Penelope Mortimer’s The Pumpkin Eater is a brilliant book, and I am not surprised to find from GoodReads that it has been reissued as a classic by NYRPenelope Mortimer’s The Pumpkin Eater is a brilliant book, and I am not surprised to find from GoodReads that it has been reissued as a classic by NYRB. (The copy up here is a well-loved Penguin from 1979.) Published in 1962, The Pumpkin-Eater pre-dates all the feminist writing that was so exhilarating to read as the sixties progressed, but I knew Mortimer’s name because I’ve read something of hers before. (Daddy’s Gone A-hunting, I think, but it’s too long ago to be sure).
For those who have forgotten their nursery rhymes, (or sadly never knew any) the title derives from this rhyme:
Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater Had a wife and couldn’t keep her He put her in a pumpkin shell And there he kept her very well.
(*shudder* When you think how ancient this rhyme is, it is quite horrible to think how it reflects confining women’s lives over the centuries).
Mortimer’s novel begins with an unnamed wife in a psychiatrist’s chair and the black humour is evident from the start. He is the classic patronising male of the sixties (and if you think you know this type now, trust me, you have no idea what they were like when their power was unbridled and our courage was prudently tentative).
Nothing, by British author Henry Green (1905-1973) is a sly comedy of manners that is almost Shakespearean in its twists and turns. It features a younNothing, by British author Henry Green (1905-1973) is a sly comedy of manners that is almost Shakespearean in its twists and turns. It features a young couple who become engaged to marry but – having discovered some gossip – fear that they may be siblings, because their respective parents had an affair in the past. The engagement offers opportunities for their parents to have renewed close contact, which in turn creates jealousies from their respective suitors, and a denouément that is breathtaking.
I haven't got time to write a proper review right now, so let's just say it was a good time in a daughter's life to read about older women not being qI haven't got time to write a proper review right now, so let's just say it was a good time in a daughter's life to read about older women not being quite as crazy as they might seem. ...more
**spoiler alert** It’s rather silly. We’re led up the garden path to various dead ends – which are intended to make us think that there’s a high level**spoiler alert** It’s rather silly. We’re led up the garden path to various dead ends – which are intended to make us think that there’s a high level Canberra political/public service conspiracy to cover up snuff movies and a sex-slave trade. None of this has happened and it’s too easy to tell who the killer is. The narrator is too self-consciously an editor, and she does far too much rambling on about nothing much at all. There are numerous barely-disguised digs at the Howard government which will date the book in no time.
Kylie Tennant (1912-1988) is famous in my mind for the extraordinary method of research for her Depression novels, so as soon as I saw this biographyKylie Tennant (1912-1988) is famous in my mind for the extraordinary method of research for her Depression novels, so as soon as I saw this biography in the local book bargain shop, I knew I had to have it. Many of us know her work from the ABC TV adaptation (2005) of Ride On Stranger (1943) and I have read The Battlers (1941) but this biography shows that Tennant was a prolific author who wrote in many genres and was also a noted reviewer of Australian literature.
The biography was commissioned by the National Library of Australia as the second in its An Australian Life series. Drawing on papers held in the NLA, this series includes biographies of authors such as Alan Moorehead and Daisy Bates, but if there are others in the series they didn’t come up in the search I did at the NLA bookshop. It’s a pity if there aren’t any more, because I can think of dozens of Australian authors who merit a brief, capable biography like this one, if not more than that.
Today’s young authors, many of whom have the resources of a university behind the PhD that guides their first novel, would perhaps recoil in dismay at Tennant’s methods. The daughter of a middle-class family, she was nonetheless denied university education by her conservative father, and it was an uncle who paid her first term fees at Sydney University in 1931. But (like many of today’s young students) Tennant could not manage both part-time work as a copywriter and also the rigours of study, and she abandoned her course. Nevertheless she was determined to write, and so in 1932 (aged 20) she set out to walk the 600 miles from Sydney to Coonabarabran in northern NSW, ostensibly in response to an invitation to visit the friend who would become her husband, Lewis Rodd. What she said later was that she had wanted to find out all she could about the unemployed men on the track who (sometimes with their families) were searching for work in what was the worst year of the Depression. As you can see in my review of The Battlers what she did was what they did: camping out; being moved on and out of towns that didn’t want them; doing without; going hungry and getting sick. She was also sometimes in real danger, including from an attempted rape. But right from the very beginning she was a writer of social conscience: she wrote her novels with the express intention of wanting to change public opinion about the injustices she saw.
I finished reading this book late last night and I am still overwhelmed by it. It was unputdownable for the last 200-odd pages, and food for consideraI finished reading this book late last night and I am still overwhelmed by it. It was unputdownable for the last 200-odd pages, and food for considerable thought long after the light was turned off. Definitely a contender for any intelligently-judged awards that are going around.
It’s a wild ride. Words tumble over themselves in torrents as narrators Aldo and Liam hurtle through a kind of brotherhood forged in grief for their dead sisters. They have nothing else in common at all except their wit:
Until I met him, almost all my male friendships were based on homoerotic wrestling or the lighthearted undermining of each other’s confidence, but for Aldo and me, our connection was of like minds on pointless adventures, whether that be taunting bouncers outside nightclubs, riding shopping trolleys down suicidally steep declines, or attending first-home auctions to force up the bids of nervous young couples. In those days, Aldo and I had such great conversations that every sunset seemed like the end of an era. We were young and there were no unpleasant surprises waiting for us in bathroom mirrors. We did things we wouldn’t feel guilty about for literally years. Nobody was on a diet. (p. 91)
Wickedly funny one-liners surge through a surf of black humour crashing through the reader’s mind as the plot unfolds: it’s very dark. Very dark indeed. Too lively to be called a ‘meditation’ on suffering and resilience, the novel is more of a forensic dissection of how the absurdities of modern life can conspire to inflict misery on undeserving victims. The novel doesn’t answer the existential question that threads right through the novel: what is the point of suffering? But it excoriates the reader with what that question might mean for its main character. The Biblical Job had nothing much to complain about, by comparison…
I didn’t intend to add to the ink spilt over this year’s Anzac Centenary, but I just have to share these words from the current Griffith Review, whichI didn’t intend to add to the ink spilt over this year’s Anzac Centenary, but I just have to share these words from the current Griffith Review, which I bought last week at the History Writers’ Festival held at Readers’ Feast Bookstore. There is much wise and thoughtful writing in this issue, and editors Julianne Schultz and Peter Cochrane deserve congratulations for sourcing diverse perspectives and original thinking about so many different aspects of military history.
Amongst many fine pieces of writing, it was Cory Taylor’s brief memoir, ‘Claiming the Dead’ which arrested my attention with her words about the Cowra cemetery. She relates how, at the time of the Tokyo Olympics, Japanese diplomats negotiated for the gathering together of all Japanese who had died on Australian soil either during their internment or during the Cowra breakout.