Bound and gagged in a boot? That’s not cricket!

I defy anyone to read the first chapter of The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong and not be completely sucked in:

I’m wedged towards the rear corner, driver’s side, so close I can smell the hot plastics of the tail light… The cable ties are drawn tight around both wrists, cutting into the flesh… The feet, from whom I’ve heard nothing lately, must be in a similar predicament; more cable ties drawn around the ankles… My breath is hissing in and out of my nose, my mouth tightly taped.’

 

And there we find Darren, in the boot of a car, on the Geelong to Melbourne road, with a bullet in his right knee, and without any real sense of why he’s there. We traverse through his childhood, growing up in the working-class western suburbs of Melbourne with his brother and his mum, through his rise and fall as a career cricketer, then  back to where we started: a middle-aged man trapped in the boot of a car, with time running out.

I’m going to get straight to the point.  I LOVED THIS BOOK.

Review: The Magician’s Lie

When I did a quick google of ‘history of magic’, what struck me was: (1) every page was dominated by erstwhile male magicians and (2) I hadn’t heard of any of them (apart from Harry Houdini).  By turning a spotlight on travelling magicians at the turn of the twentieth century America, and then by making the central protagonist a young woman, The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister has crafted a unique story.

The opening chapter of this book is absorbing.  We quickly learn there has been a murder and we know that our heroine – the Amazing Arden, the famous female illusionist – is implicated. A local police officer brings her into custody and as he interrogates Arden over the course of one long night, we learn her backstory up to the point of the alleged murder of her husband.

The book provides some insight into this quite niche aspect of America’s cultural history, but at its heart The Magician’s Lie is a romance. If you like plot-driven novels, where the heroine is flawed but likeable, the historical context is a gentle backdrop rather than a character in it’s own right (like say A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald, rather than All The Light We Cannot See), the ending has an element of suspense but isn’t a huge surprise, the villain is sufficiently disturbing, and the romance takes a few nervous dips but eventually rights itself – this is the book for you.

The book has sold really well in the US, and I suspect its sales will continue to grow now it’s being distributed more widely. It’s also been optioned for a film, which if done well, could be a visual feast a la Moulin Rouge.

The Magician’s Lie would suit an easy read on a beach if you’re inclined to reside in the northern hemisphere, or, curled up on the couch, if you’re inhabiting somewhere south of the equator. Either option sounds pretty good to me.

 

I received a free copy of The Magician’s Lie from Legend Press, in exchange for an honest review.

Books I Intend to Read Really (Really) Soon

Unlike the other long lists I write (all the time; I am a list person), I’ve loved assembling this one.  It’s a list of the books that I intend to read really, really soon. Some of these might take your fancy too.

My intention is to lovingly curate this list and hopefully watch it dwindle. But it’s fine if it doesn’t. It means I’ve found other books that are equally enticing.

Deathly Dull: All the Beloved Ghosts

All the Beloved Ghosts by Alison MacLeod is a meditation on death. It’s a collection of short stories where sometimes the principal character is about to die, sometimes they’re evading death and sometimes they’re ruminating on the passing of others. There are moments of brilliance, for instance, the trilogy of short stories written in the voice of Anton Chekhov but largely, this book left me feeling underwhelmed.

For me, the highlight of the collection was Dreaming Diana: Twelve Frames. The opening sentence:

I can admit it now.  In 1981, I had the Lady Di.  I went to Wendy’s Hair Salon on the Bedford Highway and asked for the Lady Di… On my lap sat a picture of Diana at the London nursery where she worked… I emerged from the Salon looking like a boy.  A pageboy.

 

This made an immediate (and slightly embarrassing) connection with me.  In the early 80s, I too went into our local hair salon in Bathurst and asked for a haircut like Lady Di. Of course, no haircut, no matter how brilliant, was going to transform a chubby 7 year old into a radiant princess-to-be. I know that now.

‘It’s important to retain the humanity’: The Song of the Stork

Those who are fans of Charlie Brooker, and the Black Mirror series in particular, will know immediately which episode I’m referring to when I say the one about the ‘roaches’ (‘Men Against Fire‘).   I found this episode deeply troubling, not because it canvasses the potential brutality of the future, but because it evokes the present (the war on ‘terror’) and the immediate past – the holocaust.

Ary soldier holding machine gun
On the hunt in Black Mirror‘s ‘Men Against Fire’

This Black Mirror episode reverberated in my head as I read Stephan Collishaw‘s The Song of the Stork. There seemed many parallels between the book and Men Against Fire, sharing similar imagery (forests, ruined houses) and themes (brutality, empathy, survival).

Collishaw’s novel is set in the Suwalke Forest at the Polish/ Lithuanian border in the 1940s, just as Nazi Germany is rolling back the Russian Army.  As the German soldiers advance into this territory, they bring with them their genocidal assignment. Yael is at the centre of this story – a 15 year old Jewish girl who flukishly escapes the slaughter of her village by seeking sanctuary in the surrounding forest.  The novel traces her survival in the forest, her refuge with the village eccentric, Aleksei, and her collaboration with the Jewish partisans resisting the German advance.

The Song of the Stork is not a light read, but given it’s subject matter, it’s not bleak – and this is an important point of distinction between it and Black Mirror. The war and its atrocities are an evident backdrop but aren’t despairingly overwhelming.  There are splinters of hope, as well as moments of redemption. I spoke with Stephan about how he managed to steer this course, maintaining this balance between grim history and hope.