Fiona McIntosh began as a fantasy writer, but has morphed into a writer of historicals, at the romance end of the spectrum. That they also include thriller plots has given her a substantial following. This new novel treads the familiar ground of WWII, with a focus on intelligence operations. Evie, the stationmaster’s clever daughter, marries engineer Roger, who is not what he seems. Nor is Evie, when pushed into the role of a naïve newly-wed in Nazi Germany. She will prove to Roger and her spymasters her hidden depths and unforeseen abilities. This story has cosplay and fashion, but also trainspotting and technology content. Pedants may quibble with class issues, but the narrative moves like a train. It even includes a twist quite unforeseen, something technically hard to do. For the McIntosh fans.
NON-FICTION PICK OF THE WEEKThe ReckoningJess Hill, Quarterly Essay, $24.99
Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of GeniusHarry Freedman, Bloomsbury, $29.99
In this shattering account of how #MeToo unfolded in Australia, Jess Hill captures the moment through the metaphor of society as a haunted house. Suddenly the lights went on and we could see “the previously invisible mainframe of patriarchy … the house we didn’t even know we’d been living in, with its trapdoors, dark hallways and secret stairwells”. Being able to see, critique and therefore dismantle this structure, this system that enables entitled, powerful men to violently abuse and harass women with impunity is central to Hill’s analysis of the revelations #MeToo triggered and how they became a catalyst for change in politics, the law, higher education and other sectors of the community. Marshalling the experiences of survivors and those working behind the scenes, she tells a story of epic proportions that will continue to shake the foundations of that haunted house.
In this secular age, the popularity of Leonard Cohen’s songs testifies to a widespread yearning for meaning that material wealth cannot satisfy. “There’s a spiritual aspect to everybody’s life, whether they want to cop to it or not,” he said in his final interview. While Cohen was himself steeped in Jewish and Christian mythology and teachings, as well as being a practising Zen Buddhist, he was too subtle a thinker and too conflicted a man to offer up religious homilies. Rather than trying to divine Cohen’s intentions, Harry Freedman examines the religious sources and biblical references, primarily Jewish and Christian, imbedded in the lyrics. The result is an illuminating work that deepens and enriches our understanding of the songs while leaving their tantalising ambiguity intact. More could have been said about the influence of Zen and Vedanta, but that’s for another book.
The FairytaleH.G. Nelson, Pan Macmillan, $34.99 Credit:
This wildly plausible and soundly unhinged account of great moments in sport since colonisation reminds us that sport cannot be separated from the stories we spin about it. H. G. Nelson starts with the facts and runs with them wherever the urge takes him, from the feats of Bill King, the Flying Pieman, to the sport of pork-barrelling, our “proud and long-standing tradition of dumping truckloads of cash into sporting organisations based in marginal seats”. The most memorable moment is not always the sporting event. Sometimes it’s the trappings around it, such as live entertainment before a football grand final. The first performer was Barry Crocker, whose efforts made their way into rhyming slang for “shocker”. What constitutes sport is a moveable feast, which allows Nelson to imagine a future in which Olympic e-sports stars “win gold without leaving home”. Being BritneyJennifer Otter Bickerdike, NineEight Books, $29.99
Credit: Jennifer Bickerdike makes no bones about being partial. Britney Spears has been wronged and her biographer is on the witness stand defending her to the hilt. And one can’t blame her, given the way Spears was robbed of her agency for so long under a legal diktat that infantilised a grown woman. People loved Spears, says Bickerdike, for being the working-class girl made good, but when she displayed her origins she was damned as being white trash. Spears, she argues, is a “cultural vessel” for America’s obsession with fame and fortune. “When a person is forced to inhabit a two-dimensional idealisation representation of perfection, rather than openly existing as a fallible human being, it’s not surprising when they stumble and fall.” While Spears’ every move has been scrutinised and often damned, her success as a popular artist and multi-million dollar business speaks for itself
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