Get to know the SPN Book of the Year shortlist
The winner of the 2021 Small Press Network (SPN) Book of the Year Award will be announced on 26 November during the annual SPN Independent Publishing Conference. Each Monday, in the lead-up to the conference, Books+Publishing will share reviews of each of the shortlisted books so you can get to know them better.
Almost a Mirror (Kirsten Krauth, Transit Lounge)
According to the SPN Book of the Year judges, ‘Almost a Mirror unfolds like a long night out […] the novel invites reflection on the sensory possibilities of prose fiction, as well as conjuring the aesthetics of the late 20th century.’
David Little writes in his review for B+P:
Kirsten Krauth’s Almost a Mirror is about the relationship between music and memory, and the unexpected directions that family and romantic life can take. Mona is in her late 30s and heavily pregnant with her first child when Jimmy, her partner and lifelong best friend, takes his own life, triggering memories of their relationship and the music they loved growing up together in Melbourne in the 1980s. These memories, set to the soundtrack of a mixtape that Jimmy leaves Mona when he dies, form the basis of the first half of the novel. Readers familiar with Melbourne’s new wave and post-punk scenes will appreciate the sections that take place at St Kilda’s Crystal Ballroom, as well as cameos from Nick Cave and Rowland S Howard. Those who recognise the songs that prompt each chapter will benefit, but it’s not required knowledge to enjoy a book that shifts gears midway to become largely about parenting and finding love and companionship in unexpected ways. As a whole, this novel is like the post-punk music that it’s set to: messy, sometimes meandering and held together in ways that are not immediately obvious, but are ultimately rewarding. Krauth’s second book is for Melbourne music lovers and readers of gritty cult Australian novels such as Andrew McGahan’s Praise.
Echoes (Shu-Ling Chua, Somekind Press)
‘Echoes is a true expression of what it means to (re)connect with one’s culture, blending memoir, cultural commentary and translation with brief vignettes that leave a lasting impact,’ write the award’s judges. ‘There is a rhythm to the writing that is poetic in nature, creating an elegant, resonant and tender read. Echoes is a truly unique and experimental book that showcases the power of small publishing.’
Anthea Yang writes in her review for B+P:
Shu-Ling Chua’s debut essay collection Echoes is a tender and lyrical exploration of memory, language and lineage. Through pop culture references and personal history, Chua vividly evokes feelings of nostalgia in the three illuminating and moving essays, vignettes of joyful moments of inheritance, whether familial or cultural. In the opening essay ‘(Im)material Inheritance’ Chua (who was born in Australia to Malaysian-Chinese parents) finds material connection to her mother and grandmother through fashion, and considers what it means to dress for others: ‘Perhaps we are not seeking glamour but what it signifies: confidence, poise, beauty, acceptance, power, access, love.’ Linguistically, Echoes exists in a liminal space, seamlessly weaving in Chinese words where appropriate. This is most evident in the book’s title essay in which Chua explores her own grasp of the Chinese language through popular Chinese pop songs—a way to hold on to history: ‘I flop onto Mum’s bed as she says, “I’m glad you enjoy these old songs. It means they will live on.”’ In the final essay ‘To Fish for the Moon’ Chua explores the role of water in daily rituals and Chinese medicine, and dives into the history of her great-grandparents and their laundry business in Malaysia. Here, water not only signifies life, but also the beginnings of the life Chua has carved out for herself. Despite its brevity—sitting at just under 100 pages—Echoes is a powerful collection of essays that pushes the boundaries of identity literature.
Stay tuned for the final instalment of this series on Monday, 22 November.