The New Daily reviews nine of the best new books to enjoy while you’re soaking up the sun this spring. There’s something for everyone.
Acute Misfortune: The Life And Death of Adam Cullen
Author: Erik Jensen
Jensen, the founding editor of The Saturday Paper, was only 19 years old when invited to bunk in the shambolic retreat of mercurial artist Adam Cullen, ostensibly to pen a biography on the fictional promise of a publishing contract. Cullen, a serial fibber, was fond of spouting Mickey Rourke’s line from Barbet Schroeder’s 1987 film Barfly: “Endurance is more important than truth,” and it’s very telling of this occasionally driven, always haunted character.
Sinking a bottle of vodka before starting any work, usually chasing it with heroin, Cullen felt misunderstood. He had David Wenham’s psychotic Brett Sprague from The Boys in mind for his Archibald-winning portrait in 2000, but admirers saw only SeaChange. There’s a desperate feeling of loneliness and yearning in his fraught relationships, particularly with his mother and with Jensen himself, despite both shooting him and pushing him from a speeding motorbike. Jensen, for his part, has crafted something truly remarkable in the face of adversity, both harrowing and inspiring.
They say never judge a book by its cover and that may be the case with Vashti’s Dress, Memory. While it may look fluffy and pink, this is a thoroughly engaging and insightful look at a young woman’s awakening, only loosely hung on the changing wardrobe so vividly recalled, pinned to the fabric of memory.
Whether it’s the cast offs of her mother and sisters, or those picked up in travels encompassing New York, Istanbul and Mumbai, her savvy and forthright recollections of a decade feeling a little lost are always engaging and often revealing. There’s a generous warmth pouring off these pages full of the recognisable hurdles of stumbling towards our own measure of success and not always realising exactly when you are, at last, happy.
Over the Water
Author: William Lane
Drawn from his own experiences in the teeming Javanese city of Bandung, Lane places us in the heart of its teeming thoroughfares, as seen through the eyes of a dislocated English teacher Joe, glistening with sweat and alive to the strange magic that seems to thrum beneath the surface of the city.
There’s a restless energy here, with Lane drawing on ancient mythology, hinting at faintly perceptible danger. While his use of accents can be a little hard to stomach, particularly one of Joe’s fellow teachers who repeatedly spouts a cartoonish, “m’laddie,” Lane has a commendable handle on character, exploring identity, misplacement and the nature of love in a land so close to Australia and yet so far.
Following her debut short story collection The China Factory, Costello’s first full-length novel is a generations-spanning fable tracing one woman’s life. We first meet the young Tess as she ‘s disturbed by an errant blackbird, before being confronted by the body of her mother, lost to tuberculosis, seemingly frozen in time as her coffin is taken from the family home.
What unfolds over the course of a lifetime, as Tess leaves for the New World and the heaving metropolis of New York, is a quiet testament to an indomitable spirit, unfurling from wide-eyed innocence to the hardier woman Tess is to become. While she may not be the most overtly fascinating character, the simple joy in Costello’s work is the fascination in the minute detail that draws the reader in unwittingly.
With Ian Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s compelling pseudo-documentary on Nick Cave, 20,000 Days on Earth, currently in cinemas, this beautifully produced coffee table book documenting the progress of his decades-long career makes for the perfect companion piece. Butcher began following Cave and co while a photographer at the NME, from The Birthday Party days right through to 2013’s Push The Sky Away.
It’s a treasure trove of riches, capturing the bad seed’s first meeting with Shane MacGowan in a London pub, his semi-naked writhing on stage and his clustered haven in Berlin. Nina Simone glowers with unmistakable power and there’s even a glimpse of him sandwiched between fellow Australian stars, collaborator Kylie Minogue and the disgraced Rolf Harris. It’s all threaded through with Butcher’s gonzo commentary on misbegotten days attempting to herd these crazy cats and the dust jacket folds out to a rather spectacular portrait of Cave.
There’s a slightly unintended hilarity in the stated mission of The Block judge Palmer’s guide to achieving interior design dreams on any given budget when it’s made clear from the outset that he snaffled properties in Sydney’s Potts Point and North Bondi, but despite the other world stuff there’s plenty of good advice contained within these luscious pages of glorious house-porn.
Palmer’s daggy humour and good cop persona shines through in geeky references to Doctor Who and the X-Men, and there are practical guides to creating upholstered walls or raising doorways to the ceiling to maximise space. As with any of these books, while the budgets on show are clearly astronomical, there’s plenty you can pilfer to recreate with op shop finds and, for die hard fans, no shortage of cheery pictures of the man himself.
Taking as its inspiration the enduring myths of Tezuka’s Astro Boy, manga creator Urasawa was hooked as a young boy on the seminal arc ‘The Greatest Robot on Earth’. Pluto’s hard-boiled take may share some aesthetic beauty with Astro Boy, with sumptuous levels of detail, but the nagging dread of an unfolding murder mystery and Blade Runner-like musings on notions of humanity lend it the hard edge of pulp noir.
Those not accustomed to graphic novels may be further confused by the Japanese tradition of reading from back to front, but this new English translation is a must-read for any fans of the form. A feverish page-turner, when you stumble upon the last panel and realise this is only volume one, Pluto will have you crying out for answers.
Don’t be fooled by it’s diminutive size, the hugely best-selling McCall Smith’s latest standalone work tackles the thorny topic of weight loss with both hands. His largely likeable protagonist, the unsubtly nicknamed American of the tile, travels to the Irish Republic with his loving wife.
To say that their journey does not run smoothly would be an understatement, starting with on-board shame as Fatty is first upgraded to a larger seat in business class then disallowed the superior meals offered there. From here there are travails with missing clothes, broken beds and a too tight bathtub. While there’s nothing overly challenging here and it will blip past in an hour or two, there’s a kernel of truth here about public and private perceptions of self, but it’s a little too lightweight.
While a new novella from the author of Vernon God Little is always welcome, this is an odd creature. Ostensibly a tribute to the Hammer Horror films, there’s little of that great British tradition’s eerie macabre here. Instead this tale of horny old mathematics professor Ariel and his diverted attempt at an illicit affair with a student gets a little lost in the mists that surround an old English seaside.
Playing out like a retelling of Eurydice and Orpheus’ misadventures in the Greek underworld, the symbolism is heavy-handed. While it’s not his most accomplished work, there’s still the joyous riff of his mischievous playfulness with language and knack for the grotesquely absurd, with one genuinely horrifying moment involving an injury that should not be possible that leaves you wanting more.