Book lists

6 highly anticipated Australian novels I can’t wait to read

The next month or two looks pretty exciting in terms of new Australian literary novels being published — and for once I’ll be on the right side of the planet to buy them when they come out.

Here are six books I’m eagerly awaiting, namely because I’ve read and loved other books by these authors in the past.

They have been arranged in alphabetical order according to author’s surname. Please note that the blurbs, some of which I’ve cut slightly, have been taken direct from the publishers’ own websites, as have the publication dates (which are subject to change).

Silver by Chris Hammer

For half a lifetime, journalist Martin Scarsden has run from his past. But now there is no escaping. He’d vowed never to return to his hometown, Port Silver, and its traumatic memories. But now his new partner, Mandy Blonde, has inherited an old house in the seaside town and Martin knows their chance of a new life together won’t come again.
Martin arrives to find his best friend from school days has been brutally murdered, and Mandy is the chief suspect. With the police curiously reluctant to pursue other suspects, Martin goes searching for the killer. And finds the past waiting for him.

Published by Allen & Unwin in Australia on 1 October. Due to be published by Wildfire in the UK on 9 January 2020.

There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett

Prague, 1938: Eva flies down the street from her sister. Suddenly a man steps out. Eva runs into him, hits the pavement hard. His anger slaps Eva, but his hate will change everything, as war forces so many lives into small, brown suitcases.
Prague, 1980: No one sees Ludek. A young boy can slip right under the heavy blanket that covers this city — the fear cannot touch him. Ludek is free. And he sees everything. The world can go to hell for all he cares because Babi is waiting for him in the warm flat.
Melbourne, 1980: Mala Li ka’s grandma holds her hand as they climb the stairs to their third floor flat. Here, Mana and Bill have made a life for themselves and their granddaughter. A life imbued with the spirit of Prague and the loved ones left behind.
Favel Parrett’s deep emotional insight shines through in this love letter to the strong women who bind families together, despite dislocation and distance. 

Published by Hachette Australia in Australia on 24 September. Due to be published by Sceptre in the UK on 20 February 2020.

Maybe the Horse will Talk by Elliot Perlman

Stephen Maserov has problems. A onetime teacher, married to fellow teacher Eleanor, he has retrained and is now a second-year lawyer working at mega-firm Freely Savage Carter Blanche. Despite toiling around the clock to make budget, he’s in imminent danger of being downsized. And to make things worse, Eleanor, sick of single-parenting their two young children thanks to Stephen’s relentless work schedule, has asked him to move out. To keep the job he hates, pay the mortgage and salvage his marriage, he will have to do something strikingly daring, something he never thought himself capable of. But if he’s not careful, it might be the last job he ever has…

Published by Penguin in Australia on 1 October. There is no date available for the UK — as yet.

Bruny by Heather Rose

The new novel from the author of the award-winning The Museum of Modern Love.
A right-wing US president has withdrawn America from the Middle East and the UN. Daesh has a thoroughfare to the sea and China is Australia’s newest ally. When a bomb goes off in remote Tasmania, Astrid Coleman agrees to return home to help her brother before an upcoming election. But this is no simple task. Her brother and sister are on either side of politics, the community is full of conspiracy theories, and her father is quoting Shakespeare. Only on Bruny does the world seem sane — until Astrid discovers how far the government is willing to go.

Published by Allen & Unwin in Australia on 30 September. There is no date available for the UK — as yet.

Damascus by Christos Tsiolkas

Christos Tsiolkas’ new novel Damascus takes as its subject nothing less than events surrounding the birth and establishment of the Christian church. Based around the gospels and letters of St Paul, and focusing on characters one and two generations on from the death of Christ, as well as Paul (Saul) himself, Damascus nevertheless explores the themes that have always obsessed Tsiolkas as a writer: class, religion, masculinity, patriarchy, colonisation, exile; the ways in which nations, societies, communities, families and individuals are united and divided. 
In Damascus, Tsiolkas has written an historical novel of immense power and an unflinching dissection of doubt and faith, tyranny and revolution, and cruelty and sacrifice.

Published by Allen & Unwin in Australia on 28 October. Due to be published by Atlantic in the UK on 5 March 2020.

The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

Four older women have a lifelong friendship of the best kind: loving, practical, frank and steadfast. But when Sylvie dies, the ground shifts dangerously for the remaining three. Can they survive together without her? 
They are Jude, a once-famous restaurateur, Wendy, an acclaimed public intellectual, and Adele, a renowned actress now mostly out of work. Struggling to recall exactly why they’ve remained close all these years, the grieving women gather for Christmas at Sylvie’s old beach house — not for festivities, but to clean the place out before it is sold. 
Without Sylvie to maintain the group’s delicate equilibrium, frustrations build and painful memories press in. Fraying tempers, an elderly dog, unwelcome guests and too much wine collide in a storm that brings long-buried hurts to the surface — and threatens to sweep away their friendship for good.

Published by Allen & Unwin in Australia on 15 October. Due to be published by W&N in the UK on 25 June 2020.

Are there any on this list that have piqued your interest?

Australia, Author, Book review, Chris Hammer, crime/thriller, Fiction, Publisher, Setting, Wildfire

‘Scrublands’ by Chris Hammer

Fiction – hardcover; Wildfire; 496 pages; 2019. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Fans of Jane Harper’s The Dry are going to love this debut crime novel by Chris Hammer. As well as a similar setting — a drought-stricken country town in Australia — Scrublands is similarly fast-paced, full of unexpected twists and turns, and an ending I never saw coming.

But the tale is more complex than Harper’s and is told from the perspective of a 40-year-old journalist (instead of a police investigator) who has an intriguing back story.

I’ll wager that it will win just as many awards as The Dry, perhaps even more so, and promises to turn Hammer into an international star. (It has already been optioned for television.)

Murder in a drought-stricken town

Set during the devastating Millennium drought, the story focuses on an appalling crime committed in a small (fictional) Riverina town — the murder of five men in church by a charismatic and popular young priest with a gun, who, in turn, is shot dead by police.

When the novel begins it’s a year after the fact, and newspaper reporter Martin Scarsden has been sent to Riversend to write a colour piece on the impact of the crime on the town’s residents. It’s the kind of “soft” job he (and his editor) hopes will allow him to rediscover his journalistic mojo, for Scarsden is battle-weary and psychologically damaged after a stint as a foreign correspondent in the Gaza Strip, where he was held hostage.

Within days of him arriving in town, the bodies of two German backpackers are discovered in a local dam and suddenly the world and its media are in Riversend wanting to know more. Scarsden has the inside scoop — and the reliable contacts — and his front-page stories dominate the news agenda.

But then it all gets a bit messy, and he becomes front-page news himself when one of his contacts commits suicide and blames Scarsden for his decision.

Brilliant plot and great characters

Scrublands is brilliantly plotted — but it has to be. There are two very different crimes at the heart of it, which makes for a convoluted story, but there are other asides (or red herrings), including a decades-old rape, that add to the complexity.

Occasionally it is difficult to follow what is going on and I lost the thread of who did what to whom and why, but it hardly matters. The story is so fast-paced and so evocative — of small-town life in places starved of economic investment, of frenzied media packs chasing ratings and circulation figures, of scorching summer days when the temperature hits 30C before 10am — it feels like a totally immersive experience.

But it’s the characters that make this book such a gripping read. Scarsdale is damaged but he’s not without heart: he still cares about the job, even if he sometimes does dubious things, and he’s prepared to put in the hard graft to get a good story. He even has a romantic fling with the local small-town beauty (an interesting character in her own right), perhaps the only “off” note in an otherwise atypical crime novel.

The town’s local characters — the general store owner, the local cop, the derro who wanders the streets, the teenage thugs, the hermit and the ASIO agent — are all incredibly well drawn (even if their names are all a bit odd). Even the dead priest, who we only ever hear about via third parties, is deeply intriguing, the kind of person you’re anxious to know more about.

And the town of Riversend, with its closed-down pub, crumbling motel and shops that only open a couple of times a week, feels like a very real place on the map.

Combine that with a twisty narrative, authentic dialogue and skilful writing and you have a novel that’s difficult to put down. It’s an ambitious first novel and one that’s not without its faults, but it’s an impressive debut. I can’t wait to see what Hammer delivers next.

Scrublands will be published in the UK and the US on 8 January 2019.