From zombie novels to Man Booker Prize winners, take a look at what we’ve been reading lately.
Ashley Kalagian Blunt, Program Officer
The Girl with All the Gifts by MR Carey
My first novel was about killer bees from Mars that come back to Earth and kill everyone (for context, I was 14). My second novel was straight-up about the apocalypse. My third book was a travel memoir of Armenia, a country that has faced genocide, economic collapse and a period known as the Cold and Dark Years, when people went without electricity, heating, and often, food (this was in the 1990s). In short, I love a good end-of-the-world story. So I was overjoyed to read The Girl with All the Gifts by MR Carey. The girl is 10-year-old Melanie, one of the book’s narrators and, as it happens, a zombie. The book opens well into Carey’s fabulous end-of-the-world-via-virus scenario, 20 years after the initial outbreak. Zombie purists won’t appreciate that Carey’s zombies can run (and keep running, which is extra terrifying), but otherwise this novel is a zombie-lover’s dream. The Girl with All the Gifts is a page-turner that builds to a brilliant, innovative ending.
The Writing NSW essays
The Sydney Review of Books has commissioned a series of essays about place under the banner of Writing NSW. So far they have published six of them and they are all gems, capturing the place they are writing about and the person the writers find themselves to be in that place. I was surprised by how personal the essays are – these are not dry, academic descriptions of place, they are beautiful essays about who the author is in this place and careful examinations of how they are shaped by these places.
This series is a fantastic contribution to non-fiction writing and our understanding of where we live and the many different lives that can be lived in this state. I’m so pleased that the Sydney Review of Books is strong and thriving and commissioning inspiring new work.
Read them all, they will take you away and bring you home.
What a Piece of Work by Dorothy Porter
I read Dorothy Porter’s verse novel, What A Piece of Work, in preparation for the Talking Writing: Callan Park Stories event we are planning for November. This is one of those books that has been on my list of books to read for a long time. I’m so glad I finally got to it. I was so engrossed by it that I read it in one sitting. This is partly because it isn’t very long, but mainly because I couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t bear to part from it without knowing what happened, what evil was to be wrought. The poems are beautiful and startling and the story is completely gripping. The psychiatrist at the centre of the novel, it is in fact a monologue from him, is so deeply evil I still find myself chilled by him. Now, after reading it numerous times to work out how we can select excerpts for the reading, I’m even more in awe of Porter’s writing. It is beautiful and powerfully humane while creating one of the most evil characters I’ve ever come across.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
This month, I was touched by Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian novel Never Let Me Go, which traces the memories of a child growing up at an English boarding school. While the memories begin innocent enough, it soon becomes easy for the reader to share the child’s niggling feeling that something is not quite right about the school. Memory by memory, the truth about the students’ education and what awaits them after graduation slowly unravels.
On one hand, this book is about the dark things that humans are capable of: utilitarianism, manipulation and our ability to dehumanise. On the other hand, it is a soft book, about childhood friendships, hope and what makes life worth living. The true power of this novel lies with the pairing of this innocence with darkness, and Ishiguro’s profound ability to capture the nuanced anxieties of childhood. The authentic child’s voice makes the dark reality of the story all the more jarring.
Clade by James Bradley
I’ve just finished James Bradley’s Clade, a page-turning literary novel that skillfully incorporates scientific understandings of climate change and other environmental threats into its imagined dystopian future. The story is told episodically, over three generations of one family. Bradley paints an evocative and convincing picture of the slow disintegration of the planet and the human societies that inhabit it. This is a story charged with grief, but also with resilience and a strange, disturbing beauty.
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
I’m currently reading Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, winner of this years Man Booker Prize. This satirical and racially charged novel follows one mans attempt to save his Californian home town of Dickens, whilst also reintroducing slavery and segregation. This naturally lands him in hot water with the supreme court. Beatty writes with rich visual descriptions of his landscape and the characters that inhabit it, offering a vivid and startling depiction of modern day America. At times cringeworthy in its honesty, The Sellout deftly handles contemporary attitudes and issues of race, class and political correctness. So far I have laughed out loud, I have winced, but most importantly I have barely put it down.