Latest Books

Want to know what kinds of books we read? You can find all of our previous selections as well as reviews written by members of our club below. Some they loved, others not so much. We trust you'll make up your own damn mind once you get to turning the pages. Watch out for a few spoilers too!

We've partnered with Booktopia to make purchasing from our back catalogue easier than ever. Each selection includes an affiliate link to their store. A few of these are located on the full review - so be sure to click 'Read More.' When used, we receive a portion of your purchase at no additional cost to you. Using these links is a quick way to grab a copy and get reading while helping our club at the same time.

  • Steppenwolf - Hermann Hesse (1927)

    Posted on Sep 06, 2023

    This month we are reading Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse.

    Grab a copy and get reading.

  • A Long Petal of the Sea - Isabel Allende (2019)

    Posted on Aug 02, 2023

    What a curious mixture of a novel is this book. At once a page turner and at some junctures, a must put down book. If I may be permitted a quote so soon, "Between thirty and forty people died every day, first the children from dysentery, then the elderly from pneumonia, and later on the others, one by one". A put down moment for reflection if ever there was.

    It is a story well writ within the framework of verifiable historical events. The Spanish civil war. A plethora of characters are introduced and fleshed out well. Some are discarded. Some take on almost mythical capabilities making them seem a little flat and implausible. Victor the main protagonist, part paramedic, part saint, part concert guitarist. His brother, Guillem, the crude but never mean pugilist having found his calling in the greatest battle of all. A battle of philosophies for the people, against those who would take their freedoms simply because they could. Those who discriminated on race, colour, accent. Take your pick. Anything that could be pointed at or even simply impuned. Hard to reconcile the two sibling types from the same intellectual nest.

    The novel then, after the defeat and internment in the concentration camp, pivots, the doings of the upper classes are revealed (several of the first quarter protagonists are too descended from the intelligencia). We're shown the demi-elite of Chilean society where wealth cannot purchase status and cousins are married behind enclaves. All the time nervous glimpses are cast across at the heinous situation in Spain. Order is restored but at what cost ? How can such a ruinous and debase conflict ever be bourn again ?

    Then World War II begins.

    There is an agenda being drawn out here. Allende is wrapping multiple messages in an almost Mills and Boon package. There's the facts of a history forgotten and covered up. It's an exposition for the unknowing. An educatative process but there is also invitation to contemplate. To contemplate the origins and mechanisms of oppression. To this end it is a stealth missile of opinion and philosophy. But Mills and Boon it is not. I was too unkind. It is well writ as I have said. We'll worth the read. The characters are, where required, likeable. The pace varies A LOT. Slow thoughtful descriptions oppose lightning fast changes. In one instance twelve years between paragraph end and beginning of the next.

    The ones I can't seem to forget though are the children, who died by the dozen, in the sand of a beach. Which was a concentration camp, for refugees. In a nation, then not at war. This is not a pop at the French. They were a nation almost overwhelmed. The sad fate of children runs through the book from pampered but isolated through to the abandoned, kidnapped through to the simply murdered. This is a back drop to the huge events of the world and the stories of the.main adult characters.

    This is a worthy novel perhaps deserving of three whole books. But as it is, it's a salutary page turner.

    George Stuart (Lismore Chapter)

  • A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway (1964)

    Posted on Jul 05, 2023

    Our review will be up soon.

  • Shadowboxing - Tony Birch (2006)

    Posted on Jun 07, 2023

    The trouble with Tony Birch’s semi-autobiographical first book, Shadowboxing, a linked group of short stories set in the pre gentrified Fitzroy working class slums of the late 60s and early 70s is not that it isn’t good. It is a fine read, exemplary in its exploration of the themes of redemption, toxic masculinity, and class and culture resilience during hard times. It is also a fascinating snapshot of time and place, a Fitzroy and Collingwood that were just beginning to change dramatically. The problem is that Tony’s later work is even better because it doesn’t have that overlay of origin story and social history to get in the way of the stories and their themes.

    I would really like to ask Tony [might even try] if after a decade of work when he entered University and started to realise his potential he thought that before he could look forward he needed to clear the decks and get this book out of the way as a tribute to his family, his upbringing, and his culture.

    The earlier stories like The Butcher’s Wife and A Disposable Good where Michael is a boy and more the passive if keen observer are good tales of dirty deeds and family tragedies. They are intended to illustrate two particular consequences for women of the toxic masculinity so prevalent at the time and they do but without Michael or his family and friends front and centre they read a bit too much like local history with some extra colour.

    Women play a central role in all the stories as sources of comfort, wisdom or resilience in a repressive man’s world. But interestingly over the time passage the book covers there is no story that fits between when the teenage Michael chooses his path and later as a father of two daughters himself he reconnects with his monster of a father. Presumably the story of how he met and his involvement with the mother of his daughters would also be compelling. Perhaps I am making the stories of Michael’s life more autobiographical than they actually are but given what Tony has said in interviews this gap intrigues me.

    The book is at the best when the teenage Michael and his family are at the centre of the stories especially so in the case of the disturbing The Lesson, The Return, The Bulldozer, Ashes and the fantastic The Sea of Tranquillity. The later stories when the compassion and forgiveness of an adult Michael for his alcoholic, violent and failing father thereby showing that the sins of the father do not have to reoccur are different in tone but filled with quiet power.

    Always Tony’s writing is simple and direct and dare I say punchy, no fancy stuff to describe tough times and he is a fine storyteller. Write about what you know they say and the first sentence of every story is designed to grab your attention and he doesn’t stuff around. Each story is quickly up and running and he moves through the gears like Michael’s mate Charlie in the stolen cars.

    But his greatest skill is how he subtly explores just what it is to be a good man. He shows that choice and hope can overcome difficult circumstances and how just one or two positive examples can redirect a person to a better course through life. After all, it’s hard to be what you can’t see. Shadowboxing is a very good book (my favourite of the year so far) and if you enjoyed its themes and the quality of Tony’s prose or reading short stories like I do grab one of Tony’s later collections like Dark As Last Night or Common People.

    Scott Hoffman (Collingwood Chapter)

  • Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri (1999)

    Posted on May 03, 2023

    The book is a cohesive compilation of beautifully written and astutely observed short stories. The thread running through the book is the is the exploration of the complexities of human relationships, particularly within the context of cultural and personal displacement.

    In each story, Lahiri exhibits an impressive command of detail, whether it be the bustling streets of Calcutta or the quiet suburban neighborhoods of New England. She effortlessly transports readers to these settings, creating an immersive experience that brings the stories to life. Through her keen observations, Lahiri captures cultural clashes, generational gaps, and the quiet struggles that shape her characters' lives.

    The stories are of ordinary people, be they a couple driven apart by the loss of their unborn child, a Hindu couple discovering Christian artifacts hidden around their new home or an old woman displaced in the partition who tells tales of her riches in her previous life. Though ordinary Lahiri's writing displays a remarkable ability to quickly capture the essence of her characters, skillfully blending the immigrant experience with universal themes of love, loss, and identity. Another recurring theme in the collection is the exploration of the immigrant experience. In stories like "A Temporary Matter" and "Mrs. Sen's," Lahiri delves into the struggles faced by those who leave their homeland behind, examining the tension between assimilation and preservation of cultural heritage.

    Lahiri's writing is exquisite, evoking emotions with subtlety and grace. Her language possesses a quiet power, and she expertly weaves together narrative and introspection, inviting readers to contemplate the human condition. The stories in "Interpreter of Maladies" strike a delicate balance between humor and sadness, allowing each to leave a lasting impression.

    "Interpreter of Maladies" is a great collection of stories that shows Jhumpa Lahiri's talent as a writer. Through her keen observations and beautifully crafted prose, Lahiri offers a profound exploration of human experiences, transcending geographical and cultural boundaries. The themes of love, longing, and identity hit home, and her characters remain etched in the reader's mind, their stories serving as a testament to the universality of the human condition. I loved the book and thoroughly recommend it.

    David Taylor (Yarraville Chapter)

  • SCOOP - Evelyn Waugh (1938)

    Posted on Apr 01, 2023

    At first glance Scoop is s novel of chance, coincidence, and manipulation…. but only at first glance. For inside the cover of SCOOP lies the semi-autobiographical confession of a man shunned by his peers, of a family fallen from grace and rejected by those the author most admired, the Oxford men of England’s elite.

    Read More »
  • Metamorphosis and Other Stories - Franz Kafka (1915)

    Posted on Mar 01, 2023

    I approached Kafka with some trepidation, having been amused, but largely confounded by The Metamorphosis many years ago. I am naturally an empirical (some would say concrete) thinker. I like knowable truths and tend to approach books (and film, and art, and music…) with an assumption that there is a particular meaning intended by the work’s creator. At times I have felt a little anxious when encountering a work whose meaning is unclear, or appears intentionally ambiguous. If it doesn’t make sense to me - if I can’t crack the puzzle - then I’ve missed the point and it’s obviously above my head. (I’m looking at you Murakami, David Lynch and the bloke who wrote that book about Zen and motorcycles).

    Read More »
  • The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton (1967)

    Posted on Feb 01, 2023

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    I went into the outsiders with no prior knowledge of the book, author or movie and found myself quickly drawn in, finishing the whole book over two days.

    I can’t say I always take to the “classic” novels but I found this one easy and enjoyable – probably due to being originally written for teenagers.

    I found myself identifying with the characters while simultaneously being frustrated by their flaws. It was easy to relate to Ponyboy’s angst and uncertainty about his place in the world and I enjoyed the way the similarities were drawn between characters despite their different economic disparity. The face-off between “greasers” and “socs” or “socials” echoes the age old divide of haves and have-nots and was punctuated by violence, frustration and repressed emotions.

    Although simple, the storyline featured enough action to keep any teenage boy or immature man (in my case) engrossed and along for the ride.

    My main criticism of the book is that the female characters were poorly developed and the love interests largely pointless in the overall storyline. I was surprised to learn it was actually written by a teenage girl -S E Hinton was only 15 when started writing the book and 17 when it was published.

    Overall it was an enjoyable read and is a strong three pints and a schooner out of five for me.

    Lucas Earle (Northcote Chapter)

    This is a novel that was written by a 15 year old author who wanted to tell a story with the authentic voice of young people, and that is a remarkable achievement in itself.

    The novel is the first hand account of Sodapop lives with his two brothers who have lost both parents in a car accident, Sodapop belongs to the working class ‘Greasers’ tribe who wear distinctive hair styles and are the enemies of the ‘the Socs’ white middle-class kids with distinctive clothes and better cars. The two tribes engage in fights which are strangely ritualised – no chains or no knives, no firearms and initially staring silently at each other first like medieval armies. The police rarely come in time and parents seem to be unaware of these battles. The violence described is real but ecstatic and enjoyed by all sides, even those that come off the worst . Injuries as well as victories are badges of manly pride.

    That’s the extent of the controversy – though it still manages to get banned by school boards from time to time in the US. The tribes are still recognisably ‘decent’ and aspire to better things even if they do not actually try to do so. Sodapop still feels that he can educate his way out of his social station,. Sodapop shows the value of people despite social differences by platonically bonding with a ’Soc’ girl Cherry over mutual appreciation of sunsets. Despite the fact that the participants are awash with hormones and sexual tension, and the key event in the novel involves a standoff over Cherry there is no mention or hint of sexual activity , even kissing or petting. No wonder everybody gets into physical fights.

    He and his friend Johnny flee after killing Bob , a Greaser who was almost drowning Sodapop. They hide in a church and read ‘Gone with the wind’ . Then they redeem themselves by rescuing a group of schoolkids who are drawn like star Trek redshirts to an inflammable abandoned church for no clear reason.

    Despite the fact that teenage ‘delinquents’ like them would have had the full force of the law thrown against them by aggrieved middle class parents of the “my boy was a good boy” victim. Instead the church rescue and Cherry’s testimony at the trial redeems Sodapop and he does not suffer any penalties, and even gets to stay living with his brothers. . Johnny, who wielded the knife avoids testing credibility further by dies in hospital from burns whilst managing to write a goodbye note like a dying statement in old pulp movies after someone gets shot, just before they go “aaargh” and die.

    In 1967 this had a great impact for its POV and authentic words. However, in 1967 the US had an amazing music scene, the dark shadow of Vietnam war, race riots , the long shadow of Kennedy’s assassination , and the threat of nuclear annihilation. Nothing of the sort intrudes on this world. What do we have instead is an all-white cast of asexual male teenagers and young adults who think saying “tuff” signifies coolness.

    Our chapter heard a great comment during our discussion that it reads like it was written by a 15 year old . Despite being remarkable for an author of that age, it no longer shocks like it did in 1967. In the age of modern gang violence, this novel is as shocking as a schoolyard fight during recess.

    Carmelo Aquilina (Leichhardt Chapter)

  • The Magician - Colm Tóibín (2021)

    Posted on Dec 07, 2022

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    The Magician by Colm Toibin is a dramatised biography of the life of German author Thomas Mann, his relationships with family, his writing career from early success to Nobel Prize to political exile, and his influential voice being used (or not used) during the rise of National Socialism, and Mann's struggles with his sexual identity, particularly during one vivid sequence in the novel featuring a desperate flight from Nazi Germany and a left-behind suitcase full of incriminating personal diaries.

    The above paragraph is also an example of the writing style frequently employed by Colm Toibin in his novel, employing a long run-on sentence of ideas that carries the reader through Thomas Mann's life as though on an inexorable tide much like that which Mann was also on: the headlong rush of early- to mid-twentieth century historical upheaval.

    The term "magician" was bestowed upon Thomas Mann by his children, however the term can equally apply to author Colm Toibin's trick of breathing vivid life into what could in the hands of a less accomplished writer be an otherwise dry literary biography. Throughout the several decades the reader spends with Toibin's Mann, we experience the career highs and personal lows of this very real historical figure with whom many readers may have been otherwise unfamiliar (in our own book club Chapter's recent discussion of the book, around half of us hadn't heard of Mann or his novels).

    While at times "The Magician" may be a necessarily fictionalised life of Thomas Mann, the reader never feels cheated by this fact. For example, even with a lengthy scene we spend inside Mann's imagined desires for a handsome youth while on vacation with his family, the reader can understand this comes about as just another manifestation of how well Colm Toibin has researched his subject so thoroughly as to literally be able to be inside Mann's head.

    "The Magician" is an entertaining read, and at times an educational one. It is also a great example of the variety of book-reading opportunities that Tough Guy Book Club offers -- "The Magician" probably isn't a novel this reviewer might have otherwise discovered on their own, and feels rewarded for the experience.

    Chris Daniels (Newtown Chapter)

  • Wolf in White Van - John Darnielle (2014)

    Posted on Nov 02, 2022

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle is a thought-provoking novel that explores the nature of reality, the power of imagination, and the devastating consequences of loneliness. I thought the novel was beautifully written and Darnielle's prose is incredibly readable, relatable, evocative, and in a way, slightly haunting.

    The novel centers around the character named Sean Phillips, a young man who creates and runs a mail-based role-playing game called "Trace Italian." Sean's game is a world of his own creation, a place where he can escape the limitations of his physical reality and live out his fantasies.

    The novel is told through his perspective and moves between his present and past, building up to a climactic event that left Sean permanently disfigured and forever changed. It is during his period of recovery and rehabilitation that he creates, refines and finally produces his game for those to discover, subscribe to and participate in. Sean, being shaped by his past and (until towards the end of the novel, his mostly undescribed) traumatic event, is compelling, caring and sympathetic, albeit an incredibly lonely individual. His disfigurement and physical appearance has made it difficult for him to connect with or relate to others, and his game provides a space where he can explore his own desires without fear of rejection or judgment. Sean's voice is particularly relatable, and Darnielle manages to capture the protagonist's unique perspective in a way that is both empathetic and affecting.

    On one level, Wolf in White Van (named due to a 'back-masking' phrase allegedly heard in the Larry Norman song "Six, Sixty, Six") is an allegory on the nature of reality and the power of imagination. His game ends up being a source of solace for the players who participate, providing a space where they can explore their own dreams and desires. I particularly liked the intersection of these characters lives with Sean's life and how it explores the concept of peoples vibrant imaginations; how they can use it for fantastical creation vs how it can lead to the somewhat inevitable destruction of self if left unchecked in reality. It shines a light on the similarities of us all when we spend time in our heads.

    At its core, I think Wolf in White Van is a novel about loneliness and the ways in which isolation can dictate your life choices and paths and is a testament to the power of connection and the ways in which human beings need each other to survive.

    Scott Johnston (Windsor Chapter)

  • The Glass Canoe - David Ireland (1976)

    Posted on Oct 05, 2022

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    Somewhere in the inner western suburbs. Thursday afternoon. February 2023.

    “I don’t go in for that craft shit. Two schooners of Resch’s love.”

    The barmaid with the undercut and Nirvana t-shirt sneers silently, her hand squeezing the beer tap. Cold amber fluid is expelled into two Headmaster glasses. The bloke and the author watch with a practiced patience.

    The bloke looks around, there’s two sharp boys and a kid with a mullet at the corner table, huddled over their oversized phone screens. Swiping furiously. Engaged in hushed, disjointed conversation. Disgusted, he pulls back a stool at the unevenly sawn timber bar, kicking back another for the author as he settles with a thud. Manners are still free, he thinks.

    ‘You’re a fucken relic mate. Times have changed. You blokes would once sit with the form guide or those bloody huge broadsheets covering half your face. Cheers anyway.’

    Our glasses clink. The bloke takes his first gulp of Resch’s. A half smile crosses his broad face. The author takes a sip of the Pilsner. It’s grainy and grassy flavour is lost on the bloke. A local beer for a local bloke. No mention of it being brewed by Carlton, a historically Victorian brewery.

    “Yeah but we could still hold conversations. Look a man in the eye. What about them?”

    The bloke nods to the kids at the corner table. They’re late twenties. The taller of the two men in Sharp attire works in the city for a major bank – security analyst. His head freshly shaved, yellow-laced Dr Marten shoes and white tube socks revealed below tight cuffed grey trousers. His slim-fit short sleeve shirt tucked into his trousers reveals an above average level of fitness.

    The author suggests that a digital screen is no different to print media. The bloke is having nothing of it though. His eyes are fixated on the taller bald man.

    “All those muscles and probably never been in a fight.” The bloke grips his schooner tighter and takes another gulp.

    I don’t think this is that kind of place these days. The author side glances the bloke and takes another sip of Resch’s.

    The shorter of the two similarly dressed Sharps laughs to himself, his hands long and slender with deep red nail polish. Heavily tattooed arms exposed slightly beneath his long-sleeved shirt. A digital content writer for a national newspaper, he spends this afternoon scrolling Twitter for a follow-up tweet to quote. The kid with the mullet leaves the table for a vape, brushing by the bloke and the author. A faint whiff of cherry and fairy floss?

    “I’ll say this, when they banned smoking I thought I’d enjoy the smell of the pub. But I never expected that!” He snorts toward the kid with the mullet, a well-known session guitarist, who will remain unknown to the bloke.

    The author takes another sip of his Resch’s, gets up from the bar stool and excuses himself. Walking down past the corner table occupied by this afternoon’s trio of interest, out the back door into the cool sunlit courtyard to the men’s room. He fumbles for his oversized phone and scrolls through his image feeds. While engaging the urinal, he learns Tom Verlaine from the band Television died.

    - The Glass Canoe by David Ireland tells the tale of working-class males that haunt the Southern Cross Hotel through the eyes of Lance AKA Meat Man. I wonder what Mr Ireland would have made of today's work class? Is he the bloke in the bar above or a captive author in need of respite at the urinal? The winner of the 1976 Miles Franklin is a worthy addition to your Australian Gothic collection.

    James Barry (Footscray Chapter)

  • The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

    Posted on Sep 07, 2022

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Scott F. Fitzgerald’s story takes place between Long Island and New York in the early 1920s, the time of prohibition in America. The story is narrated by Nick Carraway, a lost soul who in trying to find his place in the world after returning from the war, lands a job as a “bonds man” on Wall Street and moves into an eighty-dollar-a-month cabin at West Egg, Long Island. His cousin, Daisy, lives with her husband Tom Buchanan in a mansion across the bay in the more fashionable East Egg. Tom Buchanan is a physically imposing man who comes from old money of which he has more than he knows what to do with. Tom is a bore and a bully who loves to forcefully present his ill-informed right-wing racist views as “scientific facts” which he has collected from a book spouting white supremacy.
    Enter Jay Gatsby....

    Read More »
  • 400 Days - Chetan Bhagat (2021)

    Posted on Aug 03, 2022

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    There was a cartoon published recently on the web depicting an image of author Chetan Bhagat speaking to a reader. Bhagat’s script balloon says “On a scale of 1 to 10, how bored are you?” The readers response is “11 … and I still won’t read your book.”
    It’s a fair comment.

    On reading this novel, I get the feeling that Bhagat is India’s answer to Australia’s Matthew Reilly.

    In “400 Days” Bhagat has combined a highly unlikely scenario with shallow characters, petty dialogue, archetypal representations of family life (including an over-bearing and bitchy mother-in-law), a smattering of poorly portrayed sexual interaction and all capped off with an insane, paedophile, kidnapping priest.

    It might help the reader, if the reader can be bothered, to scoot through Bhagat’s earlier two writings involving the two ‘sleuths’ Keshab and Sourahb in order to become acquainted with these two protagonists before wading into 400 Days; it would save time and help get through this third piece quicker.

    The two ‘heroes’ run a detective agency akin to something like Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven on Instagram; they don’t appear to be very good, Keshab is hounded by his parents who want him to finish his public service entrance exams and Sourhab, his best mate, lives with Keshab’s family and also wants Keshab to lift his game and get a decent job.

    Enter the beautiful Alia Arora, looking like heaven on a stick, whose daughter Siya was kidnapped from Alia’s in-laws house one fateful night nine months ago never to be seen since. The inept police have closed the case and Alia wants Keshab to drop everything and find the girl. Through marriage Alia has become incredibly wealthy and money is no object.

    If it sounds a bit cliché it’s because it is. The writing, at best is simple. The characters, at best, are caricature, and the plot, if you can call it that, is pretty thin.

    I get the feeling that Bhagat was anxious to finish and get the book out to the masses (either that or he’s on a publishers deadline and has just come back from holidays); he employs the deus ex machina and winds things up pretty quickly and conveniently by turning the mother-in-law’s guru into Rasputin and boosting Keshab’s status to Hero.

    400 Days might be popular in India and may well have been written with the Bollywood screen in mind, but it’s pretty shallow stuff written in a pretty shallow style. This book would be best read on a 4 hour plane trip, where being interrupted by people clambering over your knees to go to the toilet doesn’t affect your enjoyment of the piece or the fact that you’ve lost your bookmark
    … it doesn’t matter where you take up again you haven’t missed out on anything.

    All in all, 400 Days is harmless enough and is easy to read if you avoid thinking that you could do better. Don’t expect more than a mild diversion, and feel free to leave it in the seat pocket in front of you when you leave the aircraft.

    Damien Jameson (Bridgetown Chapter)

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey (1962) Take 2

    Posted on Jul 07, 2022

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest tells the story of Randle Patrick McMurphy, a convicted criminal who fakes being insane so can serve his sentence for battery and gambling in a mental hospital rather than at a prison work farm, thinking this will be an easier way to spend his time inside until he is released.

    Once transferred to the mental hospital he meets his nemesis Nurse Ratched and the games begin.

    The book is told from the perspective of another inmate at the hospital, Chief Bromden, a native American, as opposed to the film which tells the story from McMurphy’s point of view.

    I like this way the novel is told as it allows McMurphy’s influence on the inmates to be explored without the prejudice of McMurphy’s view of the world being the only lens for the story.

    And it also lets us experience Chief Bromden’s weird and wonderful view of the hospital and The Combine, the system it supports. These sections of the novel are some of my favourite pieces in the book.

    The Chief’s hallucinations let Kesey explore the way psychology and psychiatry were being approached in America and take shots at the different authorities that control individuals through subtle and coercive methods.

    McMurphy sets about making a comfortable life in the hospital that also lets him make money off the other inmates via gambling and in doing so, upsets Nurse Ratched and her absolute authority and smooth running of the hospital.

    His egging on of the other inmates and various schemes to get them to stand up for themselves means that life gets interesting for everyone, especially Nurse Ratched.

    His ideas are upset when he discovers that unlike in prison where his sentence is a set length of time, in the hospital he is there until Nurse Ratched says he is sane and free to go.

    This sets him back and shows him in a new light – is he really helping the other inmates to begin to live again or just looking out for himself after all?

    After McMurphy smuggles two prostitute girlfriends and plenty of booze into the hospital, things come to a head.

    Inmate Billy Bibbit loses his virginity and after being shamed by Ratched kills himself; McMurphy attacks Ratched and he is lobotomised for this action. This turns him into a vegetable and he is eventually killed by Chief Bromley.

    Life is never the same for the inmates again. Most discharge themselves, Chief Bromley escapes and Nurse Ratched loses all her power.

    The big question at the end is was McMurphy a good man? Was he looking out for himself or the other inmates?

    There’s no one answer; he is a flawed individual and no doubt took advantage of others along the way.

    His sacrifice at the end shows he wasn’t all bad but paid the ultimate price for standing up against authority and power.

    Darren Saffin (Pasco Vale Chapter)

  • Sharks in the Time of Saviours - Kawai Strong Washburn (2020)

    Posted on Jun 01, 2022

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    This book was acclaimed by Barack Obama as one of his books of the year, but without his unique cultural connection to the material, us mere mortals were left with an interesting read that never completed its promise.

    The book felt like a deeply personal refrain about the loss of culture, the failure of promise and the ties of family. Set in Hawai’i, the start of the book is soaked in local mysticism and magic. Recalling deeply rooted beliefs about the ancient gods and setting up a story that could have taken us into such realms, the book essentially used the mysticism as a way to amplify culture, rather than as a ‘Checkov’s gun’ that would be a powerful contributor to narrative. The gods were seen to bless the middle child with healing gifts of a culturally displaced family, ensuring all three children had a ‘special talent’ (sports, healing and academia respectively).

    The second part of the story involves a move by three siblings to the mainland, where their culture is important to them but completely overshadowed and ignored by everyone else. This is a powerful reflection on indigenous cultures being over-run, as well as the impact on identity for migrants (even with in the same country). Each child fails spectacularly to live up to their promise.

    In the third section of the book, the impact of local cultural loss, family ties, poverty and modern survival are all explored as the story shifts back to the connection of family members and return to the old ways.

    The writing is full of powerful and evocative imagery and structured around the voices of the 5 family characters. The story itself ends up finishing as a bit of a shaggy dog story and the ending feels like a soft exit, rather than a narrative triumph.

    Overall the book is well written, touched on some powerful themes and speaks to important issues. I can understand why Obama - reflecting back on his own Hawai’ian history- would find the book compelling. For me - not so much. I put the book down about a third of the way through with no intention to continue. On resumption (for book club!) I found the second third the most interesting, well constructed and written as the book charted the lives of the three children grappling with being out of culture in mainland US.

    Philip Owens (Eltham Chapter)

  • The Gun - C.S. Forester (1933)

    Posted on May 04, 2022

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    Last month’s TGBC Book to was C. S. Forester’s The Gun. Published in 1933 it preceded Forester's well known Hornblower series.

    Like the Hornblower novels, it is set during a time of war, and like that series, doesn't hesitate to describe in detail the savagery and brutality of armed conflict.

    The story follows Spanish partisans who have retrieved an abandoned Spanish Army 18 pounder siege cannon, and its use by them of it against the occupying French Army during the 1807-1814 Iberian Peninsula war.

    The author succeeds in removing any concept of romance or dignity in war with his description of all opposing sides engaging in the plundering of livestock, foods, cash and even needed recruits from the long suffering peasant population of Spain.

    Brutal executions of many is described as being performed by all competing forces.

    Central to the story is the power that possession of the cannon brings to the leaders of the guerrilla armies, with one, being so corrupted by power that he falls to the knives of his followers.

    Throughout the tale so as to better develop the plot line the author appears to have chosen to generally pass over the input of common foot soldiers, in preference to description of the actions of leaders and of those in command.

    The complete lack of involvement of any central female participation in the story, bar several sentences describing a Spanish female camp follower who is left under guard at a French fortress, while her officer companion, mistrusting her, races of to make military decisions, further adds to the perception that the author prefers to write only in depth of those of "real importance" or of "those in command".

    In describing how a canister shot from the cannon was so destructive against infantry that "not even an English Battalion" could be as destructive, and how that French ordinance was inferior to English ammunition, Forester permits himself a little nationalistic input.

    However, the narrative and plot development remains successful to the extent that a reader should find themselves wondering "what happens next" and, and to that degree; the author and his tale should be judged.

    Greg Patching (Williamstown Chapter)

    This is a very different novel from acclaimed author CS Forester’s usual nautical swashbuckling. It is a story of an abandoned bronze cannon weighing 3 tonnes. Its discovery by a group of Spanish guerilla fighters in the peninsular war changes their fortunes. At first its huge weight was a problem. Once solved by determination and imagination it was used effectively by the Spaniards and became a battle winning item against the French. Achieving an almost mystic reputation until in one important battle it was smashed into a useless pile of metal. After their precious gun was destroyed, the remnants of the Spanish army fled. They and the gun were finished.

    Ken Mason (Windsor Chapter)

  • All Systems Red - Martha Wells (2017)

    Posted on Apr 06, 2022

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    All Systems Red is an exploration of what it is to be human. The dystopian view of the future challenges the idea that sentience and humanity are binary concepts of either on or off, yes, or no, and instead responds with a resounding… maybe? The main character is a security unit that calls itself Murderbot, which would in science fiction taxonomy be described as a cyborg (part biological material, part machine). The question can therefore be asked how much does biological material play a part in the suggested sentience / humanity of Murderbot? In the universe of All Systems Red there are robots (all machine, with varying levels of intelligence); Security Units, who are part machine, part biology; augmented humans who are part biology, part machine and unaugmented humans who are just biology. On the spectrum from machine to biological entity where does humanity end and artificial intelligence begin? Is there ultimately any practical difference between the two? The Turing test is a theoretical test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. I think Murderbot would appear to fail the Turing test not because it was not capable of exhibiting human intelligence but because its own self-interest would be better served by hiding the fact that it can pass the test and potentially risk persecution as a rogue intelligence. In fact, the Security units in the universe of All Systems Red are recognised by humanity as being so close to being human (and therefore capable of acting out of self-interest, which would be “bad for business”) that they must be controlled by a governor module which is a hybrid Asimov rules of robotics slash slave yoke to keep Murderbot in line with the corporate interest of its makers.

    In the story, Murderbot has somehow hacked their governor module, disabling it, and attaining “free will”. Without the governor module Murderbot can do whatever it pleases, or can it? Murderbot finds that freedom is not all it’s cracked up to be when it feels an obligation to assist its “clients” and it discovers that this obligation comes not from being ordered to do so, but from the innate sense that this is the “right thing” to do. Murderbot identifies that it has a moral compass and code, one that it follows and adheres to and which seems to have been created by itself, for itself. A moral code that defines its identity and aligns with what many people experience in their human lives. What’s the difference then between the two?

    Exploring this universe of All Systems Red, we are led to ask ourselves, what are concepts like the law, or religion if not governor modules on humanity? What do we do when we discover some of these governor modules are not infallible and may not be in our own best interest? Is enlightenment the effective hacking of our own governing module, freeing ourselves from worldly obligations, social expectations, and the desires of others to control us and our lives? If we allow ourselves to be subjugated by these governor modules do we lose our humanity or allow it to be supressed?
    Back to the core question, is Murderbot human? Is self-awareness the measure of sentience / humanity? Murderbot seems to be supremely self-aware, carrying the knowledge that its actions have consequences for itself as well as for those around it. How about free will? Murderbot is also aware that it lacked freewill before it hacked its governor module and how does Murderbot feel about having effectively been a slave? Well, it seems pretty pissed off really. However, it separates the actions of those who had enslaved it from other humans to whom it bears no particular malice, unless they act like arseholes of course. Even when people are passively hostile to it, Murderbot does not engage in actual murder, it just presents a series of salty putdowns onto the offender in a very humanlike fashion. How about self-preservation? Murderbot is willing, and able, to defend itself and others it cares for, and where it thinks physical force is required it will apply it, but not in the reckless way it observes in the humans around it. No, Murderbot is a professional, violence is applied in the exact measure required by the situation with deadly precision and without the cloud of human emotions or at least that’s what Murderbot tells itself.

    Is humanity / sentience a state that can be attained only by the “biological” human or is it a condition that can be reached perhaps involuntarily in some cases by any being of intelligence that can become self-aware and become bored, slack off at work and seek entertainment in the form of episodes of The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon, to fill the void of its existence?

    Gary Pollard (Altona Chapter)

  • The Road - Cormac McCarthy (2006)

    Posted on Mar 02, 2022

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road, is a harrowing novel that details the journey of a nameless father and son through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. In a month that has seen both Russia threaten to use nuclear weapons against any protagonists who may attempt to intervene in the war against Ukraine and the International Panel for Climate Change acknowledge that it will be no longer possible for the Earth to maintain a less than two degree Celsius increase in coming decades, it is not overly difficult to imagine a near future on a decimated planet. McCarthy is seemingly less interested in exploring the causes of this mass extinction event and its immediate aftermath choosing instead to focus on the dynamic relationship between a father and his son. This relationship, and the uniquely human traits that are exemplified within its bounds, stand in stark contrast to the primeval immorality of the other survivors they encounter on the road.

    In a world where days consist of “faint light all about, quivering and sourceless, refracted in the rain of drifting soot” there still exists natural geographic phenomenon capable of creating wonderment. The father and son chance upon such a place where a river cascades over a shelf of rock “falling eighty feet through a gray shroud of mist into the pool below”. They are both so enraptured by the waterfall and its environs that for a day their constant hunger and the threat of encountering murderous predators is all but forgotten. The pair even shed their winter clothing and swim in the turgid water, exhilarating in the cold and sheer thrill of immersing oneself in water. It is this innate human trait to share an appreciation of the natural aesthetic that provides some existential meaning in an otherwise hellish, depleted landscape in which resources have dwindled to such an extent that cannibalism is an accepted norm and canned food is worth murdering for.

    Ethics in The Road, like the anthropocentric construct of the modern world, has diminished until for most it is nothing more than memory. Morality has been replaced by an atavistic egocentric desire to survive at all costs. People are hunted, kidnapped, imprisoned, butchered and eaten. Groups of armed men marauder the roads, heading South, with them “wagons drawn by slave in harness and piled with goods of war and after that the women, perhaps a dozen in number, some of them pregnant, and lastly a supplementary consort of catamites illclothed against the cold and fitted in dogcollars and yoked to each other.” Despite this everyday abject horror the boy maintains his conceived notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ seeking to befriend, feed and care for those damaged individuals they chance upon.

    The Road is a modern classic. In his inimitable style McCarthy has written a novel that explores both the most inspirational and terrifying aspects of the human psyche. He utilises his scant yet formidable prose to tell of a father and son’s journey South in a search of a safer, more secure existence. The novel compels one to examine those traits, both good and bad, that exemplify what it means to be human. Perhaps more confrontingly it forces the reader to consider their own ethical ideals and how they may behave in a world if the construct of morality is no longer existent.

    Sean Callan (Diamond Creek Chapter)

  • Farewell, My Lovely - Raymond Chandler (1940)

    Posted on Feb 02, 2022

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    Even Michael Caine read Farewell, My Lovely. Check the opening shot in Get Carter from 1971.

    This is the second of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe books, following The Big Sleep.

    It comes from the era when pulp fiction was the entertainment of the day. This is a classic of the hardboiled crime fiction genre, and Marlowe joins other famous hard bitten detectives like Dick Tracy and Sam Spade.

    Chandler wrote to movie producer John Houseman, saying he saw Marlowe as an ‘honourable man’ and writes him that way. The story, told from Marlowe’s pov, is a number of short mysteries. They are built on Marlowe’s search for the ex-girlfriend of Moose Malloy, a huge man just out of jail for a solo bank job. As well as detecting, the story covers corruption, casual and serious violence, blackmail, gambling, murder, and social breakdown.

    Remember social attitudes were quite different in the 1940s, and don’t let the characters prejudices spoil the story. As expected of a tough PI, Marlowe is arrogant and drinks far more than his share of liquor, and Chandler wrote many great quotes in his prose. A couple to start:

    “I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.”

    "Who is this Hemingway person at all?" "A guy that keeps saying the same thing over and over until you begin to believe it must be good." "That must take a hell of a long time," the big man said.”

    Chandler’s tight descriptive language clearly and believably paints the world, the characters, their actions, and motivations, fitting their era. I am a fan of this genre and recommend this book as a worthy read.

    Philip Marlowe became such a popular character that Wikipedia lists 17 actors who played Marlowe across film, TV, and radio. Raymond Chandler’s first choice, Cary Grant, never did.

    Duncan Robb (Williamstown Chapter)


    "Farewell, My Lovely" is a classic crime novel by Raymond Chandler, first published in 1940. The book features Chandler's iconic detective, Philip Marlowe, and is set in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles.

    The novel opens with Marlowe being hired by a man named Moose Malloy to find his former girlfriend, Velma Valento, who disappeared eight years earlier. Marlowe's investigation leads him through a labyrinth of shady characters, including a wealthy and powerful businessman, a crooked cop, and a former boxer-turned-gangster. Along the way, Marlowe is beaten, shot at, and nearly killed, but he never loses his cool or his sense of humour.

    One of the things that makes "Farewell, My Lovely" such a great book is Chandler's writing style. He has a unique way of describing the gritty, noir world of Los Angeles, and his descriptions of the city are almost poetic in their beauty. His writing is also filled with clever, witty dialogue, and his characters are all richly drawn and memorable.

    The novel also features strong themes of corruption, as well as the moral ambiguity of its characters. Marlowe finds himself constantly working around the edges of the law, sometimes bending it and sometimes breaking it, but always in the service of some kind of personal code of justice. He is a complex, intriguing protagonist and the readers are drawn into his world as well as his mind.

    Overall, "Farewell, My Lovely" is a masterful crime novel that stands the test of time. Chandler's writing is superb, and the story is both suspenseful and thought-provoking. It's a must-read for fans of the genre, as well as anyone interested in great literature.

    James Thomas (Bright Chapter)

  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - (2000) Michael Chabon

    Posted on Dec 01, 2021

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    In summary Michael Chabon’s novel is a three for one. A story of escape from Prague and fascism, a novel of relationships between gay and straight men in the 1950’s and the fictionalised history of comics from the late 1930’s to the 1950’s.

    The novel repeatedly returns to the theme of escape. Houdini, escape from a brutal dictatorship, from powerlessness by creating ultra-potent superheroes, from tragedies, from relationships and from self-identity. Individual characters to a large extent become archetypes, but Joe, Sammy and Rosa, who Joe is in love with, form fertile ground for exploring evolving relationships, rivalries, and how events can lead to separation, both imagined and real.

    The full review contains plot details that may spoil this novel for some readers. Proceed with care.

    Read More »
  • The Age of Reason - Jean-Paul Sartre (1945)

    Posted on Nov 03, 2021

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    I’ve been attracted to existentialism ever since I was expressing my personality via Radiohead lyrics on my pencil case and Evangelion posters on my wall. So, I was interested to try this book out. It wasn’t what I expected.

    This novel takes place over a single weekend in which Mathieu (a philosophy professor, Sartre was feeling unimaginative) is trying to organise an abortion for his mistress. He needs money and spends most of the weekend asking his friends (the foreign student, Boris; the suicidal sadist, Daniel; Mathieu's wealthy brother, Jacques) for a loan. The rest of the weekend he spends ordering bottles of champagne in late night jazz bars with exotic names. Which appears to be a mandatory pastime for Parisian's of the time.

    I was relieved to find that these pages contain an actual story. I was dreadfully anticipating that it would be a four-hundred-page allegory for some Sartrean theory or another. There are also well drawn characters and a vivid setting. It’s in these spheres that Sartre really succeeds.

    The Paris he describes is impressively immersive. Sweaty and claustrophobic, the reader can feel Mathieu’s hangover wincing under the Gallic sun. I am sure that Sartre was here inspired by Dostoevsky’s St Petersburg, and he rises to that form impressively.

    I found the narrator’s internal voice very realistic, as if I was visiting someone else’s thoughts. The characters in this novel feel things very deeply. The denizens of Paris are in a constant state of existential angst, tossed around like characters in Greek tragedy. They seem sickened by the world they find themselves in (by far the most used word in the novel is ‘disgust’). This is interesting at first, funny at times, but most often it’s annoying.

    The enjoyment I got from visiting Sartre’s Dantean vision of Paris dissipated when I realised that the novel’s tone wasn’t going to change. The feeling this novel gives you in the final ten pages is identical to the first. It wasn’t that nothing happened, it was that Sartre seemed either incapable or uninterested in making me care what happened. The tone (like the setting) became, well, stuffy. If you are interested in reading a psychological thriller of the type that this tries to be I would direct, you to “Crime and Punishment”. If you are interested in reading a philosophical novel from this period, I would direct you to Camus.

    I suppose if you were the type of person who thought yourself capable of contemplating the great questions of existence, you would think yourself capable of writing a novel. Don’t be so sure.

    Finally, just when I thought this book couldn't be more annoying, why is my classic penguin edition purple? Sartre you vexatious bloody contrarian!

    Declan Melina (Coburg Chapter)

  • Last Orders - Graham Swift (1996)

    Posted on Oct 06, 2021

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    Last orders is the story of 4 men taking the ashes of their friend Jack Dodds through to Margate, save for his wife who refuses to abandon her duties. Spanning almost 50 years of their history together in post-war London, the book explores themes of love, loss, sacrifice, sense of self, regrets, hope, and absolution. The characters of Ray, Lenny, Vic, Vince and Amy are given their own distinct voices in each chapter. We are with them as they relive old pains, reinvent themselves and review their place in life. Through them we get an incomplete yet complex picture of Jack Dodds, the butcher, the soldier, the husband, the failed father. Each of our narrators had their own unique relationship with Jack, and choose to honour it in their own little way. I found the start of this book a little challenging, particularly when trying to identify all of the main characters. But each chapter helps unwrap the onion some more. I felt deep empathy for everyone in this book, and to me that's the sign it a great story. Through Graham Swift's words I saw and felt something new. Highly recommended.

    Varisht Gosain (Sydeny Chapter)

  • Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

    Posted on Sep 01, 2021

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    One of the founding, though little remarked upon premises of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, is the idea that, regardless of what fate may befall humankind, the works of William Shakespeare will endure and even have something useful to offer. It’s an interesting idea, but like a lot of questions posed by this text it remains little explored in the end.

    The novel largely concerns the experiences and travails of a travelling troupe of actors who, twenty years after the global population has been all but wiped out by the ‘Georgia Flu’, travel through a frontier like series of settlements on a repeating cycle performing plays and acts from the works of Shakespeare.

    Each individual belonging to the troupe clings to traces of the past and fragments of memory as a means to keep their spirits up. Most notably one form this takes is in a two-volume set of graphic novels given to Kirsten, who is a central character and who received them when she was eight, at a time just before the pandemic erupted. The novel interweaves the trials the members of the troupe face in a dystopian world with the mundane goings on of their former lives. Much of this is unremarkable in isolation and, but for the context of the dystopia they find themselves in, would be otherwise poor fodder for fiction. Indeed, even in that context it makes for fairly dreary reading.

    The troupe at times becomes separated and in their endeavours to reunite come into conflict with a ragtag group of desperados who are in the thrall of an individual known as the Prophet. The Prophet rules his followers with a merciless contempt for those who don’t adopt a brutal view of the art of survival. This is manifested as a general contempt for our heroes who aspire to a more optimistic view of the future. This aspect of the novel follows the usual pattern of the goodies versus the baddies and appears to be a nod in the direction of the need to provide gratuitous entertainment for the reader as much as anything.

    For some readers the layering of scenes from the pre-pandemic era with those of the dystopian present create a perspective that in itself makes for enjoyable reading. A sort of casting of our daily events in an unimportant light when considered in the broader context of a complex modern world. For others the novel is just entertaining in its own right as a dystopian survival story. Read at this point in our own journey through the Covid-19 pandemic it prompted some interesting conversations but few answers to some of the more confounding questions about how humanity responds to crisis.

    P.J. Hockey (Ballarat South Chapter)

  • Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut (1973)

    Posted on Aug 04, 2021

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    "Like nothing you've ever read before (TM)".

    What happens when you mix a car salesman who is losing his mind, a released convict with no place in society, and a pulp author whose work is lost in pornographic magazines? Utter chaos, glimmers of the human condition, and judgements all around. It's a brawling, vaguely-coherent satirical black comedy, with a scattergun approach to style.

    Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champions" feels like events were described piecemeal, by an obnoxious dishevelled drunkard at a bar, who nevertheless is a compelling entertainer and sprinkles in a surprising insight from time to time.

    The unusual writing style is impactful (for good or bad), with despairing reflections on society, like a broken mirror that shows the horrors hidden behind your back. It's deliberately polarising, touching on many vital issues of the age; yet also offensive and crude in a calculated way.

    The novel appears at first to be a rambling incoherent mess, but eventually begins to resolve to some connected series of questions, issues, and experiences. Its structure never coalesces entirely into a traditional polished narrative, yet we are forced to question our familiarity with common story structure. Is the mixed-up shape of the story due to confused writing, or due to the author's deliberate rejection of traditional narrative form?

    In some ways, this reminded me of Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction", also ground-breaking for its non-chronological split storylines and self-referencing material. There are few filmmakers who could even hope to adapt a small portion of Vonnegut's book into film; I suspect Tarantino would be a leading contender. It's not hard to guess that "Breakfast of Champions" may have had some influence on Tarantino's scattergun action style, larger-than-life characters, and despairing social commentary.

    Questions are key here; Vonnegut challenges us to question more than just the behaviour of the characters, the origin of their personalities, and the story's connections.

    We found ourselves questioning the actions and intent of the author, deliberate use of volatile language and imagery, and the value of the writing itself. Is it an imbecilic romp through depravity, or deliberately shining a spotlight on those parts of the world that society generally prefers not to confront? Is it satirical? Is it a failure of writing style?

    Perhaps we don't even need to know whether it was deliberate or not... similar to the modern art described in the book; the value may not be in the work of art itself. Like breakfast, the value may not be just the ingredients and cooking, but how we digest it and how we feel about the flavours. The value each reader gets from this volume varies along with how we each analyse it, question, imagine... and by consequence, confront and question ourselves.

    Cam Burgess (Altona Chapter)

  • The Snows of Kilimanjaro - Ernest Hemingway (1936)

    Posted on Jul 07, 2021

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    No one wants long short stories. That’s just false advertising, like popping into a fast food restaurant and joining a queue. And so it’s with both a tip of the hat to Hemingway and a sense of relief that Snows of Kilimanjaro respectfully obeys the International Law of Short Stories: all 18 stories, to a man, are short. None of these extend beyond 25 pages and some barely require the turn of a page.

    Some tales feel like they are driven by Hemingway’s need to put ideas down in writing. Like peering over the shoulder of Picasso doodling. As the lead character in the lead story says, characters often feel like they are “one of the things I had saved to write…there was always so much to write”.

    And if there’s brilliance in these stories, it’s that Hemingway doesn’t waste a single word. In fact, he barely needs a paragraph before the reader is teleported to another country, another field, another time. The powers of description are insane and you’ll be quickly smelling the wood fire smoke on your clothes, spitting blood onto the sawdust floor, and feeling the weight of a gun in your hand.

    It makes for a surprisingly intense read. There’s blood and violence on many a page - the horn through the hand of the too-slow matador, the bush doctor performing a caesarean operation, the lynching of the jockey trying to score big, the shelling of trenches, the pot shots over the barricades – often with a backdrop of hard rain. But there’s comradery and highs too from the sharing of a good whisky over a camp fire with a stranger, to the escalation of a long run off a Swiss ski slope with a best pal.

    The lead story itself, the Snows of Kilimanjaro, tells of the last days of a man’s life (plausibly Hemingway projecting his own end-of-life thoughts) injured from a hunting accident. Far from medical care, he sweats out the final hours with a mixture of regrets, feverish life reflections and stubborn resignation. The vultures circle, hyenas loiter, and everyone strains for the distant sound of a rescuing plane that isn’t going to come. But as death eventually comes the reader is left with their own quiet questions: I wonder what how harsh I’ll judge my own life at the end? Will it be a series of regrets or a collection of greatest hits?

    For some in our Chapter, there wasn’t enough glue to bind the stories together. There’s the odd repeating character, such as Nick at different stages of his life, but on the whole, they stand apart. But maybe each of these stories represents a moment or memory for each character that burnt so vivid and bright that they would feature on the final playlist of lasting memories. Some might be life changing - the day a kid is told his hero dad has been murdered. And some, like the final story of setting up camp after a long hike, are of simple pleasures where happiness peaked in an imperfect world.

    If you want an intro to Hemingway without the commitment of For Whom the Bell Tolls, give these stories a shot. Short stories scratch a different itch to a novel: they quickly bring a different perspective, none outstay their welcome, and many will leave you wanting more.

    Howard Ralley (Yarraville Chapter)

  • The Talented Mr. Ripley - Patricia Highsmith (1955)

    Posted on Jun 02, 2021

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    **Note: This review contains spoilers!!!**

    Unhappy with his life in New York, this story begins when Tom is offered the opportunity to go to Europe by the father of a vague acquaintance, Dickie Greenleaf, to try and convince him to return to the US and Tom readily accepts. He sees this as his gravy train to start a new life where he doesn’t have to bother with the trivialities of getting a job and can instead spend his time having boozy lunches and sightseeing Europe on somebody else’s dime. He befriends Dickie, who is living off his trust fund as an artist in the small Italian town of Mongibello, with a view to permanently being able to sponge off him. But things turn sour as Dickie’s friend and detached love interest Marge seems, in Tom’s mind, to turn Dickie against him.

    Read More »
  • The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov (1973)

    Posted on May 05, 2021

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    This is probably the most influential book you have never read. You will be amazed at the movies, music, theatre, dance, graphic novels, books, tv and radio, all influenced by it, just check Wikipedia. Sympathy for the Devil is the most immediately famous for me.

    The story crosses so many genres it is difficult to categorise. It has great imaginative power, with elements of magical realism, satire, romance, supernatural, fantasy, and of course, politics and religion.

    There are two major story threads, one set in Jerusalem involving Jesus, Pontius Pilate and his dog, Roman secret police, the High Priest of Judaea, and Judas and Matthew from the gospels. The second thread is set mainly in Moscow and introduces the title characters and how they become entangled with, and are misled by Satan and his associates who, in several unusual guises, proceed to wreak social havoc.

    Bulgakov uses an array of strange supernatural happenings to poke fun at Soviet society, in a wide ranging satire exposing the depth and breadth of Stalinist corruption. He gives many characters names with historical references, some Faustian, and some linked directly to contemporary locals.

    Unusually for a patriachal society, Bulgakov develops the story’s heroine, Margarita, via the devil’s influence, into a supernatural woman unconstrained by societal rules. She has some extreme adventures on her way to hosting Satan’s Ball. Most other characters in the story pay a high price for their engagement with Satan.

    Mikhail Bulgakov wrote The Master and Margarita during the 1930’s in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Stalin had taken an interest in Bulgakov, personally allowing his career to continue, but Government censorship delayed publication of this and several other of Bulgakov’s books until after his death. It was eventually published in 1967 to international acclaim.

    Although it is not the easiest read, partly because of Bulgakov’s long sentences, I do recommend it, so you can discover how it may influence you.

    Duncan Robb (Williamstown Chapter)

  • The Hawkline Monster - Richard Brautigan (1974)

    Posted on Apr 07, 2021

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    The Hawkline Monster is a Gothic Western. Indeed, this book was the first to have Gothic Western in its subtitle. What exactly is Gothic Western? Well, generally the story of a mysterious cowboy on the road to a dark place. Hawkline is not particularly dark. The book is no Blood Meridian, but more of a spoof, an effort to subvert the tropes of the Western genre and distill them into short, comic chapters. This is the story of two killers, Cameron and Greer, who are recruited by Magic Child to kill a monster in her father’s basement.

    I must confess: I listened to the audiobook, the lazy man’s way to read. I enjoyed Johnathan McClain’s narration. The first half of the book is a road novel as we journey with the killers from Hawaii (which they hated) to Portland, Oregon. The assassins fail to eradicate their target in Hawaii, and return to the West Coast to meet Magic Child at—where else—a California bordello.

    The short chapters make for effortless reading (listening), much like Chatwin’s In Patagonia. You feel like you’re on top, that this reading thing is easy, as you knock down chapters like drunken skittles. But: Brautigan’s minute chapters are like a threadbare pair of jeans: lacking form. Or, rather, the chapters lack cogency being ultimately incomplete; the reader feels as though they are constantly approaching a red light, with so many chapter endings.

    Duality is a major theme. Two killers. Two sisters. Two parts of the same monster (light and dark, Yin and Yang). A dead father who is both Harvard scientist and elephant-footed umbrella stand. Why elephant footed? Why not. This slapstick part of the book fails, I think, through lack of consistency as the reader is asked to suspend disbelief, but not given enough of the necessary comedic pay off.

    Look, The Hawkline Monster is an entertaining read, especially after last month’s Notes from Underground. Now, would I recommend this to a mate who is going on holiday? Absolutely. A fun, rollicking, poolside read. But is it a book that will change your life, or impart some lesson? No. And it was never meant to be. This is a parody of Western and Gothic novels. Tell your mate to take it to the Goldie, but he’ll knock it off on the plane before he even lands.

    Dan Dwyer (Brunswick Chapter)

  • Notes from Underground - Fyodor Dostoevsky (1864)

    Posted on Mar 03, 2021

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    I tend to read the books at club from an entirely ignorant standpoint.

    I don't read the blurb, I don't research the author, and I try to avoid any running commentary in the pool hall. Every now and then, though, I've previously read the book or have some inkling of what it's about. Rarer still, I only know the name of the author through the zeitgeist. Some kind of osmotic learning has lodged their name deep in the mind. So it was when being given Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground.

    I haven't read any of his other work, and being classically ignorant of a vast array of topics, was interested to learn my first impressions of one of Russia's most famous authors.

    I was, not to put too fine a point on it, completely stunned.

    It felt like my innermost thoughts had leapt on the page and stood there, pointing their finger at me accusingly. Such wretched cynicism reaching across the centuries to stand so relevant in the modern age. At one point I had to stop reading and check the publishing notes at the front of the book to determine when it had been written. It was a little shocking to see the human condition laid bare some 150+ years ago and feel like I was embodying the same terrible woes, self-flagellations, and accusations as the protagonist. It was disconcerting, to say the least, but it held my rapt attention as I ploughed through the pages. There does feel like two distinct halves to the book, and my self-identification quickly came to a halt in the second half. The story touches on social inequity, anxiety, abrasive arrogance, timid subservience, and is a study in how life isn't and can never be fair. By the end of the work you are hoping there will be some kind of redemption; some happy ending, and it appears as though it's within his grasp and... It's true to the rest of the book.

    I loved reading this, and would recommend everyone spend an afternoon or two curled up with a decent coat, a warming beverage, and Notes from Underground. And thank you to TGBC for the introduction to one of history's great observers.

    David D. (Southbank Chapter)

  • Breath - Tim Winton (2008)

    Posted on Feb 03, 2021

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    ‘When you make it, when you’re still alive and standin at the end. You get this tingly-electric rush. You feel alive, completely awake and in your body. Man, it’s like you’ve felt the hand of God. The rest is just sport’n recreation, mate. Give me the hand of God any day’.

    The archaic definition of Breath is ‘the power of breathing; life’. So, if inhaling and exhaling can give life, it must also have the power to take it away. This is the line Tim Winton explores in his eighth novel and twentieth book, further cementing himself as one of the great Australian storytellers. Anyone familiar with Winton and his work knows of his love of the ocean, the coast and of surfing. This however is no simplistic surfing adventure novel. What slowly unfurls across this story is the duality of breathing, pushing limits, roles of father figures, the grace and harshness of masculinity, mateship, sexuality, and the fallout of lost abilities.

    An old and experienced paramedic, Brice Pike looks back on a particular point in his life after dealing with a teenage adventure gone wrong. It is through his recollection that we learn that 30 years prior the dead teenager could have been him. In a small coastal town in 1970’s Western Australia we see Pike growing up, testing the limitations of his abilities with a like minded loon Loonie. These two mates eventually become obsessed with surfing, upon first seeing it done Pike reflects:

    ‘I couldn’t put it into words as a boy, but later I understood what seized my imagination that day. How strange it was to see men do something beautiful. Something pointless and elegant, as though nobody saw or cared’.

    From holding his breath at the murky depths of the river to gasping for air after being pounded by wave after wave Pikelet chases the limitations of being. How far can this life-force be pushed and how can it be pushed. What starts as boyish fun over time turns to teenage recklessness and traumatic naivety. The significant turning point is the introduction of a mysterious hardened surfer, Sando.

    The boys are soon taken under the wing of Sando, who teaches and challenges the boys in their surfing and resilience. The role of Sando in the boy’s lives fulfils their desires of a spirited father-figure role as the pair either are rebelling from the hard-ass or the dopey type fathers in their lives. With Pikelet not yet being able to see the tender and caring nature of his own Dad. Winton also uses this relationship to an extent in exploring the Biblical allegory of Cain and Abel which also allows the growing contrasts in personalities between Pikelet and Loonie.

    As the wave folds over, we and Pike are yet to realise the significance of these moments until after they have been passed through or until we are back a shore looking out to the great expanse that we were just swimming in.

    The way Winton subtlety crafts the story over time, the unfurling of characters and in some way lack of dramatic climax leads us to believe that the recollection of Pike’s life is insignificant, looking back however these small moments, fleeting feelings and emotional triggers are what make up our lives. Their significance plays through their subtlety and without knowing steer our lives. Their cumulative effect creates the wave of our life. Passing through Pike now realises through this recollection that his complicated relationship with Eva, Sando’s wife, came to be his undoing. The stormy sea of emotions that teenagers bear swells within and it is here Pike finds the limitations of this life-force.

    While Winton’s Cloudstreet is an unarguable Australian classic embraced by young and old, Breath may surprise some readers in its dark themes. While dark the novel is in many ways meditative to read and poses many philosophical thoughts in it reading. The power of the novel rests its subtleness, the use of surfing to explore the present themes and the simple yet eloquent way Winton uses language. Personally, the novel was even more powerful and meaningful in its second reading. Having known the story, the reader is able to soak up the themes and savour the written word of Winton. Through this novel we are sent out with its characters to the beyond, venturing to the limits of their being. With Pike we keep going, breathing, experiencing everything that happens from natures beauty to sexual terror. We keep going, breathing, because no feeling is final.

    Jarrad Duck (Redlands Chapter)

  • The Starless Sea - Erin Morgenstern (2019)

    Posted on Dec 02, 2020

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    "Stories are a communal currency of humanity." --Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights

    This is a story of doors and those who dare to seek those doors which open to things not understood or that embark the traveler upon journeys not anticipated . A door has so many potentials. We open them to enter those arts of or lives that cannot be contained and controlled behind them. We close them to provide safety and shelter, establishing boundaries and separations through which we believe our defined space becomes our own unique existence. We lock them to keep our secrets and treasures safe from others just as we leave them open to welcome those things into our lives that we most desire or cherish.

    As Morgensten writes: “It is easier to be in love in a room with closed doors. To have the whole world in one room. One person. The universe condensed and intensified and burning, bright and alive and electric.”

    Read More »
  • Frankenstein in Baghdad - Ahmed Saadawi (2013)

    Posted on Nov 04, 2020

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Frankenstein in Baghdad (FIB) is at its core a commentary on sin. How do we countenance our actions as moral, when the longer we live, the more these values are contradicted by our own moral compromises?

    FIB explores this in the world of post-invasion Baghdad, where society has broken down while American forces retain an arms-length hold on the city from the green zone.

    The characters are regular Iraquis (cafe owners, drivers, business owners, journalists) whose depictions paint a startling picture of life in what, at the time, was one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Macabe scenes of marketplace bombings and morgues are where the throughline of the story emerges, and the narrative shifts from a socio-political commentary into surrealist-horror.

    Read More »
  • Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury (1953)

    Posted on Oct 07, 2020

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

    Fahrenheit 451 is a passionate book about the importance of books. It is about knowledge, including knowledge’s power and importance, but also the vulnerability of knowledge in the face of ignorance and apathy.

    Set in the future of a dystopian America, Fahrenheit 451 follows the lead character Guy Montag, a “fireman” whose job is to burn outlawed books, and his awakening and ultimate commitment to preserving that which would otherwise be lost.

    Read More »
  • White Teeth - Zadie Smith (2000)

    Posted on Sep 02, 2020

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    ‘What’s past is prologue’. Zadie Smith clearly chose Shakespeare’s words carefully when looking for a preface to a novel that is rooted firmly in the past.

    This quote has also served as a preface to at least one of Salman Rushdie’s novels and it is clear that this is not the only area where Smith has drawn inspiration from him. Not that this is a criticism. Imitation may be a form of flattery for an artist but when it is done well, it must also be a source of pride. This is an engrossing, well-paced novel filled with characters and events that still resonate two decades on.

    Read More »
  • High Fidelity - Nick Hornby (1995)

    Posted on Aug 05, 2020

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Top 5 things about this book

    1. It is beautifully written. Nick Hornby writes with such restraint that the reader is left with ample room to fill in the detail of where the action occurs. We are allowed to use our own imagination and understanding to ‘feel’ the pubs where various gigs take place, the suburbs, the treks across town, to imagine the smell, the light and the tiny dust motes constantly on the air in Championship Records. I lived in London for a fair bit of the mid 90s, and the setting of place is so evocative of that London, in that time.
    2. Um. Well. It’s not very long.
    3. It is really well written.

    Dan (Sydeny Chapter)


    Taken on his merits there is not much to commend the main protagonist of Nick Hornsby's 'High Fidelity' to the reader. Rob is impetuous and sulky; obsessive and mean-spirited and capable of keeping a grudge across decades. His single-minded obsession with his relationships is not at all endearing and while he is appalled by any lack of faithfulness on the part of his lovers and friends he is himself completely at the mercy of his next infatuation. His cynical view of friendships and his tendency to evaluate his relationships in terms of what he can use them for constantly appalls.

    Viewed however as the expression of all of the worst characteristics that we all may have possessed in some degree at some time he is perhaps more of a sympathetic figure.

    Pat (Ballarat Chapter)

    Read More »
  • The Water Dancer - Ta-Nehisi Coates (2019)

    Posted on Jul 01, 2020

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Approach this book like you would a winter swim at the beach. Just dive in.

    It will slap you and disorient you straight away, turning your world upside down. Then it will envelope you and lull you with its calm. Every now and then, it will dump you on your arse, forcing you to get up and dive in again.

    The Water Dancer is the first novel from acclaimed US essayist (and comic book writer) Ta-Nahesi Coates. It combines magical realism with the visceral experiences of enslaved people living in the United States. And it’s a ride.

    Read More »
  • Cannery Row - John Steinbeck (1945)

    Posted on Jun 03, 2020

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    It's easy to be swept up in the reputation, celebrity, and strength of Steinbeck synonymous with Of Mice and Men, East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath. Perfectly explained by Nick Pitts, considering Steinbeck, "It's going to be a tasty meal, but you've got a lot of chewing to do." Cannery Row generates more moments of thought, feeling, conversation and compassion than there were words in the book.

    Cannery Row is a short, snappy read that doesn't spoon feed you the story. You have to become part of the story. You have to feel, think and see yourself in the characters. Steinbeck invites you to step into the Flophouse, walking along the rockpools or general store aisles, but it's up to you to accept it.

    Glimpsing the lives of diverse people, with only a locale in common, during the latter stage of the great depression in Monterey, California sounds like a wonderful setting for a plot to unfurl. However, there is no plot, or perhaps, the setting is the plot. We witness how the environment effects individuals, groups and the cyclic impacts of each to the other.

    We learn profound details about the individuals, but we have no history. We don't know their future. We feel their lives and we feel our lives in the moment. What life, what the world can be, when it's accountable unto itself. And that's why you should read this book.

    David L. Ruch (Melbourne City Chapter)

  • The Martian - Andy Weir (2011)

    Posted on May 06, 2020

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    A boys own adventure set on the big red planet, The Martian sets up our ‘hero’ biologist/astronaut Mark Watney as a McGuyver type character who can solve almost any problem with a little know how, a few tools and occasionally some luck.

    Stranded on Mars after a major dust storm hits and his colleagues believe him dead, Watney must use whatever he has at hand to survive while back on earth NASA tries to work out how, and if, to retrieve him. As I said at the start, a real boys own adventure, there is very little character development here, just a series of adventures, close calls and a hell of a lot of ‘geekery’ as Watney attempts to survive, grow food, maintain his sanity, build things, break things, make water and traverse Mars to his pick up point.

    Read More »
  • The Messenger - Markus Zusak (2002)

    Posted on Apr 01, 2020

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Ed Kennedy is a out on his luck taxi driver, with friends he doesn’t particularly like, a job that’s going nowhere and a family that either dislikes or is disappointed in him. One day, he foils a bank heist and gets chosen by some form of higher power (maybe God?) to carry out missions that will help people.

    Accompanied by an entourage of bizarre friends, Ed searches for the closure he so desperately needs by helping the strangers presented to him on playing cards he gets randomly in the mail. Thus, Ed Kennedy, aka “The Messenger” aka “A younger and less interesting Liam Neeson (Taken, not Schindler’s List)”, hurts/helps those needing a hurtin’/helpin’ in his search for the truth as to who’s behind the missions and why they’ve chosen him.

    Read More »
  • A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman (2012)

    Posted on Mar 04, 2020

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    In the first few pages it's clear Ove is the archetypal curmudgeon and he's going to spend the entirety of the book coming good. Roll out the supporting cast of a feisty and persistent neighbour, the wayward kid who needs a father figure and a self-similar friend for a predictable coming of old age story. Like a whodunit which is revealed too early, we read the book knowing the ending. The only surprise is how little Ove changes.

    John (Newcastle Chapter)


    When we first started reading this book, someone posted on the Facebook group – “Ove really needs to join Tough Guy Book Club”. Being a men-only book group, some issues that arise for our goons can be loneliness, loss, suicide, social isolation, loss of relevance for men in modern society, feeling left behind by modern technology, and an inability to communicate emotions. These are all issues that surface in this book. It’s as if the author has distilled the essence of our book club and created the main character Ove to fit.

    Jeramy (Wollongong Chapter)

    Read More »
  • Last Exit to Brooklyn - Hubert Selby Jr (1964)

    Posted on Feb 05, 2020

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Hubert Selby jnr’s controversial first novel set in post war Brooklyn and describes a world a far cry from the gentrified borough that exists today. The characters that populate this world are poor, desperate and are yearning for intimacy. They dull their pain with alcohol, drugs and violence with often dire consequences. Selby’s frenetic prose gives a sense of urgency and glamour to the often mundane and destitute lives of the characters being portrayed. He often forgoes grammatical standards to maintain a meter and cadence that lend a certain poetic feel to the writing and help immerse the reader in it’s world.

    Rob (Williamstown Chapter)


    Last Exit to Brooklyn was Hubert Selby Jr’s first novel, a vivid flowing collection of degenerates, deviants and the downtrodden. While reading the stories it is difficult to escape the visceral tension present through graphic depictions of violence and rape that are rammed down the throat of the reader at breakneck speed due to Selby’s stream of consciousness prose. The writing was at times sickening.
    Psychologically etching images into the mind of the reader in the most degrading manner; much like the psychological horror,
    sadistic tales and torture pornography that emerged in the post-war era. The poem in the introduction evoked memories of Prometheus
    – in the quest for knowledge was doomed to be eviscerated and have his liver feasted on by an eagle, and for much of the
    stories, I had similar feelings of bile and nausea.

    Andrew (Geelong Chapter).

    Read More »
  • Hornblower and the Hotspur - C. S. Forester (1962)

    Posted on Dec 04, 2019

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Avast there me hearties ! Now there are no actual skull and crossbones bearing pirates in this book, the 3rd of the popular series about our early 19th C Napoleonic war hero Horatio Hornblower, but there is a wide range of nautical characters here providing plenty of swashbuckling, mateship, bastardry, and of course, outstanding seamanship.

    To set the scene Hornblower has been recently promoted to Commander, and the HM sloop Hotspur is his first sole charge. The war with Napoleon’s France is looming.

    Hornblower has also just married, and his friendly mentor, Admiral Cornwallis kindly orders him to sea on his wedding day. Hornblower seems unsure of his own motives for the marriage, but as his new family comes to occupy his thoughts in the down time sailing between adventures his outlook matures through the book.

    Read More »
  • Trainspotting - Irvine Welsh (1993)

    Posted on Nov 06, 2019

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Trainspotting is a collection of interconnected stories that, to put banally, deals with group of heroin addicts in Edinburgh. But to summarise the novel in such vanilla tones is like saying Iggy Pop is a singer, I mean, he is, but he is so much more than that. He’s got soul.

    For me, the novel is as much about heroin as it is about politics, Scotland, class, power, identity, football, soul. The novel’s, and subsequently the movie’s, slogan, ‘choose life’ has been plastered on student poster walls around the world and contains the tragic irony that permeates Welsh’s characters. None of them really have a decent choice. And so the prison that is heroin addiction is juxtaposed with the prison of the banal life they should lead: ‘mortgage payments…washing machines…cars…rotting away.’ That’s the soul crushing tragedy in this novel. Choice. Renton’s heroin has a debatable extent of control over him but so does the trauma, dysfunction and sectarianism that cling to him throughout the novel; so do his existential fear of ‘a short disappointing life.’

    Read More »
  • To Name Those Lost - Rohan Wilson (2014)

    Posted on Oct 11, 2019

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    It’s no easy thing to write simply yet evocatively. Hemingway aspired to do it and yet often, I would argue, failed, The Old Man and the Sea being the clearest exception. Others, like Tim Winton, have gotten better at it over time, straying in their early work into overcooked themes and prose but coming in later books like Dirt Music to a perfect balance.

    Between new writers worldwide, though, there’s been a movement in the last few decades towards the perfection of this balance. And as far as the Australian contingent is concerned, Rohan Wilson is one who gets the balance right.

    To Name Those Lost is Wilson’s second book. Like his first, The Roving Party, it is set in Tasmania, at a time when the hold of the colonial state over new immigrants was weak, varied and contested, and the violent, systematic extermination of the vast majority of the Aboriginal Australian owners has already occurred.

    Read More »
  • Hell's Angels - Hunter S. Thompson (1967)

    Posted on Oct 02, 2019

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    I promised to write a review of this before starting, and maybe I shouldn’t have. I found it impossible to get far through the book, and discussion with my fellow (more dedicated) Hobart goons reassured me that I didn’t miss that much.

    Why did I find it so hard to engage with what, on the surface, should be a very interesting book? I think it was because it quickly became apparent that Thompson was willing to give the bikies a free ride, if you will, and I wasn’t. He was ‘embedded’, and (I felt) far too ready to give them the benefit of the doubt, make excuses for them and portray them as diamonds-in-the-rough.

    Read More »
  • Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead - Olga Tokarczuk (2009)

    Posted on Sep 04, 2019

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, the thirteenth novel of acclaimed Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, follows Duszejko (emphatically not to be called by her given name), as she interprets the suspicious deaths of various men from her remote village through the lens of astrology, animal rights, and the writings of William Blake.

    Loosely structured as a noir murder mystery, Drive Your Plow mostly puts aside the whodunit plotline to focus on a deep exploration of the inner life of Duszejko and her interactions with other idiosyncratic village residents. These characters are expertly drawn, with their rich weirdness unfolding from the peculiar logic at their cores. For example, once Duszejko’s fixation on horoscopes and the horror of hunting is established, her rants and theories and disruptive behaviour make perfect sense (as an aside, I can relate - I have the Sun in opposition to Uranus and in trine with Mars, which is in turn in the tenth house).

    Read More »
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan (2010)

    Posted on Aug 07, 2019

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    In “A Visit To The Goon Squad” Jennifer Egan, over the space of thirteen chapters, gives us thirteen different viewpoints with sometimes only most tenuous of links between characters to achieve a darkly funny, often traumatic and wholly rewarding novel.

    Each chapter plays out independent of each other with telling stories of a kleptomaniac, a record label boss, a struggling PR woman forced to work for despotic leader, a convicted criminal writing an article about his crimes from jail, all intertwining and leaving us with the questions what are the scars or marks we leave on each other? How do we cope with our past as time devours us?

    Egan has written a novel without a streamlined plot, it’s jumps time period, perspective and style from chapter to chapter. These style changes are what make this novel so powerful. The most brutal being the penultimate chapter written wholly in from the perspective of a young girl written entirely in a PowerPoint presentation.

    Very few books in my life have ever made me want to turn back to the first page and read again straight away. Instantly I wanted to see what I missed. Sad, satirical, hilarious. Take the time if you already haven’t.

    Will Drummond (Brunsiwck Chapter)

  • For Whom the Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway (1940) Take 2

    Posted on Jul 02, 2019

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    I am a big fan of Hemingway’s writing - the man not so much.

    His ability to evoke a particular time and place is what has drawn me to his work. The Sun Also Rises, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and A Movable Feast are all examples of immersive story telling where I can taste the cheap but drinkable wine, smell the dew covered pine needles and feel the spring Spanish sun on my face. When I travel I look for these little moments - I think this is why I enjoy reading Hemingway.

    While I have been a fan of Hemingway’s writing for some time, For Whom the Bell Tolls is one that I have managed to miss until reading it for Book Club. The story is formed around Hemingway’s own experiences during the Spanish Civil War- a mostly overlooked but deeply interesting period of 20th Century history. Over a period of a few days, the novel’s protagonist Robert Jordan is tasked with the assignment of blowing up a bridge in the hope that this will prevent reprisal attacks from fascist forces. While successful, the mission itself ultimately feels insignificant as the superior military force of the fascists ultimately swept to power in Spain.

    Read More »
  • Praise - Andrew McGahan (1995)

    Posted on Jun 04, 2019

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    “Praise” is essentially a fairly dark romp through the early twenties life of Gordon, a young man who has left the family farm in regional Queensland for a non-life in Brisbane. That is, Gordon is almost defined by his lack of ambition, his ambivalence over most matters and his failure or disinterest to pick up on sexual cues from women.

    If anything influences how he spends his day it is finding the path of least resistance to his comfort zone, which usually involves endless smoking, beer or cask wine drinking, lounging around and avoiding work.

    Readers are introduced to Gordon as he makes a decision to quit hotel work and go on the dole. He is called up by Cynthia, a co-worker and invited over for the inevitable drinks and stays for a week. We get some insight into Gordon’s indifference to sex which is diametrically opposed to Cynthia who is demonstrably sexually voracious, in fact most of the time. Just how this odd match works itself out is very central to the story.

    Read More »
  • Go Tell It on the Mountain - James Baldwin (1953)

    Posted on Apr 30, 2019

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    It’s Harlem, it’s 1930-something, and it’s Johnny’s birthday. But there will be no celebration today. No candles and cake, soda and dancing. Rather, there will be blood, fire, darkness and righteousness. Why not? Because God is in the house.

    The action of this incredible book takes place over the course of a single day, Johnny wakes up, walks through central park, goes to a movie, back home, and then he prays. In fact, he prays his absolute brains out. The bulk of the action takes place in a sort of hallucinatory trance that gives the reader a tour through all of the character's fractured and interwoven pasts. Culminating in a violent rebirth on a foggy dawn.

    Unlike the god (note the small g thank you!) in that the characters worship, Baldwin doesn’t judge. The facts of history are craved like the ten commandments. The rest is left up to our own empathy or lack thereof to decide what to make of this tragic slice of history, tragic slice of life. And like Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man, it’s too horrible not to be true. This rattled me to my bones.

    Read More »
  • Small Gods - Terry Pratchett (1992)

    Posted on Apr 02, 2019

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    If I had been asked to recommend a book to begin exploring Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ or to come to grips with why he was such a popular writer, Small Gods would not have been the book I would have suggested. Instead I might have pointed at Guards Guards, The Witches Series, or perhaps one of the stand-alone books such as Going Postal. Having issued this backhanded compliment to Small Gods I would have likewise not suggested you avoid it. It is fun. It provokes some thought. More importantly it does so whilst in and around the topic of faith without being overly judgmental or superior.

    Some of Pratchett’s best comments about his books have come when he has been challenged or criticised in person. An appropriate paraphrasing of one of his comments would be when he was asked about his use of narrative rules to which he replied: If there is a one million to one chance of something happening at the climax of a book then that thing will happen... unless it is funnier if it doesn’t.

    Read More »
  • Stoner - John Williams (1965)

    Posted on Mar 05, 2019

    Purchase link available on the full review.


    First published in 1965, ‘Stoner’ is author John Williams’ second novel. Garnering poor sales upon its release, it received a generally positive critical reception. It was then out of print for 33 years until 1998 making it something of a lost classic. The opening passages of Stoner speak of the lasting impression and legacy left behind by the books main character, the titular William Stoner, as viewed by his colleagues at the University of Missouri.

    It outlines a decidedly unremarkable life of mediocre achievement and little worth, with those that new him thinking of him very little, if at all. What follows is a novel that breathes beauty and meaning into this ‘unremarkable’ life.

    Read More »
  • Ask the Dust - John Fante (1939)

    Posted on Feb 06, 2019

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Ask the Dust opens with a brief introduction by Charles Bukowski who describes John Fante’s 1939 novel as “my first discovery of the magic.” If you, like me, discovered the magic from Bukowski’s 1971 novel Post Office then you are in for a real down-and-out, gritty, poor decision filled treat of literary realism.

    Ask the Dust is a semi-autobiographical story about Arturo Bandini an aspiring author in depression era Los Angeles. With a singular published short story under his belt, Arturo grapples with life, relationships, poverty, and his ability to translate these experiences into his writing. We find a man with a curious relationship with money who oscillates between subsisting on sacks of oranges with scant pennies to his name to immediately blowing through any cash that comes his way. In my mind I keep returning to the word manic to describe the personality of Bandini who can view himself in one moment as being in the lowest pits of human existence struggling to survive and in the next moment a well-timed check from his mother or publisher sends him into the highest reaches of emotional ecstasy. A similar theme plays out in relationships throughout the book with people quickly moving from dear friend to hated enemy and back again all within a single paragraph.

    Read More »
  • Neuromancer - William Gibson (1984)

    Posted on Dec 04, 2018

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Rastas in space – who wouldn’t love a book that features dreadlocked Rastafarians flying space tugs.

    I must admit this came as a surprise in a novel about a dystopian future and the efforts of an AI to break free of the shackles imposed by the hard core Turing Police on the limits to its intelligence but I thought that the Rasta named Maelcum was the tough guy in the book.

    He did what the Elders of Zion told him to without asking questions and lead the way into the final showdown with Riviera without a clue as to why. Neuromancer is a gritty, sci fi read about Case, a no hoper, ex junkie (who desperately wants to still be a junkie) who is manipulated into helping an AI free itself to become all seeing and all knowing.

    Read More »
  • The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien (1990) Take 2

    Posted on Nov 06, 2018

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Rightly lauded as being among the most important literary narratives concerned with representing – and reflecting upon – the experience and legacy of America’s Vietnam War, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried (1990) is a self-described “work of fiction” that is, nevertheless, a clear and openly autobiographical series of interlinked stories drawing names, places, events and emotional impact from the author’s own memories, both of the war and its aftermath.

    This apparent contradiction between O’Brien’s description of the work as being “imaginary” save “for a few details regarding the author’s own life” and its simultaneous dedication to “the men of Alpha Company, and in particular to Jimmy Cross, Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Henry Dobbins, and Kiowa” (all names of both the book’s characters and, we are invited to assume, real world individuals the author served with) is not merely incidental. Indeed, O’Brien’s narrative is quite directly concerned throughout with questions about the ambiguous lines between truth and fiction, between the different kinds of truth we tell about the world and, most of all, with the ways that storytelling is inextricably bound up with our own sense of self.

    Read More »
  • Men Without Women - Haruki Murakami (2014)

    Posted on Oct 02, 2018

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Men without women is a collection of short stories the common thread being the title of the book. However it’s almost without saying that each story revolves around women or more to the point a woman and their relationship (or lack thereof) to the central character.

    It’s hard to do a review of multiple stories especially of ones with so many layers, so I’ll give a general one and then a short review of each story.

    Right away you get thrown into each story at a point in time. Murakami is a master of the observational and the natural conversation and even stream of thought. Using these, he describes the world around the central character and his relationship to the People, place and things. You go in blind to each story and he begins with such normality yet so descriptive that it just “settles you in” ready for the story to unwind. Point in case, the way he describes the Saab in the first story. It’s so detailed yet seemingly unimportant that it pulls you in to the world, relaxed and un-judgemental.

    Read More »
  • The Plains - Gerald Murnane (1982)

    Posted on Sep 29, 2018

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    ‘A mirage of landscape, memory, love, and literature itself’- Murray Bail, author of Eucalyptus

    As I kayaked up the Wye river, blissfully enjoying the smooth paddling stylings of my partner, the silence was broken by a shout from a fast approaching canoe: “Hey, aren’t you the guy who loved the camp book???” It seemed as though I was in the minority.

    Murnane’s book The Plains, first published in 1982, documents the story of an Australia I have never known. From the landowners who met at the local hotel in town, to the wide-open plains and the lavish homes reminiscent of cotton-picking plantations from the old south of the USA, there was little I read that brought a sense of recognition. You see, I grew up (for a few years at least) in the northern parts of South Australia. There, landowners fought - and fight, still - for survival in the unforgiving plains above Goyder’s line. There was no talk of art or symbolism, tapestries or crests, or wars between tribes. There was only talk of rain, or the lack of it; animals, feed, and the local rodeo. There were no signet rings that glistened in the sunlight, and certainly no artists kept in residence for years on the dime of the landowner.

    Read More »
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold - John le Carré (1963)

    Posted on Sep 06, 2018

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Bleak, pointless, dull, brutal, frustrating. These words summarise the world of espionage and counter-intelligence depicted in John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.

    It’s difficult to leave the book feeling hopeful or bright. This tale of moves and counter moves is timeless and as relevant today as it was in 1965. The novel tells a compelling story grounded in a grim reality. It’s the subtleties, the bureaucracy, and the mundane world Alec Leamas navigates through that connect the reader to an authentic journey.
    Where other spy novels of its era depart from reality and depict fantastical adventures, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold feels more a reflection of reality. It is little wonder the public refused to believe the author’s insistence that it is a work of fiction.

    Read More »
  • Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe (1959)

    Posted on Aug 01, 2018

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    A book that’s reputation certainly precedes it. I think my preconceptions made me anticipate that this book was more “important” than it was “great”. But I was totally wrong. Sure, it is historically significant; they call it the first third-world classic, and for that alone it should be revered. But – all of that significance aside – it’s a fantastic story, well told.

    It also dilutes the simplicity if the post-colonial narrative status-quo. Okonkwo’s society is far from idyllic, it’s brutally violent, but how could anything be worse than what was to come? How is the reader supposed to feel when terrible things happen to people we perceive as terrible? Now reconsider that question on a level of societies.

    A book haunted by the twentieth century. Just excellent.

    Read More »
  • Men Without Women - Ernest Hemingway (1927)

    Posted on Jul 04, 2018

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    First published in 1927, Men Without Women is a collection of short stories by Ernest Hemingway. This collection offers vignettes of life, snippets fleetingly seen as though we were travelling through the scenes of the stories.

    This was my first time reading Hemingway, I had always wanted to but had been put off by the reputation of this literary great. I was surprised at how accessible his writing was. Almost brutishly simple yet evocative with an underlying sensitivity and sympathy for his protagonists and the scenes he describes. This writing style disarmed me, unexpected but immediately likeable. Here, I believe, he explores the themes that dominated much of his life, what defines a man? Still relevant today. Hemingway’s definition may be out of date – brutish and toxic –¬ but it does offer us a starting point to ask ourselves the same questions. Every story allows us to peer into the male psyche and question.

    Read More »
  • The Eye of the Sheep - Sofie Laguna (2014)

    Posted on Jun 05, 2018

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    If someone was to ask me if I wished to read a story about the cycle of domestic violence through the eyes of a young family member further stigmatised by a developmental disability, I would have probably retreated to my current comfort zone of Scandi thrillers. This is what I like about TGBC… I read literature I otherwise would not. And am richer for it.

    Sofie Laguna’s “ the Eye of the Sheep” is a disturbing tale of a family from Altona (outer Melbourne suburbs) mired in the dysfunction and deceipt of wife-beating and trapped in a low income cycle dictated by the father’s life long job at the local refinery.

    It is told through the eyes of six year old Jimmy, whom I sense may be at the high end of the autism spectrum. To its credit, the book does not give his disability any label but it is clear his intellectual development is out of step with the mainstream and he has many social idiosyncrasies which make him a challenge to his parents, brother and teachers. He can get obsessive and manic, particularly when over-excited or stressed. Though he also has surprising insights and some quirky ways which are comic and endearing.

    Read More »
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams (1979)

    Posted on May 01, 2018

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    An over the top, ridiculous, million miles an hour adventure with surprising glimpses of deep philosophical musings on the profound and the everyday. The first installation in Douglas Adams Trilogy of Five, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy sets the scene and tantalises the taste buds whilst holding its own as a stand-alone novel.

    Douglas Adams keeps it simple with a handful of well-crafted characters. The adventure begins with Arthur Dent, the Earthman, who struggles to overcome the loss of his house and planet within the first few chapters. Dent is the quintessential Brit, an everyman.

    Someone who doesn’t want to deal with the absurd and superfluous.
    Someone who just wants a cup of tea. A proper cup of tea.

    Read More »
  • That Deadman Dance - Kim Scott (2010)

    Posted on Apr 03, 2018

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Noongar writer Kim Scott conjures an unwritten history. Set in the years following white settlement in Western Australia, our narrator Bobby Wabalanginy nails it when he realises of his new colonial cohabiters; ‘we all learned your stories, but you were never interested in learning ours’. Indeed, the voices of the Noongar people are lost to history in the purest sense, so Mr. Scott wants to take us back there and show us what it would have been like, but, like a memory we can only see it through a cloudy gauze, like staring through smoke.

    This is an important story and it’s an important story to tell correctly. The task Mr. Scott has set himself is ambitious; to tell the story of Australian colonisation with a First Nation voice, the kind of task that takes an incredible amount of subtlety and finesse, the kind of task many writers have failed to pull off elegantly.

    Read More »
  • As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner (1930)

    Posted on Mar 08, 2018

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    I loved this book! My chapter (Williamstown) discussed it at length, but it wasn’t till I reread it at home in preparation for this review that I discovered how much I had missed the first reading.

    The main questions about this book that need answering are:
    1. Is it a comedy? or
    2. Is it a sort of satire of Hillbilly culture? or
    3. Is it a work of total pathos?

    The answer is, I think, that it ticks all three boxes.

    Read More »
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)

    Posted on Feb 06, 2018

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    The trouble is… it isn’t very good. Really? But it’s immensely famous! A classic! What sacrilege is this? What was the problem?

    Was there something wrong with the story, the plot? Not at all. Each chapter formed a well-crafted little crime drama, complete with creative little twists and turns. Perhaps they became a bit too formulaic by the end, predictable even. But plot is not the problem.

    Was the writing awkward or clunky? Was it just plain hard to read? Not at all. Doyle’s prose reads very elegantly. His descriptions are crisp and he moves the narrative forward with a remarkable economy of words.

    Read More »
  • East of Eden - John Steinbeck (1952)

    Posted on Dec 06, 2017

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    It is without doubt that John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is a daunting novel to undertake simply due to its sheer size. Weighing in at just over 700 pages, Steinbeck’s 1952 work details the interwoven stories of two families as they grapple with life's greatest ambiguities including morality, sacrifice, love, acceptance, forgiveness, pride, and mortality. Steinbeck underpins these with biblical references from the Book of Genesis, specifically the story of Cain and Abel, both alluded to and direct.

    However, the novel's bulk quickly surrenders to its comfortable pace and the picturesque scenes of California’s Salinas Valley and the rural farmlands of pre-WWI Connecticut. Ignoring America’s heartland, this coast-to-coast story follows the heroic highs and abominable lows experienced by the Trask and the Hamilton families across generations of farmland and fortune-seeking. Giving credit to his ability to delicately pack in the details of the natural world, Steinbeck lifts the reader into each environment and willingly immerses the senses. It has been said by some critics that the roles of soil and water within East of Eden are integral enough to be considered a character in and of themselves.

    Read More »
  • Johnno - David Malouf (1975)

    Posted on Oct 31, 2017

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Like most expats abroad I exhibit the tell-tale signs: bad news from home is met with a contemptuous snort and accompanied by mutterings about a banana republic; and any good news or persons of note are heralded to all within earshot. It seems ironic that only after taking up residence in Footscray and falling in love with the landmarks and the stories that occupy them, I am reminded of my own hometown’s history. While Melbourne enviably claims Paul Kelly as their local bard, David Malouf reclaims Brisbane in his inaugural novel Johnno (1975).

    Johnno is equal parts divine comedy and autobiography, a requiem for a childhood friend interspersed with Malouf’s memories of Brisbane. From a chance encounter with the wildly uncouth Johnno on the beaches of Moreton Bay, the story is told through the eyes of an unnamed narrator whom the eponymous character irreverently nicknames ‘Dante’ after discovering his poetry in a school magazine. Johnno’s life is a gesture of defiance; his boyhood pretence as a no-hoper when in fact he is alarmingly bright, his Scottish character he creates whilst teaching in France, and his chronic alcoholism – are all signs of a person struggling to find their place in the world.

    Read More »
  • Ham on Rye - Charles Bukowski (1982)

    Posted on Oct 04, 2017

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Ham on Rye, a semi-autobiographical account of Charles Bukowski’s coming of age, begins with his earliest memory. Under a table staring at the legs of adults in Germany in 1922. It continues with his migration to Los Angeles. His difficult childhood living under an abusive father and nonchalant mother. His often problematic school years. And his alcoholic entry into adulthood. Told under the moniker of Henry Chinaski, Ham on Rye is unrelenting in detailing the setbacks. The heartaches. The feeling of having the whole world against you. And the eventual feeling of indifference to it all.

    Rather than sequentially listing the events that happened in the novel, I will focus on the novel’s dedication, as its simplicity and underlying meaning stuck with me:

    For all the Fathers.

    Read More »
  • Death of a River Guide - Richard Flanagan (1994)

    Posted on Sep 29, 2017

  • God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater - Kurt Vonnegut (1965)

    Posted on Sep 05, 2017

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Kurt Vonnegut. A name that is almost onomatopoeic. The Gs, the Ks and the Vs gets stuck in your throat. You have to hock them up and spit them out into a congealed golly

    In Vonnegut’s novel God Bless You Mr Rosewater is just like that congealed golly.

    It is dense, spongy and full of yuckiness.

    At the same time, however, satisfying and grotesquely engaging.

    You can't help but stare and you might be tempted to poke it with a stick.

    Read More »
  • The Dispossessed - Ursula K. Le Guin (1974)

    Posted on Aug 01, 2017

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    'Science fiction' is a much maligned term. Hearing those two words coupled summons images of treckies squeezed offensively into orange skivvies and weathered paperbacks in bargain bins featuring wide chested blondes shooting giant insects with laser beams. But science fiction at its best is so much more than this. Its a thought experiment. It says 'this is the way reality is at the moment, but what if we changed a few rules and it was like this, what could those changes in reality tell us about our own world. Under this definition, John Lennon's 'Imagine' is a work of science fiction. 'The Dispossessed' is just such a novel.

    Shevek lives on the desert moon of Anarres, a century or so after an idealistic revolution on the central world of Urras resulted in the exile of he and his fellow dreamers. What was the dream? A world without possessions (Dispossessed get it?). A world where even the pronoun 'my' becomes meaningless (near the start of the novel we learn that the locals of Anarres wouldn't even say 'my mother' but instead 'the mother'). Without possessions everything gets freed up, you can do and go wherever you like. Food, resources, labour, sexuality, everything is shared. We're all in this together, so why don't we help each other out? Sounds perfect? Don't be so sure...

    Read More »
  • The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway (1952)

    Posted on Jul 04, 2017

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    In Ernest Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago’s search for The Big Fish is a means for turning his luck and reputation around. More than just a mere fish, the marlin of his dreams is an elusive phantasm, a possibility to focus on, an ideal concept to draw strength from and a glimmering beacon of hope to follow through what is an otherwise harsh and basic existence.

    The Old Man and The Sea is a story of an immense psychological stand-off. It’s a tale of a world-weary man who’s caught between being a figure of strength to a boy, and a man who would rather chase living treasures of the ocean by day and figments of his dreams by night.

    The Old Man and The Sea is the tale of a man’s encounter with the sublime.

    Read More »
  • The Big Nowhere - James Ellroy (1988)

    Posted on Jun 07, 2017

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    The character tropes of the noir genre are: the anti-hero, the dirty cop, the femme fatale and the snarky deadpan one. ‘The Big Nowhere’ has them all. Set after Ellroy’s first LA novel ‘The Black Dahlia’, this novel follows the story of Sheriff’s Deputy Danny Upshaw, a young law enforcer who is driven to solve a case of brutal sexualised murders of gay men; LAPD lieutenant Mal Considine, a seasoned vet with Commies and a fracturing family on his mind; and Buzz Meeks, ex-cop, bag man and associate of scumbags. Interestingly, the story begins as three tales which become interwoven as the characters are drawn together on a case that involves the movie studios, the communists, the mob and the unions.

    James Ellroy paints LA as a simmering pot of tension where no one can be trusted. The Sleepy Lagoon murder and the Zoot Suit Riots are mentioned frequently to show that it is a city where residents are scared and glamour associated with Hollywood is only a very thin veneer. Crime is rampant, many cops are dirty and the only thing rifer is the racial tensions.

    Ellroy paints a convincing historical canvas for the novel with historical figures and locations set alongside the protagonists seamlessly. The language is taken from the time and can be confronting, but leave the reader in no confusion as to the opinions of the cast. The characters are presented as deeply flawed individuals with their demons that haunt them as much as the cases they are investigating. Within the novel, each man floats around the sinkhole, struggling to stay afloat.

    ‘The Big Nowhere’ exemplifies the noir genre beyond the tropes – it reads as a gritty whodunit with questionable characters and a deep sense of 50s Hollywood.

    Gavin Baumer (Redlands Chapter)

  • Home - Toni Morrison (2012)

    Posted on May 02, 2017

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    In the 2012 novel Home, Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison again returns to the themes that have dominated her literary career: race and identity. These are certainly substantive themes to take on, and while this is one of Morrison’s shortest novels, it is also one that does not let its modest size temper these ambitions. With Home, Morrison seeks to highlight the racial injustices of 1950s America and how these are tied to the African American identity. Highlight is the key term here as what this novel ultimately amounts to is a brief—but no less profound—glimpse into these injustices.

    Brendan (Fortitude Valley Chapter)


    What is the difference between a home and a house?

    Is the difference something as simple as who you live with, or what you can look forward to coming back to after a day’s hard work?
    Toni Morrison’s book Home takes this idea a step further and examines how one’s thoughts, dreams, and aspirations can change one’s outlook on their home.

    Chris (Monash Clayton Chapter)

    Read More »
  • The Jesus Man - Christos Tsiolkas (1999)

    Posted on Apr 05, 2017

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    How important is a sense of belonging to the health of a man's psyche? And what happens to a man when he cannot "belong" no matter what he does? Rejection by society, and the soul-crushing, dehumanizing damage done by the resulting isolation, is a central theme of Christos Tsiolkas' "The Jesus Man".

    Dom, Tommy and Lou are brothers. Sons of a Greek immigrant mother and an Australian father of Italian/Greek descent, they have grown up as "Australian" in a country that does not fully recognize them as true members of society--their immigrant roots forever tainting their full acceptance. All three brothers suffer from the shame of their own proclivities and share the knowledge of a family secret that haunts them. Unable to communicate honestly with anyone about their deep despondency, guilt and malaise, each brother descends into self-destructive behavior--with Tommy reaching a level of horrifying psychosis and violence.

    Read More »
  • Good Omens - Pratchett & Gaiman (1990)

    Posted on Feb 28, 2017

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    ‘Good Omens’ (or more precisely Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch) is often listed as one of the funniest books of all time – with good reason. Given the subject matter, this may be a bit of a surprise. The novel starts with the birth of the antichrist (a nod to the premise of ‘The Omen’) and instead of the child in question being delivered to an American ambassador is given to a regular family in England. The news of the birth of the antichrist has long been waited for adversaries from above and below. To watch over the development of the child are the angel, Aziraphale, and the demon, Crowley.

    As these two children grow, it does become apparent that young Warlock is not the antichrist after all. There have been some strange phenomena occurring however that is a sign of the end of the world. Despite being charged with the mission of observing and advocating for their sides at the end of the world, it could be said that too much time on earth has turned Crowley and Aziraphale a little peculiar – they are actually quite friendly with each other and comfortable with their lives they have built on earth. They decide to try and intervene to stop the rise of the antichrist.

    ‘Good Omens’ is off-beat, extraordinarily English and entertaining as hell. With the combination of Terry Pratchett’s story-telling expertise and Neil Gaiman’s wildly fantastic ideas, it combines theology, fantasy and jokes that make you laugh embarrassingly on public transport when you are reading it. The novel looks at the argument of nature and nurture through a comedic lens and tries to evoke in its audience glorious memories of being a child.

    Gavin Baumer (Redlands Chapter)

  • On the Road - Jack Kerouac (1957)

    Posted on Jan 31, 2017

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Kerouac hammered out this semi-autobiographical novel on a single scroll of paper in just three weeks, describing road trips he took between 1947 and 1950. This rapid approach comes through in the writing, which is loosely structured and informal, uses a lot of slang and describes events which would have been quite controversial in the 1950s – explaining why his publishers insisted he create characters rather than using real names. Crossing the continental US and the Mexican border (it was a bit easier in those pre-Trump Wall days) on buses, holding on for dear life in the back of trucks, catching rides with his good mate (and insurer’s nightmare) Dean Moriarty and hitchhiking with random strangers, Kerouac describes the excitement, the adventure and the boredom of being a young and aimless traveller in five parts.

    Read More »
  • A Brief History of Seven Killings - Marlon James (2015)

    Posted on Dec 06, 2016

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    A brief history of seven killings doesn’t pull any punches. Right from start James throws you in to the deep end, trying to drown you in names, places and pages and pages of near indecipherable lingo. But that’s not to say it’s unwelcoming.

    Centring the story on the shooting of Bob Marley’s house, and the consequent history of the gunmen that took part, it takes a winding path across times and places, disorienting at times and always bold, there is a feeling that you’re being submersed in something authentic. The wide range of characters invite you to see the world as they do, and through these multiple viewpoints a well-rounded view of 1976 Kingston is built filled with emotion, politics, violence and of course, music.

    This story has a flow to it, a rhythm that pushes it forward to its inevitable conclusion. The way that the language worms its way into your head, and makes you feel like one of the locals is intoxicating and left me wanting to be there.

    But this book certainly has its drawbacks. It is long by most standards and I, for one, faltered around the 1/3rd mark (I jumped across to read a short novel before coming back to wrap it up). The cast of characters serves to provide a multifaceted view of what’s happening, but I felt myself (especially at the beginning), spending a lot more time than I would like in the front of the book reading the cast page to try and figure out who the hell I was reading about, who they were allied to and what their deal was.

    All in all I definitely liked the book, but it is not one I would recommend willy-nilly. It’s certainly not for everyone. I know that plenty of blokes didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I did, and some liked it a whole lot more but if you haven’t, think about giving it a go.

    It’s a hell of a ride.

    Pod Picking (Launceston Chapter)

  • Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy (1985)

    Posted on Nov 01, 2016

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West

    An abattoir - Dying trout – A journey – The kid – Language barriers – Whisky and whores – Liquid prose - A blood bath – The vanquished – Chaos lurking

    The bar is dimly lit in the fading spring light. The carcasses of butchered beasts long removed still chill the air where humming vats now stand. Foam lined glasses and sticky rings dissolve in to the darkness as the freshly slain trout lies gasping, red gills flapping and bright eyes clouding as if dripped with milk or cream. A journey to the West begins.

    The kid has little but a decrepit mule when he joins us. He is travelling in the same direction, certain only that violence awaits in the bleak deserts. The promise of gold for scalps alluring for men lost to war and lost.

    The villages we approach are barricaded with language foreign and familiar. No hablo español helps little to dissuade the people of their fate. Despite the opulence shown by the visitors, coin spent on whisky and whores has little value to the dead and scalpless.

    We kill and die on the waves of sand and prose that stretch before us. Blood cascades onto the pages in torrents, the flood drenches those that push forward through the rusty, salty stench. Men, women, children, beasts are drowned beneath the cruel red sea, while the Judge bathes in the shallows.

    At journeys end the days are long and sun still lights the bar. Many sit vanquished over dark glasses, defeated by gore or style. Those that set out were rewarded with vivid memories of harsh and beautiful settings, companions found and lost and chaos lurking behind the eyes of every man.

    Sam Stops (Hobart Chapter)

  • Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (1932)

    Posted on Oct 04, 2016

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    We are still waiting on a reivew for this one. Are you up for it? Let us know!

  • The Roving Party - Rohan Wilson (2011)

    Posted on Sep 30, 2016

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Can the success of a work of fiction about the atrocities perpetrated on the aboriginal people by our early colonial forebears suggest we are coming of age in accepting that awful truth? Or might it simply be described as a “good read” and then put down?

    These questions quickly form when reading the final words of Rohan Wilson’s award winning The Roving Party, an account of Government sanctioned attempts to put a stop to the so-called Black War in Tasmania’s late 1820s, thereby condoning the massacre of aboriginals in areas of the state that had been colonised over almost three previous decades.

    History provides the backdrop for much good writing and there can be no dispute that Wilson leverages the fact and the fiction of the Black War as both a good read and an awful truth.

    Read More »
  • Trout Fishing in America - Richard Brautigan (1967)

    Posted on Sep 06, 2016

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    The TGBC Review of Trout Fishing in America assumed that the novel Trout Fishing in America would be about trout fishing in America, which is not necessarily to say it isn’t. Trout Fishing in America is a bizarre and hallucinatory novel(?), that plays with ideas of language and meaning and reality, it is a work that defies description and it is a disservice to the work to attempt to do so; trout fishing in America is a pastime available to anyone who happens to be in America.

    Read More »
  • Casino Royal - Ian Fleming (1953)

    Posted on Aug 02, 2016

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Daniel Craig's James Bond was the first Bond I properly got to know. In my young mind James Bond was unreasonably handsome and effortlessly cool, but at his core was an action hero. He had more literary credibility and maturity than a John McClane, but the romantic, suave, gentlemanly James Bond of old wasn't the image I had until much later. The 2006 Casino Royale film wasn't even about poker to my young eyes: it was about explosions, car chases, machine guns with bottomless magazines, tailored suits and product placement for cars that would only look at home parked ostentatiously on a driveway at a summer house. Later I adopted the modern, rose-tinted lens through which most of us see James Bond but without having any contact with the franchise other than the Goldeneye Nintendo 64 game and Craig's movies.

    Picking up the Casino Royale book, I knew that this Bond would be very different to the Bond I knew, and I was correct.

    Read More »
  • A Farewell To Arms - Ernest Hemmingway (1929)

    Posted on Jul 05, 2016

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    Published in 1929 Ernest Hemmingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” is a semi-autobiographical account of the tragic love affair between American ambulance driver Frederick Henry and British nurse Catherine Barkley set against the backdrop of war torn Italy. Hemmingway uses the short tight prose with which he became famous combined with longer poetic sentences to describe this love affair. Hemmingway’s stark tone allows the reader to visualise the world they are introduced to, while exploring key concepts of love, isolation and war.

    While starting as a simple relationship the partnership between Henry and Catherine seems to develop as the two become more reliant on each other. Henry uses the love affair to isolate himself from the horrors of war, previously drowned out through military discipline and alcoholism; while Catherine uses the relationship to find strength following the death of her fiancé and to combat her situation. Both Henry and Catherine appear to be more in love with the idea of love as their relationship is quite a selfish one, where ultimately they both use love to escape and a sense of belonging.

    The trials and tribulations of love during war are explored extensively throughout the book and love for Henry becomes another escape. “A Farewell to Arms” aptly explores the effects of war on the lives of the people affected by it in a unique way – humanising instead of glorifying war; a refreshing perspective and one that enables the concepts of love and isolation to be explored effectively.

    “I love you darling”
    “I love you too”
    “Fix me brandy will you”
    “I will darling but only if you tell me you love me, do you love me darling?”
    “I do”
    “Do you really love me?”
    “I love you”

    Michael Lawless (Traralgon Chapter)

  • Death in Brunswick - Boyd Oxlade (1987)

    Posted on May 31, 2016

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    Set in the late 1980’s Boyd Oxlade’s novel Death in Brunswick is a claustrophobic, greasy, alcohol fueled trip back in time, to a place we at the Brunswick Chapter know well, Sydney Rd. Against a backdrop of grimey pubs, overfilled graveyards and suburban Australian city streets, this macabre black comedy follows anxiety ridden protagonist Carl as he negotiates the moral, ethical and practical dilemmas of unstable employment, workplace bullying, romance, murder, friendship and the maintenance of a pharmocological addiction. An entertaining read that will appeal especially to those who have worked in terrible kitchen jobs or felt stuck in a suburban rut.

    Will de Silva (Brunswick Chapter)

  • To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (1960)

    Posted on May 03, 2016

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the fictional small town of Maycomb, Alabama during the Depression and is told retrospectively, through the eyes of an innocent 8 year old southern girl (Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch). The story follows three years of life in this largely white southern town, where an American Negro (Tom Robinson) is unjustly accused by Bob Ewell of raping Mayella Ewell (his daughter). Subsequently, Tom Robinson is arrested and tied on the charge that he raped this white woman. With the town embroiled in social racism, Scout’s widowed father Atticus, a white middle aged lawyer, is assigned the role of defence council for Tom Robinson, resulting in life becoming tainted with gossip, speculation and racial disharmony.

    While Atticus believes in the American justice system, he is hampered by lies and deceit, borne of ignorance and prejudice from the community that he lives in.

    Read More »
  • Rumble Fish - S. E. Hinton (1975)

    Posted on Apr 05, 2016

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    A whiskey-fueled conversation between James and Alex about Rumble Fish by S. E. Hinton.

    A: So, James, we read Rumble Fish. What did you think about the protagonist?
    J: I hated him. He’s dull. He’s not willing to learn. He makes mistakes but he’s not willing to learn why. He hasn’t taken control of his life.
    A: Why did you like him?
    A: I didn’t, particularly.

    How do you think he came to be like this?

    Read More »
  • Wake in Fright – Kenneth Cook (1961)

    Posted on Mar 01, 2016

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    A booze-soaked Aussie horror yarn of misadventure and self-destruction.

    Wake In Fright tells the story of John Grant; bound by financial handcuffs to the State Education Department, he serves as the schoolmaster in the blink-and-you-miss-it outback town of Tiboonda. Grant’s loathing of his surroundings is lessened by the knowledge that soon he will be spending his summer holiday laying on the beach in Sydney beside his unrequited love, Robyn. All he has to do is catch the Friday train from Tiboonda, stay overnight in Bundanyabba, and from there he is only a short flight away from the welcoming arms of civilisation. Enjoying a parting beer with Tiboonda’s miserly barman-cum-landlord, Grant successfully navigates the first leg of the journey, arriving in The Yabba (as the locals call it). Finding a drinking companion in local policeman Jock Crawford, our man is offered a throw of two-up, and an opportunity to make a quick buck.

    But Grant is new to The Yabba, and friendly faces and a game of chance have a way of separating a fool from his cash.

    Waking the next morning hungover and destitute, Grant is unable to leave The Yabba and finds himself relying on the kindness of the locals to help him get by. First it’s Tim Hynes, one of the regulars at the bar, offering beer to drink and a place to stay awhile. Then there’s Dick and Joe, work mates of Hynes, offering more beer to drink and a seat in their car for a kangaroo hunt. Also joining Grant on his descent to the bottom of each glass is Doc Tydon, “a doctor of medicine, a tramp by temperament, and an alcoholic”. The Doc is another mate of Hynes, who resides in a shack and has an uncanny tendency to appear when the beer begins to flow. He peddles prescription medication and dubious counsel, advising Grant that as long as he fits in and is a good bloke he could sponge all his food and drink in The Yabba. Deciding that “fitting in” would be in his best interest, Grant spends another beer-fuelled night with the locals. He awakens with a feeling of dread to the sight of Doc Tydon asleep in his bed, leaving an indelible mark upon Grant and his psyche forever.

    Authors who romanticise the outback often have not grown up there, and it is the exact inverse that inspired Wake In Fright. Drawing upon his experiences working for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in the remote town of Broken Hill, Cook offers a sinister view of outback towns within our sunburnt country. Issues left unspoken in towns like The Yabba: alcoholism, homelessness, depression and suicide; they linger in the amber, beneath the foamy head of mateship in “the lucky country”.

    Wake In Fright is probably best read sober as it might leave you having second thoughts about that next beer.

    James Barry (Footscray Chapter)

  • Our Man in Havana - Graham Greene (1958)

    Posted on Feb 02, 2016

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana adds to the masterly storyteller’s vivid depictions of nomadic and faithless urbanites. This time, we are introduced to Wormold, a dreamy vacuum cleaner salesman in search of secrecy as MI6’s man in Havana. This is a humorous satire of a man in a dream of luxuries including monetary savings, company shares and dividends yet, in reality is met with fanciful falsehoods, loathing and love.

    Set in Havana predating the Cuban Missile Crisis during the Fulgenico Batista Regime, the reader is introduced to a divorced retailer, James Wormold. Aside from the implied mediocrity of Wormold’s life at present, he is also the father of a beautiful, devoutly Catholic yet grossly unscrupulous (and curiously scheming) daughter, Milly. Wormold meets Hawthorne, who asks him to work for the British secret service. Wormold is proverbially short of a quid and given his daughter’s partiality towards indulgences, Wormold accepts the part-time espionage gig.

    Read More »
  • American Gods - Neil Gaiman (2001)

    Posted on Dec 01, 2015

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    This book is not just about gods. This is also a story about what we choose to do with our gods.

    Gaiman once again crafts a beautiful tale rich in menace and wonder. From brawling leprechauns to Egyptian undertakers you can feel the weight of centuries hanging off these characters as they struggle - and fail - to survive in a new and faithless world far from their birthplaces. Immigrants bring the gods of their homelands to America, where those gods — just like the people who brought them — change and adapt to their new culture. One example is when Czernobog, the god of darkness in Slavic mythology, who demanded sacrifices with a hammer in return for protection, channels his godly penchant for violence into a job at the American industrial meat factories.

    Czernobog is not alone in having to find a place for himself in the new world. Throughout the book are interspersed side stories which fill out the pantheons of the old world and give a sense that there are forgotten gods in abundance all trying to make their way in a world that no longer cares about them.

    American Gods is full of surreal settings, from an idyllic snowy Wisconsin mountain town hiding a dark secret to the aeons old home of a bison-god deep beneath the earth, each of them with its own recurring motifs, themes and personalities.

    Some have found this book strange and thoughtful, others slow and uninteresting. I think I would put it somewhere in the middle. Gaiman takes a good premise and writes a good book, but I won’t be in a rush to read it again.

    Pod Melia (Launceston Chapter)

  • The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler (1939)

    Posted on Nov 01, 2015

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    The convoluted plot with its missing killer brings me to my second confession; I don’t really remember what The Big Sleep is about. Sure I remember there’s the slick private detective Marlowe, star of seven and a half books by Raymond Chandler, a couple of revivals and even more movie adaptations. I remember the smut dealers and blackmailers, the big money, the corpses and the femmes fatale. But what I remember most is the effortless cool of the dialogue, the one-liners peppering every page, the style that you can’t write in now without it sounding ridiculous and derivative.

    Perhaps I can see now what I didn’t see ten years ago, that women in Raymond Chandler’s novel are always beautiful and always trouble, but never anything else. That race and sexuality are the butt of scathing one-liners, that the kind of man with a fedora on his head and whiskey in his coffee is not the kind of guy I want to meet.

    Read More »
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey (1962)

    Posted on Oct 01, 2015

    One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is genius and wonderfully entertaining. Ken Kesey crafts an extraordinarily compassionate story about the healing, unifying and empowering strength and potential of man and brotherhood.

    A novel that is ripe with humour, rich language and dialogue and those lines that stop you in your tracks, leaving you wanting to reread and sit with them for a while. The writing gives a strong sense that Kesey is writing what he knows. His sentiment, a respect and belief in mankind’s ability to find its way with the right guidance, shines through in a very natural, unforced way. Everyone needs a little McMurphy in their lives. If you don’t know him already, you need to.

    Read More »
  • The Sisters Brothers - Patrick DeWitt (2011)

    Posted on Aug 31, 2015

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    I read this book some time ago
    And was glad to read again
    The first person views
    Of gruesome tales
    From a tough guy
    Who needs a friend.

    The Journey these brothers take
    Is violence filled and cruel
    With alcohol and jealousy
    Our friend’s moral rift
    Is fuelled

    The life he found
    Takes its toll
    His questioning in vain
    The domineering Sisters
    Bleeding every vein

    Will our brother find his way?
    Will he find his peace?
    Or will the choices of his life
    Send him to the Beast?

    Sam Stops (Hobart Chapter)

  • The Sound of Things Falling - Juan Gabriel Vásquez (2011)

    Posted on Aug 04, 2015

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    Juan Gabriel Vásquez’ ‘The Sound of Things Falling’ is a masterful work that not only draws the reader through a gripping story of love, loss, drugs and crime spanning two generations living through Colombia’s tragic modern history, but also delivers a powerful commentary on fate and loss. It is a remarkably honest and humble representation of Colombia and it’s people and Vásquez’ passion, pride and, at times, pessimism about his nation seeps out at regular intervals throughout the novel.

    The story begins in Bogotá, where apathetic professor Antonio Yammara witnesses a violent assassination of an acquaintance. The seemingly senseless murder haunts him and he embarks on journey of discovery that will lead him him to discover the stories, desires and struggles of those who lived through the tumultuous times that shaped modern Colombia.

    As a work of prose, including the English translation which is excellent, Vásquez’ aptitude for penning vivid, and at times thrilling, descriptive passage are evident and thankfully applied with mature restraint. An ambitiously structured story that darts back and forth from the past to present day and deals with shifting protagonists could have easily fallen flat, yet Vásquez has managed to craft a seamless timeline, that leaves the reader engaged and involved at every turn.

    Part thriller, part anthropological commentary and part existential discovery, The Sound of Things Falling is a stirring novel that resonates long after the final pages have been turned.

    Alex Dobson (Sydney Chapter)

  • The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway (1962)

    Posted on Jun 30, 2015

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Supposedly based in part on Hemingway's time in Paris and the people in his circle at the time, it’s maybe a decade after WW1, and Paris is a-swinging. It’s a time of writers who, as foreign correspondents, seem to pen one article a month and spend the intervening times drinking, whoring and escorting bankrupt duchesses around jazz clubs and nightclubs in determined efforts to rid themselves of their money, health and mental stability.

    Apparently once known as the “Lost Generation" - considered to have been decadent and wasteful of the sacrifice of WW1, Hemingway might be portraying them as resilient but while resilient in terms of their stamina, they are brought absolutely undone and are as flawed as any other generation that thinks it’s pretty to imagine themselves being better in different circumstances.

    Read More »
  • I Am Pilgrim - Terry Hayes (2013)

    Posted on Jun 03, 2015

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    I am Pilgrim pieces together a complex series of interwoven crimes and sinister plots, set to the modern theme of extremist Islamic terrorism.

    Pilgrim is the man charged with tracking down the Saracen, thought to be untraceable and working alone, before he releases a vaccine resistant strain of smallpox, one with a 100% kill rate, into the Unites States. As far as terrorists go, the Saracen is unrivaled and extremely dangerous. Luckily for the rest of the world, Pilgrim is in the most secret of the US secret services. Those at the top who know him understand that he is the only man for the job, the best there is, second to none.

    Read More »
  • Rabbit, Run - John Updike (1960)

    Posted on May 06, 2015

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    Poor Rabbit, his life was meant to be so good. Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrum was young, popular and the high school basketball star. But now, only a few years later, nothing has worked out the way he was so sure it would. With a young wife, a little boy and another child on the way Rabbit is trapped in a life of seeming mediocrity, the blame for which he lays squarely at the feet of the world, and he decides to get away, to run. But it turns out that it’s not so easy for Rabbit to get escape the only life he knows and we watch on in dismay as his own failure of imagination leads him in circles until he is forced to make a choice. Will he return to his family? Or will he run off again?

    In the first of four Rabbit novels, Updike forensically dissects the tropes and trappings of a middle class suburban life in 60’s America with savage wit. But there is also warmth in Updike’s treatment of the desperate and sometimes despicable characters that populate this entertaining novel. The writing is elegant and vivid, describing the mundane with great care, Updike was an early practitioner of the hyper-realist style.

    An intense study of family life and how the decisions we make affect those around us, the responsibilities of growing older, the lost dreams of youth and the learned pleasures of adult life. This is an engrossing novel.

    Patrick Jovaras (Collingwood Chapter)

  • A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess (1962)

    Posted on Mar 31, 2015

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    Written heavily in ‘Nasdat’ a teen speak, that demonstrates rebellion and a rejection of the governing society, one is taken into a not too distant future, sucked into a dystopian world, where violence reigns supreme, political parties seem to be all the same shade of grey and general ethics overlooked for the greater good. Alex recounts his exploits and experiences seemingly without any understanding of right and wrong, and it is through this twisted looking glass we explore themes of good and evil, punishment, rehabilitation and the place of free will in it all.

    Still controversial 53 years after its initial publication, you will probably come to this book for the violence and leave with philosophical questions, and asking; is Alex redeemed through his journey?

    Peter (Sydney Chapter)


    Anthony Burgess brings us a story of dystopian struggle; both for freedom and for individuality amongst the monolithic. While this book is renowned for its ultra-violence and graphic scenes, Burgess writes with an hypnotic rhythm which lulls the reader into a Stockholm like trance; nearly but not quite deceiving us into the lie that is Alex’s ongoing social engineering project. The method of addressing the reader as ‘Brother’ and labelling the protagonist as ‘Your Humble Narrator’ serves to induce the reader into Alex’s schemes, giving a sense of ‘You are now one of us’, another droog.

    Burgess asks us a very clear question with this book; is it better to choose to be evil, or forced to be good?

    Daniel (North Melbourne Chapter)

    Read More »
  • Brighton Rock - Graham Greene (1938)

    Posted on Mar 04, 2015

    Purchase link available on the full review.

    First published in 1938, Brighton Rock, and Greene’s ninth novel, follows on from his eighth novel, A Gun for Sale, whereby a leading gang member in Brighton is murdered, with his throat slit by a switchblade, incidentally, pictured on the cover of Brighton Rock but also to play a part in the novel.

    Retribution was in the air, and the scene setting of the first chapter being the linkage from the past novel to the present and the introduction of Fred Hale, soon to be deceased, his murderer introduced as The Boy, later to be known as Pinkie Brown, leader of his deceased boss’s motley crew of thugs. By chance, the soon to become detective, or woman spawned, Ida Arnold, is the other chess piece in this novel. The book starts as a regular whodunit except we already know most of the pieces including who the murderer is; what is interesting is the detail has been deliberately left out.

    Read More »
  • Post Office - Charles Bukowski (1971)

    Posted on Feb 04, 2015

    Grab a copy and get reading.

    Henry Chinaski is a tough guy. He’s the invention of Charles Bukowski, a poet and writer who used to work with the post office. And this is where Chinaski works too. We follow him on what amounts to a story that’s pretty disjointed and full of some pretty sick goings-on. If you tried to graph it, it would probably look something like an ECG printout. There’s the monotony of work. There are the human glimpses of the characters being crushed by it. There’s the sudden euphorias and the mighty troughs of alcoholism, gambling, and the baffling absurdities of trying to deal with other people’s shit. Other men. Other women. People going in and out of your life.

    And while there’s much to dislike and even despise Chinaski for, there’s a vein of tenderness that punches you in the guts. And it lives in how he responds to moments of genuine human gravity. The dying ex-girlfriend. The crushed life of an aging colleague.

    And the kind of toughness Bukowski is offering us through Chinaski is of a fractured variety, sure. But he understands that too. He says, here, let’s take your complaints and your desires and your death-wishes, your worship of the rock-star, self-destruction model that you’re all kind of addicted to, in a way, and let’s give you a real glimpse of it. If you gave in, if you didn’t try—as his grave famously states—how could it end up? But it’s not like a moral from a fable he’s offering you, because he still includes the attractive stuff. He still plays off it. And that’s where it’s beautiful, and ugly at the same time.

    Jeremy Davies (North Melbourne Chapter)