This impressive new collection from the author of Blood (2011) introduces a host of peculiarly Australian outsiders: émigrés, kids, ex-cons and other lost souls, from vagabond ‘blackfellas’ to cuckolded husbands. Relayed in laconic vernacular prose, these are stories about people for whom actions speak louder than words. In ‘Snare’, a stammering youth thwarts a ‘pedo’s’ assault of an Islander girl, earning as a result the esteem of his bullies. ‘The Lovers’ sees a Carlton waiter admire a delicate beauty from afar, while ‘The Money Shot’ finds a trio of amateur crims saddled with an infant en route to a job. Elsewhere, a gang of boys meet their match in a high-pressure marbles tournament, while a jilted carpark attendant finds salvation in olives. Other stories detail the nuances of Indigenous experience: a young man makes a pilgrimage to the site of his birth, and the titular tale of a problem drinker of miscegenous parentage reads like an antipodean descendant of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood. The latter is the standout, along with ‘The Ghost of Hank Williams’, which mingles a liquor-induced fugue with unearthly visitations from the country and western legend to offer a glimpse into the lives of a reforming drunk and his eccentric busker buddy.
Gerard Elson is a writer and bookseller who works at Readings St Kilda. This review first appeared in Issue 1, 2014 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.
Ali Alizadeh’s critically acclaimed book of poetry Ashes in the Air was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards last year and I would be surprised if Transactions doesn’t receive similar attention, as it is a powerful work of prose fiction. Through a series of interconnected stories, Alizadeh has created a truly global and uncompromisingly frank narrative, spanning the Red Light District in Amsterdam; various war-torn countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan; an Iranian prison; and a British literary festival. His characters are often caught between East and West and dwell in the harsh fringes of a cultural collision. A Ukrainian sex worker, a spoilt Emirati teenager, an Iranian asylum seeker and a young woman seeking bloody retribution for her mother’s death—among others— are characters glimpsed and yet fully realised through Alizadeh’s poetic yet direct storytelling. Cruelty is spliced with humour, such as the story set in a Melbourne theatre company, in which hilariously terrible dialogue captures the power dynamics being played out to much greater effect elsewhere. The stories intersect in surprising ways: a character reads a book of poetry, later we meet the poet, and even later we find her new book shortlisted for a farcically judged literary prize. This is a challenging and surprising collection from a talented writer.
Portia Lindsay is a former bookseller who now works at the NSW Writers’ Centre. This review first appeared in the Issue 2 2013 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.
Australian novelist and poet Jennifer Mills’ first collection of short stories offers an evocative and thought-provoking exploration of the human condition in its rich emotional complexity. Although The Rest is Weight spans seven years of Mills’ short fiction, it has a graceful coherence of style and theme. With crisp, vivid prose, Mills inhabits the inner lives of individuals confronting their thoughts and desires in diverse circumstances: an expat in China barely tolerates a visit from his well-meaning parents; a girl in Quintana Roo, Mexico, wonders what her mother does with the mysterious tall man who visits at night; a woman drives to Adelaide to visit the sister she hasn’t spoken to for 15 years. Mills has a knack for capturing moments that define what it is to be human. At the heart of these tales is our universal search for meaning, love and belonging, and Mills illuminates these powerful themes with dry wit and lyrical expression. Mills has compared assembling these stories to crafting the perfect mix tape. It’s an apt analogy for this intriguing and elegantly crafted collection, which cements Mills’ reputation as one of Australia’s most versatile young writers.
Carody Culver is a bookseller at Black Cat Books in Brisbane, a PhD student and a freelance reviewer. This review first appeared in the April/May issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.
Australia had one of the worst records of so-called civilised countries for the banning of books. Sir Robert Garran, chairman of the Australian Commonwealth Book Censorship Board, dismissed George Orwell’s socially critical novel of 1930s London, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, with one line: ‘No literary merit, and I consider it indecent.’ Any frank discussion about sex or its free expression would see a book banned, often when it was freely available elsewhere. Citizens’ freedom to read what they liked was pitted against the notion of ‘community standards’ and the supposed tendency of ‘obscene’ material ‘to deprave and corrupt’. Literary academic Nicole Moore’s new and comprehensive study of book censorship is based on her remarkable discovery of Australia’s ‘censor’s library’ in the National Archives—793 boxes of banned books prohibited from the 1920s to the 1980s. Many are first editions and taken as a whole they constitute a rare historical and literary resource. The field of concern may have shifted to film, the internet and electronic media generally, but Australian book censorship is part of our trade, cultural and political history and is well analysed in this comprehensive, illuminating and highly readable study. This is a book for students of Australian cultural history and people interested in the history of civil liberties, and is a valuable contribution to the history of the book in Australia.
Dr David Dunstan teaches in the Graduate Publishing and Editing program at Monash University. This review first appeared in the Summer issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.