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QBD Reviews: Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq

Houellebecq has famously called English the language of Donald Duck, so perhaps it is no wonder that Shaun Whiteside’s English translation (due for release September 26) was held back six months later than all other translations. And look, I bought a first edition in French (and it came with a beautiful Houellebecq-themed French bookmark that I now cherish as a kind of page-saving relic or even talisman, I’m sorry to admit...) and, look, I tried to read it en français, and I got through the first four pages or so at about the rate of half an hour a page ... but it was too much like work and not the sort of work I wanted to be doing, the kind of work that is pure literacy indulgence; so I gave up and waited out the language embargo patiently (and went back to Tintin for French practice).

So I’ll start with what it isn’t.

...nothing had given me the feeling that I had a place to live, or a context, let alone a reason.”

Firstly, let me just say that the ‘prophetic’ tag re. les gilets jaunes movement is over-blown. Sure, there are elements of serious discontent going on in the novel re. farming practices in France etc but nothing that mirrors anywhere near closely the actual movement and how it happened and progressed. The novel is much more relevant and interesting and terribly beautiful than to be considered some kind of Nostradamic manifesto. It’s much worse than that. It’s much more fantastic, in the literal sense of that word.

It’s also not about 'the vanquished white male'.

If anything. It’s about the dynamic that would lead to people saying it’s about the vanquished white male. The ones that say he missed the Me Too movement, which he quite obviously didn’t. He’s sitting in it, uncomfortably, like it’s a public spa bath that hasn’t been cleaned for an uncomfortably long time. And the sort of people saying: “That whole aesthetic of the ‘old white male’ is dated, past its sell-by date and clearly no longer brings anything good. ‘What’s the point in trying to save a vanquished old white male?’ the narrator asks. What’s the point, indeed.”

That’s the point ... right there, if not the meaning. The French do irony like they do pastry: delicate but calorie-ridden

...from the bureaucratic point of view, a good citizen is a dead citizen.

But Houellebecq has a way of beguiling by combining the most honestly and disarming brutal kinds of impulses of a man and the most delicate tenderness. The story does not shrink away from the most abject of things, and treats them with a banal internalised indifference. All the bluster on key issues of the moment, and everything else metoometoometoometoometoometoo on every platform where access to wifi trumps any Bill of Rights, there’s maybe a space still for the old white male, vanquished or otherwise, since no-one else seems to be noticing much outside of this at all. Maybe nobody’s meant to.

Was I, in the end, as unhappy as all that?

If you need a word for the book to be about something, happiness would be it, unsurprisingly. Claude-Florant is sad, a sadness unto death; and he is unpacking his life in an effort to assess (perhaps) why this is so. Between the lines, maybe he’s considering how things could have been different ... while at the same time understanding things can never be different.

Everything that had happened had happened for all eternity.

On a wider scale, leaving behind the ‘whiteness’ the ‘old’ and the ‘male’ as kinds of window dressings (undesirable ones, of course) we can understand that there is a connection between Claude-Florant and being vanquished, certainly; but this state does not connect with his sadness. His sadness has not come from without; it is a self-disgust, a self-vanquishment. Enemies may be all to quick to hoist a foot upon the still-breathing corpse, but there is a strong sense of Claude-Florant’s awareness of his ultimate culpability for his position. To use the Oprah-esque parlance of our times, he owns his misery. And it’s not any more or less helpful than not owning it. In fact, it’s probably worse.

An atmosphere of general catastrophe always alleviates individual catastrophe...

The malaise is individual, but of course there is a sense of it being shared. Dare I even say it: the death of the West? A culture so utterly disappointed in itself, dying of sorrow due to the girth of its own reflexive demands. Maybe, if he ever writes another novel, he will tackle what comes next, the rough beast slouching its way toward Bethlehem. Maybe he has already...

I could still carry on to the end, because I could, I could in material terms...

Houellebecq remains the only living writer that I am truly interested in reading.

Review by Sean, Eastland QBD

QBD Reviews: Khaki Town by Judy Nunn

A new drama from Australian's best historical fiction author!

Khaki Town, Judy Nunn’s exciting new novel, is inspired by a true wartime story that has remained a well-kept secret for over seventy years.

Khaki Town is the fantastic new novel from Judy Nunn, set in the north eastern town of Townsville during the second world war. It's the story of hostile race relations between the black and white American soldiers stationed in the town and features a host of both American and Australian characters who are vivid and well developed.

The A and C Companies of the 96th division of the American Army are in Townsville to build a new base and an airport, but not everyone is happy to have them there. The White Australia Policy is in full effect and the Australian government is hesitant to have Negro soldiers on Australian soil. The locals though, tough publican Val, girlfolk Betty and Jill, Aunty Edie and intrepid reporter Pete, are happy to bring the new soldiers into their lives. Tensions still arise though and when the soldiers are banned from the town, the situation explodes in a violent and deadly riot.

A fictionalised account of true events, Nunn's latest book demonstrates her amazing skill at character building. Well researched and very realistic, Khaki Town will stick with you for a long while.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Shannon, QBD Books Rockingham

Get your copy of Khaki Town in store or online here.

Celebrating 21 years of Jack Reacher, with Lee Child

Lee Child. Internationally best-selling author. Creator of Jack Reacher. One of the most iconic characters in modern literature. Legend has it, a Reacher novel is sold, somewhere around the world, every nine seconds!

And now, 21 years after the character first appeared on the page, Lee Child brings us a whole new Reacher adventure: Past Tense. And, just as Reacher would breeze in, and breeze out of town, the British-born author made the whirlwind trek from America to Australia, to promote his new novel - spending all of 96 hours in the country.

A Very Special Invitation

On Sunday, 18th November, QBD was lucky enough to be invited to a very special event. A celebration of 21 years of Jack Reacher, hosted by Penguin Random House.The evening was held at The Rook, an intimate, little rooftop bar, nestled amidst the upper skyline of Sydney’s CBD.

A Night Fit For Jack Reacher

In a most Reacher-like fashion, the night began with a bang! Most of the guests met at the Penguin Random house office, to be transported to the Rook by coach. Upon arriving at the bar,
however, we found ourselves thrust into adventure when the coach pulled up to the curb and immediately smashed itself into a tree! (Granted, it was only the side-mirror which hit the tree, but this did result in the coach becoming an involuntary side-mirror-amputee). As we all piled off the coach, we couldn’t help but joke that excitement just seemed to follow Lee Child wherever he went!

Having all made it to the bar in one piece (unlike the coach), the guests milled around, sharing their love of Reacher over drinks, as Lee Child mingled, taking photos and signing books
for anyone who asked. As well as many, lucky readers, the room was full of exciting, literary figures, including many representatives from Penguin Random House, and Australian authors,
Candice Fox, and John Purcell.

All of the guests were absolutely spoiled by Penguin Random House’s generosity. Upon arrival, each guest was gifted a goodie-bag, containing an exclusive, Jack Reacher mug, a copy of Past Tense and The Killing Floor, and the one item Jack Reacher always travels with: a solitary toothbrush. Another exciting little addition in each bag was one, unique, individual key.

So what was so special about this key? In the corner of the room, lay three, military boxes. Each of them locked shut. Inside one of these boxes was a set of ten Reacher novels. Inside another, a complete set of Reacher novels. And inside the last, a $2100, cash prize. Three unique locks, for three unique keys. Somewhere in the room, three lucky winners!

The room buzzed with excitement as, one by one, each of the guests tried their keys in the three locks. And, building up the tension perfectly, the prizes were claimed in order of least, to highest value. The ten novels. The complete novels. And the money!

Before long, though, it was time to hear from the man of the hour, Lee Child himself.

Lee Child in Conversation with Australia’s Jack Reacher

As well as celebrating 21 years since the release of The Killing Floor (Jack Reacher’s first adventure), Lee Child was in Sydney to promote his latest book, Past Tense– the twenty-third Jack Reacher novel!

Living up to its title, Past Tense is a tension-filled thriller, that will keep readers hooked in its pages from start to finish! With influences from Stephen King, Past Tense takes Reacher on a journey of discovery, into the secrets of his father’s past.

There to talk to Lee about the new book was Random House Australia’s, 2010, Jack Reacher Look-a-Like Competition Winner, Duncan Munro. In conversation with Munro, Lee spoke about the process of creating Reacher’s family background. And, much like Reacher would do, Child picked the hometown of Reacher’s father almost at random, from a map.

“I looked at a map and picked Laconia, because it sounds like ‘laconic’, which could be the Reacher family motto, basically, since none of them really say anything.”

So what lead to Reacher discovering just how little he knew about his father in Past Tense? According to Child, he lost his own father shortly before writing the novel. The experience of loss lead him to think about how, although he knew his father his whole life, there was no doubt a great deal that he didn’t know about his own father’s life.

“The more you think about it, you never know another person. However close the relative is. You never really know all about them… So I just thought, Reacher is going to find something out. He thinks he knows everything. But there will be something he doesn’t know.”

But this is not the first glimpse we’ve had into Reacher’s family history. Child also spoke about developing the character of Reacher’s mother in The Enemy.

“In the Enemy, I wanted to explain ‘how come Reacher is such a tough guy?’ And most writers would say, ‘because he has a tough dad.’ And I thought, ‘No, that’s boring. Let’s have it because he had a tough mum.’”

Jack Reacher in Australia

Australian fans of Jack Reacher will be extra eager to get their hands on Past Tense, as the Australian/New Zealand copies of the novel contain an exclusive look at Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher Short Story, The Fourth Man.

The story takes Reacher on a journey from the Australian embassy in New York, all the way to the Sydney Opera House, for what is perhaps the shortest international trip ever made. Talking to Munro, Child joked about Reacher’s short-lived, Aussie adventure.

“He was here even shorter than I’m going to be here. I think he gets off the plane, kills a guy, and gets back on the plane. Which I’m slightly more extended, and just certainly hoping I don’t kill anybody while I’m here!”

To read Lee Child’s exclusive Australian short story, make sure you head into QBD and pick up your copy of Past Tense.

Reacher, from the Big Screen to the Small Screen

But there’s still one other big news item that has Lee Child fans all around the world buzzing with excitement. Jack Reacher is getting his very own TV series.

Child discussed his decision to abandon the current film format in favour of a “long-form”, binge-worthy series, with a new, yet-to-be-announced actor. According to Child, he has received endless criticism over the casting of five-foot-seven actor, Tom Cruise, for the role of six-foot-five character, Jack Reacher. Child was adamant that he had no personal issue with Cruise, whom he considers to be “a great guy, and a good friend”. However, he understood that fans felt as though a very important aspect of the character was not being represented. And Child’s first loyalty lies with his readers. So, when it comes to casting the new actor for Reacher, Lee Child is on a mission.

“So, …please excuse my language, We’re going to find the biggest motherf**ker you’ve ever seen!”

This statement was met with applause, and Child reassured the audience that he is open to suggestions for the next Reacher. So if you think you can pick the next Jack Reacher, be sure to drop a comment on Lee Child’s social media pages.

A Final Thanks

Lee Child was clearly very thankful to be here in Sydney, and we at QBD would also like to extend our thanks to our host for the evening, Penguin Random House. The entire event was a
huge success, and Child made sure to extend his thanks, not only to our hosts, but also to all of his readers. He also gave a very special thanks to his Australian fans, especially those who have sent him books of their own. In speaking about the books fans had sent to him, Child praised Australian crime and thriller writers, and urged his Aussie fans to remember to support their Australian authors.

“I’m definitely not saying ‘stop buying my books’, but for every one of mine you buy, buy also one of theirs. You know, buy two books instead of one.”

And we here at QBD cannot think of a better note to end on than that!

~ Alyssa, Penrith QBD.

QBD Reviews: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

dumplin

For her whole life, Willowdean Dickson has been a loud and proud, self-professed fat girl. She has never felt uncomfortable in her own skin, and she's never had any issues ignoring the boorish and taunting remarks that her teenage peers have made about her size - until she meets Bo Larson. Bo is a popular and handsome boy, and Willowdean finds herself developing feelings for him... and the feelings are very mutual. Willowdean cannot fathom how someone as good-looking, kindhearted, and admired as Bo could even look twice as a girl like her, and it really begins to mess with her system. She begins to over-analyse her perceptions on her appearance, and her self-confidence begins to plummet.

How much do I love this book?

I went into this book with an open mind, and I was not disappointed. I've never read anything that tackles self-image so forcefully before. The majority of the characters are so likeable and fun, and it's a breath of fresh air to come across a contemporary novel that is so passionately uplifting.

It's really hard not to like Dumplin'. This is a gripping story on positive self-image, acceptance, and inner-strength. It's a captivating read from the very first page with a lovable protagonist and such an important message - you deserve to love yourself and the body you are in!

~Holly, QBD Garden City

Review Competition WINNER

winner

The lucky winner is....... XSAREA POWER

 

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars is an incredibly powerful and thoughtful novel following the conceptual trace of life, loss and the legacy of death. Crafting an eloquent story (if not with a touch of poignancy), Green deftly touches on the delicate issue of cancer while still communicating messages of hope, perseverance and life not being about how many breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away. While the novel often felt pretentious, it is overshadowed by the interesting dynamic of the protagonist’s pragmatism to the love interest’s idealism. Swamped with tears and heartbreak, the story never fails to baffle readers with beautiful writing and deep undercurrents of meaning. The emotional intimacy of the novel leaves you questioning everything about life – the purpose, the point and the proceeding. Green has yet again stunned the literary community with this tragically reflective story and it is truly a worthy achievement by itself. 

Thank-you for all your fabulous entries! We had a great response to this competition and all reviews have now been loaded online for everyone to enjoy (or show to their friends).