It hits different being immersed in a story where you recognise the setting. Something about the familiarity of it all brings a sense of comfort to the reader. Luckily for us, there are plenty of books set in Brisbane, from poignant literary fiction titles to mysteries and even contemporary romance. So lay down your towel, get comfy, and become immersed in Brisbane, but perhaps not quite as you know it.
1. Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
Let’s start off with the one everyone’s been talking about since its publication in 2018: Boy Swallows Universe. The book paints a gritty look at the underworld of Brisbane from the eyes of twelve-year-old Eli. We follow Eli through his teenage years as he learns about brotherhood, true love, and more. Dalton’s debut novel has snapped up a slew of awards and it’s also being adapted into an eight-part Netflix series.
2. Zigzag Street by Nick Earls
If you’re after a read that will have you laughing out loud, look no further than Nick Earls’ Zigzag Street. Published back in 2000, the novel centres on Richard Derrington who’s recovering from a break-up six months prior. We get an insight into Richard’s life for six weeks in the Brisbane suburb of Red Hill.
3. Henry Hamlet’s Heart by Rhiannon Wilde
One for the YA book readers, this queer friends-to-lovers romance follows Henry Hamlet in his last year of high school. Henry, like many seniors, is stressed about the HSC and his future after school. To add to the list though is an unexpected crush that leads to love interest. Henry Hamlet’s Heart is a Queensland Literary Award Winner.
4. The Comfort of Figs by Simon Cleary
Let’s take a trip back to Brisbane, 1939. Three young men are working on the construction of Story Bridge and form a friendship high above the river. However, after a slip, their lives are transformed as time goes on. If you’re after a story set in a time where Brisbane went from being a country town to a city, The Comfort of Figs could be for you.
5. Fourteen by Shannon Molloy
You might’ve seen the Fourteen stage play get rave reviews at Brisbane Festival this year. Perhaps you went and saw it and loved it? Well, this is the memoir it’s based off, capturing Shannon Molloy’s life at the age of fourteen. From his school life in regional Queensland to his trips down to Brisbane, Molloy’s story is relatable to many gay people growing up and finding their identity.
6. The Mayne Inheritance by Rosamond Siemon
Published back in 2003, this gothic thriller centres on a mid 19th century murder on Queen Street. So if you like your thrillers with a bit of wealthy family scandal, The Mayne Inheritance might just be the Brisbane-centric book for you.
7. The Codebreakers by Alli Sinclair
Another one for the historical fiction lovers, this time set in Brisbane during WWII, where a group of women form a close bond as codebreakers for Australia’s top-secret Central Bureau. According to the description, The Codebreakers is “a compelling story about tenacity and friendship”.
8. Garden of Hopes and Dreams by Barbara Hannay
For lovers of plants and contemporary romance stories comes The Gardens of Hopes and Dreams by award-winning novelist Barbara Hannay. Set in an apartment block overlooking the Brisbane River, this heartwarming read focuses on the importance of community and connection.
9. Love Stories by Trent Dalton
From the author of the highly-acclaimed Boy Swallows Universe comes this uplifting collection of true stories based around “love”. Trent Dalton spent time on the busy streets of Brisbane to create this book, asking people to share their love stories with him. The stories collected are touching, and there are a bunch of relatable Brisbane references.
10. The Promise Seed by Cass Moriarty
The Promise Seed is a thoughtful story of an unlikely friendship between an elderly man and a ten-year-old boy in the Brisbane suburbs. The man teaches the young boy to garden and play chess, and the boy gives the elderly man a glimpse into the past.
11. When Things Happen Together by Jordan Clayden-Lewis
Another one for the contemporary romance lovers, but this time a M/M pairing, Aussie road trips, and a mysterious number combination. When Things Happen Together follows two travellers who find each other and spark a relationship on a working holiday in Australia. However, the closer the pair become, the more they start seeing the numbers 1122 everywhere. Are the numbers just a coincidences, or is there something greater at play?
12. Praise by Andrew McGahan
Considered somewhat of a cult favourite when it comes to fiction set in Brisbane, this darkly humorous literary fiction title follows two young hopeless souls as they delve into sex, drugs and alcohol in the 90s. Praise was the winner of the Australian/Vogel Literary Award back in 1991 and was also shortlisted for a bunch of other awards.
13. Johnno by David Malouf
A reimagining of Brisbane in the 1940s, Johnno follows two childhood friends as they take on the city together: from the pub to the brothel to the tennis parties and beyond.
14. The Fragments by Toni Jordan
A literary mystery following a Brisbane bookseller in the 1980s? Sign us up. A lost book, secret love: say no more. Follow the protagonist/ sleuth Caddie Walker as she cracks a historical case in The Fragments.
15. He Died with a Felafel in His Hand by John Birmingham
Got some questionable memories when it comes to share house living? Well, you might relate to some of the hilarious true stories in He Died with a Felafel in his Hand. Here’s a snippet from the book to get you intrigued to read it: ‘A rat died in the living room at King Street and we didn’t know. There was at least six inches of compacted rubbish between our feet and the floor. Old Ratty must have crawled in there and died of pleasure. A visitor uncovered him while groping around for a beer.’