Character based, driven more by personal relationships than action, ‘Realism’…




HORNBY, Nick         

About A Boy        1998

Well written, often funny, nice balance of hope and realism, read in one session





CALVINO, Italo         

If On A Winters Night A Traveller                      1979    Novel

Postmodern, self-aware, deconstructive – but also fun and engaging


GOLDSWORTHY, Peter      

Maestro    1989

Child prodigy in authentic seventies Australia


ELIOT, George

Middlemarch        1881-2

Clever, insightful, original, potent, engaging


HADDON, Mark        

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time     2003    Crime/Novel

Triumphant autistic fantasy. Authentic characters, engaging narrative and excellent structure


HORNBY, Nick         

High Fidelity        1995

Very readable, penetrating on commitment, honest, well plotted


How To Be Good             2001

Good characters, poignant without being preachy


ISHIGURO, Kazuo    

When We Were Orphans            2000

Black, very clever subversion of mannered detective novel to deliver stinging theme


LIVELY, Penelope

Moon Tiger           1987

Great mood, characters, and potent historical settings




HELLER, Joseph      

Catch 22   1955    Novel

Killer satire, hilarious but black humour, drunkenly uninhibited


IRVING, John            

The World According to Garp   1978

Funny, striking, constantly moving


KEILLOR, Garrison  

Wobegon Boy      1997

Slow moving but warmly funny, and even some kick


LEE, Harper  

To Kill a Mockingbird     1960

Effectively following Twain’s tradition of dry narration from a child’s perspective to comment on America, community, morality and race


LIVELY, Penelope

Passing On          1989

Some good characters, patient story with a kick, a bit preachy


LODGE, David                      

How Far Can You Go?    1980

Perceptive case studies of how Vatican II, the pill, and changing social values affected adherents



Of Mice and Men 1937    Novella

Stinging, poignant, bleak, insightful



Breathing Lessons                      1988

Insightful, humorous, sad, believable





BANKS, Iain  

Espedair Street               1987

Anecdotes, soul-searching and recovery of depressed fictional ex-rock star


The Business       1999

Hi-tech business woman moves between 1st and 3rd World


Stonemouth         2012    Novel (almost crime)

Capable narration, strong characters deftly weaved into a cleverly paced non-linear crime-ish plot




Regeneration       1991    Novel/War/Historical Fiction

Insightful WW1 profiles from well researched imagined psychological counselling sessions with the ‘shell-shocked’



Inconceivable      1991    Novel/Humour

Workmanlike realisation of a usable idea, engaging start and finish, but bogs down in cliché in the middle


GOLDSWORTHY, Peter      

Wish          1995

As ever well written but ultimately a deeply offensive theme (B+/F)


LEVI, Primo              

The Wrench         1978

Gracefully narrated stories of a tradesman’s jobs and values


LIVELY, Penelope

Judgement Day   1980

Clinical, able, honest, searching, manipulative


Heat Wave                        1996

Potent, capable, slow-moving, tragic, venomous


LODGE, David                      

Ginger, You’re Barmy     1962

Honest picture of the inanities of national service


Out of the Shelter                        1970

Semi-autobiographical coming of age story of English youth in post-war Germany


Changing Places 1975    Novel/Humour

A middle-aged daydream


Small World         1984    Novel/Humour

Second of the clever and funny Rummidge Uni series


Nice Work            1988

Industry meets academia: deft observation, articulation, organisation from a benignly humorous narrator


Paradise News     1991

Funny, touching, insightful, morally & thematically flawed


Therapy    1995

Standard Lodge: insight, humour, alternative forms, incorporated lecture (Keirkegaard), adulterous resolution


Thinks       2001

Standard Lodge, but less substance and more cheap stylistic and prurient tricks


Deaf Sentence     2008

Honest, articulate, fluid, and (refreshingly) not that seedy


McEwan, Ian

Amsterdam          1998   

Able, masculine, articulate, incisive (although events are sensational and finally twee)



Life of Pi   2001

Ably written surprising mix of survival story and deceptively persuasive theology



Tomorrow, When the War Began                      1993    Novel/Action/Teen

Surprisingly workable war and teen romance hybrid; recognisable Oz kids


MOSLEY, Walter

RL’s Dream          1995

Original, engaging, confronting


Némirovsky, Irène

Suite Française   2004 (trans. 2006)     

Established Jewish novelist sets and writes a story in Vichy France. Extraordinarily poignant. 



The Shipping News        1993   

Redemptive city to country feelgood story with strong episodes and dialogue


SCHLINK, Bernard              

The Reader          1997

Modern German grapples to decide appropriate response to the holocaust



Jasper Jones       2009

Engaging coming of age story, rural 70s Australians amped up to Shakespearian proportions


TARTT, Donna                                 

The Little Friend  2002    Crime/Novel

Impressively textured characters, yet steadfastly misanthropic


TWAIN, Mark                        

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn   1885    Novel

First half powerful, funny, striking, but then slides into farce


VOIGT, Cynthia        

Dicey’s Song       1982    Juvenile (Novel)

Capable young teen sequel to Homecoming


Tree By Leaf        1988   

Able meditation on choice and destiny (much better job than Cherryh’s Rusalka)


ZUSAC, Markus       

The Messenger    2006    Novel/Juvenile ((teen) and adult)

Good heart, engaging Australian expression and humour, oversimple






ADIGA, Aravind

The White Tiger   2008

Able concept and writing, perceptive, but deeply cynical, and consistently unpleasant company


AUSTEN, Jane                     

Mansfield Park     1814

Atypical, censorious heroine and plot, less fun than usual (apparently)


BANKS, Iain  

Canal Dreams                  1989    Novel/Action

Ably realised genre hybrid, but I admired this book more than I enjoyed it


BROOKS, Geraldine

People of the Book         2008    Novel/Historical Fiction

Clever enough idea competently realised – but not really for me


CAMUS, Albert         

The Plague                       1947

Plague as a metaphor for German occupation of France



Room        2010    Novel

Competent realisation of a concept, but probably better as short story, or maybe a novella with a sequel


ELIOT, George

Silas Marner         1861

Not as engaging as Middlemarch, but interesting plot turns, characters and themes


 FOER, Jonathan Safran     

Everything Is Illuminated                       2002

Fails as much as it succeeds


FREE, David (OSHER, Mark)

A Dancing Bear   2005    (Online) Novel

Clever but ultimately empty/ugly satire


FRY, Steven              

The Liar    1991

Irritatingly constant seedy action undermines language drenched with wit


The Hippopotamus         1994

Able characters, style, dialogue and plot. Definitively gratuitous immorality


GALLICO, Paul         

The Boy Who Invented the Bubble Gun           1974

Dated but OK. Troubled teen overcomes angst amidst silly spy shenanigans


GOLDSWORTHY, Peter      

KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)    1996

Read overnight, mid-life issues, authentic Italian-Australian soccer playing characters


GRISHAM, John       

The Chamber       1994

Original plot, interesting as legal/family documentary, flawed thematically


The Testament     1997    Novel/Legal

Enough to keep you turning pages, but some weaknesses of plot and glib US orthodoxy



HESSE, Hermann     

Peter Camenzind             1904

Style a bit windy. Plot, action and dialogue are entirely secondary



A Long Way Down          2005   

Typically good characters and dialogue but wayward structure


JAMES, Henry          

An International Episode                       1878    Novella

Fascinating though less entertaining more modern foil to Lizzy Bennett


The Bostonians   1886

I must have liked it to have kept it but I can’t remember why - time for a reread


JOYCE, Rachel         

The Unlikely Pigrimage of Harold Fry 2012    Novel

Endearing, poignant aspects unravel in the last third


KAFKA, Franz          

The Trial   1925

Dim on why I kept it – pleasure or pretension?


KUNDERA, Milan                 

The Joke   1967

He’s good but it’s been too long for me to remember why


The Farewell Party          1976

He’s good but it’s been too long for me to remember why


Ignorance             2003

Insight or projection?


LODGE, David                      

The British Museum is Falling Down    1965

More broad comedy and less perception than usual, literary in-jokes, and bemoaning Catholic birth control



Enduring Love     1997    Novel/Thriller

Hitchcock(?) style focus on the psychological effect of a stalker on an everyman


Atonement           2001    Novel/Historical Fiction

Too much setup, evocative war scenes, dubious dénouement



number9dream    2002   

Sum is less than parts: cool elements undermined by implausible and pretentious environment


OSHER, Mark (FREE, David)

A Dancing Bear   2005

Clever but ultimately empty/ugly satire


RIDKER, Andrew                 

The Altruists        2019

Somewhat coldly narrated character studies of Boston middle class family characters


SATRE, Jean-Paul               

Nausea     1938

I kept it, but I can’t remember it and have no desire to read it again


SHERRILL, Steve                 

The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break            2002    Novel (Magic Realism)

Able ‘Of Mice and Men’ mood, characters, themes; mythic hook largely gratuitous 


SHIELDS, Carol                    

The Stone Diaries           1993

Undeniably able fictional autobiography, but not my thing


TIFFANY, Carrie                   

Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living                        2005

Detached narrative, effective historical setting, didactic moral


TÓIBÍN, Colm                       

The Blackwater Lightship                      1999

Well written, but depressing (and a bit preachy)


TYLER, Anne            

The Accidental Tourist   1985

            Good movie, can’t remember if the book was as enjoyable


VIDAL, Gore 

Kalki          1978

            Hinduism and apocalypse in the US


WAIN, John   

Comedies             1990   

Real sense of 30s England


WALTER, Jess         

The Zero   2006

Deft enough satire ala Heller, able writing, but it didn’t grip or sting me much past half-way


Beautiful Ruins   2012

Flawless integration of characters over different settings and decades, but none that particularly resonated personally





BADDIEL, David       

Time For Bed       1996   

Offensive static overwhelms talented signal


CAIN, James M.        

Mildred Pearce    1941

Mildred: heroine, or just as shallow as the men she supplants?



The Time We Have Taken           2007

All musing doth not a novel make


GUEDJ, Denis           2002

The Parrot’s Theorem                           

Not quite successful attempt to integrate maths history and theory into an engaging teen novel


ISHIGURO, Kazuo    

The Buried Giant             2015    Novel

Dim memory. Not really engaging?


MOYER, Marsha

The Last of the Honky-tonk Angels      2003

A midday movie daydream book – with pretensions


PICOULT, Jodi         

Salem Falls          2001   

Hooks for teen girls, but clichéd and a bit glib using difficult content salaciously rather than insightfully


ROBINSON, Marilynne                    

Housekeeping     1981

Well written, but cold, somewhat misanthropic atmosphere



Table For Eight    2018    Novel (Romance)

Sad granny fantasy. Seriously, you’re 70 and you still want to base your identity on how sexy you are? Moments of tiny relationship insights in a world of superficiality presented as sophistication. On the (utterly shamelessly promoted) love boat





FISHER, Carrie         

Delusions of Grandma   1994

Bad US sit-com gloss and introspective vacuity





BANVILLE, John      

The Untouchable             1997    Novel

Engaging trip bloated to tedious journey



Blind Faith           2007    SF/Novel

1984 template to hypocritically vilify facebook and religion 


HESSE, Hermann     

The Prodigy         1905

Utterly detached narrative, no humour, low action, little insight


LAXNESS, Halldór

Independent People        1935, 36

Highly praised. Highly tedious.


SABATINI, Irene                   

The Boy Next Door         2009

I could not handle the constant bland short sentences


TYLER, Anne            

Searching for Caleb        1975

Disappointingly bland and loose intergenerational family drama





The Color of Law             2005    Novel/Crime

Definitive stereotype, appallingly myopic





That Eye, The Sky           1986

Dark, cynical, bleak





GOLDSWORTHY, Peter      

Wish          1995

As ever well written but ultimately a deeply offensive theme (B+/F)


Three Dog Night  2003

Goldsworthy has jumped the shark