Well somehow we’ve found ourselves in the middle of February with March fast approaching so it’s about time for another of our monthly features where we pick five books you need to be reading that month.
Once again the five books have an international feel to them, with a handful of books from American writers, plus a new work from a great talent from Nigeria. This month we feature two debut novels, as well as couple of sophomore titles. Not to mention a new release from a legend of the fantasy world.
As always you should be able to find all these books in all the usual places – online or IRL. So get along to your local Indie, or your nearby Dymocks or Collins and get chatting to the folks behind the counter; they’ll happily recommend you even more books to add to the pile.
Here are this month’s five books…
Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders
On February 20th 1862 Willie Lincoln, the third son of President Abraham Lincoln died; plunging the President into grief as the Civil War raged across the country. It is from this death and that grief that George Saunders’ debut novel Lincoln in the Bardo emanates. It is a novel that weaves historical fact with fiction and mysticism; with Willie Lincoln trapped in ‘bardo’ the Tibetan transitional realm.
This may be Saunders’ first novel, but he is no stranger to writing or the literary scene. Saunders has published extensively in the short story format, and won numerous awards including the inaugural Folio Prize. I’m not usually one to listen to audio books – but Lincoln in the Bardo might just be the exception; the audio version of the novel boosts quite an esteemed line-up of narrators including Nick Offerman, David Sedaris and Lena Dunham.
Lincoln in the Bardo looks set to be one of the books of the year; it’s inventive, impeccably written and full of humour – not to mention ghosts. It will not perhaps be the easiest read, but it looks to be a rewarding one!
Lincoln in the Bardo is available now through Bloomsbury / Allen & Unwin
The Possessions – Sara Flannery Murphy
Sticking with a ghostly theme, The Possessions from Sara Flannery Murphy follows the story of Edie; an employee of the Elysian Society, a secretive organisation that allows loved ones to reconnect with the deceased – albeit channelled through a living host. Naturally things start going awry with the arrival of Patrick, a widower, looking to reconnect with his recently drowned wife.
The Possessions is Murphy’s first novel and it’s one that certainly seems to take it’s lead from Murphy’s reading and television habits; and it definitely makes sense that Murphy draws inspiration from one of the Queens of American gothic writing, Shirley Jackson. It’s a novel of dark secrets, memories and desires. It’s part fantasy novel, part thriller – and if the reviews so far are anything to go by a great read!
The Possessions is available now through Scribe Publications
The Refugees – Viet Thanh Nguyen
Refugees are one of the hot topics of debate these days; thanks to President Trump’s executive order, and the mass migrations taking place across Europe and the world. It’s also a huge political issue here in Australia, which will be of surprise to no one. The Refugees is the new short story collection from Pulitzer Prize winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen; and easily slips into that category of timely release.
Nguyen, himself a refugee, moving to the United States from Vietnam in 1975, gives voice in The Refugees to lives lived in between two countries; the birth country, and the adopted country. At a time when refugees are increasingly demonised in some sections of the media and within political discourse, books like The Refugees are increasingly necessary; they humanise and show just how superficial some of these differences really are. The characters in these stories are no different to you or me; they are looking to do right by their families, to improve their lot, to fall in love, to make their relationships work – all things we ourselves are guilty of.
The Refugees will undoubtedly appeal to those readers who loved Nguyen’s award winning work The Sympathiser; but should also appeal to all those short story readers out there too.
The Refugees is available now through Hachette Australia
Welcome to Lagos – Chibundu Onuzo
Ever since taking a unit on “world writing” at University in my second or third year; I’ve found myself reading more and more translated or “world” writing – especially writers of African descent. My lecturer at the time (and now my doctoral supervisor) had spent time in Nigeria, and would enthusiastically recommend books by Nigerian and other African authors to his students. It is thanks to this that Welcome to Lagos first caught my eye (that and the wonderful cover art).
Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo follows army officer Chike Ameobi, a deserter, on his journey to Lagos. Along the way he finds himself leading a rag tag collection of outlaws and runaways, all in search of a better life. The novel has been described as a powerful and provocative portrait of contemporary Nigeria – and despite the somewhat political overtones of some of the story, it also sounds like it has the potential to be a fun read as well, with a diverse and interesting cast of characters, a Nigerian Canterbury Tales almost.
Welcome to Lagos is available now through Allen & Unwin
Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman of course needs no introduction. Practically everyone has heard of him, even if you’ve not read one of his books. A stalwart of the fantasy world, Gaiman has long been interested and influenced by mythology from all around the world. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman turns back to some of his original source material and offers up to readers a re-telling of myths and stories of Northern Europe.
In Norse Mythology Gaiman weaves the separate stories into one almost novelistic narrative, starting with the creation of the nine worlds; before delving into stories of dwarves, giants and deities, before closing with Ragnarok and the rebirth. The book features all those favourite characters from the Norse tradition – Odin, Thor and of course Loki. Faithfully brought to life, but with Gaiman’s trademark wit fully intact. Norse Mythology will of course be a huge hit with Gaiman’s already sizeable fan base, but will perhaps also appeal to fantasy readers more broadly, and readers of Joanne Harris’ series of books based on the Norse Myths, or indeed fans of the Thor movies, keen to read more about the stories behind the comics and movies.
Norse Mythology is available now through Bloomsbury / Allen & Unwin