Friday 27 May 2022


Book news! New books!

BOOKS @ VOLUME #280 (27.5.22)

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Our Book of the Week has just been awarded the 2022 INTERNATIONAL BOOKER PRIZE. 
TOMB OF SAND by Geetanjali Shree, translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell, was described by the judges as "a book that is engaging, funny and utterly original, at the same time as being an urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact of borders and boundaries — whether between religions, countries or genders."
>>"All languages have the possibility of crossing borders."
>>Stories imbue your senses.
>>On translating Tomb of Sand.
>>Ballroom dancers
>>"An exuberance and a life."
>>Showered in language
>>"The most original and undefinable work of our times."
>>On the author's bookshelf. 
>>On the translator's bookshelf
>>"Writers make national literature; translators make universal literature."
>>Fun shorts. 


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


The Secrets of Cricket Karlsson by Kristina Sigunsdotter, illustrated by Ester Eriksson (translated from Swedish by Julia Marshall)   {Reviewed by STELLA}
Ever been eleven and lonely? Or wondered why your best friend is hanging out with the mean kids? Or wished your mother didn’t sigh so much? If you answer yes to any of these questions then you need Cricket Karlsson. Ever wanted to make art? Ride a horse in the moonlight? Ever been unable to get out of bed or unable to get someone you love out of bed? Then you need Cricket Karlsson. Cricket Karlson is eleven, has a ‘potato’ heart (which is currently mashed because her best friend Noa isn’t talking to her), is finding out about love, is visiting her aunt in the psych ward, loves to draw and doesn’t like the horse girls. And she has secrets — secrets that only a best friend, like Noa, knows! The Secrets of Cricket Karlsson from the pen of Kristina Sigunsdottir and the brush of Ester Eriksson is another standout from Gecko Press. I loved it, and it’s even better on the second reading. It has lists of not very Ugliest Words, absurd and unlikely Things Grandpa Says you Can Die From, unusual Psychiatric Illnesses I Don’t Want, and delightful Secrets I Have Only Told to Noa. Told with the keen observation of an eleven-year-old with all the concerns of childhood and changing circumstances, the words leap off the page with feistiness, humour and pathos. It lightly touches on worries and fears (climate change, mental health, sadness, regret) while embracing the best things about being that age when you’ll still a kid, but only just. Who hasn’t noticed the horse girls with their neighing and prancing, or squirmed when a boy (or a girl) is doe-eyed and you just don’t like him like that, or locked themselves in the bathroom (sometimes crying) to avoid being harassed? Cricket Karlsson finds out that life isn’t always what you expect, that loneliness passes, and that even an eleven-year-old can make a sad person happy. Black humour abounds and Cricket Karlsson is a star (with secrets and lists, a big heart and a little mischief, and her favourite food is cheese-on-cheese-in-cheese). I think I’ll pop to bed and read it again. 


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 



Armand V.: Footnotes to an unexcavated novel by Dag Solstad (translated from Norwegian by Steven T. Murray)  {Reviewed by THOMAS}

1]  Wishing to write a review of the novel Armand V. by the Norwegian author Dag Solstad, I’ve decided the best way to realise this is not by writing a review of the novel but by allowing it instead to appear in an outpouring of footnotes to a review that will not be or can not be written. The sum of the footnotes, therefore, is my review of the novel Armand V.
1 B ]  Although admittedly ludic, possibly to the point of irritation, some attempt to justify this approach could be made on the basis that it corresponds to the approach of the author Dag Solstad in this writing of his novel comprised entirely of footnotes to a novel that the author considers in some way pre-existing but which he has determined will remain “unexcavated”, a novel that he refuses to write, or feels himself incapable of writing, or a novel that is unable to be written, or that, if written, would be of no interest to the writer (and therefore unable, presumably, to be written). Solstad writes, “Wishing to write a novel about the Norwegian diplomat Armand V., I’ve decided the best way to realise this is not by writing a novel about him but by allowing him instead to appear in an outpouring of footnotes to this novel. The sum of the footnotes, therefore, is the novel about Armand V.”
1 C ]  Solstad is aware of at least some of the problems inherent in this approach, but it is problems such as these that allow him to explore problems inherent in the writing of novels per se, and in the relationship of an author to her or his material. “But who wrote the novel originally, if I’m simply the one who discovered and excavated it? … It is indisputable that this novel, the sum of the footnotes of the original novel, which is invisible because the author refused to delve into it and make it his own, is about Armand V. … It is by no means certain that the theme of the novel is the same as that of the original novel. … Why this avowal? Why does the author refuse to enter into the original novel? Put more directly: why don’t I do it, since I’m the one who’s writing this?”
1 D ]  The air of a footnote hangs over Solstad’s entries, if a footnote can be said to have an ‘air’, giving them a greater perspective and distance from their subjects, but a greater alienation, or perhaps a resignation, also, a feeling that a narrative continues upon which we (and the author) have no control, and of which we (and the author) are only very incompletely aware. This said, we can safely say that the footnotes also provide less perspective, concentrating often, as footnotes often do, on matters of detailed fact, with a topography very different from the text to which the footnote ostensible refers. The author from time to time notes his relief from the expectations of the received novel form, comparing the unwritten novel ‘up there’ with his work in the footnotes to that novel: “Of course, the novel up there attempts to explain why their marriage failed. But not here. Here it is simply over. No comment.” The novel-as-footnotes form allows Solstad to explore aspects of the life of Armand V. (including a very long exploration of the contented blandness of a one-time school-mate, which is implicitly contrasted with the angst-ridden nullity of Armand V.’s life (about which see the footnote below)) without subjecting these explorations to an overall schema or narrative that would restrict the usefulness of these explorations.
1 E ]    Some of the footnotes are very long.
1 F ]    Perhaps our awareness of our life has always and only the relationship to our actual life that a footnote has to the text to which it refers. Plot and purpose are as artificial when applied to our lives as they are when used as novelistic crutches to make stories, and for much the same reasons.
1 G ]   “All these footnotes seem to be suffering from one thing or another. The footnotes are suffering. The unwritten novel appears as heaven.”
2 ]   Armand V. is a diplomat nearing retirement. He has “mastered the game” of concealing his personal opinions and performing his role to perfection. “He assumed that his bold way of behaving helped to divert attention from what might have been perceived as more suspect qualities that he possessed, whatever they might be.” So perfect is his performance that at no time does he act in a personal way or express his beliefs in any way that could risk their having any effect. The visible and invisible aspects of Armand V.’s life  share little but his name. He is, in effect, a non-person.
2 B ]   Complete separation between the invisible and the visible aspects of one’s life, or, we might say, between the inner and outer aspects of one’s life, is impossible to sustain indefinitely, but the resolution of such separation, whether this be metaphorised as lightning or as rot, is seldom satisfactory. For instance, Armand’s deep-seated hatred of the United States for its death penalty, and for the war that disabled his son (see the footnote below) is expressed in no practical way, but releases its pressure in disturbing misperception and an embarrassing slip of the tongue during an otherwise bland conversation with the American ambassador in the toilets during an official dinner.
2 C ]  “Armand V. knew that he lived in a linguistic prison, and he knew that he could do nothing else but live in a linguistic prison.”
3 ]  The unbridgeability of the schism between his inner life, so to call it, and his outer circumstances, so to call them, has led to an unsatisfactory personal life, so to call it, for Armand V. He was married to N, the mother of his son, but only felt close to her when he thought of her twin sister, thinking of N. as “the twin sister’s twin sister.” Other examples abound.
4 ]   The novel is particularly concerned with the relationship of Armand V. with his son, who is first a student and then becomes a soldier, much to the disapproval of the father, and loses his eyesight during the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. The novel is particularly concerned with the alienation of Armand V. from his son.
4 B ]  Armand goes regularly to pay his son’s rent, both when his son is a student and when he is a soldier and mostly absent, and is reluctant to stop doing so even when his son can easily afford it and asks his father to stop.
4 C ]  Armand does not speak to his son about what is making the son unhappy but sneaks out of the apartment. When his son later expresses the idea of joining an elite army unit, Armand makes a scornful outburst which cements the son’s intention. Armand V. does not act when action is appropriate, and acts inappropriately when action is unavoidable. Armand V. feels he has sacrificed his son to the US, or God, the two malign forces becoming for Armand almost indistinguishable.
4 D ]   When his son returns disabled, Armand returns him to child-like dependency, assuming the suffocating Father-provider role he had not exercised during his son’s childhood due to his separation from N.
4 E ]   In the earlier footnotes, when his son is a student, Armand spends a lot of time considering the time, decades ago, when he himself was a student. When his son is blinded and at an institution in London, Armand stays in his son’s flat in Oslo. It would not be unreasonable to see a conflation between father and son, and, after the ‘sacrifice’ of the son by the father, an assumption of the son’s place by the father. This can also be seen, due to the conflation of the two, as a return to the father’s own youth, a trick against time.
5 ]   “What does Armand have instead of hope? Don’t know. But: no sense of destiny, a lack of purpose … that makes a novel about him readable, or writable.” Only footnotes, then.


Ruth & Pen by Emilie Pine           $37
Pine follows her remarkable 2019 essay collection Notes to Self with a novel of equal clarity and perspicacity. Dublin, 7 October 2019.One day, one city, two women- Ruth and Pen. Neither known to the other, but both asking themselves the same questions — how to be with others and how, when the world doesn't seem willing to make space for them, to be with themselves? Ruth's marriage to Aidan is in crisis. Today she needs to make a choice — to stay or not to stay, to take the risk of reaching out, or to pull up the drawbridge. For teenage Pen, today is the day the words will flow, and she will speak her truth to Alice, to ask for what she so desperately wants.
"Full of empathy and good will." —The Irish Times
They by Kay Dick          $23
A forgotten dystopian classic, first published in 1977. The Sussex coast. Sunsets paint the windswept ocean; seagulls haunt the marshland; hunting rifles crack across hillsides. But this is England through-a-glass-darkly. They are coming closer. They begin with a dead dog, shadowy footsteps, confiscated books. Then, the National Gallery is purged; motorway checkpoints demarcate Areas, violent mobs stalk the countryside, destroying cultural artefacts — and those who resist. The surviving writers, artists and thinkers gather together, welcoming 'dissidents' like the unmarried and the childless. These polyamorous and queer communities preserve their crafts, create, love, and remember. But as 'subversives' are captured in military sweeps, cured of identity, desensitised in retreats, They make it easier to forget. Introduction by Carmen Maria Machado.
"A masterpiece of creeping dread. —Emily St. John Mandel
"Lush, hypnotic, compulsive. A reminder of where groupthink leads." —Eimear McBride
"A masterwork of English pastoral horror: eerie and bewitching." —Claire-Louise Bennett
Three Rings: A tale of exile, narrative and fate by Daniel Mendelsohn             $20
Mendelsohn explores the mysterious links between the randomness of the lives we lead and the artfulness of the stories we tell. Combining memoir, biography, history, and literary criticism, Three Rings weaves together the stories of three exiled writers who turned to the classics of the past to create work of their own — work that pondered the nature of narrative itself: Erich Auerbach, the Jewish philologist who fled Hitler's Germany and wrote his classic study of Western literature, Mimesis, in Istanbul; Francois Fenelon, the seventeenth-century French archbishop whose ingenious sequel to the Odyssey,The Adventures of Telemachus — a veiled critique of the Sun King, and the best-selling book in Europe for one hundred years — resulted in his banishment; and the German novelist W. G. Sebald, self-exiled to England, whose distinctively meandering narratives explore Odyssean themes of displacement, nostalgia, and separation from home. Intertwined with these tales of exile and artistic crisis is an account of Mendelsohn's struggles to write two of his own books — a family saga of the Holocaust and a memoir about reading the Odyssey with his elderly father — that are haunted by tales of oppression and wandering. 
>>How literature makes reality feel. 
Revolutionary Letters by Diane di Prima          $40
During the tumult of 1968, Beat poet Diane di Prima began writing her "letters," poems filled with a potent blend of utopian anarchism and Zen-tinged ecological awareness that were circulated via underground newspapers and stapled pamphlets. In 1971, Lawrence Ferlinghetti published the first collection of these poems in his iconic Pocket Poets Series, and di Prima would go on to publish four subsequent editions, expanding the collection each time. During the last years of her life, di Prima got to work on the final iteration of this lifelong project, collecting all of her previously published "letters" and adding the new work, poems written from 2007 up to the time of her death in October 2020. Published in a board-bound edition that features the original edition's cover art by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
>>A living weapon in your hand
Mona by Pola Oloixarac (translated by Adam Morris)              $28
Mona is a Peruvian writer based on a Californian campus, open-eyed and sardonic, a connoisseur of marijuana and prescription pills. In the humanities she has discovered she is something of an anthropological curiosity — a female writer of colour treasured for the flourish of rarefied diversity that reflects so well upon her department. When she is nominated for 'the most important literary award in Europe', Mona sees a chance to escape her sunlit substance abuse and erotic distraction, and leaves for a small village in Sweden. Now she is stuck in the company of her competitors, who arrive from Japan, France, Armenia, Iran and Colombia. The writers do what writers do: exchange flattery, nurse envy and private resentments, stab rivals in the back and go to bed together. But all the while, Mona keeps stumbling across traces of violence on her body, the origins of which she can't — or won't — remember.
"Mona reads like Rachel Cusk's Kudos on drugs." —The Atlantic 
"Ruthless, very funny." —New York Times 
"One of the great writers of the Internet, the only country larger than Argentina." —Joshua Cohen 
A Girl Returned by Donatella di Pietrantonio      $23
"I was the Arminuta, the girl returned. I spoke another language, I no longer knew who I belonged to. The word 'mama' stuck in my throat like a toad. And, nowadays, I really have no idea what kind of place mother is. It is not mine in the way one might have good health, a safe place, certainty." Without warning or a word of explanation, an unnamed 13-year-old girl is sent away from the family she has always thought of as hers to live with her birth family: a large, chaotic assortment of individuals whom she has never met and who seem anything but welcoming. Thus begins a new life, one of struggle, conflict, especially between the young girl and her mother, and deprivation. But in her relationship with Adriana and Vincenzo, two of her newly acquired siblings, she will find the strength to start again and to build anew and enduring sense of self. Translated  by Ann Goldstein, who has also translated the works of Elena Ferrante.
A Florence Diary by Diana Athill             $23
In August 1947, Diana Athill travelled to Florence by the Golden Arrow train for a two-week holiday with her good friend Pen. In this playful diary of that trip, Athill recorded her observations and adventures — eating with (and paid for by) the hopeful men they meet on their travels, admiring architectural sights, sampling delicious pastries, eking out their budget and getting into scrapes. Enjoyable. 
The Lobster's Shell by Caroline Albertine Minor (translated from Danish by Caroline Waight)             $33
A complex tale of family mythology and regret, The Lobster's Shell is the story of three orphaned siblings, now in their thirties and forties; their attempts at connection, their failures and frustrations. Over the years their differences have driven them apart, but during five days in April they have to confront their relationship and shared history. Sidsel asks Niels for a service that challenges his chosen loneliness and Ea gets in touch from the United States. Hoping to make contact with their mother, she has visited a clairvoyant. Lately, a nagging question has been haunting her.
"Minor's acute, elliptical observations and silky prose are a delight to read, as the misunderstandings, machinations and mysteries of past and present knit together, fall apart, and re-establish themselves in an uneven, bright weave in Caroline Wright's distinctive, unforced translation." —The Irish Times 
80 spice-infused recipes following the trails of ancient maritime trade through Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Iran and the Emirates. Ford combines historical research with a travel writer's eye and a cook's nose for a memorable recipe. Interwoven are stories that explore how spices from across the Indian Ocean — the original cradle of spice — have, over time, been adopted into cuisines around the world.
Matariki Around the World: A cluster of stars, A cluster of stories by Rangi Mātāmua & Miriama Kamo         $35
The Matariki constellation (or Pleiades) is known by many different names and is seen and celebrated by many cultures around the world. This beautifully illustrated book features 9 stories that explore the Māori Matariki stars, and 12 stories from different cultures around the globe that also reference this constellation, from the Pacific Islands to Australia, Asia, the Americas, Europe and Africa.

Te Toi Whakairo: The art of Māori carving by Hirini Moko Mead             $50
A new edition of this indispensable guide to te toi whakairo. Beginning with carving's mythical origins, this book explores the evolution of styles and techniques through the four main artistic periods to the present day, and provides detailed explanations of carving styles in different parts of the country, using examples from meeting houses and leading artists. Later chapters delve into the main structures, forms and motifs, and the role of the woodcarver, and explore the status of the art in contemporary New Zealand. Practical guidance is given for use of materials, tools, techniques, surface and background decoration, the human figure, and carving poupou.
Fledgling by Lucy Hope            $17
A cherub is blown into Cassie Engel's bedroom during a thunderstorm, triggering a series of terrifying events. Cassie must discover if its arrival was an accident or part of something more sinister. With a self-obsessed opera singer for a mother, a strange taxidermist father, and a best friend who isn't quite what he seems, Cassie is forced to unearth the secrets of her family's past. As the dark forces gather around them, can Cassie protect all that she holds dear?
Seven and a Half Brief Lessons about the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett         $25
In seven short chapters (plus a brief history of how brains evolved), this slim, entertaining, and accessible collection reveals mind-expanding lessons from the front lines of neuroscience research. You'll learn where brains came from, how they're structured (and why it matters), and how yours works in tandem with other brains to create everything you experience. Along the way, you'll also learn to dismiss popular myths such as the idea of a 'lizard brain' and the alleged battle between thoughts and emotions, or even between nature and nurture, to determine your behaviour.
Good both for beginners and those who just want to improve. Fully illustrated. 

Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden               $23
Mrs Death has had enough. She is exhausted by her job and now seeks someone to unburden her conscience to. She meets Wolf, a troubled young writer, who — enthralled by her stories — begins to write Mrs Death's memoirs. As the two reflect on the losses they have experienced (or facilitated), their friendship flourishes. All the while, despite her world-weariness, Death must continue to hold humans' fates in her hands, appearing in our lives when we least expect her. A paperback edition of this enjoyable, life-affirming book.  
"A modern-day Pilgrim's Progress leavened with caustic wit. This is not light-hearted stuff, yet Godden has produced a miraculously light-hearted novel, an elegant, occasionally uproarious, danse macabre." —Guardian
Thin Places by Kerri ní Dochartaigh            $23
Kerri ní Dochartaigh was born in Derry, on the border of the North and South of Ireland, at the very height of the Troubles. She was brought up on a council estate on the wrong side of town. But for her family, and many others, there was no right side. One parent was Catholic, the other was Protestant. In the space of one year they were forced out of two homes and when she was eleven a homemade petrol bomb was thrown through her bedroom window. Terror was in the very fabric of the city, and for families like Kerri's, the ones who fell between the cracks of identity, it seemed there was no escape. Thin Places, a mixture of memoir, history and nature writing, explores how nature kept her sane and helped her heal, how violence and poverty are never more than a stone's throw from beauty and hope, and how political misadventure is, once again, allowing the borders to become hard, and terror to creep back in. Paperback edition. 
"A special, beautiful, many-faceted book." —Amy Liptrot
"A remarkable piece of writing. Luminous." —Robert Macfarlane
The Nightworkers by Brian Selfon             $40
A Brooklyn family of money launderers thrown into chaos when a runner ends up dead and a bag of dirty money goes missing. Shecky Keenan's family is under fire—or at least it feels that way. Bank accounts have closed unexpectedly, a strange car has been parked near the house at odd hours, and Emil Scott, an enigmatic artist and the family's new runner, is missing—along with the $250,000 of dirty money he was carrying. Inspired by a career that has included corruption cases and wiretaps as an investigative analyst for New York law enforcement, Selfon unspools a tale of crime and consequence through shifting perspectives across the streets, alleys, bodegas, and art studios of Brooklyn. 

Women Will Rise! Recalling the Working Women's Charter edited by Gay Simpkin and Marie Russell           $30
In the late 1970s, as the women’s movement was fracturing, trade union women put forward a new agenda to bring feminists and women workers together. The one-page, 16-clause Working Women’s Charter covered: ★ the right to work ★ equal pay ★ an end to discrimination at work ★ better conditions, family leave, flexible work arrangements ★ free, quality childcare ★ reproductive rights —and more. Challenged by patriarchal union traditions, the women worked hard to win union support for their demands. This book includes chapters by women who promoted the Charter, and others looking at what has been achieved since — and what remains to be done.
Soundings: Journeys in the company of whales by Doreen Cunningham          $38
Doreen first visited Utqiagvik, the northernmost town in Alaska, as a young journalist reporting on climate change among indigenous whaling communities. There, she joined the spring whale hunt under the neverending Arctic light, watching for bowhead whales and polar bears, drawn deeply into an Inupiaq family, their culture and the disappearing ice. Years later, plunged into sudden poverty and isolation, living in a Women's Refuge with her baby son, Doreen recalls the wilderness that once helped shape her own. She embarks on an extraordinary adventure: taking Max to follow the grey whale migration all the way north to the Inupiaq family that took her in, where grey and bowhead whales meet at the melting apex of our planet.
All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The true story of the woman at the heart of the German resistance to Hitler by Rebecca Donner       $40
Born and raised in America, Mildred Harnack was twenty-six when she enrolled in a PhD programme in Germany and witnessed the meteoric rise of the Nazi party. In 1932, she began holding secret meetings in her apartment-a small band of political activists that by 1940 had grown into the largest underground resistance group in Berlin. She recruited Germans into the resistance, helped Jews escape, plotted acts of sabotage and collaborated in writing leaflets that denounced Hitler and called for revolution. Her co-conspirators circulated through Berlin under the cover of night, slipping the leaflets into mailboxes, public restrooms, phone booths. When the first shots of the Second World War were fired she became a spy, couriering top-secret intelligence to the Allies. On the eve of her escape to Sweden, she was ambushed by the Gestapo. During a hastily convened trial at the Reichskriegsgericht — the Reich Court-Martial — a panel of five judges sentenced her to six years at a prison camp, but Hitler overruled the decision and ordered her execution. On 16 February 1943, she was strapped to a guillotine and beheaded.
Niho Taniwha: Improving teaching and learning for ākonga Māori by Melanie Riwai-Couch          $70
Niho Taniwha equips educators with culturally responsive practices to better serve and empower Māori students and their whānau. The book is centred around the Niho Taniwha model, in which both the learner and the teacher move through three phases in the teaching and learning process: Whai, Ako and Mau. Written by a senior advisor to the Ministry of Education, the book shows that educational success for Māori students is about more than academic achievement – it includes all aspects of hauora (health and wellbeing). This book demonstrates how to create learning environments that encompass self-esteem, happiness and engagement in Māori language, identity and culture.
All That She Carried: The story of Ashley's sack, a Black family keepsake by Tiya Miles            $36
In 1850s South Carolina, an enslaved woman named Rose faced a crisis, the imminent sale of her daughter Ashley. Thinking quickly, she packed a cotton bag with a few precious items as a token of love and to try to ensure Ashley's survival. Soon after, the nine-year-old girl was separated from her mother and sold. Decades later, Ashley's granddaughter Ruth embroidered this family history on the bag in spare yet haunting language—including Rose's wish that "It be filled with my Love always." Ruth's sewn words, the reason we remember Ashley's sack today, evoke a sweeping family story of loss and of love passed down through generations. Winner of a (US) National Book Award.
"Deeply layered and insightful. A bold reflection on American history, African American resilience, and the human capacity for love and perseverance in the face of soul-crushing madness." —The Washington Post
Jungle Nama by Amitav Ghosh, illustrated by Salman Toor            $35
A beautifully illustrated verse adaptation of a legend from the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest. It tells the story of the avaricious rich merchant Dhona, the poor lad Dukhey, and his mother; it is also the story of Dokkhin Rai, a mighty spirit who appears to humans as a tiger, of Bon Bibi, the benign goddess of the forest, and her warrior brother Shah Jongoli. Jungle Nama is the story of an ancient legend with urgent relevance to today's climate crisis. Its themes of limiting greed, and of preserving the balance between the needs of humans and nature have never been more timely.
Woodcut Postcard Book by Bryan Nash Gill             $35
24 cards of twelve prints taken from the arboreal rings of actual trees. 

Saturday 21 May 2022

BOOKS @ VOLUME #279 (20.5.22)

Read our latest NEWSLETTER and find out what we have been reading and recommending. 


Friday 20 May 2022


Book of the Week: The Fish by Lloyd Jones
In this fable-like novel from the author of (most famously) Mister Pip and (most recently) The Cage, the narrator's sister gives birth to a very different sort of child, who reveals the family's capacities for both love and shame, set against small-town small-minded New Zealand in the 1960s. Just what is Fish's relationship with the sea beside which he was born, and what bearing might this have on the Wahine disaster? And what is the relationship between the narrator writing this account and the events that are contained within it? 
>>Read Stella's review.
>>The Wahine disaster
>>Read Thomas's reviews of The Cage and High Wire
>>....and then there were none


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


The Fish by Lloyd Jones  {Reviewed by STELLA}
Lloyd Jones's latest novel, firmly set in 1960s New Zealand, turns the tables on our expectations. The Fish is a story of a writer, and a tale of a family fraught with shame, tragedy and love. When the teenage daughter, always referred to as The Fish’s Mother, gives birth to ‘Fish’ she is simultaneously both protected and rejected by her family, and by extension, her child also. That this baby is viewed as different — he has googly eyes, a lopsided wide gob, smells strongly and sometimes has gills — is more a reflection of the family’s shame or discomfort with the situation they find themselves in rather than the child in and of itself. Although you do, through the eyes of his uncle (the narrator of this story), get the district impression of an oddity — Fish is not like other children and possibly not like other humans. This otherness lies at the heart of the novel (what happens when you take a fish out of water, or, as a writer, you are both inside and outside of lived family experience?), and the family’s complex responses to Fish, and interactions with each other. Both daughters are wayward: Clara, the eldest, escapes to Sydney, where she works in ‘modelling’ or as she later puts it, the "professional girl-friending" business. The Fish’s Mother is promiscuous and drug-addicted, often found on the ships. Uncle, our narrator, is the youngest of this trio of siblings and, only nine when Clara leaves home and The Fish arrives on the scene, is both witness and victim of the complex family narrative. Anyone who has grown up in a family with a challenging sibling will instantly recognise the conflicting emotions that arise in such family dynamics, moving in a forever-cycle of guilt, blame and shame as well as love and care. Jones hints at incest, but this is ambiguous. Mrs Montgomery’s insistence at naming Fish ‘Colin Montgomery’ after her husband may be her finger-pointing, and her shoplifting, drinking and later dementia may indicate her various forms of escape from the unhappy household. Water — the sea specifically — plays a major character role. As a gentle loving embrace — the house and the caravan (a central refuge, as well as a symbol of heartache, for all the family members at different times in their lives) on the coast, the summers at the beach, the freedom of the ocean, and Fish’s great ability to stay underwater for significant periods of time. And in comparison an angry force, unforgiving and prepared to wreak havoc — the sea (or the ships) take the Fish’s Mother away, washes through Colin Montgomery senior as his heart fails, and a storm, specifically the one that sank the Wahine, swallows its victims — some are spat out, but others are taken to its depths. Lloyd Jones writes with both careful silences — much is unsaid or only hinted at — and descriptive clarity — the Wahine storm is vivid, while the building tempo of 1960s society, piece by piece, reaches a crescendo, its own storm wave. Littered with oblique references to mythology, sea lore, and with metaphoric resonance, The Fish is a thought-provoking novel unafraid, like its protagonist, to travel against the tide while still adhering to what makes a tale compassionate — humanity in all its glory and squall.


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 



The Very Last Interview by David Shields   {"Reviewed" by THOMAS}

So, what makes you want to write a review of David Shields’s new book, The Very Last Interview

Then why are you writing one?

Every week? Whose idea was that?   

Surely at your age, you shouldn’t be so bound by obligation or by expectation, or whatever you call it?

Yes, but do you really care what these readers might think, and do you even believe that there are such people? Aren’t you being altogether a bit precious? 

Do you really think that this helps to pay the mortgage, I mean that this makes a direct and measurable contribution towards paying your mortgage? Or even an indirect and unmeasurable but still valuable contribution towards paying your mortgage? 

Well, what else would you be doing?

Surely you’re joking? 

Okay, we’ve got a bit off the track there. I will reframe my first question. What makes you think that you are able to write a review of David Shields’s new book? 

Don’t you think your humility is a bit mannered?

The Very Last Interview is a book consisting entirely of questions that interviewers have asked David Shields over the years, omitting his answers, assuming he will have answered probably at least most of the questions, and your review, if we can call it that, of this book also consists of a series of questions ostensibly directed at you but without your answers, if indeed there were answers, which is less certain in your case than in the case of David Shields. Is this, on your part, a deliberate choice of approach, and, if so, is it justifiable? 

Do you really believe that a review written in imitation of, or in the style of, the work under review inherently reveals something about that work, even if the review is badly written, or should your approach rather be attributed to laziness, stylistic insecurity, or creative bankruptcy? 

Has it ever occurred to you that the supposedly more enjoyable qualities of your writing are actually nothing more than literary tics or affectations, and, furthermore, that it might be these very literary tics and affectations that prevent you from writing anything of real literary worth? 

Do you think that, by removing his input into the original interviews but retaining the questions, David Shields is attempting to remove himself from his own existence, or merely to show that our identities are always imposed from outside us rather than from inside, or that we exist as persons only to the extent that we are seen by others? Is this, in fact, all the same thing? 

What do you mean by that statement, ‘We are defined by the limits we present to the observations of others’?

What do you mean by that statement ‘There is no such thing as writing, only editing,’ and how does that relate to Shields’s work? 

Do you think that David Shields, in this book as in the much-discussed 2010 Reality Hunger, sees the individual as an illusion, a miserable fragment of what is actually a ‘hive mind’ or collective consciousness, and that ‘creativity’, so to call it, is another illusion predicated on this illusion of individuality?

You don’t?

What do you think David Shields would have answered, when asked, as he was, seemingly in this book, “But what is the role of the imagination in this ‘post-literature literature’ that you envision?” and how might this differ from the answer you might give if asked the same question? 

Shields was asked if he had written anything that couldn’t be interpreted as ‘crypto-autobiography’, but don’t you think the salient question is whether it is even possible to write anything that couldn’t be interpreted as crypto-autobiography? 

Is a perfectly delineated absence, such as David Shields approximates in The Very Last Interview, in fact the most perfect portrait of a person, even the best possible definition of a person, as far as this is possible at all? 

But do you actually have a personal opinion on this? 

Do you think then that you, like Shields, like us all perhaps, are, in essence, a ghost?


Otherlands: A world in the making by Thomas Halliday          $54
An exhilarating journey into deep time, showing us the Earth as it used to exist, and the worlds that were here before ours. Travelling back in time to the dawn of complex life, and across all seven continents, Halliday gives us a mesmerizing up close encounter with eras that are normally unimaginably distant. Halliday immerses us in a series of ancient landscapes, from the mammoth steppe in Ice Age Alaska to the lush rainforests of Eocene Antarctica, with its colonies of giant penguins, to Ediacaran Australia, where the moon is far brighter than ours today. We visit the birthplace of humanity; we hear the crashing of the highest waterfall the Earth has ever known; and we watch as life emerges again after the asteroid hits, and the age of the mammal dawns. These lost worlds seem fantastical and yet every description—whether the colour of a beetle's shell, the rhythm of pterosaurs in flight or the lingering smell of sulphur in the air—is grounded in the fossil record. Otherlands is an imaginative feat: an emotional narrative that underscores the tenacity of life—yet also the fragility of seemingly permanent ecosystems, including our own. To read it is to see the last 500 million years not as an endless expanse of unfathomable time, but as a series of worlds, simultaneously fabulous and familiar.

Wivenhoe by Samuel Fisher              $40
A young man is found brutally murdered in the middle of the snowed-in village of Wivenhoe. Over his body stands another man, axe in hand. The gathered villagers must deal with the consequences of an act that no-one tried to stop. Wivenhoe is a haunting novel set in an alternate present, in a world that is slowly waking up to the fact that it is living through an environmental disaster. Taking place over twenty-four hours and told through the voices of a mother and her adult son, we see how one small community reacts to social breakdown and isolation. Fisher imagines a world, not unlike our own, struck down and on the edge of survival. If society as we know it is lost, what would we strive to save? At what point will we admit complicity in our own destruction?
"Quiet, fable-like menace radiates from every page of Wivenhoe. Elegant and searching, it asks vital questions about what it means to be part of a community — about integrity, belonging, and how darkness can go unchecked when isolation and suspicion sets in — questions that now feel more relevant than ever." —Sophie Mackintosh

Landfall 243 edited by Lynley Edmeades           $30
Words by Vincent O’Sullivan, Bill Direen, Louise Wallace, David Eggleton, Emma Neale, Janis Freegard, Tim Upperton, Erik Kennedy, Rebecca Hawkes, and many others. Images by Sione Monū, Kim Pieters, and James R. Ford. This issue also announces the 2022 winner of the Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Competition.
The Rooftop by Fernanda Trías (translated from the Spanish by Annie McDermott)          $34
'The world is this house,’ says Clara while she is trying to protect her beloved ones from the world – yes, that one outside their house walls – which seems to threaten them more and more. Clara entrenches herself with her father and her daughter Flor in a dark apartment that inevitably crumbles on them. The roof becomes their last recess of freedom. A caged bird is the only witness of Clara’s fear and resistance against those she thinks are trying to destroy her. Are threats and pain external or inside our own bodies? Where is violence’s root? What are we afraid of? Is there a possibility to find a roof to finally being able to breathe? What are our umbilical cords? Fernanda Trías does not answer these questions – impossible for anyone – about instinct, civilization and taboos, instead she gives them shape and dives deep into them a with a grotesque and forceful history written with agility and a Kafkaesque sense of humour. The Rooftop is a claustrophobic novel about freedom, and also about fear, violence, motherhood and loss. 
"One of the most interesting authors writing in Spanish today." —Mario Levrero
Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov (translated by Angela Rodel)           $38
An enigmatic flâneur named Gaustine opens a 'clinic for the past' that offers a promising treatment for Alzheimer's sufferers: each floor reproduces a decade in minute detail, transporting patients back in time. As Gaustine's assistant, the unnamed narrator is tasked with collecting the flotsam and jetsam of the past, from 1960s furniture and 1940s shirt buttons to scents and even afternoon light. But as the rooms become more convincing, an increasing number of healthy people seek out the clinic as a 'time shelter', hoping to escape from the horrors of our present — a development that results in an unexpected conundrum when the past begins to invade the present.
"In equal measure playful and profound, Georgi Gospodinov's Time Shelter renders the philosophical mesmerizing, and the everyday extraordinary." —Claire Messud
Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park (translated by Anton Hur)          $38
“Sang Young Park’s sharp, funny picaresque follows Young, our charming hero, through his rakish college days and into his still-insouciant thirties, as he drifts through boyfriends, jobs, friends, and most of all, through Seoul. Among the many pleasures of this wonderful novel are Young’s running commentaries about work, class, sex, queer domestic life, contemporary Korean family dynamics, and the literary world he finds himself in. I’m obsessed with this book.”—Andrea Lawlor
Long-listed for the 2022 International Booker Prize
The New Adventures of Helen by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (translated by Jane Bugaeva)               $35
'Adult fairy tales' asking deep questions about gender, love, history, memory, and the future, taking place in times between history and the now.
"Her tales inhabit a borderline between this world and the next." —The New York Times Book Review
"Petrushevskaya has a ringleader's calm mastery of the absurd." —The New Yorker
"Petrushevskaya is the Tolstoy of the communal kitchen. She is not, like Tolstoy, writing of war, or, like Dostoevsky, writing of criminals on the street, or, like poet Anna Akhmatova or novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, noting the extreme suffering of those sent to the camps. Rather, she is bearing witness to the fight to survive the everyday. She is dazzlingly talented and deeply empathetic." —Slate
The Passenger: Rome              $33
"Fresh and diverting, informative and topical without being slight or ephemeral. This supremely well-edited combination of current affairs, journalism, commentary, and fun facts is perfect for our pause-button moment." —AFR. If you believe what's currently being said about Rome, the city is on the verge of collapse. Each year, it slips further down the ranking of the world's most liveable cities. To the problems faced by all large capitals, Rome has added a list of calamities of its own: a string of failing administrations, widespread corruption, the resurgence of fascist movements, rampant crime. A seemingly hopeless situation, perfectly symbolised by the fact that Rome currently leads the world in the number of self-combusting public buses. If we look closer this narrative is contradicted by just as many signs that point in the opposite direction. Above all, the lack of the mass emigration one would except in these circumstances: the vast majority of Romans don't think for a second of 'betraying' their hometown, and the many newcomers who have populated it in recent decades are often indistinguishable from the natives in the profound love that binds them to the city. Rome is a place of contradictions: an "incredibly deceptive city", always different from what it appears to be. 
Other destinations in the excellent 'The Passenger' series: Greece; Berlin; India; Japan; Paris; Ireland
The Land Gardeners — Cut Flowers by Bridget Elworthy and Henrietta Courtauld         $55
The Land Gardeners show you how to establish organic garden beds and sow, grow and harvest over 100 varieties of cut flowers. 
"With their instinctive flair, Elworthy and Courtauld established cutting gardens that bring the deep poetry of organic flowers to their enthusiastic customers." —Patrick Kinmonth
Trespasses by Louise Kennedy            $33
Cushla Lavery lives with her mother in a small town near Belfast. At twenty-four, she splits her time between her day job as a teacher to a class of seven-year-olds, and regular bartending shifts in the pub owned by her family. It's here, on a day like any other — as the daily news rolls in of another car bomb exploding, another man shot, killed, beaten or left for dead — that she meets Michael Agnew, an older (and married) barrister who draws her into his sophisticated group of friends. When the father of a young boy in her class, becomes the victim of a savage attack, Cushla is compelled to help his family. But as her affair with Michael intensifies, political tensions in the town escalate, threatening to destroy all she is working to hold together.
"Dazzling." —Guardian
The Island of Extraordinary Captives: The true story of an artist, a spy and a wartime scandal by Simon Parkin           $38
In May 1940, faced with a country gripped by paranoia, Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered the internment of all German and Austrian citizens living in Britain. Most, like artist Peter Fleischmann , were refugees who had come to the country to escape Nazi oppression. They were now imprisoned by the very country in which they had staked their trust. The Island of Extraordinary Captives tells, for the first time, the story of the internment camp in the Isle of Man, and of how a group of world-renown artists, musicians and academics came to be seen as 'enemy aliens'. It reveals how Britain's treatment of refugees during the Second World War was a series of shameful missteps.
The Politics of Design: Privilege and prejudice in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia and South Africa edited by Jane Venis, Frederico Freschi, and Farieda Nazier         $50
Taking a broad definition of design and drawing on the shared histories and legacies of settler colonialism in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, The Politics of Design offers a wide-ranging comparative study that focuses specifically on the role of design in creating and perpetuating the privileges and prejudices of racial hierarchies. This provocative volume raises long-overdue questions about the problematic histories and effects of design in the context of these settler-colonial societies. The authors draw on a range of subjects and themes, including various manifestations of visual culture and urban and design technologies, from both an historical and contemporary perspective. Indigenous voices are prominent, enabling a recovery of knowledge that was erased through colonial systems of integration and assimilation. In the current context of globalism, resurgent nationalism and calls for decolonisation The Politics of Design challenges us to think comparatively across disparate but conceptually similar cultural and geographical contexts. In drawing attention to the role of design in sustaining the prejudices and privileges of whiteness and in rendering visible its complexities and contradictions that have long been hidden in plain sight this book makes the argument for a new kind of restorative knowledge.
This Woman's Work: Essays on music edited by Sinead Gleeson and Kim Gordon         $38
Published to challenge the historic narrative of music and music writing being written by men, for men, This Woman's Work seeks to confront the male dominance and sexism that have been hard-coded in the canons of music, literature, and film and has forced women to fight pigeon-holing or being side-lined by carving out their own space. Contributions by Anne Enright, Fatima Bhutto, Jenn Pelly, Rachel Kushner, Juliana Huxtable, Leslie Jamison, Liz Pelly, Maggie Nelson, Margo Jefferson, Megan Jasper, Ottessa Moshfegh, Simone White, Yiyun Li, and Zakia Sewell.
"What binds these writers is their emotional connection to music, and their experience of songs as a portal to memories – whether painful or joyful – and a broader understanding of the world. This Woman’s Work is a collection of music writing, but in the loosest possible sense. Here, music is the soil in which all manner of stories take seed and bloom." —Guardian
Seven Pillars of Science: The incredible lightness of ice, and other scientific surprises by John Gribbin            $25
The seven fundamental - and surprising - scientific truths of our existence. These 'pillars of science' also defy common sense. For example, solid things are mostly empty space, so how do they hold together? There appears to be no special 'life force', so how do we distinguish living things from inanimate objects? And why does ice float on water, when most solids don't? You might think that question hardly needs asking, and yet if ice didn't float, life on Earth would never have happened.
The Lost Whale by Hannah Gold           $23
Rio has been sent to live with a grandmother he barely knows in California, while his mum is in hospital back home. Alone and adrift, the only thing that makes him smile is joining his new friend Marina on her dad's whale watching trips. That is until an incredible encounter with White Beak, a gentle giant of the sea changes everything. But when White Beak goes missing, Rio must set out on a desperate quest to find his whale and somehow save his mother.
Trust by Hernán Diaz       $38
Even through the roar and effervescence of the 1920s, everyone in New York has heard of Benjamin and Helen Rask. He is a legendary Wall Street tycoon; she is the daughter of eccentric aristocrats. Together, they have risen to the very top of a world of seemingly endless wealth—all as a decade of excess and speculation draws to an end. But at what cost have they acquired their immense fortune? This is the mystery at the center of Bonds, a successful 1937 novel that all of New York seems to have read. Yet there are other versions of this tale of privilege and deceit. Trust puts these competing narratives into conversation with one another—and in tension with the perspective of one woman bent on disentangling fact from fiction. The result is a novel that spans over a century and becomes more exhilarating with each new revelation. At once an immersive story and a literary puzzle, Trust engages the reader in a quest for the truth while confronting the deceptions that often live at the heart of personal relationships, the reality-warping force of capital, and the ease with which power can manipulate facts.
“Intricate, cunning and consistently surprising.” —New York Times
“An absolutely brilliant novel." —Los Angeles Times
London Clay: Journeys in the deep city by Tom Chivers          $48
Tom Chivers follows hidden pathways, explores lost islands and uncovers the geological mysteries that burst up through the pavement and bubble to the surface of the city streets. From Roman ruins to a submerged playhouse, from an abandoned Tube station to underground rivers, Chivers leads us on a journey into the depths of the city he loves. A lyrical interrogation of a capital city, a landscape and our connection to place, London Clay celebrates urban edgelands: in-between spaces where the natural world and the metropolis collide.
Nothing But the Truth: Stories of crime, guilt, and the loss of innocence by 'The Secret Barrister'             $40
Just how do you become a barrister? And why do only 1 per cent of those who study law succeed in joining this mysteriously opaque profession? If it's such a great occupation, how come you work 100-hour weeks for what works out as a very low rate? And why might a practising barrister come to feel the need to reveal the lies, secrets, failures and crises at the heart of this world of wigs and gowns? Read about those lies, secrets, failures and crises in this book.
"Excellent. At once a vicious polemic, a helpful primer and a cringe-inducing account of one barrister's travails." —Daily Telegraph
Tales from the Tillerman: A life-long love affair with Britain's waterways by Steve Haywood        $28
"Haywood conjures up a picture of a different world, filled with interesting and eccentric people. A cross-section of the best of middle England, in fact." —The Oxford Times
Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams by Sylvia Plath            $23
From her mid-teens Sylvia Plath wrote stories, twenty-four of which are collected here, along with works of journalism and extracts from her journal. An office assistant in a hospital pursues a secret vocation. A girl endures a series of initiation ceremonies to join her high school sorority. A married woman seeks relief from the dull realities of daily life. New edition.
"all the pieces presented here are revealing. It ought to round out one's knowledge of the writer, and, perhaps, offer some surprises. Luckily it does both." —Margaret Atwood, New York Times

Rebel Skies by Ann Sei Lin          $20
Kurara has never known any other life than being a servant on board the Midori, but when her party trick of making paper come to life turns out to be a power treasured across the empire, she joins a skyship and its motley crew to become a Crafter. Taught by the gruff but wise Himura, Kurara learns to hunt shikigami – wild paper spirits who are sought after by the Princess. But are these creatures just powerful slaves for the Crafters and the empire, or are they beings with their own souls – and yet another thing to be subjugated by the powerful Emperor and his Princess?
The Colony of Good Hope by Kim Leine          $38
1728: The doomed Danish King Fredrik IV sends a governor to Greenland to establish a colony, in the hopes of exploiting the country's allegedly vast natural resources. A few merchants, a barber-surgeon, two trainee priests, a blacksmith, some carpenters and soldiers and a dozen hastily married couples go with him. The missionary priest Hans Egede has already been in Greenland for several years when the new colonists arrive. He has established a mission there, but the converts are few. Among those most hostile Egede is the shaman Aappaluttoq, whose own son was taken by the priest and raised in the Christian faith as his own. Thus the great rift between two men, and two ways of life, is born. The newly arrived couples - composed of men and women plucked from prison - quickly sink into a life of almost complete dissolution, and soon unsanitary conditions, illness and death bring the colony to its knees. Through the starvation and the epidemics that beset the colony, Egede remains steadfast in his determination - willing to sacrifice even those he loves for the sake of his mission.
The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave              $38
In Strasbourg, in the boiling hot summer of 1518, a plague strikes the women of the city. First it is just one - a lone figure, dancing in the town square - but she is joined by more and more and the city authorities declare an emergency. Musicians will be brought in. The devil will be danced out of these women. Just beyond the city's limits, pregnant Lisbet lives with her mother-in-law and husband, tending the bees that are their livelihood. Her best friend Ida visits regularly and Lisbet is so looking forward to sharing life and motherhood with her. And then, just as the first woman begins to dance in the city, Lisbet’s sister-in-law Nethe returns from six years penance in the mountains for an unknown crime. No one - not even Ida - will tell Lisbet what Nethe did all those years ago, and Nethe herself will not speak a word about it. It is the beginning of a few weeks that will change everything for Lisbet – her understanding of what it is to love and be loved, and her determination to survive at all costs for the baby she is carrying. Lisbet and Nethe and Ida soon find themselves pushing at the boundaries of their existence – but they're dancing to a dangerous tune.
Brittle With Relics: A history of Wales, 1962—1997 by Richard King           $55
A history of the people of Wales undergoing some of the country's most seismic and traumatic events: the disasters of Aberfan and Tryweryn; the rise of the Welsh language movement; the Miners' Strike and its aftermath; and the narrow vote in favour of partial devolution.
"Richly humane, viscerally political, generously multi-voiced, Brittle with Relics is oral history at its revelatory best: containing multitudes and powerfully evoking that most remote but also resonant of times, the day before yesterday." —David Kynaston
First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami           $24
All told in the first person by a classic Murakami narrator, these stories challenge the boundaries between our minds and the exterior world. Occasionally, a narrator may or may not be Murakami himself. Now in paperback.

Hedgewitch by Skye McKenna           $25
Witches aren't born, they're made... It has been seven years since Cassie Morgan last saw her mother. Left at a dreary boarding school, she spends her days hiding from the school bully and reading forbidden story books about the world of Faerie. Certain that her mother is still alive, Cassie is determined to find her, whatever the dangers, and runs away from school. Lost and alone, she is chased by a pack of goblins but, to her surprise, escapes with the help of a flying broom and a talking cat named Montague, who takes her to the cosy village of Hedgely. Here she discovers that she comes from a family of witches, women who protect Britain from the denizens of Faerie, who are all too real and far more frightening than her story books suggest. The first book in a new series. 
Auto Erotica: A grand tour through classic car brochures of the 1960s to 1980s by Jonny Trunk             $55
Car brochures of the era had fabulous photography, dazzling colour charts, daring typography, strange fold outs and inspiring styles symbolising the automobile aspirations of their generations.