Meaty books about the Australian political landscape seem to have dominated my 2018 reading tastes. 2001: The Year that Changed Everything (Vintage) by Phillipa McGuinness sees one of Australia's foremost publishers of Australian history titles turn her dexterous hand to writing the personal and political history of 12 particularly tumultuous months. The events she outlines in a fresh, at times raucous, voice are close enough to be brutally raw, yet somehow almost nostalgic. McGuinness pulls off the tricky balancing act. Speaking Up (MUP) by Gillian Triggs delineates the fallout of 2001 for Australians' rights and freedoms in the subsequent 17 years. Written in the crisp prose and with the calm, almost detached demeanour of the eminent legal academic Triggs was before she became a pinata for frightened governments and toxic shock jocks alike, Speaking Up is a depressing but vital read. How on earth did Australia go from being the progressive harbinger of global democracy to lagging so far behind in our human rights record? Triggs manages to keep her cool but you will get angry. On the Java Ridge (Text) uses fiction to navigate the not just murky but downright treacherous waters of Australia's current asylum-seeker policies. I have loved each of Jock Serong's novels, so different in topic, tone and texture, but this one absolutely nailed the gothic horror of a world gone wrong.
Clare Wright's latest book is You Daughters of Freedom (Text).
I read a lot of memoirs this year. I didn't go looking for them; they seemed to find me. Particularly books about the entrapment of family trauma. Like Tara Westover's widely acclaimed Educated (Hutchinson). But you don't have to be born into a gun-toting hillbilly sect to experience the poverty and claustrophobia of life in a closed system.
As for fiction, there was really only one contender … Richard Powers' The Overstory. Deadset masterpiece.
Gregory P. Smith's Out of the Forest (Heinemann), a hard-won story of neglect, family violence, institutionalisation and homelessness, makes that painfully clear. Both these books are about escape and survival – also about the transformative acts of kindness that seed liberation, and resilience. There’s no such breaking away in Jessie Cole's quiet, luminous memoir, Staying (Text). Her story, too, is about family pain and the limits of loyalty, but she writes about deciding not to flee. Which sounds conservative, but turns out to be both brave and radical. As for fiction, there was really only one contender. An ecosystem all its own. Richard Powers' The Overstory (Heinemann). Deadset masterpiece.
Tim Winton's latest book is The Shepherd's Hut (Hamish Hamilton). He is an ambassador for Protect Ningaloo.
Educated is the story of how Tara Westover survived her brutal childhood.
My most enjoyable fiction reads came from three newcomers and an old hand. The first novels of Trent Dalton, Boy Swallows Universe (HarperCollins), and Kim Sherwood, Testament (Quercus), and the first story collection of Joanna Atherfold Finn, Watermark (Simon & Schuster), shone brightly for wildly different reasons. I found Boy Swallows Universe original and exhilarating and Testament astonishingly ambitious and elegant, while the shrewdly observed Watermark refreshingly subverts coastal suburbia. Meanwhile, in Warlight (Cape), his first novel for seven years, Michael Ondaatje's eloquence and verve made a welcome return. In non-fiction, Jessie Cole's Staying (Text), a memoir about surviving the suicide of loved ones, made a great impact. And The Arsonist (Hamish Hamilton) by Chloe Hooper, on the Black Saturday bushfires and the enigma of firebugs, was an Australian story that had to be told.
Robert Drewe's latest book is The True Colour of the Sea (Hamish Hamilton).
In her wonderful The Enigmatic Mr Deakin (Text) – perhaps the best Australian political biography, ever – Judith Brett captures vividly the interconnection between the three realms inhabited by our finest politician, Alfred Deakin: the lifelong spiritual self-interrogation, the intense but sometimes painful bonds of family, and the creative and intuitive political labour through which Deakin helped discover the path that led to the foundation of a democratic and liberal-spirited but also racially blind new nation.
No Friend but the Mountains … is almost certainly the most important Australian book published in 2018.
That nation is presently responsible for the destruction of 2000 innocent lives in the internment camps of Nauru and Manus Island. By a miracle, one of the Manus internees is a great writer. Behrouz Boochani's terrifying and chastening No Friend but the Mountains (trans. Omid Tofighian, Picador), is almost certainly the most important Australian book published in 2018.
Robert Manne's most recent book is On Borrowed Time (Black Inc).
Behrouz Boochani, author of No Friend but the Mountains, is on many writers’ must-read
November Road (HarperCollins) by Lou Berney is not just a great crime novel – it's a great novel. I haven't said that about a book since I read The Broken Shore by Peter Temple. The story opens in November, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, when JFK is assassinated. Frank Guidry, a loyal fixer for the New Orleans mob, unwittingly becomes a "loose end" in the President's death. Forced to run from a ruthless hitman, he meets Charlotte Ray, a battered wife with two kids, fleeing from a violent marriage. Together they head west on a dangerous road trip to California. Don't wait for the certain film. This one is a real treat.
Michael Robotham's latest book is The Other Wife (Hachette).
No Friend but the Mountains (Picador), a powerful account by Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani of being imprisoned on Manus Island for the past five years, made me feel ashamed and outraged. Behrouz's writing is lyrical and poetic, though the horrors he describes are unspeakable. Normal People (Faber) by the Irish writer Sally Rooney is the story of a relationship between two young people – the writing is clean and deceptively simple, the observations sharp and poignant.
Milkman … is driven by voice; musical, wild, playful and furious. I was in awe of the author.
Less (Little, Brown) by Andrew Sean Greer won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It's a funny, sharp book about being a writer, being broken-hearted and turning 50. I scribbled many of its lines into my diary. Milkman (Faber), by Anna Burns – this year's Booker Prize winner – is set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and is driven by voice; musical, wild, playful and furious. I was in awe of the author.
Sofie Laguna's latest book is The Choke (Allen & Unwin).
Irish novelist Sally Rooney, author of Normal People.Credit:Alamy
My fiction book of 2018 was The Overstory (Heinemann) by Richard Powers, which shamefully lost the Booker Prize this year. A sort of Cloud Atlas with trees, this is an exhilarating, ambitious and beautiful novel by a mature artist at the apex of his talent. Powers weaves the story of a dozen characters in post-war America whose lives intersect in surprising ways and the different trees that become totems and touchstones for all of them. Sounds weird and a bit hippy and, yeah, it is that, but it's also funny, sad and smart as a sugar maple on Christmas Day. My non-fiction book of 2018 was Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now (Allen Lane), which is an attempt to talk us out of pessimism and doom-mongering using things like facts. This is a sequel to The Better Angels of Our Nature which claimed that violence everywhere is going down. Here Pinker argues that everything (with the exception of the environment) is on the up and up and we can improve the lot of our fellow humans if we use reason as our guide. I had some problems with the philosophical underpinnings, but the rest of the text is a good antidote for those grey days when it looks like it's all going to hell in a handbasket.
Adrian McKinty's seventh Sean Duffy book, The Detective Up Late, will be published next year.
Paul Kane's A Passing Bell: Ghazals for Tina (White Crane Press) is a lamentation for the loss of his beloved life's companion, Tina. It is a rare and soaring masterpiece. It is a work of spiritual genius and the most powerfully tragic new poetry I've read in many years. Kane writes from within the unrelenting grip of an iron cage of grief, to which his poetry is his answer to the unanswerable. The reader weeps and admires and is carried to another level of perception. Kane has reached with this book a hitherto undreamed level of tragic beauty. I've read nothing so sustained or so affecting for years.
Alex Miller's latest novel is The Passage of Love (Allen & Unwin).
Maxine Beneba Clarke
Bundjalung author Melissa Lucashenko's new novel, Too Much Lip (UQP), Behrouz Boochani's memoir, No Friend but the Mountains (Picador), and Enza Gandolfo's novel, The Bridge (Scribe), are my must-read picks for 2018. Lucashenko's prose somehow manages to be lyrical and sharp at the same time, and she writes characters so incredibly vividly.
My year, and my life, are richer for having read these books.
Boochani's account of being imprisoned on Manus island by the Australian government for the past five years is a poetic, yet harrowing read, and every Australian household should have a copy. Gandolfo's The Bridge is an exquisite historical novel largely set in the workingclass communities of Melbourne's west, against the collapse of the Westgate Bridge – Australia's worst industrial accident. My year, and my life, are richer for having read these books.
Maxine Beneba Clarke's most recent book is The Hate Race (Hachette).
Melissa Lucashenko, author of Too Much Lip.Credit:LaVonne Bobongie Wall
Michelle de Kretser
In a standout year for non-fiction, here are some highlights. Axiomatic (Brow Books) by Maria Tumarkin and The World Was Whole (Giramondo) by Fiona Wright are essay collections that offer riveting meditations on the world and the self. Yay for the chutzpah of Ceridwen Dovey's On J.M. Coetzee (Black Inc.), which turns an essay about the most famous writer on the planet into an exhilarating celebration of female scholarship and connection. Being Here (Text) by Marie Darrieussecq (trans. Penny Hueston) is a marvellous distillation of the life and work of the painter Paula Modersohn-Becker, a key figure in the development of feminist art. Finally, No Friend but the Mountains (Picador) by journalist and Manus detainee Behrouz Boochani bears lucid, poetic and devastating witness to the insane barbarity enacted in our name.
Michelle de Kretser's latest book is The Life to Come (Allen & Unwin).
Ceridwen Dovey, who wrote the essay On J.M. Coetzee.Credit:Peter Rae
Moreno Giovannoni's The Fireflies of Autumn (Black Inc.), a seductive account of a Tuscan village, hums with laughter and dark tenderness, astringent where a less gifted writer would have been sentimental. Gabbie Stroud's memoir Teacher (Allen & Unwin) caused tears of nostalgia and rage to soak my pillow.
Rachel Cusk's Kudos rewrites the rules of narrative with merciless authority.
David Grossman's novel A Horse Walks into a Bar (Vintage) blistered the skin off me with its savage wit and striding technical brilliance. Rachel Cusk's Kudos (Faber) rewrites the rules of narrative with merciless authority. And shamefully late in life I stumbled on Willa Cather's 1918 novel My Antonia (Penguin), an old-fashioned, ecstatic, all-night read about an orphaned boy sent to live with his grandparents on the Nebraska prairie: a love song to landscape and air.
Helen Garner's latest book is Everywhere I Look (Text).
What a delicious year it's been in speculative-fiction-adjacent Australian writing. Angela Meyer's gorgeous A Superior Spectre (Affirm) mingles history and sci-fi, hot sex and agonising guilt; Robbie Arnott's Flames (Text) wanders a parallel Tasmania, as seen by water rats, gin-soaked PIs and resurrected women; Vincent Silk's Sisters of No Mercy (Brio) follows a group of state-smashers messing with a dystopian Australian city. I loved Jessie Cole's excruciating, immaculately crafted memoir, Staying (Text), Robert Lukins' luminous The Everlasting Sunday (UQP) and Joelle Gergis' innovative take on climate-change history, A Sunburnt Country (MUP). Michael Ondaatje is a genius and Warlight (Cape) did not change my opinion, but Carys Davies' tale of
mammoths in settler America, West (Text), and Nina Allan's mind-blowing experimental The Rift (Titan) nearly bumped him from this list.
Jane Rawson's latest book is From the Wreck (Transit Lounge).
Jessie Cole’s Staying is a favourite.
Evening in Paradise (Picador) is a 2018 fave for me. The impeccable prose of classic US literature composed to South American rhythms. The author's distinctive sensibility and skill in revealing flashes of the sublime in the grime, but beyond anything, finding more of Lucia Berlin at her best is a real gift (14 years now after her death). And earlier this year I read the recent translation of Flaubert's Madame Bovary (Penguin) by Lydia Davis. A once-in-a-millennium alignment of stars, where a universally acknowledged masterpiece meets the world's premier French translator at the height of her powers, who also just happens to be an author of true genius in her own right.
A.S. Patric's latest book is The Butcherbird Stories (Transit Lounge).
The older I get the more I need books to rattle my complacency. But also to soothe my confusion. One that did both was Andrew Bullen's sublime Etiquette with Angels: Selected and New Poems. It was the last book published by David Lovell, whose untimely death in September robbed Australian publishing of a wise and gentle guide. Bullen describes poetry as "that curving line/ surrounded by the silence/ it encloses". Gabbie Stroud's Teacher (Allen & Unwin) is a breath of fresh air in an increasingly burdened profession. Meredith Lake's The Bible in Australia (NewSouth) will surprise and challenge believers and unbelievers alike. Kate Rossmanith's Small Wrongs (Hardie Grant) and Rick Morton's One Hundred Years of Dirt (MUP) are fine memoirs because they dig so deep to find healing. Tim Winton's The Shepherd's Hut (Hamish Hamilton) is his best book so far. Which is saying something.
Michael McGirr's latest book is The Books that Saved My Life (Text).
Madeline Miller's Circe (Bloomsbury) was the standout fiction read for me this year. Novels that seek to retell historic stories from alternate perspectives often come under fire for what is perceived to be anachronistic, all-too-contemporary characterisation, but Miller's feminist take on the sorceress of The Odyssey is an unapologetically modern, subversive delight. I devoured it.
Ruby Tandoh's Eat Up! … [is] definitely a book to savour ahead of seasonal indulgences.
Other reading highlights include Leigh Sales' Any Ordinary Day (Hamish Hamilton), an exploration of tragedy made all the more compelling through Sales' reflections on her own experience of trauma, and her foibles and flaws as a journalist. I also loved Ruby Tandoh's Eat Up! (Serpent’s Tail), the best takedown of "clean-eating" evangelism I have encountered yet, and definitely a book to savour ahead of seasonal indulgences.
Hannah Kent's latest book is The Good People (Picador).
Leigh Sales reflects on her own experience of trauma in Any Ordinary Day.Credit:Peter Brew-Bevan
My reading year was elevated by Maria Tumarkin's Axiomatic (Brow Books) and Sarah Sentilles' Draw Your Weapons (Text); each as profound in their ideas as they are masterful at the sentence level. Three memoirs, uniquely powerful in different ways: Sisonke Msimang's Always Another Country (Text), Jessie Cole's Staying (Text) and Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich's The Fact of a Body (Macmillan). More standouts in non-fiction, luminous in their humanity and force: Sohaila Abdulali's What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape (Vintage), Chloe Hooper's The Arsonist (Hamish Hamilton), Emmanuel Carrere's Lives Other Than My Own (Picador) and Leigh Sales' Any Ordinary Day (Hamish Hamilton). And some of my favourites in fiction were Jane Rawson's From the Wreck (Transit Lounge), Paul Yoon's The Mountain (Simon & Schuster), Terra Nullius (Hachette) by Claire G. Coleman , and the stunning A Horse Walks into a Bar (Vintage) by David Grossman.
Sarah Krasnostein's latest book is The Trauma Cleaner (Text).
Sisonke Msimang, author of the "uniquely powerful" memoir Always Another Country.
Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls (Hamish Hamilton) retells The Iliad from the perspective of Briseis (the enslaved princess taken from Achilles by Agamemnon) in a shift that emphasises the grotesque gendered violence implicit in Homer's epic.
Chloe Hooper's The Arsonist demonstrates why literature still matters.
In her Regeneration trilogy, Barker explored trauma and sexuality during the First World War; with The Silence of the Girls (Hamish Hamilton), she recasts the ancient obsession with honour as an almost Edwardian preoccupation with honour amidst a grinding conflict that dishonours everything it touches. The deliberate anachronisms shouldn't work but they do – brilliantly – in an intensely moving novel about the pity of war. Meanwhile, Chloe Hooper's The Arsonist (Hamish Hamilton) demonstrates why literature still matters. There'’s no other art form that could convey the experience of bushfire as effectively as the virtuosic writing with which this book opens.
Jeff Sparrow's latest book is Trigger Warnings (Scribe).
As classy stocking fillers, I'd recommend Tim Winton's The Shepherd's Hut (Hamish Hamilton); Kamila Shamsie's Home Fire (Bloomsbury); John Wray's Godsend (FSG); Maria Tumarkin's Axiomatic (Brow Books); and Helen Garner's collected essays, True Stories (Text). I also loved Sarah Ferguson's small but exquisite book, On Mother (MUP). What I wouldn't give to see Ferguson at the English coronial proceeding into her mother's death, turning that brain on the unsuspecting system.
Chloe Hooper's latest book is The Arsonist (Hamish Hamilton).
An extraordinary Australian poetry year. Expectedly, I couldn't read everything enticing. Kate Lilley's Tilt (Vagabond Press) and Rozanna Lilley's Do Oysters Get Bored? (UWAP) were unforgettable in accomplished styles and subject, including discussing early sexual abuse. Far from feeling denigrated, their mother, Dorothy Hewett, would have been proud of them. Their courage and great lucidity come from her forthright values. While, controversially, Giramondo discontinued publishing me, its excellent list is still political in a different way and includes works such as Judith Beveridge's superb Sun Music. Among many unusual, significant books this year were Geoff Page's Elegy for Emily (Puncher & Wattman), and Pam Brown's Click Here for What We Do (Vagabond).
Jennifer Maiden's Selected Poems 1967-2018 is published by Quemar Press.
In The Man on the Mantlepiece (UWAP) Marion Campbell writes of the long-ago loss of her father, a brilliant scientist exploring cloud physics for rainmaking, who died during a scientific flight when she was a small child. Piercingly honest, beautifully written, she explores the reverberations of this tragedy for his wife and two daughters.
In her absorbing memoir, A Life of My Own (Penguin), Claire Tomalin, widely recognised as one of the great biographers of our time, with works that include studies of Shelley, Dickens, Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy, turns her skills to her own life, and reveals herself to be a brave and compassionate survivor. "But Italy he had always avoided, feeling that he was not yet ready for it … he secretly feared it, with the same instinctive fear he had of strong sunlight, the scent of flowers and extremely beautiful women." A small, exquisitely produced book, Journey By Moonlight (Pushkin Press) was first published in Hungarian in 1937. Antal Szerb, born in Budapest in 1901, and survivor of some of the most traumatic years of European history before dying in a forced-labour camp, casts a spell resonant with irony. This is the tale of the adventures of Mihaly, who is both hero and anti-hero, as he makes his way across the increasingly threatening landscape of middle Europe in the early 20th century.
Joan London's latest book is The Golden Age (Vintage).
This year I discovered the novels of Eva Hornung, reading The Last Garden and Dog Boy (Text) back to back. Hornung casts animals as major players in the worlds she creates, without sentimentality or anthropomorphising. The debut novel by Angela Meyer, A Superior Spectre (Ventura), grappled with interesting territory – unruly desires, the impacts of technology, mental illness – in inventive and captivating ways. In terms of non-fiction, Jesmyn Ward's Men We Reaped (Bloomsbury) was heartwrenching and illuminating, while Maria Tumarkin's remarkable Axiomatic (Brow Books) felt like it could have been written just for me. Finally, Draw Your Weapons (Text) by Sarah Sentilles did something I hadn't experienced before. Laying ideas and snippets and images side by side, she grappled with the biggest questions – war, peace, torture, religion, art – but left space for the reader to join the dots. I could feel my neural pathways stagger under the weight, but eventually expand.
Jessie Cole's latest book is Staying (Text).
Jesmyn Ward, author of
Men We Reaped.Credit:James Patterson/New York Times
Every few years, a novel comes along that changes the way you look at the world. The Overstory (Heinemann) by Richard Powers was such a book for me. This ingeniously crafted work weaves together seemingly disparate stories of individuals whose lives are shaped by trees. Some are scientists. Others, simply gardeners. One is an office worker who doesn't realise what her view of a few urban street trees means to her until they are cut down. In luminous prose, Powers brings these characters together in a suspense-driven plot and along the way he creates a visceral and urgent sense of our relationship to the natural world. This was my book of the year. I also enjoyed Less (Little, Brown) by Andrew Sean Greer, a laugh-out-loud gem that unfolds unexpectedly into a deeply felt investigation of the power of love. And as an admirer of Debra Oswald's play The Peach Season, I was glad to see this deft and original exploration of the parent-child relationship given the more capacious quarters afforded by a novel in The Whole Bright Year (Viking).
Geraldine Brooks' latest book is The Secret Chord (Hachette).
It has been a very strong year for the Australian novel. Tim Winton's The Shepherd's Hut (Hamish Hamilton), a searing exploration of masculinity set amidst a beautifully rendered Australian landscape, created an unforgettable voice in the Australian vernacular, in the shape of young Jaxie Clackton. Michelle de Kretser's The Life to Come (Allen & Unwin) provided a scathing satire of Australian literature and society, while Border Districts (Giramondo) by Gerald Murnane continued and concluded the reclusive writer's literary project in a typically unconventional style. However, undoubtedly the most useful book I read this year was not Australian, but translated from French. Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read (Bloomsbury) is an invaluable guide to speaking convincingly about, and even recommending with absolute confidence, books you have never opened.
Ryan O’Neill's latest book is The Drover's Wives (Brio).
Tim Winton’s The Shepherd’s Hut is a searing exploration of masculinity.Credit:Louise Kennerley
No work of non-fiction could be more suited to my current role as reader in residence in the State Library of NSW than Susan Orlean's utterly enthralling The Library Book (Atlantic). Orlean has the enviable knack of making any subject, no matter how mundane or obscure, fascinating, with her behind-the-scenes access, her forensic eye
for detail, her ability to gather arcane facts and her gift for storytelling peopled with unforgettable characters full of quirk and humour. Her flame-by-flame description of the 1986 fire that destroyed the library is a stand-out example of virtuosic, almost cinematic description. A joy from start to finish. In Shell (Scribner) it is fascinating to see the thread of an earlier theme from Kristina Olsson's award-winning memoir, Boy, Lost, woven into the tapestry of an intensely poetic novel about the Sydney Opera House that is destined to become a classic due to the exquisite imagery of her prose. If the test of contemporary fiction is whether a second reading delivers fresh
layers of insight and meaning, the answer here is an unequivocal yes.
Caroline Baum is the author of Only (Allen & Unwin).
Like Italo Calvino's young baron this year I lost myself in the branches of a great novel of trees, Richard Powers' The Overstory (Heinemann). I also loved the cosmic mischief of Olga Tokarczuk's interspecies whodunnit, Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead (Text). What a weird joy of a book it is. From Australia, Judith Beveridge's Sun Music (Giramondo) is a wonderful and accessible collection spanning decades of her work while Alison Whittaker's Blakwork (Magabala) is a standout. Tough, moving and brilliant, the way Gomeroi words are always bursting through the English in Blakwork feels more like the future than the past. It's surely a key book in our current Aboriginal literary and linguistic renaissance.
Gregory Day's latest book is A Sand Archive (Picador).
Richard Powers, author of The Overstory.Credit:Alamy
The standout book of the year is Behrouz Boochani's No Friend but the Mountains (Picador). Written on a mobile phone in Farsi, and translated by Omid Tofighian, it tells his story of exile and imprisonment on Manus in ways that haunt the reader. Billy Griffiths' Deep Time Dreaming (Black Inc.) reimagines our history through his
careful mixture of archaeology, landscape and politics. And Rupert Thomson's novel Never Anyone but You (Little, Brown) recounts the story of two women caught in the German occupation of Jersey in ways that enlarge our understanding of history and sexuality.
Dennis Altman's latest book is How to Vote Progressive in Australia (Monash).
My reading list this year has been dominated by kick-arse women. Melissa Lucashenko's Too Much Lip (UQP) is everything I love about fiction: smart and sexy, both funny and serious.
Krissy Kneen is a genuine original, and Wintering is my favourite of all her novels.
I adored Liane Moriarty's Nine Perfect Strangers (Macmillan) for her searing Austen-esque irony about modern life. Krissy Kneen is a genuine original, and Wintering (Text) is my favourite of all her novels. It's creepy, mysterious and visceral. Laura Elvery's Trick of the Light (UQP) was my favourite collection of the year, for her surprising stories that make the world seem fresh and weird. (How does she come up with these ideas?) My token bloke is Christian White, whose The Nowhere Child (Affirm) is everything a thriller ought to be. I was carried away.
Toni Jordan's latest book is The Fragments (Text).
Liane Moriarty, author of Nine Perfect Strangers.
Sam Twyford-Moore's The Rapids (NewSouth) is a harrowing and thoughtful exploration of all the crap that makes us human. Coach Fitz (Giramondo) by Tom Lee is wonderful, particularly for those who self-medicate their madness using their feet. As part of a family shaped by trauma, I loved Traumata (UQP) by Meera Atkinson and its intense plunge into the complex negotiation that is the trauma-shaped individual's movement through the world. Trauma is the original block chain. Keri Glastonbury's Newcastle Sonnets (Giramondo) is a collection of wide-ranging sonnets grounded in Newcastle that is like an op shop inmypocket. And makes me want to live in Newcastle. Which works out well. Ryan O'Neill's latest book, The Drover’s Wives (Brio), is as unique and original as ever.
Michael Sala's latest book is The Restorer (Text).
I've always admired Leigh Sales' writing as much as her broadcasting chops. Her book Any Ordinary Day (Hamish Hamilton) shows why: it's an unforgettable synthesis of her journalistic steel and compassionate self-questioning.Although it's essentially an investigation about what happens in the aftermath of real-life human nightmares, what it becomes is a gift of resilience and self-assurance for the reader.
Sabrina … [is] the first graphic novel ever nominated for the Man Booker Prize, and I can absolutely see why.
Nick Drnaso's graphic novel Sabrina (Granta) is also about unspeakable tragedy, but how they now mutate in a toxic era of internet conspiracy theories and fake news. It's the first graphic novel ever nominated for the Man Booker Prize, and I can absolutely see why. And though it was released in 2017, I'm still recommending Min Jin Lee's Pachinko (Head of Zeus), which I read last summer, and still think about constantly.
Benjamin Law's latest book is Law School (Brow Books).
One of the absolute highlights of my reading year was Michael Ondaatje's elegiac late masterpiece, Warlight (Cape). Gorgeous, delightfully off-kilter, and charged with the playful sensuality and elusiveness of his best work, it explores the long shadow of war and the unpredictable arcs of all our lives with great power and intelligence. Kudos (Faber), the final volume in the remarkable trilogy Rachel Cusk began with 2014's Outline, is, like its predecessors, daring and radical and unflinching in its dismantlement of our assumptions about the self. Closer to home, the intricate clockwork of Jennifer Mills' Dyschronia (Picador) is simultaneously a meditation on our increasingly unhinged environment and a very personal story about the bonds that hold people together, and Jennifer Down's Pulse Points (Text) is a wonderfully observed collection of stories distinguished by its author's emotional awareness and empathy for her characters.
James Bradley's latest book is The Buried Ark (Pan).
"Whether I want kids is a secret I keep from myself," Sheila Heti writes in her novel Motherhood (Vintage). The rest of the book is a precise and intelligent psychological portrait of a narrator struggling with an almost unbearable ambivalence. Until she isn't. This was my favourite new book this year. I also enjoyed Flames (Text) by Robbie Arnott, a love letter to Tasmania, and Sayaka Murata's Convenience Store Woman (Portobello Books), a love letter to a convenience store – both novels are strange and magical yet beautifully grounded. And finally I, like readers everywhere, fell under the spell of Arthur Less, the protagonist of Andrew Sean Greer's Pulitzer-winning novel Less (Little, Brown), a joyful, humane and hilarious read in a year when the news
was often anything but.
Abigail Ulman is the author of Hot Little Hands (Hamish Hamilton).
Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman is "strange and magical yet beautifully grounded".Credit:Kentaro Takahashi/The New York Times
Speculative fiction – but not the hard science, plot-driven kind I grew up with. Jane Rawson's From the Wreck (Transit Lounge) with its shape-shifting alien octopus is (in part) a meditation on the place of the individual in the cosmos. In Krissy Kneen's thriller Wintering (Text), shape shifting mirrors the spectre of domestic violence. Angela Meyer's mind hopping in A Superior Spectre (Ventura) is a vehicle for exploring the boundaries of identity. And Claire G. Coleman's Terra Nullius (Hachette) employs sci-fi tropes to challenge the reader's identification with the story – and history. Forget any prejudice about the genre; these are not single-genre novels anyway. Compelling (sometimes beautiful) writing, finely drawn characters and locations, and contemporary themes are what they have in common.
Graeme Simsion's most recent book, written with Anne Buist, is Two Steps Forward (Text).
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