September 2005 Archives

Matilda Waltzes Again

There won't be any postings on this weblog until 10th October. I'm off on holiday with the family. See ya later.

Weekend Round-Up #39

The Age

I can't find a single Australian book reviewed in the pages of this weekend's "Age", other than the short notices listed below. A sorry state of affairs.

The main literary piece in the paper is Jane Sullivan's essay on the differences between history and fiction. It raises a number of questions that I will try to address later in the week.

Short notices are given to: The Heart of James McAuley by Peter Coleman: "...much of the time, it's a mechanical mix of potted biography and bland lit crit"; and The Dodger by Duncan McNab: " powerful testament to how far the sticky tentacles of corruption extended into [NSW's] police force, judiciary and government".

The Australian

Andrew McGahan won the 2005 Miles Franklin Award for his most recent novel The White Earth. Now he has published his follow-up, Underground, which is reviewed this week by Cath Keneally. Set in Australia in 2010, it appears as much a political novel as his last effort: "The blurb calls Underground 'the book that at least half the country has been waiting for', but there should be a laugh here for anyone. Though it wears its heart pinned proudly to its sleeve, Underground is that rare animal, a good comic novel, whose targets are all the loonies, not just the ones in the wrong party. Or rather, sympathisers with the cause of reason include defectors from the wrong party, and certainly from the present wrong religion."

Heritage, either cultural or environmental, is the subject of new books reviewed by Bob Birrell: Patriots: Defending Australia's Natural Heritage by William J. Lines, and Imprints of Generations by Robert Ingpen. "William Lines's book Patriots is a riveting account of the struggle to preserve Australia's natural heritage. The work's title encapsulates his view that the main defenders have been patriots, in the sense that they see Australia's fauna, flora and landforms as intertwined with their identity as Australians. They feel any loss personally, which explains their willingness to put their bodies on the line to prevent further damage...He will almost surely be condemned as an eco-nut, intent on dragging us back to the stone age. Mainstream politicians will never support his stance on conservation as long as most of their constituents put materialism first. Yet, as the book reminds us, eco-nuts can be heroes...Robert Ingpen's Imprints of Generations traverses some of the same ground, if with an emphasis on Australia's cultural heritage. It is attractively presented with numerous drawings, many by the author. Ingpen, too, is a patriot; he wants Australia to have the richness and depth of culture of Europe and his book is intended to help Australians understand and preserve their cultural inheritance."

Short notices are given to: Terry Dowling looks at two new Australian sf novels. Godplayers by Damien Broderick: "This savvy and sophisticated quantum view of the multiverse may well prove too demanding for its own good, chaming some readers, alienating others. You get the sense Broderick wouldn't have it any other way"; Prismatic by Edwina Grey: "Subtle and intriguing more than compelling, Grey's novel blends engaing period milieus and sound charcaterisation with visionary touches reminiscent with J.G. Ballard's The Crystal World". Graeme Blundell reviews two new Australian crime novels. Spider Trap by Barry Maitland (a DCI Brock and DS Kolla novel): "In his best tale yet, Maitland elegantly weaves race, violence, alienation and the insidiousness of family connections into multiple story-lines. His strength is never to allow the narrative to occlude the archeological dig into what lies behind the murderous event"; Hit by Tara Moss (a Makedde Vanderwall novel): "..she writes a kind of overblown Days of Our Lives romantic suspense, campy repetitive and glossy". The Cobbler's Apprentice by Sandy McCutcheon: "Although some of the characters are one-dimensional and elements of the plot difficult to follow, the novel's central conceit -- terrorism and counter-terrorism via bacteriological warfare -- works extremely well".

Shirley Hazzard Pays a Visit

"For all her restless travelling the apartment in New York, the annual sojourns in Capri and Naples - there's something very familiar, a whiff of old Sydney, about Shirley Hazzard. The colours she wears have the clarity of frescos, the shoes are Italian elegance, and her conversation lilts with rhythms of languages perfected by living in Siena and Paris. But the poise comes from 11 years at an Australian girls' school in the days when suburban women always wore a hat and gloves into the city. There's concern for others, too, a grace favoured by headmistresses before university placements dominated education."

"The Bulletin" profiles the Australian author Shirley Hazzard as she visits Sydney. Although this article is dated 14th September I get the feeling it has been held over since Hazzard's visit to Australia back in June.

National Library of Australia News

Each month the National Library of Australia publishes a 24-page colour magazine, giving details of various exhibitions, events and publishing ventures being undertaken at the library in Canberra.

This month's issue features an article by Ann Moyal, titled Alan Moorehead: A Rediscovery, which introduces her new biography of the author. The articles also states that this will be the first in a new series of Australian lives being published by the library.

"Born in Melbourne in 1910 and educated at Scotch College, with a BA from Melbourne University, [Moorehead] had by the 1960s built a larger reputation than any other Australian writer. The author of the great wartime campaigns of the Western Desert and Europe, African Trilogy and Eclipse, biographer of Montgomery and Churchill, a writer of some 21 best-selling books, and one of the major travel writers of his times, Moorehead was a household name in Britain, widely renowned in the USA for his essays in the New Yorker, and commanded world audiences through translations of his work into French, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Hebrew, Egyptian, Arabic and Japanese."

But little known in his own country it appears.

Poem: On a Wet Night by L.M.D. (Dugald McLaghlan)

Crouched by the fire in the grate,
   Cooped in the prison of Home to-night,
Everything ordered with air sedate,
   Chair and books and a shaded light.

Dreaming, reflectively, chin in hand,
   Swirling of wind and of rain outside,
Back I am swagging it, out to the land
   Where the sky is clear and the plains are wide.

Long grey slopes to the purple rise,
   Winding tracks through the mulga scrub,
Station roofs gleaming their long good-byes,
   Welcoming light in a wayside pub.

My lamp I'd give for the rushlight dip
   That shook like a drunk just off the bend;
My home for the chance of a westward trip
   With the drunken mate who called me friend.

The books I read for the books I made
   (In fancy only) I'd freely give,
The cosy room for the boulder shade,
   The Government "screw" for the gambling "div."

Freedom to do as you d--n well please,
   Go to the dogs with a fizz and a hiss,
Drink up the flagon of life to the lees --
   That is the star on a night like this.

First published in The Bulletin, 3 March 1904

2005 Victorian Premier's Literary Award Shortlists

The shortlisted works for the 2005 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards have been announced. The winners will be annonuced on October 17. Full details of the list, along with the judges' reports, can be found at the State Library of Victoria website.

The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction
Surrender, Sonya Hartnett Viking/Penguin
Sixty Lights, Gail Jones Vintage/Random House
Affection, Ian Townsend Fourth Estate /Harper Collins

The Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-fiction
Degenerates and Perverts: The 1939 Herald Exhibition of French and British Contemporary Art, Eileen Chanin and Steven Miller The Miegunyah Press / Melbourne University Publishing
Beach Crossings: Voyaging across Times, Cultures and Self, Greg Dening The Miegunyah Press / Melbourne University Publishing
Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev, Robert Dessaix Picador/Pan Macmillan
Joe Cinque's Consolation: A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law, Helen Garner Picador/Pan Macmillan
Bypass: The Story of a Road, Michael McGirr Picador/Pan Macmillan

The C J Dennis Prize for Poetry
<More or Less Than>1-100, MTC Cronin Shearsman Books
Doppler Effect, John Kinsella Salt Publishing
Firelick, Morgan Yasbincek Fremantle Arts Centre Press

The Louis Esson Prize for Drama
The Frail Man, Anthony Crowley Playbox /Currency
Blowback, David Pledger Not Yet, It's Difficult The Spook, Melissa
Reeves Company B. Belvoir St.

The Prize for Young Adult Fiction
The Running Man, Michael Gerard Bauer Omnibus Books
Secret Scribbled Notebooks, Joanne Horniman Allen & Unwin
So Yesterday, Scott Westerfeld Penguin Books Australia

The Prize for Science Writing
The Land Of Flowers: An Australian Environment on the Brink, Irene Cunningham Otford Press
Stem Cells: Controversy at the Frontiers of Science, Elizabeth Finkel ABC Books Astonishing Animals, Tim Flannery and Peter Schouten Text Publishing

The Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate
Living in a Material World, Randa Abdel-Fattah Griffith Review
'Kangaroo Court': Family Law in Australia, John Hirst 'Quarterly Essay' Black Inc
Mission Impossible: The Sheikhs, the U.S. and the Future of Iraq, Paul McGeogh 'Quarterly Essay' Black Inc

The Village Roadshow Prize for Screen Writing
Revealing Gallipoli, Wain Fimeri ABC Television
Little Fish, Jacquelin Perske Porchlight FIlms
Look Both Ways, Sarah Watt Hibiscus Films

The Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer
I Hate Martin Amis et al, Peter Barry
'Days Like Televisi...Days Like Television' and Other Stories, James Hawthorne
The Timeball Philosophers, Anita Punton

The Grollo Ruzzene Foundation Prize for Writing about Italians in Australia Martino's Story, Lyn Chatham Peter Bruno
Per l'Australia: The Story of Italian Migration, Julia Church The Miegunyah Press/Melbourne University Publishing
A Spoonful of Zucchero, Kate Taylor Little Red Apple Publishing

Combined Reviews: The Broken Shore by Peter Temple

broken_shore.jpg Reviews of The Broken Shore by Peter Temple.

Sue Turnbull, in "The Age", states up-front her feelings on the book: "If you only read one crime novel this year, read The Broken Shore. It's not just a good yarn - there are plenty of those - what Peter Temple achieves here is much, much more, capturing a specifically Australian perspective in prose as spare as it is precise. This book is the best yet from a writer who has already won a well-deserved reputation as one of our finest crime writers." And concludes: "In the end, it's all about family: the one you're born with and the one you make. But most of all it's about the writing, and in that regard The Broken Shore might just be a great Australian novel, irrespective of genre. Read it for what Temple does with words." Which can only be read as a ringing endorsement.

Graeme Blundell also reviewed the book in "The Australian" but, as is typical for that paper, the review is not available on the web. A quote for the review: "Temple's work is spare, deeply ironic; his wit, like the local beer, as cold as a dental anaesthetic". Over-stretching a little there I think.

Tim Coronel, on the BoomerangBooks website continues the high praise: "A good crime novel can broach serious issues and tell readers as much about the society in which they live as a 'literary' novel or a work of nonfiction. The Broken Shore is such a book: serious, unflinching, relentless - and often hilarious."

And for the solitary non-Australian reference I can find, you need to visit Jenny Davidson's weblog Light Reading from New York: "I guess the thing that blows me away is what an all-rounder Temple is as a fiction writer (plus his writing's perfectly to my taste, I know some people like more extravagance but I prefer things that look deceptively plain at first glance): he's good at character and dialogue and description and sentence-writing and plot and setting and intellectual heft and politics and just EVERYTHING."

I've got this one slotted into the pile to take away on holidays next week. I'm looking forward to it.

The 2005 "Australian"/Vogel Literary Award Winner

Victorian Andrew O'Connor, author of Tuvalu, has been announced as the winner of the 2005 "Australian"/Vogel Literary Award. 'The judges - Jean Bedford, John Dale, Hilary McPhee and Liam Davison - said Tuvalu was "always surprising" and that its prose was "assured and fluid and the observations genuinely original". It will be published next year by Allen & Unwin, a co-sponsor of the prize.' I look forward to it. I have yet to read a winner of this award which can be considered less than worthy. The age limit of 35 is also a bonus. While the authors are still young - especially for some of us who are rather longer in the tooth - they are not just out of high school, and have had a chance to get a bit of life-experience. The novels are all the better for it.

Australian SF/Fantasy Writers

American writer Jeff VanderMeer has been out interviewing Australian SF/Fantasy writers, and you can find the results over on his weblog.

[Thanks to Matthew Cheney of Mumpsimus for the link.]

John Banville

"I have never really got used to being on this earth. Sometimes I think our presence here is due to a cosmic blunder, that we were meant for another planet altogether, with other arrangements, and other laws, and other, grimmer skies. I try to imagine it, our true place, off on the far side of the galaxy, whirling and whirling. And the ones who were meant for here, are they out there, baffled and homesick, like us? No, they would have become extinct long ago. How could they survive, these gentle earthlings, in a world that was made to contain us."

- The Book of Evidence

I lifted this quote from the middle of an interview with John Banville that TEV is running over on his weblog. Go read it. Banville is on this year's Booker shortlist.

Abandoned Book #1

I've decided I'm going to have to abandon Light by M. John Harrison. I'm just not getting anywhere with it. It's clogging up my reading time and I've decided I'm just going to have to let it go.

I'm not dropping Light because I think it a "bad" book: I have no idea one way or the other. I just haven't got into it enough to tell.

This is the first one for the year. Hopefully it will be the last.

I've been thinking about why I've got to this position for the past few days and have come to the conclusion that it relates solely to the way I started to read the book. My usual practice is to attempt to read fifty or sixty pages of a book at the first sitting. After that I've either decided the book isn't for me or I'm right into it. And if I am into it, then subsequent sessions of twenty or even ten pages won't make me lose the thread. But it's the first batch that's all important.

If the book flows in a single plotline, following one character in nearly real-time, then the previous "first-sitting" requirement isn't such a big necessity - I'm thinking that The Closers by Michael Connelly fits into this category - I just have to ensure that the second sitting follows the first one pretty closely. Light, on the other hand, jumps about between modern-day Britain and a far-future deep-space location. For a while there I was thinking that there might have been another thread involved as well but changed my mind, and then changed it back again a day or so later.

So I got lost. And now I've left it so long any re-start is going to be a complete waste of time, and I won't be able to give the book the attention it deserves.

Sorry, Mr Harrison. I will attempt to read it again sometime soon. Honest.

Weekend Round-Up #38

The Age

If you do nothing else have a look at John Spooner's portrait of Robert Hughes illustrating Peter Craven's review of his memoir Things I Didn't Know: it's a classic. Actually, so is the review: "Of the quartet of Australian expatriates who preoccupy the nation, Robert Hughes has come last to autobiography even though he is a starrier figure than Clive James or Barry Humphries and in terms of presence and panache can certainly give Germaine Greer a run for her money. But the paradox with Hughes is that he has never been much interested in celebrity. He is, of course, an art critic." Which puts Hughes in proper context at the start, and the book in context at the end: "In this first volume of his memoirs Hughes has written one of the most impassioned and vivid of all Australian self-portraits and if there is a fierceness and magnificence in the execution he also exhibits plenty of modesty and human grace."

Melina Marchetta is famous for her first novel, Looking for Alibrandi, which was filmed, and which was included in school reading lists for years. Frances Atkinson finds her third novel, On the Jellicoe Road, a step up. "The convoluted plot may not hold every reader's attention and some might be frustrated by the measured pace of the book, but it's deliberate and those who stick with it won't be disappointed. Marchetta wants us to take our time and enjoy the satisfaction as every penny drops."

Short notices are given to: A Conga Line of Suckholes: Mark Latham's Book of Quotations by Mark Latham: "If Latham's Lathamisms rarely measure up to the company they keep, at least one can admire his assiduousness and taste as a collector"; Rescuing Afghanistan by William Maley: "In this measured account of efforts to rebuild Afghanistan, Maley never loses sight of the role played by ordinary Afghans and warns that the international 'rescue mission' neglects local participants at their peril"; Soul by Tobsha Learner: "...if it's racy, low-impact trash with lashings of sex and death you're after, look no further"; The Cobbler's Apprentice by Sandy McCutcheon: " contains vivid evocations of place, and avoids American triumphalism"; and Weatherwitch by Cecilia Dart-Thornton (the third volume in her Crowthistle Chronicles series): she "writes lavishly descriptive fiction you can immerse yourself in".

The Australian

One of the major issues on the political agenda of late is the Australia-US alliance. So it is timely that Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of "The Australian", has released The Partnership: The Inside Story of the US-Australian Alliance under Bush and Howard, which is reviewed by Max Suich. "This is an important book because it outlines, with far greater detail and coherence than the Australian Government has publicly provided, the new nature of the US-Australia military alliance that has evolved under the impetus of the personal and political affinity between John Howard and George W. Bush and the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington." It's important but it isn't a rosy outlook, if, like me, you feel that military force is the last option, not the first. "Precisely because this book projects such an authentic sense of the Australian Government's self-deception about the peril the US and its friends face in the Middle East, and its wishful denial of White House incompetence, it suggests another uncomfortable conclusion: that we will probably be swept up again should there be momentum in Washington for another war, and accept further military commitments in the Middle East, if Iran is attacked by the US or Israel."

The Sydney Morning Herald

Peter Galvin tries to nail down David Thomson's book, Nicole Kidman, and does a pretty good job: "This is not a book about Nicole Kidman. It is a book about the idea of her. The distinction is crucial to understanding this odd, and oddly beguiling, piece of film criticism. David Thomson's take on the career and life of Nicole Kidman is in fact one long essay - part film history, part cultural commentary, part fiction. It reads as a compelling form of mutant 'biography' but hardly justifies that stern and earnest moniker." I've thought for a long time that "celebrities" are just an idea anyway, so maybe Thomson is onto something after all.

As you've probably noticed, Robert Hughes and his book are everywhere. So it is no surprise to come across Andrew Reimer's review of Things I Didn't Know. What is interesting is his statement: "On almost every page, Hughes reveals a cosmopolitan sophistication, the fruit of intimate familiarity with European and American art, he could not have achieved had he stayed in Australia. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that in the guise of a somewhat haphazard account of the first 30-or-so years of his life, Things I Didn't Know is, at heart, an apologia for expatriation." And that's something I hadn't heard before.

The 2005 "Australian"/Vogel Literary Award Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2005 "Australian"/Vogel Literary Award has now been announced. The award of $20,000 is presented to an Australian-resident writer under 35 years of age for an original unpublished manuscript of fiction or Australian history or biography. The shortlisted works are:

Blue by Christina Armstrong
Trevalyan by Natalie Kershaw
Crossing Against the Red by Stephen Martin
Fishing Secrets by Tom Murray
Tuvalu by Andrew O'Connor

The winner will be announced in Sydney tomorrow, Tuesday 20th September. It's odd that the "Australian", as co-sponsor of the award, should release the details of the shortlist in the print edition, but seem to have no mention of it on their website. As I've said before, their search and indexing facilities leave a lot to be desired.

Poem: Monday Morning by C.J. Dennis

I often pause to contemplate
The sadly barren mental state
Of persons whom it is my fate
   To meet on Monday morning.
They should be, after Sunday's rest,
Alert, clear-minded, full of zest;
But everywhere they are oppressed,
   Bad-tempered, dull and yawning.

But I? I'm always strangely bright,
Primed with ideas and full of fight,
With brain alert and eye alight
   With rare exhilaration:
All due, no doubt to my wise bent
To do no thing I should repent,
And to a Sunday wisely spent
   In pious contemplation.

I do not wish to set myself
Upon some loft moral shelf
And treat my brother man, poor elf,
   To haughty patronising.
And yet I feel I have to say
That I regard the laggard way
That men approach their work this day
   As utterly surprising.

Oh, I could write, this gladsome morn,
With vigor of a man new-born
Rare verses, full of lilting scorn
   About my fellow's failings;
Or I could write on politics
And heave a hundred verbal bricks,
Using the rhymster's thousand tricks
   In homilies and railings.

But I resist; for, being kind
I know that human nature's blind
And weak and frail; I have no mind
   To call down envious curses.
And, tho' I tremble on the verge,
I manfully resist the urge,
And sing, where I might shout and splurge,
   These rather halting verses.

First published in The Herald, 28 April 1930

Wasp by Eric Frank Russell

Sarah Weinman, over at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, pointed me to an article in "The Boston Globe" earlier in the week. The piece by James Sallis is titled "Echoes from Sci-Fi's Golden Age", and deals with Eric Frank Russell's short novel Wasp that was first published back in the mid-1950s.

Leaving aside my objections to the use of the term "sci-fi" other than for derogatory means the article reminded me of the joys of reading Russell's work. So I went back to the bookshelves and dragged out my copy. I must have bought it, probably second-hand, in the 1970s and read it then. I might also have read it in its first appearance in "Astounding" from my father's collection of old sf magazines, but I wouldn't want to bet on that. So I hadn't looked at the book for some thirty years and I was a bit worried that my memory of the work might have been tainted by the years in raising it above its natural level. So I approached it with some degree of trepidation - after all, I didn't want to come to the realisation that i) my memory is failing me, and ii) that I used to like total crap.

In his article Sallis acknowledges that a lot of sf written in the so-called "golden age" just doesn't stack up these days: the plots are thin, the characters thinner. But some of it has stayed the distance, and Sallis offers up Russell's Wasp as an example of a novel that deserves to be read, especially in our current times of cultural/religious wars.

In Wasp the Terran Empire is at war with the alien Sirian Empire. The humans are technologically superior, while the Sirians have a larger population and a larger number of planets on which they are based. James Mowry spent the first seventeen years of his life living on a planet in the Sirian sphere and, given his propensity to be a pest to any form of authority, is employed/co-opted into joining the human war effort. His mission involves running a one-man insurgency campaign on a Sirian planet, the aim of which is to divert alien resources from the war against the humans. He is to become the wasp of the book's title. Skin dyed purple and ears pinned back to pass as a native he is dropped onto the target planet, and the fun begins.

Basically the book fits neatly into "Astounding" editor John W. Campbell's view of the superiority of the human species over any other. The fact that we had never encountered another intelligent species didn't seem to ever sway Campbell; it was his opinion and he was sticking to it. And this "species-view" was reflected in a lot of the stories he published. The humans are always smart and resourceful, the aliens always dumb, lumbering and generally burdened by a stifling political system: in this case a bureaucratic police state.

The parallels with today's conflicts are obvious. But above all else the novel is funny. It pokes fun at authority and the propaganda war: "For months we have been making triumphant retreats before a demoralized enemy who is advancing in utter disorder." Read it for a bit of light relief and a ripping yarn in these troubled times.

[The article by Sallis also brought out a confession from Neil Gaiman: it seems that he had the film option on the book, and was writing the screenplay when September 11th 2001 arrived, and then it just "wasn't fiction any longer."]


Wikipedia is a new type of encyclopedia which has only come into existence since the development of the Internet. It describes itself as follows:

"Wikipedia is a Web-based, multi-language, free-content encyclopedia written collaboratively by volunteers and sponsored by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. It has editions in roughly 200 different languages (about 100 of which are active) and contains entries both on traditional encyclopedic topics and on almanac, gazetteer, and current events topics. Its purpose is to create and distribute a free international encyclopedia in as many languages as possible. Wikipedia is one of the most popular reference sites on the internet, receiving around 60 million hits per day."

The idea is that individual writers sign up and contribute articles on various people, subjects or topics, which are then held up to discussion and debate by other Wikipedia contributors. In this way, hopefully, a quite decent amount of material is built up on all manner of things, some of it very timely indeed.

As an example of that take the current case of " vs Garrison Keilor". I guess most of us are aware of Keilor as the host of the "A Prairie Home Companion" radio show and author of several novels., on the other hand, is small weblog that has found itself in a spot of bother. It seems the blog's proprietor decided to have a bit of a joke and produced a number of T-shirts (not sure how many) bearing the logo "A Prairie Ho Companion", with a big black line drawn straight through the middle of the words. It's a joke. A parody. He's just taking the piss. But Keilor didn't think so, and sicced his lawyers onto with a "cease and desist" order. They have - they really had no choice. As in all legal matters, money rules. Anyway, you can read the whole gruesome story, including the letter from the lawyers and a photo of the T-shirt on the blog under the heading "A Prairie Homeboy Companion" - which I think is just as good as the T-shirt logo.

Yeah, so? you ask. Well, the Garrison Keilor entry in Wikipedia has already been updated with a note and links to this dispute. Given the saga has only been running for a couple of weeks and the main story was only posted to yesterday, I'd say we have a good example of the site's timeliness.

I've been using Wikipedia for a while now and find it generally well-written and informative. Plus, it's readable. A good example of what the internet can really achieve. It needs a bit of work on its Australian literature section, and if I find the time I might post a few items there.

[Thanks to Bookslut for the link.]

Murray Bail Considers European vs Anglo-American Novels

Murray Bail, author of Eucaluptus, ponders the differences between European novels in translation, and their Anglo-American cousins. "When first opening a work in translation there is an extra feeling of anticipation. The reader here is allowed to enter a strange area of the world, where people are similar yet appear to behave differently, and all in a foreign tongue. Mystery has to be interesting. Other questions can come later."

I'm always curious as to whether I'm actually getting a taste of the original author's voice or just a version of the translator's. Occasionally it is possible to read novels in translation by one author, over a short period, which have been translated by different people. I've done this recently with Henning Mankell and his Kurt Wallander novels from Sweden: Faceless Killers was translated by Steven T. Murray, The Dogs of Riga by Laurie Thompson, and One Step Behind by Ebba Seberberg. Of these I'd say that The Dogs of Riga reads flat, as if the translation didn't work as well as the other two. And yet, Thompson also translated another of Menkell's novels, The Return of the Dancing Master, which I thought was excellent, and which did not feature Wallander. So what does that tell me? Not a lot I suspect. There are just too many factors at play affecting the final outcome of the novel to be able to determine which has the greatest influence.

Now that does not mean to imply that we should neglect novels in translation. On the contrary, we should seek them out for their strangeness. As Bail puts it: "European literature is recognisably different from English-English or American-English. For one thing, it is much less saddled with the good sense of Protestant empiricism that brings with it the decencies, along with a certain plainness. It has been explained how this rarefied commonsense is behind the solid foundations of Anglo-Saxon philosophy, in verifiable results in medicine and engineering, in law and the stability of institutions; and in the novel it has resulted in a stubborn underlying realism." Which might be making too wide a generalisation.

I'm sure there are European novels we do not get to see that are full to the brim with stubborn realism. And by the same token it seems hard to describe the work of, say, J.G. Ballard as dropping into the same slot. But this is picking nits. Bail's premise is that we should all read more translated works. And it's hard to argue with that.

[Thanks to Conversational Reading for the notice.]

The Reykjavík Writers' Festival

I don't usually mention non-Australian literary festivals, especially those as far away
as Iceland, but thought it worth mentioning this one as DBC Pierre, author of the Man Booker prize winning Vernon God Little, is a guest. The festival runs from 11th to 17th September, which is sort of now, so you'd best get your skates on.

[Thanks to Bookslut for the link.]

Weekend Round-Up #37

The Age

Martin Flanagan looks at a new book about "Waltzing Matilda", possibly Australia's best-known and best-loved song, titled Once a Jolly Swagman by Matthew Richardson. Publication of this book is timely, says Flanagan: "Richardson's book is ultimately the voice of someone who sees globalisation as masking the onset of a second cultural cringe, one which, like its predecessor, creates disdain for local - Australian - culture." But, as Flanagan points out, the creation of the song didn't happen all at one time, the words and even the tune were changed over time by Banjo Paterson, who was credited with the original, amongst others, and Richardson's book is as much as the fluid creative process as about the song's origins. "At one level, the story shows how creation is a messy business with more than the odd element of luck or chance about it."

Brian McFarlane seems to think more of Nicole Kidman by David Thomson than most other reviewers so far, though I wonder if he hasnt fallen prey to the actor's charms as well: "Thomson clearly adores her as a creature of great sexual attractiveness and also knows how to value her for what, in the right circumstances, she can do as an actress. His shrewd assessment of her career choices and the patient, wide-ranging analyses of her acting highlights substantiate his claim for her as the 'most adventurous and the most varied (actress) of her time'...He gathers together the 'facts' of her life to help explain the public face we all feel we know. In the process, he offers a finely drawn portrait of a star, a woman, and maybe, to raise his own question, a lady?" The whole thing strikes me as tacky tabloid journalism.

Peter Craven is impressed with David Malouf's latest short story collection, Every Move You Make, especially as it represents the authors best form: "Everything he writes is 'quality'. That said, he has always seemed at his best in lyrical mode, writing short works of fiction, novellas and stories, than he does when he is pursuing grand themes in somewhat longer books - the POW experience in The Great World or the legend of bushranging in The Conversations at Curlew Creek." Craven finished his review with a flourish, "A better book of fiction has not come out of this country this year."

On the longer fiction front, Suzanne Leal's debut novel, Border Street, is reviewed by Kirsty de Garis, who finds that the novel "tells a story of one man's survival against enormous odds, and of its lasting effects. Leal has recounted this tale and woven a warm account of the unlikely friendship between people with 40 years and continetns between them." I wonder how many copies the publishers will sell of this debut at $32.95. I've a feeling that it's just too expensive for the current market.

Short notices are given to: In It To Win It: The Australian Cricket Supremacy by Peter Roebuck: "You either go with Peter Roebuck's epic, often Churchillian turn of phrase, or you don't. Most of the time I do, although he can lay it on a bit thick sometimes...his detailed knowledge of the game, make him a cricket writer with scope and flair and of substance too"; The Concerto Inn by Jo Gardiner: "The novel moves at a langurous, almost somnolent pace, with Gardiner guiding her characters through their 'slow pulse of memory'"; and Hit by Tara Moss, the fourth PI Makedde Vanderwall novel: "There's violence, titillation, conspiracy, romance and comedy".

The Australian

Robert Hughes's memoir, Things I Didn't Know, gets the once-over by Andrea Stretton, who opines that "There are very few writers whose words you would recognise from 20 paces: Hughes is one of them. Although usually writing about art and culture, he instinctively knows all there is to know about the fictional devices of characterisation, dialogue, the bittersweet nature of drama and comedy, and the great, deep sweep of narrative structure." High praise indeed. Not sure I agree completely but there we are. Hughes has had a bit of a problem with Australia of late, mainly over his treatment by the press following his near-fatal car crash in Western Australia in 1999.

Autobiography is also the subject matter of Bary Jones's new book, A Thinking Reed. Mike Steketee has waited a while for this book, and is generally pretty pleased with the final result. "Unusually for a book by a politician, Jones admits to failure and frustration leavened by some successes. Not that he is just a politician, let alone an ordinary one. He was a misfit in politics: a long-range thinker in a short-term environment, more inclined to bury into further research to add to his vast store of knowledge than to put together the numbers for a caucus ballot." But, as he puts it, "If the book suffers, it is from the Jones obsession with lists and organising information. Sometimes there is too much detail."

With her novel, The Secret River, on the 2006 Man Booker shortlist, Kate Grenville has now published Searching for the Secret River, the story of how she came to write the subject book. Stella Clarke finds that: "Searching for the Secret River records Grenville's five-year journey to the finished novel, which started out as nonfiction, moved from first to third person, through exhaustive dissections and revolutions, before completion. It is education in the art, and craft, of fiction, a lesson in the arduous devotion it can command...This book gives an account not just of the birth of a novel but also of the birth of conscience, which is what the history debates are basically about." An unusual glimpse into the novelist's art.

Short notices are given to: Agamemnon's Kiss: Selected Essays by Inga Clendinnen: "With incisive wit, Clendinnen brillinatly mixes a sense of liberation and vulnerability, not only within her body but also in society'.

Poem: In a Book-Shop by Zora Cross

Between these colored colonnades of Thought
   Down which I walk as to a music rare,
In breathless images of Beauty caught,
   God's life and death I share.

Wild harmonies of Eastern pipe and flute
   Mix in the measure of a Doric dance,
Where Poesy in pages Fancy-mute
   Slumbers with lost Romance.

By airy memories of palm and beach
   Adventure whistles to a wandering star,
Sailing the crystal labryinth of speech,
   Dream-led to lands afar.

Here Fairy-Fiction weaves her wonder-loom
   With rainbow threads of paragraph and phrase,
Mocking the troubled terraces of gloom
   Where History's banners blaze.

In precious parchments, holy as Content,
   Philosphies forgotten trembling lie.
I turn the leaves with olden creeds besprent
   And hear a dead world sigh.

O'er painted palisades of cloth and board
   Young fairies spill world-laughter loose and white,
'Mid azure letterings of crook and sword
   Dimpling eternal Light.

O rich, warm scent of volumes newly-bound,
   Closing immortal melodies and deeds,
Clean leaf and page with living words profound,
   I follow where each leads.

Down through the murky avenues of Time
   My soul goes singing in its search for Truth,
Where fragrant books in silences sublime
   Breathe everlasting Youth.

Green fields of Poesy, high hills of Thought,
   Plains, streams and palaces of Wisdom rare,
Within their miracle of Beauty caught,
   God's life and death I share.

First published in The Bulletin, 24 June 1920

2005 Man Booker Prize Shortlist Announced

The Shortlisted novels for the 2005 Man Booker Prize have been announced. That list is:

The Sea by John Banville
Arthur & George by Julian Barnes
A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Accidental by Ali Smith
On Beauty by Zadie Smith

All books are from major publishers this year with Hamish Hamilton and Faber & Faber having two books on the list each.

Ishiguro is the only previous winner of the award. My guess is that it will be a contest between Banville and Barnes.

The winner will be announced on Monday 10th October.

Death of Donald Horne

The news is just through that Donald Horne, author of such works as The Lucky Country and The Education of Young Donald, died earlier today at home after a long illness. He was 83 years old. A great loss.

UpComing Australian SF Books

The following new Australian SF Books will be published in the coming months:

September 2005
Night People, Anthony Eaton

October 2005
Priestess of the White, Trudi Canavan
The Fiction Factory, Jack Dann et al.

November 2005
The Well of Tears, Cecilia Dart-Thornton

December 2005
Beyond Singularity, Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois, eds

January 2006
Modern Greats of Science Fiction : Nine Novellas of Distinction, Jonathan Strahan, ed
Giants of the Frost, Kim Wilkins

February 2006
Voidfarer, Sean McMullen
Fantasy: The Best of 2005, Jonathan Strahan & Karen Haber, eds
Geodesica: Descent, Sean Williams & Shane Dix

March 2006
K-Machines, Damian Broderick

April 2006
The Keys to the Kingdom, Book 4: Sir Thursday, Garth Nix

C.J. Dennis Birthday

C.J. Dennis was born on this day in 1876, in Auburn, South Australia. Considered by many (well, by me at least) to be one of the greatest of Australia's poets, he is probably the best-selling of any of them.

From the time of its publication in 1915, Dennis's The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke had sold in excess of 66,000 copies within 18 months of initial printing. It has since gone on to sell well over the 100,000 mark. While the Bloke was the best known of all Dennis's works, he also wrote such works as The Moods of Ginger Mick, Doreen and Rose of Spadgers in the same sequence, as well as The Glugs of Gosh, Digger Smith and Jim of the Hills. In the latter part of his life, Dennis became the resident poet for The Herald newspaper in Melbourne, writing over 3,000 pieces of poetry and prose for the paper over a near twenty year period. Dennis died in Melbourne on 22 June 1938.

"Grouchy Old Bore"

One of the weblogs which I check in with every day or so is Michael Allen's Grumpy Old Bookman. Allen is a booklover who seems to have been involved in the book publishing business for the past forty years or so. I'm not sure exactly what he has done in that time, though he does state somewhere on the weblog that he has been writing books for that long. His inside knowledge of the industry leads me to think he's done a lot else besides.

Just recently he wrote and published a review of Christopher Booker's The Seven Basic Plots which was not terribly complimentary. His view of the book seemed to gell with other reviews I had read of it, saying such things as: "It seems to me to be entirely pointless"; and "Booker's book seems to me to be gloriously beside the point. The point is not that the number of plots is limited: it is that the number of possible emotional effects that can be created in the reader/audience is limited. The number of ways in which those emotions can be aroused, however, is infinite, and depends largely (but not entirely) on the skill of the writer."

I think you get the idea.

Anyway, a few of GOB's readers decided to pitch in and add their own thoughts. Me among them.

Now, I can say that I have not read Booker's book. (I had it on an Amazon wish-list for a while as it sounded interesting. I deleted it when I started to read the reviews.) But that, of course, has never stopped me from making a comment when I feel like it. So I did: "And here I was thinking that Joseph Campbell had nailed it in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I seem to remember Campbell putting the contention that there was really only one plot, you just took out the bits and variations you wanted."

I can tell you that I have read Campbell's book a couple of times and think it pretty damn good - even if George Lucas is a big fan. So I was trying to be a bit cute - I probably wrote the comment after a couple of reds - and didn't think much more of it. I mean, I didn't slag off the author or anything, just had a bit of a shot at his basic premise, is all.

All of this happened a couple of weeks back, and today, as I read through the GOB weblog entries, I came across a note from Allen that Christopher Booker himself had read the exchanges and had posted a comment. Allen suggested we read what he had to say and make up our own minds.

The interesting part? Oh, that's where Booker says: "...I am afraid these postings give the impression of various grouchy old bores sitting round in a pub, cantankerously banging on about something they know nothing whatever about."

And there we have it: I'm officially a "grouchy old bore". Makes one feel all warm inside.

Now, if you'll just excuse me: I'm off to the pub. Might just stop off at the bookshop for a copy of The Seven Basic Plots on the way.

Weekend Round-Up #36

The Age

The major piece this weekend is a long profile of David Malouf, by Angela Bennie, on the eve of the publication (today!) of his new collection of short stories, Every Move You Make. Malouf makes a rather interesting statement early on in the piece: "Once or twice I have begun what I have thought was going to be a book," he is now saying. His voice is gentle, mild, courteous..."Then what I see happening before me is it begins to develop a plot. And I know then it is not one of my books. I don't like things that are driven by plot. So at that point I abandon it." Which might explain a lot about Malouf's work, but which probably also sends a lot of other writers crying over their keyboards. No news on whether there's another novel in the works, though.

Peter Hill looks at three art books, Albert Tucker by Gavin Fry, Juan Davila by Guy Brett & Roger Benjamin, and Imants Tillers: One World Many Visions edited by Deborah Hart. The review doesn't appear to be on the website.

Hilary Bonney is in two minds about Paul Sheahan's latest non-fiction book, Girls Like You. On the one hand she praises him: "In the first three parts of this seven-part work, Sheehan writes in a strong, sharp, journalistic style about the gang rapes committed by four of the brothers in the winter of 2002 and the ensuing legal twists and turns." But later finds the author loses his way and his "good writing skills become lost in the passion of the argument."

Short notices are given to: Waterlemon by Ruth Ritchie which tells the story of the author and her husband as they recover from a severe brain injury he suffered while riding his bike: "this is not about being likeable, it's about the extremes of her experience, and Ritchie does brilliantly in making us understand and empathise"; Patriots: Defending Australia's Natural Heritage by William J. Lines - "In this passionate, provocative account of the conservation movement in postwar Australia, William Lines defiantly appropriates [the] term [patriot] to capture the dedication and commitment of conservation activists as they pit themselves against developers and government"; Botanical Riches: Stories of Botanical Exploration by Richard Aitken - "Sweeping in its scope, it surveys the history of the world from hunter-gather societies to the present from a botanical perspective and is gloriously illustrated with exquisite full-page drawings of plants that have seduced and enchanted mankind since Eve offered Adam a bite of the forbidden fruit"; and Out of Place by Jo Dutton is "a well-paced and elegantly written family saga that spans decades and moves from the windswept beaches of WA to the arid beauty of the Red Centre".

The Australian

David Malouf is also the subject of the main piece in "The Australian" this week. Rosemary Neill calls him the "elder statesman of Australian literature", which might be a tad harsh, even though Malouf is now 72. Anyway, Malouf, as you might expect, appears very interested in the writing process, explaining that "The power of attention that I can sustain through a long novel, I find that may be waning." Which gives some explanation of my earlier query. His best line comes almost immediately after that: "Books ought to demand to be written, rather than be a by-product of your idea that you are a writer."

The release of The Dodger by Duncan McNab which tells the story of Australia's most notorious cop, Roger Rogerson, is rather apt at this time of investigations into parts of the Victoria Police. Though, I suppose, there isn't much of a co-incidence given the number of these inquiries that seem to have been held over the past few years. John Dale reviews the book this week and finds that it "provides the reader with a personal insight into the 'us versus them' mentality that pervaded NSW police during the Rogerson era, a force aptly described as the best money could buy."

Short notices are given to: The Arrival by Shaun Tan, which is "a masterpiece for all ages and is Shaun Tan's finest and most ambitious work to date"; Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah: "Hopefully this book will find its way into every classroom, because by using concise, thoughful and highly cominc prose, Abdel-Fattah contemplates the loss of identity and how fear and deception can only lead to greater worries"; The Penguin Book: Birds in Suits by Mark Norman: "Useful for school projects, entertainment or interest, this well-designed book may even attract the curiosity of readers who are ambivalent to other animals"; The Curer of Souls by Lindsay Simpson: "one fascinating aspect of [which] is its ability to play with the subtlety of historical phases rather than lumping all past events under the heading of history"; and Inventing Beatrice by Jill Golden "is less successful, although welcome for its creative courage in a writing scene that's rarely adventurous".

Poem: The Pen and the Sword by Moutere

Little steel nib with the Birmingham name on it,
   What in the storms of the world may you do?
Acres of tripe with the Censor's sharp blame on it
   Dies in the basket disfigured by blue.

Often we said that the weight of the penhandle,
   Gripped in a fist that was firm for the right,
Might be far more than the weapons that men handle
   Bloodied and sharp in the front of the fight.

Now it would seem that the swords have the best of it --
   Swords and the pencil the Censor can wield;
Truth and free speech and fine song and the rest of it
   All to the secrecy needful must yield.

One thing alone is still left for the pen to do --
   This is where ink gets the run of the deck --
Pens to the front! There is work here for men to do,
   Signing the enemy's doom on the cheque.

First published in The Bulletin, 16 March 1916

Combined Reviews: Lost by Michael Robotham

lost.jpg Reviews of Lost by Michael Robotham.

"Australian Michael Robotham's first thriller, The Suspect, was a hit at the London Book Fair of 2002, generating foreign rights deals in 13 languages. His second novel, Lost, proves that he's no one-hit wonder. Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz wakes in hospital to find that a bullet has torn a hole in his leg and another in his memory. Shut out by his colleagues at the Met, he turns to an old friend, immensely likeable clinical psychologist Joe O'Loughlin, to help him recover from amnesia and pick up the threads of a rapidly cooling case. The more he discovers about his actions of the last few weeks, the more confused Ruiz becomes: it seems he was investigating a case he successfully closed three years ago, one that no-one wants him to reopen. From the very first sentence of this gripping thriller a reader can relax, feeling safe in the hands of a talented storyteller just as accomplished as Harlan Coben or Barry Maitland. With the velocity and wit of an American thriller and the emotional complexity and characterisation of a British mystery, the author has captured the best of the genre. If Michael Robotham isn't a star already, he will be."
--Australian Bookseller & Publisher

"An electrifying mystery from the author whose dazzling debut, Suspect, raised the bar for whodunits."
--Australian Women's Weekly

"Lost is a whip-cracking thriller, gritty, authentic and crisply written, and with a plot that has more twists in it than a strand of barbed wire."
--Adelaide Advertiser

"I very nearly didn't bother with this. Did I want to read a story about a cop suffering from amnesia? Fortunately I had an idle night (there's never anything on TV) so I gave it a try. First, this is a first-rate mystery thriller. Second, the author has researched 'transient global amnesia', the blanking out of a traumatic event, a condition clearly explained and valid in a man shot and left for dead in the River Thames. How did he get there? Why is there an abandoned boat with someone else's blood splashed across the deck? Where did the diamonds come from? He knows he was on a kidnap case - yet it was a kidnap he wrapped up three years before. The child is dead, her killer in jail, but the body was never found. Retracing steps, he finds a further ransom has been demanded, suggesting that the child is still alive. After three years? Surely not - yet her father agreed to pay, and her father is a much-feared Russian criminal. The jailed man has launched an appeal, and the detective's colleagues don't want the case reopened. This is only the first half of the book. Twists and complications abound as fragments of memory return. Shunned by colleagues, the detective must solve this on his own. It gets violent, dirty and dangerous. Great, satisfying stuff."
-- Russell James in "Shotsmag Reviews"

There is also a sneak preview of the book available.

[This novel won the 2005 Ned Kelly Award for Best Novel.]

Currently Reading


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The 13th Jack Reacher novel. Suicide bombers on the New York subway and international terrorism mixed with hard-boiled action makes for an interesting brew.



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A Young Adult steampunk novel set at the start of an alternate history First World War. Fast-paced, intriguing and totally captivating.



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Watson journeys into the heart of America, by train and car. There he discovers the best, and the worst, of humanity and society.



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2009 Best First Novel at the Ned Kelly Awards. Murder in the art world involving political intrigue and business corruption in Melbourne.


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