The Lifted Brow Review of Books – All the Books We Reviewed in 2016


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Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles (Harper Collins), reviewed by Emma Marie Jones

Like okay, imagine reality’s a piece of paper folded in half and the gaze pierces it right through the middle then you open it and there are two holes—which hole’s the truth? Writing’s an act of witnessing that folds the piece of paper back in half again. The truth and fiction are two different holes but when you line them up and look through both at once you see exactly the same thing. Eileen Myles’s Chelsea Girls, I think, is kind of like that.


Quicksand by Steve Toltz (Hamish Hamilton), reviewed by Sofia Softky

Each character in Quicksand, even minor ones, face uniquely traumatic circumstances, from miscarriage to debt, which only alienate them from each other rather than serving as bonds of commiseration. Everybody suffers, but we all suffer alone.


Dodge Rose by Jack Cox (Text Publishing), reviewed by Madeleine Watts

Dodge Rose doesn’t read like it was written for anybody. This is not to say that books should pander to readers, but at some point in the publishing process the reader needs to enter into the equation. The reader, here, has not been much considered, and so at times I found myself wondering why exactly I was reading what I was reading.


When the Sick Rule the World by Dodie Bellamy (MIT Press), reviewed by Fiona Wright

Dodie Bellamy says the sick are sympathetic, and she names them, Sick Bonnie, Sick Catherine, Sick Rhonda, Sick Nina, Sick Tom. The sick live in vans and trailers and tents and move around the country, trying to avoid pesticides and electromagnetic fields, exhaust fumes and burning wood.


A Murder Without Motive by Martin McKenzie-Murray (Scribe), reviewed by Zoë Barron

Even though the author is predictable in his sympathies and self-professed subjectivities, we’re given more than a murder trial and the grisly description of the night in question. The book gives us access to the otherwise inaccessible culture from which such a crime could spring.


Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down (Text Publishing), reviewed by Dominic Amerena

Formally, Our Magic Hour is not what we might call an ‘ambitious’ book. It’s not tricky or meta or avant. It doesn’t ask ‘big questions’ about what a novel can do. But in the age of autofiction, where novels reads like essays or tell-all memoirs, where the self is the only acceptable subject, Down’s supple social realism has a vitality and energy to it.


Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner (Text Publishing), reviewed by Jennifer Down

Plenty of us are fascinated by human ugliness. It is Garner’s ability to frame it so shrewdly, but without appearing voyeuristic or moralising, that sets her apart.


How to Set a Fire and Why by Jesse Ball (Text Publishing), reviewed by Chris Somerville

Much of the pleasure of reading How to Set a Fire and Why is in trying to work out what’s going on. Lucia spends a lot of the book telling us things while also telling us nothing. It’s a trick, but a very good trick.


A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe (University of Queensland Press), reviewed by Chloë Reeson

In A Loving, Faithful Animal avoiding talking about the real issue becomes its own language. Rowe’s book moves with the determined pace and slowing inertia of a pushbike reaching the crest of a hill.


The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (Text Publishing), reviewed by Lou Spence

Nelson writes the body into the text at every turn … Nelson places these experiences next to each other in juxtapositions that would seem obvious if she weren’t so good at extracting nuance every time.


She Woke and Rose by Autumn Royal (Cordite Press), reviewed by a.j. carruthers

ARoyal’s lyrical emoting and sentiment feels contemporary in its ambience and texture. The texture also of a certain kind of grape; the skin of the Autumn Royal.


Fireflies Issue #3 edited by Annabel Brady-Brown and Giovanni Marchini Camia, reviewed by Tara Judah

Though it offers itself up as an object of beauty that one could dip in and out of like a bag of corn chips, its mashable joys can only really be experienced if consumed in one go.


Napoleon’s Roads by David Brooks (University of Queensland Press), reviewed by Scott Esposito

If we could pick just one thread to link these remarkably diverse stories penned over a decade and assembled here, Brooks’s fourth story collection, it would be this: the frequent invocation of maps as a metaphor for the writerly and readerly task, fiction as cartography for the reader to explore.


The Vegetarian by Han Kang (Portobello Books), reviewed by James Butler

Kang’s novel is told in three parts, each tracing the violations done to Yeong-hye’s body by herself and others. Her vegetarianism disgraces her husband and family and her behaviour becomes so erratic that she is institutionalised.


Zero K by Don DeLillo (Pan Macmillan), reviewed by Justin Wolfers

The world is collapsing, monks burning themselves, ravaged cities, guerrilla war, but this Mecca reduces the outside world to a concept: something to be screened, pondered, pitied in a distant way, but not directly experienced – there aren’t even seasons here, or a notable difference between day and night.


Wasted: A Story of Alcohol, Grief and a Death in Brisbane by Elspeth Muir (Text Publishing), reviewed by Jenny Valentish

In her research-memoir hybrid, Wasted: a Story of Alcohol, Grief and a Death in Brisbane, Elspeth Muir sifts through her own tattered consciousness, hunting for what has been lost. Her younger brother Alexander may well have been in a blackout himself when he left his clothes in a pile on Brisbane’s Story Bridge and either jumped or fell.


The Bricks That Built the Houses by Kate Tempest (Bloomsbury Circus), reviewed by Carody Culver

Tempest’s plot is skeleton-fragile, and in a way, this doesn’t matter as much as it should – her words are so compelling, so able to conjure imagery that’s both apt and surprising, that you can forgive the narrative walking with a limp.


The Memory Artist by Katherine Brabon (Allen and Unwin), reviewed by Khalid Warsame

The realism here isn’t Russian, after all, it’s Australian: the scenes are slow, intimate, and the imperiousness of the Russian landscape is given a slightly alien undertone in Brabon’s rendering that seems more of-the-colony than of-the-steppe.


Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich (Text Publishing), reviewed by Katherine Brabon

In many ways Alexievich has enabled generations to see a vanished life and a troubled present.


Cities I’ve Never Lived In by Sara Majka (Graywolf Press), reviewed by Madelaine Lucas

These are stories that dwell in liminal space and unfold in places of in-between: off-season beach houses, soup kitchens, deserted towns, and borrowed rooms. Places nobody would call home.


Comfort Food by Ellen Van Neerven (University of Queensland Press), reviewed by Omar Sakr

These lines play on a duality of time, so the collection becomes not just a record of the loss that has already occurred but of loss yet to come. We can’t afford to lose the present or the past, the living or the dead, and that means sharing our stories, our food, our love and tradition – or at least that which hasn’t already been swept away.


If We All Spat At Once They’d Drown: Drawings About Class edited by Sam Wallman, reviewed by Jessica Ison

This collection makes sure that it is available to workers, and not in that horrible, patronising way that middle-class people love to do. That whole slow voice, dumbing down thing they do. It is accessible because it is real. And it has to be. Because the working class can sniff out bullshit quicker than anyone.


So Sad Today by Melissa Broder (Scribe), reviewed by Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen

The titles of the essays are complete stories in themselves: ‘One Text Is Too Many and a Thousand Are Never Enough’; ‘The Terror in My Heart Says Hi’; ‘Keep Your Friends Close but Your Anxiety Closer.’ Counting her neuroses like stars, Broder deftly captures the zeitgeist of disaffected bourgeois femininity in the digital age. It’s frequently self-indulgent, but that’s the point: if the personal is political, if anger can be used as a weapon, why can’t sadness be a weapon, too—a middle finger to the idea that women showing emotion makes them weak?


The Love of a Bad Man by Laura Elizabeth Woollett (Scribe), reviewed by Veronica Sullivan

The inherent solipsism of romantic relationships is magnified by the skewed morals of Woollett’s characters (and often, implicitly, their mental illnesses). The narrators’ obsessions with how the men make them feel often eclipses the magnitude and significance of their crimes.


Rebellious Daughters edited by Maria Katsonis and Lee Koffman (Simon and Schuster), reviewed by Angela Serrano

Many of the pieces here felt like responses to a thesis statement for a university essay, attempts to demonstrate rebellious daughterhoods rather than enquiring into what is so interesting about female sexual rebelliousness in particular, and why or whether Sex The Parents Don’t Approve Of is the best or only way to become an independent Australian woman.


Grant and I by Robert Forster (Penguin), reviewed by David Nichols

Forster is rightly proud of The Go-Betweens’ legacy, not least because it is the consequence of his and McLennan’s single-minded purposefulness. As artists, they sought to describe their emotional environments honestly. With minor missteps that only highlight their dedication they followed a course which was more meaningful than a mere career, or a means to an end.


The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride (Text Publishing), reviewed by Ella Cattach

The Lesser Bohemians lays open the logic of two subjectivities, joining together their material in very different ways – though here they are not strangers destined to cross paths, but strange lovers who hurtle towards devastating transparency before each other.


Surveys by Natasha Stagg (MIT Press), reviewed by Emma Marie Jones

Stagg theorises that in the age of social media, nobody can be interested in the internet for the internet’s sake. Interest in the internet can only be self-interest, even subconsciously … Colleen’s like, “Even in a moment of distilled pleasure … I thought about how I could distill it further, with a photo or a text, and felt guilty for that.”


After the Carnage by Tara June Winch (University of Queensland Press), reviewed by Jennifer Down

These stories seem to finish on an inhale. When Winch pauses at the moment of clarity, or doom, or hesitation, her characters are suspended there. It is like a sharp suck of breath. The collection opens with ‘Wager’, and this cracking sentence: “By morning someone would die, but at that moment I couldn’t have known.”


The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke (Hachette), reviewed by Stephen Pham

The Hate Race stresses the urgency of recognition, validation, and vocalisation when it comes to the ephemeral shadows cast by whiteness and racism. Clarke’s vision of blacknesses existing in Australia is neither defined by hierarchy nor of competing authenticities, but of unconditional solidarity and rapport.


Fight Like a Girl by Clementine Ford (Allen and Unwin), reviewed by Sonia Nair

Even when Ford isn’t speaking from a personal place, she is resoundingly effective … Ford impels us to re-examine each and every facet of our lives, where we’re more likely than not to find a trace of the ingrained patriarchal attitudes that continue to subjugate women.


Hot Milk by Deborah Levy (Penguin), reviewed by Madeleine Laing

The heat of Hot Milk’s setting first appears stifling and oppressive – the characters are right next to the cool of the ocean but it is full of monsters. However, through unapologetic melodrama, heavy symbolism, and delightful unsubtlety, this heat becomes cleansing, the sweat releasing the character’s desire, opening the mind through the body.


The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American City by Laura Tillman (Scribner), reviewed by Erin Stewart

We bear witness to the foulest murders and don’t want to see the criminal in ourselves … It’s easier to live with ourselves if we conclude that we have nothing to do with atrocity. The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts dwells in this uncomfortable space; of trying to understand an appalling crime.


Autumn by Ali Smith (Penguin), reviewed by Alice Robinson

The mood of the novel is exactly like a lengthening autumn afternoon, low lit, darkening, veined with nostalgia, painful in its heartrending beauty. Reading the novel is like looking back at family photographs of times no one fully appreciated when they were unfolding.


The Promise of Things by Ruth Quibell (Melbourne University Publishing), reviewed by Alex Gerrans

It’s not Quibell’s aim to end, or lessen, our acquisition of things. She’s exploring our relationship to material goods, beyond vague hand-wringing or quick-fix solutions. She wants us to think harder about them, and to value things that can’t be replicated … You extrapolate her ideas and apply them to your own stuff, and this is where the work that goes with reading The Promise of Things occurs.


Frantumaglia by Elena Ferrante (Text Publishing), reviewed by Ellena Savage

While she has a priestess-like connection to the other side of reason, Ferrante does not write from a prenatal morass. To the contrary, she is ferociously meticulous, exacting, and direct … a volume like Frantumaglia insists that there is much, much more to books than their flesh and blood.


Jerusalem by Alan Moore (Liveright Publishing), reviewed by Andrew Harper

Jerusalem is many things: a supernatural sit-com, a magic realist narrative, a shaggy dog story, and something that might be a religious text if found it in jar halfway up a cliff in four hundred years.


Iraq +100: Stories from a Century after the Invasion edited by Hassan Blasim (CommaPress), reviewed by Evan Fleischer

A collection of science fiction imagining a gasp of fresh air in the form of an Iraq one hundred years into the future is potential light flooding into our vision after history bursts through its escape hatch.


I’m Supposed To Protect You From All This by Nadja Spiegelman (Text Publishing), reviewed by Shu-Ling Chua

I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This asks readers to consider whether multiple ‘truths’ can co-exist, not just as differences of opinion between family members, but within individuals.