Weekend Round-Up #14

Those of you who have been reading these weekend round-ups for a while will have noticed that I tend to stick to a couple of Australian newspapers only. Generally I list material from "The Age", my local Melbourne newspaper, and "The Weekend Australian", the Saturday edition of Rupert Murdoch's Australian national daily. And there is a very good reason for this: they are basically the only ones I get delivered on a Saturday, and "The Age" (along with its sister "The Sydney Morning Herald") seems to be one of the few Australian newspapers that display any of its book reviews on its website. I have no idea of why this is so. Most foreign newspapers seem to print the bulk of their reviews on their websites, yet for some reason their Australian counterparts have chosen a different path. I don't envisage this changing any time soon. In the meantime I'll keep on listing what I can, hoping that it is of some interest.

The first Australian review in "The Age" this weekend is of Wendy Harmer's novel Farewell My Ovaries. Harmer is a stand-up comedian, radio host and now new novelist. I'm not a fan of her comedy, not that I hate it, just that I don't find it all that funny. And being the crap reviewer I am I doubt I could even hazard a guess as to why that is. Juliette Hughes, on the other hand, seems rather taken with the book: "This novel has the kind of cover that you see on chicklit, but it is quite a lot better than that...The plot is cleverly crafted, but the really nice surprise is the fluency and verve of Harmer's prose."

Peter Pierce, professor of Australian literature at James Cook University, delves into the big book of the moment, Geraldine Brooks's March, and finds that: "This is a distinguished book, a masterly reworking of what fiction and history have afforded Brooks' vibrant and questing imagination." The American Civil War seems to hold an attraction across the years, and continents, that is hard to understand from the outside. Ken Burns's masterful television mini-series "The Civil War" took six years to produce, two full years longer than the war it set out to depict, so something is certainly going on here. I haven't seen a derogatory review of this book yet though I would like to see someone try to discuss how an Australian author might be looking at the conflict through slightly different eyes.

Short notices are given to: Human Remains: Episodes in Human Dissection by Helen MacDonald, "[a] nuanced and subtle inquiry into the politics and morality of the dissecting room"; Yosl Bergner: Art as a Meeting of Cultures by Frank Klepner, "[who] explores Bergner's distinctive European Jewsish sensibility and how it was ignited by the moody atmosphere of Melbourne's back lanes, street life and the community of Jewish immigrants in Carlton"; Snowy River Story by Claire Miller, "Cleanly written thorughout, [it] is very good at keeping the personal side to the story and the political machinations in focus"; and Marcel Caux: A Life Unravelled by Lynette Ramsay Silver, the story of how World War I so deeply affected one man that he changed his whole life to rid himself of it.

"The Weekend Australian" kicks off its book pages this week with a report on Elliot Perlman and his latest book, Seven Types of Ambiguity which has been covered here previously. It appears that Perlman is big in France, where his novel "was among the top 10 French bestsellers 10 days after its January release", and where "Le Figaro" called it "an important work of great substance". This comes on top of the mixed reviews it has been received in the Australian, British and US press. And then comes the news (also mentioned in "The Age" on the weekend by Jason Steger) that US critic Harold Bloom was quite impressed with the book. Impressed enough, it seems, to track down the author and to offer not only his congratulations but also a blurb for the forthcoming US paperback release. There has to be something about this book that evinces such a disparate set of views. as you wil recall, Peter Craven slammed the book in the pages of "Australian Book Review", yet here we have Bloom, generally considered one of the foremost literary critics in the English-speaking world, praising the book in very glowing terms. The "To-Be-Read" pile in the bedroom is already out of control. Oh well. Can't be helped I suppose.

"The Weekend Australian" also reviews Playing with Water: A Story of a Garden by Kate Llewellyn which "will not be understood by those whose hearts have not been cleft or riven by loss." And the big Australian review is again of March. "Given Brooks's passionate opinion regarding the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction (advanced in a speech at the NSW Premier's Awards last year), it's interesting how much of March relies on genre-blurring...We can be grateful, given the success of March, that she is either contrary or has been willing to break her own rules for the sake of the narrative."

In "The Sydney Morning Herald", Bernard Zuel reviews Players, a first novel by Tony Wilson, "Television, football and our obsessions with them make for overripe material, and when Wilson lines up the obvious objects of satire, he doesn't miss. Of course, that's not too hard. When stupidity is not just rewarded on the field but celebrated off it - as it is in Australia and to a staggering extreme in Melbourne, where Players is set - any half-talented writer could merely repeat some of the best-known tales and get a laugh." Ah, yes, we like our sportsmen stupid down here in Melbourne. And Michelle Griffin thinks that Geraldine Brooks's novel March will draw readers back to Alcott's Little Women: "by filling in the details of the darkness that surrounds all that sweetness and light, Brooks has restored its power."

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on April 4, 2005 11:48 AM.

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