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The Shepherd’s Hut

Tim Winton     Recommended by Alan    

Loved it. Brutal and lyrical. Read it in two sittings and am about to go again.

In The Shepherd’s Hut, Winton crafts the story of Jaxie Clackton, a brutalized rural youth who flees from the scene of his father’s violent death and strikes out north through the wheatbelt. All he carries with him is a rifle and a waterbottle. All he wants is peace and freedom. But surviving in the harsh saltlands alone is a savage business. And once he discovers he’s not alone out there, all Jaxie’s plans go awry. He meets a fellow exile, the ruined priest Fintan MacGillis, a man he’s never certain he can trust, but on whom his life will soon depend. The Shepherd’s Hut is a thrilling tale of unlikely friendship and yearning, at once brutal and lyrical, from one of our finest storytellers

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Like Nothing on this Earth: a Literary History of the Wheatbelt

Tony Hughes-d'Aeth     Recommended by Alan    

As much a history of the wheatbelt as it is a literary history.

During the twentieth century, the southwestern corner of Australia was cleared for intensive agriculture. In the space of several decades, an arc from Esperance to Geraldton, an area of land larger than England, was cleared of native flora for the farming of grain and livestock. Today, satellite maps show a sharp line ringing Perth. Inside that line, tan-coloured land is the most visible sign from space of human impact on the planet. Where once there was a vast mosaic of scrub and forest, there is now the Western Australian wheatbelt. Hughes-d’Aeth examines the creation of the wheatbelt through its creative writing. Some of Australia’s most well-known and significant writers – Facey, Cowan, Hewett, Davis, Jolley, and Kinsella – wrote about their experience of the wheatbelt. Each gives insight into the human and environmental effects of this massive-scale agriculture.

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Looking at Pictures

Robert Walser     Recommended by Alan    

“…a good-humoured, sweet Beckett, Walser is a truly wonderful, heartbreaking writer.” —Susan Sontag

An elegant collection, with gorgeous full-color art reproductions, Looking at Pictures presents a little-known aspect of the eccentric Swiss writer’s genius. Somewhere between short-story and criticism, these essays consider Van Gogh, Manet, Rembrandt, Cranach, Watteau, Fragonard, Bruegel, and his own brother Karl, as well as the character of the artist and of the dilettante and the differences between painters and poets. Each piece is marked by Walser’s unique eye, his delicate sensitivity, and his very particular sensibilities—and all are touched by his magic screwball wit.

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Ema the Captive

Cesar Aira     Recommended by Alan    

In nineteenth-century Argentina, Ema, a delicate woman of indeterminate origins, is captured by soldiers and taken to live as a concubine in a crude fort on the very edges of civilization. The trip is appalling (deprivations and rapes prevail along the way), yet the real story commences once Ema arrives at the fort. There she takes on a succession of lovers among the soldiers and Indians, before launching a grand and brave business— an enterprise never before conceived—there in the wilds. As is usual with Aira’s work, the wonder if Ema, The Captive emanates from the wonderful details of customs, beauty, and language, and the curious, perplexing reality of human nature.

In typically unpredictable Aira fashion, Ema emerges triumphant.

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The Golden Age

Joan London     Recommended by Alan    

Reading The Golden Age felt like experiencing a piece of music, London’s writing is so beautifully balanced and euphoric.
With tenderness and humor, The Golden Age tells a deeply moving story about illness and recovery. It is a book about learning to navigate the unfamiliar, about embracing music, poetry, death, and, most importantly, life.

Frank Gold, 13yo refugee from wartime Hungary, is learning to walk again after contracting polio in Australia. At the Golden Age Polio Home in Leederville, he sees Elsa, a fellow patient, and they form a forbidden, passionate bond. The Golden Age becomes the micro-world that reflects the larger one, where everything occurs- love and desire, music, death, and poetry. It is a place where children must learn they’re alone, even within their families.

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The Last Wolf & Herman

Laszlo Krasznahorkai     Recommended by Alan    

These intense, perfect novellas, full of Krasznhorkai’s signature sense of foreboding and dark irony, are perfect examples of his craft. Often considered difficult this beautiful edition demonstrates Krasznahorkai’s underlying humour.

In Herman, a master trapper is asked to clear a forest’s last ‘noxious beasts.’ Herman begins with great zeal, although in time he switches sides, deciding to track entirely new game. The same events are then related from the perspective of strange visitors to the region, a group of hyper-sexualised aristocrats who interrupt their orgies to pitch in with the manhunt of poor Herman…

In The Last Wolf, a philosophy professor is mistakenly hired to write the true tale of the last wolf of Extremadura, a barren stretch of Spain. His miserable experience is narrated in a single, rolling sentence to a patently bored bartender in a dreary Berlin bar.

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Cigarette Girl

Masahiko Matsumoto     Recommended by Alan    

Welcome to the quiet, evocative urban dramas of Masahiko Matsumoto, one of the leading lights of the Japanese alternative-comics movement known as “gekiga.” Originally published in 1974, these eleven stories now form the first English-language collection of Matsumoto’s mature work. His shy, uncertain heroes face broken hearts, changing families, money troubles, sexual anxiety, and the pressures of tradition, but with a whimsy and lightness of touch that is Matsumoto’s trademark.

Beautifully published collection. No big eyes, big boobs, robots or action.

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Human Acts

Han Kang     Recommended by Alan    

South Korea’s emergence from military dictatorship in the late 70s is little-known in Australia. This great novel set around the Gwangju uprising gives some idea of the sacrifices many ordinary Koreans made to achieve democracy.
Gwangju, South Korea, 1980. In the wake of a viciously suppressed student uprising, a boy searches for his friend’s corpse, a consciousness searches for its abandoned body, and a brutalised country searches for a voice. In a sequence of interconnected chapters the victims and the bereaved encounter censorship, denial, forgiveness and the echoing agony of the original trauma. Human Acts is a universal book, utterly modern and profoundly timeless. A controversial bestseller and award-winning book in Korea.

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Insomniac City

Bill Hayes     Recommended by Luke    

Bill Hayes came to New York City in 2009 with a one-way ticket and only the vaguest idea of how he would get by. But, at forty-eight years old, having spent decades in San Francisco, he craved change. Grieving over the death of his partner, he quickly discovered the profound consolations of the city’s incessant rhythms, the sight of the Empire State Building against the night sky, and New Yorkers themselves, kindred souls that Hayes, a lifelong insomniac, encountered on late-night strolls with his camera.

And he unexpectedly fell in love again, with his friend and neighbor, the writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks. What emerges is a portrait of Sacks at his most personal and endearing, from falling in love for the first time at age seventy-five to facing illness and death (Sacks died of cancer in August 2015). Insomniac City is both a meditation on grief and a celebration of life. Filled with Hayes’s distinctive street photos of everyday New Yorkers, the book is a love song to the city and to all who have felt the particular magic and solace it offers.

A moving, sensory and quite poignant book that I had a lot of fun reading.

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The Only Story

Julian Barnes     Recommended by Alan    

The Only Story is a piercing account of helpless devotion, and of how memory can confound us and fail us and surprise us (sometimes all at once), of how “first love fixes a life forever.”
One summer in the sixties, in a staid suburb south of London, Paul comes home from university, aged nineteen, and is urged by his mother to join the tennis club. In the mixed-doubles tournament he’s partnered with Susan Macleod, a fine player who’s forty-eight, confident, ironic, and married, with two nearly adult daughters. She is also a warm companion, their bond immediate. And they soon, inevitably, are lovers. Clinging to each other as though their lives depend on it, they then set up house in London to escape his parents and the abusive Mr. Mcleod.

Decades later, with Susan now dead, Paul looks back at how they fell in love, how he freed her from a sterile marriage, and how – gradually, relentlessly – everything fell apart, as she succumbed to depression and worse while he struggled to understand the intricacy and depth of the human heart.

‘Most of us have only one story to tell. I don’t mean that only one thing happens to us in our lives: there are countless events, which we turn into countless stories. But there’s only one that matters, only one finally worth telling. This is mine.’

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