Reviewer: CR

By this author


Books September 08, 2018

Small Fry

This memoir by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, who grew up sometimes welcomed by her father, Steve Jobs, but just as often shunned, has been hotly anticipated on two fronts. First, it’s a reasonably painful look inside a famous family, with an air of secrets and …

Books August 11, 2018

Confessions of the Fox

How fast the world moves, and how nice this can be for those of us caught in its spin. Just a few years ago, it would have seemed weird for a debut novel to combine the ingredients the author has mixed here, but in the literary landscape of 2018, Confessions …

Books August 04, 2018

My Year of Rest and Relaxation

In the summer of 2000, in a Manhattan apartment, the hero of this vicious novel by Ottessa Moshfegh sets herself up with lots of VHS tapes, puts her bills on autopay, and begins a year of deliberate hibernation. “Sleep felt productive,” she reports …

Books July 14, 2018

Prize Fighter

The author of this first novel is a young playwright from Brisbane by way of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The narrator, Isa Alaki, is a young prize-fighter who’s ended up in Brisbane by way of the same place, but there the biographies diverge. From …

Books July 07, 2018

Light Borrowers: UTS Writers’ Anthology 2018

The UTS Writers’ Anthology sits on an interesting precipice, one no less interesting because it sits there with such grace and style. On the one hand, it’s the outcome of a learning and teaching project; the yearly editorial committee is composed …

Books June 16, 2018

Eggshell Skull

This memoir is named for the legal premise that “a victim must be accepted for who they are individually, regardless of where their strengths and weaknesses place them on a spectrum of human normality. If you strike a person whose skull happens to be …

Books May 12, 2018

On Patrick White

This short book, the third in Black Inc’s “Writers on Writers” series, sees Christos Tsiolkas reviving his love of Patrick White. Tsiolkas acknowledges David Marr’s thorough and acclaimed White biography early on – here he’s writing something …

Books March 17, 2018

Educated

Questions of knowing drive this memoir from an author in her early 30s who was raised off the grid by Mormon parents in Idaho before going to college in Utah and, eventually, Cambridge and Harvard. Along the way, she transforms from being a recipient …

Books February 24, 2018

In the Garden of the Fugitives

A friend and I recently argued about Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey. A collection of stories about the souls of 10 animals caught up in wars of the 20th century, each of the animals also bears a relationship to a famous literary figure, …

Books February 10, 2018

Feel Free

Given the plots of her novels and the range of her essays, what is it about Zadie Smith, of all the noughties whiz-kid writers, that makes her readers feel as if they know her personally? She’s not particularly confessional; if anything, she’s particularly …

Books January 27, 2018

Bottled

Bottled is the right word for this graphic novel by Chris Gooch, a young and accomplished member of a talented field of comics-makers coming out of Melbourne and debuting on the international stage. You don’t know what kind of book this is …

Books December 09, 2017

Worlds of You

Worlds of You is a debut collection from Beau Taplin, a Melbourne-based writer in his late 20s, but with 500,000-plus followers of his Instagram poetry account he’s one of the most famous poets in the country. The introduction offers a sense …

Books November 11, 2017

The Future Is History

For some years now Masha Gessen has been the smartest voice in the room when it comes to interpreting Russia for the West – no small compliment when the rooms in question are The New York Review of Books, The New York Times and, more …

Books October 14, 2017

Suburbia

If it’s possible to write richly about a very bleak place, Jeremy Chambers has done it in this book about the Australian suburb, a place “not really known for anything: people lived here, but that was all”. Suburbia, Chambers’ second …

Books September 30, 2017

Manhattan Beach

However differently Jennifer Egan writes from book to book, there’s a quality she transports between genres and styles, whether in her coming-of-age drama The Invisible Circus, her twisty Gothic genre spin The Keep, or her novel-in-stories …

Books August 05, 2017

Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash

This is the third novel in translation from Eka Kurniawan, an Indonesian wunderkind whose Beauty Is a Wound was an unlikely smash in 2015 and was followed the same year by Man Tiger, which made the Man Booker International Prize longlist …

Books July 29, 2017

Blind Spot

A sixth of the way into this book of photographs by Teju Cole, the author includes a picture of a rubbly street in Lagos. The accompanying text, though, discusses the art of American painter Cy Twombly, which interests him, he tells us, for its use of …

Books June 24, 2017

No More Boats

Although this novel opens with the disappearance of Harold Holt and ends with the collapse of the Twin Towers, most of it is focused on a brief, important moment that feels both distant from the present day and uncomfortably close. No More Boats

Books June 17, 2017

Gravity Well

Gravity Well is about Lotte and Eve, two intelligent women who start out as friends and whose relationship, over time, develops into something harsher, deeper and odder, as they both swerve between a number of diverging plans and desires. It’s …

Books June 03, 2017

Understory

In 2007 Inga Simpson, not yet a successful novelist, is stuck on a wearying conference call when she first sees the cedar cottage that will change her life. It sits in a misty forest and is up for sale. Simpson and her partner, a writer known here as …

Books May 06, 2017

Disappearing Off the Face of the Earth

This second novel from David Cohen, a well-regarded short-fiction author, concerns Ken, whose narration seems deliberately bland; he’s a bit of a no-hoper but one competent enough to have opened a depressing self-storage facility in a desolate part …

Books April 15, 2017

The Impossible Fortress

The Impossible Fortress, the fiction debut from Jason Rekulak, also a publisher, is the first-person story of Billy, a smart, nice-natured and befuddleable 14-year-old living in “the Armpit of New Jersey”.  The late-’80s world of Billy …

book March 11, 2017

How to Murder Your Life

The non-fashion world met Cat Marnell in a New York Post column in June 2012 headlined “Drugs More Fun than Work”, which reported that Marnell, a “drug-addicted beauty columnist” for online site xoJane, had declined a request …

Books February 18, 2017

The Refugees

In this sophisticated collection by Vietnamese-American Viet Thanh Nguyen, whose novel The Sympathizer won the Pulitzer Prize last year, eight individuals seek meaning from the past, or just as often, find this meaning takes them unawares, …

Books January 28, 2017

The Trees

You can argue all you want about the timeless value of literature, but surely at least some of it is seasonal. This year the Australian summer was particularly late, which makes it feel earned, and with this comes the sense that a good beach read is …

Books November 19, 2016

Swing Time

In a review of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth published in 2000, James Wood used the book to open a discussion of the “big contemporary novel”, characterising this kind of work as “a perpetual-motion machine that appears to have been embarrassed …

Books November 05, 2016

Frantumaglia

The recent efforts by journalist Claudio Gatti to uncover the identity of Italian novelist Elena Ferrante have been gross. The desire to learn more about Ferrante arises from the fact that many readers have engaged strongly with her art, but in no moral …

Books October 29, 2016

Another Day in the Death of America

November 23, 2013 was “just another day in America”, writes Gary Younge at the outset of this startling and upsetting book of reporting. “And as befits an unremarkable Saturday in America, ten children and teens were killed by gunfire.” What …

Books October 22, 2016

Autumn

When trying to explain the deep appeal of Ali Smith, it’s easy to say good things, but specifics can be tough: it’s something about the vibe of the books, about the mood, the art. Thankfully, Daniel Gluck, one of Smith’s two leads in Autumn

Books September 24, 2016

Here I Am

Here I Am, Jonathan Safran Foer’s first novel in more than a decade, undertakes to explore two broad ideas, which perhaps sound like oil and water: on the one hand, there’s the destruction of Israel – by the twin forces of war and earthquake …

Books September 17, 2016

Darling Days

iO Tillett Wright has had a lifelong interest in overhauling aspects of identity, but the artist’s startling name, after Jupiter’s moon, “the most volcanic object in the solar system”, was a birthright. Darling Days is partly a memoir …

Books September 10, 2016

Grant & I

In the 1960s, Robert Forster lived next to the Smiths – not the band he’d eventually tour with, but a normal family. Deadpan, he also reports having told his mother that when he grew up, he wanted to be just like Mr Smith. Mr Smith was retired. The …

Books August 13, 2016

Overland, #223

In the column that closes the 223rd edition of Overland, Alison Croggon asks: “How do you embrace the powerlessness that art demands, its myriad refusals, when power is the only thing that speaks in a world deafened by meaningless noise?” …

Books August 06, 2016

I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This

If we see the modern memoir as a route towards the self, its measure might be taken by the nature of the trip: is the driver speeding or taking you on a languorous country jaunt? Life is short, and I sometimes feel long memoirs should be criminalised …

Books July 16, 2016

The Lynching

One Friday afternoon in March 1981, Henry Hays and James Knowles, two best friends in Mobile, Alabama, borrowed a rope and tied it into a hanging noose, a “special noose” of 13 knots immediately recognisable as the Ku Klux Klan’s signature. At …

Books May 14, 2016

Dark Fires Shall Burn

If you had lived in Sydney’s Newtown in 1946, just beyond the shattering of an old cultural order and right amid the formation of the postwar social world, would you have been aware you lived in interesting times? In Anna Westbrook’s debut novel, …

Books May 07, 2016

The Bricks that Built the Houses

For fans of Kate Tempest, a rap and spoken word wunderkind from South London, sections of her debut novel host some familiar scenes. It shares territory with tracks from her Mercury Prize-nominated album Everybody Down. On the album, we meet …

Books April 30, 2016

Dodge Rose

You may already know the story of Dodge Rose: a debut novel written as a University of Sydney master’s thesis, then dragged from the slush pile at the small international publisher Dalkey Archive Press – which, if you couldn’t guess of …

Books March 26, 2016

Everywhere I Look

Collected nonfiction makes for a strange kind of book with a high risk of filler and miscellany. The enjoyment of even very good essays can be qualified and provisional, so peculiar are the circumstances under which most magazine assignments are written. But …

Books March 05, 2016

See You at Breakfast?

What is the value of a human life? This is the question at the heart of this brief, moving novel by Guillermo Fadanelli, who has published 24 Spanish-language books but is largely unknown outside Mexico. It’s rare for a local publisher to commission …

Books February 27, 2016

Kings Rising

Let us begin by briefly praising the speed of C. S. Pacat, whose first book in the Captive Prince Trilogy was published in April last year – and now it’s just 10 months later and the final book is here, a show-stopping conclusion to this steamy …

Books February 20, 2016

How to Set a Fire and Why

“You might think that I am some sort of hard case,” writes Lucia, our teenaged guide through the world of this novel, not long after we meet her. Our assumption would be reasonable: she has just been expelled after a violent incident, and is nervous …

Books November 14, 2015

City on Fire

For a book so stuffed with narratives, it almost seems unfair that the reader of City on Fire has to make room for one more. In 2013, it was widely reported that Knopf, in the United States, had paid $2 million to publish it, by some estimates …

Books October 31, 2015

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

Most authors of memoirs have one of three qualities: they’re already famous, they’ve done something interesting, or they’re talented writers. Triple threats are rare. Patti Smith is one; another is Carrie Brownstein, whose work in Sleater-Kinney …

Books October 17, 2015

Freeman’s, Issue 1

When considering the first volume of a new literary journal, it’s always reasonable to wonder if we really need another. The readership for the literary journal has always been small, though Text – a local house that already publishes a journal …

Books October 03, 2015

Tram 83

Where some cities have an Eiffel Tower or an Opera House, the unnamed African city-state in Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s debut novel has a notorious nightclub. “See Tram 83 and die,” tourists advise each other. Cheerily or darkly? You decide. It’s …

Books September 19, 2015

Small Acts of Disappearance

If you are wary of “sick lit”, you will like Fiona Wright, a Sydney-based poet whose first book of essays offers anything but the usual anorexia narrative – the type, she writes, that “can’t seem to hold together the complexities of recovery”. …

Books September 12, 2015

The Salty River

While some of us cope with personal pain by going for a brisk jog, contemporary publishing suggests we have the wrong idea. The endurance memoir, popularised by authors such as Cheryl Strayed, suggests that for the best chance of a full recovery, you’ll …

Books August 29, 2015

Undermajordomo Minor

In the hamlet of Bury, some time long ago, there lives a young man named Lucy Minor who is in need of an attitude adjustment. If he doesn’t know that, then at least, to his credit, he knows he’s in need of employment. So he accepts a recently vacated …

Books August 08, 2015

An Astronaut’s Life

“They were eating dinner when the call came. It was the landline phone, which rarely rang, so they exchanged a look as the architect stood up to take it.” This is a typical opening in An Astronaut’s Life, the debut story collection by …

Books June 06, 2015

The Water Knife

What will the West look like when it runs out of water? We’re probably on a good track to find out; for now, there’s The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi, whose earlier work of grimy and speculative fiction, The Windup Girl, won …

Books May 16, 2015

Selfish

By what standard would Kim Kardashian West have us judge Selfish, a collection of selfies that documents an eight-year stretch in her life? Like any exercise whose pleasures depend on pattern recognition – it is picture after picture of a …

Books April 04, 2015

Captive Prince

If there is such a genre as the gay sex slave political fantasy thriller, then Melbourne author C. S. Pacat is surely its new queen. Her debut novel Captive Prince, the first in a projected trilogy, is as scintillating and addictive as it …

Books February 28, 2015

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

In 2012, Jon Ronson was embroiled in a scandal of the kind that seems to happen to neo-gonzo journalists like him: a group of academics conducted a confusing experiment that involved creating a fake “Jon Ronson” Twitter profile. Ronson shamed them …

Books January 24, 2015

On Immunity

When the essayist Eula Biss was pregnant with her first child, she was not prepared for the “labyrinthine network of interlocking anxieties” that surrounded the question of immunity. Mapping this labyrinth became the project of her third book, which …

Books December 06, 2014

Revival

One of the great readerly crimes of the 21st century is the unusual attention paid to Stephen King last year, when he published Doctor Sleep, his long-awaited sequel to The Shining. That book’s pleasures, while present, were oddly …