My favourite reads in 2016 were
The Abyssinian Contortionist by David Carlin
Along with his earlier book about his father’s suicide, I think Carlin is one of the warmest experimental (in a creative nonfic sense) writers working in Aus. This book follows the story of – and the story of David’s friendship with – Ethiopian/Australian circus performer Sosina Wogayehu. It’s compelling and beautifully self-aware.
The High Places by Fiona McFarlane
Just a perfect story collection. Stories with depth, knowledge, movement. A breadth of characters and styles. ‘Cara Mia’ has lingered most. If you haven’t read The Night Guest get that too.
A fair few E.L. Doctorow books
One of the best things about a new relationship is sharing your favourite books, films, music… E.L. is James’ fav author. A modern to pomo historical and experimental writer. And a book editor earlier in his career, too. Inspiring. His books tickle your brain, and linger. Loon Lake was a highlight. There are a few I’m yet to get to.
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
Of course I’ve read everything by Josephine, a brilliant writer I’m lucky enough to call a friend. This is a thoughtful, moving novel about a cast of characters, a family, affected by PTSD. Some sentences will take your breath away.
The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs
A gorgeous, satisfying novel about the daughter of James Joyce and love interest of Samuel Beckett (I loved the way he was described – I completely understood the infatuation), with all the relevant repression and madness and 1920s Paris set pieces.
Small Acts of Disappearance by Fiona Wright
Such intelligent personal essays about hunger, which gather to them the world, literature, people. Scrutiny of expectations on the self. Wright so incredibly articulates not only her own specific condition, but elements of being (being human, being anxious, wanting, not wanting…IDK…it’s just so effective).
Hold by Kirsten Tranter
Exquisite, delicious, moody; I could smell & taste & feel the secret room in the house, feel the appeal of the close, quiet space – somewhere out of time – but understand its shifting nature, that there cannot always be a place outside of yourself & the day in which to escape, or even place, the weight of grief.
Venice by Nick Earls
I read all the novellas but this was my favourite. Such a lonely, layered resonance. This story of a man forming a friendship and connection with his nephew, and having special insight into the family dynamic, will stay with me.
The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz
Is it any wonder that before I came to a breaking point and started therapy this year I read this book by a psychoanalyst? In some ways, the book has too-clear summations of complex patients with complex issues, but nonetheless it made me aware of certain possible motivations in some of my own behaviours and those of people close to me. It was an easy and stimulating read, and part of a necessary… unfurling, I want to say… to the rough winds of acknowledgement of some mental health issues.
Grand Days by Frank Moorhouse
I finally began the Edith novels, partly because I have a project in the back of my mind, and partly because every encounter with Moorhouse so far has been joyful. It took me ages to get through this and several martinis but it was worth it.
Notes on Suicide by Simon Critchley
A topic people are nervous about, but not philosopher Critchley. Looking it in the eye works for some.
The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith
I felt Smith was underrated in Aus with his previous novel and so this becoming a bestseller made me happy. Glad that his audience is growing. On a sentence level, just divine. Colour, place, emotion. And I’m a sucker for split-time stories. Here: Dutch golden age, 1950s New York and Sydney 2000s, with appropriate varying tones.
The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
A memoir of alcoholism and remote Scottish island life. And by someone of my generation, which is not common in memoir, yet, and so a lot to relate to, though Liptrot’s childhood couldn’t be any more different from my beachside one. The glory in sober aloneness is what it all led to, for her. And birds.
The Easy Way Out by Steven Amsterdam
Another gift from Amsterdam, about assisted suicide, really about the character, Evan, and his mother and lovers. About life. And that sex scene, OMG.
I am Brian Wilson: a memoir by Brian Wilson
Joy!!! One of the best memoirs I’ve read, purely because I am obsessed with The Beach Boys and subscribe to the view that Wilson is a genius. Because I’m fascinated by his talent. Because I’m also fascinated by his manner (kindness, love), so different to many rock stars. And I so admire his resilience in the face of severe mental illness, which he writes about beautifully and frankly. And he talks a lot about food, which is so Bri Bri. ‘Can you score me a Coke?’ he asked Bono. LOL.
The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson
I will read everything by her. One of the greatest Aus writers. This is a kind of coming of age story, or more a story of being not-special and being thwarted. Of not quite being a fit, anywhere. Of frustration and trying and misplaced affection. Very effective.