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  1. I didn't really bond with Damascus - which is a pity because Christos Tsiolkas's last novel Barracuda was brilliant. Damascus is the story of St Paul from his youth persecuting Christians through his conversion, his ministry and his immediate legacy. We see life from Paul's own viewpoint and also three other perspectives: Lydia, Vrasas and Timothy. As a character driven novel with such varied perspectives, we should really feel we've got to know Paul. But the whole novel feels as though it is seen through some kind of fog. The details are clear enough for scenes of torture, illnes
  2. I never know exactly how to approach a collection of short stories. Are you supposed to open it and read from cover to cover, following the sequence laid out in the book and not pausing to draw breath? Are you supposed to dip in and out in any sequence you like? Should you just slot a couple of stories in between novels? In Merciless Gods, I have decided after about half the book to set it down for a while. Not because I am not enjoying it, but rather because I am feeling that the stories lose their impact coming too soon after one another. These stories are too good to waste in a race to
  3. Australia lionises its swimmers. They are recognised; they have nicknames; they are showered with sponsorship and gifts. Danny Kelly, a schoolboy from Melbourne’s unfashionable northern suburbs has been awarded a swimming scholarship at one of the top private schools. He’s an outsider, but once he beats the rich kids in the pool he finds himself welcomed by those who had first given him the cold shoulder. He is christened Barracuda in recognition not only of his swimming talent but also his pugnacious attitude. The school swimming coach, Frank Torma, offers personal training twice a day and e
  4. E-publishing allows short stories to be published as their own, stand-alone products. Sticks, Stones is a very short example. We are introduced to Marianne, a travel agent who pressure-sells holidays to families visiting travel fairs. Broadly, she likes her job; she has friends who are just about close enough for her needs; she has a family and knows her children's friends and their families. It's not an exciting life - a counterpoint to the holidays she sells - but it works for her. The story hinges around her collecting her son Jack and his friends from football and seeing him taunti
  5. Christos Tsiolkas is a Melbourne writer and The Slap is a Melbourne book. It delivers a number of portraits of Melbourne types – the Greek car dealer; the Indian vet; the soap opera world; the gay teenager; the bogan mother and more. The portraits are all loosely linked to one another, deriving from a barbecue at which the horrid bogan toddler is slapped by the Greek car dealer. But the novel is not plot driven, it is 100% character focused. There is no great ending to draw it all together; the novel might as well be seen as a set of short essays. The demographics, the reported movement of
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