Have you been in a bit of a reading lull lately? It’s certainly easy to keep adding to your to-be-read pile once we hit the midway mark of the semester. There’s nothing like imminent assignment deadlines to make you feel guilty for picking up a book that is completely unrelated to your course, and the idea of reading at night feels laughable when your eyes are tired from staring at your laptop screen for far too long every day.
But equally, nothing can compare to indulging in a good book, especially in times of high pressure and when your study load is impinging on your enjoyment of all things unrelated to uni. It’s at these times that we need and crave stories that allow us to immerse ourselves in new worlds and to learn something beyond the scope of our required reading. A recent Macquarie University and Australia Council for the Arts study of Australian Reading Habits reflected this. It found that 95 per cent of surveyed Australians enjoy reading, yet 68 per cent of them ‘would like to read more, with relaxation and stress release the most common reason for reading’.
With this in mind, the Antithesis team thought we’d share some of our recent reading highlights. Perhaps some of these mini reviews will inspire you to pick up a book sooner than you were planning!
Written by Jamie Marina Lau
Published by The Lifted Brow
Recommended by Caitlin Ewart Cassidy
Pink Mountain on Locust Island is unlike anything I have read in recent years. Jamie Marina Lau’s prose is taut across the page; not a sentence or a phrase is wasted. The book reads like poetry yet still manages to maintain a rich and energetic storyline. It follows 16-year-old Monk’s life in an apartment in Melbourne’s Chinatown where she lives with her alcoholic painter father. Monk meets the new and intoxicating Santa Coy and soon she and her new 'possible accomplice/possible boyfriend' bounce around the city, dipping in and out of parties, bedrooms and alleyways, narrated through Monk’s droll, darkly funny take on herself and others. Jamie Marina Lau’s explosive novel has been shortlisted for a number of prizes including the forthcoming 2019 Stella Prize, and it has already won the 2018 Melbourne Prize for Literature’s Readings Residency Award. At only 22-years-old, Marina Lau has managed to completely shake up what the modern Australian novel can mean, seamlessly blending English, Cantonese and youthful digital messaging slang without a moment of pause for breath. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Written by Dervla McTiernan
Published by HarperCollins Australia
Recommended by Coral Huckstep
The second book in Dervla McTiernan’s Cormac Reilly series was highly anticipated by me and possibly all other contemporary detective fiction-lovers. I was relieved to find that it held up and perhaps even surpassed McTiernan’s first Reilly novel, The Ruin.
McTiernan’s first novel laid the groundwork for Detective Inspector Cormac Reilly to be known as a just and diligent detective and an all-round good bloke. He’s exceptional at his job but he is not a genius and he is not afraid to ask for help from his team, which makes him a character you are inclined to love and barrack for. This was a fantastic foundation from which McTiernan could throw an ethical dilemma in Cormac’s path and have him toil with uncomfortable truths that cross the previously clear line between his professional and personal life. My only qualm was that the time spent on this particular part of the story felt too short and I’d have liked Cormac to spend more time analysing and responding to his moral dilemma in a greater detail.
I listened to The Scholar as an audiobook and was pleased that Aoife McMahon was brought back as a narrator – she did a superb job of narrating The Ruin. Listening to these fast-paced stories in an Irish accent helped me to feel immersed in Cormac’s world; it was also great to hear the slight differences between accents to reflect differences in characters’ localities, which is something I could not have easily imagined if I was reading the print book.
Modern detective fiction can become overblown with explosive and cinematic pivotal moments that mar an otherwise believable story. I felt that The Ruin veered into this territory, but The Scholar stamped out these concerns. I am thoroughly looking forward to joining Cormac Reilly (and Aoife!) in future instalments of this series.
Written by John Wyndham and Matthew Reilly, respectively
Published by Penguin and Pan Macmillan, respectively
Recommended by Hal Parker Langley
Published sixty-four years apart, read in the same month by Hal Parker Langley. Upon reading this pair of science fiction novels this month, I was struck by their similarities; both works of speculative science fiction, both dealing with the omnipresent threat of the day (Wyndham with the threat of a nuclear apocalypse and Reilly with environmental disaster), and both first-person narratives told by a young protagonist. But, I was also flawed by the sheer gap in tact and skill between the two works.
Reilly, best known for his Jack West Jr. series and high-tension action thrillers, has been a sentimental favourite of mine since I consumed all of his available books in year nine. With his latest novel, Secret Runners of New York, he dips his toe into the dystopian, YA-adjacent, fiction that has been so popular for the last decade. The novel is told from the perspective of a teenage girl, a first for Reilly, and finds her dealing with both Mean Girls-esque bitchiness AND a coming apocalypse at the same time! Upon finishing the book, I was left with the hollow sensation one often feels after eating a bag of twisties. I couldn’t put my finger on why, until I picked up John Wyndham’s 1955 dystopian masterpiece The Chrysalids.
As I pointed out, there are some superficial similarities between the two novels, especially in their use of an young protagonist learning and adapting to their changing circumstances. But Wyndham’s ability to harness the inbuilt innocence of a child narrator and imbue a sense of unease and distrust towards them, whilst simultaneously maintaining a consistent and believable voice, is masterful and is what gives the predictable plot its tension. Reilly, on the other hand, does little to explore the unique perspective of his narrator, and fails to capture the importance of the dystopia unfolding around her.
Ultimately, the two writers are operating in different lanes – Wyndham in literary sci-fi and Reilly in commercial action fiction – and their works are largely incomparable. But I was so struck with intense detail and realism of The Chrysalid, a novel written over sixty years ago and set in a largely unrecognisable earth, that is brought into sharp relief what was so lacking in Secret Runners; a reflection of the contemporary world. And isn’t that what good science-fiction should be?
Written by Margo Lanagan
Published by Allen & Unwin
Recommended by Alison Tealby
I have a soft spot for any story that draws upon legend and folklore, but Sea Hearts brings the contemporary fairy tale genre to a new level with its retelling of Selkie mythology. In graceful, poetic prose Lanagan takes her readers to the lonely island of Rollrock, where the witch Misskaella learns she can pull a Selkie woman out of her seal form and keep her trapped on land by stealing her sealskin. The story spans several generations of Rollrock as secrecy and hatred, combined with Misskaella’s power, brings about the collapse of a heartbroken town. Lanagan’s extraordinary tale delves into the wonder and harshness of the Selkie legend, and provides a brilliant exploration of prejudice, cruelty and desire. For all of Rollrock’s bleakness, however, we are left with a story that is both moving and oddly hopeful. Sea Hearts emphasises the potential of change, no matter how difficult that change may be, and promises that the future really is what we make of it.