Reviewer Maura Pierlot shares her picks for 2019.
Karen Thompson Walker, The Dreamers, Random House, 1 February 2019, 400 pp., RRP $29.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781471173578
I’ve read a boatload of books in 2019, not only children’s books for my Reading Time reviews but also for my own writing and enjoyment. Add to the mix adult fiction in genres I wouldn’t usually drift towards. Like The Dreamers. I don’t recall where, and why, I picked up this book but I’m so glad I did. The plot: A mysterious sleeping illness befalls a college town in Southern California, with the ‘victims’ displaying higher than ever recorded brain activity. Just what are they dreaming about? And who can stop them? Packing a powerful emotional punch, this highly inventive existential tale may seem like sci fi (normally, not my ‘thing’) but is really a deftly drawn character study. Spellbinding, occasionally disturbing and a dream read (no pun intended) for this overthinking insomniac. The author’s much lauded first novel, The Age of Miracles is on my holiday reading list.
Esmé Weijun Wang, The Collected Schizophrenias, Graywolf Publishing, 5 February 2019, 224 pp., RRP $26.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781555978273
Mental health issues have been at the heart of my work in recent years, from my YA manuscript, Freefalling to my play Fragments, which just enjoyed a sell-out run in Canberra. But I think that’s only one of the many reasons I was drawn to this powerful collection of essays, where author and former fashion editor Wang opens up about her schizoaffective disorder. All too often, stories of mental illness are written about people, rather than as a first-hand accounts, but here Wang thrusts the reader smack into her world, negotiating the hazy space between illness and identity each day. It’s part memoir, documenting Wang’s long journey towards diagnosis, and part philosophical exploration, exploring the impact of mental illness on families. In each case, it’s a triumph of the human spirit.
Sally Rooney, Normal People, Faber and Faber, 29 August 2018, 288 pp., RRP $29.99 (pbk), ISBN 9780571347292
This book was published in 2018, winning the 2018 Costa Prize for Best New Novel, but I only got around to reading it a few months ago. I dare you to pick up Normal People and not plow through it in one sitting. It’s the type of book that you start to miss long before you reach the end, so deep is its impact. Set in Ireland, the story follows Connell and Marianne, starting with their first awkward encounter at school. Though they have little in common – Connell is popular and Marianne a loner – the seeds are sown for something unexpected and life-changing. At its heart Normal People is a love story (and that’s not normally my ‘thing’ either) about two people whose worlds collide but are inexplicably drawn to each other throughout the years, no matter how hard they try to find meaning elsewhere. A subtle and heartbreaking read about the transformative power of connection. The author’s acclaimed debut, Conversations with Friends is on my summer reading list.
Sometimes, less is more. And this deceptively simple book is a brilliant example. When three different mobs of kangaroos – red, blue and yellow – meet at the same watering hole, they’re not sure what to think … until they realise they’re not very different at all. A magnificent and colourful celebration of diversity.