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Prima Facie
Suzie Miller 
(PanMacmillan Australia, available now)

Prima Facie is our Debut Spotlight for November! Read an interview with first-time author Suzie Miller here, plus watch an exclusive reading on our Instagram!

The one-woman, award-winning play Prima Facie was a blistering indictment of how the legal system continues to fail victims of sexual assault. Playwright Suzy Miller’s novel preserves that theme, of course—but her story loses some of its sharpness in the translation to prose. Its supplementary material, which is primarily added backstory about her childhood, and her brother’s flirtations with criminality, isn’t a detraction, though it does feel like a distraction from the marrow of Miller’s tale.

Prima Facie the novel is at its best when closely channelling the original source material.

Boiled down to its essence, Prima Facie is about a young criminal defence barrister named Tessa Ensler who has defied all the odds—foremostly her working-class background—to earn a reputation as one the pre-eminent defenders of men accused of rape and sexual assault. For Tessa, morality never enters the equation. The mechanics of the law are reasonable when you’re a vital cog in the machine:

[M]y job is to tell the best version of my client’s story, and the prosecutor tells the best version of the police story, and the jury decides which story they think is more likely. That’s it. Simple.

Tessa’s perception of the law mutates when she is raped by a colleague, and she decides to press charges despite indomitable odds:

I have to believe that the system of law works for both true victims and for those wrongly accused. I have to know that if we take a crime to court, that if all that has been done has been correctly, by the book, then the law will find the truth. That justice will be served.

The second half of Prima Facie explicates Tessa’s ordeal, from her reporting the rape to a taciturn male police officer, so indoctrinated in the bureaucracy of law enforcement that he seems to view Tessa’s trauma as an exercise in box-ticking, to the trial itself, and the emotional turmoil involved in this judicial process. Miller’s delineation of these events is riveting and heart-rending as Tessa’s professional and personal worlds are thrown upside down. A glimmer of the play’s blazing polemic slips out towards the end during Tessa’s impassioned, biting monologue, but by this point, it feels deserved, and for the reader it is a much-needed tonic.

Ultimately, Prima Facie the novel is at its best when closely channelling the original source material. In both of its forms, the story unravels with a remarkable combination of empathy and pitilessness. The play benefits from economy, the honing of its most brazen observations, and the rawness of its message. In this expanded format, that content remains, though it is overshadowed by a surplus of background detail.

—Simon McDonald

Melissa Lucashenko 
(UQP, available now)

In her extensively researched new work of fiction, Edenglassie, Melissa Lucashenko explores the colonial history of Brisbane and surrounding areas. The novel uses Aboriginal concepts of time, where the past, present and future talk to each other rather than progress in a linear fashion.

In the nineteenth-century narrative, Lucashenko follows the life and romance of Yugambeh man Mulanyin, who has been adopted by and initiated into the Kurilpa tribe, and Nita, a Ngugi woman who works for a white family living in Edenglassie (the suburb now known as Newstead). In the present-day storyline, we encounter Goorie Elder and centenarian Eddie Blanket and her granddaughter Winona. Granny Eddie is recovering from a fall, while Winona is, in her own words, ‘Blak, beautiful and fighting to hold on to her sanity’.

More characters join the story, with some contributing to the main casts’ healing, some sharing in their pain, and some exacerbating it. In the present era, for example, Granny Eddie and Winona are joined by Johnny, Granny Eddie’s doctor, and Dartmouth, a journalist hungry for a headline. In the past, characters mix with reimagined historical figures, such as a young Thomas Petrie, to ground Mulanyin and Nita’s story in a bygone Brisbane.

Lucashenko gives an Aboriginal voice to a colonial historical record from which we were often excluded.

In author notes at both the beginning and end of the book, Lucashenko emphasises the fictional nature of Edenglassie. Still, there is much truth to be found within its pages. Lucashenko gives an Aboriginal voice to a colonial historical record from which we were often excluded, and uses this voice to uncloak atrocities, such as Frontier violence, that have plagued this nation since invasion. In giving voice to Aboriginal people, Lucashenko has also given voice to Country.

For Aboriginal people, Country encompasses the land, seas and skies. It is at the centre of who we are and how we connect with each other, especially when the historical and ongoing effects of colonisation continue to displace individuals and families. Rich imagery, such as the ‘giant wetland, lush with reeds and waterfowl’ in Lucashenko’s version of Woolloongabba in 1854, renders Country tactile to the reader. Country is also explored spiritually through characters sharing lessons and knowledge of the land, like Dawalbin telling her son that ‘[s]tepping where you aren’t invited will burn your feet’. While Country does not speak with a voice box as people do, it does have a distinct sonance in Edenglassie.

Lucashenko is also committed to Country being named. The novel opens with reference to the ‘good Yagara earth’, and throughout the story Lucashenko uses the proppa names for ceremonial grounds and ancestral places, including referring to Brisbane as Magandjin rather than the more popular name Meanjin.

We are currently living through the International Decade of Indigenous Languages during which First Nations peoples across the globe are working to learn, share and reinvigorate their languages. A novel such as Edenglassie, which uses Goori words with purpose and careful consideration, is not only timely but also an act of sovereignty, and exemplifies the Aboriginal way of using story to preserve and pass down knowledge through generations. In doing this, Lucashenko has given Country agency and made her another character within the novel.

—Raelee Lancaster

Good Material
Dolly Alderton 
(Penguin Random House, available now)

Dolly Alderton is the real-life British Carrie Bradshaw. She’s a perennially single, hot and smart white woman living in the big city, working as a lifestyle journalist. She wrote the 2018 bestselling memoir Everything I Know About Love in her 30s. Alderton is hyped, and Good Material lands on shelves as the charming, smart and articulate companion you want to spend summer at the beach with.

In some ways, Good Material is the opposite of Alderton’s debut novel, Ghosts. It’s the story of a break-up, not a valiant search for love. The narrator is a man, not a woman. The story is told almost entirely from the perspective of Andy, the hapless ex-boyfriend of Jen. Andy ‘has a distorted view of how everyone else sees him because of his low self-esteem but also because he likes wallowing’. He’s a little pitiful, ‘luxuriating in [his] patheticness [sic]’. Namely, he’s a comedian. A mopey one.

If Jen doesn’t want to date this guy anymore, why should the reader have to spend three hundred and fifty pages with him?

Andy represents a kind of toxic masculinity that seems innocuous because it’s so pervasive in the real world. In the wake of the break-up, he drinks too much, rings his ex-girlfriends and doesn’t talk to a therapist. In fact, Andy mocks Jen for ‘going to therapy every week’ because he ‘never see[s] that she has anything wrong with her’. In turn, his mates organise a boys’ night out where they yell at each other and don’t talk about their feelings. Andy, pressing mid-30s, goes to stay with his mum and starts dating a woman ‘who is twelve years younger’.

Alderton’s female characters are sexy, funny and shrewd—women you want to spend time with—so why, in Good Material, do we have to hang out with Andy? If Jen doesn’t want to date this guy anymore, why should the reader have to spend three hundred and fifty pages with him?

While Good Material is certainly not as enjoyable as Ghosts, there are redeeming features. The prose is just as light, chatty and observant. Like the women who feature in the novel, Alderton displays ‘her wisdom and progressive ideas about sex and terrifying clear communication skills’. Alderton can turn bad Hinge dates into witty anthropological diatribes. The dating world she depicts is so frustratingly relatable you bemoan the plight of straight women on the apps.

We don’t always get what we want from an artist. Alderton doesn’t need to deliver the same thing repackaged for her fans, no matter how satisfying it may be. This latest novel shows growth in her writing and a willingness to push the boundaries. So while it’s not the Dolly Alderton we may have wanted, I’ll still read anything she writes.

—Emily Westmoreland