Weekend Round-Up #47

I've been reading Garry Disher's Wyatt novels lately and have been greatly impressed by the rapid-fire action and relentless sense of menace. His new novel Snapshot has been published and reviewed in "The Weekend Age" by Jeff Glorfeld. This is Disher's third Inspector Challis mystery and, as usual, "starts with sleaze and swiftly moves to murder." You feel you're on safe ground already.

Disher lays it all out with his usual masterful feel for pacing, which is deceptive to say the least; the story develops slowly and is never rushed. There isn't much inspired sleuthing. Yet, as the case unfolds and the characters move deeper into their personal dramas, the feeling of expectation and suspense builds almost imperceptibly to a heightened pitch and to a satisfying payoff. As with all good crime series, Disher leaves us ready for the next story.

It appears, though, that all the big Australian Christmas books are now out on the shelves beyond reviews and waiting to be snapped up and placed under the tree. It's a wonder, then, why anyone would want to publish first novels in such a climate. But that is what a short story writer, Paddy O'Reilly, and a poet, Alex Skovron, have just done. The books are reviewed by Lisa Gorton:

O'Reilly's "The Factory is a beautifully crafted and intriguing novel; so closely worked and self-consistent each part carries its full effect. The intricate plotting -- the way it pieces each part of the story together -- equals the way individuals find themselves bound to a group. And the writing, with its watchfulness -- its close observation of people and places -- creates a world at once lonely and claustrophobic."

Skovron's "The Poet has the still quality of a fable...Skovron is a precise and lucid poet with a rich understanding of music...He truns to prose, then, not for the force of time a story brings into play -- its involvement of cause and effects -- but for the extension of space it allows his images; as a way of finding poetry's place in the world."

On the other hand, Owen Richardson is not very impressed with Elizabeth Stead's The Book of Tides, the main area of interest being that the author is Christina Stead's niece and that the novel is based on Christina's father who also inspired her masterpiece The Man Who Loved Children -- which languishes on the to-be-read pile still, mumble.

Given we are moving rapidly towards summer I guess it's only logical that "The Australian" should look at three books related to Antarctic and Arctic exploration.

Peter Corris deals with two of them; he seems somewhat disappointed with The Last Explorer by Simon Nasht. He starts off being interested by the subject: "All accounts agree that [George Hubert] Wilkins was tall, although they do not say how tall, and athletic, although there is no record of him hitting, throwing or kicking a ball. His premature baldness, attested to by photographs, was not a plus but he sported a handsome beard by way of compensation. Wilkins was something like Flight Lieutenant Bigglesworth, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Ludwig Leichhardt and Captain Nemo all rolled into one." But realises that, despite the war heroics and feats of exploration "Nasht provides very little of the inner man...Those concerned with conflicts within the human character and the interplay between personalities would be advised to look elsewhere."

Corris thinks more of David Crane's book Scott of the Antarctic: "In Crane's view, Scott was a far more interesting character than merely a pawn in a game of changing values over time. He deems him the most interesting of the explorers of the heroic age and suggests that had he not become famous, his life story, with its twists and turns, was the stuff of novelists such as George Eliot." And yet, Corris, hard task-master that he is, comes away with a felling of something lacking: "In the end, I don't think Crane has made his case for the legendary status of Scott and his endeavours. It is partly the fault of the enterprise. Before the era of ice-breaker ships, aeroplanes, motorised snow vehicles and sound nutritional knowledge, Antarctic exploration was foolhardy. It resembled the American exploration of space: motivated by hubris, apt to go wrong, wasteful of resources and of little benefit to anyone." Forget how he got there and what he did, I reckon it's to do with how he died.

Milton Osborne looks at T.W. Edgeworth David: A Life by David Branagan, and wonders why David is forgotten when his junior colleague Douglas Mawson is revered. There is a bit of a connection here between reviewer and biography subject (reviewer's father was a student of David, and reviewer carries "Edgeworth" as a second given name) so we need to read between the lines a little. Stll the question needs to eb asked: "why, with so many achievements, did this man slip from common memory? Unlike Mawson, he was self-effacing, although that is not meant as a criticism of Mawson. But David's descriptive powers, so apparent in his private letters, did not become the basis of a bestseller in its time as with Mawson's The Home of the Blizzard. Outstanding an individual as he was, David was perhaps too much a man of his time to be much remembered after World War II, too much the 'perfect gentle knight' as a contemporary dubbed him. Whatever the explanation, Branagan has done a sterling job in recovering his importance, not least in terms of his clear account of David's significance to Australian geology."

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on November 28, 2005 3:38 PM.

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