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Arthur’s top 5 fiction reads of 2015

No, 2015 is not a typo, it’s just that things got seriously out of whack during our 12 months of transition. Here are five more stories that have especially stayed with me. (See the previous list here…)

The Natural Way of Things (Charlotte Wood, 2015)

This Stella Prize winner first caught my eye when someone mentioned ‘dystopia’, yet it turns out to be not speculative fiction, but a visceral fable for our times. At first glance, the concept of women imprisoned in the desert seems like an ironic echo of pacifying franchises like The 100 and The Hunger Games. But any such comparisons soon fade from view in what is an astonishing work of truth-telling, a parable of misogyny, allusive, haunting, revelatory. It got me in the guts and I’m still churned up by it. I can only hope that continues.

True History of the Kelly Gang (Peter Carey, 2001)

‘The past is not dead. It is not even past,’ reads the epigraph by William Faulkner. I love stories that re-imagine our accepted histories and shared tales, and this one dives in deep. It is an amazing, rollicking novel. Everyone knows of Ned Kelly, yet the author observes that ‘we Australians had not even begun to imagine the emotional life of the characters in our great story.’ Carey comes at it by appropriating Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter, inhabiting an extraordinary vernacular with which to flesh out the man and his world. Most poignant for me was the depiction of Kelly’s relationship with his mother.

A Place on Earth (Wendell Berry, revised edition 1983)

In the quietness and mundane goings-on of this ‘farm procedural’, you find not banality but a sustained meditation on the interdependence between land and community. Here the land is more than merely a setting, but neither is it layered up with symbolic or mystical qualities – it is instead an ever-present reality, and a kindness, while human frustrations sort themselves out above. And the story is nothing if not human: ‘The only thing I try to accomplish in fiction is to show how people act when they love each other.’ It also sparked my interest as an expression of agrarian philosophy.

The Mount (Carol Emshwiller, 2002)

Earth has been colonised by aliens, leaving humans in bondage, bred in captivity to be racing steeds for their tiny new overlords. However, as with horses or dogs, there is always a special bond between a master and their mount. Like the novel Feed, this is a quirky and captivating story with broad, read-aloud appeal. It is a beautiful exploration of oppression and liberation, and instead of being regaled with stock angst about authority and revolution, we are drawn to consider both captor and captive as responsible to one another, entangled in each other’s dignity and redemption.

The Haunting of Jessica Raven (Ann Halam, 1994)

Gwyneth Jones is dame of dangerous SF and one of my favourite authors. She also writes for younger readers under the name Ann Halam, and this is the second in her series of ghost stories, each revolving around a young person and their family in a liminal or transitional situation. The Haunting of Jessica Raven might not be the spookiest of them, or the saddest, but it packs on the curiosity by adding both WWII history and genetic disease to the mix. Jones never fails to stimulate and intrigue!

Image credit: Ned Kelly by Sidney Nolan, 1 September 1946

Categories: Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

7 replies

    1. In what sense do you mean easier/harder?

      Reading fiction – the imaginative encounter itself as well as the depiction of imaginative worlds – has become more significant for me because of the way in which it is a mirror and a foil for my own cross-cultural experience…

      1. True and very cool. I guess I meant more in terms of time to read. Do you feel you have more time to read in Africa or you had more in Oz? Or it may be more complicated than that?

      2. Getting e-readers (actually Kindles, yoking us to the Amazon juggernaut) got us reading like never before. But that happened only shortly before departure. Certainly there was more space during our time in Dodoma, for several reasons (more flexible work situation, small town, one child…). Now everything seems more hard won.

      3. So in some ways easier, but that was considering the context of your first term? Now, for you and your family and your situation, that’s not as much the case? Is it all about seasons?

      4. Seasons all the way! My reading dropped off during the big transition, but is picking up again now because we’ve recovered good rhythms

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