Just a brief note to let you know that I'll be away from the editorial desk for the next three days. I'll be back on Monday.
June 2007 Archives
Christina Stead plaque, Circular Quay, Sydney.
Marshal Zeringue applies the "Page 99 Test" to Emily Maguire's first novel Taming the Beast.
Sophie Masson, author of a number of young adult novels, has taken up a guest blogging role at "The Good Reading Magazine" for the next three months. Her two columns so far have covered the topics "This Writing Life" and "Why I Write for Children." It's her enthusiasm that makes me come over all tired.
Penni Russon wonders about "early chapter books" for the 4-9 year olds on her weblog "Eglantine's Cake". As she puts it, so succinctly: "There are so many freaking FAIRY and PRINCESS books it also made me want to vomit rainbows and butterflies." My son, who fits into this age group is a big fan of the Zac Power books - about a boy who has to save the world and still finish his homework - but beyond that it gets a bit thin.
Justine Larbalestier extols the
virtues of swearing, without actually doing so, which I think is a pretty good trick, and in the process puts the boot into the banning of books.
"Australian Book Review" and the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) have announced that the second Calibre Prize for an Outstanding Essay is now open. Prizemoney for the winner is $10,000 and entries close on August 31 2007. The winner will be announced in December 2007.
I missed this interview with David Malouf that was published in "The
Courier-Mail" back at the start of June.
The interesting thing about this piece, which was published just before the author's latest collection of poetry, Typewriter Music, was published, is that it also contains a conversation with the poetry volume's editor. This provides some interesting insights into the way a collection of poetry is ordered.
In addition, there are thoughts from Roger McDonald, Frank Moorhouse and UQP publisher Madonna Duffy, which add up to one of the best profile/interviews you're likely to read.
I'm starting to think I may have to shift the round-up of reviews from "The Age" to later in the week: the paper doesn't seem to be loading its book reviews onto its website as early as it used to. There isn't much Australian in the paper this week though.
Anyway, Louise Swinn's review of Aphelion by Emily Ballou is the major fiction review of the week. "The question of memory is at the heart of this book -- how we mould and reshape it, how we forget and what we remember, and what we choose to emphasise as we tell our story...Aphelion is funny without being smug, intelligent but not superior, emotionally involving but, with the exception of the end, not sentimental, and the atmosphere is cinematic." I'll take that as meaning she liked it.
Two biographies of current Federal Opposition leader Kevin Rudd on the market at the same time might seem a bit of overkill, but it says something about the man if he can command two, when the Prime Minister, after 11 years in the job, can only rate one. Well, okay there's another one on the way, but it is election year.
Shaun Carey looks at Kevin Rudd: The Biography by Robert Macklin, and Kevin Rudd: An Unauthorised Political Biography by Nicholas Stuart. "Does either of the manage to shed a great deal of extra light on the Labor leader beyond what's already been turned up in the newspaper and television profiles that have appeared in the past few months? I hope it is not unfair to either writer to say: a little bit, but not much. That's not to say that these are not worthwhile books. Both are honest, fair and, in their way, thorough."
Debra Adelaide reviews Matt Rubinstein's first novel, A Little Rain on Thursday, recalling that she read an earlier version of the work when it was submitted for an Australian/Vogel award a few years back. "Then, it held dazzling promise, but was not fully realised as a narrative...As A Little Rain on Thursday, it is undeniably still full of dazzling promise. The idea of the power of language and also its weaknesses generates a story that is refreshingly ambitious, richly imagined and, in Australia at least, highly original. In writing what amounts to a literary thriller, Rubinstein has produced something enormously clever. He has almost pulled it off." Which almost qualifies as another review cliche (it's a line I've used, which must move it to the over-sused end of the scale), except Adelaide explains what she's talking about. "There is a fine but necessary line between the representation of a character's chaotic state of mind and a muddled story. Reading A Little Rain on Thursday is an apocalyptic sort of experience, as the story is crowded with mythical and meaningful figures: the Knights Templar, monks, St John's Hospitallers, forgers, hangmen and convicts. Then there are far too many symbolic places: libraries, deserts, book deposits, graveyards, churches, laboratories and lighthouses...There is so much in this narrative that it loses the focus crucial to sustain the mystery and bring it to a satisfying conclusion."
David Hill, ex-managing director of the ABC, has produced his first book, The Forgotten Children: Fairbridge Farm School and Its Betrayal of Australia's Child Migrants, and Alan Gill, who also researched the subject himself, finds much to admire in the work. "It is beautifully written in clear, non-academic prose, and is tightly edited. Hill's own story takes a back seat."
[Update: one review from last week's "Age" has now made it to the website.]
When Louise Swinn was a teenager she wrote a letter to Amy Witting, author of I for Isobel. To her total surprise, the author wrote back, and so began a long and remarkable friendship.
Over on the "Horrorscope" weblog, Talie Helene interviews authors Jason Nahrung and Mil Clayton, as their dark fantasy novel, The Darkness Within, is launched in both Melbourne and Brisbane.
There is a slight curiosity in the book's marketing:
The Darkness Within has been published under Jason's name; I was curious if this was a marketing decision to consolidate under one name, or if there was a point when you decided that authorship belonged more to Jason...
Mil: "Lothian only wanted the one name on the cover. We either had to choose a pseudonym or go under Jason's name. I believed it was fair to have Jason's name on the cover as it was he who had work-shopped and expanded the novel to bring it to the current polished story that it is today. My name appears on the title-page inside."
Jason: "We could have used a nom-de-plume, but that didn't really work for marketing future work, because I do have a number of manuscripts I hope will see the light of day. I'm the one who wants to write -- and sell -- more books. Most of the reworking -- rewriting, editing, marketing, and all that jazz -- has been mine. That means I have to take most of the blame, too."
The Doubleman by Christopher Koch, 1985
Cover illustration by Wendell Minor
(Triad Grafton 1986 edition)
[This novel was the winner of the Miles Franklin Award in 1985.]
The winners of the 2006 Western Australian Premier's Book Awards have been announced.
Shaun Tan - The Arrival
Simone Lazaroo - The Travel Writer
Dennis Haskell - All the Time in the World
Quentin Beresford - Rob Riley: an Aboriginal Leader's Quest for Justice; and
Peter Edwards - Arthur Tange: Last of the Mandarins
West Australian History Award
Bobbie Oliver and Patrick Bertola - The Workshops: A History of the Midland Government Railway Workshops
Shaun Tan - The Arrival
Young Adult's Books
Kate McCaffrey - Destroying Avalon
Hellie Turner - "Sardines"
So, Shaun Tan goes from strength to strength.
Juliet Marillier writes about the craft and busines of genre fiction on the "Writer Unboxed" weblog. She does this by answering a number of questions she was asked, by a group of young writers, recently. Marillier lives near Perth in Western Australia and is the author of 8 fantasy novels.
Christopher Bantick interviews author Michael Robotham as his latest novel, The Night Ferry, picks up good reviews around town. I'm certainly seeing it prominently displayed in the local bookshops.
Romana Kaval interviewed Giromondo Press publisher, Ivor Indyk, on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show", the morning after Carpentaria, written by Alexis Wright and published by his company, won the 2007 Miles Franklin Award.
Interesting to hear Indyk say that such a win can make life very difficult for a small publisher: receipts from sales lag invoices from printers by four months, which messes with cash-flows something fierce.
The radio program also replayed an interview with Wright from November 2006.
Given that I didn't even know this prize existed, it came as a bit of a shock this morning to see in "The Age" that Les Carlyon had been presented with the Prime Minister's Prize for Australian History for his book, The Great War. This was not an "OMG" shock, more a "what the...?"
Actually Carlyon was the joint winner of the inaugral award, sharing the $100,000 prize with David Cochrane for his book Colonial Ambition: Foundations of Australian Democracy.
[Update: it appears that blindly following the mass media is not the best course of action at times. The correct name of the joint winner of this award, as pointed out by Brian Hoepper in an attached comment, was Dr Peter Cochrane. My apologies for the error. You can find further details of the award, including the other shortlisted works at the official website.]
After a lingering illness
They lowered down
Mr. Edward Dyson,
Of literary renown.
Rhymes and tales of
The mines from he's pen,
And humorous prose,
Appealed to men.
The magic of he's art
Its influence shed,
Till advancing years
O'er the writer sped.
He's task was done,
He's busy life did close.
In he's sixties he sank
Into death's repose.
A charm to the young,
And the grey and old,
Is he's Roaring Fifties
Of the days of gold.
First published in The Bulletin, 9 September 1931
The AAP report, which was picked up by "The Age" and "The Brisbane Times", quotes winner Alexis Wright as saying "It took two years to understand how I could write (Carpentaria) and a good six years to write it with a number of early attempts thrown away". She pays tribute to her publisher, Giramondo, who took a risk with the novel when a number of major publishers had passed on the work.
The first I heard of the win last night was on ABC TV's "The 7:30 Report" when it was announced by Kerry O'Brien. This was followed by an interview with the author which you can now read, or watch.
Susan Wyndham, in "The Sydney Morning Herald", quotes judge Morag Fraser about the novel's narrator, who "is very original and very brave - a bit like creating Huckleberry Finn's voice".
Alexis Wright has been announced as the winner of the 2007 Miles Franklin Award, for her novel Carpentaria.
I actually put this decision down to me. It's the only one of the four shortlisted novels I haven't either read or started. In 2006, Roger McDonald's novel was the only one I hadn't got to. In 2005, I read all the shortlisted works and picked the winner, so I see a pattern here, even if no-one else does.
But anyway, from all reports Wright is a worthy winner. The shortlisted novels were:
Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey
Dreams of Speaking by Gail Jones
Careless by Deborah Robertson
Carpentaria by Alexis Wright
There are a number of phrases that turn up with monotonous regularity in book reviews, phrases that always make me think the reviewer hasn't thought about the book at hand to any great extent. Phrases such as "near masterpiece" or "what it means to be human" (thanks Jonathan Strahan), words such as "flawed" and "well-crafted"; they all leave me thinking I've missed something entirely in the review. But the one at present that is giving me the pip is "two-dimensional character".
What does that actually mean?
I understand it as shorthand for "flat and uninteresting": that the character changed little over the course of the novel, had little in the way of personal history, and made no compelling case for being someone the reader would be happy to meet in the street and go have a beer with.
I read this description recently in a review of Inspector Anders and the Blood Vendetta by Marshall Browne, and I was a bit peeved really. So I got to thinking about what readers actually want from their fictional characters, and what I remembered of Inspector Anders.
It's been about six months since I read the novel but I still feel as though I've got a pretty good idea about the book and the main character. Let's remember that the novel fits into what is loosely referred to as the "crime/mystery" genre. Such books, like other genre specific works, tend to be rather more plot-driven than character-centric. That's both their blessing and their curse. The good examples, the ones that stand out from the rest of the pack, tend to maintain the plot interest while also presenting good characterisation, setting, and tempo; they're the whole package in other words.
Inspector Anders, as might be hinted at by his title, works for the police, and would normally be rather humdrum with a few minor quirks to make him stand out. But Anders is different: physically he's middle-aged, balding with greying hair, with an artifical leg; he's a lover a fine food and wine; he's a lover of women with specific psychological damage - similar to his own; and he is writing a detailed biography of an ancestor of his, a well-known poet who died in a duel over a woman. We see Anders angry, depressed, afraid, in love and in lust, frustrated, happy, resigned and triumphant. All of these physical and emotional aspects (barring his hair type) have some affect on the story-line, causing branches and changes depending on how he reacts to the world around him. And none of it seems out of place. He's changed by the actions in the novel, and he changes the world by what he does.
Doesn't seem so two-dimensional to me.
Maybe the original review was pressed for space and it was a throw-away phrase. But if, as reviewers, we should be on the look-out for cliches, then surely we should not be utilising them ourselves.
On the "Crime Down Under Website", Damien reviews Matt Rubinstein's A Little Rain on Thursday, which "was the runner-up for the 2001 Australian / Vogel Award, an award for unpublished manuscripts by writers under 35 years of age, entered under the title Vellum. It is full of symbolic beauty, an insidious darkness and dangerous paranoia, but it is also slow to develop and difficult to fathom the ultimate destination."
He follows this up with a review of Peter Corris's latest Cliff Hardy novel, Appeal Denied. It appears that times are changing in the Hardy universe: "The style of Peter Corris is essentially economical with a lean, clear emphasis on the plot, allowing the mood to be relayed to us through Cliff Hardy's state of mind. It's obvious that events are beginning to take their toll on Hardy with more frequent reflection on the changes in his life and a questioning of his best way forward from here. He has always been an independent, lonely character but there is an even greater impression of a desire by him to move on...There is a marked difference in that the story is tinged with far greater emotion than you usually see from a Cliff Hardy mystery."
I'm starting to wish Damien would slow down a bit, he's starting to give the rest of us a bad name.
"The Complete Review" looks at The Biplane Houses by Les Murray, rating it a B+, "a slightly uneven mix, but much that impresses."
Philip Hensher, in "The Telegraph", is impressed with Clive James's work in his book Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time but wonders is it actually amounts to much: "I like James's evident curiosity and his cheerleading for language-learning, and how, like few people now, he leads us to some unexpected places through his readerly energy. But I wish I understood why, at the end of 876 pages of argument, what I had mostly found out was what I already knew. And most of that was about Clive James in any case."
In the same paper, David Runciman reviews Shane Warne: Portrait of a Flawed Genius by Simon Wilde, and finds that Warne had just the one strategy for cricket and for the rest of his life: "Simon Wilde's fascinating biography treats leg-spin as the key not just to Warne's celebrity but to his personality. Leg-spinners are often fragile souls, because it is such a difficult art, and the fact that you are bowling the ball slowly means if you get it wrong, you are going to get hit out of the park. Early on, Warne lacked confidence, despite his prodigious gifts. He soon learnt that the secret was not to think too hard about what could go wrong. So that he could do what came naturally, introspection was banished from all aspects of his life."
It's a slow old time down at the paper this week. No updates on the website and only one review of two Australian books. I checked last year's entries on Matilda from about this time of year and there definitely seems to be a pattern emerging, and not a good one.
Sean Gorman reviews two books about the dark side of Australian history, and finds one in touch with its subject and one rather confusing. "[Bruce] Pascoe's boldly titled Convincing Ground: Learning to Fall in Love with your Country is, to say the least, a sprawling, roller-coaster account of Victorian colonial and contemporary Australian society. It is about the people whose actions or inaction have created that society as he sees it." On the other hand, Sven Lindquist seems like an uninformed Swedish blow-in with his book Terra Nullius: A Journey though No One's Land: "Perhaps the key to the book, which is quite readable, comes at the very beginning and shows the map of Europe superimposed onto a map of Australia. It is quite intriguing to contrast the spatial and semiotic constructions of two very different land masses. But after the initial novelty one is simply left a tad confused as to what it was meant to achieve."
Kathy Hunt reviews Sorry by Gail Jones, and, for once, a reviewer is unimpressed with the work: "Technically, the main problem with Jones's writing is that there is just too much of it. She leaves no phrase unturned in her attempt to gild what is an ordinary tale...Title or apology, Sorry is a failure. Its form has been corrupted with skill and probably the best of intentions. Unfortunately, the result is what too many people think of as good writing: the book you buy but never read, the novel you can't see for the words."
I know of Queensland University Press, Melbourne University Press, and the University of Western Australia Press, but National Treasure by Michael Wilding is the first novel I've seen from Central Queensland University Press. Maybe I just haven't been paying attention. Not to be confused with the Nicholas Cage film of a few years back, this novel is more David Lodge than Dan Brown, as Christopher Bantick discovers. "Michael Wilding has form. Even a cursory glance at his prodigious backlist suggests here is a writer who is well experienced in the changes and chances of the Australian literary community. It is the posturing of writers, fleeting fame and their savage turning on one another that Wilding explores in this black comedy. But while the novel is witty and genuinely funny, there is an acerbic subtext."
Some time back we mentioned that Tim Winton's trilogy of books about Lockie Leonard, young blonde surf-rat, had been turned into a television series. Now Channel 9 in Australia will start screening the 26-part series from today. The network will broadcast three episodes a week, from Tuesday to Thursday, at 4:00pm for the next nine weeks. "The Australian" interviewed Tim Winton about the whole enterprise over the weekend.
Gail Jones was in London recently, two days before International Sorry Day, delivering an address at Australia House. Jane Cornwell from "The Australian" was there to hear what she had to say.
With the 2007 Miles Franklin Award winner due to be announced on Thursday 21st June, Jason Steger, in "The Age", looks at the prize and this year's contenders.
His conclusion: "If originality were the key to the prize, Wright might have it stitched up. Indeed, most people around the books traps seem to think she is a shoo-in. That remains to be seen. As Peter Carey has said umpteen times, literary prizes are a lottery."
Just as a reminder the shortlisted works are:
Theft by Peter Carey
Dreams of Speaking by Gail Jones
Careless by Deborah Robertson
Carpentaria by Alexis Wright
Dancing on Coral by Glenda Adams, 1987
Cover illustration by Darian Causby
(Sirius 1988 edition)
[This novel was the winner of the Miles Franklin Award in 1987.]
"The Australian" examines what it means to win a major literary prize in Australia, concentrating on the Miles Franklin and "Australian"/Vogel Awards.
Rosemary Sorenson gives a fair rundown on the past history of the awards, stopping along the way to comment on those winners who seem to have disappeared with trace: writers such as Elizabeth O'Conner who won the Miles Franklin in 1960 with The Irishman, and Christopher Matthews, Fotini Epanomitis, and Jim Sakkas who all won the Vogel only to slip from view as fast as they arrived.
Michael Heywood, of Text Publishing, has a few interesting things to say about prizes in general along with the news that his publishing house is in the process of finalising details of yet another. I keep suggesting a prize for a first novel by an author over the age of 40, but no-one listens.
The nominated works for the 2007 International Horror Guild Awards have been announced and this year two Australian authors have been featured.
The Pilo Family Circus by Will Elliott has been nominated for the Best Novel award (up against Stephen King's Lisey's Story), and Terry Dowling has been nominated twice: for "Cheat Light" in the Short Fiction category, and for Basic Black in the Collection category.
This year's awards will be presented Thursday evening, November 1, 2007 during the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, New York.
[Thanks to Horrorscope for the link.]
I'm not sure how this actually came about, though that doesn't matter so long as the final outcome lives up to expectations. It appears that a number of litbloggers (mostly US by the looks, but I wouldn't swear by that) are separately interviewing a number of Young Adult authors over the coming week. You can read the full schedule at "Chasing Ray". The Australian interviews to look out for include:
Justine Larbalestier at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy (Monday June 18)
Shaun Tan at A Fuse #8 Production (Tuesday June 19)
Sonya Hartnett at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (Tuesday June 19)
Justine Larbalestier at Big A, little a (Thursday June 21)
Justine Larbalestier at Hip Writer Mama (Friday June 22)
Don't forget that these are all US times.
It was the 140th anniversary of Henry Lawson's birth yesterday, June 17, and, to commemorate the occasion, John Wright in "The Courier-Mail" asks "who was the funniest?", Lawson or Paterson. What a strange question? Both had their moments, but is that really what makes their work important?
Peter Carey discusses his journey from the wilds of Bacchus Marsh, just outside Melbourne, to New York in an article titled "A New York Writer's Catch-22". Basically he says that he was probably fortunate in that he was nurtured in his early writing years by the Australian publishing industry, and wasn't cast aside after a couple of low-selling books, as happens to so many authors these days.
Like crinkled cream with raspberries flushed
Be food for me, bright rose, upthrust
Against my lintel. I will sing
Your loveliness when you are dust,
And when the wind forgets your
breath Rhyme shall recall it out of death.
Oh, shaven grasses, let me lie
Where your bruised blades hold Morning fast,
And the long shadow of the pine
Is like a plume across you cast!
When you in sallow hayricks lean
I shall make glory of your green.
Oh, orange lily, bend your head
And scorn me not as I go by.
Between the covers of a book
Your majesty some day shall lie!
Even the bee that thrums by me
Brings harvest to my granary.
Rose-petals that have lost their scent,
Green grass-blades clipt in summer sheaf,
The grey bibliophile some day
May take my book and turn a leaf
From dusty shelves to set you free,
Gold lily and adventurous bee!
So, though I wear a shabby coat,
And strum a lyre with rusty strings,
A thought makes flowers out of words,
And other things than bees have wings.
The green of bannered grass that dies,
Mere poets may immortalise.
First published in The Bulletin, 24 December 1925
Out Stealing Horses, by Norwegian author Per Petterson, has been announced as the 12th winner of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
The Mitchell Library in Sydney is one of the great repositories of Australiana in this country. What makes it even more remarkable is that the collection was started by one man, David Scott Mitchell. Nearing the hundredth anniversary of his death, "The Brisbane Times" profiles the man, and assesses his legacy.
Over the past few months we've mentioned, from time to time, the rather peculiar difference in review tone associated with Richard Flanagan's latest novel The Unknown Terrorist. Basically, non-Australian reviews have tended towards the very enthusiastic, while those published in Australia have been, well, rather more lethargic. You'll remember that the novel made this year's Miles Franklin Award longlist - though not the shortlist - which gave us some sort of benchmark.
And now "The Sydney Morning Herald" is reporting that Steven Spielberg's production company Dreamworks has purchased film rights to the novel. While we need to be well aware that such a transaction means nothing more than an increased income for the novelist, at this time, it does continue this dichotomy of acceptance. I must read it and find out why.
Damien finds much to admire in his review of Shane Maloney's new novel: "Sucked In is typical Shane Maloney which is to say, endlessly entertaining, wryly amusing and totally original. Murray Whelan remains one of the good guys, untainted by corruption, unscarred by cabinet brawls and ready to fight the good fight for mates and constituents alike."
"The Washington Post" has worked its way round to a review of Richard Flanagan's novel The Unknown Terrorist, which continues the interesting record of favourbale reviews overseas and not so favourable ones here: "Flanagan's tightly crafted narrative is akin to the oppressive power of Kafka's Trial, or Capote's In Cold Blood, stark realism revealing underlying sickness. His prose glitters and shrieks with spare vitality.."
Teresa looks at Careless by Deborah Robertson on her weblog "Black Marks on Wood Pulp" and, while she thought it "an excellent account of contemporary Australia", she found something unfulfilling in the book.
Sarah Weinman, proprietor of the "Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind" weblog, and crime reviewer for "The Baltimore Sun", is impressed with Peter Temple's The Broken Shore (last item): "Temple's previous efforts -- especially the Jack Irish novels -- amply illustrate why he's one of the best reasons to be thankful to Australia. But The Broken Shore takes his work to a richer, darker place, taking the conventions of crime novels and expanding them to incorporate the idiosyncrasies and unique traits of Temple's native country."
In the middle of a post about being asked to attend Adelaide's "Festival of Ideas" in July, and blog about it, Pavlov's Cat writes: "For anyone new to this blog who is bemused by the catblogging and other domestic preoccupations
indiscriminately mixed up with the posts about politics and culture and ideas, this kind of heterogeneous reportage is one of the most pronounced manifestations in the blogosphere of gender difference, and in my case at least is a deliberate if very mild bit of feminist activism. Never mind the women from Venus and the men from Mars; my equivalent book on the subject would be called Male Bloggers Compartmentalise and Female Bloggers Don't." Surely not!!
TET, "The Extraordinary Tourist", goes looking for a statue of C.J Dennis while on a road trip from Adelaide to Broken Hill. He draws a blank around Auburn (where Dennis was born) and in Mintaro (where he lived for a while) before discovering that the statue he was looking for is located further north in Laura. Actually there are two statues in the town - which I wasn't aware of when I was last there about 10 years ago: one in the main street, which you can see in the Clare Valley Heritage Trail brochure (PDF file); and the other by the town hall, a photo of which I published on this weblog last year.
The 2007 Ditmar Awards (otherwise known as the Australian Science Fiction Achievement Awards), were presented at the Australian National Science Fiction Convention, Convergence 2, over this past weekend.
The major winners were:
The Pilo Family Circus by Will Elliot, ABC Books
"The Devil in Mr Pussy (Or How I Found God Inside My Wife)" by Paul Haines, C0ck, Couer de Lion Publishing
"The Fear of White" by Rjurik Davidson, Borderlands #7
The Year's Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Vol. 2, edited by Bill Congreve & Michelle Marquardt, Mirrordanse Books
Andrew MacRae - 26Lies/1Truth cover art, Wheatland Press
Bill Congreve for Mirrordanse Books and two issues of the Year's Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy anthology.
You can see a full list of the awards here.
Chinua Achebe has been announced as the winner of the 2007 Man Booker International Prize. This prize is awarded each two years and honours a body of work rather than a single novel.
Delayed a little this week by the quaintly named "Queen's Birthday Weekend".
The book reviews from the weekend paper have finally been uploaded to the website and, wouldn't you know it, none of the Australian books reviewed get a mention. Mutter, bloody mutter!
Peter Pierce reviews two new collections of short stories, Loyalties by Laurie Clancy, and The End of the World by Paddy O'Reilly. "Clancy's stories are unflashy, well crafted (and only occasionally self-conscious, as in 'change to the present in the interests of narrative urgency'), centred in the analysis and unsentimental reckoning of middle-class life in Australia.
"Some stories seem to end a sentence short of where they might have been, but we are given throughout an intelligent account of how men earnestly and blindly justify those actions that have likely damned them and that, as an ignored consequence, have harrowed their wives and lovers.
"In an altogether different key, Paddy O'Reilly's 18 stories in The End of the World (a title apt for several of her charcaters) are often more bleak than clancy's. Their domestic discord is not -- as it usually is for him -- between husbands and wives, but within families where the father is faithless, dead, a deserter."
The Crimes of Billy Fish by Sarah Hopkins was a runner-up in the 2006 ABC Fiction Award and was considered so good that the publisher, ABC Books, decided to release it anyway. Rosemary Sorensen certainly found it rewarding, though, for a while, it was a close run thing. "A fair way into this intelligent and compelling novel, first-time writer Sarah Hopkins makes a huge decision. It's in the nature of reviews not to reveal what that decision entails, but suffice it to say it threatens to alienate the reader irrevocably...I thought it was the wrong decision and I was deeply disappointed, because until then Hopkins had impressively maintained her nerve and continued her difficult course...But then, even more impressively, she steers her way through the dangers she has created and her novel comes out the other side sounding sure, real and important."
Geoffrey Lehmann has a high opinion of Dorothy Porter's latest verse-novel: "Dorothy Porter's El Dorado is her fifth published verse novel, a form she has made her own. It is every bit the equal of The Monkey's Mask, her best-known verse novel, which has won awards and been adapted for stage, radio and film...Like The Monkey's Mask, El Dorado is a page-turner, a crime thriller counterpointed by a turbulent, yet compassionate, love relationship between two women." But it's not just the plot that drags Lehmann along, "If only more prose novelists could achieve the narrative enchantment that Porter is able to infuse into her verse novels."
Liam Davison reviews Rose Michael's debut novel, The Asking Game, which is also the first novel from the publisher Transit Lounge. "Rose Michael's debut novel, launched at the 2007 Sydney Writers Festival, is no tentative beginner's piece. I first read an earlier draft when it was commended in The Australian-Vogel Literary Award in 2002 and was impressed then by its sophisticated take on big issues and the narrative drive that came from its melding of the psychological thriller with speculative fiction...While not short on literary allusion, it had a less studied literary sensibility than many first novels by young writers. The Asking Game is a bold, ambitious work that takes risks and, for the most part, pulls them off."
"The Theatre J Blog" has announced that "Australian author Thomas Keneally and American playwright Ari Roth, the artistic director of Theatre J in Washington DC, will be coming to Melbourne to discuss Keneally's new play, Either Or."
The discussion will take place on Thursday 5 July, 7 pm, at the State Library of Victoria, Village Roadshow Theatrette. Tickets cost $25 or $18 for Victorian Writers' Centre members. In addition, the pair "will also be running a masterclass looking at script writing versus novel writing for published novelists and established theatre practitioners." That masterclass takes place on Friday 6 July, 10am-1pm at Glenfern, 417 Inkerman Road (corner Hotham Street), St Kilda East.
Matt Rubinstein's new novel, A Little Rain on Thursday, was recently published, and he is interviewed by Patrick Allington in the Adelaide "Advertiser".
The first review of the novel appeared in "Australian Book Review" in the June 2007 issue, and you can read the author's reaction to that review (positive), and a note about the book's recent launch in his blog.
I heard a few comments expressed over the weekend at the 2007 National Australian Science Fiction Convention about Shaun Tan's latest book, The Arrival - none of it derogatory. Which is hardly surprising as Shaun is well-known and well-liked within the sf community. The main thrust of the points made was that it was good to see the general literary populace appreciating books that many might normally baulk at picking up.
Similarly, Shirley Dent in "The Guardian" over the weekend is very impressed with the work, stating that "A wordless novel about an impoverished migrant's harrowing life might not seem to offer the smalls much that you want them to learn. But its lessons are rich indeed...The Arrival is a beautiful book and many of the images stand alone in their skill and exquisiteness. But it is so much more than a collection of pretty pictures. If your idea of a children's picture book is Meg and Mog (marvellous in its own way, of course) and you think a graphic novel is nothing more than a comic with ideas above its station, then prepare to think again."
As Peter Temple's The Broken Shore gains a following in the US, Elisabeth Vincentelli interviews the author for "Time Out New York". As some will know, or will find out by reading this piece, Temple was originally from South Africa, and has a very interesting way of looking at parts of Australian life:
Melbourne is a strange place, where the sensibilities of Europe meet the kind of manly, testosterone-charged Sydney atmosphere. It likes things of the mind. The winters are only enlivened by sitting in pubs arguing about politics, philosophy and football. You're not a proper intellectual there unless you can move from Kierkegaard to football in one sentence. And it's intensely tribal because Melbourne was originally divided into the territories of its football teams, and these teams are divided along class, religious and family lines.
The Great World by David Malouf, 1990
Cover illustration by David Bergen
(Chatto & Windus 1990 edition)
[This novel was the winner of the Miles Franklin Award, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Prix Fémina Etranger in 1991.]
As we gear up towards the announcement of the 2007 Miles Franklin Award winner on June 21, Alexis Wright writes about her shortlisted novel Carpentaria, in "The Australian".
From the start, I knew Carpentaria would not be a book suited to a tourist reader, someone easily satisfied by a cheap day out. I wrote most of the novel while listening to music -- I have an eclectic taste that roams around the world collecting a mixture of traditional, classical, new world, blues and country. One of my intentions was to write the novel as though it was a very long melody made of different forms of music, mixed somehow with the voices of the Gulf. The image that explains this style is that of watching an orchestra while listening to the music. Within the whole spectacle of the performance fleeting moments occur, in which your attention will focus on the sudden rise in the massiveness of the strings, horns, or percussion.
Text Publishing have released a new edition of Romulus, My Father by Raimond Gaita as the film version of the memoir is playing around town, and the author is interviewed this week by Deborah Bogle in "The Courier-Mail".
("I always take a book with me to the beach," writes an ultra-delicate correspondent of the daily Press, "and when I see ladies bathing, I begin to read. I know dozens of fellows who would not, but I always do." He always does. Of course.)
When he walks along the beaches, and a score of dainty peaches
Emerge in bathing costume from a sheltered, shady nook,
To avoid undue surprises, the direction of his eyes is
Immediately and always to the pages of his book.
And he couldn't tell the copper if their costumes were improper --
He was very busy reading, and he never had a look.
They might have been Canadian, and they might have been Arcadian,
His attention was diverted to an interesting book.
Didn't know if they were skimpy or would reach from here to Gympie,
Fitted tight or floated limply like a lily on a brook;
They were over his horizon, for he kept his earnest eyes on
The safe, monastic refuge that was offered by his book.
Strolling Tom and Dick and Harry no literature carry,
For they'd miss a lot of learning if a glance they never took.
Twenty pairs of white feet dancing, twenty sun-kissed throats entrancing
Lend a greater store of knowledge than the very wisest book.
First published in Melbourne Punch, 15 February 1912
Andrew Denton, host of the ABC TV interview show Enough Rope, has launched the Kit Denton Fellowship in honour of his late father. The $25,000 fellowship will be awarded each year to reward courage in performance writing. It's aim is to allow a writer a full year to develop their work.
Kit Denton was the author of the 1973 novel The Breaker, based on the life and death of Breaker Morant.
Convergence 2, the 46th Australian National Science Fiction Convention, starts tomorrow night (June 8th) and runs over the Queen's Birthday weekend until Monday 11th June. The convention is being held in Melbourne at the Rydges Hotel in Exhibition Street, and features Isobelle Carmody and Fred Gallagher as guests of honor.
I was listening to Romona Kaval's interview with David Malouf this morning, from ABC Radio's "The Book Show", when I heard him mention the Poetry International website; a site I hadn't previously visited. There you will find a full Malouf bibliography, a brief biography written by Michael Brennan, along with a selection of Malouf poems.
One of the selections is titled "Typewriter Music", which might act as a good introduction to the poet's latest collection.
Hot on the heels of the publication of his latest collection of poetry, Typewriter Music, the "San Francisco Chronicle" is reporting that David Malouf's The Complete Stories will be published, in July, by Pantheon.
The US publisher is an imprint of Random House, and, while there is a webpage on the Random House Australia website, no details are currently available about the book.
Dan Chaisson surveys Les Murray's poetry in "The New Yorker", dipping into Fredy Neptune and The Biplane House along the way.
Poetry goes to the backwater to refresh itself as often as it goes to the mainstream, a fact that partly explains the appeal of Les Murray, the celebrated "bush bard" of Bunyah, New South Wales, Australia. The son of a poor farmer, Murray, who was not schooled formally until he was nine, is now routinely mentioned among the three or four leading English-language poets. Because in Murray's poetry you learn, for example, that there exists such a thing as the "creamy shitwood tree," he has been mistaken for a neutral cartographer of far-flung places. But the key to Murray, what makes him so exasperating to read one minute and thrilling the next, is not landscape but rage.
In what strikes me as a strange, but very welcome, occurrence, The Cambridge History of English and American Literature appears to have been made available on the web. From an Australian and New Zealand perspective, "Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two. Chapter XII" is the one to look for. There you will find introductions to the works of Charles Harpur, Henry Kendall, Adam Lindsay Gordon, James Brunton Stephens, Henry Kingsley and William Howitt; Marcus Clarke; "Rolf Boldrewood", and Historians.
Penni Russon, author of Undine, and curator of the "Eglantine's Cake" weblog, comments on a rather harsh review her novel has received on the Amazon site. This is normally not a good thing to do, but Russon looks at the review objectively and comes to some quite reasonable conclusions about it.
And from the other side of the equation, Pavlov's Cat writes about reactions she has received to reviews she has written. As PC puts it, authors cannot take reviews personally. The aim of any reviewer is, or should be, to examine the book not the author. If a personal attack is involved (such as the classic case from Europe earlier this year where a critic wrote a scathing review of a novel that hadn't even been published purely because he had "issues" with the author) then you've still got to keep quiet. In PC's case I'm sure there was nothing personal in the review. She either thought the book was well-written and successful, or not. Russon's critique of her review wasn't based on a personal attack either, but on the woolly-headed thought behind the review. She is disappointed the reviewer didn't understand what she was trying to do in her novel, and who wanted to read a book she basically didn't write. She handled the approach perfectly.
Each year, since 1997, "The Sydney Morning Herald" has published a list of young Australian writers it considers to be going places. The Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelists 2007 have now been announced as Danielle Wood, Will Elliott, and Tara June Winch. The piece gives a background to each author, judges' comments, and a list of previous winners.
[Thanks to Damien at the "Crime Down Under" weblog for the link.]
Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, 1991
(Picador 1991 edition)
Cover illustration by David Bergen
[This novel was the winner of the 1992 Miles Franklin Award.]
["The Age" book review webpages are now available.]
It's been close to twenty-five years between publications of David Malouf's poetry, so any new collection is going to be of more than usual interest. Luke Davies certainly thinks so as he reviews Typewriter Music from UQP: "A certain ease and grace infuse and define Typewriter Music. It is not a poetry of urgency or angst. That seems entirely appropriate, for I suppose what I really mean by that is that ity is not a young man's poetry. Instead, there is the sense of a master craftsman making simple objects...Malouf swings easefully between the eternal and the immediate, between the divine and the painfully human, but the thread that carries through is an embracing acceptance of the world as it is, of the passage of time, and even, at times of the passing of love...Typewriter Music sees a poet at the height of his powers paying attention -- to the world outside, the world within, and to his craft. It is a long time between drinks, yes. But the harvest is a good one, and the wine, though delicate, lingers on the palate." Which is probably about as good a review of Australian poetry, in an Australian mainstream newspaper, that you're ever likely to see. I don't remember Les Murray's last collection receiving that much praise.
Thuy On looks at two new Australian novels by first-time novelists, Nights in the Asylum by Carol Lefevre, and The Asking Game by Rose Michael. Both novels involve an "flight" from Sydney into a small town out west, though Lefevre's concerns asylum seekers and women fleeing circumstances, while Michael's novel is set in the year 2024 and involves a shadowy cult. Of Nights: "The lives of these asylum-seekers intertwine in this unlikely oasis, their relationships becoming increasingly tangled and knotty as the outside world threatens to intrude. An omnipresent third-person narrator flits back and forth in time and reveals each character's background, happily informed by Lefevre's crisp, clear prose." And "The Asking Game is a teaser of a novel: it does ask a lot of questions but answers them only ever so slowly, though Michael provides plenty of clues along the way."
Aphelion by Emily Ballou is a big, Australian novel by a writer who moved to this country from the US in the early 1990s. It's a touch over 500 pages and Geordie Williamson invokes Flaubert and Madame Bovary in her review of the book. To be fair it's mainly about the birds that fly over Flaubert's heroine as she heads towards her end. "There are also birds in Emily Ballou's second novel: flocks of galahs and cockatoos, rafts of ducks, flights of swallows. But they serve a different purpose from those in Bovary. Instead of letting them fly, the author captures and holds them in a narrative net. There, they are set to work as plot devices, omens, symbols and psychopomps, mediators between the characters' interior states and the external world through which they move. The fancy name for this sort of thing is the anthropomorphic fallacy, and its presence here is part of a larger problem with what is an often beautiful novel, large in scope and ambition, and written in a heightened poetic style that, at its best, ennobles the mundane heartbreaks of its cast."
Kerryn Goldsworthy is back with us this week, after being cruelly truncated a few weeks back, this time with a review of Feather Man by Rhyll McMaster. "This novel is essentially a Bildungsroman, in which a young person grows up and learns about the ways of the world, but here it's enlivened by a genuine mystery, a slender but powerful narrative thread working away deep in the background of the story...That thread is pulled tight at the end, where the hero-turned-villain gets his comeuppance and all the story's chickens come home to roost. It's a masterstroke reminiscent of Jacobean revenge tragedy at its nastiest and most relentless...Feather Man is not a pleasant or reassuring book, but it's written with great confidence and lyrical intensity, and most Australian readers will recognise in its pages something of their own time and place."
Bernard Lane also attempts to tackle Malouf's new poetry collection Typewriter Music, quoting much more heavily from the book than the review in "The Age". "Angels, an attic room in a northern winter, subtropical salt on the flesh and breath that's poured, across continents and time, into a lover's mouth; these are signatures of David Malouf's poetry, instantly recognisable proofs of him at work although it has been 26 years since he last published a slim volume." Unfortunately the review only skirts around the edges of the volume, not coming to grips with it completely. Maybe the pre-defined length is this review's shortcoming.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Andrew Reimer on Typewriter Music by David Malouf: "Malouf's diction rarely departs from the cadences of ordinary speech - civilised and urbane speech, it is true, but speech nevertheless. The tone is by turns gently ironic and melancholy. Once or twice darker notes are sounded, yet even the intimations of mortality that cast their shadows over several of these poems are restrained, generally understated."
Sue Turnbull on The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham: "The Night Ferry is a big and complex crime novel. It is certainly an entertainment though it is hardly just that. It takes us deep into a set of humanitarian concerns by making us care about the characters involved. It is also deeply moving."
Kate Holden on The Scandal of the Season by Sophie Gee: "Gee's novel is an artful depiction of a high moment in British aristocratic artificiality, when not only corruption and heavy costumes were the order of the day but also high-stakes financial speculation, religious subterfuge and a degree of bitchiness that would turn hair as white as a powdered wig; when everyone in society had something to show and something to hide."
Will Self puts the case, in "The Guardian", for Australia's Nick Cave to be considered as one of the greatest writers on love of our times:
Cave, as a poetic craftsman, provides all the enjambment, ellipsis and onomatopoeia that anyone could wish for. A word on eroticism and the dreadful dolour of knowing not only that all passion is spent - but also that you're overdrawn. If Cave were to be typified as a lyricist of blood, guts and angst, it would be a grave mistake. He stands as one of the great writers on love of our era. Each Cave love song is at once perfumed with yearning, and already stinks of the putrefying loss to come. For Cave, consummation is always exactly that.
Nick Cave: The Complete Lyrics is recently published by Penguin.
The handle of my tardy pen is made of the wood of trees,
And I know the way that their boughs will rock in the lap of the lazy breeze,
Till blossom and leaf are half-asleep and the sceptre is the Sun's,
And every river and every road to the Land of the Dreamer runs.
The nib of my pen is made of steel, and out of the jealous earth
The ore was freed by the miner's pick, to make for a later birth;
And I think of the brown and naked arms and the strong stroke cleanly sent
Across the vein of an ironstone rock in the heart of a continent.
And the thought of the freed, the potent, things must bring ever an ache for you,
As the gleam of a stretch of shadowy grass with a sun-splash breaking through
Will beat at the door of my restless mind, and carry my will away
From all that I somehow fail to write, to all that I fain would say.
If you brought me a quill of a dottrel's wing, a sheet of the ti-tree bark,
A vine leaf filled with the brimming juice where the vines hang stripped and stark,
The things would cry of the green wood gods that are yet unspoiled by men,
I might tell you all that you wait to hear, in the dip of that fairy pen!
First published in The Bulletin, 7 March 1918
A couple of weeks back Dean, of the "Happy Antipodean" weblog, had this to say in a comment about a poem that I had transcribed here:
Perry, why do you persist in transcribing the irrelevant effusions of second-rate versifiers just because they're Australian? Are you so tightly wrapped in the flag?It's a decent enough question, but one I didn't attempt to answer at the time. I covered the second part by stating that the major aim of this weblog is to cover Australian literature in all its forms. If that gave the impression that I was exhibiting any form of rampant nationalism then that was unfortunate. It was only a secondary by-product and not the main aim.
I did, however, get to thinking about Dean's original comment and wondered if he might have a point after all. I have come to the conclusion that he does, that a lot of the poems I transcribe here are of only minor interest and are mainly second-rate at best. But you know what? I don't really care. They are of interest to me, and that's the best guide I can think of.
A couple of times over the past year I have made some minor asides about the need for all readers to think of their literary input as a form of diet, nourishment for the soul if you like. All the nutritional literature will tell you that a balanced diet is what you should aim for, in any one day sampling across all the basic food groups. It's okay to dip deeply into stuff that isn't overly good for you occasionally. Trouble arises when that's all you do.
I tend to think that reading works exactly in the same way. We need to read across all literary forms and genres, fiction and non-fiction, to get a decent dietary spread. "Binge-reading" in one grenre or another is okay for a while - just remember to come up for air once in a while.
And what this means is that, at times, you're going to read crap. Sturgeon's Law tells us that 90% of everything is trash. It doesn't matter what the subject is, the law applies equally. There really isn't any avoiding it, unless, of course, you're got a really good built-in trash filter. You might have, I don't. And again it's not something that bothers me.
I have a particular liking for Australian poetry from period of about 1850 to the start of the Second World War. It probably comes from a lack of understanding of modern poetry on the one hand, and a sense that a poem should say something to me on the other. Some of the work that falls into this period will fit under the genre name of "Bush Ballads". Unfortunately, a lot of people think it all should fall under that heading, thereby condemning it to the trash bucket without proper consideration. But again, it all comes back to a balanced diet. I do read some modern poets - not a lot it must be said but some. I particularly like Dorothy Porter's work and can generally find something in poems of Les Murray and, sometimes, David Malouf. But it's to the late 19th and early 20th century that I keep returning.
I started transcribing poems for this weblog when I began it back in December 2004. I believed then, as I still do, that there was a vast amount of work published during the period which had never, or rarely, seen the light of day after first publication. I thought that a pity.
The poems that appear on Matilda are selected using several criteria, the most important of which being that I need to find something of interest in the work. How others see them is not something I can determine. But I'm going to keep transcribing the works for as long as I can find pieces I'm interested in.
Some of them will be good, and some rather trashy. But that's just the nature of the beast.