Weekend Round-Up #45

It's obviously the gift-buying season as more and more "big" books come onto the market in Australia each week. The big one this week in "The Age" is Steve Waugh's autobiography, Out of my Comfort Zone. For those not in the know, Waugh is the most successful cricket captain in Australian test history, the second-highest run-scorer ever (until Brian Lara overtakes him in the next few weeks), and appeared in more Test matches than anyone else, from any country. He played the game hard, but fair; relentless but sometimes went too far, or allowed his team-mates to overstep the bounds. In other words, a fully rounded individual who grew up on the world stage. So his autobiography is of more than usual interest - well, okay I'm a bit of a cricket nut and I always liked Waugh's style of play, so I'm a bit biased. Steven Carroll probably fits into that mold as well - his most recent novel, The Gift of Speed is set against the background of a West Indies cricket tour of the early 1960s - and his review is fairly even handed:

In most cases you don't read the autobiography of distinguished sporting figures on the chance that they may be an Anton Chekhov as well. We generally read their tales because of what the teller knows.

Many are written in conjunction with a journalist - the "as told to ..." variety of memoir. There are three noteworthy things to say about Steve Waugh's autobiography. First, he wrote it himself. Second, he can write (it's a cut above the usual sporting memoir). Third, he wrote too much.

More is never enough for a Test batsman. Often enough for a writer, though, less is more. You don't have to cover everything. In most cases, the fewer the words, the fewer the events and moving parts in the story you have to tell, the stronger the impact.

From some of his published statements I suspect that even Waugh thinks it might be too long. In any event, I think this one might just well end up in my Christmas stocking.

Simon Caterson catches up with the latest Tom Keneally, The Commonwealth of Thieves, and the delay here is not such a bad thing: it gives the reviewer time to ponder the issues properly. His main point being the comparison between this book of Keneally's and Robert Hughes's earlier The Fatal Shore:

Keneally's new account of the First Fleet has already been discussed in the media as rivalling Robert Hughes' The Fatal Shore and indeed there is a crucial difference in outlook between the two.

Biographically, Hughes and Keneally have much in common in terms of age and background but the attitude each has to the founding of Australia diverges markedly. As the titles of the two books suggest, Keneally's vision is basically positive, whereas Hughes is inclined to the negative.

Hughes characterises the convict settlement as a gulag but Keneally tends to view the new colony as a kind of demi-Eden, an opportunity in practical terms to build a new and more humane society out of the brutal excesses of its imperial progenitor.

Continuing the interesting run of Australian novels that have been published this year is Roger McDonald's The Ballad of Desmond Kale. This novel also continues a general theme and subject-matter that has been used a bit this year: the early European settlement of Australia and the relationship between the new settlers and the indigenous population, see also Keneally and Grenville. Peter Pierce, professor of Australian literature at James Cook University, looks at the novel: "McDonald's is a big, ambitious book, a winding tale that takes its due time. There are detours for intriguing subplots - a pregnancy, a feud between half-brothers, a shipwreck, the attempted theft of a map to the fabled inland of the colony, political intrigue over the governing of NSW. There is much detail about the breeding of sheep - the quality of their wool in consequence, the character of the men who are expert in this."

Stella Clarke also considers at the McDonald novel in "The Weekend Australian" and is pretty impressed: "ROGER McDonald is a riot. This story is balladry of distinction, laid out in prose. He combines a love of intrigue and high adventure with a defiant, lyrical, vigorous way of telling...Here are art and excitement, mixed to magnificent strength. Here are pain and passion, eased through the circumspect medium of a charismatic, old-fashioned style, then springing at you in a gutsy twist of phrase."

I don't get the "Sydney Morning Herald" delivered and had been hoping that their new, improved book review website might offer something of interest, as it did last week. But it hasn't been updated yet. Time to get a schedule in place methinks.

[Update: It's the Wednesday after the weekened and the SMH have now updated their book review website. No new Australian books reviewed however.]

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on November 15, 2005 8:41 AM.

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