The late Jurassic Park author’s final book gets a roaring release (2024)

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By Cameron Woodhead and Steven Carroll

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The late Jurassic Park author’s final book gets a roaring release (1)

FICTION PICK OF THE WEEK
Eruption
Michael Crichton & James Patterson, Century, $34

When the author of Jurassic Park died in 2008, he left behind an unfinished manuscript. Now it has been completed and published as Eruption by bestselling thriller writer James Patterson (with the blessing of Michael Crichton’s widow, Sherri).

No one blended science and disaster fiction with Crichton’s far-sighted originality, and if the conflict between technological advancement and human nature in Jurassic Park played out through dinosaurs and genetic engineering, this one brings together the most destructive powers on Earth, natural and man-made. We’re talking volcanoes AND nuclear weapons.

Mauna Loa in Hawaii is mere days away from a catastrophic eruption, but that’s not what has the US Army worried. They know the true threat lies in the nuclear disposal site, holding a massive amount of radioactive waste, secretly buried under the volcano during the Cold War. If the lava reaches it, kaboom. Patterson is no hack, and after his last collaboration with Dolly Parton, it’s good to see him on familiar turf ratcheting up the suspense. With this pedigree, you can expect a film in due course.

The late Jurassic Park author’s final book gets a roaring release (2)

Maurice and Maralyn
Sophie Elmhirst, Chatto & Windus, $42.99 (HB)

It begins with a boat being struck by a whale – an implausible fiction, surely, if derivative of Moby Dick? Not at all.

Sophie Elmhirst’s nautical survival novel is based on a true story. In the early 1970s, British couple Maurice and Maralyn Bailey spent years planning to abandon their dull suburban existence, build their own boat, and set sail by themselves for New Zealand. Nothing could have prepared them for an injured sperm whale sinking their vessel off the coast of Ecuador, or the months they spent on a life raft at sea, at the mercy of the elements, catching rainwater and fish and seabirds when supplies ran out. And they did, miraculously, survive the grim state of dehydration and near-starvation they were in when they were rescued, going on to write memoirs. (They used the profits to fund another sea-going adventure.)

Elmhirst is a brisk and evocative storyteller, who moves sinuously from cinematic action to subtle insights on the psychology of this remarkable couple.

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The late Jurassic Park author’s final book gets a roaring release (3)

The Hairdresser’s Son
Gerbrand Bakker, Scribe, $35

The latest novel from award-winning Dutch author Gerbrand Bakker centres on Simon, a hairdresser like his father and grandfather before him. Simon could take or leave the job, and his life has started to feel remarkably empty – his mum and grandfather, the men he meets for casual sex, and the clients he sees by appointment are the only human presence in his life.

An absence has always loomed: Simon’s father Cornelis ran away when he discovered his wife was pregnant; he was presumed to have died in the Tenerife airport disaster – the deadliest in aviation history – a day later. With no remains identified, Simon becomes consumed by the possibility that his dad is still alive, and a metafictional kink enters the mystery in the form of a writer, one of Simon’s clients, who begins to visit him regularly to gather material for a work in progress.

Bakker’s unhurried precision delivers an understated portrait of middle-aged loneliness, before a twist that probes the role of narrative indeterminacy in how we make sense of the world.

The late Jurassic Park author’s final book gets a roaring release (4)

Depth of Field
Kirsty Iltners, UWAP, $34.99

Kirsty Iltners’ Depth of Field is another novel delicately textured by the effects of social isolation, and intriguingly posits photography as an analogue for memory. Tom, a divorced middle-aged photographer specialising in real estate photos, and Lottie, a 17-year-old single mum to baby Coral, struggling to survive on welfare, don’t seem to have much in common.

But the book’s two narrators share the fallibility of memory, and you don’t have to have read Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida to know that, like our own recollections, photographs are suffused by imagination and emotion and can be an unreliable indicator of truth.

The result is an intriguing and deftly handled debut novel. Two low-key lives unfold in parallel, with the reader trying to anticipate both how these stories intersect, and in what ways the narrators’ memories of events might have been shaped by their experiences of love and grief.

The late Jurassic Park author’s final book gets a roaring release (5)

NON-FICTION PICK OF THE WEEK
Dear Mutzi
Tess Scholfield-Peters, National Library of Australia Publishing, $34.99

The Mutzi of the title is Hermann Pollnow (anglicised to Peters), a Berlin-born Jew who immigrated to Australia (via Buchenwald) in 1939 when he was 18 and lived to be 100 years old. His parents stayed and he never saw them again.

Scholfield-Peters, his granddaughter, tells his story from different perspectives: letters between Mutzi and his parents, documents and imagined scenes drawn from research. The result is a combination of non-fiction, biography, historical observation and creative writing that is often novelistic, the book both disturbing and deeply moving.

The scene at the station in Berlin when Mutzi farewelled his father (his mother too sick to go), before leaving for Holland and on to Australia, haunts the reader as it must have haunted Mutzi. A highly atmospheric, meticulously researched labour of love.

The late Jurassic Park author’s final book gets a roaring release (6)

A Secretive Century
Tessa Morris-Suzuki, MUP, $35

The long life of Ethel May “Monte” Punshon (1882-1989), in this intellectually inquiring, sympathetically drawn biography, is seen as emblematic of the unfolding story of the country – from the shadows of late Victorian secretiveness to the 1980s.

In particular, Monte’s life is something of a case study in sexuality, gender and race. Born into an orthodox Methodist family in Ballarat, her life was anything but orthodox. She had a number of female lovers, but never used the “label” lesbian to describe herself.

She simply regarded herself as being in love, her shifting worlds consisting of the theatre, opera, the cross-dressing world of queer Melbourne in the 1930s – and a lifetime love affair with the culture and language of Japan, through war and peace. An engaging, theoretically informed portrait of a large life.

The late Jurassic Park author’s final book gets a roaring release (7)

The Girl Prince
Danell Jones, Hurst & Company, $39.99

In 1910, six young Britons – mostly from the Bloomsbury circle – bluffed their way onto the HMS Dreadnought for an inspection, posing as Abyssinian royalty. Amazingly, they got away with it.

The eponymous prince was, in fact, the young writer Virginia Stephen (later Woolf), who, along with her brother, wore blackface and meticulously prepared costumes. Jones, a Virginia Woolf specialist, uses the famous Dreadnought hoax as a keyhole into Woolf’s world of racism, colonialism and war.

Although the stunt (which she wrote about in 1940) was meant to highlight Britain’s imperialism, Jones argues that it was also deeply racist, mirroring the “casual” racism of the day. There are occasions when Jones overemphasises her point, but it’s an entertaining, inventive dissection of the mores and contradictions of Woolf’s life and times.

The late Jurassic Park author’s final book gets a roaring release (8)

Love Across Class
Rose Butler and Eve Vincent, MUP, $35

One of the myths of neoliberalism is that class is dead. A deregulated society has moved on, consigning the idea of class to the dustbin of history. But as the authors of this collection of case studies about love between people from often vastly different backgrounds note, “… discussion of class is enjoying somewhat of a revival in Australia”.

Mind you, their idea of class is highly nuanced, incorporating cultural capital as well as the role of race, ethnicity, education and gender. What they’re interested in is how the way in which we see our “classed” selves plays out in our emotional lives; the positives and negatives.

One couple sees their class differences as unifying, while another woman talks of “faking” it around her husband’s “upper” class, professional friends. Can get theoretical, but is also grounded by the case studies.

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

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