Here’s some things I’ve been sticking my ears and eyes into recently. No particular order, and any opinions expressed may be changed on a whim.

Trent Dalton – Boy Swallows Universe

A long, far-reaching, sometimes rambling story of a young boy growing up in seedy suburban Brisbane in the 80s; the family are heroin dealers, his only friend his mute older brother. The subject matter is pretty dark– drugs, gang fights, dismemberment– but a vein of hope and optimism runs throughout, so it never gets bogged down in misery. It does, however, get bogged down in other ways: laughably unrealistic dialogue from a 12 year old, exhausting metaphysical refrains, and a silly Hollywood ending. The first thing it reminded me of was Tim Winton, but without the savage bleakness. Maybe this is a definitively Australian style now? If so, we’re taking ourselves very seriously these days… Drags on a bit, but entertaining.

Graham Greene –Journey Without Maps

This book should have me all over it: one of my favourite authors bashing though the unmapped jungles of Liberia in the 1920s, guided by local tribes; encountering mortal danger, mutiny, corruption, deadly disease, infection, and near sobriety. Despite all this, I struggled to finish it. In fact I abandoned it halfway through the epilogue. Greene’s exhausting daily trudge through a relentlessly unvarying landscape from village to village mirrored my own progress through the chapters, and, like Greene, I too, collapsed into sleep at the end of every day, too tired to worry about the vermin scuttling around my own floors. I’m being harsh, but this was hard going. Why not just reread The Quiet American instead.

Watermark –Joseph Brodsky

Russian poet Joseph Brodsky visited Venice every year for 17 years. This is a book of ruminations, impressions, observations, very loosely strung on these visits. Musings on existence as it relates to water, time, light, reflection. It’s all quite opaque and obscure, sometimes drifting into stream-of-consciousness, but then suddenly the clouds part and his meaning becomes clear. I found it frustrating at times, but it’s deep and insightful; sometimes droll, even funny. Takes a level of mental fluidity to follow Brodsky’s train of thought and I felt quite lost for the first half; then it started to feel familiar, maybe like a visitor growing accustomed to a city…? Deserves another visit. 

Geronimo Rex  –Barry Hannah

I don’t know what you buy online when you’re drunk, but apparently I buy hefty novels by obscure writers from the American south. I haven’t the faintest idea what tipsily tortuous internet rabbit hole led me to Geronimo Rex, but days after the headache had subsided, I got a call from my local bookstore announcing its arrival. I must confess I struggled. It’s a long, dense, rambling coming-of-age tale set in dreary washed out towns in Louisiana and Mississippi. A thick, wallowing mire of love, lust, racism, violence, and marching bands, presented in a comic, vulgar, visceral language reminding me of Jim Harrison, Henry Miller, maybe a little Confederacy of Dunces. More profanity and uncomfortable racial epithets than you can poke a stick at. It’s disturbing, funny, and very long, but I’m glad I stuck with it.

The Razor’s Edge –Somerset Maugham

Although we’re in the world of wealthy high society, there’s always something dark and devious about Maugham, and it sucks you down without you noticing. The writing is beautiful, and it’s always fun to watch people unraveling.

Sicilian Carousel –Lawrence Durrell

I try, LD, I really do, but I always get two thirds through your books and give up. The descriptions of Sicily are tantalisingly evocative, and there are moments of momentum and humour, but also long slow delves into history and memory, drawn-out contemplation and ponderous pondering. Back on the shelf.

Kitchen Confidential  –Anthony Bourdain

AB’s big hit, the book that put him on the culinary and literary map. I’ve read this a few times- it’s terrific fun. I wish I’d known about it back when I worked in a restaurant- I thought it was just our place. Drugs, booze, sex, fine dining, fighting, backstabbing, conniving, crime, punishment, redemption, old New York- it’s a ripping yarn.