Myths and Legends inspiring contemporary fiction writers

Circe book cover

Amongst our recent fiction titles are a range of books inspired by myths and legends from Greece, Indonesia, Ireland, and Scandinavia. Myths and legends magnetically draw authors; these ideas reemerge in writing as the tales that form culture, ideas of who we are, and define social boundaries which prove to be an excellent landscape for characters. This selection has a great range of styles and settings, encompassing action, family drama and psychological fiction, set in the modern day and ancient times.

Syndetics book coverEverything under / Daisy Johnson.
“Words are important to Gretel, always have been. As a child, she lived on a canal boat with her mother, and together they invented a language that was just their own. She hasn’t seen her mother since the age of sixteen, though almost a lifetime ago and those memories have faded. Now she works as a lexicographer, updating dictionary entries, which suits her solitary nature. A phone call from the hospital interrupts Gretel’s isolation and throws up questions from long ago.” (Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe mere wife / Maria Dahvana Headley.
“Herot Hall is a fortress guarded by an intense network of gates, surveillance cameras, and motion-activated lights. Dylan and Gren live on opposite sides of the perimeter, neither boy aware of the barriers erected to keep them apart. Gren lives with his mother, Dana, just outside the limits of Herot Hall. A former soldier, Dana didn’t want Gren, didn’t plan Gren, and doesn’t know how she got Gren. But now that she has him, she’s determined to protect him from a world that sees him only as a monster. When Gren crosses the border into Herot Hall and runs off with Dylan, he sets up a collision between Dana’s and Willa’s worlds that echoes the Beowulf story – and gives sharp, startling currency to the ancient epic poem.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverApple and knife / Intan Paramaditha ; translated by Stephen J Epstein.
“Intan Paramaditha’s long-awaited English debut, announcing herself to the West as a startling and provocative new voice. Inspired by horror fiction, myths and fairy tales, Apple and Knife is an unsettling ride that swerves to the supernatural, exploring the danger and power of occupying a female body. These short fictions, set in the Indonesian everyday–in corporate boardrooms, in shanty towns, on dangdut stages–reveal a soupy otherworld stewing just beneath the surface. This is subversive feminist horror at its best, where men and women alike are arbiters of fear, and where revenge is sometimes sweetest when delivered from the grave.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOlympus bound / Jordanna Max Brodsky.
“Manhattan has many secrets. Some are older than the city itself.
Summer in New York: a golden hour on the city streets, but a dark time for Selene. She’s lost her home and the man she loves. A cult hungry for ancient power has kidnapped her father and targeted her friends. To save them, Selene must face the past she’s been running from – a past that stretches back millennia, to when the faithful called her Huntress. Moon Goddess. Artemis. With the pantheon at her side, Selene must journey back to the seat of her immortal power: from the streets of Rome and the temples of Athens — to the heights of Mount Olympus itself.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCirce : a novel / Madeline Miller.
“Circe is not powerful like her father Helios, nor viciously alluring like her mother Perse. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power– the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves. Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many figures in mythology. When Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, she ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians.”

Syndetics book coverFor the immortal / Emily Hauser.
“Thousands of years ago, in an ancient world where the gods control all and heroes fight to have their names remembered down the ages, two extraordinary women become entangled in one of the greatest heroic tales of all time . . . and must face how much they are willing to risk for immortality. Desperate to save her dying brother, Admete persuades her father, the king of Tiryns, to let her join Hercules on one of his legendary twelve labours. Travelling to the renowned female warrior Amazons in search of a cure, Admete soon discovers that both Hercules and the fearsome Amazons are not as they first seemed.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe testament of Loki / Joanne M. Harris.
“Ragnarok was the End of Worlds. Asgard fell, centuries ago, and the old gods have been defeated. Some are dead, while others have been consigned to eternal torment in the netherworld – among them, the legendary trickster, Loki. A god who betrayed every side and still lost everything, who has lain forgotten as time passed and the world of humans moved on to new beliefs, new idol and new deities . . . But now mankind dreams of the Norse Gods once again, the river Dream is but a stone’s throw from their dark prison, and Loki is the first to escape into a new reality.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAwayland : stories / Ramona Ausubel.
“An inventive story collection that spans the globe as it explores love, childhood, and parenthood with an electric mix of humor and emotion. And though some of the stories are steeped in mythology, they remain grounded in universal experiences: loss of identity, leaving home, parenthood, joy, and longing.
Crisscrossing the pages of Awayland are travelers and expats, shadows and ghosts. A girl watches as her homesick mother slowly dissolves into literal mist. The mayor of a small Midwestern town offers a strange prize, for stranger reasons, to the parents of any baby born on Lenin’s birthday. And a lonely heart searches for love online, never mind that he’s a Cyclops.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBeneath the mother tree / D.M. Cameron.
“Beneath the Mother Tree is a spine-chilling mystery and contemporary love story, played out in a unique and wild Australian setting interwoven with Indigenous history and Irish mythology. This spiritual subtext becomes a stage for unforgettable characters who navigate vital questions of identity and belonging. The result is a compelling portrait of how our dark history and dreaming landscape can make extraordinary things of ordinary lives.” (Syndetics summary)

Tim Winton’s The Turning: A must see film adaptation

Syndetics book cover
Now showing in Wellington for a limited time is the new film, The Turning based on the collection of short stories by award winning Australian writer and environmentalist Tim Winton. Centered on issues described by the main character Gail and set in a small Australian seaside community, with a wonderful array of diverse characters that populate these stories, so typical of Tim Winton’s work, this film used 17 different directors for each overlapping and linking story.
His first novel, An Open Swimmer won the Australian/Vogel Literary Award in 1981.
Tim Winton has won the Australian Miles Franklin Award four times, for Shallows in 1984, Cloudstreet in 1992, Dirt Music in 2002 and Breath in 2009.

New Australian fiction – featuring Murray Bail, Michelle De Kretser & more

Every month we compile lists of our picks of new fiction in various genres – science fiction & fantasy, contemporary fiction and mystery novels – and we always pick an extra, “other” genre to feature (past choices have included New Zealand fiction, short stories, chicklit, and historical fiction, amongst others). Novels by Australian writers are the subject of this month’s selection – with the latest works by well known authors, Murray Bail, Michelle De Kretser, and Drusilla Modjeska. Most of the selected novels are set in Australia, others are set in Paris, Hanoi, Papua New Guinea and Vienna, all provide great reading.

Syndetics book coverThe voyage / Murray Bail.
“Frank Delage, piano manufacturer from Sydney, travels to Vienna, a city immersed in music, to present the Delage concert grand. He hopes to impress with its technical precision, its improvement on the old pianos of Europe. How could he not know his piano is all wrong for Vienna?” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverIn the company of strangers / Liz Byrski.
“Ruby and Cat’s friendship was forged on an English dockside over sixty years ago when, both fearful, they boarded a ship bound for Australia. It was a friendship that was supposed to last a lifetime but when news of Cat’s death reaches Ruby back in London, it comes after a painful estrangement. Declan has also drifted away from Cat, but he is forced back to his aunt’s lavender farm, Benson’s Reach, when he learns that he and Ruby are co-beneficiaries. As these two very different people come together in Margaret River, they must learn to trust each other and to deal with the staff and guests. Can the legacy of Benson’s Reach triumph over the hurt of the past? Or is Cat’s duty-laden legacy simply too much for Ruby and Declan to keep alive?” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverQuestions of travel / Michelle de Kretser.
“A mesmerising literary novel, Questions of Travel charts two very different lives. Laura travels the world before returning to Sydney, where she works for a publisher of travel guides. Ravi dreams of being a tourist until he is driven from Sri Lanka by devastating events. Around these two superbly drawn characters, a double narrative assembles an enthralling array of people, places and stories, from Theo, whose life plays out in the long shadow of the past, to Hana, an Ethiopian woman determined to reinvent herself in Australia.” (adapted from Book cover)

Syndetics book coverLighthouse Bay / Kimberley Freeman.
“1901: Isabella Winterbourne has suffered the worst loss a woman can know. She can no longer bear her husband or his oppressive upper-class family. On a voyage between London and Sydney to accompany a priceless gift to the Australian parliament, Isabella is the sole survivor of a shipwreck off the sun-drenched Queensland coast.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverNine days / Toni Jordan.
“The tiniest things, – a coin, a pendant, a photograph, a lie, can make or ruin lives.It is 1939. Deep in the working-class Melbourne suburb of Richmond, Kip Westaway, failed scholar and stable hand, is about to live through the most important day in his young life as Australia hovers unknowingly on the brink of war. What happens that day is the catalyst for momentous events strung across eight more moments in time; love and deception, near-misses and misunderstandings, all centred around the terrible thing that happens to a young girl and the repercussions it will have on the lives of her family, even those not yet born.“ (adapted from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverCaravan story / Wayne Macauley.
“A group of artists are removed from their homes and transported by caravan to a country town and offered the chance to ‘give back to society’. Wayne’s task is to write, create and be useful, but then he finds out about the rejection slips already written for the work he has yet to submit. A satirical, darkly humorous story.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFishing for tigers : a novel / by Emily Maguire.
“Six years ago, Mischa Reese left her abusive husband and suffocating life in California and reinvented herself in steamy, chaotic Hanoi. In Vietnam, she finds satisfying work and enjoys a life of relative luxury and personal freedom. Thirty-five and single, Mischa believes that romance and passion are for teenagers; a view with which her cynical, promiscuous expat friends agree. But then a friend introduces Mischa to his visiting eighteen-year-old son. Cal is a strikingly attractive Vietnamese-Australian boy, but he’s resentful of his father, and of the nation which has stolen him away. His beauty and righteous idealism awaken something in Mischa and the two launch into an affair that threatens Mischa’s friendships and reputation and challenges her sense of herself as unselfish and good.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWatching the climbers on the mountain / Alex Miller.
“Set in the remote Central Highlands of Queensland this is the story of Ward Rankin, the disaffected station owner, and Ida, his unhappy wife, who sees the solution to her problems in her love for the young English stockman Robert Crofts, whose arrival on the station changes their lives forever. Against the backdrop of heat, torrential rain and the strange and lonely landscape, rises Mt Mooloolong, the scene of the novel’s thrilling conclusion. (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe mountain / Drusilla Modjeska.
“In 1968 Papua New Guinea is on the brink of independence, and everything is about to change. Amidst the turmoil filmmaker Leonard arrives from England with his Dutch wife, Rika, to study and film an isolated village high in the mountains. This sweeping novel takes the reader deep into this fascinating, complex country, whose culture and people cannot escape the march of modernity that threatens to overwhelm them. It is a riveting story of love, loss, grief and betrayal.” (adapted from Syndetic summary)

Syndetics book coverAssassin / Tara Moss.
“Former model turned forensic psychologist and PI Mak Vanderwall is missing, presumed dead in Paris. By hiring a hit man to kill her, the powerful and corrupt Cavanagh family aimed to silence her for good. But after narrowly escaping death, Mak has taken over her would-be killer’s world. She is very much alive and transformed.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)