The Rise And Fall Of Great Powers
Tom Rachman, Text Publishing, $23.95
Review by Stephen A Russell for The New Daily
The Imperfectionists, former journalist Tom Rachman’s glorious debut novel, was set in Rome and featured an interlinking web of character-driven vignettes, with each protagonists’ fate inextricably bound up in the fall of a once grand newspaper. The scope is widened in his sophomore offering, The Rise And Fall Of Great Powers, which follows the comfortable chaos of one super-literary bookshop owner, the magnificently monikered Tooly Zylberberg, across the ebb and flow of three decades and countless countries, beginning and ending in a small, forgotten village in Wales. Glitching backwards and forwards in an intriguingly non-linear fashion, bits and pieces of a mystery involving Tooly’s obscure parentage are slowly unwound, with many of her memories bound up in New York City. This mysterious story, beautifully composed and lyrical, is anchored by its deeply etched, oddball characters, floating in and out of Tooly’s life, and by a richly detailed sense of time and place. When we return, at the end, to Tooly’s musty old bookstore of meagre dreams, it’s in this most reassuringly mundane of places that a magical moment may or may not occur, leaving a great big smile on your face either way as you reluctantly close the covers. Buy it now.
The Peculiar Case Of The Electric Constable: A True Tale Of Passion, Poison & Pursuit
Carol Baxter, Bloomsbury, $20.80
Review by Stephen A Russell for The New Daily
Historical writer Carol Baxter stumbled across the unusual tale of a Victorian Quaker, John Tawell, who eschewed the clean-living values of his religious background and was transported to Sydney for the crime of forgery, while researching her own family’s records from the First Fleet. When she later discovered that he had been tried for murder in 1845, upon returning to London, and that the case had at least partly been uncovered with the aid of the then fledgling technology of the electric telegram – God’s Lightning – she was utterly hooked and immediately threw herself into uncovering as many details about the case as possible, from police reports to newspapers, court transcripts to witness testimonies. Taking this wealth of information, Baxter has summoned an uncanny tale of rand suspense, using the very words once spoken by those involved and recorded for posterity and spinning form them an electrically engaging yarn that, while restricted to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, reads like the most magnificent of Victorian whodunits, with a whiff of Sherlock and a pocketful of Dickens to boot. The cast of true-life characters weaves in and out story rich with the detail of rapidly changing times. Abundant with social and scientific fact, Baxter’s yarn is both fascinatingly informative and page-turningly thrilling. Buy it now.
The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins
Irvine Welsh, Random House, $26.40
Review by Andrew Cattanach for Booktopia
While a darling of transgressive fiction since his debut novel Trainspotting, with The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins Irvine Welsh once again proves himself much more than a one trick pony. Even with his trademark quirks and acerbic characters he proves an incredible craftsman, his storytelling skills threatening to steal the show. He could write anything he wished and be a success. Protagonist (or perhaps antagonist) Lucy Brennan is a militant physical trainer and wouldn’t find the comparison particularly palatable. She treats her body like a temple, and thinks very little of others who don’t do the same. On further consideration, she doesn’t think all that much of anyone. Her life changes forever when one night she uses her physical prowess to disarm an armed gunman on the freeway. Filmed by a bystander, she finds herself thrust into the national spotlight, leading to opportunities in the form of typically ridiculous fitness/reality shows (so ridiculous they sound perfectly plausible) and she looks set for the spotlight until a brutal truth is discovered about the gunman’s motives that night.As Lucy’s star begins to rise and fall, she acquires an apostle, the young artist Lena Sorenson, a woman who has always struggled with her weight, who captured the events on the freeway on her camera phone. While the world sees a shy talent, Lucy only sees a heart attack waiting to happen. The problem is that Lena, despite her own gifts, sees the same thing. Lena enlists Lucy’s help in getting her life back on track, but she soon discovers that Lucy’s outlooks on life are far less healthy than the program she prescribes, and events begin to spiral out of control in the pursuit of perfection. Buy it now.
The Steady Running of the Hour
Justin Go, Allen & Unwin, $23.95
Review by Terry Purcell for Booktopia
The Steady Running of the Hour is an impressive debut novel by young American author Justin Go. It starts with a recently graduated Californian, Tristan Campbell, receiving a letter asking him to contact a London law firm about a possible inheritance. Tristan is intrigued and calls the firm, which represents the trustees of an estate, who explain that Tristan may be the last possible heir. They fly him to London and it is explained to him that he needs quickly to be able to establish a legal connection to the heir named in the Will. At stake is the fortune of a 19th century British shipping magnate held in trust since 1924. The lawyer explained that the Will was drawn up for a young British Army officer, Ashley Walsingham, who survived the trenches of World War 1 only to die while a member of the 1924 Mt Everest expedition. The urgency facing Tristan was the need to establish a claim in the 7 weeks remaining before the trust vests and the distributed to several charities. This young author has written an intriguing authentic tale with confidence and maturity which commences in August 1916 with a brief illicit love affair between Ashley who is on leave before being sent to France and the impetuous nineteen year old Imogene. She is from a well to do middle class English family and falls in love with Ashley which is the trigger for a nearly 90 year old mystery that Tristan must solve to receive the inheritance. Tristan’s quest and ensuing research takes us back to Ashley’s war and the horror of the trenches, to a remote lake in Sweden in early 1917 where Tristan’s grandmother Charlotte is born, forward in time to the 1924 Everest expedition, back to the Paris art world of the “20s, the battlefields of the Somme, and ultimately to the answer of the mystery in Iceland. I could not put this beautifully constructed and engrossing novel down – easy to get into and compelling to the end. Buy it now.
Love Letters to the Dead
Ava Dellaira, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $11.95
Review by Sarah McDulling for Booktopia
Ava Dellaira writes with such perfect pitch and subtle skill, Love Letters to the Dead feels like a modern classic. Laurel is a very self-contained and unassuming protagonist, one who spends the majority of the book repressing her feelings and denying the past. The true depth of her suffering is revealed so gradually that I think I was about a third of the way through the novel before it dawned on me that she wasn’t just wallowing in typical teen angst. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you. I happen tolove wallowing in teen angst, and I’m a proper grown up adult (supposedly). This is one of those books that creeps up on you. You start reading and everything seems pretty cool. You’re like, “Oh hey! I see what’s going on here. High school girl with high school problems. Boy drama! Teen Issues! Burgeoning womanhood! I know the drill.” But as you keep reading you find yourself starting to think, “Hold up. I’m having some strong feelings about this book. Powerful emotions are happening! This is not a drill!” This beautiful book is the perfect for fans of poignant (i.e. emotionally apocalyptic) Young Adult literature like The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Fault in our Stars. And the craziest part? This is the author’s first book! I’m completely blown away by that fact. After such an impressive debut, I can’t wait to see what Ava Dellaira does next because … wow. Buy it now.