This narration in this edition of The Invisible Man works really well, because it’s a plot-driven story that lends itself to listening, even though I...moreThis narration in this edition of The Invisible Man works really well, because it’s a plot-driven story that lends itself to listening, even though I already knew the story well. My father gave me a copy of it when I was about 14, and I was immediately bewitched by it. At that age, I was like the Invisible Man himself, initially entranced by the idea of being able to do forbidden things undetected, and I found it very sobering to see how Griffin’s life unravels along with his sense of right and wrong.
The tension in the story derives from the fact that the initial impulse can’t be reversed. Griffin is a young man who left medical school to experiment with optics, and one day when he’s had a squabble with his landlady he decides to try the procedure that’s succeeded on a cat, on himself. He gets away from his hassles, but soon discovers the disadvantages. People walk into him. He’s cold. He can’t work or earn money. When he dons a disguise of bandages and a false nose, he can’t eat in public without people ‘seeing’ his invisibility.
I don’t usually post about books I haven’t finished reading, but hey, it’s nearly Christmas and you might well be wracking your brains to think of an...moreI don’t usually post about books I haven’t finished reading, but hey, it’s nearly Christmas and you might well be wracking your brains to think of an interesting gift for a friend – and The Great Unknown might be just what you are looking for …
This is the blurb:
In this anthology, editor Angela Meyer, pays tribute to the undeniable cultural influence that American TV programs such as Twilight Zone and Outer Limits have had on our lives ‘down under’. ‘These TV dramas,’ Meyer says, ‘ were often metaphors for equality, justice, the nuclear threat and more. Though they were just as often pure, spooky fun.’ Meyer has selected short stories and microfiction which range from the fantastical and macabre to the absurd. In Paddy O’Reilly’s Reality TV, a guest is confronted with her husband’s infidelity in front of a live audience and Ali Alizedah’s Truth and Reconciliation satirizes American celebrity television. Chris Flynn’s Sealer’s Cove has a nudist caught in a time slip. Carmel Bird evokes Edgar Allan Poe when over-sized hares incite the good folk of rural Victoria to commit criminal acts and in Sticks and Stones, Ryan O’Neill has an academic attacked by a demonic alphabet. Contributors include established and emerging writers such as Marion Halligan, Krissy Kneen as well as new talents.
Angela, who I had the pleasure of meeting when I launched Annabel Smith’s Whisky Charlie Foxtrot last tear, has edited a collection of weird and wonderful short stories and microfiction under the title The Great Unknown. I’ve read two of these stories, choosing ones by my favourite authors: ‘Reality TV’ by Paddy O’Reilly, and ‘Her Dress was a Pale Glimmer’ by Marion Halligan, so I can certainly vouch for Angela’s good taste in making her selections!
Paddy O’Reilly skewers the hideousness of reality TV without mercy:
From the corner of her eye Carly could see the iris of the camera widen to take in the whole scene. She knew the kind of thing they were hoping she’d say, the weeping and shrieking they wanted her to do. She grew up with television and its conventions. She had laughed at the women on shows like this who lunged at their betraying husbands, tried to hit them with weak half-closed fists, who moaned and wept, who bared themselves.
Carly didn’t want to be one of those women. She was here on stage, betrayed, sure enough, but by a man she had already grown to despise. Sitting in the blindingly bright studio watched by a crowd of screamers, she could only come up with one thought. The words popped out of her mouth, harmless missiles out of a peashooter. ‘Why didn’t I leave you years ago?’
A small man holding up a large placard raced backwards and forwards across the studio floor in front of the audience.
The placard said Laugh. Scattered on the floor at the side of the stage were more that said Scream and Howl and Hiss and other instructions for whatever he wanted the audience to do. Right now they were doing it all at once. A woman in clingy aqua pants barrelled down the stairs, arms flailing, calling out that Carly should punch the dirty bastard. She was caught at the bottom of the steps by two hefty men and escorted backstage to the cheering of the crowd.
Marion Halligan delights with her trademark talent for describing the decorative arts:
Ysabeau put on her best Goth outfit: filmy layers of black, long skirt, floating cape. She made this herself, Granny taught her to use the sewing machine and she’s good at it. Her face was pale and she wore deep red lipstick. On her feet were mid calf boots, laced up, not very summery but then neither was the whole outfit. I wore my favourite vintage dress, in polished cotton, with a pattern of convolvulus flowers in purple and blue colours thickly clustered over it. It has a neat fitting bodice with a scoop neckline and a small waist, with a full skirt both gored and gathered. It actually belonged to Granny when she was a girl in the fifties, she made her own clothes and this was a favourite style. She showed me the little five-sided gussets under the arms, which give a close but comfortable fit. It’s exactly your size, she said, it suits you perfectly. This is because Granny and I have similar figures, small neat top halves with quite wide hips and curvaceous legs, but luckily with thin ankles, whereas Ysabeau is more straight and slender. Granny looked at me and sighed and smiled at the same time. I remember the petticoat I had, she said. Tiers of tulle, straight at the top but the final tier forty yards around the bottom. In your terms forty metres, she said, near enough. It was wonderful, solid frills of tulle against your legs, holding the skirt right out.
What happened to it? I asked.
Your mother wore it for dress-ups when she was a little girl. It made a wonderful bride dress. But all those flounces, they got trodden on, and ripped, finally it was ripped to pieces. Thrown away.
This seemed a pity. I’d have liked that petticoat.
Some girls, said Granny, dipped their net petticoats in sugar and water, to make them stiff. Some had crinolines of rope, to make them stick out.
I thought I would look in op-shops for such a petticoat, but I’ve never seen one.
I don’t eat much meat, but I’m rather partial to fish, so I was very interested in this book which humanises the small-scale commercial fishing indust...moreI don’t eat much meat, but I’m rather partial to fish, so I was very interested in this book which humanises the small-scale commercial fishing industry that brings the bounty of the sea to those of us who can’t go fishing ourselves.
Sarah Drummond is a ‘deckie’ for ‘Salt’ – not his real name, but he is a real person, and this collection of brief vignettes about their adventures together is all the more interesting because Sarah is a woman in a mostly male industry complete with quaint superstitions about women aboard and so on.
Salt Story doesn’t romanticise the lifestyle: it’s a hard and often dangerous life, and rising at the crack of dawn doesn’t sound like much fun at all. There are also other unpleasantries that I had never heard of:
I sat on a warmed rock at sunset. I sat there as a prospective mutineer, a female Fletcher Christian of the Deep South. I can handle all sorts of things. I can handle live sharks, cobbler, getting scared, getting wet and stingrays. I can’t handle that damned onshore whore – that incessant summer easterly – or sea lice. I get hysterical when sea lice drop off the fish and bite the webbing between my toes. There is nothing quite so gross. Salt has laughed at my screaming lice dance before but he grew quiet when I said they would crawl up his legs and into his bum and eat him from the inside out. (p. 29)
But Drummond has a dry sense of humour to counter the wet and the cold.
I have to remind Salt often that I am a fairweather fisherwoman but these reminders rarely carry much authority. (About as much authority as a fisherwoman has in the Microsoft spellcheck universe it seems. Word has it that I am not a fisherwoman but a washerwoman). (p.31)
While Drummond likes the ‘Hemingwayesque element’ of her work, ‘that beautiful interplay of art and labour, the cerebral marrying the physical’ she also appreciates the beauty of the environment in which she works...
Wharton is a master at depicting the domestic crisis: this one is about the sale of some celebrity letters and surprisingly relevant today: everybody...moreWharton is a master at depicting the domestic crisis: this one is about the sale of some celebrity letters and surprisingly relevant today: everybody tut-tutting about the intrusion into privacy, but salaciously enjoying reading the letters anyway. But for the seller, there's guilt, and he eventually has to reconcile things in ways he didn't expect. A very good narration, too. (less)
I enjoyed this, but I think I would have found it unsatisfactory if I hadn't read the unabridged version first. The narrators were fine, it's just tha...moreI enjoyed this, but I think I would have found it unsatisfactory if I hadn't read the unabridged version first. The narrators were fine, it's just that the truncated version seemed to lack coherence to me. (less)
I love books with recipes tucked into the text. Remember Nora Ephron’s droll novel Heartburn? That was the story of a magazine food writer whose marri...moreI love books with recipes tucked into the text. Remember Nora Ephron’s droll novel Heartburn? That was the story of a magazine food writer whose marriage fell apart but she consoled herself by cooking. Sally Van Gent’s memoir Clay Gully is not quite like that, but it has its own charm.
It’s the true story of the battle to establish an apple orchard near Bendigo in north-eastern Victoria. Beautiful country, which The Spouse and I visit from time to time when the Woodend Arts Festival is on. There are splendid eateries, and it’s a good place to visit wineries because there is something about the terroir which results in stunning red wines with a characteristic ‘flinty’ flavour. But as Sally Van Gent and her husband soon find out, it can be heartbreaking country too, its caprice best expressed by Dorothea Mackellar’s iconic poem, My Country:
I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains. I love her far horizons, I love her jewel-sea, Her beauty and her terror - The wide brown land for me!
With no experience either of farming or the climate the couple were deceived by the verdant landscape of a ‘good’ year:
**spoiler alert** I finished this today, but I think I need to listen to it again to make sense of it properly. (I've already listened to the first CD...more**spoiler alert** I finished this today, but I think I need to listen to it again to make sense of it properly. (I've already listened to the first CD twice.)
The first part of the book sets the tone: it's more like a work of existentialist philosophy than a novel. The narrator rambles on in a long monologue, and (perhaps because it was an audio book) I was never sure to whom he was addressing this monologue, if indeed it's meant to be addressed to anybody. He contradicts himself at every turn and denies statements that he's just made, and he's often very angry. He's deeply cynical, and he's got a very low opinion of everyone else, but also of himself. He gets bogged down in a long argument about logic, reducing it to simplistic mathematical equations such as 2 + 2 = 4, to which his rejoinder is that people don't act from logic but from a desire to act as individuals whether that's a good thing or not. His ramblings are rebuttals of various philosophical schools of thought, but since he ridicules everything in a caustic tone, and goes out of his way to be confusing, it's not like the reasoned and reasonable works of philosophy that you might have read elsewhere.
Stuff actually happens in the second part of the novel. He's living 'underground' in response to the corruption of the world above, using the word 'underground' with two meanings, i.e. he's literally living underground in a basement apartment, but also in a quasi-subversive way in the sense that he's rejected working in the world as a normal person of his class would. This part of the story relates his failures as a human being, but again, it's not told as a mature reflection but rather as a series of self-inflicted humiliations told in rather incoherent anecdotes in which he alternately blames others and then himself.
It begins with his irrational reaction to an encounter with an officer, who moves him aside when he's in the way as if he has a right to unimpeded movement. He is profoundly offended by this condescension. He plots revenge, weasels around to recreate the encounter so that he can stand his ground this time, and is even more offended when the officer doesn't even notice when they bump into each other.
Next, he gets into an argument at a dinner party. It's being held to farewell someone that he hated when he was at school, he rants and raves and tells them how much he hates them, and they get fed up with him and go off to a brothel without him.
Then he meets a prostitute called Lisa. He picks a fight with her too, telling her that her future is meaningless, but she is impressed by his intellectual gymnastics and falls for him. He gives her his address, but is then embarrassed by the poverty of his apartment, so when she turns up he is very cruel to her, mocking and sneering at her and denying everything that he said before. He gets himself into an hysterical rage, and weeps on the sofa so she takes pity on him.
No sooner has Liza embraced him tenderly than he starts up all over again, insulting her by shoving a five rouble note at her which she throws away and then leaves.
He dashes out after her but can't find her, and then he ruminates about how insulting her was like a purification, finally recognising that he has just acted in the same despicable way as the rest of society.
Although we don't know much about the underground man except that he's a middle-aged retired public servant, he seems to act more like an alienated adolescent than an adult to me, but his distress is in response to the society in which he finds himself. Dostoyevsky wrote this story in 1864, two years before Crime and Punishment so perhaps he was trying out themes of irrational behaviour. (I've only read his later works, not any of his earlier ones.) It's a long time since I read Crime and Punishment but I remember the style...
BTW I visited the Dostoyevsky Museum in St Petersburg last year on my trip to Russia. Somehow I had always imagined him in a miserable garret, but his apartment was actually quite big. See http://wp.me/px0jJ-tJ(less)
This is the first one of this series that I've used to support research units for the primary library. When I've updated it to suit the new Australian...moreThis is the first one of this series that I've used to support research units for the primary library. When I've updated it to suit the new Australian curriculum, I'll upload the unit to my LisaHillSchoolStuff site for teachers to download. (less)
This series is excellent for teaching habitat to little kids. I've just developed a unit of work for them to research what 'their' animal is doing at...moreThis series is excellent for teaching habitat to little kids. I've just developed a unit of work for them to research what 'their' animal is doing at different times of the day in 'expert groups'. I'll be uploading it soon to my LisaHillSchoolStuff website for teachers to download. (less)
It's been a great pleasure to re-read Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks which is the Benn's Bookstore's book-group choice for this month. I read th...moreIt's been a great pleasure to re-read Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks which is the Benn's Bookstore's book-group choice for this month. I read this novel for the first time just before Christmas 2001, and my reading journal notes that I finished it in the middle of the night because I couldn't put it down. I rated it 10 then too, though these days I'd reserve a perfect score for something like Ulysses or The Tree of Man. Still, it's a very fine book, and one that certainly merits re-reading.
It's based on the true story of an English village called Eyem, Derbyshire, whose inhabitants elected to isolate themselves to prevent the further spread of the plague in 1665-6. Brooks tells us in the Afterword that she stumbled upon their story by chance in a lull between her assignments as a foreign correspondent, and surely this snippet derives from that moment:
The Boundary Stone, Eyam, Derbyshire, with holes believed to be where coins were place for trade during the quarantine of the Bubonic Plague outbreak of 1665-6 (Source: Wikipedia Commons)The Boundary Stone, Eyam, Derbyshire, with holes believed to be where coins were place for trade during the quarantine of the Bubonic Plague outbreak of 1665-6 (Source: Wikipedia Commons) I rode for the sake of the movement, not caring where. After a while I found myself in a wide meadow and realised that it was the field of the Boundary Stone. The path that had been so well-trodden throughout our Plague year was already all overgrown. The stone itself was invisible among the high grasses. ... I brought Anteros to a canter, then a walk, and paced him along the edge of the spur until I found the stone, marked with its gouged holes. I slid from his back and while he stood, patiently cropping the pasture, I knelt and pulled the grass away from around the stone. I lay my hands on it and then my cheek. In a score of years from now, I thought, someone like me will sit down to rest right here on this stone and her fingers will play idly in those holes, and no one will remember why they were hewn so or the great sacrifice that we made here. (p.272)
Brooks was interested in the social effects of such a decision, and in the effects on individuals, and so - with scrupulous research - created a wonderful cast of characters to tell the story. (less)
This is a bizarre little novella (only 60 pages long). It's a portrait of a quixotic thug: not very bright but with a love of art; utterly callous yet...moreThis is a bizarre little novella (only 60 pages long). It's a portrait of a quixotic thug: not very bright but with a love of art; utterly callous yet he loves his family. His 'missions' (or 'actions' as they are called) fall apart in an absurdist way mildly reminiscent of Gogol but as a character, Bruno reminded me of the accused in a murder trial for which I was a juror. Stupid, evil, banal, wholly lacking in the sort of humanity that I take for granted in the people that I meet. I think that my reaction means that I didn't quite get the joke the way that I was meant to. The plot is clever, and the ending is startling if you haven't read any prior blurb. But ultimately, not my kind of reading fare.(less)
I borrowed this book because I've just received a new book by Fiona Kidman. It's called Infinite Air and it's about New Zealand's most significant avi...moreI borrowed this book because I've just received a new book by Fiona Kidman. It's called Infinite Air and it's about New Zealand's most significant aviatrix, Jean Batten. I thought it would be interesting to learn something about the history of Australian aviation prior to reading this new book. But truth be told, My God! It's a Woman is a bit of a disappointment. I did enjoy the first part, about Nancy Bird's childhood and early ambitions to fly. It was interesting to read about the barnstorming era and the opening up of the Aussie outback by courageous aviators of both sexes. It was also interesting to see how Nancy Bird overcame the disadvantages of her sex to achieve a whole stack of firsts, and how she went on to have a distinguished career in the service of aviation even when her barnstorming days were over. But the last part of the book degenerated into a terribly dull catalogue of female firsts. I understand her motivation: she was keen to redress the lack of recognition for women pilots in Australia and these chapters show that there were many remarkable women who did remarkable things. But there are only so many record-breaking feats that one can read about before the interest palls, and that's what happened. I just got sick of it: so-and-so was the first one to fly from such-and-such, over and over again, without the human interest to enliven it. So while I think this book, in its print form, would be a valuable resource for someone researching the history of aviation in Australia, I didn't find all of it very interesting to listen to...(less)
The prologue lures the reader in, straight away. A young man from Naples phones the narrator in Turin in search of his mother. At first she dismisses...moreThe prologue lures the reader in, straight away. A young man from Naples phones the narrator in Turin in search of his mother. At first she dismisses him in irritation, but then investigates. The mother has vanished. Every trace of this woman is gone, as if she has decided to expunge her existence from memory. The narrator is half-admiring, half-alarmed by this wilful act of self-negation - but she is just as wilful herself and she decides that she will not let her childhood friend disappear. And so she thwarts the erasure by writing Elena’s story, a loving memoir that is also an act of revenge…
Elena and Lila have been Best Friends forever. They grew up in the fifties together in Naples in the shadow of Vesuvius. The volcano is a metaphor for their friendship which slumbers for periods of harmony and then erupts into drama. It also symbolises the battle for dominance between these two: like humans labouring away for centuries to build their own world only to have nature destroy it all in a catastrophic moment, Elena struggles to be the ‘best’ only to have Lila undercut her efforts with a nonchalance that is even more deflating.
Their competitiveness extends to everything. Both are very clever girls, and they are determined to rise above the grim poverty of their Naples. Handicapped by their family’s expectations about girls and education, they are encouraged by a determined schoolteacher and stimulated to achieve by outperforming each other. In puberty, their unspoken rivalry for dominance includes achieving the most alluring sexuality even though there are unbreakable constraints about expressing it. In a society where the males of a family protected a girl’s virtue with violence both against her and any would-be suitor, Elena broods over the changes in her body and the pimples on her face while Lila affects carelessness because she has yet to develop.