May in fiction

Kneen high resAn Uncertain Grace – Krissy Kneen (Text Publishing)

Krissy Kneen is known for her erotic writing. She lives in Brisbane, and has been shortlisted for the QLD Premier’s Literary Award. This is her fifth book. It is also the book that should garner her recognition as one of the most radical and insightful writers working in Australian letters today. A reviewer wrote of Kneen in Books + Publishing: ‘With each new book, I find myself hoping that readers will finally discover her quirky, sexy and incredibly beautiful writing.’ Hopefully An Uncertain Grace will be that book.

Kneen’s work is clever, metafictional and highly affecting. In this work nothing ‘niche’ about Kneen is toned down or apologetic; we have the identity politics, the questioning of social mores, and the joyful visceral fucking. It is sexy, but it’s also a scathing critique of the arbitrariness of gender, a treatise on the power politics of sex, and an exploration on what our technologies might do for us in a decidedly dystopian future.

For lovers of speculative fiction, there are also full-bodied virtual reality sex suits, jellyfish with communal consciousnesses, and a future world in which fish are a distant memory. Just read this. You won’t regret it.


Best Stories 2016Best Australian Stories 2016 – Charlotte Wood, Editor (Black Inc.)

Black Inc. turns out another ripper of a collection with Best Australian Stories 2016. Amanda Lohrey, 2015’s editor, focussed on writers who confronted darkness ‘without becoming its captive’. Charlotte Wood, editor of this year’s collection, stays true to this theme of transmutation, selecting works that convey ‘messages from another realm’.

We have visitations, experiments with voice, monsters and ghosts. We have deftly implied horrific violence, as in Kate Ryan’s ‘Where Her Sisters Live’, and Jack Latimore’s ‘Where Waters Meet’ (first published in this very magazine). Elizabeth Harrower takes us into historical Australia, in which a pianist considers her own suicide. Paddy O’Reilly gives us monsters and Tegan Bennett Daylight gives us modern day animals. Other notable mentions are Jennifer Down and Julie Koh. It is the great diversity of voice here that makes Best Australian Stories 2016 a fantastic read.


down_the_humeDown the Hume – Peter Polites (Hachette)

Peter Polites is a Greek writer from Western Sydney who has written and performed theatre pieces all over Australia. Down the Hume is his first novel, one that came out of his work with the Sweatshop Writers’ Collective. ‘I couldn’t let go of the voice,’ he writes. This novel is almost all voice. The strength and specificity of the voice pulls the reader along with Bucky (or Bux) on a series of misadventures. Down the Hume has been compared to Christos Tsiolkas’ Loaded. But though the stylistic and thematic similarities with Tsiolkas’ debut are there, Polites’ tale of sex, abuse and drugs is a little breathless. In the constant riffing on place, class and identity, Polites has perhaps hit so hard he has overshot the mark.

The text is aggressively colloquial, peppered with recognisably local Sydney phrases and abbreviations. Refugees are ‘refos’, and derelicts are ‘deros’. There’s a refusal to translate either the Australian slang or the Greek, which is captivating. Polites moves fluidly from Greek script to English and back again. While it’s a pleasure to read Greek on the Australian literary page, this could have been done less arbitrarily.

Polites’ material, however, is mesmerising and current. Bux lives in an urban landscape of migrant angst, crime, and suburban dismay. And sometimes, the novel is succinctly poignant:

Baba was a kid when he hid in a giant tree and watched his family home burn down. Now he chops down the places where that little boy hid.

Bursting with potential, Down the Hulme is an engaging read.


CotrrellSorry to Disrupt the Peace – Patti Yumi Cottrell (Text Publishing)

Patti Yumi Cottrell’s debut novel has been described as ‘A sort of Korean-American noir, lean and wry and darkly compelling’ (Ed Park). Cottrell, who lives in LA, takes the themes of suicide, mental illness and the processes of grief and makes them darkly comedic. An illustration of this quality may be found on the first page of her novel: ‘September 30th, the day I received the news of my adoptive brother’s death, I also received a brand new couch from IKEA.’

Many critics have described Cottrell’s work as funny. It is not funny. It is tragic and filled with pathos and the hardships of life. As the main character, Helen, leads us through the first few days after her adoptive brother’s death, we begin to sense that all is not as it seems. Cottrell opens the door into an alternative kind of existence, and to characters who may not usually be foregrounded. An addictive and darkly entertaining new writer.


Sala novelThe Restorer – Michael Sala (Text Publishing)

Michael Sala’s debut, The Last Thread, won the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize and was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Award for New Writing. His new book, The Restorer, has been described as sensitive and perceptive (Charlotte Wood) and moving, powerful and important (Hannah Kent). The Restorer follows the story of Maryanne and her husband Roy, who attempt to heal a truncated relationship, and their children. Maryanne believes that the potential is there to rebuild their life. Roy busies himself with the restoration of their ramshackle Newcastle house. But the hopelessness of his repairs becomes a metaphor for the nature of their marriage.

Sala’s prose is exquisite, and his characters and settings are drawn with blunt execution. His style is spare and direct, as if parading its lack of trickiness and fanfare; but underneath it swells a great, unwieldy tide of emotion. The reader is drawn into Sala’s world, into the house where words reverberate and we can feel the fear moving in the halls. The tension builds to an unbearable pitch. We get the sense, correctly, that the writer is drawing us to a terrible conclusion. Read this at your own risk.


HOT-GUYThe Hot Guy – Mel Campbell and Anthony Morris (Echo)

Sometimes the seriousness of literary fiction can get you down. Lewd, crude, and thoroughly rambunctious, The Hot Guy is a fitting antidote to anything too serious, on your reading list or in your life. Mel Campbell and Anthony Morris’ debut novel is a romp through the world of twenty-somethings Cate and Adam, a would-be couple who have been saddled with an unexpected challenge: Adam is unutterably hot. He is so hot that a league of women have devoted a Facebook page to him, so hot that at one point he is stalked by a stadium-full of fans. Cate is, implicitly, not quite as hot. Campbell, founder of Is Not Magazine and The Enthusiast and Morris, editor at The Big Issue, bring the laughs in this clever romp.

Clever because of its telling gender reversals. Cate is the classic funny guy lead – except that she’s not a guy. At the beginning of the book, Cate’s soon-to-be ex, Alistair, kicks her to the curb. ‘What, you’re dumping me over a YOLO reference?’ Cate asks. Yes, Alistair is. The message is that girls aren’t allowed to be funny, or that they are, but with conditions. Add in a trio of Cate’s girlfriends, who spend their time flying drones in the local park for kicks, and who are all in committed relationships with wine, and you have a recipe for an entertaining read.



Michalia Arathimos

Michalia Arathimos has published work in Westerly, Landfall, Headland, JAAM, Best New Zealand Fiction Volume 4, Sport and Turbine. Her debut novel, Aukati / Boundary Line, was published in 2019 by Mākaro Press. She is currently Overland’s fiction reviewer.

More by Michalia Arathimos ›

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