IN SHORT FICTION
REVIEWS BY KERRYN GOLDSWORTHY
PICK OF THE WEEK
WEIDENFELD & NICOLSON, $29.99
Pilgrim Jones, daughter of hippies and now living in Switzerland, is in a state of grief: her treacherous husband has left her for his pregnant girlfriend. After Pilgrim is involved in a terrible accident, she takes the first flight she sees on the departures board and ends up in Tanzania, where she encounters an assortment of characters: mercenaries, witch doctors, aid workers, and drunks with secrets. There are also two men who have flown from Europe to find her, for very different reasons. Full of empathy and intelligence, this novel is a study of the shame, guilt and despair that can result from nothing more than desperately bad luck. With no shadow of didacticism or propaganda, it explores the nuances of our moral choices in a postcolonial context. The ending is startlingly optimistic and very moving.
This novel’s badly damaged main characters have sought solitude in the mountain wilderness of the American South, both bewildered as to what is wrong with them and both at the extremity of existence. It’s some time in the late 1960s, and Katherine, a former successful businesswoman, is unable to digest food and has been told she is dying by doctors who can’t tell her why, though perceptive readers will quickly realise that she has developed multiple chemical allergies. Danny is a very young Vietnam veteran with a bad case of PTSD, another condition that hasn’t yet been identified. Danny has come to hide, Katherine has come to die. But they meet and quickly find themselves in a state of intense erotic co-dependency. This is the best account of a woman in a state of sexual obsession that I have ever read.
The Faithful Couple
LITTLE, BROWN, $29.99
A.D. Miller’s Snowdrops was a success, making it as far up the ladder as the shortlist of the 2011 Man Booker Prize. Metaphors of climbing and competition come easily when discussing his second book, for its subject matter is male friendship and his view of this topic seems queasy and jaded. Neil and Adam’s friendship, born by chance and cemented on a whimsical trip to the US, is poisoned by an encounter on a camping trip that haunts them for years. Both see their friendship in terms of comparison and competition: he’s got more money, I have a better job, his chest is hairier than mine. And both use women as a kind of currency and means of communication between them. Miller is a writer of skill and intelligence but this novel will be rough going for female readers, and probably most male ones.
Prince of Afghanistan
ALLEN & UNWIN, $16.99
Louis Nowra’s second book for young adults is a model of traditional storytelling: a dramatic setup followed by a race against danger, hunger and time. Mark is a young Australian soldier in Afghanistan, in fear of his life after a mission goes wrong. He is left to find his way out of enemy territory, in the company of an army dog called Prince whose handler has been killed. The novel is recommended for 14-16 year olds but it still comes as a shock to discover that Mark is barely older than that. This is a particularly good book for that age group, likely to engage reluctant readers – especially boys – with a tale full of action and danger, a hero who hasn’t always been heroic, and an animal story that’s touching without being saccharine. It will also give young adult readers some ideas to chew over about the nature of war.