I know, I know, everybody else read NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names ages ago when it was shortlisted for the Booker and won a swag of awards inI know, I know, everybody else read NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names ages ago when it was shortlisted for the Booker and won a swag of awards in 2013. I meant to read it then but other things got in the way. Since there are now a zillion reviews out there already, I should keep this brief, but this book bothers me…
I did not like this book, but it was not until after I had written most of my review and went looking for a positive one to balance mine, that I discovered that it’s been the subject of an interesting debate.
Nigerian author Helon Habila (whose Waiting for an Angel I reviewed in 2013) in his review of We Need New Names has suggested that there is a current trend of ‘poverty-porn’ writing coming out of Africa...
I have rated this five stars because of the exquisite artwork of Charles Mikolaycak. This is the must-read version of the legend of Orpheus and EurydiI have rated this five stars because of the exquisite artwork of Charles Mikolaycak. This is the must-read version of the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice and I sorely wish I'd kept my copy instead of donating it to the school library. I'd borrowed it from the local library and then searched for my own copy. It's hard to find because it's long out of print but worth the search. ...more
always liked the dark humour of Hilary Mantel, and this early novel from 1989 is seriously good fun.
Fludd is set in 1950, in the dreary Northern millalways liked the dark humour of Hilary Mantel, and this early novel from 1989 is seriously good fun.
Fludd is set in 1950, in the dreary Northern mill village of Fetherhoughton where the brutish inhabitants have little to recommend them…
From the doorsteps the women stared at passers-by, and laughed. They knew a joke, when it was pointed out to them, but for the most part their entertainment lay in the discernment of physical peculiarities in those around them. They lived in hope of seeing a passer-by with a hunchback, knock knees or a harelip. They did not think that it was cruel to mock the afflicted, they thought it was perfectly natural; they were sentimental but pitiless, very scathing and unforgiving about any aberration, deviation, eccentricity or piece of originality. There was a spirit abroad in the village that discriminated so thoroughly against pretension that it also discriminated against ambition, even against literacy. (p.14)
The one advantage of this unprepossessing lot, as far as the parish priest Father Angwin is concerned, is that they leave him alone. This suits Father Angwin because he has lost his faith and since he can’t imagine any other kind of future, he is content to go through the motions with desultory masses for the local convent and his dour housekeeper Miss Dempsey. But alas for the priest, there is a new bishop full of enthusiasm, and when he turns up on a parish visit he is not best pleased by the statuary in the church. He takes exception to the tongs held by St Dunstan (who was working in a forge when the devil came to tempt him) and the pliers brandished by St Appollonia, (whose teeth were pulled out by the Romans, making her the patron saint of dentists) and St Agatha, carrying her breasts on a dish. She is the patron saint of bellringers because a little mistake was made with the shape. The bishop decrees that the statues are idols pandering to superstition and that they must go – and so there is a macabre little ceremony where the parishioners help with the burial in the church graveyard…
Venice is Book 2 in Nick Earls’ Wisdom Tree series of novellas; it follows Gotham which I reviewed last month.
The title is a reference to the Venice BVenice is Book 2 in Nick Earls’ Wisdom Tree series of novellas; it follows Gotham which I reviewed last month.
The title is a reference to the Venice Biennale, where an invitation to exhibit would be a highlight of any artist’s career. The narrator, Ryan, recently ‘let go’ from a downsized mining company, is eking out his separation payment by staying with his sister Natalie who is preoccupied with her chances at the Biennale, while her husband Phil is preoccupied with being a successful dentist. They are a very successful couple: she has an installation in the NGV; they have a Margaret Olley on the wall and a pool in the garden; there are wine fridges full of expensive French wine, and their living-dining area is the size of a house like mine. But they are not at all preoccupied by their four-year-old son Harrison. For his part, Harrison is preoccupied by his tablet.
Ryan, who keeps his thoughts to himself about all this, is worried about the amount of screen time that the child has, and the lack of meaningful interaction in his life. Harrison is programmed into a routine of events, with day care, swimming lessons and scheduled days with his mother – when she’s not too busy. And since Uncle Ryan is now the de facto manny (i.e. a male nanny) he discovers that Harrison isn’t the best swimmer in his group because (despite the pool) he doesn’t practise at home; and that he has not had a turn at show-and-tell at day-care because (as we all know) parents have to invest a bit of time in the selection of the item with which to show and tell. Ryan has not had a lot of practice at being an uncle, but he ad-libs and is able to turn to advantage events that come their way.
The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty (1998) is the first in a series about the McNulty family of Sligo, and is followed in chronological time (if not in pThe Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty (1998) is the first in a series about the McNulty family of Sligo, and is followed in chronological time (if not in publication history) by The Temporary Gentleman (2014) and The Secret Scripture (2008), which I read in 2008, the year it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. I realise now that The Secret Scripture would have resonated differently if (like everyone else!) I had read The Whereabouts first… and I also now realise that I read The Whereabouts with knowledge of the fate of one of its characters too. Ah well, I don’t think my reading of either was compromised by reading the books out of order, and I can’t wait to read The Temporary Gentleman as well.
The Whereabouts is a story of a lost man, his life destroyed by the tortuous politics of Ireland. It seems ironic now that the book was published in the same year as the Good Friday Agreement (1998) negotiated by Mo Mowlam, (a remarkable woman to remember on International Women’s Day). It seems ironic because the finale to the novel suggests that old scores are always going to be settled one way or another, and peace in Ireland is a very fragile thing indeed, though the Agreement has held so far for almost two decades…
Eneas as a boy feels an affection for France in peril from the Kaiser. He is too young for the trenches so he ‘takes the King’s shilling’ and joins the merchant navy, only to find himself rejected on his return, when the war finishing was only the signal to the hidden men of Ireland to brew their own war. Eneas finds that it’s a sort of sorrow to him that Jonno Lynch will not greet the old going-about companion of his boyhood.
But there’s worse to come in all manner of things. A long year passes, a long round of weather and eating his mother’s grub. Eneas roams the town asking everywhere and anywhere for a job and finds oh, kindness here and there, but mostly indifferent no’s and even aggression. And gradually Eneas understands that the little rebellion that took place just recent in Dublin and other points, with barely a flare-up in Sligo, barely a flash of fire on the hill, has done nonetheless a great altering in the hearts and minds of the townspeople. (p.54)
Jack London’s name is familiar to many of us who read his dog stories as teenagers. I think I was just into my teens when I first read The Call of theJack London’s name is familiar to many of us who read his dog stories as teenagers. I think I was just into my teens when I first read The Call of the Wild and White Fang, and I think I read them at school, not from the bookshelves at home. What I didn’t know until I Googled for his dates just now and found his page at Wikipedia, was that Jack London was a much more versatile and socially progressive author than I had ever suspected:
John Griffith “Jack” London (born John Griffith Chaney) January 12, 1876 – November 22 was an American novelist, journalist, and social activist. A pioneer in the then-burgeoning world of commercial magazine fiction, he was one of the first fiction writers to obtain worldwide celebrity and a large fortune from his fiction alone, including science fiction.
Some of his most famous works include The Call of the Wild and White Fang, both set in the Klondike Gold Rush, as well as the short stories “To Build a Fire”, “An Odyssey of the North”, and “Love of Life”. He also wrote of the South Pacific in such stories as “The Pearls of Parlay” and “The Heathen”, and of the San Francisco Bay area in The Sea Wolf.
London was part of the radical literary group “The Crowd” in San Francisco and a passionate advocate of unionization, socialism, and the rights of workers. He wrote several powerful works dealing with these topics, such as his dystopian novel The Iron Heel, his non-fiction exposé The People of the Abyss, and The War of the Classes.
Knowing this, I can now see that even in this early work, London’s social conscience was at work…
Wikipedia describes The Call of the Wild as a novel, perhaps because it is written in chapters. But it is only 88 pages long, which makes it more of a short story – or perhaps a short novella than a novel.
Graham Green, who is one of my favourite authors, wrote two kinds of books: he explored themes of Catholicism in literary novels such as Brighton RockGraham Green, who is one of my favourite authors, wrote two kinds of books: he explored themes of Catholicism in literary novels such as Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, and The End of the Affair; and using his experience as an agent in MI6, he brought his readers the world of international politics and political intrigues in novels that he called ‘entertainments’, such as The Confidential Agent, The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana, and The Human Factor. A Gun for Sale (1936) is one of his early noir novels, and while IMO it’s not as satisfying to read as some of his later ones, it’s still quite entertaining to read.
The plot revolves around a man called Raven, embittered by life because he has an ugly hare-lip, and as a consequence, he’s indifferent to the lives of others. As a hitman, he takes on a job which has political implications reminiscent of the assassination of the archduke of Ferdinand of Austria. At the time of publication Greene’s readers would have recognised this as an allusion to the catalyst for WW1, and with the rise of Hitler and war clouds gathering in Europe, they would have recognised the implications of the plot.
I’ve been listening to Death of a Whaler by Nerida Newton as an audio book on my way to work each day, and I’m wondering why this book was ignored forI’ve been listening to Death of a Whaler by Nerida Newton as an audio book on my way to work each day, and I’m wondering why this book was ignored for the major awards of its year of publication (2006).
The central character, Flinch, is the ultimate anti-hero. He is short and scrawny; was born with a deformed leg; is jobless and uneducated, has no money and lives in a dingy pastel pink house. He has one pair of jeans that fit him – all the others trail the leg of the pant where one leg is shorter than the other. When he did have a job it was as a whaler – as near as one can be to a pariah in hippie Byron Bay of 1962, (and probably throughout Australia and the civilised world in 2009). He has an ancient ute nicknamed Millie ( what kind of name is that for a bloke to call his car?) but so far is he from the stereotypical Aussie male of heroic ingenuity, that when the ute breaks down, he can’t fix it. His spiteful mother Audrey gave him a miserable childhood, blaming him for her self-imposed loserdom, and it seems as if all of Byron Bay was glad to see the back of her when she died. Oh, and Flinch accidentally killed his best mate, Nate, too…
Flinch could so easily, then, have been a pathetic character and the story maudlin, but the author of The Lambing Flat (1) is too good a writer for that… For Flinch, while a recluse (and who wouldn’t want to be?) and burdened with awful emotional baggage, is no embittered loser. He is his own man. When he meets up with Karma, (who reminds me of Lizzy Dellora (the daffy blonde) in East of Everything ) he eventually overcomes his wariness and enjoys her open friendliness – but he doesn’t for one moment believe in the hippie spirituality stuff and isn’t about to go vegetarian any time soon. Newton portrays his occasional forays into the commune in a mixture of droll humour and awakening hope as he begins to emerge from his self-imposed isolation.
Byron Bay 1962 is as I have never seen it, a tatty, dingy place like so many of those daggy Queensland towns you drive through on your way to somewhere else. Newton has resisted the temptation to wax lyrical about the bay, and has instead chosen to remind us about its past as a whaling station. The innocence of the commune is in stark contrast to Nimbin today: yes, you can still catch a whiff of pot as you stroll through town, but you’re more likely to smell good coffee or to hear cash registers rather than meditational chanting. These scenes are great writing, untainted by that tiresome nostalgia you sometimes hear from people who whinge ‘Oh, you should have been here when it was unspoiled’.