**spoiler alert** A summary of Voss suggests an enticing story. It is a fictionalised account of the life of the explorer Ludwig Leichardt, and it is**spoiler alert** A summary of Voss suggests an enticing story. It is a fictionalised account of the life of the explorer Ludwig Leichardt, and it is salutary to remember that despite the fuss sometimes made about it today, fictionalising actual events is nothing new. What was distinctive about Voss is that the novel is an example of High Modernism – which according to Norton celebrates ‘personal and textual inwardness, complexity, and difficulties’. What follows is not a review: it charts my progress through this difficult but rewarding book by a literary genius. See http://anzlitlovers.wordpress.com/200......more
A powerful, angry book, written in 1999 and Astley's last. It is fiercely critical of Australian anti-intellectualism; cynical about justice for victiA powerful, angry book, written in 1999 and Astley's last. It is fiercely critical of Australian anti-intellectualism; cynical about justice for victims of white-collar crime; scornful about attempts to import ‘culture’ in the form of writing groups and a branch library to the backblocks of Queensland; and contemptuous about small-town life and society. http://anzlitlovers.wordpress.com/200......more
This is an excellent edition to introduce 10+ children to Arthurian tales. Great for discussion about the 7 knightly virtues and whether Sir Gawain liThis is an excellent edition to introduce 10+ children to Arthurian tales. Great for discussion about the 7 knightly virtues and whether Sir Gawain lives up to them or not. Children also like to talk about whether these virtues still have merit in the 21st century. ...more
I really enjoyed reading Petersburg by Andrei Bely. It’s quite long, but it never loses momentum because of the central element in its plot: a young mI really enjoyed reading Petersburg by Andrei Bely. It’s quite long, but it never loses momentum because of the central element in its plot: a young man who’s become mixed up with radical elements at university has been entrusted with a bomb – to kill his own father, who’s a powerful bureaucrat in 1905 Petersburg. And Petersburg – like the rest of Russia – is in political turmoil…
First published in Russia in 1916, Petersburg was (according to Wikipedia) said by Vladimir Nabokov to be one of the ‘four greatest masterpieces of twentieth century prose’. I’ve read the other three too: James Joyce’s Ulysses, Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time a.k.a. Remembrance of Things Past. Petersburg is one of these four because it’s an early modernist novel ( pre-dating Joyce), but apparently it’s also a ‘Symbolist’ work.
Wikipedia came once more to my rescue to explain that:
Symbolism was largely a reaction against naturalism and realism, anti-idealistic styles which were attempts to represent reality in its gritty particularity, and to elevate the humble and the ordinary over the ideal. Symbolism was a reaction in favour of spirituality, the imagination, and dreams.
What this means is that Symbolist authors were keen to write ’in a very metaphorical and suggestive manner, endowing particular images or objects with symbolic meaning and were hostile to ‘plain meanings, declamations, false sentimentality and matter-of-fact description’.
Bely was one of the ‘Second Generation’ of Russian Symbolists (after Dostoyevsky and Ibsen) and reading Petersburg is a strange, disorientating – but also curiously enchanting – experience. It’s vaguely reminiscent of reading Gerald Murnane’s Inland in the way that the narrative swirls back and forth in time and place, and the intrusive narrator plays with the reader, forever reminding us that this is fiction. The narrator also launches into philosophical and spiritual asides, not to mention prophetic commentaries on the state of the nation. There are fleeting allusions, scraps of dialogue overheard or interrupted, and rhythmic patterns and repetitions as well. All these techniques were unorthodox for their time.
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
Every now and again, I discover a perfect little book, and Disquiet, by Julia Leigh, is one of those.
It is a novella of a mere 121 pages, but it is utEvery now and again, I discover a perfect little book, and Disquiet, by Julia Leigh, is one of those.
It is a novella of a mere 121 pages, but it is utterly compelling. I read it in an evening, and could not sleep afterwards until I had settled my thoughts about it. No wonder that on the blurb Toni Morrison calls Julia Leigh a ‘sorceress‘ whose ‘deft prose casts a spell of serene control while the earth quakes underfoot’… To read the rest of my review, please visit http://anzlitlovers.wordpress.com/201......more
It’s a different experience, reading a novel after seeing the film first. As I lost myself in the pages of The English Patient I could see the thin, tIt’s a different experience, reading a novel after seeing the film first. As I lost myself in the pages of The English Patient I could see the thin, taut faces of the characters as they were in the film, and I could see how perfectly the adaptation and casting had captured the brittleness of the world they inhabited. My own mother is the only other one I know ever to so perfectly explain the sense of living for the fragile moment during the Second World War. Perhaps that was because she too had a sense of perspective about human life that came from a love of wild, desolate places, indifferent and unforgiving…
The English Patient won the Governor General’s Award in Canada and shared the Booker Prize with Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger in 1992. It’s an enchantment, one that made it very difficult for me to tear myself away from it. So you can imagine my astonishment when I saw some consumer reviews that claimed to have hated the book, dismissing it as pretentious or frustrating. I didn’t read much of this criticism (too depressing! too inane!) but I got the impression that these readers disliked having to ‘put together pieces of a jigsaw’.
Well, there are readers who like things to be straightforward (as if life is like that) and there are those who enjoy a carefully constructed artifice that gradually reveals the complexity of characters and events. In this tale of four people damaged by the loss of innocence that inevitably accompanies war, Ondaatje has woven fragments of their past lives into their uncertain present as they themselves reveal it (as, in life, we do). It is a beautiful story which creates a romantic setting out of a ruined Italian villa booby-trapped by the mines of the retreating German army, and juxtaposes it with the pre-war heroic age of discovery in the harsh deserts of Egypt and Libya.
I am astonished to see that someone found Landscape of Farewell a 'yawn' because I found it utterly compelling.
The characterisation is superb. Max OtI am astonished to see that someone found Landscape of Farewell a 'yawn' because I found it utterly compelling.
The characterisation is superb. Max Otto, has transcended his humble beginnings to become an academic, but his research has always been constricted by his fear of learning more than he wants to know about his own father’s actions in Ww2. He spent his career in the relative calm of 12th century history, unable to confront his real field of interest: exploring that question that challenges us when confronted by an enemy we wish obliterated…
At his valedictory lecture in Hamburg when he feels he has nothing to lose, he presents a rather shabby version of his ideas, in a paper called ‘The Persistence of the Phenomenon of Massacre in Human Society from the Earliest Times to the Present’. (p11) He begins by quoting Homer:
Agamemnon, the commander-in-chief of the Greek expedition against Troy, and king of the Mycenaeans, cautions his younger brother, Menelaus, against sparing the life of a high-born Trojan. We are not going to leave a single one of them alive, Agamemnon says to his brother, down to the babies in the mothers’ wombs – not even they must live. The whole people must be wiped out of existence, and none left to think of them and shed a tear… (p12)
From the moment we read this quotation, we fear as Max does, that we know what his father has done. We also note the juxtaposition of one small sentence explaining why Max presents his lecture despite his intention to end his life - it’s in deference to the wishes of his wife and child, and he adds, I had always felt more at ease when I did as I was told. (p11) This is a defence that has a special resonance since Nuremburg.
Vita McLelland is a vibrant character whose presence in the novel is pervasive. It is she who lures Max to Australia, and it is she who bullies him back into life. She is a loud character, clothed in bright colours that billow about, as if she needs to fill even more space than she has. She bellows down her mobile phone to intrude across vast distances, and her demands put me in mind of She Who Must Be Obeyed – not Hilda, the caricature from Rumpole of the Bailey, but the powerful ruler of H. Rider Haggard’s novel. Like Ayesha, Vita is both desired and feared, she is waiting for a mate, and she expects a transformation of Max no less. Nevertheless, Vita is not the central female character. The woman whose presence permeates this story is Max’s dead wife Winifred, without whom life seems unendurable.