‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood

Responsible for The Natural Way of Things, a novel that picked up numerous awards, including the 2016 Stella Prize, the Indie Book of the Year and the joint winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction, Charlotte Wood is regarded as one of Australia’s most exciting and provocative writers. And I personally loved that earlier novel. So expectations were high for her latest, The Weekend.

Despite the three women knowing each other better than their own siblings, Sylvie’s death had opened up strange caverns of distance between them.

Jude, Wendy and Adele are life-long friends – as was Sylvie. Now in their 70s, they are meeting at Sylvie’s beach home for the last time – the house is being put on the market. It’s Christmas and the trio are planning a few days of clearing out the old memories. But without Sylvie to maintain equilibrium, the three struggle to maintain or even understand their friendship. Controlling Jude, a former renowned restauranteur, is less than happy with Wendy, the famed academic writer, bringing her almost incontinent dog whilst there are suspicions that actress Adele may have split up in her latest relationship.

Exploring growing up and growing old, The Weekend is wry and sensitive – yet a little too clean, in spite of long-buried secrets surfacing to hurt. It’s poise is pitch-perfect, it’s narrative accomplished (there’s no forced searching for a plot as such) – but I wanted more of the prescient savageness of  The Natural Way of Things, something a little more memorable. The result is a novel that is easily read and quickly dispatched that rarely challenges or demands a reread.

'The Banker'

Inspired by true events, two African-American entrepreneurs buck the 1960s US real-estate system, buying up buildings and housing black residents in white areas. Their successes founder on buying a couple of banks and illegally lending money to black-owned businesses and home-buyers – in small-town Texas.

It’s a fascinating story as the gregarious Samuel L Jackson (The Avengers, Pulp Fiction) and more serious Anthony Mackie (The Avengers, The Hurt Locker) use a not-so-bright white-boy Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Favourite) as the public front to their business – and teach him the art of success.

Director George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau, Birth of the Dragon) keeps the narrative ticking along even if it’s all overly sanitised.

An Apple+ original.

Rating: 57%

'Taboo' by Kim Scott

Grounded in a brutal modern reality, Taboo is a surprisingly optimistic novel, a narrative not of revenge but more of rapprochement as the Wirlomin Noongar people travel to the opening of a Peace Park in the (semi) fictional town of Kepalup in Western Australia, a town near to the site of the bloody Cocanarup Massacre.

It’s a beautiful but scarred landscape, with the current fictionalised owners of the Kocanarup Station – the overtly Christian Hortons: Dan, a recent widower and his brother Malcolm. With seemingly good intentions (and possibly for their own atonement as blood relatives of those responsible for the massacre), they are to host a group of Noongars on the site of the massacre itself: Dan’s wife had been a prime mover in the establishment of the Peace Park. 

Himself a Wirlomin Noongar man, Kim Scott continues (as in his earlier Benang and That Deadman Dance novels) to explore his own roots in southern Western Australia. He slowly assembles his cast as they travel to the caravan site that is to host them over the long weekend. Primarily a group of elders who are looking to reconnect to an identity and history that has been long lost to them, the group also includes identical twin brothers Gerald and Gerard. One is a stoner and troubled, the other looking, on his release from prison at the beginning of the narrative, to his heritage as he tries to avoid the temptations of his earlier life choices. And then there’s Tilly, a mixed-race private Perth girl-school student, cousin to the twins. With both parents now deceased, Tilly is looking to make connections with her father’s people and a culture she was removed from as a babe-in-arms. She has her own demons to deal with and struggles to understand a world so removed from her own.

As all grapple with the most appropriate ways of participation in the forthcoming festivities, so, with the aid of the spirits of the dead that haunt the land, the Noongars look to reconnect to their own histories and stories, much of which has been lost or, at best, on the periphery of memory.

In equal parts brutal, mysterious and idealistic, described by Scott himself as a trippy, stumbling sort of genre-hop that I think features a trace of Fairy Tale, a touch of Gothic, a sufficiency of the ubiquitous Social Realism and perhaps a touch of Creation Story, the novel Taboo is a powerful yet accessible narrative. It opens quietly of the pain still felt – Our hometown was a massacre place. People called it taboo. Yet the contemporary Aborigines are prepared to confront this taboo – and not look for revenge or recompense. Taboo, whilst not necessarily looking at forgiveness, is as much about acceptance and accommodation of the past.

Shortlisted for the 2018 Miles Franklin award, Kim Scott lost out to Michelle de Kretser and The Life to Come.

'Requiem: A Hallucination' by Antonio Tabucchi

An exquisite novella to saviour, Requiem sees our narrator travel through a virtually empty Lisbon on a hot summer Sunday when most people have headed for the beach. Having travelled in from Azeitao just outside of the city for a midnight rendezvous with poet and friend, he fills his day with encounters and meals with people both living and dead.

A homage to Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa and Portuguese culture in general, Requiem is an enchanting journey, a nostalgic memory as we travel around the city with the narrator, from the famed central Cafe Brasiliera to the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, from the Largo do Cemiterio dos Prazeres to the coastal lighthouse of Guincho.

As he travels from place to place, visiting shared moments and people from times earlier in his life , the narrator falls into conversations with bar staff, taxi drivers, housekeepers, waiters, train conductors – the anonymous who are intrinsic to the character of the city.  The delights of the local (and unique) cuisine features heavily (there are even notes describing the likes of Sarrabulho a moda do Douro, Papos de anjos de Mirandela et al) – again, adding to the flavour [sic] of Lisbon.

On finally meeting his friend and poet (an unnamed Pessoa) at midnight on the banks of the Tagus, they discuss Kafka, postmodernism and the future of literature.

Written in Portuguese by the Italian Antonio Tabucchi (he lived for many years in Lisbon as the Director of the Italian Cultural Institute), the elegant Requiem: A Hallucination won the Italian 1991 PEN Prize.

'Honey Boy'

Shia LeBeouf, as writer of the screenplay, revisits his own childhood as a child actor struggling with a stormy and unstable relationship with his father (played by LeBeouf himself).

It’s sincere and sensitive (particularly in the performance by young Noah Jupe – A Quiet Place, Ford vs Ferrari) centred primarily around a motel room and, a few years later, a rehab unit (Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea, Ladybird – taking over from Jupe). But the narrative occasionally errs on the side of justification for LeBeouf’s real life bad-boy reputation.

Director Alma Har’el (documentaries Bombay Beach, LoveTrue) makes her feature film debut with a film LeBeouf wrote whilst in rehab himself.

Rating: 68%

‘The Gentlemen’

Great to see director Guy Ritchie (Aladdin; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) back on form as he returns to London’s criminal underground.

The Gentlemen is a foul-mouthed hoot as Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club, Free State of Jones) looks to first sell-off and then protect his $400 million marijuana empire as both American billionaire Jeremy Strong (Detroit, The Big Short) and the Chinese Triad through Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians, Last Christmas) attempt to muscle in on the business. And Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins, Love Actually), as the investigative journalist looking to squeeze a massive payout, has never been better.

Hoots of laughter around a surprisingly full auditorium for a film that’s been screening since mid-January is indicative of the film’s appeal.

Rating: 74%


A stunningly shot documentary as Hatizde, a rural Macedonian beekeeper, goes about her everyday in the isolated, seemingly abandoned village of Berkilija, caring for ‘her’ wild bee bees and invalid mother. The arrival of a large, itinerant family upsets the natural balance of her livelihood.

First time directors Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska present a patient portrait of a dedicated woman who deals with the hardships thrown at her with grace. Her problem is the greed of Hussein and his wife who decimate the hives for a quick dollar.

Honeyland is unassuming and sublime, asking us, the viewers, to take a moment to think of lives outside our own reference point that are lived in delicate balance with the natural world.

Nominated for 2 Oscars in 2020 – best feature documentary & foreign language film.

Rating: 84%

‘Dark Waters’

Treading similar ground to the classic Erin Brockovich starring Oscar-winning Julia Roberts, Dark Waters sees a corporate defence attorney take on an environmental lawsuit against a giant company his company is vying to represent.

Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers, Spotlight) as Rob Bilott turns the tables on Dupont and the unsafe manufacture of Teflon – along with its dumping of unsafe chemicals that leak into the drinking water of West Virginia. It’s a long battle as a local farmer contacts Bilott to report the unnatural death of his cows in 1998 to the $670 million cash payout in 2017.

As with Ruffalo’s investigations, it’s a grinding, obsessive, by-the-book docudrama, generally avoiding the emotional tirades of Erin Brokovich. Director Todd Haynes (Carol, Far From Heaven) chooses to focus on the stoicism of the Virginian victim. Bilott’s wife, Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables, Ocean’s 8) and his boss, Tim Robbins (Mystic River, The Shawshank Redemption) have their moments, but are secondary to the (slowly) unfolding events.

There’s few fireworks, but Dark Waters is a superior, if disturbing, telling of corporate malfeasance.

Rating: 70%

‘The Looking Glass War’ by John le Carré

Written in 1965, The Looking Glass War is le Carré’s attempt to debunk the populist romanticised idea of the world of espionage, a view that had evolved, in part, as a result of his own The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.

Verging on satire as The Department, a British military intelligence organisation that had gained some success in aerial reconnaissance in World War II, becomes involved in a dubious spying operation. Their information from a defector is that there’s a build-up of Soviet missiles south of Rostock in East Germany and close to the border with the west.

Having slipped into irrelevance since the end of the war, The Department sees it as the opportunity to relive its glory days. But the better regarded ‘Circus’ and its second-in-command, George Smiley, must be kept out of the loop at all costs. According to its Head, Leclerc, a much-decorated wartime air commander, success will provide long term security for the country and The Department itself.

Reactivating one of its wartime agents, Polish radio operator Fred Leiser, the operation moves into training overdrive, with Leiser illegally crossing the border. For The Department, it’s just like the old wartime days! It is, of course, all futile and pointless, a mission highly questionable from the outset.

On publication, the book’s negativity and the snobbery and prejudicial racism within governmental circles was much reviled by press and the public alike.

‘Never Mind’ by Edward St Aubuyn

Unquestionably one of the most unpleasant and harrowing novels I have read, Never Mind is a story of privilege, snobbery, prejudice and abuse.

At the age of five, Patrick Melrose has the run of a magical garden in the family holiday home in the south of France. Lonely, imaginative yet forcibly self-sufficient, Patrick is appropriately cautious around the adults in his immediate surrounds. David Melrose is an arrogant bully who rules his domain with considered cruelty and wealthy American heiress, Eleanor, an ineffectual mother who has taken unhappy solace in alcohol. When she had met David, she thought that he was the first person who really understood her. Now he was the last person she would go to for understanding…

Never Mind is set over two days as the Melroses await the arrival of guests – the frightful, oft-married English snob, Nicholas, and his latest young female partner, Bridget along with the likeable Jewish academic, Victor Eisen, and his partner, American journalist Anne Moore. Seemingly accepted on the surface, Victor, as a Jew, can never be fully accepted by the likes of Nicholas, who fails to recognise the veiled disdain he is held in by Bridget. But it’s power games galore throughout, with David holding the trump card: he raped is own five year-old son only a few hours earlier.

Having read this thoroughly unpleasant, although admittedly stylishly written, novel, it’s something of a shock to discover that Never Mind is the first part of semi-autobiographical trilogy.