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Decline and Fall on Savage Street
Fiona Farrell $38
From one of New Zealand’s most popular and acclaimed modern writers in a variety of genres, this is a fascinating novel about a house with a fanciful little turret – an ordinary villa built in 1910 beside a river, on land that jumps and shifts then settles again. Unfolding within its rooms are lives of event and emotional upheaval. A lot happens. And the tumultuous events of the 20th century also leave their mark, from war to economic collapse, the deaths of presidents and princesses to new waves of music, art, architecture and political ideas. Meanwhile, a few metres away in the river, another creature follows a different, slower rhythm. And beneath them all, the planet moves to its own immense geological time. With insight, wide-ranging knowledge and humour, this novel explores the same territory as its non-fiction twin, The Villa at the Edge of the Empire. Writing in a city devastated by major earthquakes, Fiona Farrell rebuilds a brilliant, compelling and imaginative structure from bits and pieces salvaged from 100 years of history. A lot has happened. This is how it might have felt.
The Watch House
Bernie McGill $35
For fans of Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, this is the story of the modern world arriving on Rathlin, a remote Irish island haunted by past tragedies. As the 19th century ends, a young woman named Nuala, abandoned by her family for the new world, receives a proposal from the island’s aging tailor and faces a difficult decision. For the price of a roof over her head, she accepts. Meanwhile the island is alive with gossip about the strangers who have arrived from the mainland, armed with mysterious equipment which can reportedly steal a person’s words and transmit them through thin air. When Nuala is sent to cook for these men – engineers, who have been sent to Rathlin by Marconi to conduct experiments in the use of wireless telegraphy – she encounters an Italian named Gabriel, who offers her the chance to equip herself with new skills and knowledge. As her friendship with Gabriel opens up horizons beyond the rocky and treacherous cliffs of her island home, Nuala begins to realise that her deal with the tailor was a bargain she should never have struck.
Sarah Winman $30
From the bestselling author of When God Was a Rabbit, this is a love letter to human kindness and friendship, loss and living. It begins with a painting won in a raffle: fifteen sunflowers, hung on the wall by a woman who believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things. And there are two boys, Ellis and Michael, who are inseparable. They are twelve when they first become friends, and for a long time it is just the two of them, cycling the streets of Oxford, teaching themselves how to swim, discovering poetry, and dodging the fists of overbearing fathers. Then one day this closest of friendships grows into something more. The boys become men, Annie walks into their lives, and it changes nothing and everything. We fast forward a decade, to find that Ellis is married to Annie, and Michael is nowhere in sight. Which leads to the question, what happened in the years between?
The Susan Effect
Peter Hoeg $37
From the author of the popular Miss Smillia’s Feeling for Snow. Susan Svendsen has a special talent: she has a unique ability to make people confide in her and tell her their innermost secrets. She has exploited that talent, and now has a prison sentence hanging over her head for punching a Bollywood actor. To make matters worse, her husband is on the run from the mafia, one of her children has been accused of antiquity smuggling and the other has run off with a monk. But Susan gets an offer from a former government official – to use her power one more time and have all her charges dropped. She must track down the last surviving members of a secret think-tank of young talents founded in the 1970s, the so-called Future Committee, and find out what was written in the committee’s final report. But the report is apparently covering up information of great value, and some powerful people are determined it is not revealed.
Balcony Over Jerusalem
John Lyons $37
From the sheer excitement of arriving in Jerusalem with his wife and eight-year-old son, to the fall of dictators and his gripping account of what it feels like to be taken by Egyptian soldiers, blindfolded and interrogated, this is a fascinating memoir by John Lyons, one of the most experienced Middle East correspondents. Over a 20-year period, he has interviewed everyone from Israel’s former Prime Ministers Shimon Peres and Ehud Olmert to key figures from Hezbollah and Hamas. He’s witnessed the brutal Iranian Revolutionary Guard up close and was one of the last foreign journalists in Iran during the violent crackdown against the ‘Green Revolution’. He’s confronted Hamas officials about why they fire rockets into Israel and Israeli soldiers about why they fire tear gas at Palestinian school children. Lyons is able to explain the Middle East through everyday life and experiences – by telling the story of his family travelling within this complex region, Balcony Over Jerusalem is extremely entertaining, full of humour and colour, sometimes dazzling, sometimes tragic.
Channel Magazine: Issue 79 August 2017