The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy

It’s been a decade since McCarthy’s last book and it’s immediately apparent that not a minute was wasted – the depth and breadth of this novel are breathtaking. The plot is simple enough: Bobby Western, a salvage diver, assesses a submerged plane with one passenger and the black box mysteriously missing. Western is then shadowed by (unnamed, faceless) agents. This plot, though, is merely a stepping-off point. ‘The passenger’ is really Bobby, travelling through life. He’s not been provided with a map.

Bobby’s the son of a physicist who was involved in the making of the atomic bomb. He trained as a physicist himself. His sister, Alice, is a mathematician. Her intelligence is stratospheric but her mental health is fragile. The siblings’ love for each other is singular. Alice’s death haunts Bobby and he struggles to find meaning in his existence.

Alice has her own narrative (with chapters in italics) documenting the psychotic visions of her schizophrenia. The characterisation within her hallucinations is a unique blend of tragedy and comedy. The one constant is The Thalidomide Kid, a short-statured ringleader with flippers for arms who arranges vaudeville-style acts for Alice in the hope of making her life more bearable. Both are disappointed in the quality of the entertainment.

Bobby tries to comprehend the vicissitudes of life, which has now been taken out of his control. His dialogue with secondary characters reads like a play, with snappy two-handed repartee and stand-alone soliloquies. Chief among these characters is Kline, a detective Bobby hires (with funds now frozen by the authorities) to investigate his options. As an aside, Kline has a convincing argument as to those responsible for JFK’s assassination. The ‘wise fool’ literary paradox is also explored with Jeffery, an asylum inmate and friend of Alice.

The narrative pays homage to the absurdism of Beckett (even paraphrasing his famous, ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on,’), while also evoking the psychological self-exploration of a Stoppard play. This is a story of life, love, loss, fate and agency. Any number of sentences are philosophical bones the reader can take away and chew on. It’s extraordinary literature and deserves way more than five stars.

Book reviewed by Bob Moore

Read more reviews for Cormac McCarthy’s books here.

The Island by Adrian McKinty

Belfast-born author Adrian McKinty didn’t start writing his critically acclaimed, award-winning Sean Duffy series set against ‘the Troubles’ era of his Northern Irish childhood until he was living half a world away, in St Kilda. Perhaps he needed the distance. And now that he and his family have uprooted to New York after a decade Downunder, the three-time Ned Kelly Award winner has returned to his more recent home, on the page.

In The Island, young stepmother Heather Baxter is holidaying in Melbourne with her husband Tom and his adolescent kids Olivia and Owen. Tom, a doctor, has a conference to attend, and the family has tagged along. But when a trip into the Victorian countryside then onto a private island so the truculent kids can try to spot koalas and other Australian wildlife goes horribly awry, Heather must fight for the lives of her new family.

McKinty delivers a scorching tale with echoes of Deliverance. Long admired by crime aficionados and awards judges, he shot to wider global acclaim with his 2019 standalone The Chain, a heart-clutching tale of parental nightmares. The Island takes that terror and twists the dial even higher in a fast-paced, ultra-tense tale with a fair bit of emotional heft. You could easily envisage it on the silver screen, but for now it’s a heck of a read.

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adrian McKinty authorAdrian McKinty is a Northern Irish writer of crime and mystery novels and young adult fiction, best known for his 2020 award-winning thriller, The Chain, and the ‘Sean Duffy ‘novels set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles.

Visit Adrian McKinty’s website

The Lost Ryu by Emi Watanabe Cohen

The Lost Ryu by Emi Watanabe Cohen is a very interesting book. It is about a Japanese boy named Kohei, who is striving to make his grandfather, Ojiisan, happy again, with an extraordinary (extinct) big Ryu, or dragon. It is set in 1958, post World War II. With the help from his new friend, Isolde, who moves into the apartment downstairs, he might just be able to pull off his end goal. Fighting hardship – literally fighting – and journeying across Japan (and in the sea, for that matter) all makes Kohei more determined to fix his family.

This book was very enjoyable to read, and mind-bending at the same time. You may see a dragon on the cover and think ‘here we go, another fantasy novel’, but no, this isn’t really fantasy. The world is realistic as can be, with one change, dragons do exist, but are small and do not breathe fire (anymore). Japanese dragons are called Ryu, hence the title ‘The Lost Ryu’.

Some parts of this book I thought I didn’t want to keep reading, but you need to get past those bits, and finishing reading the story.

It is awesome. The ending made me feel an obscure emotion, not quite sadness, more like a ‘I just learnt something very profound, that’s happy and kind of sad’ emotion. This book is almost perfect.

Ayrton, Year 6,
Churchie, Anglican Church Grammar School
East Brisbane Qld

Visit the author’s website

The Sugarcane Kids and the Red-bottomed Boat by Charlie Archbold

The Sugarcane Kids and the Red-Bottomed Boat is set in north Queensland in the country. It’s about five kids who try to prove their friend’s cousin did not steal some very expensive jewellery, by trying to find out who framed him. They find that something is up and discover some information, but they must go into the hidden mossy swamp where Sebastian the crocodile lives, in order to crack the case.

The book is full of mystery, action and adventure and the story unfolds in a very captivating way. It’s the right book for every person, with its engaging story, and after reading it I think it is suitable for anyone over about 8 years of age. I could not put it down, it was so good! It is my new favourite book.

Reviewed by Zachary, Year 5
Anglican Church Grammar School
East Brisbane Qld 

Peanut Jones and the Illustrated by City Rob Biddulph

Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City was a great book to read. All the adventure was based around Croma. With the help of the magic pencil, her sister, Little Bit, and Peanut’s new friend Rockwell, find Mr M, but Peanuts and Little Bit are still looking for their dad. As well as all the ups and downs, Peanut still manages to
find Mr M.

Towards the end of the story I felt worried for Rockwell when he fell unconscious. I didn’t know if he was alive or dead.

I wonder if Peanut will ever find her dad or the magic pencil because Peanut had to make a choice: the pencil or Rockwell, and the choice that she made was … I cannot wait to read the next book.

Reviewed by Lucy, Year 6
St Nicholas Primary School 

Tamworth NSW