Read this with my book group. Of historical interest because it's the first crime novel set in Australia. If you're interested in crime novels, that iRead this with my book group. Of historical interest because it's the first crime novel set in Australia. If you're interested in crime novels, that is......more
The blurb is right: there are only a handful of novelists who have looked at the 60s of demonstrations, civil disobedience, riots, imprisonment and chThe blurb is right: there are only a handful of novelists who have looked at the 60s of demonstrations, civil disobedience, riots, imprisonment and change. Why is that, I wonder? Why haven’t our Baby Boomer major novelists tackled the dizzying world they grew up in, that shaped their identities?
From the author bio that prefaces Summer’s Gone, autobiographical elements underlie the plot of this engaging novel, and the title suits the elegiac tone. It’s the coming-of-age story of a man whose youthful mistakes haunt his entire life. And while the novel doesn’t quite fulfil the brief about the politics of the era, it does show how young people floundered as they came of age in the sexually permissive period that vanished with the arrival of HIV-AIDS.
Nick is a carefree young bloke in Perth when he teams up with his mate Mitch and sisters Alison and Helen to form a successful band called the Warehouse Four. None of them are tertiary educated or campus radicalized: this was in the period when (except for very clever scholarship students) only the wealthy could go to university. They have, however, absorbed ideas about ‘doing their own thing’ – which translates into working at dead-end, no commitment jobs; sharing inexpensive flats with rudimentary attention to décor and hygiene; premarital sex; and careless abandonment of their parents and their parents’ values.
The Vietnam War and its emerging civil disobedience campaign is so far off-stage for these four that Nick is taken by surprise when Mitch decides to take control of his future and enlist rather than wait for the uncertainty of the conscription ballot.
There is an elegiac, melancholy tone to this novel. It was one of those books that I looked forward to reading each night, and yet I hesitated too. JoThere is an elegiac, melancholy tone to this novel. It was one of those books that I looked forward to reading each night, and yet I hesitated too. Joan London’s story-telling is both vivid and unsentimental and I feared that a character I had come to care about might not survive the pages left to read.
I think that I felt this uncharacteristic anxiety because the book is set in a polio hospital and it brought back childhood memories of other – slightly older – children that I knew who had fallen victim to polio. As a very small child, I didn’t understand that the miracle of vaccination protected my luckier generation against the disease, and I was frightened of it. I now know that I was not alone – Philip Roth has recently written vividly about the widespread fear of the disease in his novella Nemesis ...
I have had a wonderful day today, thanks to this exciting new edition of Melbourne Dreaming, A Guide to Important Places of the Past and Present.
It isI have had a wonderful day today, thanks to this exciting new edition of Melbourne Dreaming, A Guide to Important Places of the Past and Present.
It is, as the name implies, a guide to the indigenous heritage of our city. First published in 1997 but now updated, the guide lists 36 places of interest, grouped by location so that exploring can be done in manageable chunks.
In the city, you can discover the Freedom Fighters execution site on the corner of Bowen and Franklin Streets where Maulboyheenner and Tunnerminnerwait became the first men executed in Victoria. They were not allowed to give evidence in their defence because they were deemed unable to take the Christian oath and although the jury recommended leniency on the grounds of general good character and the peculiar circumstances in which they are placed’ the government was determined to make an example of them and they were executed on January 20th, 1842. You can visit the Koorie Heritage Centre which houses one of the largest indigenous collections in the country including 10,000 weavings, baskets, eel traps, paintings and other artefacts. There’s the Bujilaka Cultural Centre, the Birrarung (Yarra) art and Heritage Walk, Billibellary’s Walk, the scarred tree in the Fitzroy Gardens, and more. You have to get the book to see just how rich this heritage is in the CBD, a modern bustling city with an ancient history that is unique in the world.
Further out in the eastern suburbs, there’s the Stonnington Indigenous History Trail, the Bolin Bolin Billabong, and another scarred tree at the Heidi Museum. (How many times have I been to Heidi and not known this?!) There are astonishing earth rings at Sunbury in the outer north, and a fish trap at Solomon’s Ford in the west. Down on the Mornington Peninsula (where there are numerous congenial wineries for sustenance en route) there is Collins’ Settlement and Bunjil’s Cave.
Fascinated by the wealth of things to investigate, I decided to start in my own area. I set out today with my friend Mairi Neil (occasional guest reviewer on this blog) to walk some of the Bayside Coastal Trail.
I liked this playful little book. Mildly provocatively, it plays up the Melbourne-Sydney rivalry, and it subverts its own genre. It’s cunningly constrI liked this playful little book. Mildly provocatively, it plays up the Melbourne-Sydney rivalry, and it subverts its own genre. It’s cunningly constructed so that the reader finds herself bemused and amused.
It’s very short, only 85 pages, and beautifully presented in hardcover with an elegant dust-jacket. There are exquisite colour plates of ethereal flowers interleaved amongst the pages, the colour scheme contained to the soft brown and black of the dust-jacket. The photographs are by Torkil Gudnason, and the design is by Sandy Cull from gogoGinko.
This gorgeousness is, of course, intended for the Christmas gift market, a slim book easily slipped into Christmas stockings and priced just right for Kris Kringle. But lucky recipients unfamiliar with de Kretser’s writing will find themselves surprised if they expect a conventional ghost story. As one of the guests at a dinner party says:
‘Ghost stories work up to a shock, but the modern form of the short story is different. When a loose, open kind of story came in, writing about ghosts went out’.
But Frances is surrounded by ghosts, not the least of which is the ghost of Melbourne, the city she belongs in and has uprooted herself from.
A biography of someone who worked in the creative arts, IMO, doesn’t just evoke the life of the subject, it also explains something of what it was thaA biography of someone who worked in the creative arts, IMO, doesn’t just evoke the life of the subject, it also explains something of what it was that made the subject special. From that wonderful biography of Beethoven by Jan Swafford which I reviewed some time ago, I have learned not just about the chronology of Beethoven’s life and its cultural context, as well as when and why he composed certain pieces, but also about the development of that quality that made his music unique – what Swafford calls ‘Beethovenish’. Well, in this very readable dual biography of the painters Rex Battarbee (1893-1973) and his Aboriginal protégé Albert Namatjira (1902-1954), Martin Edmond not only tells the fascinating story of their entwined lives, but he also explains the unique quality in Namatjira’s water colours that excited his mentor and made him the most famous Aborigine in the world.
The book begins with an introduction to the Arrernte, their beliefs, their lifestyle and kinship systems and how their art was an integral part of religious and cultural life, and then moves on to the Lutherans in Australia, and how they came to be active in missionary work in Central Australia in the period relevant to this book. There is an account of Battarbee’s childhood, and the war service which left him maimed, and also of Namatjira’s early life at the Hermannsburg Mission and how he came to be both Christian and an initiated man with cultural responsibilities. The intriguing first meeting between the two is a reminder that we mostly don’t know the significance of events until long afterwards; there are a number of times when this meeting may have occurred, but it’s not clear.
Navigatio is an enchanting book. Derived from an ancient text called the Navigatio, Patrick Holland’s novella is a retelling of the legendary voyage oNavigatio is an enchanting book. Derived from an ancient text called the Navigatio, Patrick Holland’s novella is a retelling of the legendary voyage of St Brendan of Clonfert, and it follows the form of the Irish immram:
Irish immram flourished during the seventh and eighth centuries. Typically, an immram was a sea-voyage in which a hero, with a few companions, often monks, wanders from island to island, meets other-world wonders, and finally returns home. The story of Brendan’s voyage, developed during this time, shares some characteristics with immram. Like an immram, the Navigatio tells the story of Brendan, who, with some companion monks, sets out to find the terra repromissionis sanctorum, the Promised Land of the Saints or the Earthly Paradise. (See Wikipedia).
*chuckle* I can almost see some readers thinking, ‘um, why would I want to read that?’ Trust me, it’s gorgeous. It’s a quiet, contemplative meditation on a spiritual quest that takes a temporal form, and I loved reading it in the frantic rush up to the end of the year when work overwhelms and the pressure to do stuff for Christmas wreaks its inexorable hold on everything. Holland’s writing is sublime, and he takes you away from all that chaos into a dream world of myth where simplicity reigns...
Crow Mellow is a most unusual book, not like any other that I’ve read. A collaboration between the artist Phil Day and the author Julian Davies, it’sCrow Mellow is a most unusual book, not like any other that I’ve read. A collaboration between the artist Phil Day and the author Julian Davies, it’s a reinterpretation of Aldous Huxley’s Crome Yellow which I re-read a little while ago. I read it then because I wanted to see how this new novel by Julian Davies played with the original…
The answer is quite a lot. Apart from its playful title, Crow Mellow is, like the original, a social satire that uses a gathering in a country house in order to poke fun at contemporary fads and fashions. Davies borrows the structure of the Huxley novel, and his characters, transplanted into contemporary Australia, follow the Huxley script to such an extent that if you’ve read the original recently as I have, the interest lies not so much in the plot but in the witty correspondences. So there is a pompous, confused young would-be writer called Phil Day who corresponds to Denis Stone; there is his lady-love Anna Rimbush (Anne Wimbush) who’s more interested in the artist Paul (Gombauld). Mr. Scogan becomes Scrogum whose name with the transposition of a consonant allows Davies some rather adolescent humour. And so on.
The satire covers all sorts of contemporary issues, not just literary and artistic pretensions but also capitalism, consumerism, gender politics and a parody of our not-so esteemed prime minister at a fancy dress party.
In My Father’s House by Jane Mundy uses an unusual scenario to lure the reader in: it’s about a woman who’s a hoarder and she gets in one of those cluIn My Father’s House by Jane Mundy uses an unusual scenario to lure the reader in: it’s about a woman who’s a hoarder and she gets in one of those clutter-buster types to help her sort out the mess in the house so that it can be sold. This process enables the characters to retrieve memories long suppressed and to sort out what it is that they really value.
The last time I read a book in a similar vein was Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow and that ended very badly indeed because they didn’t have a clutter-buster! In this novel, however, the author shows not only how necessary it is to shed the hoard, but also how hard it is. Martha the clutter-buster proclaims her three rules of thumb: ‘do you use whatever it is;? do you need it? does it have any sentimental value? but her method also includes starting in the kitchen where there are fewer items likely to cause angst, and also lots of talk, asking about Beth’s future plans. Still, she gets it badly wrong when she is about to toss a wok into the pile of discards, not realising that this particular wok has memories that go back a lifetime.
Beth was a young adult when the Vietnam War started tearing Australian families apart. Her father, who for his own hidden reasons is dogmatically supportive of the military, is also implacably against anyone who objects to Australia’s participation in the war. Beth falls in love with a young conscientious objector. This is the kind of scenario that estranged families for decades.
Up front, I have to admit that I would never have read this most interesting book if not for the fact that Annabel Smith is one of my favourite authorUp front, I have to admit that I would never have read this most interesting book if not for the fact that Annabel Smith is one of my favourite authors. Firstly, I don’t like reading eBooks, and secondly, I’m not fond of speculative fiction. It’s a measure of this author’s skill that I was captivated right from the start and finished the book wishing it was longer.
The Ark doesn’t have to be read as an eBook, but (yes, I know I’m contradicting what I’ve written here many times before) I think it’s more fun, and more authentic, given its subject matter and experimental style. The story is composed of emails and other digital forms of communication, and there are links in the text that you can explore as well. You can, for example, explore the setting through creepy little black and white vimeos with eerie sound tracks! I read part of it on my kindle (because I was too impatient to wait for the iPad version) and then when it was available I read the rest of it on the iPad that I otherwise only use for taking photos of student work at school.
The story begins in 2093 with Book One, titled ‘Kirk’ and a ‘report’ from The Australian: 17 people have emerged from a bunker built into Mt Kosciuszko, revealing a priceless storehouse of seed specimens previously thought to be extinct. The survivors have been there for almost half a century, their numbers dwindling from the original 26 to only four, while the other 13 are second or third-generation bunker-babies. From this beginning, the story then travels back in time to 2041 when a seed bank called ‘Ark’ is sealed with a small group of people inside. (A seed bank is a storage repository for seeds in case some sort of disaster destroys the world’s reserves. There are a number of these seed banks around the world, the most famous of which is the Svalbard one in Norway.) In The Ark the oil crisis has created havoc in the global economy and society has broken down, so the decision is taken to preserve the seeds for whatever the precarious future might hold.
I am indebted to Marilyn Brady for her recommendation to read Malla Nunn’s A Beautiful Place to Die. Not being interested in crime fiction, I most cerI am indebted to Marilyn Brady for her recommendation to read Malla Nunn’s A Beautiful Place to Die. Not being interested in crime fiction, I most certainly would have missed reading it if not for Marilyn’s enticing review, and that would have been a pity because A Beautiful Place to Die is much more than genre fiction. It reminded me of the best of Graham Greene in the way that the novel explores how context and culture impact on crime and justice, and how survival in an intransigently corrupt society involves an existential struggle between integrity and resignation to the inevitable.
I bought a copy of the book not long after reading Marilyn’s review but it was still biding its time on the TBR when I saw it available as an audio book at the library. Truth be told, although the title and author seemed vaguely familiar I forgot that I had the book at home, and didn’t find it until after I had finished the audio-book and I was *blush* shelving some other new acquisitions on the N shelf. I am not at all sorry that I made this mistake, because I think this is a rare example of the audio-book being a better way to ‘read’ the book.
Humphrey Bower is a remarkable narrator: I have enjoyed many of his readings before, but this one is astonishingly good. In the course of this novel Bower has to convey a multiplicity of accents because A Beautiful Place to Die is set in South Africa. In Jacob’s Creek deep in Boer Country near the Mozambique border where the story takes place, there are Boer-Afrikaners, Zulu, ‘British’ South African, German-Jewish and Indian accents, and Bower convincingly recreates them all. I couldn’t fault it.
Set in the early 1950s when apartheid was becoming rigidly institutionalised through legislation, Detective Inspector Emmanuel Cooper is sent by his ambitious boss Van Niekerk to investigate the murder of Captain Willem Pretorius, the well-respected Afrikaner local police officer who rules Jacob’s Creek with more authority than his position entitles him to. Cooper barely has time to interview Pretorius’s thuggish sons before the Security Branch arrive with their own agenda, which is to locate a likely ‘Communist’ suspect who can be beaten up in order to extract a confession. (I invite anyone who thinks this unlikely to remember Steve Biko, and to note the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, see #123).
I try not to overdo the superlatives when it comes to discussing books, but Rowan Wilson’s new novel To Name Those Lost is magnificent. Somehow he hasI try not to overdo the superlatives when it comes to discussing books, but Rowan Wilson’s new novel To Name Those Lost is magnificent. Somehow he has managed to capture both the brutality and the redemptive promise of early Tasmania in a superb novel that had me captivated from the moment I started reading it.
Thomas Toosey is a veteran of the Black War about which Wilson wrote so evocatively in The Roving Party. He is a hard man, brutalised by years of poverty and violence, his own childhood destroyed by life on the Tasmanian frontier:
His first sight of the island as a child of fourteen sent out for thieving two overcoats in the winter of 1827 was the sandstone buildings studding the hill above the harbour in Hobart town and when they brought him above decks of the Woodford in iron fetters and set him aboard a longboat for the shore he’d thought Hobart a pissing version of his own Blackpool, the inlaying of warehouse masonry much like the stores on Talbot Road, the stark shapes of houses near the same, but then the winter mist parted from the mountain peak above and he knew he was in venerable country, as old as rock, and it wasn’t long before he became indentured to the frontiersman John Batman who ran a trade in victualling the army, and here the boy Thomas learned how the island’s wilder parts truly belonged to the tribal blacks, a displaced people taking refuge in the hills, and for a government bounty and to secure his land this frontiersman meant to hunt them by whatever means just or unjust, bloody or brave, and he marshalled a party of transportees and black trackers and put into the scrub armed for war and war it was, a bloody war, in which all hands were soiled and Thomas’s no less than another’s for a killer now he was, an easy killer, and yet while he was diminished by it, made less in God’s eyes and his own, he saw in the bullet, the knife, and the club a power that could make a man his own master. (p. 55)
(You can see in this excerpt Wilson’s masterful use of prose which conveys a sense of the 19th century and its rugged idiom without overdoing it).
The use of that power lands Toosey a 10-year sentence in Port Arthur, further hardening his heart. But this brute receives a pitiful message from his son, twelve years old, and motherless now. ...more
There was a lot to think about while reading this book, and it took me well out of my comfort zone. I like reading biographies of artists, but althougThere was a lot to think about while reading this book, and it took me well out of my comfort zone. I like reading biographies of artists, but although his prize-winning portrait of David *swoon* Wenham was on my radar, Adam Cullen (1965-2012) wasn’t. When the publicity blurb told me that this Cullen cultivated a ‘bad boy’ persona, (drugs, grunge, outrageous behaviour) I suspected that I was not going to like him – or the book. As it turned out, I was right about the former – and wrong about the latter…
I like books that make me think. And this book provokes the question, how tolerant are we as a society and as individuals, of people who don’t fit into everyday society? I am not now thinking of discrimination, but rather of disapproval, whether expressed or internalised. Erik Jensen writes the life of a most unlikeable man with some tenderness. He makes the reader see that within the self-destructive egoist, Cullen had some charm. And although Jensen is somewhat ambivalent about Cullen’s talent, implicit in the bio is also the question, are we willing, or obliged to be, more tolerant of someone of genius; and are we willing, or obliged to be, more tolerant of artists more ordinary that that?