Our programming team shares the Australian and international titles—surveying the ethics of storytelling, Deaf culture and identity, and the limitations of love—they recommend reading this month.
Michaela, Artistic Director
The Truth About Her, Jacqueline Maley
Jacqueline Maley has been writing and making headlines for her determined, ethical and empathetic reporting on the sexual assault and harassment scandals within Australia’s highest halls of power. This month she’s also publishing her first novel, which, though Maley says she wrote as an escape from her everyday life, draws richly from her professional observations. Suzy Hamilton is a journalist and a single mum who writes an investigative expose on a Belle Gibson-type wellness blogger; the 25-year-old subject of which kills herself shortly after the story is published. Suzy’s coping mechanisms are questionable at best, and she throws herself into overlapping affairs and relationships, more work, and parenting. Maley expertly navigates the interplay of guilt, shame, anger and the responsibility we have to each other, and each other’s stories. This is a tender, funny and original story, and my personal highlight was Maley’s rendering of the whole world contained in a relationship between a single mother and her daughter.
Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro
The narrator of Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel since winning the Nobel Prize for Literature is Klara, an ‘Artificial Friend’ designed to keep the lonely children of this world company. Klara is chosen from the store by Josie, who suffers a vaguely described illness that seems to result from genetic meddling to improve her chance for success in a society where children are described as being ‘lifted’ and many of their parents ‘High Rank.’ Through Klara’s eyes, Ishiguro doesn’t world-build so much as leave a trail of suggestion and innuendo that the reader must shade in themselves. The effect is like being a child overhearing a disturbing conversation between adults and not quite understanding it. Ishiguro teases out the mystery with exquisite pacing, giving us only glimpses of his world through Klara’s voice, which shifts from naive to elegiacal throughout her life, without losing her child-like capacity for wonder. Klara becomes convinced that the sun will cure Josie and becomes obsessed with her quest to be the best Artificial Friend to Josie as possible. A new Ishiguro novel is a landmark literary event, and Klara and the Sun is a superb, unsettling, inventive and affecting testament to the possibility and limitations of love.
Gene, Associate Director
A Room Called Earth, Madeleine Ryan
Set over a single night where we follow an unnamed narrator from pre-party preparation through to the morning after, A Room Called Earth draws out both wonder and clarity about the world around us—the way it works and the way we work through it. Told in short chapters, the narrator extrapolates on what she observes around her as she moves through the evening, colouring in her experiences with shades of acerbic wisdom and droll humour.
Ryan, who was diagnosed with autism while working on this very book, says in the New York Times that those ‘with autism are wired to express themselves truthfully regardless of the social consequences. This is powerful, and anything powerful needs to be handled with care.’ This idea she extends to her narrator—never identified as autistic within the novel but confirmed by Ryan in interviews to be so—and the result is a character who might at first be distant and hard to understand, but, when handled with care, serves to be an affecting reminder as to the power of intimacy and connection.
Common Ground, Naomi Ishiguro
The literary world has been aflutter with the recent release of Nobel Prize-winner Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, and for good reason—by all accounts I’ve come across, it’s an excellent book (just see Michaela’s review above). While I myself haven’t yet read it, I have been keeping abreast of the reviews and interviews, which is how I came to discover his daughter, Naomi Ishiguro, is following in his storytelling footsteps with the release of her second book and debut novel.
Common Ground sprawls across a decade, beginning in small-town England with Stan having just entered teenagerhood and Charlie, a Traveller, on the cusp of becoming an adult. The novel then takes us to ten years later, with both of them living in London, reconnected through a chance encounter after a decade of estrangement. A story of friendship, masculinity, politics, and prejudices, Ishiguro subtly and skilfully weaves these themes into the lives of her two characters and how they relate to each other, ultimately showing us that we are made stronger not by what divides us, but by what unites us.
Sonia, Program Manager
The Shape of Sound, Fiona Murphy
I’ve long been a fan of Fiona Murphy’s writing after reading her essays in Kill Your Darlings and was very excited to read her debut book, The Shape of Sound. In it, Murphy excavates her personal history to reveal deep truths about the language of bodies, fitting in, the inscrutability of language, and how our comprehension of the world is informed by our comprehension of our bodies. Divided into four sections describing a sound’s lifespan—attack, decay, sustain and release—Murphy traces a childhood and early adulthood spent hiding her deafness from everyone but her immediate family through her memorising, tracking and untangling of the hard knots of conversations. As a hand injury and the diagnosis of a rare condition force her to come to terms with her deafness, Murphy explores trialling hearing technology and her discovery of sign language, Deaf culture and her own Deaf identity.
Echoing the social model of disability that views people as disabled not because of their bodies but because of the barriers of an ableist society, Murphy writes incisively about the built environment, exploring how our health and wellbeing are significantly impacted by the design of our cities, suburbs and streetscapes. In a repudiation of the shame Murphy felt about her deafness, The Shape of Sound is about gaining deafness through culture and community because, as Murphy beautifully writes: ‘To describe deafness as anything other than a loss is a subversive act. And yet to live in a body defined by loss is to be shrouded in a skein of grief’.
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, Cherie Jones
Longlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction, Cherie Jones’ debut novel How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is about men and women disenfranchised by poverty, violence and trauma. Although, these effects are, of course, profoundly felt by the women. The unfolding story of three generations of women is grounded in the evocative fictional Barbados setting of Baxter’s Beach, an idyllic starlit beachscape to the Western tourists who frequent the island, but somewhere far more menacing for the locals who eke out a living on its shores. Intergenerational trauma is a strong theme throughout, as Jones charts the lives of Wilma, ‘aged more by life than by years’, her daughter Esme, and her granddaughter Lala, the book’s central character trapped in an abusive relationship with a child on the way.
The women in the book use the limited means available to them, typically marriage, to escape their circumstances. However, for the women of Lala’s lineage, marriage means ‘a murder in one form or the other’. But for Mira Whalen, a secondary character in the book, marriage allows her to ascend the class ladder and attain a life she wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. Although, as this book is always keen to remind us, no one escapes intact. The descriptions of violence can feel suffocating and gratuitous at times, so this relentless book isn’t one to dive into if you’re feeling fragile. But ultimately, How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is a tale of two cities—Barbados’ poverty-stricken locals and the unknowing tourists and expatriates who frolic on its shores. It’s a damning indictment of tourism, gentrification and toxic masculinity.
To purchase the books above, visit a Readings store near you or browse online