Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter by Lizzie Pook

Set in and around Bannin Bay in Western Australia in the late 1800s, Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter follows the journey of young Eliza Brightwell as she goes in search of her father who disappeared from his pearling vessel the night before he was due back on land.

Eliza came with her family to Bannin Bay when she was still a child. Her father came to make his fortune. A kind man, he encourages her to investigate the new land they live in and arranged for Eliza to learn the land and creatures from a native man now accused of her father’s murder.

Is her father really dead? Can any pearler truly be kind? Who can she trust in this hard, hot world?

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Life Ceremony by Sayaka Murata

This is a really thought-provoking collection. Sayaka Murata has a way of shifting the ground beneath your feet without you really noticing. Suddenly you look around the fictional landscape and realise it works in ways you really hadn’t considered and these ways reflect on the real landscape and make you question your assumptions there too.

Most of the stories have domestic settings that look at the finer details of relationships between couples, close family, friends and coworkers. What humans eat, wear, fuck and what is considered normal or acceptable, is Murata’s territory, from a world in which people are turned in useful objects at their death – ‘A First Rate Material’ – , to a world in which it is normal to eat the flesh of the recently departed as part of a life ceremony in which the old life gives birth to the new as people couple off and copulate in the streets – ‘Life Ceremony’ – every story introduces an element of the unfamiliar into the meticulously observed detail of daily life. It is the stories that humans tell that justify their behaviors and make them acceptable to others. We can understand how children might care for a dog that is really a middle-aged salaryman (‘Poochie’) but can we understand grown-ups admiring human bone wedding rings (‘A First Rate Material’), or two women living together and bringing up children as friends, not lovers (‘Two’s Family’)? Where does our ability to accept cultural shifts end? What is reality?

This investigation of shared truth is one that I delight in.

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Companion Piece by Ali Smith

I loved this book. With all the hallmarks of Ali Smith – word play, interpretive attention, great dialogue, a sense of shifting times and a re envisioned female history – Companion Piece felt exactly like its title; it offered a sense of companionship, a book that stretches out its hand in greeting to its reader. I wouldn’t say that I’m naturally drawn to reading fiction that deals head on with the pandemic, but this novel somehow achieves a straightforward depiction that tugs at the sense of unmooring it unleashed without trying to offer the kind of historical perspective it would be very hard to give when we are still enmeshed in its effects.

Everyone comes to Sandy for stories, for interpretations. As she worries about her hospitalised father to get better, occasionally able to visit, often speaking to him through the internet with kind nurses holding up a screen in the hospital where her father was lucky enough to get a bed in a cupboard, an old acquaintance from university rings her up out of the blue. Sandy has to stretch her memory to unearth this acquaintance who once came to her for her interpreting an e. e. cummings’ poem. Martina has called her because she can think of no one else able to untangle her recent experience as she was transporting the famous Boothby Lock to the museum she works for.

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A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers

The protagonist and narrator of A Certain Hunger is a sassy, female serial killer and food critic who likes to eat her kills. In a sense there is very little more I need to say. 

She is writing from prison. Slowly she reveals the reasons and methods of her murders, along with some sumptuous writing about food.

I have no doubt that the book will sell incredibly well, but it wasn’t really for me. It is salacious. It does exactly what it sets out to do and it is fast-paced. If the description tickles, you’ll know if it’s for you. 

I’ll be reviewing Companion Piece by Ali Smith next.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursual K. Le Guin

Genly Ai is an ambassador, an envoy from a confederation of planets and peoples, the Ekumen. He has been sent down to the planet, Gethen, to see if they will join the Ekumen. 

It is a winter world, cold and alien to Genly who nonetheless almost blends in with the humanoids. He has learnt their languages. He is learning about their cultures.

The novel is a famous, classic of science fiction, mostly because the people of Gethen are genderless. They only develop female or male sexual traits at the peak of their sexual cycle and do not always become one over the other, meaning that they can both father children and gestate and birth them. When not at that point in their cycle, they do not engage in sexual intimacy.

Of course, the novel isn’t just about gender and sex, it is about cultural misunderstanding, the weight of preconceptions, the wheels of power and politics, and the trust and honesty required for love.

It is a dense book that would reward multiple readings. It has all the joys of Le Guin’s ability to invent alternative mythology and legend. Inventive, awkward and provocative. It is a book that lingers in the mind. As well as politics and philosophy, there is adventure and a long journey across an extreme winter landscape. The wild fantasies of interstellar travel are brought down into the minutiae of food rationing and frostbite. I hope I will return to it.

I’ll be reading A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers next.