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Speaking Up
Gillian Triggs 
(MUP, available now)

Speaking Up is our First Book Club pick for October – read an extract from the book here.

Human rights violations occur almost constantly – offshore detention, racial discrimination, sexism are all unfortunate but undeniable realities of daily life in Australia. In Speaking Up, Gillian Triggs chronicles the years she spent heading up Australia’s Human Rights Commission dealing with these and other issues, and offers a vision for a fairer Australia.

Triggs began her career working in international law. After marrying and having children, she worked in a number of roles across the legal field and in academia, and in July 2012, was appointed president of the Australian Human Rights Commision, a position she would remain in for five years. She would oversee a number of high profile cases, including a national inquiry into children in detention. As a public figure rallying against such human rights violations, Triggs has been treated harshly by the media and politicians, most frequently those on the political right. 

Triggs shows how trying to do the right, fair thing doesn’t always result in justice, and that Australia’s legal system needs to change.

In her book, Triggs illustrates human rights violations in contemporary Australia in two ways: in legal terms, and in personal terms. One of the situations she describes in Speaking Up is a situation that unfolded following the publication of a cartoon by the Australian in 2016. Bill Leak, a cartoonist working for the paper, depicted an Indigenous father and son duo in an overtly racist style, the apparent aim of the cartoon to perpetuate the offensive stereotype of Indigenous men as negligent parents. A young Aboriginal woman, Melissa Dinnison, lodged a complaint with the AHRC about the cartoon, but ended up withdrawing her complaint as the  relentless media attention made her feel unsafe. Meeting  up with Dinnison after the furore had died down, Triggs learned that the young woman wished to finish her studies and work for a few years before ‘venturing again into the public arena’. With this comment, Triggs implies that a thick skin is something required of anyone wanting to confront injustice; Melissa Dinnison’s experience is just one anecdote that Triggs uses to show how even trying to do the right, fair thing doesn’t always result in justice, and that Australia’s legal system needs to change. 

At the heart of this book is Triggs’s belief that that Australia needs a Charter of Rights to help make our society a better place for everyone. Despite having moved on from the AHRC, she is still determined to see one introduced. Triggs is advocate for everyone – people living in poverty, refugees who have been treated with contempt by the Australian government,  people who are discriminated against for reasons beyond their control – and Speaking Up is an informative and important book that reveals some great failings of Australia and its legal system, but at the same time offers realistic steps toward a fairer society for all.

– Ellen Cregan

The Fragments
Toni Jordan 
(Text, available 29 October)

Toni Jordan’s fifth novel opens with a humid blast of Brisbane air, as bookseller Caddie Walker waits in line to see an exhibition of The Fragments – traces of a lost second novel by writer Inga Karlson, who died in a suspicious fire in 1939 New York. A brief conversation with an elegant stranger leaves Caddie convinced that this woman, Rachel, knows more about Inga Karlson and her lost book. Caddie disrupts the routine of her life – ‘a comfortable cage of her own construction’ – to pursue this lead in a decades-old literary mystery. 

This decision reunites her with her former lover Philip, a university professor with his own interests in the Karlson case, and introduces her to Jamie, a Karlson expert and antiquarian bookseller who becomes her investigative partner. Jordan draws her characters in astute, often biting, one-liners, and the characters themselves are quick to dish out witty remarks. The almost-unbearably pompous Philip describes a conversation with Jamie as ‘talking to a doughnut.’

Brisbane provides a rich setting, alien and unsettling – a sprawling town that ‘[yearns]…to become a grown-up city.’

Brisbane provides a rich setting, alien and unsettling, with overgrown tropical gardens ‘dangerous with oleander, spattered with sprinkles of light filtered through monstera leaves the size of umbrellas’; ‘a single immature green hand’ of bananas hangs from a tree like some monstrous creature. In counterpoint to this exoticism is the profound parochialism of 1980s Brisbane – a sprawling town that ‘[yearns]…to become a grown-up city.’ It’s a place people leave in order to really begin their lives. This sense of geographic and cultural isolation throws into sharp relief the moments when Caddie makes a connection with the wider world: a crackling voice transmitted through a curly phone cord; newspaper records from 1930s New York compressed onto microfiches.

Chapters alternate between Caddie’s search for Rachel and for the truth about Inga Karlson’s death, and Rachel’s life in late-1930s New York. Jordan constructs a satisfying mystery, with rival conspiracy theories, plots, betrayal, clues and red herrings enough to confuse readers in their attempts to solve it – perfect for fans of Dominic Smith’s The Last Painting of Sara de Vos and Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love. Even more rewarding than the mystery is the connection between Caddie and Rachel, with Karlson as the linchpin. Both women experience loneliness as a form of ghostly invisibility, until their connection with Karlson and their choices propel them along more daring paths, towards tangible connections with other people and the possibility of love.

– Freya Howarth

The Butcherbird Stories
A.S. Patrić 
(Transit Lounge, available 1 November)

After two novels – his Miles Franklin award-winning debut novel Black Rock, White City and last year’s Atlantic Black – A.S. Patrić’s third collection of short fiction, The Butcherbird Stories, feels like a homecoming. The collection is a master class in short fiction, a robust conversation between a writer and his artform. The eleven stories in the collection range in length from just a few pages – ‘HB’ and ‘The Rothko’ – up to much longer pieces; ‘Among the Ruins’, which, at 68 pages, occupies the midpoint of Patrić’s book, and ‘The Flood’, which, at 56 pages, brings the collection to a satisfying conclusion. 

Patrić’s stories bend around the edges of reality, submerging the reader into the shadow world of ordinary life. A swimmer strokes through laps while observing a dismembered thumb at the bottom of the pool. A Hollywood celebrity appears in the suburbs of Melbourne to reclaim a valuable painting. A mysterious stranger takes a young boy’s life. A portrait of dubious origin is retrieved from the back of a wardrobe by an ex-lover. Each of the stories is quietly shocking and buoyed with dark humour, yet not gruesome enough to be labelled horror, or unreal enough to be labelled fantasy. Reality-adjacent, perhaps?

The Butcherbird Stories is a master class in short fiction, a robust conversation between a writer and his artform.

Patrić creates stories with an allegorical quality, conjuring a dream-like atmosphere while also firmly anchoring the action in the everyday. Here we see humanity uncovered in all of its complexity; we face the conundrum of seeing ourselves, equal parts tender and violent.

Patrić’s writing has been compared to the canon; the wit of Peter Carey; the European modernism of Patrick White; the strangeness of Franz Kafka. But beyond the literary comparisons, Patrić’s writing project – connected through his short and longer fictions – permits us entry into a filmic subconscious, reminiscent of the movies of Kaufman, Kubrich or Lynch. 

Finally, it is impossible not to comment on The Butcherbird Stories as a physical object; Patrić has stayed loyal to his independent publisher, Transit Lounge, and they have honoured him with a handsome hardcover edition wrapped in duck-egg-blue boards. It is a rare feat for an author in this country to have their short stories printed in such a fine and solid form, suggesting a permanence, or at the very least, a longevity to the work, more than backed up by the stories inside. 

– Justine Hyde