It is time for the second instalment in our monthly series, What Writers Read. Last month, Sarah Krasnostein graced our shelves with her stellar book recommendations -- from Elizabeth Strout to Emmanuel Carrere to Sonia Faleiro. And her own extraordinary book, "The Trauma Cleaner," has been rightly flying off said shelves and onto the hands of clever readers with an obviously good taste for books.
This month, we are delighted to continue the series with the excpetional Jennifer Down, whose exquisite and evocative books -- "Our Magic Hour" and "Pulse Points" -- dissect love, loss, social injustice and human vulnerability. "Our Magic Hour," Jennifer's critically acclaimed debut novel, was shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Glenda Adams Award for New Writing, the Voss Prize, and longlisted for the Dobbie Literary Award. "Pulse Points," her book of short stories, was shortlisted for the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction in the NSW Premier's Literary Awards. She was named a Sydney Morning Herald Young Novelist of the year in both 2017 and 2018.
Below, Jennifer recommends three books that influenced and inspired her own hypnotising and moving storytelling.
Where it Hurts by Sarah De Leeuw
I picked up this slim volume by chance in a bookshop in Calgary in February, and I’m yet to read anything finer this year. It’s an elegiac collection of lyric essays on loss, disappearance and memory, firmly anchored in bleak but beautiful Canadian landscapes. De Leeuw is both an acclaimed poet and an academic researching, among other things, the social determinants of health outcomes of First Nations peoples. These essays have both the light and graceful touch of a poet, and the warmth of someone deeply sensitive to people and place. They’re personal essays, but the small things—forgotten ex-logging towns, isolated truck stops, drunk teenage girls hitching a lift on the side of the highway—take on a metonymic quality under her hand.
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
This debut novel from Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo was published in 2013, and it’s an exceptional book that has stayed with me since I first read it. A bildungsroman of sorts, it tells the story of Darling, aged 10 when we first meet her, living in the town of Paradise with her friends and parents, in a country devastated by poverty, an oppressive political climate, and the AIDS epidemic. I think it can be difficult to write convincingly from a child’s perspective, and when done poorly, I find it really off-putting to read. But Bulawayo is masterly. Darling’s voice is plausibly childlike, but funny and sharp and observant. She’s fully realised and utterly believable, and one of my enduring favourite characters from any work of fiction.
Wildlife by Richard Ford
I return to Ford’s writing time and again when I feel stuck, and Wildlife is one of those books I can open to almost any page and learn something new. I think it’s a masterclass in dialogue, in particular, but also in family dynamics—and, like We Need New Names, in writing convincingly from the perspective of a young person. Joe, the protagonist, is sixteen when his father loses his job and decides to join a group of volunteer firemen working to contain a forest fire. In his father’s absence, his mother begins an affair with another local man. All of this could be terribly dramatic and overwrought, but there’s such a sense of spareness and holding-back to this novel. It’s also set in Great Falls, Montana, which is the sort of mountainous landscape I have a great weakness for as a reader.