Escape Lockdown with Reading Tips from Richard Fidler, Heather Rose, Maxine Beneba Clarke and Tegan Bennett Daylight
Readers know that the very act of reading can transport you far, far beyond the walls of your home.
And with millions of Australians confined, it’s more important than ever to find a book that takes you on an adventure.
At this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival, Kate Evans of The Bookshelf spoke to acclaimed writers Heather Rose (The Museum of Modern Love), Maxine Beneba Clarke (The Hate Race), Tegan Bennett Daylight (Six Bedrooms) and Richard Fidler (The Golden Maze) on the books that transported them to places both real and imagined.
Here are eight of their picks – books that will take you to faraway places and help you discover local places again.
Gerald Durrell, My Family and the Other Animals
This book is the first in a trilogy that forms the basis of The Durrells, a four-season British comedy series available at ABC iview.
In My Family and Other Animals, the British naturalist recounts five years of his childhood spent on the Greek island of Corfu, just before the outbreak of World War II.
“There are so many beautiful [writing] about water and a lot of Australians obviously love stories with water in it, ”says Tegan Bennett Daylight.
“[Then there’s] descriptions of the food and of course all the animals. So you get that nice up-close look at the landscape, as well as a broad overview of the place as a whole.
Alasdair Gray, Lanark: A Life in Four Books
This 1981 debut novel by Scottish author Alasdair Gray begins, oddly enough, with the third of four promised books.
It opens with a young man named Lanark, who soon arrives in a hellish version of Glasgow called “Unthank”.
Richard Fidler says that the novel takes you halfway between the real and the imaginary.
“[It has] that delicious feeling of being troubled – like you’re in a place you may know, but don’t know at all, ”says Fidler.
“Alasdair Gray is a bit like a Scotsman [Franz] Kafka; so it shows a revised version of a city, the same way Kafka does with Prague, where it’s a world of goodwill. “
Bernardine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other
Booker Prize 2019 winner Bernadine Evaristo’s novel contains moving fragments of the lives of 12 characters – mostly black British women – whose stories end up unexpectedly intersecting.
Their stories span decades and settings, from rural England to the United States, but the novel begins and ends in contemporary London.
“Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo is such a beautiful book,” says Heather Rose.
“It’s such a beautiful book of character, but also a very rich book of places in terms of London, and it gave me a really much richer sense of London, of the culture, of the history and of the community.”
Mirandi Riwoe, Stone Sky Gold Mountain
The main protagonists of the novel selected by Mirandi Riwoe for the 2021 Stella Prize are a Chinese brother and sister, Ying and Lai Yue, who fled to the Queensland gold fields in the late 19th century to make their fortune.
“There is this feeling of reading familiar places but discovering something completely different,” says Maxine Beneba Clarke.
“I have the impression that for me, as a reader, it is the journey right now that interests me: what are the stories in this very familiar place where traveling is different from [mine]? “
Clarke says she recently realized that she was reading mostly contemporary Australian literature, such as Veronica Gorrie’s new memoir, Black and Blue.
“Part of that is because eventually books are starting to come out that are the books I wish I had,” says Clarke.
Anything from Kazuo Ishiguro
The Nobel Laureate is best known for his 1989 sci-fi novel Booker Laureate and 2005 sci-fi novel Never Let Me Go, both adapted into feature films.
Ishiguro was born in Japan but moved with his family to England when he was young.
While his first novels (A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World) are set in Japan, others, including Never Let Me Go and his latest novel Klara and the Sun, take place in imaginary places.
“He’s got a sort of formal, cautious and restricted world in his head that he transfers from one place to another… but ideas for me always contain something of Japan,” says Bennett Daylight.
“All of her books are about forgetting in one way or another and to me it seems to be inspired by the idea that Japan is forgetting the horrors of WWII, forgetting its guilt, but also forgetting its immense sorrow.
“Ishiguru’s mother was born in Nagasaki, which gives you an idea of the kind of story he carries.”
Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita
Mikhail Bulgakov wrote his last novel, while he fell in love and died in Stalinist Russia.
In it, Satan and his minions (including a cat that walks on its hind legs) arrive in Moscow.
“I discovered the Moscow of the 1930s thanks to the extraordinary novel by Mikhail Bulgakov,” says Fidler.
“In the end, it’s really a book about love, but the Moscow version it contains is quite strange – it’s very tumultuous and tumultuous.”
What is missing from Bulgakov’s Moscow is Stalinist terror, for the writer was, for a time at least, a favorite of the dictator.
“But all the earthy side of Moscow, the things wrong with the place are there in this novel, and it’s a little beautifully dirty in the style of great Russian novels,” says Fidler.
Anything from Lenny Bartulin
In Lenny Bartulin’s 2013 novel Infamy, an Englishman arrives in Van Diemen’s Land in 1830 to capture the leader of a group of escaped convicts.
His research brings him face to face with the Tasmanian wilderness and the violence of British colonization.
Bartulin’s 2019 novel Fortune is set in 1806, the day Napoleon conquered Prussia.
Fortune crosses the globe but is still, in part, in the same place as Infamy.
Rose describes Bartulin as “extraordinary” and “an extremely evocative writer”.
“It evokes a different kind of Tasmania,” Rose says.
“Tasmania for a long time, it was like our literature was dominated by this idea of a kind of Gothic Tasmania, where everything was dark, rainy, violent, vicious, colonial and all that.
“But I really liked seeing us come out of there and find ourselves with a lot more character in the landscape, much more beautiful and resonant representations of the landscape, that’s how I experience Tasmania.”
Peter Polites, Down the Hume
Peter Polites’ 2017 debut novel is set in his home in western Sydney, as his gay and Greek lead character struggles with addiction, lust, love and the violence of judgment and expectation.
Clarke sees Polites picking up where a generation of grunge writers – like Christos Tsiolkas, Andrew McGahan, and Luke Davies – left off in the ’80s.
“I think that he is [Polites] doing the current version of what they were doing in terms of mapping contemporary Australia, ”says Clarke.
“Sometimes it’s more difficult to write the present tense, because there are things that we don’t notice in our current lives, than to write the step, or to write a place that is really different.”