Losing Face by George Haddad
Losing Face is an overwhelmingly sensitive portrayal of a young man on the cusp of self-awareness. Joey is a Lebanese-Australian teenager, struggling with a lack of direction and with no clear role-model for what he might do with his life. His grandmother, Tayta Elaine, is a woman used to hard and unconvincing men -she has spent a lifetime supporting and cleaning up after them. Elaine struggles with anger as well as an addiction to gambling, while Joey makes terrible choices borne from inaction, ultimately involving his family in a court case when he is accused of sexual assault.
The novel examines rape, consent, and the long shadows of past generations, but also provides much heart and humour in Haddad’s understanding of the cultures at play within the suburbs of South-West and Western Sydney. It is ultimately a tender depiction of the confusion inherent in young manhood. We loved the openness of this novel. Even with such strong themes, there is no moral lesson, or obvious judgement, or forced viewpoint for the reader, making it a complex and delicate depiction of modern Australia.
Like its predecessor Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart's latest release is a hugely affecting heartbreaker of a novel set in the housing estates of Glasgow. Described as a gay Romeo and Juliet, Young Mungo tells the story of Catholic James and Protestant Mungo and their dangerous first love. They should be sworn enemies if they’re to be seen as men at all in their rough-as-guts Glaswegian hood, and yet they become best friends who fall in love and dream of escaping the grey city and all of its domestic abuse, sexual violence, religious conflict and poverty. If this is your first foray into Stuart's writing, be prepared for pain and heartbreak, but know that for all of the brutality and suffering, there are equal amounts of tenderness and humanity. Stuart has a profound capacity for making misery beautiful. As one review put it "misery is just a necessary ingredient in his novels of sentimental education, the hit of salt that makes the sugar sing."
All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami
You’ll recognise the name Mieko Kawakami (and probably her gorgeous cover design) from her bestselling 2020 novel Breasts and Eggs. Her new book is a poetic and mesmerising story about loneliness and love.
Fuyuko Irie is a freelance proofreader and copy-editor in her mid-30s. She has few friends and no real hobbies or interests. To cope with her social anxiety, she takes up drinking, often to excess.
Drunk and emboldened, she attempts to sign up to a course at a local community college. In doing so, she meets Mitsutsuka, an older physics teacher. They tentatively begin a friendship, though their interactions are often hampered by Fuyuko’s self-doubt and dependence on alcohol.
Fuyuko doesn’t know if she wants to be like her boss, Hijiri who is confident and sexually forthright, or more like Kyoko, a conservative and reserved colleague from her old job at the publishing house. This compact novel follows an awkward and insecure Fuyoko as she wonders just how it is she can fit in as a woman in modern-day Tokyo.