‘Exquisite’, ‘extraordinary’, ‘insightful’: the best Australian books out in May | Australian books

Homesickness by Janine Mikosza

Memoir, Ultimo Press, $32.99

Homesickness by Janine Mikosza, which comes out May 2022 through Ultimo Press

Janine Mikosza presents her extraordinary memoir about surviving childhood trauma as a conversation between two grown-up versions of herself: Janine, the author, trying gently but doggedly to probe for painful details; and “Nin”, the subject, whose trauma is still so raw that it muddles her memory and tenses – and occasionally shuts her down entirely. As heavy as it sounds, the pair make wonderful company – insightful, warm, funny – as they revisit the 14 houses Janine lived in before she turned 18. In some she can only remember the bedrooms and bathrooms; others she can’t set foot in at all.

Perhaps all memoir writing necessitates a personality split, as the author tries to wrestle the subject down. That split is made literal here, in a heartbreakingly honest rendering of both the process and the story. – Steph Harmon

Bedtime Story by Chloe Hooper

Non-fiction/memoir, Simon & Schuster, $34.99

Bedtime Story by Chloe Hooper, which is out May 2022 through Simon & Schuster

In children’s literature, absent parents abound. They’re away at war, they’ve gone to work while the kids run amok, or they’ve died, leaving orphans to be sent to the country, or to live with aunt Polly, or to become wizards. But what lessons hide in the ages of literature to prepare children for the reality of death?

This was a driving question for author Chloe Hooper upon discovering her partner and father of two young sons, Don Watson, had a rare and aggressive illness. Her resulting book is an exquisite work in which her prodigious talent for getting to the true heart of a story is turned inwards. Hooper invites the reader into her home, heart, and head, to sit by her children’s beds, but carefully, gracefully. She staves off easy mawkishness and strikes a perfect balance – with mood-perfect illustrations by Anna Walker – as she searches for a way to tell her children about the likely tragedy that awaits. While it’s a deeply personal dilemma, Hooper finds universality in a magical and compelling book. – Lucy Clark

Here Goes Nothing by Steve Toltz

Novel, Penguin Random House, $32.99

Here Goes Nothing by Steve Toltz, out through Penguin Random House in May 2022

Australian author Toltz, best known for his Booker-nominated debut doorstopper, A Fraction of the Whole, is a Vegemite writer: you either really don’t enjoy him or think he’s delicious on toast.

His third novel, Here Goes Nothing, is perhaps the clearest demonstration of Toltz’s skills as a humorist: from the opener we know our narrator, Angus Mooney, is dead, trapped in a bureaucratic afterlife making umbrellas in order to fund trips back to this Earthly plane to haunt his former home, where his pregnant wife and the man who murdered him still live. You can tell the author is having great fun – the word-play, aphorisms and gags can feel almost relentless at times – and some readers will have great fun with this too. – Sian Cain

Sunbathing by Isobel Beech

Novel, Allen and Unwin, $29.99

Sunbathing by Isobel Beech, out May 2022 through Allen and Unwin

It’s difficult to describe Sunbathing without making it sound like literary cliche: “Young woman recovers in European countryside.” Perhaps it’s the catalyst that makes this debut so moving: the narrator’s father succumbs to a depression, and she blames herself. Or perhaps it’s the authenticity: Beech knows exactly the complex swirl of grief, anger and dissociation that follow a loss to suicide, which she poured into a Google Doc in real time back when it happened to her.

The narrator has been invited to the scenic mountains of Abruzzo for a month to help two friends prepare for their wedding, and the days go by in a sweet, healing, pastoral blur: long walks, small vegetables, Italian wine, all wrapped in the hermetic warmth of close friends sharing their life and love with a third. After two years without travel, it’s a wonderful place to spend time. – Steph Harmon

Heartland by Jennifer Pinkerton

Non-fiction, Allen and Unwin, $32.99

Heartland by Jennifer Pinkerton, out May 2022 through Allen and Unwin

Pinkerton spent six years travelling around Australia, interviewing millennials and Gen Zers about their dating habits and sex lives. To her credit, Heartland does venture into territory that feels relatively uncharted: the love lives of trans Indigenous Australian “sistagirls”, asexual partnerships, and stealthing (secretly removing a condom during sex), for instance. Pinkerton, a Gen Xer who admits to having had a sheltered life when it comes to dating and sex, is a curious writer, and remains so even when she shares her own biases and fears.

But some of what Pinkerton covers as modern phenomena, like kink parties and polyamory, will not seem all that new or noteworthy, regardless of when the reader was born – and any attempt to make conclusions about an entire generation is bound to feel unconvincing. As a millennial, I did not see myself in this book about millennials, nor did I feel it was written for readers my age – but Heartland remains undeniably interesting. – Sian Cain

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The Jaguar by Sarah Holland-Batt

Poetry, UQP, $24.99

The Jaguar by Australian poet Sarah Holland-Batt, out May 2022 through UQP

Sarah Holland-Batt is one of Australia’s most respected poets, whose second collection, the Hazards, won her the Prime Minister’s Literary award for poetry in 2016. To others though, her voice will be forever tied to her fearless aged care advocacy, which began when she testified at the 2019 royal commission with a harrowing story about her father, who she says experienced horrifying neglect, dehumanisation and victimisation at the aged care facility he lived at in Brisbane for five years, until his death in 2020.

The Jaguar, her third collection, is a confronting and heartfelt elegy for her father, bookended by the devastating end of his life but not forgoing the vivid living of the rest of it – capturing his humanity, his illness and her loss with clarity and love. – Steph Harmon

Unknown: A Refugee’s Story by Akuch Kuol Anyieth

Memoir, Text Publishing, $34.99

Unknown: A Refugee’s Story by Akuch Kuol Anyieth, out May 2022 through Text

Chronicling her family’s journey from Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya to a new life in Melbourne for the past 17 years, South Sudanese refugee Akuch Kuol Anyieth’s memoir is an engagingly written and insightful story of love and trauma.

Unflinching in its honesty about abuse within her own family, Anyieth’s book advocates for greater understanding of the mental anguish suffered by refugees who have faced war, while examining her own experiences of racism in Australia. She dissects negative media portrayals of young African men who have been “over policed”, while critiquing traditional South Sudanese ways of parenting she suggests may contribute to family breakdown. – Steve Dow

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