Reviewer: LS

By this author


Books August 25, 2018

Man Out of Time

One of Stephanie Bishop’s major preoccupations in her previous novel, 2015’s award-winning The Other Side of the World, is parenthood: the vulnerability it causes and the shifts it brings to identity and one’s deepest longings. One of the …

Books August 04, 2018

Too Much Lip

It’s the beginning of a Western: an outlaw on the run from police rides into town with a bag of ill-gotten loot. In Melissa Lucashenko’s wonderful Too Much Lip, the outlaw is Kerry Salter, her ride is a stolen Harley and she’s returned …

Books June 22, 2018

Bluebottle

Dysfunctional family dynamics are well-worn subjects in fiction, as are the mysterious disappearances of young girls. Novels about Australians’ relationships with the sea, also, are so popular as to be their own genre. None of that matters when the …

Books May 12, 2018

To Throw Away Unopened

Viv Albertine’s first memoir, 2014’s Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys was a critically acclaimed award winner. Her second is a more intimate deconstruction of the family forces that shaped her, firstly as an …

Books May 05, 2018

Bohemia Beach

It’s been a long time between drinks for Justine Ettler. Marilyn’s Almost Terminal New York Adventure, Ettler’s previous novel, was released in 1996, and her debut prior to that, The River Ophelia, saw her heralded as a star of …

Books April 07, 2018

A Scandal in Bohemia

In 1930-31, the worthy citizens of Melbourne were gripped by a brutal and depraved unsolved murder that filled the tabloids. Mollie Dean, a 25-year-old special education teacher, was sexually assaulted and killed in an Elwood laneway on her way home after …

Books March 24, 2018

Trick of the Light

Four privileged Year 12 students are preoccupied with their upcoming formal and the new ice-cream place they want to try, when their art teacher gives them life-changing advice. “No need to play nice all the time,” she tells them. It resonates, and …

Culture February 17, 2018

The Passengers

Sarah and her granddaughter Hannah are travelling from San Diego to Australia by cruise liner. It’s a homecoming of sorts, as well as the completing of a circle: Sarah was a war bride who left her family back in Sydney in 1946 to sail to the American …

Books February 03, 2018

Sign

Children in peril make for gripping stories – think The Brothers Grimm and Dickens, A Series of Unfortunate Events and All the Light We Cannot See. In Sign, Colin Dray’s debut thriller, the child in question is Sam, a young …

Books December 02, 2017

Grace

As Margaret Atwood wrote in The Blind Assassin, “It’s the end of the world every day, for someone.” When a great many people are dead and dying in horrific circumstances in fiction, settings and plots are usually post-apocalyptic: some …

Books November 18, 2017

Winter

Ali Smith’s 2016 novel, Autumn, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and acclaimed as the first serious post-Brexit novel. Winter, the second in her “Seasonal Quartet”, is just as stunning and continues Smith’s extreme engagement …

Books October 28, 2017

Atlantic Black

On the surface, A. S. Patrić’s Atlantic Black is the story of a 17-year-old girl, Katerina Klova, and the 24 hours she spends unaccompanied aboard the Aquitania as it steams across the Atlantic on New Year’s Eve 1938. Her travelling …

Books October 07, 2017

Soon

Australia has a thriving community of horror writers but only rarely does local horror find a mainstream readership. Lois Murphy’s classy, clever debut, Soon, deserves to be that rare example. Soon is a haunted house story – except …

Books September 09, 2017

The Choke

Miles Franklin-winner Sofie Laguna has developed such a characteristic literary style that it’s easy to forget that The Choke is only her third novel for adults. Here, her child narrator is Justine Lee, who is 10 in the early ’70s when the …

Books September 02, 2017

The Museum of Words

“A memoir of dying is exceptionally wrenching,” wrote the novelist Tom Rachman in 2016, “because we know the end at the beginning, and so meet with an effortful, pulsing person who will soon be neither.” In the pages of The Museum of Words, …

Books August 12, 2017

The Lone Child

Anna George’s first book was the well-regarded crime thriller What Came Before. Her new novel, The Lone Child, is less criminal and more psychological in focus, but it’s just as thrilling. It’s a story about the effects of motherhood …

Books July 22, 2017

My Lovely Frankie

In My Lovely Frankie, the acclaimed YA writer Judith Clarke’s latest novel, Tom Rowland is 16 years old in the 1950s when he has a religious epiphany of sorts. He’s so struck that he defies the wishes of his loving but not terribly observant …

Books July 15, 2017

Wimmera

In the prologue of Mark Brandi’s award-winning debut novel, Wimmera, something unusual is discovered by two young boys in a fast-flowing river. It’s a green wheelie bin with the lid bolted on, “like someone wanted it closed up really tight …

Books June 17, 2017

Half Wild

“Fictionalised biographies – novels based on the life of a famous person – are ten-a-penny,” wrote the novelist Jonathan Gibbs in 2014. “And why not? ... Other people – the actual biographers – have done the hard work.” Gibbs’s sentiment …

Books June 10, 2017

The Gulf

Coming-of-age stories about teenagers in peril are commonplace but Anna Spargo-Ryan’s delightful second novel, The Gulf, is exceptional in many ways. It’s the story of 16-year-old Skye, who lives in Adelaide with her mother, bank teller Linda, …

Books May 27, 2017

To Become a Whale

Australian coastal Gothic coming-of-age novels are perennially popular with readers and they come with a number of conventions. Ben Hobson’s debut, To Become a Whale, taps all of them neatly. It’s set in 1961, in coastal Queensland. Our sensitive, …

Books April 22, 2017

For a Girl

In her memoir For a Girl, Mary-Rose MacColl quotes the American poet Louise Bogan. “No woman should be shamefaced in attempting to give back to the world, through her art, a portion of its lost heart.” It’s apt, because throughout her harrowing …

Books April 15, 2017

See What I Have Done

It’s easy to understand the appeal of a reimagined true crime to novelists. The basics of characters and a scaffolding of plot are readymade and solid – somewhere substantial for the writer to stand while branching off into imagination. Cases with …

Books April 01, 2017

Rubik

The term “experimental fiction” can be used to cover a multitude of sins: an almost petulant obsession with abstraction and a disdainful disregard for the experience of the reader, among them. When it works, though, we have novels in the tradition …

Books March 18, 2017

Do You Love Me or What?

The line, “One day the longing became too great to bear”, appears in “Small Talk”, one of the eight stories that make up Do You Love Me or What?, Sue Woolfe’s collection of longish short fiction. It refers to Diana, an urban Australian …

Books February 25, 2017

The Restorer

The beginning of Michael Sala’s The Restorer is somewhat of a slow burn. It’s 1989 and a family – father Roy, mother Maryanne, teenage daughter Freya, and eight-year-old Daniel – move in to a rundown house in Newcastle, New South Wales, …

Books January 28, 2017

Difficult Women

For the 1891 edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde included a preface addressing the personal criticism his work had received. “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That …

Books December 17, 2016

Pond

If you like clear classifications, Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett is not your kind of book. Is it a novel? A loosely linked collection of stories, with poetical fragments? Or something else entirely? Of course it doesn’t actually matter what …

Books November 26, 2016

Extinctions

The protagonist of Josephine Wilson’s award-winning novel Extinctions is Professor Frederick Lothian, a retired widowed academic and international expert on concrete and bridges. As a consulting engineer, he travelled the world advising on …

Books November 05, 2016

The Dark Flood Rises

Back in 2009, Margaret Drabble announced her retirement from fiction writing because, as quoted in The Guardian, “the line between writing and remembering and thinking is  more blurred for me than it used to be”. Since then, she’s published …

Books October 01, 2016

The Good People

The second novel, according to Stephen Fry, is “an act of professional writing. That is why it is so much more difficult.” Difficult second novel syndrome becomes even more acute when the debut work is an award-winning, internationally published …

Books September 24, 2016

Commonwealth

If public holidays were declared on the release of a new Ann Patchett novel, I’d have been sacked less often. Her latest, Commonwealth, hasn’t helped my productivity any. It’s another masterpiece that might well be her best yet. Commonwealth

Books August 27, 2016

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil

Is there anything Melina Marchetta can’t do? The acclaimed writer of young adult novels tries her hand at crime fiction in her latest, Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil. Marchetta’s protagonist, Chief Inspector Bish Ortley of the London Met, …

Books August 13, 2016

The Summer That Melted Everything

It can’t be easy for a debut novelist to swim against the tide of Ferrante-esque realism. Minimalist prose is in fashion, as are elegant, pared sentences workshopped in MFA programs with great care. Tiffany McDaniel’s debut, The Summer That …

Books June 25, 2016

Wood Green

In her 2011 review of David Foster Wallace’s posthumous, unfinished The Pale King – a novel about the tedium of American life, set in a tax office – Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times sums up the dangers of metafiction. “Not …

Books May 28, 2016

The Healing Party

The plot of Micheline Lee’s debut novel, The Healing Party, is straightforward and summed up by the title. Natasha Chan is 25 and living in Darwin, away from her parents and three sisters, when her mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer. …

Books May 14, 2016

Dying in the First Person

It seems as if 2016 is the year of books about grief and dying. The inevitable mortality of individuals and their loved ones has built-in gravitas and emotional resonance as subject matter, but it also carries an expectation of some kind of originality …

Books March 26, 2016

Between a Wolf and a Dog

In Georgia Blain’s sixth novel, Between a Wolf and a Dog, Hilary Marcel is a widowed filmmaker, the mother of two girls and the grandmother of two girls. Her life is changing in a way that’s outside her control so she’s made a big decision …

Books March 05, 2016

Work Like Any Other

Rural Alabama in the 1920s was harsh, cold and dark. In the beginning of Virginia Reeves’ debut novel, Work Like Any Other, Roscoe Martin, his wife, Marie, and son, Gerald, live on the farm inherited from Marie’s father. Roscoe and Marie …

Books February 27, 2016

Mothering Sunday

In many European Christian traditions, Mothering Sunday is the fourth Sunday in Lent and for domestic servants was a rare day off from cooking and cleaning for other people’s families so they could visit their own.  Booker-winner Graham Swift’s …

Books February 13, 2016

That Devil’s Madness

In the beginning of Dominique Wilson’s second novel, That Devil’s Madness, it’s 1896 and Louis de Dercou is 12 years old, the youngest son of a poor farming family in southern France. Louis’s mother has died and his father, Marius, …

Books January 29, 2016

The High Places

Fiona McFarlane’s debut novel, 2013’s The Night Guest, was a critical triumph that was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award, sold into 15 territories (at last count) and praised by the likes of Michelle de Kretser, Kate Atkinson and …

Books December 12, 2015

A Woman on the Edge of Time

Jeremy Gavron was in his mid-40s when his brother, Simon, died of a heart attack. Gavron was established in his career as a journalist and novelist, and married with two daughters. His relationship with Simon was complex and not easy, but the force …

Books October 10, 2015

The Secret Chord

Geraldine Brooks saw human catastrophe close-up as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans before turning to fiction. Since then, her remarkable historical novels have immersed readers in, variously, plague-riddled Derbyshire …

Books September 26, 2015

Rush Oh!

Rush Oh!, the debut novel from screenwriter Shirley Barrett, takes the form of a year-long memoir written by Mary Davidson, who lives in Eden, New South Wales, in the early 1900s. Mary is 19 and a singular girl for her time: knowing, self-aware …

Books August 15, 2015

The World Without Us

I’ve been a fan of Mireille Juchau’s since her second novel, Burning In, which was shortlisted for a raft of prizes back in 2008. Her new book, The World Without Us, doesn’t have the same reader-friendly voice, though. It’s …

Books July 18, 2015

The Girl with the Dogs

Such is the prominence of Australian writer Anna Funder it’s easy to forget that, until now, she’s published only two books: both the nonfiction Stasiland and the novel All That I Am were best-selling award winners, and both revolve …

Books July 11, 2015

Strange Objects Covered with Fur

The writing program at the University of Technology Sydney, has an outstanding reputation for producing talented writers: alumni include Kate Grenville, Gillian Mears and Anna Funder. This most recent student anthology, Strange Objects Covered with …

Books July 04, 2015

Vera: My Story

Vera Wasowski’s life has been extraordinary. As a small child, she witnessed the vilest acts of cruelty yet somehow survived Poland’s Lvov ghetto under the Nazis. As a young wife and mother, she immigrated to a life working in television at the …

Books June 27, 2015

Relativity

We’re all accustomed by now to the protagonist with the odd way of thinking: Don Tillman in Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project, Christopher Boone in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and those hilarious …

Books June 06, 2015

The Harder They Come

In The Harder They Come, T. C. Boyle’s brilliant 15th novel, retired principal Sten Stenson is on a luxury cruise with his wife, Carolee, in Costa Rica. Sten is 70, “six-three and two hundred twenty pounds, most of it still in the right …

Books May 16, 2015

Crow’s Breath

The characters in Crow’s Breath, the new story collection from the poet, essayist and critic John Kinsella, are mostly country people. They’re alone, either physically or emotionally. They are misunderstood and they are both cruel and the …

Books May 02, 2015

When There’s Nowhere Else to Run

There’s a minor revival under way in Australian short fiction so it’s timely that the 2015 winner of The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award for the best unpublished manuscript by a writer under 35 is Murray Middleton, for his collection …

Books April 25, 2015

The Wonder Lover

Perhaps it is Malcolm Knox’s reputation as a sports journalist that leads to his chronic underrating as a novelist. The Life (2011) is a sprawling, messy, gutsy book with a brilliant voice and awkward plotting, as though the conventions of …

Books March 14, 2015

She Will Build Him a City

Of the 20 million stories in Delhi, Raj Kamal Jha focuses mostly on three in his novel She Will Build Him a City. The Woman, who tells stories to her damaged adult daughter in an attempt at connection; the Man, whose life revolves around his …

Books February 28, 2015

Hot Little Hands

The stories in Abigail Ulman’s uneven debut collection, Hot Little Hands, are all about sexuality, sensuality and love in girls and young women, and the fascinating fluid line between childhood and being an adult. There’s not one thing …

Books February 07, 2015

Useful

Debra Oswald’s first novel for adults carries the weight of expectations: Oswald is the co-creator and head writer of Offspring, one of the smartest and funniest Australian television series of the past decade. She’s also an accomplished …

Books January 31, 2015

Clade

The world as we know it is unravelling and so is Adam Leith’s partner, Ellie, and in turn their relationship. Adam and Ellie are sad people with unremittingly sad lives: their daughter Summer has life-threatening asthma, Adam is a scientist modelling …

Books December 13, 2014

Here Are the Young Men

Dublin boys Matthew, Rez, Cocker and Kearney have just finished high school. They’ve done poorly in the leaving, have been banned from their graduation, and they drink, snort, swallow and inhale prodigious quantities of anything they can get their …

Books November 29, 2014

The Last Pulse

In Anson Cameron’s rollicking environmental satire The Last Pulse, South Australian farmer Merv Rossiter has lost his wife to suicide and his vineyard to a banker, thanks to a man-made drought. Cotton farmers way upstream in Queensland have …

Books October 25, 2014

Amnesia

The novels of Peter Carey have a kind of dualism about them. This can manifest within individual books in protagonists (Oscar and Lucinda; Parrot and Olivier) or parallel narratives (The Chemistry of Tears), but it also appears across the body …

Books October 11, 2014

Cleanskin Cowgirls

The plot of Cleanskin Cowgirls, the latest soon-to-be bestseller from Australia’s queen of rural romance, Rachael Treasure, is as hackneyed as they come: gorgeous farm girl with low self-esteem, Elsie Jones, moves to Nashville and becomes …

Books April 26, 2014

Only the Animals

Two stories into Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals, my heart began to sink. I thought that this collection of 10 thematically linked stories, told mainly by the souls of animals killed in human conflict who had close contact with or were …