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“Cats, I always think, only jump into your lap to check if you are cold enough, yet, to eat.”

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"He was hurling words at his shrinking wife like clods or bricks and she was not dodging but receiving them like a willing saint, enduring abuse like a terrible balm."

Ezra getting some local advice on the best bombing technique, Mossman George, Daintree National Park, Far North Queensland. April 2021. Drylands by Thea Astley Thea Astley's last novel  Drylands  is a queer old thing. Presented as a series of loosely connected fragments, it begins with a decidedly clichéd post-modern flourish more Calvino than Miles Franklin. To my horror, I thought for a moment that I was getting a meta-exploration on the nature of writing and literature. Early on, it appears that we are to follow the process of a writer going through a painful attempt to birth an idea. For whatever reason, Astley gives up on this conceit - although she half-heartedly returns to it every now and again - and instead, we drift into the series of vignettes that eventually build the book. Admittedly, it is an awkward and stuttering start, but perhaps this was the author's aim. After all, novels are born out of such stutters and stumbles. From such a beginning is born a cast of exh

“They fought as though the most important thing was to damage each other as much as possible.”

  A big wrasse (with a friend). Agincourt Reef, the Great Barrier Reef, Far North Queensland. April 2021. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro  Like  Never Let Me Go  and The Buried Giant , Ishiguro's conceit here presents the perfect opportunity to explore some weighty and troubling themes through a fresh lens. In choosing Klara, an AI robot fresh out of the factory, as narrator, Ishiguro has a guide who is at once innocent and unworldly yet possesses outstanding observational qualities (it is what she is designed to do, after all). This gives the author access to a narrator possessing both the tabula rasa of a naïf and the vocabulary and intelligence to progress the story and complex themes engagingly and believably. I found this a better modern take on the issue than Ian McEwan's  Machines Like Me . With his usual deftness of touch, Ishiguro explores what it means to be human, the ethics of Artificial Intelligence and the corrosive course of history as civilisation marches o

“Death will not be denied. To try is grandiose. It drives madness into the soul. It leaches out virtue. It injects poison into friendship, and makes a mockery of love.”

  Out on the reef. Agincourt Reef, the Great Barrier Reed, Far North Queensland. April 2021. The Spare Room by Helen Garner Helen Garner's most admirable quality - to my mind - is her unremitting honesty as a writer.  The Spare Room  captures the grim reality of acting as a carer for a friend in denial facing a terminal illness. "Nicola", the friend that is desperately pursuing alternative - and obviously useless - treatments for her disease, is not the focus of the novel. Instead, in typical Garner style, we experience the inner perspective of Helen herself. As ever, she is frank. We actually don't explore Nicola's own feelings about her illness, as the lens is fixed with Garner herself. However, feelings of concern, pity, anger, guilt and resentment are all present and afford an insight too often glossed over when we talk about death. As such, there is an authenticity here often found lacking in similarly-themed books. It's also surprisingly funny. While thi

Being Black 'n Chicken, and Chips

K ookaburra in a tree. Port Douglas, Far North Queensland. April 2021. Being Black 'n Chicken, and Chips by Matt Okine This was a good little read, funny in parts, although not quite as funny as I think intended. This bittersweet coming of age story may have worked better as a memoir rather than a semi-fictionalised book. Matt Okine's youth saw him losing his mother to cancer and the struggles of having a Ghanese father, much like our narrator, "Mike Amon". While this choice may have both made the writing psychologically safer - and opened up the potential for more dick jokes - it does somewhat undermine the gravitas of what is quite a moving tale of loss, grief and growing up. It also isn't helped by an inconsistency in a tone that makes me wonder who the intended audience is. For the most part, it reads like a young adult, but the sentimental reverence of the late-90s and nature of many of the jokes and exploration of the mother-son dynamic suggests an older aud

“People without a sense of humor will never forgive you for being funny.”

Manjal Dimbi ( Mount Demi ), Mossman, Far North Queensland. April 2021. The Thursday Murder Club   by Richard Osman An enjoyable romp in the traditional English murder mystery form. Richard Osman has done a great job in conjuring up a rich and diverse group of characters with a keen eye for unsolved murders and plenty of time on their hands. The decision to set the novel in a retirement village allows Osman to give his elderly cast colourful backstories and useful skills required to both solve crimes and advance storylines. While it gets a little crowded at times, there's enough killing off of characters along the way to keep things moving and thin the herd! If you're after a spot of good old fashioned crime-solving fun with enough highs, lows, laughs and tears to keep one engaged, this is likely the book for you. ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

"Who knows but that England may revive in New South Wales when it has sunk in Europe."

Fish of the Great Barrier Reef, Agincourt Reef, Far North Queensland. April 2021. Banks by Grantlee Kieza The strongest elements of this rich and detailed biography are those during the defining period of Banks' life and career: his voyage with James Cook's expedition to the south Pacific Ocean aboard HMS Endeavour from 1768 to 1771. I particularly enjoyed the section on their visit to far north Queensland (I happened to be visiting while reading the book). The tensions between the young Banks and Cook regarding the latter's brusque approach to the native peoples was enlightening and foretold both Cook's eventual fate and the subsequent treatment of Australia's original inhabitants. Much like Banks' life after returning to England, the book tends to drift with occasional flashes of colour. I was less interested in the internal politics of the Royal Society or Banks' love life than I was in the exploration of the new world. While Cooks' latter voyages, t