2017 is shaping up to be filled with great literature, with many of Australia’s finest writers and literary award-winners releasing new books. Two such authors are Richard Flanagan, winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and Michelle de Kretser, winner of the 2013 Miles Franklin Literary Award for Questions of Travel. Booktopia’s Ben Hunter reviews their latest books.
Reviews by Ben Hunter
Ben Hunter: If you win the Man Booker prize, as Richard Flanagan has, there’s bound to be some serious pressure on you as you write your next novel. Everyone hates pressure, but some writers thrive on the stuff. First Person is certainly the novel of an author who’s thriving.
Kif Kehlmann is a destitute Tasmanian writer who dreams of becoming an author. Siegfried Heidl is a headline-making white collar conman who employs Kif, through a major publisher, to ghostwrite his autobiography. It’s a premise drawn from Flanagan’s own experience ghostwriting for real life con-man John Friedrich at the dawn of the 90s. Truth rings out from his description of the troubled publishing landscape of the time, sounding a pure comic note in an otherwise dark and psychological narrative.
Kehlmann is given six weeks to write his book and Heidl is doggedly determined to not give away any facts of his underworld life. Kehlmann is both naive and pure while his subject is a deeply corrupting force. Flanagan’s portrayal of Heidl seeping into the very core of Kehlmann makes for compelling reading.
Through First Person, Flanagan seriously questions the possibility of there being any truth in literature. It’s an engaging and timely conundrum to dwell on, and Flanagan’s intelligent writing makes it sparkle. This book shows that he’s every bit deserving of his accolades. Learn more.
Ben Hunter: We book fanatics talk excessively about the power of fiction to open our eyes to the world we live in – to inspire that change in our lives that self-help gurus keep telling us about. Read, we say. Read and become a better human. This is an aphorism I’ve willingly accepted, but it’s been months, perhaps even years, since I’ve felt the transformation happen in such an immediate and indisputable way.
Since reading The Life to Come I’ve started to see Sydney in a whole new light. The city is no longer just a destination for me, it’s also a waypoint. The poky and quirky suburbs I inhabit are not just made up of homes, roads and railway stations, but can now be seen as a kind of strange dream, something less tangible than I once thought. As a writer, de Kretser absorbs the space around her and makes clear to the reader just how much of it gets taken for granted.
Moving through Sydney, Paris and Sri Lanka, the novel spans years without dipping on exacting detail. A writer waits for “success” to come, a lover waits to feel loved and a survivor of conflict waits to feel alive again. While they wait, we reflect on the flaws of perception, on just how hard it is for us to see ourselves and our world as it presently is.
With supreme elegance, The Life to Come creeps up on the reader. Drunk on de Kretser’s wordplay and humour, I’d crash headfirst into deeply moving moments. Arriving at the end of the book, I only really wanted to read the thing again.
This is a real accomplishment in writing, and I’m thrilled to see it going out into the world. I encourage everyone to read it – read it more than once. Learn More.
About the Reviewer
Ben Hunter works at Booktopia as a web merchandiser and lives in Sydney’s Inner West. When he’s not reading or creating collections and emails for Booktopia, you’ll find him playing frisbee, eating pastries or watching Meg Ryan movies with his mum. He’s an avid recycler and a poor speller. He sometimes tweets @itsbenhunter.
About the Contributor
Tanaya has been a lover of books for as long as she can remember. Now, her book collection is a little out of control, mostly consisting of YA fiction and pretty hardcovers. When she’s not reading, she spends a lot of her time taking photos of books for her bookstagram account, @prettypagesblog. She also has a love of Disneyland, bullet journaling and cats.
Follow Tanaya: Twitter