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Author Sarah Ridout on the Best Books She Read This Year

Sarah Ridout, author of Le Chateau – an absorbing, romantic and slightly creepy tale set in the wine regions of southern France, but with an Australian twist – tell us about the best books she read in 2016

Eyrie by Tim Winton

I enjoyed this book for the public and angry cry it is about the decimation of our environment overseen by those who should know better, the political system, across its three tiers in Australia. It is powerful and recommended reading in this period of dramatic Climate Change dangerously in tandem with a Post Truth World where 97% of scientists dire warnings about Climate Change can be ignored by the political system and voters in a strange lemming like cool aid drinking agreement.

Their Brilliant Careers by Ryan O’Neill

This book was recommended to me by my friend and fellow author, Les Zig, also a friend of O’Neill’s. It is hilarious, laugh out loud funny for writers and readers alike. It is like an elaborately constructed parlor game of fakery where the real mixes with the fake in a simulacra of a literary reference book. I started to see my friend Les’ name in the book too which added to the humor and enjoyment for me. Also luckily for me I read this the week of the US election and it helped me cope with the Alice in Wonderland Up is Down world that event seems to have ushered in.

Black Rock White City by AS Patric

I loved this book and am pleased it won the Miles Franklin Award 2016. For a debut novel I guess it means Patric’s next one will win the Booker!? Not much pressure for a second book really. It’s great for the Australian publishing industry that a first time novelist published by a small press can win such a prestigious and lauded award.

I loved the economic telling of the history and context of the refugee couple and their war torn backstory. It contains so much truth of war, humanity, civilization, society and the erosion of egalitarianism in modern Australia. The voice was stark and true. On a personal note I’m very glad to have a signed copy from my friend Les (again, a friend of Patric also) where Alec Patric wishes me all the best for ‘Le Chateau’ just some days after he won the Miles Franklin! What a lovely man and talented author.

Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic

‘Resurrection Bay’ won the Ned Kelly Best Debut and a trifecta of Davitt Awards this year. When you read it you can understand why. It is a fast moving tale that gives Peter Temple a run for his money. The hero, Caleb Zelic, is a powerful addition to the genre. He was profoundly deaf since early childhood, but rather than that being the focus of his being it is used as another attribute and textually as a professional strength allowing him to watch and pick up the multiple signs people hide in a smile, a cough, or a kiss. It is a celebration of difference and like J.M Peace’s ‘A Time To Run’ gives Australian crime writing a distinctive and strong central character readers can root for. Other great additions to this genre in 2016 are ‘Ghost Girls’ by Cath Ferla and ‘Bad Blood’ by Gary Kemble.

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, Eimaer MacBride

An incredibly audacious and writerly debut. It apparently took over 10 years to be published and that fact alone shows you how risk averse much of the industry has become. Reading it I thought ‘this must be what it was like to read James Joyce when he was first published’. It really is that form shifting and confident in its goals and direction. The voice is unforgettable and I can’t think of a more original one in recent times. Fittingly, MacBride is also Irish and the book is set there. That was a double interest for me having lived and studied in Dublin. ‘Lesser Bohemians’ awaits on my bedside table for 2017 reading. Both novels have striking cover designs that echo the Joycean era to me, abstraction and rough shapes, primary colours.

Reckoning by Magda Szubanski

I loved this generous and inclusive biography by one of Australia’s best loved daughters. It’s especially relevant and powerful in this sad era in Australian politics of refugee and migrant vilification. Both Magda’s parents were migrants and made a contribution to their new country to be taken to a new level by their daughter. It is poignant, funny, moving, personal and revelatory. Magda’s description of coming out to her family has probably been one of the most helpful and cathartic contributions in this year of the anti-‘Safe School Program’ hysteria. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it has helped thousands of people going through the same angst and shows yet again the power of writing.

Bowie Collector, Sotheby’s

As a Bowie Super Fan (‘Le Chateau’ has numerous Bowie references and his music helps the heroine Charlotte heal) I had to register for the Sotheby’s Bowie Estate Auction. The beautifully produced three volume catalogue (and bag) are now treasured pieces of mine. The catalogues contain photographs and descriptions of each piece, essays by leaders in design, art history and curation. Together they provide a further insight of my great idol. This is cemented visually with many photos of Bowie over the years with his collection, books and possessions of influence and insightful quotes. My favourite being ‘All art really does is keep you focussed on questions of humanity.’

In relation to Bowie I’m excited to know Santa is bringing me ‘Golden Years’ by Roger Griffin. It looks like a Super Fan’s delight! Read more or see the collection here!

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

This is a huge doorstop of a novel detailing the lives of university friends. It is highly emotive, moving and depressing. The startling cover photo was chosen by the author a photograph by Peter Hujar called “Orgasmic Man.” The black and white photo shows a man wincing, as if in pain. “I really hung on for the cover,” Yanagihara said. “I love the intimacy, the emotion, what looks like anguish. There’s something so visceral about it.” It pretty much lets the reader know what they’re in for. It is a strong telling of layers of domestic and institutional violence. An Australian novel that details domestic violence, child abuse and institutional failings is Cass Moriarty’s ‘The Promise Tree’.

The characterisation of ‘A Little Life’ is complex and layered and the character names deftly chosen. You can’t really go past ‘Jude’ to connote misery, misfortune, hardship and martyrdom. The reader has much meaning, expectation and baggage to unpack with that four letter word. I’m glad I read the book. I don’t think I could stomach the movie that’s recently been announced.

The Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante

Technically four books – “My Brilliant Friend”, “Story of a New Name”, “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay” and “The Story of The Lost Child” – the series took the world by storm. Elena Ferrante herself and the mystery surrounding her identity became a story in itself. It was her choice to be private and this should have been respected. I loved the depiction of female friendship from infancy to middle age through all the milestones and challenges thrown by life set against the backdrop of Italian political, cultural and economic history. Another great book that details female friendship and in particular domestic violence is ‘Like I Can Love’ by Australian author Kim Lock.

Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel

With this second installment in her Thomas Cromwell Trilogy ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ Hilary Mantel lifts the bar again for the historical novel. It’s the sequel to her award-winning Wolf Hall and both books won the Booker Prize which made her the first woman to win the prize twice and the first time two books in a series have won the award. Her depiction of Thomas Cromwell, the powerful minister in the court of King Henry VIII, is surely the most rounded and detailed for many years. It is a master class too in political strategy and dealing with a psychopathic narcissist as well as showing great parallels with our ‘Post Truth’ era.


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