Category Archives: Non-crime reviews

My top books of 2016

my-father-the-pornographerIt’s that time of the year for my top 10 reads of 2016. As is always the case, my list is a mixture of new books, old books, fiction and non-fiction. In no order they are as follows:

The Rules of Backyard Cricket, Jock Serong

It took a while for this book to warm up, but about a third of the way through it just goes bang and never looks back from there. An incredibly dark tale of suburban crime set over several decades in Melbourne, as seen through the eyes of professional cricketers Darren Keefe and his older brother, Wally. Don’t let the publisher’s marketing of this book as literary crime fool you; this is as good an example of noir as you will find in Australian crime fiction today. Serong has a beautiful prose style and totally nails the period detail of growing up in seventies/eighties suburban Melbourne.

Old Scores, David Whish-Wilson

Old Scores is the third book by Perth crime writer David Whish-Wilson featuring Frank Swann, former petty criminal, disgraced cop and low rent private investigator.The story is set in the set at the beginnings of the cowboy capitalism that marked Western Australia in that decade. Swann’s peculiar mix of talents is in demand by the state’s newly elected Labour government.… Read more

The 50th anniversary of Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers

algiers-1

The most disturbing aspect of viewing Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers half a century after its release is how familiar the images of the civil conflict involving Western soldiers in an Arab country now feel.

The strange sense of familiarity kicks in from the very beginning, a small, dingy cell where white men in military uniform stand over an Arab male. The traumatised look on his face tells us the Arab has been tortured. That he has given his captors information against his will only adds to the pain and shame etched on his bruised features. His captors dress him in one of their uniforms and take him as they raid an apartment block, no doubt based on the information he has revealed. The soldiers identify a hidden section in one of the apartments where two men, a woman and a child hide. The soldiers wire it with explosives and threaten to detonate unless those hiding surrender.

A decade and a half of reportage on the West’s military involvement in the Arab world, particularly post the mass circulation of images from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and their pop culture reflection in countless movies and television series give Pontecorvo’s chilling iconography of civil strife and military repression an almost everyday feel.… Read more

Only Lovers Left Alive and the business of nostalgia

only_lovers_left_alive_ver5‘Nostalgia’, both as a word and a concept, originated in the seventeenth century to describe a condition afflicting Swiss mercenaries on long tours of military duty. According to UK cultural critic Simon Reynold’s 2011 book Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction To Its Own Past, it ‘was literally homesickness, a debilitating craving to return to the native land. The symptoms included melancholy, anorexia, even suicide.’

Reynold’s book traces the gradual development of nostalgia, amongst other things, from its origins to the mid-twentieth century, by which time it had began to morph into a human emotion, used effectively by both reactionary and progressive movements. This shift also arguably coincided with capitalism’s discovery of the term and the realisation that nostalgia, (particularly our desire for retro culture, which Reynold’s argues has become so insatiable it threatens to calcify contemporary culture) could make money.

The media is full of examples of the emotional and financial power of the nostalgia industry. On the morning I write this, the newspaper carries a report that seventies stadium rock phenomena Queen have announced they are touring Australia, after years trying to find a replacement for Freddie Mercury, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1991. But you can tell nostalgia and its consumerist manifestations are becoming an all-powerful cultural force, when even centuries-old vampires are infected with it.… Read more

The Beat(en) Generation: What Inside LIewyn Davis says about how we live now

Inside-Llewyn-DavisYou don’t have to be doing hard yards in some area of the creative arts to empathise with the lead character in the Coen brothers’ latest offering, Inside LIewyn Davis – but it doesn’t hurt. Like the brilliant 1991 film, Barton FinkDavis is a Kafkaesque take on the financial, emotional and existential struggle to create, however you want to define it.

It is also the latest in a wave of recent films to showcase the enduring cultural power exercised by the generation of post-Second World War writers who came to prominence in the late fifties, known collectively as the Beats.

That Davis is major homage to the Beats is signposted in the film’s opening scene, with Llewyn doing his solo guitar act at the Gaslight Café, a famous real life coffee house located in Greenwich Village, New York, the epicentre of Beat culture in the late fifties and early sixties. The Gaslight was known as ‘a basket establishment’. Entertainers would pass around a basket at the end of their set hoping to be paid. Performers who appeared there at some stage included what was to be a who-is-who of the American folk scene.

You can read the rest of this article over at the Overland magazine website.

 

My year in books: Eva Dolan

Long Way HomeNext up in my year books is UK crime writer and reviewer, Eva Dolan.

Eva is someone who I expect to be appearing in best of lists this time next year, not writing them. Her debut novel, Long Way Home, is just out via Harvill Secker. The start of a new crime series, it’s already generating buzz. You can check out more details about it here. Long Way Home is at the very top of my to-be-read pile over Christmas. 

Eva is also a great book reviewer in her own right. You can sample her wares at her website, Loitering With Intent.

Anyway, she’s taking a slightly different tack to most of the other writers and reviewers who have featured so far in my year in books, but I’ll let her explain that.

Since I’ve reviewed so many crime books already this year I’ve decided to do a crime-free list. These are books which I’ve loved but didn’t feel quite equal to reviewing, the ones which are best left to more perceptive critics, but I still want to press them on anyone who’ll listen. Which is you lot.

Stoner,  John Williams

Generally I avoid heavily hyped books but this long overlooked mid-20th century American classic lives up to the praise which has been lavished on.… Read more