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Beyond the Door of No Return
David Diop, Pushkin, $32.99


French-Senegalese author David Diop wrote At Night All Blood Is Black, the winner of the 2021 International Booker. Where that novel took up the stories of West African soldiers fighting in World War I, Beyond the Door of No Return fictionalises the travels of an 18th-century naturalist, Michel Adanson, and his encounters with the Atlantic slave trade. Both faces of the Enlightenment are addressed: the French botanist witnesses the violent and dehumanising reality of slavery, drawn by intellectual curiosity and a commitment to natural philosophy. A teenage guide, Ndiak, tutors Adanson in Wolof, and his pupil develops an understanding of the harmonies of Senegalese culture, in stark contrast to the rapacious ethos of European colonial conquest. When Adanson meets a village chief whose niece was sold into slavery and managed to escape her captors, he embarks on a journey that takes him the island of Gorée, a slavers’ outpost with an infamous “Door of No Return”. Diop’s erudition on 18th-century literature enlivens a tragic adventure novel related in crisp epistolary form.

Good Material
Dolly Alderton, Fig Tree, $34.99


An urban hetero millennial ties himself in knots trying to understand a relationship breakdown in Dolly Alderton’s Good Material, which has been compared to Nick Hornby, though it’s sharper and funnier and warier of romantic cliché. Andy is a jobbing comedian blindsided when his partner Jen leaves him because, as she says, she wants to be single. But in Andy’s mind there must be some better reason, and if he can work out what, he can win Jen back, right? Cue pathetic Insta-stalking, a strategic retreat to the parental home, and hanging with emotionally stunted mates. Andy does get around to grieving the relationship and hops back in the saddle, re-entering the minefield of dating apps. And Jen’s perspective on the whole episode is revealed at the end. Alderton’s stint writing agony aunt columns for the UK’s Sunday Times and her bestselling memoir on millennial romance, Everything I Know About Love, are good creative fertiliser for the novel. It’s strewn with pearls of wisdom, maxims quirky enough to be amusing and wise enough to be true, and droll observations on millennial manners and culture. Thankfully, Good Material also resists the typical romantic arc for novels like these.

The Interpretation of Cakes
Allan Tegg, Puncher & Wattmann, $32.95


Playing upon Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, this slender novel from psychotherapist Allan Tegg begins with a framing meta-narrative: the author realises he must divest himself of thinking like a psychotherapist to truly embrace retirement. Easy to say, but psychotherapy might be regarded as a form of religion, and as Jung noted, if you throw that out the door it comes in through the window. The Interpretation of Cakes follows cake-shop owner Isaak Brodsky, a Hungarian Jew who inherits the business from his father as a young man in 1916. (Brodsky snr can’t confront the strained mask of false positivity that’s made the shop such a success and suffers a spiritual crisis, retreating into the Torah.) Isaak realises that there’s more to selling cake than typically understood, and mirroring the birth of psychoanalysis, matches cakes to customers in ways that reveal the mysteries of the conscious and unconscious mind. A sly and charming introduction to “Cake-analysis” that will tempt anyone who wants to have their cake and eat it, as well as more psychologically literate readers.

Here, And Only Here
Christelle Dabos, Text, $22.99

Adolescent anomie gets a supernatural twist in Here, And Only Here, a YA novel that perhaps loses something in translation from French. Four students at the School of Here – Iris, Pierre, Madeleine, and Guy – face everything from bullying and ostracism to insecurities so severe they inspire imagined superpowers.


The social hierarchy is ruled by a tyrannical teen styling himself “the prince”, and a clique called the Top-Secret Cub forms to investigate the source of strange occurrences and rituals at the school. Those are everywhere. Footprints on ceilings. Weird charts dividing students into “High” and “Low” status. An eerie and unnameable presence that seems to have soaked into the school’s foundations. Christelle Dabos’ novel tries and fails to make the familiar strange. While the brutalities of teen socialisation are certainly portrayed, the eccentricity isn’t imagined in an immersive or coherent manner. The book’s remorseless staccato prose conveys a doom-y, claustrophobic atmosphere, to be sure, but limits character development and world-building.

A Therapeutic Journey
Alain de Botton, Hamish Hamilton, $36.99


“We will be well on the way to colonising Mars before we definitively grasp the secrets to the workings of our own minds.” Implicit in this irony is one of Alain de Botton’s key concerns: human avoidance of the monsters of our inner space. And yet, he argues, it is the very act of facing them that brings healing or at least helps us live with them. In this meditative yet practical guide to the journey out of inner darkness and despair, art is a guiding light as a source of consolation and a portal into self-knowledge. As he has done with philosophy in previous books, de Botton demystifies the psychotherapeutic process by grounding it in everyday language and showing how it works. Even though the book is framed by the journey from breakdown to recovery, it is written in the second-person plural, emphasising that no one is alone in this journey and no one exempt from the potholes on the road.

The Best Australian Science Writing
Ed., Donna Lu, NewSouth, $32.99


As she climbs the “biggest blue gum in the universe”, Lauren Fuge takes us on a giddying journey through time and space. Capturing the sensations and insights yielded at each level of the canopy, she reflects on how “our bodies still hold memories of our ancestors’ arboreal lives”. But first-person, immersive writing is only one of the many approaches to science happening now as showcased in this stimulating collection. There are reflective essays and personal profiles, in-depth journalism and poetry, reportage and spare statements of the brutal facts. Such a cross-section is akin to the deep-core samples from Antarctic ice in Jo Chandler’s piece, revealing the secrets about Earth’s interconnected systems while canvassing the impact of political funding and the history of Antarctic co-operation in this part of the world. All a provisional snapshot in time, like science itself.

It’s the Menopause
Kaz Cooke, Viking, $45

Anyone who has been through it knows that “menopause” and “fun” are mutually exclusive terms. A book about this phase of life that is fun to read is an achievement worth celebrating.


Especially when it is informed by the latest medical research, gives voice to women’s diverse experiences and is full of useful advice, from self-help strategies to how to avoid rip-off merchants. Typical of Kaz Cooke’s style is the dance scene from Jane Austen as an analogy for what happens to the hormones when perimenopause hits. When it’s all going decorously, that’s the 28-day cycle. When it turns into a chaotic free-for-all with the band playing industrial emo cowpunk, that’s the beginning of the change. Cooke uses humour to engage and explain without letting it obscure or dumb-down the crucial facts of menopause, the medical treatments available and how it impacts on women’s lives.

Being Henry: The Fonz … and Beyond
Henry Winkler, Macmillan, $36.99

He was the coolest dude in America and yet he still felt like a kid inside. Being dyslexic, he could hardly read his scripts, something he hid with his flair for improvisation.

Effortlessly charming and outwardly confident, he loved the fame that came with being The Fonz in the hit sitcom Happy Days, but worried about being typecast.

Being Henry

Having bluffed his way into the Yale acting school, he now feared he was selling himself short. It took decades and one tough analyst to drill through the reinforced concrete wall he’d built around himself as the child his German parents called dummer Hund – dumb dog. You never get the feeling that Henry Winkler is doing a PR job on his image in this memoir. We see the insecure man beneath the cool veneer and we hear from his wife, Stacey, who tells it like it is. Fonz fans will not be disappointed by this funny, frank and endearing self-portrait.

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

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