Happy New Year everyone. Now we’ve packed away the Christmas decorations and finished the last of the festive treats, we in the book review team at the AU thought it’d be a good time to look back at some of our favourite books of the last year.
A veritable smorgasbord of great books were released in 2017, but these ten were the ones that really caught our reviewers eye and stuck with them long after they’d turned the last page. And I’m sure if asked each of us could rattle off about ten or twenty more.
Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan
Emily: Manhattan Beach was Jennifer Egan’s first foray into historical fiction- and by examining the story of a young woman who worked as one of the first naval divers in the Manhattan shipyards during World War 2, she gave us the kind of female empowerment story that has become especially relevant in recent years. Though at times this tale of gangsters and heartbreak in wartime New York stretched belief, it was captivating and extremely readable, and there were moments reading it when my heart was in my mouth. (Hachette)
Millefiori – Omar Musa
Simon: Millefiori is the third poetry collection from Omar Musa bringing together some old favourites previously not committed to print alongside new and un-seen work. Initially self-published back in April the collection has recently been re-released through Penguin. Millefiori perfectly captures the dichotomous nature of our world and of the poet. Musa is a poet who can write with such exquisite tenderness, but he is also a poet unafraid to speak truth to power – and speak it fiercely. Touching on themes of identity, race and Australian-ness, Millefiori is some necessary reading! (Penguin)
Detours – Tim Rogers
Natalie: This memoir was like sharing a bevvy or two with a mate except that your new “friend” was the frontman of a successful rock band, an accomplished solo artist and raconteur. Rogers’ prose was so pretty and literary and this meant that Detours was so much better than your standard, garden-variety music memoir. (HarperCollins)
Get Poor Slow – David Free
Lyn: Follow the roller coaster ride of a hated book critic, Raymond Saint, as he mangles his way through a drunken fog to work out who killed a girl he knew, when he’s the one accused of killing her. Saint cannot remember anything so it’s a book full of suspense, interesting characters and booze. You’ll almost want to drink yourself whilst reading it but if you did, Saint would appear and drink your bottle for you. A clever and fantastic read. It’s hard to put this book down! (Pan Macmillan)
The Gulf – Anna Spargo-Ryan
Jodie: Full disclosure – I am, quite frankly, obsessed with Anna Spargo-Ryan’s writing. It’s torturous and beautiful, and completely mesmerising. Her subjects are hard going but even harder to put down and her second novel, The Gulf, is no exception. It hurts – it really hurts – but it will also uplift, as teenager Skye tries to balance the traumatic situation she and her family are in, with the need to just be a normal kid. It’s a powerful tale of resilience, strength and, above all things, love. Read it immediately and then, because your heart won’t have broken enough for one day, seek out Spargo-Ryan’s debut The Paper House. (Pan Macmillan)
Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
Emily: Homegoing was a very different sort of book- a kind of short story cycle that looked at the repercussions of one event through two lines of a family tree. It was spellbinding and months later I still have vivid memories of sitting in a cafe courtyard reading it. Why it hasn’t won more prizes for its innovation and insights is a true mystery. (Penguin)
Down The Hume – Peter Polites
Simon: Down The Hume, the debut novel from Polites is a gritty and at times compelling book, drawing comparisons with the likes of Christos Tsiolakis and Luke Davies. It’s also incredibly compelling! I finished it over the course of a couple of days, only putting it down out of guilt at neglecting study. Down the Hume tackles questions of identity and Australia and Sydney’s changing landscapes through an exploration of the impact of gentrification, immigration and multiculturalism can have on a community. (Hachette)
The Good Girl Stripped Bare – Tracey Spicer
Natalie: While I had heard Tracey Spicer speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival before I must confess that I did not know a lot about this TV journalist. This book made me fall in love with the witty, clever and funny Spicer where reading her book became a visceral experience. It managed to make me laugh and get angry in equal measure and that is a hallmark of exceptional writing. (ABC Books)
The Stranger – Melanie Raabe
Lyn: Phillip Peterson, a wealthy businessman, disappears without a trace on a trip to South America. Seven years later, he’s back, or is he? After the initial suspense the novel cascades onto an edgy thriller and the end is sweet and innocent and left a tear in my eye. I found this novel intriguing throughout and I couldn’t wait to come home and read where the characters would take me and to find out just who the Stranger was. (Text Publishing)
Being Here – Marie Darrieussecq
Jodie: One of those books that catches you by surprise, Being Here is art history that feels like a beautifully crafted novel. Lyrical and flowing, author Darrieussecq tells the story of German expressionist Paula Modersohn-Becker, bringing impressive historical research to life. It’s effortlessly beautiful, and highlights the ever more important need to tell the stories of women in art. Absolutely stunning – I just wish it was longer! (Text Publishing)
Thanks to Lyn Harder, Emily Paull, Natalie Salvo & Jodie Sloan for their contributions to this list.