2018 In Review: Some Books I Loved This Year

on Wednesday, December 26, 2018
Once again I'm leaving it until the last moment to do my final countdown but, in the meantime, here are a few books published in 2018 that I really enjoyed.

I'm a big fan of Krissy Kneen's books. They're consistently smart, original and deliciously offbeat. That said, I think Wintering just might be my favourite. Having grown up on weird vampire and werewolf novels, I found Kneen's decidedly Aussie take on the genre to be brilliantly subversive and creepy. With the Australian obsession about the Tasmanian Tiger at its heart, Kneen riffs thoughtfully about community, family, superstition and environmental degradation. It's a thriller with some serious grey matter. Plus there's Tassie Were-tiger sex. What more could you want?

So imagine, if you will, a Hunter S. Thompson or William Burroughs novel written now, totally plugged into its generation but more experimental in form. That's pretty much what you get with this absolute shot of adrenalin from Melbourne's Jamie Marina Lau. Sure, there were times I had no idea what the hell was going on, but the pure energy that courses through this novel's veins is so exhilarating to behold, that actual narrative doesn't really matter. Which isn't to say the story isn't great - drugs, technology, gambling, partying (again, to use an analogy, think Brett Easton Ellis if he was actually cool) but there's so much to like about this book that it doesn't really matter if one minor element cracks at any given point.

There's a certain inevitability to Ackerman's latest book, not the least because we know from the beginning how it ends. Two friends, army buddies, are caught in an IED explosion that kills one and leaves the other - Eden - a burnt husk, barely clinging to life. It is the former that narrates the story: how they got there, their friendship, their struggles, and, of course, the narrator's betrayal. While we wait for Eden to die (itself an excruciatingly long ordeal), we watch his wife sitting by his bedside, mourning her husband, and the part she played in betraying him. This is a lyrical, intense novel, spare, cutting and deeply moving.

Barely a year after his brilliant novel, On The Java Ridge, Jock Serong brings us another tautly written, morally complex thrill-ride, this time set in the early years of Australia's colonisation. Preservation takes as its anchor point (sorry) a shipwreck off the coast of Tasmania in which fourteen people died and only a couple survived. From this historical footnote, Serong fashions a magnificent adventure reminiscent of books like Ian McGuire's The North Water or Ottessa Moshfegh's McGlue. What sets it apart and, dare I say, above those books however is just how historically and socially aware it is; Preservation provides some serious food for thought about Australian history, collective responsibility and the fragile bonds of civility.

When I first reviewed it back in January, I began with a warning that Emma Glass's Peach might just destroy you. Okay, so maybe it hasn't destroyed me, but a year on and I still think about it often. Few books have lodged so uncomfortably in my heart as Peach (only Veronique Olmi's Beside The Sea springs to mind), not only for its harrowing story but also the stylistic daring and verve with which it is delivered. It's a slim book, but it packs so many punches in the gut that you'll likely spend most of it gasping for breath.


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