Laura Kroetsch is director of Adelaide Writers' Week and Kate De Goldi is a fiction writer and book reviewer.
The pair discuss their three favourite fiction and nonfiction books of 2017 with Kim Hill.
Laura Kroetsch's fiction picks:
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
Turtle Alveston is a survivor. At fourteen, she roams the woods along the northern California coast. The creeks, tide pools, and rocky islands are her haunts and her hiding grounds, and she is known to wander for miles. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school (where she fends off the interest of anyone, student or teacher, who might penetrate her shell) and to her life with her father. Then Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house, and looks at Turtle as if she is the sunrise. And for the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus: her life with Martin is neither safe nor sustainable. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her. What follows is a harrowing story of bravery and redemption - Riverhead Books.
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Freshly disengaged from her fiancé and feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job, leaves town and arrives at her parents’ home to find that situation more complicated than she'd realized. Her father, a prominent history professor, is losing his memory and is only erratically lucid. Ruth’s mother, meanwhile, is lucidly erratic. But as Ruth's father’s condition intensifies, the comedy in her situation takes hold, gently transforming her all her grief. Goodbye, Vitamin pilots through the loss, love, and absurdity of finding one’s footing in this life - Henry Holt and Co.
Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne
On a hike during a white-hot summer break on the Greek island of Hydra, Naomi and Samantha make a startling discovery: a man named Faoud, sleeping heavily, exposed to the elements, but still alive. Naomi, the daughter of a wealthy British art collector who has owned a villa in the exclusive hills for decades, convinces Sam, a younger American girl on vacation with her family, to help this stranger. As the two women learn more about the man, a migrant from Syria and a casualty of the crisis raging across the Aegean Sea, their own burgeoning friendship intensifies. But when their seemingly simple plan to help Faoud unravels all must face the horrific consequences they have set in motion.
Lawrence Osborne explores the dark heart of friendship, and shows just how often the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions - Hogarth.
Laura Kroetsch's non-fiction picks:
The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes―the moment she hears him speak of his crimes―she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar. Crime, even the darkest and most unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alexandria pores over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colors her view of Ricky's crime. But another surprise awaits: She wasn’t the only one who saw her life in Ricky’s - Flatiron Books.
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
The childhood of Patricia Lockwood, the poet dubbed "The Smutty-Metaphor Queen of Lawrence, Kansas" by The New York Times, was unusual in many respects. There was the location: an impoverished, nuclear waste-riddled area of the American Midwest. There was her mother, a woman who speaks almost entirely in strange koans and warnings of impending danger. Above all, there was her gun-toting, guitar-riffing, frequently semi-naked father, who underwent a religious conversion on a submarine and discovered a loophole which saw him approved for the Catholic priesthood by the future Pope Benedict XVI - despite already having a wife and children. When the expense of a medical procedure forces the 30-year-old Patricia to move back in with her parents, husband in tow, she must learn to live again with her family's simmering madness, and to reckon with the dark side of a childhood spent in the bosom of the Catholic Church. Told with the comic sensibility of a brasher, bluer Waugh or Wodehouse, this is at the same time a lyrical and affecting story of how, having ventured into the underworld, we can emerge with our levity and our sense of justice intact - Riverhead Books.
Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird
Queen Victoria is long dead, but in truth she has shaped us from the grave. She was a tiny, powerful woman who reigned for an astonishing 64 years. By the time of her Diamond Jubilee Procession in 1897, she reigned over a fourth of the inhabitable part of the world, had 400 million subjects, and had given birth to nine children. Suffrage, anti-poverty and anti-slavery movements can all be traced to her monumental reign, along with a profound rethinking of family life and the rise of religious doubt. When she died, in 1901, she was the longest reigning monarch in English history. Victoria is truly the woman who made the modern world - Random House.
Kate De Goldi's fiction picks:
Miss Jane by Brad Watson
Inspired by the true story of his own great-aunt, Watson explores the life of Miss Jane Chisolm, born in rural, early-twentieth-century Mississippi with a genital birth defect that would stand in the way of the central “uses” for a woman in that time and place - namely, sex and marriage. From the country doctor who adopts Jane to the hard tactile labor of farm life, from the highly erotic world of nature around her to the boy who loved but was forced to leave her, the world of Miss Jane Chisolm is anything but barren. Free to satisfy only herself, she mesmerizes those around her, exerting an unearthly fascination that lives beyond her still - W.W. Norton and Company
Wisdom Tree by Nick Earls
Together these novellas create a 21st-century world in which five families struggle and resolve the tension of our time: balancing the desire for fame and fortune with the obligations and responsibility, and the love to be found in everyday family life. Subtly linked, Wisdom Tree explores how humans relate to one another - what makes a family, what makes us human. Each book satisfies, while drawing readers toward a big ‘a-ah’ in the closing moments of novella #5 Noho - Inkerman & Blunt.
The Explorer by Katherine Rundell
Fred, Con, Lila, and Max are on their way back to England from Manaus when the plane they’re on crashes and the pilot dies upon landing. For days they survive alone, until Fred finds a map that leads them to a ruined city, and to a secret - Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Kate De Goldi's non-fiction picks:
The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay & Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein
Before she was a trauma cleaner, Sandra Pankhurst was many things: husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, trophy wife. . . But as a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home, she just wanted to belong. Now she believes her clients deserve no less. A woman who sleeps among garbage she has not put out for forty years. A man who bled quietly to death in his living room. A woman who lives with rats, random debris and terrified delusion. The still life of a home vacated by accidental overdose - St Martin's Press.
East West Street: On the Origins of "Genocide" and "Crimes Against Humanity" by Philippe Sands
East West Street looks at the personal and intellectual evolution of the two men who simultaneously originated the ideas of “genocide” and “crimes against humanity,” both of whom, not knowing the other, studied at the same university with the same professors, in a city little known today that was a major cultural center of Europe, “the little Paris of Ukraine,” a city variously called Lemberg, Lwów, Lvov, or Lviv. It begins in 2010 and moves backward and forward in time, from the present day to twentieth-century Poland, France, Germany, England, and America, ending in the courtroom of the Palace of Justice at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg in 1945 - Alfred A Knopf.
Hard Frost: Structures of Feeling in New Zealand Literature, 1908 -1945 by John Newton
How did New Zealand writers make nationalism out of modernism? What did the process owe to a revolution in sexuality? And what did this mean for writing by women as the 1920s gave way to the 1930s? Writing as a poet as well as a historian, as a critic of ideology, and as a self-confessed fan of the nationalist legacy, John Newton tackles these intriguing questions with warmth, insight and critical precision. The first part of an ambitious trilogy, Hard Frost shows us a fresh way of looking at New Zealand literature of the 20th century. It details the pleasures of essential texts. It also roams far and wide through their contexts: from mountaineering to moa excavation, from beauty pageants to the history of psychoanalysis. In readings of such foundational authors as Mansfield, Sargeson, Curnow and Hyde, Hard Frost proposes that our literary history is not just a story about books but a forgotten history of feelings. We know these writers well, yet they have so much still to tell us - Victoria University Press.