China Room, The Covered Room, The Upper House and Animal
CHOICE OF THE WEEK
Harvill Secker, $ 32.99
From the author of The year of the fugitives, Sunjeev Sahota China room hovers with a subtle resonance between the generations of an Indian family. Our narrator is a disgruntled 18-year-old heroin addict who returned to his ancestral home in the Punjabian countryside to detox and read (he enjoys everything from Les Murray’s poetry to surrealist luminary Leonora Carrington) before returning to London for the ‘university. This offer of freedom is opposed to that of 16-year-old Mehar decades earlier. She is the narrator’s great-grandmother, we later learn, and finds herself newly married, with two other daughters, to three brothers. None of the girls know which husband is hers – conjugal visits always take place in the dark, and otherwise the women remain sequestered from the men, dragging themselves into the “porcelain room” – but when Mehar conspires to find out, the passions flare up. Sahota’s beautiful and subtle novel weaves an effortless tale that explores the complexity of family and belonging and celebrates the liberating power of literature.
The covered woman
Pantera, $ 29.99
Sarah is a smart and knowledgeable young lawyer who works hours in a mid-sized Sydney firm. Her love life is a failure until she meets Daniel, who introduces her to a tight-knit religious community led by the charismatic Rabbi Menachem Lev and his wife Chani. Religion had been an afterthought in Sarah’s life, but since embracing life with Daniel, she has found solace and purpose as part of a large and dedicated family of believers. However, not everything is as perfect as it seems, and when the community moves to the Blue Mountains, Sarah’s perspective darkens as nasty secrets surface and she must choose between family and freedom. Lisa Emmanuel’s The covered woman is a tense, dramatic psychological novel that penetrates the skin of charismatic religion – particularly the power leaders can wield and the difficulty of escaping.
The Upper House
Fast, $ 27.99
Cli-fi with a suggestion from Noah’s Ark on this, The Upper House suffers catastrophic global warming that leaves East Anglia submerged. Caro’s mother-in-law, Francesca, is a scientist who predicts the unfolding of the apocalypse and hatches a contingency plan, turning her vacation home into “The High House” – a self-sufficient sanctuary with two local caretakers (Sally and his grandfather) where Caro and his younger brother Pauly can take refuge if the need arises. The need arises. Powerful storms have hit and with the climatic catastrophe that cut her off from her parents, Caro begins to adjust to the rhythms of a new life. Jessie Greengrass is cunning in the way she portrays the small ways we quell climate change anxiety, but less inspired when disaster strikes. There’s a family mystery involved, but it feels like an invigorating plot point in a rather quiet dystopian romance that slides too straight from bang to moan.
Bloomsbury, $ 32.99
When a former lover shoots himself in front of her at a New York restaurant, Joan leaves town and moves to a resort in LA. Here, she gets involved with two other men as she hunts Alice – a woman who may hold the key to unlocking Joan’s “depraved” conduct, beneath which lies a long and terrible history of trauma and sexual violence. Although it is a good thing that Lisa Taddeo Animal – his debut in fiction after the famous three women – does not pull any blow when it comes to rape or its psychological effects, there is a gratuitousness, a monotony in front of the very weight of human wickedness and misery in this novel which in the end purifies it of an emotional impact. This numbs the reader and flattens the character of the narrator, whose compulsive and sexualized behavior leaves her mistreated and depressingly vulnerable to further abuse.