What We're Reading

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Neil

Conversations With Friends, by Sally Rooney (Faber 2017)

I read this after reading her most recent book, Normal People. I wish I'd read this first, as it's a slightly less refined version of her very particular style of storytelling, which is not to say that it's not enormously enjoyable and satisfying in its own right.

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Neil

Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump, by David Neiwert (Verso 2017)

David Neiwert is reputed to be one of the leading commentators on the rise of the far right in America in recent years, seemingly emboldened by the emergence of Donald Trump and his legitimisation of white supremacy. This book is prescient in the context of the terror attack on the mosque in Christchurch in March, as we here in NZ are no longer immune from this kind of radicalisation in the time of the internet. The book is well researched, authoritative, clearly written, and extremely disturbing.

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Neil

The Names, by Don deLillo (Vintage US, 1989)

I've just reread this terrific novel. It's set mostly in Greece, and concerns a somewhat oblique character, a risk assessor for an American insurance company, who stumbles upon a murderous cult living in a cave in a remote part of the country. He becomes fascinated by their method of choosing victims, which he comes to believe is based on ancient languages. There is a large cast of characters who eat and drink, discuss the state of the world in restaurants and bars, have affairs with each other, and travel.

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Neil

The Crying Place, by Lia Hills (A&U 2017)

This powerful, epic novel by a New Zealander now living near Melbourne is steeped in the Australian interior, a place where the city's rules don't apply. Saul's best and oldest friend Jed takes his own life soon after returning from working in a remote Aboriginal community. Saul, devastated, sets out to the community to try to come to terms with his friend's sudden death. It's a gripping story, set in an alien landscape, beautifully written, haunting and has a lot to say about grief. It's a brave and compassionate, graceful novel of great humanity.

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Neil

Loving Sylvie, by Elizabeth Smither (Allen & Unwin April 2019)

Elizabeth Smither's new novel weaves the lives of three generations of women, in a clever, subtle and satisfying narrative set in Auckland and Paris. The style is wry and ironic, the characterisation deep and true, the plot meandering and unforced. As good as anything by Anne Tyler or Mary Wesley, fiction like this doesn't come very often from New Zealand, but it's all the better for the familiar surroundings.

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Neil

Lanny, by Max Porter (Granta April 2019)

Lanny is like nothing else I've ever read, and it deserves the widest possible readership. It's an amazing piece of work. Lanny is an eccentric child, perhaps somewhat autistic, who both enchants and baffles his parents and neighbours in a small rural village in England. There is an encounter with a mythical figure, Dead Papa Toothwort, an ancient spirit, which changes everybody's lives. The story is told in a fabulous collage of characters, voices and words, constructing a parable for our times. Absolute genius, it will stay with you, haunt you for weeks.