What We’re Reading: August 2021

Annie —
The Labyrinth, by Amanda Lohrey & The Reading List, by Sara Nisha Adams

In winter all I ever want to do is snuggle in with a good read and I’ve found a few to enjoy this month. 

The Labyrinth has just won the Miles Franklin award and it is a very well-deserved winner. We follow Erica as she moves to a small town in southern NSW in an attempt to be closer to her son, who has been jailed nearby for a selfish act. She is reeling from the incident, the trial and the subsequent upheaval, and the only solace to be found has come in the form of a dream: walking a labyrinth next to a flat stretch of water. Attempting to recreate this sense of peace, she sets out to build the labyrinth herself and in so doing makes connections within the small community that she has relocated to. I loved learning about the history and mythology of labyrinths (as distinct from mazes) and Erica’s journey towards her goal was incredibly meditative and beautiful. The small acts of kindness that crop up within the book were a hopeful reminder in these times of great disruption and change. 

I have just started another comforting read, The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams. It centres around a small London library which is at risk of extinction. The two main characters, widower Mukesh and student Aliesha, couldn’t be more different, but both are unexpectedly drawn to the library and discover the joys of reading and community that such a space can bring. Neither are readers and it is a delight to experience old favourites through their eyes as they share a reading list ‘for those that need it’, comprised of classics old and new. This is a delightful read about the power of books. 

Kate —
Detransition, Baby, by Torrey Peters

Detransition, Baby is a compelling debut about relationships, motherhood and queer community. Reese and Amy are both trans women who were together for a significant time but have been separated for several years. Now Reese is stuck in a destructive cycle of sex with abusive men and Amy has detransitioned after a transphobic attack in the street. Amy is now Ames and has been having a relationship with his boss. Although he thought he was sterile, his partner gets pregnant. Both he and his partner, Katrina, are apprehensive about parenthood for different reasons. Ames has the great idea to include Reese into the mix to see if the three of them raising a baby could be the ideal dynamic for everyone. He could be connected to his queer identity, Reese could finally become a mother, and Katrina could maintain her career focus and independence. 

While the characters are problematic in their respective ways, which can be quite frustrating, this is a wonderful story about making family work outside of the heteronormative framework. It is funny, honest and presents a nuanced look into queer experience and family making. The theme of motherhood; expectations, prejudice and fear are analysed from various angles, making for a satisfying and mind-opening read. It would be great for bookclubs!

Jane —
Calm, by Tim Parks & Teach Us to Sit Still, by Tim Parks

Calm is the second book I have read from the ‘Vintage Mini’ series. A tiny book which captivated me and ultimately led me to read Teach Us to Sit Still – the complete story to Calm.

Calm discusses the last section of Teach Us to Sit Still. Tim Parks has realised that one cannot live a healthy life perceiving that mind and body are separate entities and that the mind can hold dominance over our physical woes. Illness has forced a new way of thinking – or not thinking! And the benefits are life changing. 

In Teach Us to Sit Still, Tim Parks discusses his long standing physical illness, in brutal honesty- and his disappointment and disillusionment with mainstream medicine. Through a series of events, Tim Parks discovers the path to not only physical recovery but a new way of living and thinking. 

Leela —
The Garden of Monsters, by Lorenza Pieri

The Garden of Monsters is the perfect escapist read for winter. Set in Tuscany, the saga follows two families of very different backgrounds, brought together by their business ventures. The teenage daughter of local rancher Sauro, ‘the king’, Annamaria is ashamed of her average looks and farm skills, especially after she idolises Lisa, an effortlessly beautiful classical dancer. Hovering mysteriously in the background of village life is artist Niki de Saint Phalle who obsessively adds to a garden of large and colourful mosaic creatures. Niki unexpectedly becomes a defining presence in Annamaria’s life, providing her the gift of hope amongst the chaos of others’ secrecy, bigotry, and greed.

This novel is packed with complex characters, and shifts frequently between their perspectives. It explores the full spectrum of human emotion and provides no simple conclusions, but, ending alongside Annamaria’s adolescence, is ultimately affirming. I think The Garden of Monsters is a great one to add to the book club list.