Books we like


by Natsuo Kirino: Vintage Press reprint edition 2005. ISBN 1400078377

Review by Terry Hastings

Natsuo Kirino’s novel Out is a slick and compelling piece of crime fiction that became an international bestseller. Be warned though! Readers will need strong stomachs to enter the darkly gruesome situations Kirino depicts. The book’s central characters are four women friends who work at night in a factory making boxed lunches or bento. Travellers to Japan will be familiar with the bento sold at railway stations and convenience stores throughout the country but may be unaware that they are produced on assembly lines under stultifying and demeaning conditions. It’s no wonder the workers want out.  

Kirino’s characters see an opportunity to break free but are then drawn into a chilling criminal underworld from which they cannot escape. Although the plot seems at first unbelievable, the intricate psychological studies of personalities and motives soon convince us it is credible. As tension builds, friendships fall apart and we are driven to a strangely satisfying conclusion.

Out can mean many things: the attempts of the women to escape their stifling, unfulfilling lives; the discoveries that shift them from suburban housewives into an outer world of criminality and maybe the wider exposure of the problems of ordinary women in contemporary Japanese society. It’s been called ‘slow, relentless, banal and gleefully grisly’ but it is guaranteed to appall and absorb.


Yodelling Cowboy Riders: country music in Australia since 1920

by Toby Martin: MUP Lyrebird Press, 2015. ISBN 9780734037787

Review by Ranee Mischlewski

There are four things I’ve always wanted to do: tap-dance, speak Italian, play the ukulele and yodel – not all at once. I tried and failed the first three. My mother could yodel but I didn’t inherit the gene. When I heard Toby Martin interviewed about his book on ABC RN ‘The drawing room’ I decided that the next best thing was to read a book about it.

Now before urban intellectual snobs dismiss a book on such a topic, three things should be known. Toby Martin, historian, writer and musician began the book as his Ph. D. thesis. He is the nephew of Australian poet David Martin. Thirdly in the index are names such as Marcus Clark, CJ Dennis, Wendy Lowenstein, Humphrey McQueen, Hal Stewart and Russel Ward – along with Slim Dusty, Tex Morton, Chad Morgan and the Schneider Sisters. The National Library assigns it two music history subject headings and the heading: Australia social life and customs – 20th century.

Martin examines the way ‘hillbilly’ later ‘country’ music fits into the broader history of Australian social history. While the genre came from the United States, along with the cowboy outfits, Australians adapted it to the Australian setting.  Martin examines the role of ‘authenticity’ and how it reflects on our adaptation to change in modern life. I was delighted to read of the music’s possible connection with subversion and jazz.

The book is very readable, engaging and entertaining while being thorough and scholarly. It will appeal to anyone who grew up with the Lone Ranger, Smokey Dawson and Tarzan as their wireless heroes. (Come to think of it Tarzan did yodel didn’t he?)

 So until we meet  on that lonesome trail or down in that little valley, amigos – ciaou ..aloha...


Point Counter Point

by Aldous Huxley: 1996 editionDalkey Archive Press (first published 1928)

Review by Lea Weaver

Historically interesting in its structure, Huxley plays with picking up and putting down the story from the various viewpoints of the characters. I found this a bit 

disorientating at first, as when a character is ditched and a totally unrelated scene unfolds. Sometimes a character is abandoned for long periods of time; 

however, it comes together in the end. There are memorable characters, like Lucy Tantamount, the spoilt larger than life rich girl who heartlessly bonks 

whoever takes her fancy at the moment, regardless of the emotional mayhem she leaves in her wake; Illich, full of class resentment; Wembley, with his fascist 

leanings, and many others, based on actual characters of the time, and of this clique. It is an interesting story structure, becoming clear at the end, and also 

hilariously funny. I found it difficult to have any empathy with this menagerie of reprehensible or weak and pathetic individuals in the beginning, but read to the end, dear reader, and you will be rewarded not only by the neat tie-up of events, but of mirth amid the abysmal and the tragic. This is a spoiler, but I must make mention of the kick up the bum landed on one of the protagonists by a corpse.


From the outer: footy like you’ve never heard it

Edited by Alicia Sometimes and Nicola Hayes: Black Inc., 2016 ISBN 978186395828

Review by Ranee Mischlewski

Thank goodness I did not judge this book by the cover illustrated by cartoonist Oslo Davis. At first glance one might think the tone of this collection of footy anecdotes would be light, sporty,  blokey  –  but not reflective.  I saw the book advertised in an emailed newsletter from Hill of Content Bookshop. At the time I was looking for a birthday gift for an “arty but down-to-earth” relative (Tigers tragic) The theme and the price ($29.95) seemed right.

This book ”brings together 30 personal stories about Aussie Rules from unexpected voices: those who are female, Indigenous or gay; those with a disability, a foreign accent or even – most dubious of all – literary leanings”.  I repeat LITERARY LEANINGS.

The contributors include: Sophie Cunningham, Sam Pang, Angela Pippos, Christos Tsiolkas, Catherine Deveny, Stan Grant  -  among the 34 authors, some well known and some not familiar.

Because the book was to be gift I could just have a peek read. The book fell open at Leila Gurruwiwi of the Marngrook TV show. Her football story  is told in the context of her family story as is the story ‘How to love football’ by Anna Spargo-Ryan who relates her relationship with her grandfather through football coverage experiences. In ‘The blazer’ Van Badham movingly describes how her mother finds in football, as a grieving widow, “a safe place to put those emotions, from exuberance to anxiety, from disappointment to overwhelming human joy”.

I couldn’t read much more. I would have cracked the spine and splayed the pages of a book meant to be wrapped as a gift. I think I need to buy another copy for myself. Again, pity about the cover.  On the other hand  –  I think people who expect simple ‘footy anecdotes’ because of the cover, will be unexpectedly moved and find themselves reading authors they may otherwise have never chosen. By the way, I otherwise love Oslo Davis’ cartoons and drawings. I just think the cover is misleading.


The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific

by J. Maarten Troost: Broadway Books, 2004 ISBN 0-7679-1530-5)

Review by Terry Hastings

The first observation about this travelogue is that it has nothing to do with either sex or cannibals. Its provocative title seems just a ruse to excite interest. However, this engaging narrative about the two years the author and his girlfriend Sylvia spent on tiny Tarawa atoll in Kiribati is worth far more than a skim. It is a highly amusing and rollicking account of life in one of the most remote parts of the Central Pacific.

When Sylvia is posted to Kiribati to work with a NGO, Troost decides to go along with her expecting to land in an idyllic tropical paradise. Instead he encounters polluted waters, poor sanitation, ineffective government and risky transport services by air and sea between various islands. Being only a few degrees north of the equator, Tarawa is intensely hot and suffers frequent droughts. There is little agriculture, a burgeoning population and a very high unemployment rate.

To describe his experiences as culture shock is a total understatement. As an American boy brought up in comfort and leading a self-indulgent lifestyle, Troost now has to make some rapid adjustments. He endures the sheer tedium of life on Tarawa by transforming his life completely. However his great sense of humour and enormous patience help to sustain him.

Living in a thinly constructed thatched dwelling provides very little privacy and the author spends considerable time chasing away locals keen to observe his domestic life and pigs marauding through the little vegetable garden he tries to establish. The surrounding ocean provides the islanders’ staple diet of fish and Troost describes the ways he tries to make them interesting and palatable, either ‘raw or boiled’.

This book is unlikely to encourage tourists to visit Kiribati but it does provide some amusing insights into a poorly known part of the planet. It also gives an interesting account of Kiribati history and makes thoughtful observations about the islands’ many problems and the role of foreign governments and NGOs in their future development.