Microviews Vol. 60: Nelson, Ciment, Vermes,

on Saturday, January 18, 2020
The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson
Maggie Nelson has been hovering on my reading periphery for a few years now. So many people I know adore her and her mega-hit, The Argonauts. But it was a personal recommendation from a friend whose taste I greatly respect (and mostly share hehe) that finally got me to pick up one of her books. And holy moly was she right! The Red Parts is, not to put too fine a point on it, a work of genius. Its back story alone deserves an entire book: Nelson had just published a cycle of poems about her murdered aunt, Jane, when she got word that the case had been reopened and an arrest made. It was long believed that, despite significant differences in MO, Jane was killed by John Collins, aka the Michigan Murderer. A chance DNA match, almost 40 years after the fact, proved otherwise. The Red Parts is a breathtaking deconstruction of the trial that followed calling into question the legal process and its players, as well as family lore, memory and criminal responsibility. It is personable, personal and engaging while also being intellectually rigorous and satisfying. Needless to say I’m a convert. I’ve already ordered Bluets.
5 Hooks

The Body in Question by Jill Ciment
In the few years I practised as a criminal lawyer, I was constantly intrigued by jury dynamics. The more I watched them, the deeper the curiosity became, all the more so because I knew that, simply by virtue of having studied and practised law, I was disqualified from ever experiencing it first hand. Gone were my fantasies of pulling a Henry Fonda and swaying eleven of my “peers” to the side of justice. We’re a good few years down the track now but the feeling remains. What the hell goes on back there when “we” can’t see them? For jurors C-2 and F-17 in Jill Ciment’s excellent novel, the answer is simple: lots of sex. Caught up in an affair that is fuelled in equal parts by boredom, the fear of ageing and the simple reality of throwing a bunch of people into a closed, isolated environment, the two take every opportunity to bonk, hoping the others won’t catch on. As it happens, there’s a murder trial going on, too. And what they take to be a private matter is quickly discovered, throwing the whole trial into jeopardy. As tawdry as it all sounds, Ciment is subtle in her execution, and The Body In Question is a surprisingly perceptive study of loneliness, attraction, guilt and social responsibility.
4 Hooks

The Hungry and the Fat by Timur Vermes
Debuts don’t come much more audacious than Timur Vermes’s satirical masterpiece, Look Who’s Back. Inexplicably plonking Hitler back in contemporary Germany and charting his meteoric rise to reality TV superstardom, Vermes managed to stick a mighty big skewer through German politics, the worldwide obsession with celebrity, and the ever-present willingness to disregard morality when it clashes with personal convenience. It’s a bloody funny book, all the more so for how true it all rings. Now, with the considerable weight of expectation on his shoulders, Vermes returns with The Hungry and the Fat, a book that does not pack quite the same punch as his first but still has a lot of uncomfortably funny things to say. Nadeche Hackenbusch - model, TV presenter and queen of the vacuous platitude - has landed in quiet the pickle. Despite great ratings, her white saviour wet dream of a reality TV show, Angel In Adversity is about to be canned. She’s still in Africa’s largest refugee camp and has grown rather fond of her ‘co-stars’. In particular, a certain young chap called Lionel has stolen her heart (and her marriage). Together, they plan the ultimate stunt - to lead the refugees on foot to Germany. It’s positively biblical! Cue apoplexy from all sides. The TV execs scramble to work out how best to follow the exodus. Leaders of countries along the path roll out the heavy defences. German politicians of every shade go into meltdown - can they stop the influx without seeming callous/weak? The people smugglers shift into overdrive. It’s like watching the biggest clusterfuck train wreck unfold in slow motion. The Hungry and the Fat is a big book in both ambition and actual size (it pushes 600 pages), and Vermes gives each narrative enough rope to hang itself in spectacular fashion. I didn’t get the same thrill as I did reading Look Who’s Back, and there was some pretty odd geopolitical commentary towards the end that did not sit well with me, but there is no doubting Vermes’s satirical flair. Could he be the Jonathan Swift of our times?
4 Hooks

2020: A Visual Book Diary Vol. 1

on Thursday, January 9, 2020
I've always struggled to keep track of all the books I read. I used to keep a list but stupidly saved it on a local drive and, when the computer went kaput, it took ten years of reading data with it. Goodreads is a pretty decent way to keep track, but I tend to read a fair few manuscripts and also forget to add a bunch of published books because I'm a) lazy and b) a technophobe. This year, I've decided to hit the issue two ways. Firstly (and obviously), I'm starting the spreadsheet thing again but saving it to my Dropbox. But, let's be honest, there will come a day that I forget to pay for my renewal and I'm going to lose everything again. It's how I roll. Secondly, I thought it might be nice to keep a visual diary of sorts by lining up the books on a shelf as I read them. That way, I can take a pic every couple of months and see how the year is progressing.

So here we go: the 9th of January, five books in, this is the first entry in my visual book diary (ignore the back row - I'm at the dreaded double shelving stage of my book collecting). Yes, it's been a great start. Some reviews coming soon!

2020: A New, Red Dawn

on Monday, January 6, 2020
Of the many ways I'd thought about opening this first post of a reinvigorated blog, this was not one of them: My country is on fire. My city, far from the flames, has been blanketed in smoke. Pictures from some of the burning towns look nothing short of apocalyptic. Hell, even my bayside suburb, usually glorious and vibrant at this time of year, looks like a scene from a disaster movie. Through it all, I've mostly locked myself inside and read. Six days in and I'm onto my sixth book for the year. Like many city folk in Australia, I've felt helpless and despondent. And useless. Until today.

With mad props to Emily Gale, Nova Weetman and others, the Australian (and now international) writing community has mobilised to raise money for the Country Fire Association (the roof body for the volunteer country fire fighters in each state). If you head over to Twitter right now and follow the hashtag #AuthorsForFireys (Fireys is Aussie slang for firefighters), you can see a whole array of amazing items being auctioned off for the cause. There are signed books, manuscript appraisals, AMAs, the chance to have characters named after you in your favourite author's next book, special handmade book-related knick knacks... you name it. Literally every author and book industry person I know is getting involved and it's magnificent. Personally, I've bid on a cartoon portrait of my dog, an original typed draft of a story by Josephine Rowe and the chance to have a ferret in the wonderful RWR McDonald's next book named after me, in honour of my beloved (and much-missed) ferret, Spaekk.

I'm also getting on board with a special package of book related stuff that includes:

- An inscribed copy of The Book of Dirt
- A signed Chinese edition of The Book of Dirt
- A copy of the new Text Classics edition of Arnold Zable's incredible novel Cafe Scheherazade, to which I have written the introduction, signed by Arnold and me
- A curated collection of my Top 5 novels of all time
- Two unpublished short stories
- The first two chapters of my latest work-in-progress (a pretty surreal novella)
Plus I will be matching the winning bid dollar for dollar.

All #AuthorsForFireys auctions run until 11pm AEST on Saturday January 11.

At the moment the highest bid for my lot is at a staggering $700. I genuinely cannot believe it. If you want to get involved, or check out all the other incredible things on offer, be sure to jump on Twitter and search the hashtag.

These are pretty scary, shitty times. But at least I feel a bit better knowing how beautiful and generous the reading and writing community can be. Sending much love, strength and hope to those on the frontline.

Check back soon when I'll be returning to regular programming.