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Oblong Obsession Posts

The Fortune Men, by Nadifa Mohamed

The Fortune Men, by Nadifa Mohamed, book cover

The Fortune Men (published by Viking/Penguin Random House, May 2021) is the third novel by London based author Nadifa Mohamed. The year is 1952, and Mahmood Mattan is a Somali sailor living in Tiger Bay, the docklands area of Cardiff, Wales. Married to Laura, with three children, he is something of a larrikin character and a small time criminal.

When a local shop owner is murdered one evening, and Mattan is named as a suspect, he isn’t too worried at first. He had no part in the atrocity, and is certain he would be cleared by the justice system should charges ever be laid. But when a customer present at the store at the time of the murder changes their statement, Mattan is convicted of the crime.

While later found to be a gross miscarriage of justice, from which he was posthumously exonerated, The Fortune Men is a fictionalised account of Matten’s trial and conviction. In being included in the short list of this year’s Booker Prize, Nadifa Mohamed becomes the first British Somali novelist to achieve the distinction.

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ARIAs to end gendered award categories

The Australian Recording Industry Association, aka ARIA, will no longer distinguish Australian musicians by gender, instead making award categories for the annual ARIA awards gender non-specific:

The time for separating artists based on gendered categories that exclude non-binary artists altogether has passed. The music industry is demanding a more equal, inclusive, safe and supportive space for everyone and ARIA is working hard to achieve that across the ARIA Awards and everything we do.

Good job. Why on earth should the work of anyone be differentiated on the basis of gender? The ARIAs will be streamed on YouTube on Wednesday 24 November 2021.

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The Banksia House Breakout, by James Roxburgh

The Banksia House Breakout, by James Roxburgh, book cover

It’s a breakout, but not the sort of breakout you’re thinking of. Eighty-something widow Ruth Morris has been moved into Banksia House, a retirement home in Sydney, by her son, Michael. While the name of Ruth’s new abode may sound homely, Ruth instead feels homesick and isolated, as she pines for her past life of independence.

But when Ruth receives word her best friend Gladys is unwell, she hatches an escape plan in The Banksia House Breakout (published by Simon & Schuster, September 2021); the debut novel of Sydney based Australian writer and audiologist James Roxburgh. And with some help from her new found friends at Banksia House, Ruth makes a dash for Queensland.

But the journey is filled with trials and tribulations as Ruth, Beryl, and Keith, head north, hoping they’ll reach Gladys in time. While dealing with all sorts of problems on the road, the trio has to constantly outwit the home, and their families, lest they be stopped. Blending humour with the stark reality of aged care living, here’s another title for your reading list.

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The Phone Box at the Edge of the World, by Laura Imai Messina

The Phone Box at the Edge of the World, by Laura Imai Messina, book cover

Imagine there were a way to contact your deceased loved ones. To feel you’d conversed with them, and perhaps found some comfort in the wake of their passing. But what might you say if it were possible? If it were as simple as picking up a phone and talking? If you can make your way to the Japanese city of Otsuchi, you might be able to do that.

In a garden there, is an old, disconnected, telephone box, called the phone of the wind. Those grieving the loss of loved one go there to seek solace, and Japan based Italian author Laura Imai Messina’s new novel, The Phone Box at the Edge of the World (published by Allen & Unwin, July 2020) is based on Otsuchi’s phone of the wind.

Yui lost her mother and daughter in the tsunami of 2011. Despite her grief she does what she can to carry on. After hearing about the phone in Otsuchi, she travels there. But she cannot pick up the phone and speak. But there Yui meets Takeshi, whose young daughter stopped talking when his wife died, and the two begin to form a bond.


Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead, by Emily Austin

Gilda, a woman in her late twenties, is a person with a few problems. She has a dread of death. She’s depressed. So much so she can’t deal with washing the dishes, showering, or even turning up for work. Unsurprisingly then she finds herself seeking another job, and is inadvertently hired as a receptionist at a Catholic church.

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead, by Emily Austin, book cover

But Gilda is not Catholic, nor is she even religious. She is also gay. In addition though to lying about who she is, and pretending to be familiar with the workings of the Church, she also becomes obsessed with her late predecessor, Grace. Certain her passing was no accident, Gilda commences her own investigation into Grace’s death.

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead, by Emily Austin, book cover

Could then Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead, (published by Allen & Unwin, August 2021) possibly have a more apt title? Early reviews for the debut novel of Canadian author Emily Austin look promising. Buzzfeed described it as “the perfect blend of macabre and funny“, while The Skinny found it “funny, dark and harrowing.”

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Redhead by the Side of the Road, by Anne Tyler

Redhead by the Side of the Road, by Anne Taylor, book cover

Now I’m judging books by their titles, but as a redhead, how could I go passed the latest novel by American author Anne Tyler: Redhead by the Side of the Road (published by Penguin Books Australia, 2021). The protagonist, forty-something Micah, is a creature of habit; you could set your watch by his routines.

By day he works as a freelance computer technician, and come evening looks after the apartment block he lives in. He has a woman friend, and turns in each night at ten o’clock. But when his better half tells him she’s about to be evicted from her place, and a teenage boy arrives at the door, saying he’s his son, Micah’s ordered life is plunged into turmoil.

From the little I’ve read about the book so far, it seems there’s no actual redhead character in the story, but best I say no more on the count. Coming in at about one hundred and seventy eight pages, Redhead by the Side of the Road is a shorter read though, which sometimes is exactly what you want.

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Common People, by Tony Birch

Common People, by Tony Birch, book cover

Common People (published by University of Queensland Press, July 2017), is a collection of short stories by award winning Australian author Tony Birch. Other of his works, including Blood was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2012, while The White Girl, was named winner of the 2020 NSW Premier’s Award for Indigenous Writing.

Through this collection of short stories, Birch casts a light on facets of day to day life most of us don’t see, or prefer to ignore. Birch’s characters are mainly Indigenous Australians who may find themselves on society’s fringes because of health, race, unemployment, or addition issues. But their lot is not hopeless, as they strive to persevere and overcome.

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Film of the last Tasmanian tiger colourised

The last thylacine, a carnivorous marsupial, usually known as the Tasmanian tiger, died in captivity in 1936 in Hobart’s zoo. Here’s footage filmed of Benjamin, as he was named, originally recorded in 1933, and recently colourised to mark National Threatened Species Day, earlier this week on Tuesday.

It’s horrifying to think Benjamin died as a result of neglect, locked out of a shelter overnight that would have offered him protection from the Apple Isle’s extremes of weather. The video pretty much says it all, in regards to his living conditions though.

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Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart

I’m loving Kristen Stewart’s work post The Twilight Saga. Clouds of Sils Maria, and Personal Shopper, are two stand-outs for me, but if the trailer/teaser for Spencer is any indication, it looks like she well and truly out does herself.

Set over three days at Sandringham, the Norfolk estate of the British royal family in 1991, Princess Diana makes the decision to end her marriage to Prince Charles, as she spends Christmas with her in-laws.

But Xan Brooks, writing for The Guardian, suggests Spencer may not be a film for monarchists:

No doubt it took an outsider to make a film that’s as un-reverential as Spencer, which dares to examine the royals as if they were specimens under glass. At heart, of course, Larraín and Knight’s tale is utterly preposterous. It’s a tragedy about a spoiled princess who lashes out at the servants; a thriller about a woman who has only 10 minutes to get into her dress before Christmas dinner is served. But how else do you play it? The monarchy itself is preposterous.

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Some suggested reading for September

A new-ish month, a new selection of suggested reading from the ABC Arts’ monthly book column. I’m liking the sounds of Things We See in the Light, by Sydney based Australian writer Amal Awad. Set in Sydney’s inner west, and loosely related to two of Awad’s earlier books, it tells the story of Sahar, who returns to Sydney after leaving her husband of eight years in Jordan. But it is an experience Sahar is reluctant to discuss with her friends, even as she becomes ever more settled in Sydney.

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Beautiful World, Where Are You, by Sally Rooney

Beautiful World, Where Are You (published by Faber/Allen & Unwin) is the third novel by Irish author Sally Rooney. Alice and Eileen are old friends who are young, but not that young. They often exchange long emails as they attempt to put the world to rights, and make sense of their love lives. Alice, a famous novelist, asks Felix, a warehouse worker, to accompany her on a holiday to Rome.

Beautiful World, Where Are You, by Sally Rooney, book cover

Eileen, a literary assistant, who lives in Dublin, has recently ended a relationship and has begun flirting with Simon, an old childhood friend. The two women haven’t seen each other in many years, so when they eventually meet face to face, they find their perceptions of each other – impressions generated by way of their email correspondences – are in sharp contrast to reality.

Beautiful World, Where Are You, by Sally Rooney, book cover

Oh to be a fly on the wall witnessing that meeting. Beautiful World, Where Are You has been published in two editions. The regular edition sports a blur cover, while the yellow cover book is a special edition hardback with a bonus short story. Another addition to the to-be-read list I think.

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The Man From Snowy River was Aboriginal: Anthony Sharwood

In his new book, The Brumby Wars, Australian journalist and radio and TV presenter Anthony Sharwood contends there is “overwhelming evidence” the subject of Banjo Patterson’s 1890 poem The Man from Snowy River, was Aboriginal.

Patterson’s iconic verse recounts the story of a lone rancher who succeeds in capturing a racehorse who had absconded with a herd of brumbies, or wild horses. Sharwood says only indigenous ranchers worked in the area where the poem is set.

He has studied the topography of the poem: “the pine-covered ridges,” the flint stones, the “ragged and craggy battlements” of Kosciuszko, and says they all point to the location of the poem around Byadbo in the New South. The Welsh side, not the Victorian. Byadbo is the only part of the mountains with “anything remotely resembling pine-covered ridges,” he writes, and the only place with flint rocks and jagged peaks, rather than smooth ones. If the trip happened there, it is an area where all the ranchers were indigenous, he says.

Sharwood believes Patterson presented the rancher as being of European descent to appease the literary tastes of the late nineteenth century.

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After Story, by Larissa Behrendt

After Story, by Larissa Behrendt, book cover

In After Story (published by University of Queensland Press, July 2021), the latest novel by Sydney based Australian author Larissa Behrendt, Jasmine, an Indigenous lawyer, is feeling rundown after an intense case. Della, her mother, meanwhile is struggling following the death of her aunt, and a former partner.

Jasmine believes it would do Della – who’s barely ventured beyond the small rural town where she lives – the world of good to go on an overseas holiday. An avid reader, Jasmine has always wanted to see the places where writers such as Jane Austen, and Virginia Woolf lived and worked, so they set off for England.

Jasmine has hopes the holiday will restore the somewhat neglected mother-daughter relationship. However the disappearance of a child in London’s Hampstead Heath, forces Jasmine and Della to relive the trauma the family suffered when Jasmine’s older sister vanished twenty-five years earlier.

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I Shot the Devil, by Ruth McIver

I Shot the Devil, by Ruth McIver, book cover

You know what they say about returning to your past, don’t you? Most people think it’s a bad idea. But for Erin Sloane, a crime reporter, the opportunity to write an investigative article about murders committed twenty-years ago, might be the career break she’s looking for. There’s a few problems though.

Erin knew of the two victims, while her father was one of the police officers who originally investigated the crime. Stories of devil worship and satanic killings were rife in the aftermath of the murders, and the case was eventually closed after police laid charges. But was that really the end of the matter?

It seems though Erin doesn’t quite realise how much she’s bitten off, in taking on the story. Dark secrets from the past, including many of hers, stand to be dragged into the light. Such is the premise of I Shot the Devil (published by Hachette Australia, September 2021), by Melbourne based author Ruth McIver.

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Stella Prize 2022

Along with a swish new website, and identity, the Stella Prize – which recognises the work of women writers in Australia – is open for entries for the 2022 award. For the first time the Prize is accepting works of poetry, in addition to fiction and non-fiction titles. The longlist will be announced on 3 March 2022, the shortlist a few weeks later on 31 March, with the winner being named on 28 April 2022.

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