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‘Propulsive’, ‘evocative’, ‘brilliant’: the best Australian books out in June

New Australian books to look forward to in June– according to our critics.
New Australian books to look forward to in June– according to our critics. Composite: Penguin Random House, Scribe, Black Inc, Allen and Unwin, Vintage Australia, Hachette, Pan Macmillan, Hardie Grant
New Australian books to look forward to in June– according to our critics. Composite: Penguin Random House, Scribe, Black Inc, Allen and Unwin, Vintage Australia, Hachette, Pan Macmillan, Hardie Grant

Each month, Guardian Australia editors and critics pick out the upcoming titles they’ve already devoured – or can’t wait to get their hands on

Horse by Geraldine Brooks

Fiction, Hachette, $39.99 (hardback)

Horse by Geraldine Brooks is out through Hachette in Australia in June 2022

Geraldine Brooks was being wooed to tell another story when she overheard the tale of Lexington, the near-mythic antebellum thoroughbred: a horse so fleet of foot that clockmakers invented the stopwatch to time his races; sire to generations of champions, including the dauntless mounts of American civil war generals.

In Horse, Brooks traces Lexington’s reverberating life, from his birth in 1850 to the present, as scientists reconstruct his record-breaking bones. But as the Aussie Pulitzer winner discovers, to tell the story of the racetrack is to tell the story of race. Historically rich and morally insistent, Horse is a novel of America’s inescapable legacies. – Beejay Silcox

Our Members by Unlimited by Sam Wallman

Graphic novel (non-fiction), Scribe, $39.99

Our Members be Unlimited by Sam Wallman is out June 2022 through Scribe

Australian cartoonist Sam Wallman has worked in warehouses before, but “none quite so brutal or dispiriting as Amazon”. As a “picker” in Melbourne, he walks 30km a day in steel-capped boots, collecting up people’s purchases at a rate so relentless, he eventually buys a urine bag (from Amazon) to strap to his leg so he can avoid bathroom breaks that slow him down and put his job at risk.

Finding solace in news stories about Amazon workers fighting to improve conditions, he felt inspired enough to create this comprehensive comic history of unionism, starting with the industrial revolution and casting around the world – highlighting interesting cases, such as the 1975 Icelandic women’s strike. This would be an excellent primer for any young person entering the workforce, or for anyone who needs a reminder of what unions continue to fight for. – Sian Cain

Basin by Scott McCulloch

Fiction, Black Inc, $24.99

Basin by Scott McCulloch is out 2022 through Black Inc

This hypnotic, strange novel opens with our narrator, the intriguingly named Figure, as he comes to after swallowing poison and drowning himself. Rescued by Aslan, a paramilitary bandit, Figure is returned to the dreamlike and ugly world he once hoped to escape. “The Collapse” has happened, leaving the last dregs of humanity to be devoured by war and violence. Travelling this ravaged land, first with Aslan and then others, Figure is “a ghost who’s wandered into the odyssey of a lunatic”.

Basin is relentlessly bleak and grotesque – I can’t recall the last novel I read with so many references to bile, vomit, organs and ejaculate – but McCulloch’s earthy language is undeniably heady and compelling. – Sian Cain

An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life by Paul Dalla Rosa

Short stories, Allen and Unwin, $29.99

An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life, short story collection by Australian writer Paul Dalla Rosa, out May 2022

Paul Dalla Rosa’s short stories often flatten their locales into what cultural theorist Kyle Chayka terms “AirSpace”: gentrified, globalised enclaves whose varnished surfaces barely conceal the rot of wealth and desperation at their core. The characters in Dalla Rosa’s debut collection find themselves thrust into these spaces, whether in Dubai, New York or a seedy Gold Coast nightclub.

They are actors, waiters and struggling artists: terrible people beset with great delusions, clawing their way towards some mythical ideal of fame as an antidote to the woes of contemporary life under capitalism. There is a brilliant transmogrification to Dalla Rosa’s sentences, which often begin in deadpan, acerbic, hilarious schadenfreude, and end in surprising empathy. “It’s awful to be alive,” he said in a recent interview, “but it’s also beautiful”. – Michael Sun

Talking About A Revolution by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Essays, Vintage Australia, $34.99

Talking About A Revolution by Yassmin Abdel-Magied is out June 2022 through Vintage Australia

We know Yassmin Abdel-Magied as the petrolhead with a social conscience, but this series of essays reveals her as an uncompromising (if bruised) optimist, self-deprecating yet unapologetic, and still grappling with the fallout of that tweet back in 2017. Abdel-Magied writes about faith, grief, living online, nationality and race from the different contexts of the countries she has resided: “Sudan, Australia, England, France. Two former colonies, two colonisers.” But Australia looms large. The place where she lost everything – “my public standing, my job, my safety” – also drove her to fight for “nothing less than substantive, transformative and unconditional equality”.

A chunk of the book is devoted to the author’s writing from 2017/18, the eye of the social media shitstorm. Her decision to republish it is telling: she neither rescinds a word of it nor gives it a neat narrative. As she writes anew: “I have spent more time forgetting than understanding.” – Sophie Black

Pomegranate & Fig by Zaheda Ghani

Fiction, Hachette, $32.99

Pomegranate & Fig by Zaheda Ghani, out June 2022

Zaheda Ghani’s debut tells the intertwined story of three young people: Henna, an Afghani woman living a traditional Muslim life in Herat through the Soviet invasion of the 1970s and 80s; Hamid, her brother, who wants to join the insurgents; and Rahim, who she weds via arranged marriage, and whose own actions against the USSR put their family at risk – causing them to flee first to India, then Australia.

Ghani herself arrived from Afghanistan as a refugee in the 1980s; these days she’s an ambassador for Australia for the UNHCR, one of the country’s top tech executives at Atlassian and a Richell prize-shortlisted author. It’s almost rude that amid all that she can write such a moving and evocative page-turner: the story of one family and their country torn apart by war – which is a love story too. – Steph Harmon

Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor

Crime, Pan Macmillan, $32.99

Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor is out June 2022 through Pan Macmillan

Scrivenor’s debut rides high on the tide of feminist crime fiction. This heartbreaking whodunnit is about Esther Bianchi, a child who goes missing in the small town of Durton; it speaks to themes of motherhood, trauma and belonging, and the unpredictability of fury and fear.

It also fits easily into the canon of contemporary Australian crime – it is gritty and occasionally political, teasing out the tensions of landscape and climate. Dirt Town offers enough surprises to set it apart, without straying too far from the satisfying beats of traditional crime. – Bec Kavanagh

The Eulogy by Jackie Bailey

Novel, Hardie Grant, $32.99

The Eulogy by Jackie Bailey is out June 2022 through Hardie Grant

When we meet Kathy she’s living in her car, blocking her husband’s calls and running from a criminal charge with 300 sleeping pills in her glovebox. Her beloved sister Annie spent 25 years dying of a degenerative cancer. Kathy has to write the eulogy; after that, we gather, she will take the pills.

The expansive book switches between the present to the past, to visit Kathy’s childhood – defined by horrifying maternal abuse and internalised racism – and her parents’ young lives: her Chinese mother, living through the Japanese occupation of Singapore; and her white Australian dad, who fought in the Vietnam war. Much is taken from Bailey’s own life, and the end result – while heavy in trauma – is a propulsive story of race, loss and love. – Steph Harmon