CategoryReviews of Australian Literature

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

The backdrop of this book is the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary with a mix of fictional characters and historical figures. It begins when the fictional Esme was a child spending hours under a work table in the building where James Murray and others worked to create the dictionary. They reviewed words suggested by volunteers for the dictionary, wrote definitions, and verified the...

The Dry by Jane Harper

Jane Harper’s first novel is a police procedural set in rural Australia a few hundred miles west of Melbourne in an area that had been beset by a drought of several years duration. The main character is Aaron Falk, returned to the town after 20 years absence for the funerals of his high school friend Luke, his wife, and son. Aaron and his father had moved to Melbourne when he was a teenager...

Daisy Bates in the Desert by Julia Blackburn

It is hard work to read a biography of a liar, a person who works to create myths about themselves. My previous experience of this was with Calamity Jane, that denizen of the Wild West who is buried near Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood, S.D. When I read a short academic take on her life, I found it was an unsatisfying effort to separate facts and myth with no charm. This author, by contrast, is...

The Performance by Claire Thomas

This one will be nominated to my list of favorites for the year. For the duration of the performance of the absurdist play “Happy Days” by Samuel Becket we get to know three women. It begins as one of the women is being seated and ends as the women make their way to the parking lot after the play. Somehow within these limits, a novel emerged with characters we come to know well along...

The Yield by Tara June Winch

The enthusiastic response that I have seen to this book is wholly warranted. Its structure is unique and impressive, the tale it tells is engaging, and it relies on clear factual foundations. The story unfolds through three voices. One is the story of August, a modern-day Wiradjuri woman who after 10 years in the UK, returned to New South Wales on the occasion of her grandfather’s death to...

Our Shadows by Gail Jones

Gail Jones has once again hit on many wonderful moments for me, as she did in three other books of hers that I’ve read. This one is set first in Kalgoorlie, a gold mining area in Western Australia and later in Sydney. It is a busy novel, beginning with the non-fictional Paddy Hannon’s childhood in Ireland, before he spent 30 years prospecting in Australia, culminating in the discovery...

The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

I came upon this book in a listing of “beach reads,” and having read two other Charlotte Wood books, I was surprised by that category. The Natural Way of Things is a feminist polemic and very affecting. The Weekend is centered on three women going to a beach north of Sydney over the Christmas weekend (beach weather in Australia). Sounds like a beach read so far. But no. The three have...

Room for a Stranger by Melanie Cheng

When you hear the one sentence describing each of the two main characters you would think this is an unlikely candidate for an uplifting-read book list, but that is where I came upon it. While I would not describe it as “uplifting,” I did find it to be a fine, engaging book. And there’s a bit that is quite timely. Meg is in her 70s and lives in the house where she grew up in a...

There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett

The story of this book is told mostly from the viewpoint of two children in 1980, one in Melbourne and one in Prague. They never meet but are connected by their grandmothers, twins separated as teenagers during wartime in Prague. Each child lives with their grandmother and experiences hardship, but also great love for their grandmothers. Luděk is a young boy who runs through the streets of...

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

As he did in his book Seven Types of Ambiguity, the author depends on coincidences for this 617 page book to work. He begins with the story of a sympathetic character, Lamont Williams, who had just been released after six years in jail. Lamont had agreed to give a ride to his old friend and a man he didn’t know who robbed a store, making Lamont an unwitting get-away driver. He had gotten a...

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