#MiniReviews – the Novella edition

As I’ve been reading so many chunksters this year, novellas have proven to be the perfect inbetween palate cleansers. The current ones are both from 2022 and both new releases. One is from Australia and one is from Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid (on his website he says that he now spends his time between Lahore, London, New York and California). One story features LGBTQIA and race issues while the other is purely a race based story.

But of course both books are much more than that. The protagonists create the narrative drive while the setting defines how and why the various relationships develop. One is set in 1950’s Melbourne and one is set barely five minutes in the future in the USA.

I had the payphone receiver to my mouth. The train station was a cavernous, domed echo chamber.

Marlo was a heart wrenching look at life in 1950’s Melbourne through the eyes of a gay man, Christopher. The lover who finally caught his eye was an Aboriginal man, Morgan, living with his white father – he was an outsider, marginalised, twice over. Their cautious, careful courtship was painful to witness. Public displays were to be avoided at all costs, yet the ability to find safe havens to be together were also fraught with danger.

Carmichael captured the strict, conservative, disapproving world that surrounded Christopher & Morgan using sparse, elegant language supplemented by black and white photos sourced from the Australian Queer Archive website. Carmichael refrained from turning this into a trauma story, but the happy-ever-afters are conditional and precarious.

Unfortunately the sparse style and some awkward jumps in time, meant I never really felt fully engaged in the lives of these two men. Historically fascinating but not completely captivating.

Being alone with one person can be more awful than being with a group of unknown people.

Title: Marlo
Author: Jay Carmichael
ISBN: 9781925713695
Imprint: Scribe Publications
Published: 2 August 2022
Format: Paperback
Pages: 150
Dates Read: 10 August 2022 - 16 August 2022

One morning Anders, a white man, woke up to find he had turned a deep and undeniable brown.

The Last White Man was a tremendous story with lots of fascinating stuff to unpack about race, identity, perception, truth, loss and belonging. It would make a great book club choice.

Hamid created a world where ‘none of the old rules any longer appled.’ Some reviewers have described his writing as magic realism, but for me it feels like Hamid is simply daring us to consider futures vastly different from the one currently on offer.

Our shared experiences with the pandemic were incorporated into this particular future. As Anders’ world descended into chaos and disorder, hoarding became a thing, followed by a period of isolation, as those who had already changed, waited for the rest of the world to change too.

After the change, the new post-racial world took on an aura of calm. A few tried to hold onto their ‘whiteness’ and the sense of superiority and specialness, but eventually this kind of thinking became irrelevant and obsolete. Perhaps, Hamid also hopes that generational change is the answer to many of the issues facing the world we live in today.

Fascinating, thought-provoking AND captivating.

Title: The Last White Man
Author: Mohsin Hamid
ISBN: 9780241566572
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton
Published: 16 August 2022
Format: Hardback
Pages: 192
Dates Read: 27 August - 28 August 2022
  • This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.

16 thoughts on “#MiniReviews – the Novella edition

  1. Well, that’s a coincidence ! Here we are talking “novellas” and my search for some titles and BOOM…your review appears! Good timing. I’ll put both books on my list and see if one or both appeal to my reading tastes! Thanks!

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    1. I read Marlo in the middle of Cold Light, when I needed a little break from Edith. My few minor reservations may have been a response to the contrast between Moorhouse’s wordy writing style and Carmichael’s more sparse one.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I sometimes think that how we react to a book can be influenced by what we’ve just read. After a run of Very Serious Books, I enjoy a frivolous one, when normally I might not bother with it.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I always have a few lighter books by my bed for those times when they are needed. I’m saving Emma Donoghue’s latest for our week away, that is fast approaching. I plan to be distracted by beach, sunshine and lots of walking, so will need an easy but engaging book to pick up and put down.

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  2. The Last White Man sounds really good. I haven’t yet read Hamid so may be this is a good place to start. Marlo sounds interesting too in the insights it gives into things at the time, even if it wasn’t entirely successful

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    1. I’m thinking of putting The Last White Man to my book club next week. It’s ,my turn to pick and this book has so much to unpack!
      I would still recommend Marlo to everyone. My reservations were minor and may have been more indictative of my mood at the time 🙂

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  3. Hamid is a very interesting writer. I read The Reluctant Fundamentalist several years ago but often think back to the ending and the question mark it creates about the identity of the protagonist

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  4. I didn’t encounter gay men until I went up to university in 1969. I didn’t even encounter the concept of gayness. I’m not sure when the penny dropped that the group in my university college I most often mixed were sleeping with boys, but quite late in that first year probably. I don’t think they felt threatened, but it was only a year or two earlier that South Australian police murdered a gay man by throwing him in the river.

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    1. Being gay in the mid-80’s sounds rather similar. At school we speculated about who might be gay, but as far as we knew, no-one was actually doing anything about it. Of course, by our 10 year reunion, a few had ‘come out’. But they had to leave home and leave town to do so. And none of them came back for the reunion.
      Thankfully times have changed. Both boys had openly gay classmates by the end of highschool.

      The fear of being bashed (or worse) was still very real in the 1980’s and 1990’s too. Carmichael captured this tension superbly – the fear, the dread, the constant looking over shoulders. Even just sitting next to each other on a tram was fraught with anxiety.

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