The 10 books to read in March

The 10 books to read in March

By Jason Steger

Check out new books by Shirley Lee, Margaret Simons, Kate Legge, Eleanor Catton, Zoya Patel, Sebastian Barry, Margaret Atwood and Dominic Smith.

There are plenty of good offerings from publishers this month: great fiction, a thought-provoking history of the world but from a different approach, short stories from a giant of world literature and a biography of a political stayer.

Now all you have to do is find the time.

The Booklist is a weekly newsletter for book lovers from books editor Jason Steger. Get it delivered every Friday.


Tanya Plibersek, Margaret Simons

Black Inc., $34.99, March 7

Margaret Simons follows her well-received biography of Penny Wong with another study of a long-serving and popular Labor politician, the minister for the environment who was elected to the seat of Sydney 25 years ago. Many people thought Tanya Plibersek might succeed Bill Shorten as party leader after the 2019 election, but she eventually withdrew from the contest. You can bank on new insights from Walkley Award winner Simons, who has also written a life of Malcolm Fraser and plenty of fine journalism.


Infidelity and Other Affairs, Kate Legge

Thames & Hudson, $34.99, February 28

Motivated by the discovery of her own partner’s philandering, Legge plunges into an investigation of the nature of infidelity and then an exploration of its history in his family. As our reviewer says, she “has not turned her husband and his treachery into a novel … but has summoned all her journalistic experience [and] interviewed her friends, family and psychological experts.” In the end there is forgiveness, which could be the most surprising thing in the whole book.


Old Babes in the Wood, Margaret Atwood

Chatto & Windus, $45, March 7

Almost half the stories in this new collection from the great Canadian writer are to some extent autobiographical, but in all 15, as our review will say, “the truths are blunt and bleak, the humour sharp and wry, the wisdom profound”. Her characters Nell and Tig, whom we encountered in Moral Disorder in 2006, reappear. And, as is her wont, Atwood plays around with form in many of the stories. She turns 84 this year; we need to be thankful for everything she produces.


The Earth Transformed, Peter Frankopan

Bloomsbury, $39.99, March 2

Early on in this 650-page ambitious whopper, Peter Frankopan remarks that we should all be grateful for dramatic changes to global climate. After all, we wouldn’t be here if the world had remained as it was more than 4 billion years ago. His aim is to look at how our planet has changed as a result of human actions and other factors and explain that the world has always been “one of transformation, transition and change …” But, he cautions, “we are taking extraordinary risks with our futures”.


Return to Valetto, Dominic Smith

Allen & Unwin, $32.99, February 28

The Australian-American novelist is probably best known for The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, his bestselling historical novel touching on art ownership, forgery and much more. His latest, his sixth, is another gripping historical, this time set in Italy in a dying Umbrian village where a family is forced to confront its own history and the secrets that emerge when a stranger turns up. The narrator, a professional historian of abandonment, returns to live with his three widowed aunts and the past rears its disturbing head.


Old God’s Time, Sebastian Barry

Faber & Faber, $32.99, February 28

The masterful Irish writer is back on familiar territory after his recent excursions in the American Civil War and its aftermath in Days Without End and A Thousand Moons. At the heart of his latest is a wonderfully realised creation, recently retired detective Tom Kettle, who thanks to the verve of Barry’s prose lives so vividly on the page. His former colleagues come calling for help with a case he had worked on, while his own mind lurks in the joys and sadnesses of his own life. Nothing is certain, except this is a gem.


Once a Stranger, Zoya Patel

Hachette, $32.99, March 1

It’s been six years since Ayat has seen her mother Khadija and sister Laila. She doesn’t even live in the same city any longer. But now she’s had an email from Laila saying her mother is dying; she has motor neurone disease. And why the estrangement? Because Ayat doesn’t want to follow the Indian Muslim way, and she has been with blue-eyed Harry for those six years. So she steels herself and heads back to Canberra, but after all that water under the bridge is there any chance of reconciliation?


Birnam Wood, Eleanor Catton

Granta, $32.99, February 28

You’ll get the allusion to Macbeth in the title of Eleanor Catton’s long-awaited follow up to her Booker-winning novel The Luminaries. This is to an extent an ecological thriller that pits the titular environmental group against an American billionaire. As Catton says in our interview, “I saw (Macbeth) as a play about what happens when we feel too certain of the future. I had this idea that each of the novel’s characters could be Macbeth, but none of them would think of themselves that way.”


The Bell of the World, Gregory Day

Transit Lounge, $32.99, March 1

Gregory Day is some sort of renaissance man. He was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin in 2019 and is best-known for his novels, of which this is the sixth. But he is also a poet, artist, musician, and nature writer of renown: last year his writings on the environment and the language of place, Words are Eagles, was published by Upswell. All this is reflected in The Bell of the World, in which a young girl is sent to live with her idiosyncratic uncle. It’s a novel that looks back, but also has its eyes firmly on an uncertain future.


Funny Ethnics, Shirley Le

Affirm Press, $29.99, February 28

This is western Sydney through the eyes of the daughter of Vietnamese migrants, Sylvia Nguyen. You have to wonder how much of it is autobiographical. After all, it begins with Sylvia sitting her parents and cousin down and breaking some shocking news: “Dad, Mum, Anh Duc, I’ve been thinking a lot about my future … I’ve decided to drop out of my law degree to concentrate on becoming a writer.” That’s the premise for this delicious coming-of-age novel from Le, who works with Sweatshop, the literacy outfit in Western Sydney.

The Booklist is a weekly newsletter for book lovers from books editor Jason Steger. Get it delivered every Friday.

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