real life

Five brilliant but uncomfortably confronting reads.


Kylie Ladd has compiled a list of some brilliantly uncomfortable, confronting reads that give readers something to chew on.

Sunnyside by Joanna Murray-Smith


Murray-Smith is better known as a playwright, but her novel Sunnyside was long-listed for the 2006 Miles Franklin award. In it, Murray-Smith deploys her scalpel-sharp wit and insight on the moneyed middle classes, on those aspirational Australians we all know (or, wince, are). There’s Molly, who wants to find inner peace by visiting the local swami (“It was a hell of an improvement on Pilates, that was for sure”) but panics when she’s asked to leave her new Gucci handbag in the change room; there’s the couple who’ve got rich from manufacturing heritage paint colours that they joke to each other should be re-named ‘Frowsy Suburbanites’, or ‘Gruesome Affluence’. There are BMWs and breakdowns, there are “forty-something yummy-mummies at Dunes by the Beach making cynical asides about their husbands. What a salad-fest that would be- rocket coming out of their diamond- studded ears. How many decades had it been since grown women ate something cooked?”  For all this, Sunnsyide isn’t a cruel book, but rather a deeply knowing one, and laugh-out-loud funny in parts. I re-read it often for a reality check, and for the frisson of the flinch.


Another Country

This one isn’t funny, and is far, far more sobering.  Nicholas Rothwell has long been the Northern Australia correspondent for The Australian, and Another Country is a collection of his essays for the newspaper. In it, Rothwell details the realities and inequities of life in the top end, an Australia that is so different to the one most of us inhabit that it may as well be another country. In eloquent and moving prose Rothwell documents the effect white settlement has had on the native inhabitants of this land: the massively increased rates of suicide and violent death, the dramatically lowered life span, the loss of language and identity, the endemic kidney failure, the systematic sexual and physical abuse of young children in remote communities, the alcohol abuse, the petrol sniffing, the financial exploitation of desert painters. Rothwell never lectures, just observes, which makes this book all the more harrowing. Read it alongside The Tall Man (Chloe Hooper) and Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence (Doris Pilkington) for an Australia that you don’t see in the Lara Bingle commercials.



Is this the creepiest novel ever written? Its protagonist, Humbert Humbert, initially comes across as a cultured and sophisticated man, a doyenne of taste and refinement, but turns out to be the most unreliable narrator of them all. Humbert is a middle-aged literary professor who becomes obsessed with the 12 year old daughter of his land-lady, who he in turn kidnaps, sedates and eventually molests over and over for a number of years. The girl’s name is Dolores, but Humbert calls her Lolita, stripping of her of her identity along with her innocence and her childhood: ““Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.” Lolita was banned in France and the UK for its erotic content, but really isn’t an erotic book at all- just a very sad one. I am glad I have read it, for its power and its prose, and I will never open it again.



Winter of Our Disconnect

And now for something completely different. Maushart is an academic living in Western Australia who became concerned when she began realising the effect that ever-proliferating technology- mobile phones, the internet, iPods and iPads- was having on her and her three teenage children; that, to use her words, the lounge room was morphing into a docking station, that we can have five or six hundred “friends” and no idea who our neighbours are. Taking matters into her own hands, she put the whole family on a digital diet: six months with no television, computers, MP3 players or mobile phones. Her diary of this time- interspersed with literature reviews covering, for example, the effects of our obsession with connection on our sleep patterns, socialising and sex lives- make fascinating and thought-provoking reading. We have plenty of computers in our house, but thanks to me reading this book we don’t have wi-fi: anyone who wants to get online has to do so in a public space where every other member of the family can see what they are doing and yell at them to hurry up. My kids think we are living in the stone age, but I’m grateful to Maushart for encouraging me to think about controlling technology, not letting it control us.


I tossed up the number five spot between Sophie’s Choice and Never Let Me Go, but chose the latter because really, if a Holocaust novel doesn’t make you squirm, what will? Too easy. Never Let Me Go, in contrast, is set at Halisham, a boarding school in England. At first the novel unfolds as a standard, though lyrical, coming of age story. Gradually, however, the reader begins to realise that there’s something else going on here… why are the teachers called ‘guardians’? Why is it so important that the students keep themselves healthy?  I’m absolutely not going to give anything further away other than to say that even once you’ve twigged as to what’s going on, you can’t stop reading, and the ending has stayed with me for many, many years. A bewitching and horrifying novel.


HONOURABLE MENTIONS BY CATEGORY – Read these to make you feel uncomfortable about

Motherhood: A Life’s Work (Cusk)
Marriage: Caribou Island (Vann)
Friendship: The Myth Of You And Me (Stewart)
Parenting: We Need To Talk About Kevin (Shriver)
National security: The Unknown Terrorist (Flanagan)
Sending your kids to uni: I am Charlotte Simmons (Wolfe)
Wanting it all: The Bitch in the House (Hanauer)
The family pet: Dog Boy (Hornung)

Into My Arms


When Skye meets Ben their attraction is instantaneous and intense. Neither of them has ever felt more in synch – or in love – with anyone in their lives. What happens next will tear them both apart. Into My Arms is a searing love story and a gripping family drama – a shocking, haunting novel in the tradition of Jodi Picoult and Caroline Overington.

The kiss ignited something, blew it into being, and afterwards, all Skye could think about was Ben. One day a woman meets a man and falls instantly and irrevocably in love with him. It hits her like a thunderbolt, and she has to have him, has to be with him, regardless of the cost, of the pain of breaking up her existing relationship. She has never felt more in synch-or in love-with anyone in her whole life. So this is how it feels, she thinks to herself, this is what real love feels like.

It’s like that for him too; he wants her in a way he’s never wanted anything or anyone before: obsessively, passionately, all-consumingly.

She has found her one true love, her soulmate, and he has found his. What happens next will tear them apart and unleash havoc onto their worlds.

This brave, brilliant, electrifying novel from the acclaimed author of After the Fall and Last Summer, will move you deeply and shock you to your core. Love, lust and longing have rarely wielded such power, nor family secrets triggered such devastation.

Kylie Ladd is a novelist, freelance writer and neuropsychologist. Follow her on Twitter here. Her new book Into My Arms is available at Booktopia now.

This post was originally published on Booktopia and has been republished with full permission.

Over to you now. What are you reading? And what books can you recommend?