Bite-Sized Book Reviews to Munch On

Welcome to the first instalment of our Micro Review series!  

At Glass, we love hearing your thoughts on the books, shows, new music, and all those other good things you’re enjoying (or passionately hating). This series delivers bite-sized reviews, typically under 300 words, which means we can bring you more student opinions! 

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Funny Ethnics by Shirley Le 
Reviewed by Ella Pringle 

Shirley Le approaches a plethora of social and personal conflicts in her new book Funny Ethnics with honesty, an eager sense of humour, and a valuable sense of perspective. In her debut novel, Le has decided to actively push against moulds of social conformity with some heavy-hitting discussions around belonging, race, and place. She’s made it clear this will not be another story ‘riddled with trauma porn for white people’.   

This conviction permeates throughout the novel and is what I found most exciting about the book. Funny Ethnics drags us through the urban sprawl and life of Sylvia Nguyen in a manner that doesn’t bother justifying her existence or journey with poignant character arcs or satisfactory self-development.   

Le’s writing maintains its sharp edge and matter-of-factness, despite lavish injections of sensory detail that makes the chaos of her protagonist’s experiences feel rich for the reader. You had best believe I can still smell the KFC, cigarettes, and self-loathing, even with the book closed. In this way, it’s the discourse of mandarins and train lines, of pigeons and stretch marks, that makes this Australian portrait a fundamentally enjoyable read.   

Though there is a range of weighted topics touched on by the book, Funny Ethnics by Shirley Le is a compassionately didactic novel that’s easy to pick back up after a day of participating dutifully in your own life. It’s easy to consume, but still thoughtful. Thematically dense and culturally transparent, this one is as colourful as its cover and as astute as Michelle Law suggests on the front. 

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Magnus Nights: The Helios Incident by Bryn Smith 
Reviewed by Anna Holmes 

Magnus Nights: The Helios Incident is sci-fi noir, meets new-age dystopia. Bryn Smith writes in vivid detail about the intricacies of weapons and combat in modern warfare. Following a plethora of narrators, you are invited into both the inner workings of the ‘top side’ council and the effects their decisions have on the oppressed ‘undercity’. The mysterious identity of the antagonist and the heightened stakes for the primary narrator acted as the driving force of this narrative. However, there were enough clues for the reader (or the detectives) to substantiate an idea of the potential perpetrator and cause the plot to lack the tension to pull off a ‘big reveal’ moment.  

The interchanging perspectives from multiple narrators aided the world-building process and resulted in a stronger understanding of the social structure of Magnus (the city), but each missed the opportunity to have a substantial personality. Each narrator seemed to be held at a distance from the reader, never offering information about their past or future thoughts, only ever letting the reader know what they were thinking in the present. Not to mention these POVs were, at times, hard to discern and were predominantly male. This noir does not pass the Bechdel test.  

I see the potential set-up for a female lead character in the next instalment of the series and the scaffolding of building on both the reader’s knowledge of ‘the world’ and our central characters. For those looking for a fast-paced, magical realism, Law and Order-esque series to get invested in, Magnus Nights: The Helios Incident is a fantastic starting point. However, I think as a stand-alone novel, it just misses the opportunity to immerse the reader in the characters’ lives and the fantastical elements of this world.  

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Between You and Me by Joanna Horton 
Reviewed by Jess Morgan
 

TW: This novel references disordered eating, depression, self-harm, and familial abuse and contains disturbing sexual themes.    

Between You and Me is Meanjin-based author Joanna Horton’s debut novel. It’s unsettling and sickening, yet raw, honest, and compelling. The novel revolves around two young women, Mari and Elisabeth, and their intense connection, which blurs the lines between desire, resentment, and friendship. Caught up in their lives and navigating the tumultuous period of their early 20s, Mari and Elisabeth are new university graduates – political, cynical, and secretly desperate to have someone notice their intelligence. Enter Jack, an older man, and an academic, who shows an initially innocent, yet intense interest in the two women, as individuals and a pair.  

As the story unfurls, the nature of the three is revealed in the fraying relationships they have with one another; the betrayals, the secrets, the selfishness, and the struggles of the trio are brought into stark focus. The characters shift, swap and morph the roles they play – lover, mistress, spinster, husband, wife, mother. I found myself nauseous at times with the disturbing ways the characters treat one another.  

Despite Horton’s clear storytelling ability, the plot felt reminiscent of Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends and Normal People. From the characterisation of the two women through to the sexual themes in the novel and the language chosen, Horton clearly drew her inspiration strongly, perhaps too strongly, from that of Rooney. While she doesn’t offer a fresh perspective, it certainly suggests a promising debut from Horton, and perhaps with time, she will find her own voice. Regardless of this, Between You and Me is wounding, intimate, enticing and, at its core, an examination of brutal human nature. 3/5 

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