Alison’s Picks – February

 

Peace by Garry Disher. The title is of course ironic, because Constable Paul Hirschhausen, manning a small police station in country South Australia, is pretty much run off his feet. The nature of country policing is that, if you don’t know everyone, you know someone who does. Hirsch, while trying to have quality time with his understanding girlfriend, finds himself investigating several apparently unrelated crimes and misdemeanours. They lead us down absorbing rabbit-holes, but am I going to elaborate on them? No – because what shines in this novel is a finely-tuned understanding of the rich array of characters to be found in an Australian country town, and the texture of their relationships. What also shines is Disher’s poetic grasp of the landscape his characters live in. His sparse prose mirrors the landscape, and sends me running to Google Maps to see for myself that country north-east of Adelaide and the Barossa. “Crime-novel” is just one of this book’s identities. It has more.

 

Helen Garner: Yellow Notebook Volume 1.  She’s a seminal voice in Australian literature, I read most of what she writes, and now here are her diaries, edited for publication. But still an act of ultimate bravery! Who among us diarists would strap ourselves to the examination table in this way? I love the fact that she has though, because I think what we value in Garner’s work is that unstinting truthfulness, that far-seeing eye, that readiness to chuckle at human oddity – and fierce integrity combined with self-judging humility. It’s a singular voice – and I feel larger in spirit by seeing the world through her gaze. However, a caution: if you’re looking for narrative drive, sequential action, don’t come here. That’s not what she’s about in this first Yellow Notebook. She selects fragments – some little scraps of poetry, some funny exchanges, some reflections, some pithy character studies. Her language – so crisp and precise! And when you finish the book, the air seems to ring differently.

 

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