of ‘Time Heals All Wounds’, ‘Those Who Forget The Past Are Condemned To Repeat It’, ‘Give Me A Child Before The Age of 7 And I’ll Give You The (Wo)Man’, ‘History Repeats Itself’ and ‘You Can’t Enter The Same River Twice’.
It’s mesmerising and unsettling – this is no light chick lit throwaway novel – but if you’re looking for something thought provoking that throws you head first into the well of humanity, then dive in.
‘No Friend But The Mountains: Writings From Manus Prison’ by Behrouz Boochani
Among the 1,000+ men and women indefinitely imprisoned in refugee camps on Manus Island and Nauru is Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian writer and journalist who fled persecution in Iran in 2013 and has instead been illegally detained in a different kind of hell.
Laboriously written over the course of five years on a mobile phone and translated from the Farsi, his work is a mix of non-fiction, creative writing and poetry that helps readers understand life on Manus Island.
In a sad example of irony, this book – written by a man who the Australian government has ensured will never set foot in the country – has won prestigious accolades including the Prize for Non-Fiction at the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.
Boochani conveys the human experience on Manus in an unforgettable way – it’s a situation the majority of us find so easy to dismiss or ignore from our comfortable homes, but it’s one we are all complicit in.
This groundbreaking novel is a vivid first-hand account of incarceration and exile that every Australian should read, no matter what their thoughts are on the existing Australian government detention policy. After all, knowledge is power …