For me there was no big book such as The Goldfinch; The luminaries; The signature of all things or A little life this year. In 2016 I seem to have read mainly Australian and Women writers.
I loved Family Skeleton by Carmel Bird. I found this story of matriarch Margaret O’Day trying to protect her families name from a prying Family Historian sweet and darkly funny. Narrated by the skeleton in the closet, Bird uses many voices to tell this intriguing story. Blink and you may miss the stunning denouement.
Barbed wire and cherry blossoms by Anita Heiss is a love story set against the background of the Cowra incident in the Second World War. An Indigenous family decides to hide one of the escaped Japanese soldiers and tries to keep it secret from the authorities and their friends and family. Mary who feeds Hiroshi in his hiding place every day slowly falls in love with him. There are many complex themes in this slow burn story.
My feel-good catch up read this year was When Rosa came home by Karen Wyld first published in 2013. Mute Angelita wakes up one day to the first of many quirky and eccentric characters who come to her family house. They are all connected with Rosa who left home many years ago. Angelita learns why Rosa left home and why she needed to come back in this delightful example of Australian magic realism.
In contrast I walked away from reading The natural way of things by Charlotte Woods feeling as though I had been hit by a truck. The story of a group of disparate women kidnapped because of their ability to embarrass men was uncomfortable but the writing was compelling. I could smell the rawness of the characters and the countryside in which they find themselves imprisoned.
An isolated incident by Emily Maguire looked at the media storm which descends on the fictional country town of Strathdee, when a young woman is brutally murdered. Narrated by the victim’s sister, this story is not so much a who-dunnit as it is an exploration of everyday violence and misogyny
The Dry by Jane Harper is a debut novel that won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. A tragic death forces police officer Aaron Falk to return to the small town from which he fled as a teenager. Naturally he has to face up the past in this enjoyable Australian Gothic which again shines a spotlight on misogyny and male violence.
I follow Clementine Ford on Twitter and was intrigued to read Fight like a girl. I considered myself schooled by this passionate, raw and funny book.
Talking to my Country by Stan Grant also got me thinking. This is about race and identity but it is a book which seeks to speak to all Australians. I emphasised with Grant’s upbringing in rural Australia and his family’s constant movement
A Murder Without Motive: The killing of Rebecca Ryle by Martin McKenzie-Murray. This was the best Australian true crime story that I have read since The shark net. There were many facets to this book but I was intrigued by its portrait of the northern Perth suburbs and teenage angst and boredom.
I loved The Road to winter by Mark Smith. This YA novel is a very fresh Australian take on the dystopian novel. Finn and his dog Rowdy live alone on the coast until he comes across a runaway who has some very nasty men after her. Mad Max by the beach!
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd is a few years old but about to be released as a film. This is a beautiful fable for young readers about a young boy struggling with life. I highly recommend it to adult readers.
This year I also caught up with Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast a memorial to her ageing parents. This is sad and funny, and although confined to her family, there is much here for anyone who has watched their own parent’s decline.
Badass librarians of Timbuktu was an exciting read and a fascinating look at Illuminated Manuscripts’ and their role in the history of sub-Saharan Africa