The 11 Best Books Of 2018 To Binge On Over Summer
It’s that time of year when inland towns and cities across Australia empty and holiday-makers head to the coast. It’s also time to find the perfect beach read.
This year some cracking books have been released from exciting debut authors, award-winning international writers and Aussie favourites.
Here are some of the best from the past year (and a bit).
1. Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
Trent Dalton’s debut novel about crime in suburban Brisbane somehow manages to combine a heart-warming story of family loyalty with heart-stopping action. Both funny and complex, it is the story of a boy who grows up among Brisbane’s underworld. One of his best friends is a notorious prison escapee, while his own family members have battled their own demons. Boy Swallows Universe explores the nature of good and evil, while remaining a thoroughly enjoyable read.
2. Less by Andrew Sean Greer
About to turn 50 and invited to the wedding of his ex, writer Arthur Less embarks on a round-the-world trip that allows him to avoid celebrating both the nuptials and his own milestone birthday. And so begins an adventure that exposes the absurdities of the writer's life, but also proves to be a voyage of self-discovery. While it is a novel about literary ambition, the experiences of Less are familiar to anyone who has felt hopeful, humbled or humiliated. Written with a light touch and humour, Less is surprisingly wise and thought-provoking.
3. The Last Mrs Parrish by Liv Constantine
To the struggling Amber Patterson, the Parrishes look like the perfect couple. Rich and gorgeous, they have everything that Amber wants, and so she sets out on a devious quest to get them for herself. The characters in the book, from the suave Jackson to the beautiful Daphne, are fascinating, while it is fascinating to read about their decadent lifestyles of privilege. However, The Last Mrs Parrish isn’t as light as it first appears, and it tackles bigger questions, revealing that people aren’t always what they seem. Prepare yourself for a twist at the end that is both sweet and satisfying.
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4. Circe by Madeline Miller
If you combine a fascinating ancient classic with modern language and contemporary feminist perspectives you get Madeline Miller’s Circe. Inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, Miller’s book is a modern retelling that centres on the experience of Circe, a witch who was a peripheral character in the original story. Miller has said that, in writing Circe, she wanted to redress the imbalance between the traditionally heroic male characters and the often sidelined women in ancient classics. It is not just a political statement, but also a hugely enjoyable read.
5. Kudos by Rachel Cusk
Kudos is the third in a trilogy of books by Rachel Cusk, but can be read alone. Written in what is considered a ground-breaking style, Cusk introduces the reader to a stream of people who confide in the writer, telling stories of shame and betrayal. One man tells of his response to the death of his family’s beloved pet, while a woman at a writer’s festival speaks of her guilty response to a loved one’s marriage breakdown. Reading Kudos is like eavesdropping as people tell of life-changing events in their lives, as Cusk brings a sense of intimacy to her writing.
6. Wimmera by Mark Brandi
The Australian summer has never been as chilling as in Mark Brandi’s Wimmera. The story, set in 1989, centres on two boys who are growing up in what might seem like an idyllic country town, if not for the darkness that lies beneath the scorching bitumen. Wimmera won the 2018 Debut Fiction Award in the Indie Book Awards, and is part of a renaissance in Australian crime fiction. However, the crime in the book is only part of the story -- it is really the story of two boys growing up in a country town, and the impact a mysterious newcomer makes on their lives.
7. Nevermoor and Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend
Like the Harry Potter series before it, Nevermoor and its sequel, Wundersmith, are aimed at young readers, but are just as enjoyable for adults. The stories centre on the experiences of Morrigan Crow, who leaves a world in which she was considered to be cursed, for a magical land in which she faces new trials, but also discovers the joys of love and friendship for the first time. Written by young Australian writer Jessica Townsend, Nevermoor was named Book of the Year 2018 in the Indie Book Awards.
8. Normal People by Sally Rooney
This year’s international IT book, Normal People was longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize. Set in Dublin, it is the story of two people, Connell and Marianne, who engage in an on and off relationship between teens through to adulthood. It explores class, mental illness, friendship and loneliness in a way that is intimate and at times, extremely moving. Described in The Guardian as a ‘future classic’, Normal People is a book very much of our time, with its references to the life of the young in a digital world, but also timeless in its portrayal of the complexity of relationships.
9. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
It is hard to go past Liane Moriarty if you are looking for an entertaining beach read that is impossible to put down. Her latest, Nine Perfect Strangers, is set at a health retreat, Tranquillum House, where the nine city dwellers of the title meet. Some are at the retreat to find healing, while others aim to transform themselves. Overseeing their stay is the resort’s director, who will go to great lengths to ensure guests experience a life-changing stay. As always, Moriarty combines familiar and likeable personalities with a storyline that is full of unexpected twists and turns. Yet again, Moriarty shows why she is one of the most popular writers in Australia.
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10. Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin
Readers who are looking for a book that will make them think over the holidays would be wise to consider reading Maria Tumarkin’s Axiomatic. The winner of the Best Writing Award in the 2018 Melbourne Prize for Literature, the non-fiction Axiomatic involves is a meditation on themes including suicide, drug addiction and the Holocaust, written using elements of storytelling, reportage, essay. In one story, Tumarkin writes about a grandmother jailed for kidnapping her son, while in another, she uncovers the lifelong impact of youth suicide on the families left behind. Axiomatic reveals the complicated lives of those who struggle to survive tragedy or life in the margins. Like the best non-fiction, it is both moving and eye-opening.
11. The Geography of Friendship by Sally Piper
Australian writer Sally Piper explores the nature of friendship and fear in her new book, The Geography of Friendship. The story centres on a group of friends who come back into each other’s lives to retrace a journey that they made when they were younger. During the bushwalk, the friends attempt to bridge the years that have come between them, which reminds the friends of what they owe each other, but also reignites old experiences of fear and shame. The characters are complex and real, and Piper manages to evoke an Australian landscape that is both eerily isolated and richly beautiful. Beware, it might be difficult to take quite as light-hearted an approach to bushwalking after reading The Geography of Friendship.