an awkward comeback + some books i’ve loved this year

IMG_4664I actually Googled “how to start blogging again after a long absence” to try and find a non-awkward way to approach writing this post (and, with any luck, the next few posts) but the only real piece of advice I found was not along the lines of “duh, don’t leave your blog dormant for months and years on end”. Harsh, Google. True though.

While I work out where – and how – to begin blogging again, I’ve been thinking about some of the books I’ve read so far this year. We’re over halfway through 2016, which is frankly ridiculous. But that’s okay, because I’ve read some seriously good books.

I hope you don’t mind me sharing them with you.

I’m starting with Yvette Walker’s criminally underrated Letters to the End of Love. I read it at the start of this year and since then I’ve been quietly devastated that I wasn’t smart enough to pick this up when it was first released back in 2013. I utterly adored this intense, elegant epistolary novel about three relationships; each taking place across different time periods, different countries and different sexualities. I’m already looking forward to reading it again – although I’m not sure how I’ll keep my place, as I’ve already folded over every second corner to mark a favourite quote or passage.

Another book I wish I’d read when it first came out? Arms Race by Nic Low. How would you classify these twelve unexpected short stories? Science fiction? Humour? Perhaps a little of both. One thing’s for sure – this is a really strong collection. In the months since reading Arms Race, I still find myself thinking about Low’s stories all the time. They keep coming back to me like the echoes of dreams. They’re bizarre and beautiful and I loved every one of them.

Another book to which I arrived later than usual was Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things. How can a novel be so surreal and real both at the same time? And so, so good? Really, everything about this stunning novel has already been written. I have nothing new to add, other than my admiration.

I did, somehow, manage to find something to say about Helen Garner’s masterful collection of essays, Everywhere I Look. I reviewed it for Newtown Review of Books, and it’s left me itching to read more of Garner’s fiction and non-fiction. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

I have a bit of a thing for Geoff Dyer. I read Out of Sheer Rage last year and dogeared it to within an inch of its life. Which is why I picked up White Sands, Dyer’s new collection of essays on place and art and crisis. There are moments in White Sands when Dyer is at his infuriating best – he’s obtuse and wrapped up in his own obsessions, but the thread of vulnerability that runs through the collection draws the reader towards a touching, sincere final act.

I started this post with a book I should have read years ago, so it seems fitting to finish it with a series of books that are very much here-and-now – Nick Earls’ Wisdom Tree collection. It’s a series of five novellas. I’ve read Gotham and Venice, the first two in the series, and I’m just about to begin the third. It’s not just the episodic nature of this series that has me hooked – it’s the way Earls captures his characters so perfectly. I’m looking forward to finding out where Earls is going to take me next.


I’d better sign off here, before I start rambling about every book I’ve read so far this year. Sitting on my to-read pile right now? Jennifer Down’s Our Magic Hour, The Feel-Good Hit of the Year by Liam Pieper (how could I resist that title?) and A S Patric’s Las Vegas for Vegans, because I was transfixed by Black Rock White City. There’s also Shibboleth and other stories, this year’s Margaret River Short Story collection anthology, edited by the brilliant Laurie Steed.

I’ve realised recently what a privilege it is to have access to books. Three cheers for libraries. I’m lucky to have plenty of reading in my future.

Talking of the future, I’m hoping to start blogging more often. I’ve really missed writing posts like this one. It’s just a matter of throwing words at the screen and hoping some of them stay there…and make sense.

2016 – everywhere i look – helen garner


One day I heard what sounded like music, very faint and far away. I thought I was hallucinating, and kept walking. But every time I passed the entrance to a certain west-running hallway, the same thing would happen: fragile drifts of notes and slow arpeggios, as if a ghost in a curtain-muffled room were playing a piano. I was too embarrassed to ask if anyone else had heard it; was I starting to crack up? But one day when there was no one else around I went in search of it. I found that an intersection of two corridors had been roofed in glass or Perspex. Two benches had been placed against a wall, and from a tiny speaker, fixed high in a corner, came showering these delicious droplets of sound. It was a resting place that some nameless benefactor had created, for people who thought they couldn’t go on.

Linda and Jean from Newtown Review of Books were kind enough to let me review Helen Garner’s latest, Everywhere I Look.

(Needless to say, I’m a bit of a Garner fan…)

2015 – salt creek – lucy treloar

Salt Creek Lucy Treloar

It has been closer to me of late, its outlines growing clear again. Not two weeks ago letters and an old tin trunk crammed with items from the past arrived from South Australia. It was dented, dusty still, and a finger drawn across its skin left a smudge on my fingers. Could it be the grime of the Coorong after such a journey? On a whim I licked it from my fingers – salt – and swallowed to keep it safe.

Earlier this month, I reviewed Lucy Treloar’s debut novel, Salt Creek for Newtown Review of Books. At the time, it had won the Indie Award for debut fiction, made the shortlist for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction – and just a day or two before my review was published, had been longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award. It’s since been longlisted for the Dobbie award for a debut novel by a woman writer. In other words, Salt Creek is everywhere at the moment – and deservedly so.

If you’re interested, you can read my review of Salt Creek here.

I know I say this every time I post a NRB review, but I can’t say it enough – thanks to Linda and Jean for publishing me. There’s really only one way to learn how to write book reviews, and that’s by actually writing book reviews. NRB provides not only an online space for the work of emerging critics to learn their craft, but feedback on their work, which is invaluable for those of us still learning our craft.


I’d been putting off reading Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things for the longest time. I’m not sure why. I bought it as soon as it came out, and it’s been sitting on my bedside table since.

Perhaps my hesitation is because Wood’s writing always leaves me devastated – in a good way, but still devastated – and I’ve been feeling fragile for months now. Either way, I finally picked it up last week and gulped it down in two marathon sittings, finally turning the last page at 1am and remaining awake for hours after. And yes, it’s devastating, but it’s also beautiful and sad and funny and intensely moving. I’d love to write more about this novel, but I doubt I have anything new to add, other than my sincere admiration.

Anyway – while on the subject of books and awards, I was so thrilled to see The Natural Way of Things win this year’s Stella Prize. You can read Charlotte’s amazing acceptance speech here.

2015 – the women’s pages – debra adelaide

The Women's Pages Debra Adelaide

Taking on a literary classic is by no means easy, but Adelaide emerges triumphant. Her novel-within-a-novel is a poignant, richly feminist tribute to Wuthering Heights that deserves a place beside it on the shelf.

When Jean and Linda from Newtown Review of Books offered me the chance to review Debra Adelaide’s The Women’s Pages, I was delighted. Not only because I was enchanted by the idea of this book, but also because it gave me the perfect excuse to do something I’d been daydreaming about for a long time – reread Wuthering Heights.

I genuinely adored The Women’s Pages and was absolutely thrilled to see it longlisted for the 2016 Stella Prize. Here’s a link to my review – and, as always, my eternal thanks to Jean and Linda for their editorial genius.


It’s been a while between blog posts. There’s so much to write, so much to read…but where to begin? And where to end? The other day, I reread ABR’s November edition, in which Kerryn Goldsworthy, named Critic of the Month, writes about the qualities of a fine critic

Clarity, of vision and style. Fearlessness, which is not the same thing as aggression, vanity, or bumptiousness. A sense of humour, including about oneself. The refusal to get into a rut, and indeed the ability to recognise and avoid a rut.

I’m still working on all of these things. That last one in particular.

So, yes. Although I’ve said it before – more soon.