Good Reading : September 2006
general fiction word of mouth The Dickinson Papers Mark Ragg When the State Library of New South Wales acquires a collection of precious Emily Dickinson manuscripts, disaster strikes as they are stolen within hours, creating an international scandal. The crime piques the interest of Jock, a lonely single dad and bookwor m who writes to the prickly but vulnerable Lola Martine, a Dickinson obsessive who curated the exhibition. As they begin a tentative email correspondence, the thief leads police, politicians and experts on a merry chase around Sydney with a series of literary-themed clues. This, Ragg’s first novel, is an unusual, entertaining read. It is a romantic mystery where the romance isn’t particularly satisfying and the mystery is fairly obvious. But it is around the edges of the story where Ragg excels, detailing his tale with all kinds of literary references and musings on Sydney’s history and filling his footnotes with amusing minutiae, such as Dickinson’s success in a local baking contest. As a paean to contrary characters like Emily and the deep connection people for m with literature far removed from their own time and place, it’s effective and likeable. It also delivers a surprising, though well-deserved, boot into Australia’s refugee policy. Catnip for closet romantics everywhere. ★★★ Vintage $32.95 Reviewed by Daniel Herborn Cricket Kings William McInnes Itried very hard to like this book. It’s about a motley group of men who for years have met to play indifferent cricket for the Yar raville West Fourths in Melbourne’s wester n suburbs. The captain is Chris Andersen, a big boofy solicitor with a booming voice. Then there’s Michael Martin, a doctor who’s seen too much suffering in the Third World and blots out the memory by popping too many little white pills. Brian, who’s a sandwich short of a picnic. Rob Orchard, a bus driver who loves music and who has made the position of fine leg fieldsman his own because he can stand and listen to the music coming out of the house there. Livey Jones, whose specialty is farting. Chris’s son Lachlan, who’s sometimes embar rassed by his big boofy dad . It’s the last game of the season, a hot day on Cec Bull Oval, and the Yar raville West Fourths haven’t won a game all season. Chris had a job drumming up the team and they’re playing two men short against crack team Trinity.You get the picture. I know it’s a gentle book about ordinary people and doing your best and having a go and playing fair and being nice, and criticising it feels like kicking a kitten. But it really does read like a lot of sentimental tosh in far too many places; it’s like mentally wading into a huge lake of treacle. ★ Hodder $32.95 Reviewed by Roz Everett Go home with BILL BRYSON on his most personal journey yet – into his own childhood in 1950s America The laugh-out-loud memoir of a small American superhero.