January 2008 Archives

A Classic Year: 4.0 His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke

term_natural_life.jpgFor the Term of His Natural Life Marcus Clarke 1872

Well, it didn't take long to fall off the treadmill of this reading challenge. By the end of the first month I'm now a week behind, having only just started this novel when I really should be finishing. I put it down to the weather and five days in Tasmania, and now some health problems in the family have distracted me. The one saving grace is that the next few works in the Challenge are either short stories or poems, giving me the chance to catch up.

The first question that arises with this novel is: what's with the title? Gleeson-White refers to it as His Natural Life and yet my copy (cover reproduced above) has it as For the Term of His Natural Life. Frankly, this second title is the one that I've always known the book by, and it's the one that I prefer. A check on Austlit shows the note that this book has appeared in at least 15 different versions. As well as the two titles mentioned, one edition out of the UK was published with the title Men in Chains, which sounds rather risque. With so many variations about it's little wonder that the book's title should differ from time to time.

First serialised in "The Australian Journal" in 27 monthly instalments from March 1870 to June 1872 (except for November 1871), the novel was first published in one volume, by George Robertson, in 1874 in Melbourne. A year later it appeared in London in three volumes with some "stylistic alterations and revisions from in-house editing", according to Austlit. Read into that what you will. From then on, it has been almost continually in print in Australia, and has been published in New York, by Harper and Brothers; in the UK again in 1952 from Oxford University Press; in a Chinese edition in 1985; and serialised in a number of newspapers in Australia.

The novel tells the story of Richard Devine, alias Rufus Dawes, who is falsely accused of robbery and transported as a convict from England to Australia; firstly to Macquarie Harbour, and then to Port Arthur and Norfolk Island. Clarke's work has been described as one of the most significant and most famous nineteenth-century Australian novels.

Photo of Marcus Clarke
Founders of our Literature: Marcus Clarke
The Cambridge History of English and American Literature entry
Australian Dictionary of Bibliography entry
Full-text PDF ebook
Project Gutenberg text

Estelle Pinney Profile

Estelle Pinney, author of 4 previous novels, is profiled by Lou Robson in "The Courier Mail" as her fifth, Burnt Sunshine, is about to be published by Penguin.

As a 38-year-old divorcee selling cosmetics at David Jones, she decided she wanted another career change -- to be a writer. She joined a writers' group, which would later become the Fellowship of Australian Writers, and surrounded herself with authors. "I wanted to write the great Australian novel and needed a suitable subject," she said. "I decided Frank Jardine was worth researching and set about to do just that." In 1864 the explorer Frank Jardine and his brother Alexander had travelled from Rockhampton to Somerset, north of Bamaga on Cape York. Jardine completed the 1930km journey with a reputation as a tyrant and killer who reportedly shot more than 100 Aborigines. He later married a Samoan princess and went on to become Somerset police magistrate, before dying of leprosy in 1919.
If marrying a Samoan princess wasn't enough, surely the death from leprosy tops it all.

2008 Australian Honors List

I didn't go through the list of Australian Honors recipients this Australia Day, but David Marr did, and he's not happy. The list honors "42 researchers, half of them medical, another dozen or so medicos, a dozen or so bureaucrats and 37 sports folk", but not a lot from the literature field.

There isn't a novelist on the 2008 list. This year the nation could have tackled the backlog of great writers unhonoured by Yarralumla. But Helen Garner, Peter Carey, Shirley Hazzard, Alex Miller, Kate Grenville and Tim Winton -- among many others -- have still to be recognised by the nation for their services to literature. Republicans among them may feel now is not the time to accept such honours, but clearly the business of writing isn't high on the list of achievements officially blessed in today's Australia.
The best I could find was Louise Adler - publisher of Melbourne University Publishing.

Peter Carey Has a Day Off

Writing in "The Financial Times", Peter Carey describes a day in his life, a day without writing. He calls it a
holiday.

Today, on this New York morning, lying in bed, listening to the shower -- today I will permit myself to take a holiday from writing. I will freely and happily give February and March to publicity for my novel His Illegal Self. The next novel, the so-called work-in-progress, can be set aside. Instead I will dine with journalists. I will tour Britain, the US and Australia and I will not resent publicity. I will not write. And I will be very pleased.
Later in the day he gets his website up and running, only to find he's ranked by Google at "the back of the bus, on page eight, the 85th Peter Carey site." But he's worried that "Apart from the estate agent in San Diego, all these Peter Careys appear to be me, they have my birth date and have written my books. In the past I was careless of them. They bred like rabbits. I was never ever so vulgar as to Google my own name, though I was pleased to hear that they were there but now I see they are clearly arrayed against me." Not at all Peter. My "Peter Carey" website ranks second purely due to its longevity I suspect. I'd be quite happy to change places, so long as I stayed on the first page, as I never intended that webpage to subsume your author identity. I notice, today, that Carey's official website has moved up to 14th on the Google list: 14 with a bullet. Won't be long before it hits number 1 I suspect.

"Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz Go to War Again" by Garth Nix

In response to my listing of the 2007 Aurealis Award winners the other day, Walt Boyes, Associate Editor and Marketing Director of "Jim Baen's Universe" magazine, wrote in to announvce that the magazine had decided to open up online access to Gath Nix's award winning story "Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz Go to War Again". This is an excellent gesture and the magazine's editors and publisher should be applauded for it. I thought it best to post about it here rather than allowing it to get lost in the comments. If you don't read much, or any, science fiction or fantasy, now's the time to try out the genre for free.

Miles Franklin Was Big in the Early 1900s

You may have read about the new Amazon ebook reader, the Kindle, when it was released a few months back. Now the folks at Amazon have started a blog devoted to works available for the Kindle - which seems natural enough. Their latest entry reprints a list of ten bestsellers from the decade 1900-1910 first compiled by Nancy Pearl, author of the Book Lust and More Book Lust reading guides.

Amongst that august bestseller list is My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin. Needless to say, this is now available for ebook purchase. [Just as an aside, I always thought decades started with the "1" year, ie 1901-1910. But maybe I'm just picking nits again.]

Australian Plays to Film #8 - Dimboola

dimboola.jpg

Dimboola 1979
Directed by John Duigan
Screenplay by Jack Hibberd from the play by John Power
Featuring Bruce Spence, Natalie Bate, Max Gillies and Bill Garner.

Weekend Round-Up 2008 #1

The Age

James Ley hedges his bets somewhat in his review of Peter Carey's His Illegal Self: "Carey is not particularly interested (a la Philip Roth) in the destructive passions that politics can unleash but the novel does set out a pointed contrast between the countercultures of Australia and the US...His Illegal Self is concerned with loss of innocence but also with the painstaking creation of personal trust...[the novel] is a sad story but it has a warmth and directness, an earthy poignancy, that one does not immediately associate with Carey's boisterously inventive fiction...[it] might be a relatively straightforward and understated tale by Carey's usual standards but it is a fine novel."

The Australian

Liam Davison differs from Ley in that he sees echoes of Carey's past work in the current novel: "The premise of His Illegal Self (that the privileged son of a radical American student revolutionary should wash up in Australia, effectively kidnapped by the woman who loves him) and the narrative choices Carey makes deliberately position the viewpoint to present Australia as it is seen from elsewhere. Carey has lived in New York for 17 years. His novels to date, though, have been unashamedly Australian. If the US presence has surfaced more noticeably in his later works, it has always been filtered through an endearingly irreverent, larrikin Australian perspective. Now, it's as though Carey has reversed the viewfinder, and what we see is not entirely flattering...Carey is not returning to his past with this novel. He has never left it. Despite his trademark ventriloquism, there is a remarkable consistency about Carey's work: lies, deception, fakery; the moral consequences of ambiguous truths. All the hallmarks are here." This work is a "natural development" according to Davison.

Barry Hill on The Best Australian Poetry 2007 edited by John Tranter, and The Best Australian Poems 2007 edited by Peter Rose: "These two books are the annual evidence of the health of Australian poetry. Mainstream publishers have dropped the ball but a lot of poetry is put out by smaller presses, the literary journals and a few newspapers. Since the anthologies crop from the journals and newspapers, they can't help but bag good writing and it is not surprising that a handful of our best poets shine in both: the familiar names, for instance, of Robert Adamson, Pam Brown, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Clive James, John Kinsella and Les Murray, plus newer poets building strong reputations, such as Brendan Ryan, Michael Farrell, David McCooey and Jennifer Harrison."

Michael Wilding finds that Vinyl Inside by Rachel Matthews, has something missing at its heart: "To leave out the world of ideas and belief is to present an impoverished account of reality. For all its merits, Vinyl Inside is somewhat two-dimensional. It is like the scenario for a film yet to be realised."

The Sydney Morning Herald

Robert Dessaix reviews The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks and finds that "there is something peculiarly American about this novel, for all the colourful Australian expressions squeezed into it. It comes not just from the religion and violence but from the sense of people constantly acting out redemption rituals for the approval of God or, if He's not looking, a mass of spectators whose job is to sit, be moved and applaud. Towards the end the pace becomes frenetic, as if the saga had mistaken itself for a crime thriller."

2008 Writers at the Convent

Previously "Writers at Como", this February's major literary gathering in Melbourne will be held at the Abbotsford Convent over the weekend of February 15 - 17. Full details of the
program can be found at the website. The list of confirmed writers includes: Stephanie Alexander, Kaz Cooke, Peter Doherty, Kathryn Fox, Morag Fraser, David Marr, Shaun Micallef, Jason Steger, and Chris Womersley, amongst many others.

Adib Khan on the Ubud Literary Festival

Adib Khan, author of Spiral Road, published in 2007 by HarperCollins, writes of his experiences at the Ubud Literary Festival in Bali for "The Daily Star".

Swimming, sampling Balinese cuisine, sight-seeing and shopping, the first few days were truly blissful. But it was all too good to be true. The migrant syndrome caught up with me. Ian Britten, who was born in India, chaired my next session on the meaning of home. I always struggle with the topic. Embedded deep in the recesses of memory, there are houses and segments of my life in Purana Paltan, Khawja Divan, Rankin Street, Tejgaon, Minto Road, Maghbazaar, Shantinagar, Hathkhola, Wari and Dhanmondi. We were nomads, moving every few years from one rented accommodation to another until my parents were able to afford their own house. And now, after all these years, I am still not settled in one place. My wife and I live in Ballarat for the first few days of the week and then we spend some quality time living in Melbourne, a city we both love for its ambience and cultural diversity. Home has a multiplicity of meaning. 'I am a part of all that I have met,' says Tennyson's Ulysses. It sums me up. On the same panel was Kiran Desai. It was interesting to hear about her twin existence in New York and New Delhi. Will she ever settle in one place? Some day, maybe ... Place polygamy ensures that migrants are lost souls, not only drifting between the past and present, but often between cities. We are restless creatures, never quite content with where we are.

I think we managed to confuse some in the audience that day.

Which is just as it should be - better an audience leaves a literary festival session confused but interested, rather than entertained but uninvolved.

C.J. Dennis Examined

On the "BookStove" weblog, Barry Carozzi digs into CJ Dennis's poem "The Play", which forms a chapter of his verse novel The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke. In the process he breaks down the first two stanzas of the poem to examine the rhyming beats, and discovers that Dennis didn't use iambic pentameter: "C J Dennis introduces a variation: the fourth line in the stanza has only two beats or feet. The rhyming pattern is AABBCC. There's probably a name for this metre, but I've not been able to locate it, so I'm calling it The Larrikin Metre or The CJ Dennis form."

I wonder if Dennis knew that. He probably did. He may not have been able to articulate it in exactly this manner, but he knew the rules and how and when to break them. "The Play" is one of my all-time favourites. My daughter is studying Romeo and Juliet at school this year but I doubt she'll see the same things in this poem that I do - if she ever gets round to reading it, which I also doubt.

Clive James Watch #2

Review of Cultural Amnesia

On the "illiterarty.com" weblog, Bridget is very taken with the book: "Probably the best thing I can say about Cultural Amnesia is that it covers a thousand topics, many of formidable intellectual density, and yet, at a prose level it is never less than intensely, immediately readable. The author demonstrates on every page that the latter is the result of the former. James is extremely intelligent and formidably self educated -- he can read in six languages, for a start -- and his measured wisdom is apparent on every page. However, as a child of, and internal participant in, the television age, he is also wholly aware of that the medium is the message. Here, the medium is a great big thick book full of interesting ideas from and concerning intriguing people, written in a style which allows ingress to almost any reader, and presupposes nothing more than a common desire for enlightenment. And it's really good fun."

Interviews by Clive James

Now that Michael Parkinson has hung up the microphone we are left with very few, if any, intelligent conversationalists on television. In Australia we are lucky enough to have Andrew Denton, who appears to have found the perfect niche for himself with his program "Enough Rope". But what about the UK? In "The Independent" Mary
Kenny wonders the same thing: "But you very seldom get, on contemporary talk shows, seriously good conversation or a genuinely gifted raconteur. It may be a mistake even to look for high-flown conversation. Clive James, who hosted
chat shows during the 1980s and '90s, tried time and again to bring together a group of people who would be brilliant at conversational discourse: he had some success, and he himself was no slouch as the egotistical TV host. But he ran out of steam -- and of commissions. The TV bosses informed him, as the century neared its end, that brilliant talk was not what the public wanted."

Just when we thought James had given up the idea of interviewing comes the following note: "An early highlight of this week's Sundance Film Festival, Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired is a riveting and expertly researched documentary about the 1977 court case in which the director was convicted of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor...Bookended by a candid BBC interview between Polanski and Clive James, the film not only dispels many myths about Polanski's flight but could well be the galvanizing key to his return to US soil -- should he so wish."

Garry Disher Profile

Lucinda Schmidt profiles Garry Disher in "The Sydney Morning Herald" (and also in "The Age").

In 2008, Garry Disher will celebrate 20 years as a full-time author but he still describes his career as a work in progress.

"You become a writer and that can take years," says the quietly spoken Disher, 57, who is one of Australia's top crime writers. "I still feel I'm undertaking an apprenticeship in some ways. I'm a bit restless, always wanting to improve."

Winning the 2007 Ned Kelly award for best crime novel (for Chain of Evidence) was a big confidence booster for Disher and he is now working on a follow-up tentatively titled Blood Moon.

I'm not sure if this is the Wyatt novel due to be published by Text later this year or a new Challis/Destry book.

[Thanks to Sarah Weinman for the link.]

Famous Dead Authors

In a piece titled "They're All Write, Mate" in "The Courier Mail", Alexander McRobbie - for Australia Day - gives a brief overview of "major Australian writers prominent in the 20th century before becoming members of the Society of Dead Authors -- rarely a keenly anticipated honour."

Authors mentioned: Alan Yates (aka Carter Brown), Thea Astley, Charmian Clift, George Johnston, Alan Marshall, Eleanor Dark, Alfred Jackson (Xavier Herbert), Arthur Upfield, Ernestine Hill, Pamela Travers, May Gibbs, Norman Lindsay, Joan Lindsay, D'Arcy Niland, John O'Grady, Kylie Tennant, Christina Stead, Miles Franklin, Patrick White, and Ion Idriess.

2007 Aurealis Award Winners

The winners of the 2007 Aurealis Awards were announced at a ceremony in Brisbane on Saturday 26th January. These awards honour the best Australian fiction in a number of sf and fantasy categories, and are decided by a committee of judges appointed in each category.

Best Science Fiction Novel
David Kowalski, The Company of the Dead, Pan Macmillan

Best Science Fiction Short Story
Cat Sparks, "Hollywood Roadkill", On Spec, #69

Best Fantasy Novel
Lian Hearn, Heaven's Net is Wide, Tales of the Otori The First Book, Hachette Livre

Best Fantasy Short Story
Garth Nix, "Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz go to War Again", Jim Baen's Universe, April 2007

Best Horror Novel
Susan Parisi, Blood of Dreams, Penguin Group (Australia)

Best Horror Short Story
Anna Tambour, "The Jeweller of Second-Hand Roe", Subterranean, #7

Best Young Adult Novel
Anthony Eaton, Skyfall, UQP

Best Young Adult Short Story
Deborah Biancotti, "A Scar for Leida", Fantastic Wonder Stories, Ticonderoga Publications

Best Children's (8-12 years) Long Fiction
Kate Forsyth, The Silver Horse, The Chain of Charms 2, Pan Macmillan
Kate Forsyth, The Herb of Grace, The Chain of Charms 3, Pan Macmillan
Kate Forsyth, The Cat's Eye Shell, The Chain of Charms 4, Pan Macmillan
Kate Forsyth, The Lightning Bolt, The Chain of Charms 5, Pan Macmillan
Kate Forsyth, The Butterfly in Amber, The Chain of Charms 6, Pan Macmillan [The judges considered this series as one work.]

Best Children's (8-12 years) Short Fiction (tie)
Marc McBride, World of Monsters, Scholastic Australia and
Briony Stewart, Kumiko and the Dragon, UQP

Peter McNamara Convenors' Award for Excellence
Terry Dowling, Rynemonn, Coeur de Lion Publications

Golden Aurealis
Novel: David Kowalski, The Company of the Dead, Pan Macmillan
Short Story: Cat Sparks, "Hollywood Roadkill", On Spec, #69

Toni Jordan Profile

With her debut novel, Addition, due out from Text Publishing with the next fortnight, Toni Jordan is interviewed by Fiona Gruber in "The Sydney Morning Herald". (Be aware though, especially if you are an aspiring author, that Jordan's story of her success might just evince feelings of overwhelming jealousy).

She had absolutely no pretensions as a novelist, she continues, coming from a background where "it seems so self-indulgent [to imagine] that anyone should be interested in the ramblings of your head". She claims to be devoid of all creativity except a modest amount of literary skill. Yet her debut novel Addition, a witty and sexy romp about a woman obsessed with numbers and a hunky stranger, is due out with much fanfare in Australia next month and has been sold in nine countries.
Then again, her innate sense of enjoyment in the whole process tends to disarm any bad feelings you might have about her.

Australian Bookcovers #99 - 30 Days in Sydney by Peter Carey

30dayssydney.jpg

30 Days in Sydney by Peter Carey, 2001
(Bloomsbury 2001 edition)
Cover photograph by Martyn Rose

Matilda Waltzes

I'm off interstate with the family later today and won't be back on deck till Monday 28th January. Postings will be non-existent till then or Tuesday 29th. Avagoodweegend!

A Classic Year: 3.1 "The Sick Stockrider" by Adam Lindsay Gordon

Just a last few notes on the poem to finish off. The piece was originally published in "Colonial Monthly" in January 1870 with the same basic text as here. The only differences being in punctuation and the spacing of the verses. There is an interesting reference to a bushranger in the poem - "Aye! we had a glorious gallop after "Starlight" and his gang,/When they bolted from Sylvester's on the flat;" - which takes us back to Robbery Under Arms by Rolf Boldrewood where the main bushranger was also called Starlight. Whether there is a connection is impossible to say. But it is curious just the same.

A film version of this poem was produced in 1913: black and white, silent, and only running 19 minutes.

The next four works in this Classic Year:
4. His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke (1872)
5. "The Chosen Vessel" by Barbara Baynton (1896)
6. "The Man from Snowy River" by A.B. "Banjo" Paterson (1890)
7. "Nationality" by Mary Gilmore (1942)

Geraldine Brooks Watch #1

Geraldine Brooks has just published her new novel, People of the Book - her first since her 2005 novel March won the Pulitzer Prize. Naturally she is receiving a lot of attention. To provide some background on the novel here is the blurb from the publisher's page.

"When Hanna Heath gets a call in the middle of the night in her Sydney home about a precious medieval manuscript which has been recovered from the smouldering ruins of war-torn Sarajevo, she knows she is on the brink of the experience of a lifetime. A renowned book conservator, she must now make her way to Bosnia to start work on restoring The Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish prayer book -- to discover its secrets and piece together the story of its miraculous survival. But the trip will also set in motion a series of events that threaten to rock Hanna's orderly life, including her encounter with Ozren Karamen, the young librarian who risked his life to save the book.

"As meticulously researched as all of Brooks' previous work, People of the Book is a gripping and moving novel about war, art, love and survival."

Clare McHugh, in "The New York Sun", does compare the novel to The Da Vinci Code, as seems inevitable, and finds it much more enjoyable. "In reality, People of the Book is of much more substance than Dan Brown's overwrought, silly, and ultimately distasteful thriller could ever hope to be -- yet Ms. Brooks's work is just as entertaining. She has accomplished something remarkable, fashioning a story that is compelling and eminently readable, even as she maintains high intentions and an earnest purpose."

In "The Guardian", Ursula Le Guin isn't quite so enthusiastic: "Her performance will satisfy many readers. The tale is full of complex twists and turns, with even a bit of mystery plot towards the end; there's sex, a rather tenuous love story and the obligatory descriptions of acts of violence...The story sprawls, but it is all firmly planned and plotted -- possibly too firmly...Full of action but with no leavening of humour, no psychological revelations, no vivid language to focus
description, the chapters grind on. Most unhappily for a historical novel, there is little sensitivity to the local colour of thought and emotion, that openness to human difference which brings the past alive."

"Publisher's Weekly" concludes: "Brooks is too good a novelist to belabor her political messages, but her depiction of the Haggadah bringing together Jews, Christians and Muslims could not be more timely. Her gift for storytelling, happily, is timeless."

Janet Maslin in "The New York Times" finds that "the intense bibliographic appeal of People of the Book turns out to be a mixed blessing. It lands Ms. Brooks neck-deep in research. It overburdens her tale in ways that make it more admirable than gripping."

And finally, Ami Sands Brodoff, in "The Globe and Mail" considers it an "epic": "'Haggadah' stems from the Hebrew root hgd, 'to tell,' and the rescue and preservation of the Sarajevo Haggadah dramatized in People of the Book brings home with fearsome clarity how inextricably linked are words and human life: the people who created the book, owned it and later rescued and preserved it endured pogroms, the Inquisition, exile, genocide and war."

Sean Lindsay on The Great Australian Novel

Sean Lindsay, proprietor of the "101 Reasons to Stop Writing Weblog", is interviewed by the good people on the Jossip website. Sean has some interesting things to say about The Great Australian Novel (caps compulsory). It doesn't start out that way, but bear with it:

What's the deal with the great American novel? Why does everyone want to write it?

When people talk of the "Great American Novel", what they mean in more concrete terms is "The Book Everyone Reads". Every writer dreams of writing the book that is foisted on every teenager in high school English class, and the guaranteed sales, frequent movie adaptations and honorary doctorates that come with it.

There's no consensus on what constitutes the Great American Novel, which leads some writers with Ozymandian egos to think they're going to write it. You never hear debate over the Great Russian Novel, because it's War and Peace. The only discussion about the Great English Novel is which Dickens novel it is. There is zero discussion over the Great Australian Novel, because there are no great Australian novels.

It's also because of Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, which would certainly be on the shortlist for the Great American Novel if such a list existed. Lee is a perfect example of a writer who did the honourable thing after producing her masterpiece -- she stopped writing. She didn't whittle away her reputation on increasingly erratic minor novels and getting into fistfights with other ageing writers. But she's also a terrible counterexample: her best work was her debut, providing a convenient exception to the rule that you have to 'hone' your writing talent over years and hundreds of thousands of words. Now all aspiring Great American Novelists cling to the Harper Lee Fantasy that they will magically produce a masterwork, when they eventually get around to writing. It's the literary equivalent of aspiring to win the lottery.

Australian Bookcovers #98 - Collected Stories by Peter Carey

collectedstories.jpg

Collected Stories by Peter Carey, 1994
(UQP 1994 edition)
Cover illustration by Michael Ward

Peter Carey Profile

Peter Carey, who has a new novel titled His Illegal Self out next month, is profiled in "The Guardian" by Nicolas Wroe.

In His Illegal Self there are mentions of both Jack London's White Fang and Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, but he "didn't officially get" Huck Finn until he heard Garrison Keillor read it on tape. "It can come over quite corny on the page, but Keillor's is a lovely performance that gets through all that and actually unlocked something for me, which is a real gift. It would have been a shame to go through life not getting Huck Finn."

And this ad-hoc negotiation between cultures seems to have been the guiding spirit of his career. Although he set out on this latest novel with the new approach of his vision of the woman and a boy, he says that, in hindsight, "all my books somehow come back to the colonial situation of one country and another country. It is true of Illywhacker, of Oscar and Lucinda and Jack Maggs. Tristan Smith is absolutely about that and so is The Kelly Gang, which throws in Ireland as well."

How to Get Children to Read

Some 10 days old now, but still relevant, is this piece by Agnes Nieuwenhuizen in "The Age", which poses the question "How do we help our young enjoy reading?"

I'm actually amused when the question comes up about how much reading people's children do. Generally you find out the kids aren't doing a lot. I then ask "Do you read read much?", to which the answer is, again, "no". My kids live in a house that has books all over the place, generally fairly well shelved, but they are in most rooms. So our kids see them all the time, on shelves on tables, being read and handed around. They are part of the life of our house, and, so, they have become part of the life of our kids as well.

My 15 year-old daughter reads about a book a day over the holidays and is moving through that transition period between young adult and adult fiction - our local library is a god-send here. My 8 year-old son is currently reading Asterix, Tin Tin and as many books on Ancient Egypt as he can find. It doesn't matter what kids read as long as they are actually doing it: comics, sf, fantasy, trash, classics, or young adult; it makes absolutely no difference. But if they aren't seeing you, as a parent reading on a regular basis, then chances are they won't read much either.

Reviews of Australian Books #71

On the "Cultural Dessert" weblog, out of the UK, Robin Simpson wasn't fully engaged by Richard Flanagan's Gould's Book of Fish: "All of which was very impressive but I'm afraid it didn't really engage me -- I found the grotesque characters, violent events and oppressive conditions fairly hard-going and didn't really sympathise with anyone. I reluctantly struggled through most of the book only to encounter a great 'Usual Suspects' twist at the very end which almost made me want to go back and read the whole thing again -- almost but not quite."

Jake Kerridge, "The Telegraph", is impressed with The Memory Room by Christopher Koch without being completely blown away by it: "Koch is superb at evoking place: he is excellent on the nastiness that lurks beneath the beauty of Beijing, and just as good on the drudgery of life in Canberra, a 'set of suburbs in search of a city'...I enjoyed the book throughout: only when it came to what should have been the killer emotional blow did I find that I didn't care enough about the characters to hit the deck."

Damien reviews The Low Road by Chris Womersley on his weblog, "Crime Down Under", and confidently states: "This is an Australian noir thriller in the tradition of Jim Thompson's The Getaway told in a rich, lavish voice...If ever there were a book that screams Ned Kelly Award contender then this is it with outstanding character development coupled with a strong sense of place that simply leaps off the page at you."

And staying with the crime genre, Glenn Harper reviews Bad Debts, the first Jack Irish novel by Peter Temple on the "International Noir" weblog: "Like another Australian, Garry Disher, Temple is quite prolific and, also like Disher, he shows considerable diversity among the different strands of his writing. Disher's police-procedural series is, like Temple's Broken Shore, complex, socially conscious, and complex. Whereas Disher's noir series focused on a professional thief is straightforward or linear in comparison, Temple's Jack Irish series is complex in a different way from his Broken Shore: There's a lot of plot, for one thing. Bad Debts combines Irish's avocations (woodworking and gambling) with his day job (as an attorney whose law license is a cover for what is essentially detective work somewhere between McDonald's Archer books and Parker's Spenser novels."

On her "Reading Adventures" weblog, Marg is quite taken with East of Time by Jacob G Rosenberg, and is looking forward to reading the next volume of his autobiography: "In lesser hands this book could quite easily have become nothing more than a list of names of the people that the author knew that didn't make it out of the aftermath of WWII. Instead, we have a series of poignant vignettes about the people that a young Jacob Rosenberg knew, stories about how they influenced him then, and how some of them continue to influence him now...Regardless of where the lines are blurred between what actually happened and the parts that are imagined, the story of loss and pain are very vibrant and real, and all too heartbreaking, and are definitely written in a very readable style."

Zarah Ghahramani never fitted in with the prevailing system in Iran, taking part in student demonstrations at Tehran University before being held in prison in solitary confinement for a month. After release she left Iran for Australia. She has now written, with Australian novelist Robert Hillman, a memoir titled My Life as a Traitor, which is reviewed in "The New York Times" by William Grimes: "In flashbacks Ms. Ghahramani describes a life outside prison walls: her warm
Kurdish family, the pleasures of Persian poetry and the hunger for a more just, more reasonable society that, in ways both trivial and profound, motivated her and thousands of other Iranians, including some very brave and ingenious teachers."
[If you need login access to this site then try BugMeNot.]

Judy Nunn Profile

Samela Harris profiles actor/author Judy Nunn in "The Courier-Mail". Nunn's latest novel, Floodtide, her ninth, has just been published. She previously appeared on the television soap "Home and Away" for 13 years and wrote in the dressing room while waiting for her time in front of the camera.

"Home and Away was a very good soap. I am very proud of it and I don't believe in biting the hand that feeds you, but if you are in a soap for any length of time, even a year, you can lose your identity." Things have changed. "Now people stop me in the street and say, 'Aren't you the author Judy Nunn? I just love your books'. And, you, know, I just want to marry them. I just love it. It's such a change from 'G'day Ailsa' or 'Look, that's that bird from television'."

2008 "The Age"

"The Age" has published the third place getter, or second runner-up, in their 2008 Short Story Competition: "The Heron" by Alison Campbell Rate.

Poem: The Poets of Australia by Will M. Fleming

They are rising in endless numbers
   From ways that are wide and lone,
Dream-eyed with the fire that slumbers
   And feeds on the heart, unknown;
Deep-souled, but with lips grown scornful,
   And shallow to careless eyes,
With hearts that are tender -- mournful
   Those cynical writers rise.

From realms of a restless roaming,
   From creeks where the camp-fires glow,
From flash of the waters foaming,
   From plains where the night-winds blow;
From dreams of a mighty longing
   To deeds of a sordid world,
From the memories softly thronging
   To lips that are grimly curled.

By shadow and star, in sadness,
   By dusk and the lonely moon,
By moan of the midnight madness,
   By calm of the deep mid-noon;
Pale-browned o'er their sun-brown faces,
   Hard-handed and soft of heart,
All reckless, the squadron paces,
   And each in his soul apart.

And what are the hopes they cherish?
   And what are the dreams they dream
When cynical scornings perish,
   And lawless the lovelights gleam?
Bent low o'er the sweat-stained bridle
   They rise, with a careless hold;
Each with his broken idol,
   Each with his dream untold.

First published in The Bulletin, 20 January 1900

A Classic Year: 3.0 "The Sick Stockrider" by Adam Lindsay Gordon


selectedalg_small.jpg Selected Poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon
Adam Lindsay Gordon
1912

The first poem of this year of Australian Classics raises the question of how we should review poetry. Do we treat it the same way we would a novel? (I'd say no.) Or a short story? (Closer to the mark.) Do we demand more attention to detail: in the plot (no), atmosphere and setting (most certainly), characterisation (probably not)? And, anyway, how much effort should be put into reviewing a single poem that's only 80 lines long? Enough to do it justice, I suspect.

The concept behind Gordon's poem is simple enough - a dying stockrider looks back on his life - it's the execution that's the thing. We first encounter the stockrider as he comes to the end of a long ride, during which he has suffered rather badly and been helped by his mate Ned. He is lowered to the ground and it becomes obvious that he isn't going to move again. He doesn't want to go on:

Hold hard, Ned! Lift me down once more, and lay me in the shade.
   Old man, you've had your work cut out to guide
Both horses, and to hold me in the saddle when I sway'd,
   All through the hot, slow, sleepy, silent ride.
And Gordon uses the rhythm and timbre of the last line here to show what the rider has been through: two adjectives would probably have sufficed, four enriches the end result. It's a technique he uses again at the end of the poem as the rider realises his life is drawing to a close: "The deep blue skies wax dusky, and the tall green trees grow dim,/The sward beneath me seems to heave and fall".

"The Sick Stockrider" was probably the best known poem in Australia from its initial publication in the late 1860s until the start of the twentieth century. Paterson's poems probably overtook it at that time, and his works, such as "Clancy of the Overflow" and "The Man from Snowy River", have captured and remained in the Australian imagination longer than Gordon's. But Gordon was the first, and it's hard to see how Paterson and Lawson would have flourished if Gordon hadn't been there before them.

Full text of the poem
Australian Dictionary of Biography entry for Adam Lindsay Gordon

Richard Flanagan on the Love of Art

Richard Flanagan extols the virtues of a love of art.

All great art is amoral. It offers neither guidance on how to live, nor wisdom on how to reconcile with this world. It simply takes us into the chaotic soul of things, reminding us of the full possibilities of this life. Art is the closest thing we have to holding on to that inner spirit world that we feel always to be on the verge of vanishing and which we recall only as the vaguest of sensations: the touch of a loved one, the shadow of a forgotten tree, the sound of a parent crying.

Founders of Our Literature: Henry Lawson

Most people think of him as Australia's national poet, and as a prose writer of extraordinary strength and insight. But bushmen will always know Henry Lawson as one of themselves.

Doubts have often been cast on his claim to be a bushman, but no real bushman ever contested it, and with reason. The poet and archpriest of mateship in this country could have been nothing else. Mateship was born in the back country of Australia, it has lived there ever since, and it will only die when the outback ceases to exist. If it is found in the cities it has been brought there by bushmen.

And if it continues to live in the cities it is because those who brought it there are still bushmen as Lawson was. Henry loved the bush and the people in it. He knew the value of a good mate in areas where population is scarce. His ideal of mateship was something passing the love of women.

Since no man can serve two masters or two ideals, Henry Lawson's married life was not successful, but he died rich in mates, who subsequently wrote his life as they knew it. The book, "Henry Lawson by His Mates" is the monument to his ideal.

Tall, slender, sensitive and desperately shy -- these words describe him adequately enough. His real name was Larsen, but Australian usage turned it to Lawson. His early life was hard. He was born on the diggings, his boyhood was spent at drudgery on a selection, although he was not physically strong. He was house-painter and school-master before the pen claimed him wholly.

His mates were Lawson's greatest asset. Once, on his first trip to New Zealand, he was penniless and sleeping out. A man who admired his works heard of it and housed and fed him. In his later and more difficult days, his mates shepherded him, kept him out of the way of temptation, took him back to the bush and helped him to bodily and mental health. Whatever he sowed in mateship brought him rich returns.

Lawson went twice to New Zealand, once by himself and once with his wife. On the first occasion he joined for a time the Pahiatua Herald, and was sent to report the opening of a brewery. His report did not come to hand for days, and when it did it read as follows - "The Mangatainoka Brewery was opened one day this year. It was a gigantic success and ended in oblivion."

On the second occasion he and his wife taught in a Maori school.

With his wife he also spent some time in Western Australia and England. In the latter place he probably missed his mates. He always came back to Sydney. According to his wife, the mate that Henry Lawson loved best was Victor Daley, his brother poet.

Lawson was a true founder of Australian literature. He brought into it anew and original note. He transferred to paper the cheery casualness of the Outbacker. His style was casual, easy and unaffected. He write from his heart with the fluency of natural genius. A different upbringing would have given us a different Lawson, and one that we might not have loved so well.

He was always poor. The path of literature in this young, developing country has always been hard to those who follow it. Possibly it was this lack of money that caused his domestic unhappiness. In her memoir of him his wife writes thus:- "I often think that had it not been that I was faced with such a hard financial struggle for the children, there might have been a hope of happiness and reunion."

Among the mates who wrote of him was his wife. She told only of the happy days in which they were true mates. When they returned from England after a venture which had failed, she writes that they went to live at manly. "And there we stayed for many months, and the little one that we lost was born and the sad time came of our parting. For sorrow had come to us and difficulties. But when the shadow of that parting was over, and the sadness and bitterness had all gone, Harry understood, and we were friends. And he loved the children dearly and was very proud of them."

Perhaps it was that Lawson, if he lost a wife, found a mate.

As a country we owe Lawson much, and it is something to our credit that we are attempting to pay it. He has his statue in Sydney, and, until the bronze of Gordon went up in Melbourne, it was the only statue in Australia to a writer. The Lawson Society keeps his memory and works green. His work grows in esteem.

He belongs to us. He has been translated and published abroad, but his best appreciation is here, where he is Australia's mate.

First published in The Herald, 9 June 1934

A Classic Year: 2.2 Such is Life by Tom Collins

I'll admit I was a bit over the top the other day, comparing Tom Collins in Such is Life with John Fowles and The French Lieutenant's Woman. Put it down to over-exuberance.

There's a lot to admire about the author's framing mechanism here: he originally intends to extract a week's worth of diary entries until the checks the second day and finds it won't fit his purposes, so he changes tack and decides to pick the same day in subsequent months instead. He follows that schema until the last chapter, when it changes it yet again. There's no pretention about it. And he's quite happy for you to see the gears moving and the grease being applied. For what is, surprisingly, a debut novel, this is a most assured technique. It could have fallen flat on its face, it could have ruined the rest of the novel, but it doesn't. It's a pity that Furphy only wrote one further novel, he was certainly a formidable talent.

The next four works in this Classic Year:
"The Sick Stockrider" by Adam Lindsay Gordon (1869)
His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke (1872)
"The Chosen Vessel" by Barbara Baynton (1896)
"The Man from Snowy River" by A.B. "Banjo" Paterson (1890)

Two poems, a novel and a short story.

Sophie Gee on Film Adaptations

Sophie Gee, currently assistant professor of English at Princeton University and author of The Scandal of the Season, discusses "Popular Adaptations of Classic Literature" in "The New York Times".

Mass-market adaptations make Great Books go bad. Or so conventional wisdom would have it. But every so often, plundering and pillaging a canonical text for the sake of entertainment gives it the kiss of life. Take "Beowulf" and "Paradise Lost." The unpalatable truth is that both originals are now virtually unreadable. "Beowulf" is written in Old English, an inflected Germanic tongue that looks a lot less like our language than one would hope. As for Milton's epic, it's in "normal" English, but its blank verse is so densely learned, so syntactically complicated and philosophically obscure, that it's almost never read outside college courses. Even Samuel Johnson, writing 100 years after Milton, said: "'Paradise Lost' is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is."
[If you have trouble accessing this article you will probably have to login to the paper's website. Visit BugMeNot for a user name and password.]

Australian Books to Film #39 - Blue Fin

blue_fin.jpg

Blue Fin 1978
Directed by Carl Schulz
Screenplay by Sonia Borg from the novel by Colin Thiele
Featuring Greg Rowe, Hardy Krüger, Liddy Clark and John Jarratt.

The Arrival Hits the Stage

Mike Shuttleworth, on the "Read Alert" weblog, alerts us to the news that Shaun Tan's graphic novel The Arrival is now to undergo a stage adaptation from Spare Parts Puppett Theatre, in Melbourne, 29 April - 2 May at the Arts Centre.

2008 Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature

The winner and honorees of the 2008 Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature have been announced. Among those honorees is One Whole and Perfect Day by Judith Clarke. This book was previously winner of Queensland Premier's Literary Awards, Best Young Adult Book, 2007; and shortlisted for both Children's Book Council Book of the Year Award, Book of the Year: Older Readers, 2007, and New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards, Ethel Turner Prize, 2007.

A Classic Year: 2.1 Such is Life by Tom Collins

"Tom Collins" was the pseudonym of Joseph Furphy (1843-1912) who was born near Yarra Glen, Port Phillip District (later the state of Victoria). After the family moved to Kangaroo Ground and then Kyneton, Furphy leased a farm in the Kyneton district until his marriage to Leonie Selina German in 1867. After his marriage Furphy bought a farm in the district of Colbinabbin. By 1873 he had decided the land was not worth farming and had purchased a bullock team and taken up business as a carter in the Riverina district of New South Wales - an experience which directly influenced his later novel, Such is Life. The major drought of 1883 ended his career as a bullock driver and Furphy returned south to work with his brother at his iron foundry in Shepparton. While there he worked on the manuscript which was, finally, to be published as his major work, Such is Life in 1903. A year later Furphy moved with his family to Claremont in Western Australia where he died on 13 September 1912. Apart from the novel under discussion, Furphy also wrote Rigby's Romance: A Made in Australia Novel, and had a collection, The Poems of Joseph Furphy, published in 1916.

Australian Dictionary of Biography entry
Photo of Joseph Furphy statue in Shepparton

Even More Forthcoming Books for 2008

Sophie Masson writes with the news that she has the following books
forthcoming in 2008.

March
Thomas Trew and the Selkie's Curse
Thomas Trew and the Flying Huntsman
Thomas Trew and the Island of Ghosts (These are nos 4 5 and 6 of her Thomas Trew series for younger readers, already published in UK by Hodder Children's Books)

July
The Case of the Diamond Shadow, a YA mystery novel set in the 1930's, to be
published by ABC Books. Sophie has started a blog for it at Case of the Diamond Shadow.

Germaine Greer on Greek Myths

"The Guardian" newspaper is running a series of articles about Greek myths. Germaine Greer provides the Foreword to the series about the Power of Love.

Love, for the ancients, was the force that made happen everything that did happen. Every movement was prompted by desire. Nowadays when an apple falls to earth we call the force that sent it gravity, without registering the truth that gravity is just another name for attraction. The god of love is the oldest of the gods because he is the force without which the gods could not have come into being.

Australian Bookcovers #97 - Exotic Pleasures by Peter Carey

exoticpleasures.jpg

Exotic Pleasures by Peter Carey, 1990
(UQP 1990 edition)
Cover illustration by Christopher McVinish and Cynthia Breusch

Shaun Tan Interview

Shaun Tan is interviewed by Nicolas
Verstappen on the "du9" weblog.

I almost never start with a theme in mind, so while the story has something to do with feelings of belonging (or not belonging), that emerged as an almost unconscious preoccupation, while I was busy focusing on more specific things like characters or landscapes. In the case of The Arrival, many ideas for the book were inspired by old photographs of people and places than have long since passed away, and these have often been triggers for other paintings of mine. There is a sense of mystery already in historical records that has something to do with their distance and silence, so I need to work my imagination to build a lost world around these little fragments of memory. It's almost as though the absence of information demands the creation of fiction to fill the void.
Thanks to Jessa Crispin for the link.]

Tom Keneally Watch #1

Danna Sue Walker reports on Tom Keneally's visit to Tulsa to receive the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award.

The Mosman Municipal Council gives notice of an author evening, Wednesday 27 February, featuring Keneally discussing his book, Searching for Schindler. Pre-paid bookings are essential.

Review of Victim of the Aurora
On her weblog, "The Indextrious Reader", Melanie reviews the novel and sees comparisons elsewhere: "Although all of the gentlemanly Edwardian explorers give no hint of conflict in their journals, Keneally wanted to approach a situation rife with it. This idea meshes well with another book I've been slowly reading, Francis Spufford's I May Be Some Time. In that book, Spufford examines the Idea of ice in the Edwardian imagination. In this novel, Keneally takes that sublime appeal of the icy wilderness and peoples it with prosaic Edwardian men. It succeeds admirably,
even with a few loose ends left dangling."

Searching for Schindler
Keneally pays tribute to Poldek, "the man behind the man behind" Schindler's List in "Jewish News Weekly" : '"Poldek was the spark plug, and I was just one piston in the machine," Keneally, 70, says modestly, speaking at his home in Sydney's northern beaches. "I see myself as a mere catalyst. I was not the great heroic instigator."

2008 "The Age" Short Story Competition - Second Place

"The Age" has published the runner-up in their 2008 Short Story competition: "The Feeder" by Glynis Osborne. The second runner-up will be published next week.

Poem: The Kid by C.J. Dennis

Now, this ain't a loocid story, but it 'as a 'igh-class moral.
   I can mop up all the praises hurled at me by them it soots.
An' with them it don't appeal to I don't seek to pick a quarrel;
   But I pause to say in passin', that I hold 'em brainless coots.

Well it mighter been a nightmare or it mighter been a vision.
   Why or 'ow or where it 'appened, or 'ow long or short ago --
These are items I am shy of; but I've come to this decision:
   It all 'appened some'ow somewhere, an' I'm tellin' all I know.

With this lengthy introduction -- which I'm trustin', inter-arlier,
   Will be paid for, cash, at space rates, to assist a bard in need --
(For the lot of jingle-writers in our own sun-kissed Australier
   Ain't so sunny as it might be, on the 'ole) -- I'll now proceed.

There was me -- who's most important, bein' here to tell the story --
   There was Kodak's gloomy lodger, an' a 'Enry Lawson bloke,
Also E.J. Brady's pirate, full of husky oaths and gory,
   An' a plump and pleasin' female from an Ambrose Dyson joke.

Likewise with us at the geth'rin' was Grant 'Ervey's Strong Australian.
   An' a curly Souter peach; it was a treat the way she dressed;
An' a Louis Esson dryad, sparsely gowned an' somewot alien
   (For which rhyme I point to many precedents amongst the best).

Also there were many others, far too noomerous to mention;
   Bron men, somewot out of drorin', but exceedin' terse an' keen;
Yeller pups, George Reids an' dry dogs -- but it is not my intention
   To innoomerate the items in a Chris'mas BULLYTEEN.

Where we were I 'ave no notion, tho' it mighter been Parnassus.
   Any'ow -- but I'm forgettin' one small guest that came unbid;
Standin' in a corner sulkin', seldom speakin', 'cept to sass us,
   Rubbin' 'is thin calves together, stood a Norman Lindsay kid.

But the main point of this story is that all of us was stony;
   An' we needed money badly for to give ourselves a treat.
An' we wanted to present the editor with somethin' toney
   In the shape of clubs or rest cures, just to try an' get 'im sweet.

"Mates, alas, there's nothin' left us," ses the gloomy Lawson native.
   "We can only look for other castaways from other wrecks."
When the Wild Cat, on 'is windlass, scratched 'is left ear contemplative
   An' remarked, "I think I've gotter scheme to land the fatted cheques.

"We are valuable assets," 'e went on, in tones finanshul.
   "We are also reproductive, an' I think I see a chance
To relieve the present tension, an' secure a sum substanshul,
   Which all comes of my acquaintance with low schemes an' 'igh finance.

"If we borrer twenty thousand on our natcheral resourses --
   On all BULLETTEEN creations -- it will purchase many beers.
We can maffick, an' pay int'rest -- which is a triflin' thing of course is --
   With a sinkin' fund extendin' over ninety-seven years."

Well! To say we was elated is to put the matter mildly.
   I can still 'ear Brady's pirate yellin', "Bite mates, let us bite!"
I can still see Kodak's lodger kick 'is slippered feet, and wildly
   Try to borrer two-an'-sixpence on the spot....But oh, that night!

"Where do I come in?" a squeaky voice arose above our shoutin',
   Rose an' squeaked, shrill an' insistent, over all our joyous din.
'Twas the kid, the Lindsay youngster, standin' in 'is corner poutin'.
   "Take a pull, yer bloomin' wasters! Blime, where do I come in?

"Nice lot, ain't yer? Garn, yer loafers! Let the comin' generation
   Suck their thumbs an' watch yer jag, an' 'ump the bill when it comes due;
Slave an' work when you 'ave snuffed it. An' you look for veneration
   From us kids! Why, blime, who could venerate the likes of you?

"As THE BULLYTEEN been preachin' years an' years an' years for nuffin'
   On the vice of floatin' loans an' gettin' in the 'ands of Yids?
Playin' up yer borrered money! Eatin' drinkin', swillin', stuffin'!
   Then, when you 'ave chucked a seven, what a picnic for the kids!"

Spare me! You could 'ear a pin drop when that little kid 'ad finished.
   We just 'ung our 'eads in silence, till the Strong Australian spoke.
(Brady's pirate tore 'is whiskers, with 'is lust for jags dimished;
   An' the Souter peach was sobbin' on the breast of Lawson's bloke.)

"Comrades," ses the Strong Australian, "see our star all glory litten!
   Heed the ancient, beer-stained story! Heed the warning of the kid!
Lo, the way of ink's before us! Ringing verses shall be written
   In which I shall figure largely. Yes, I shall." An', 'struth, 'e did!

Ses the pirate, with the remnants of 'is whiskers fiercely bristlin'.
   "In the war of life together we must take each wound and sear."
"Now, we care not where we're bound for," ses the Lawson native, whistlin'
   For 'is dawg. "It's up Matilda." As for me, I ses, "'Ear, 'ear."

As I sed, this yarn ain't loocid, but its moral should not fail yer.
   I shall ne'er fergit that ev'nin' or the voice above the din.
It's the cry of all the kiddies, born an' unborn, in Australyer,
   When we flash our borrered millyuns: "Blime, where do we come in?"

First published in The Bulletin, 20 May 1909

A Classic Year: 2.0 Such is Life by Tom Collins


such_is_life_small.jpg Such is Life
Tom Collins
1903

It may seem as if I'm getting fixated with opening novel sequences after quoting extensively from the first page of Robbery Under Arms last week, yet here I am again with this week's selection. I make no apologies.

Unemployed at last!

Scientifically, such a contingency can never have befallen of itself. According to one theory of the Universe, the momentum of Original Impress has been tending toward this far-off, divine event ever since a scrap of fire-mist flew from the solar centre to form our planet. Not this event alone, of course; but every occurrence, past and present, from the fall of captured Troy to the fall of a captured insect. According to another theory, I hold an independent diploma as one of the architects of our Social System, with a commission to use my own judgment, and take my own risks, like any other unit of humanity. This theory, unlike the first, entails frequent hitches and cross-purposes; and to some malign operation of these I should owe my present holiday.

Based on this evidence you might assume we are in for a long-winded, evasive, polly-syllabic mess. Nothing could be further from the truth. But getting to the truth of the novel takes a little while, and we have to understand the book's structure as laid out in the preface.
Submitting, then, to the constitutional interdict already glanced at, and availing myself of the implied license to utilise that homely talent of which I am the bailee, I purpose taking certain entries from my diary, and amplifying these to the minutest detail of occurrence or conversation. This will afford to the observant reader a fair picture of Life, as that engaging problem has presented itself to me.

Twenty-two consecutive editions of Lett's Pocket Diary, with one week in each opening, lie on the table before me; all filled up, and in a decent state of preservation. I think I shall undertake the annotation of a week's record. A man might, if he were of a fearful heart, stagger in this attempt; but I shut my eyes, and take up one of the little volumes. It proves to be the edition of 1883. Again I shut my eyes while I open the book at random. It is the week beginning with Sunday, the 9th of September.

And the author is off on his first story. There will be a total of 7 of these. Originally intended to cover only a week of his diary, Collins soon finds that the task he has given himself is too mountainous to contemplate - "anyone who has listened for four hours to the conversation of a group of sheep drovers, named, respectively, Splodger, Rabbit, Parson, Bottler, Dingo, and Hairy-toothed Ike, will agree with me as to the impossibility of getting the dialogue of such dramatis personae into anything like printable form" - so he changes tack, reverting to documenting the events of the 9th day of each month.

Think on this for a while. If I were to tell you it came from a modern literary novel I doubt you would be at all surprised. The fact that this material was written in the 1890s and published in the early 1900s is quite astounding. There is the sense that the author is in total control of his material, and that he has no problem imposing himself into the structure of the novel - I'm thinking here of author John Fowles sitting in a railway carriage contemplating his own main character in The French Lieutenant's Woman.

Such is Life is a novel about bullock drovers, squatters and itinerant workers in the backblocks of Victoria and New South Wales in the 1880s. At times it can be hard to read, with a lot of dialog written in direct vernacular, but it is worthwhile persisting for the humor and the good-natured banter of men working in sometimes very hostile conditions.

You can read more about the author on Wikipedia.
And you can read the full text of the book on Project Gutenburg.

"Adam Lindsay Gordon Memorial Unveiled in Abbey Poets' Corner" by Guy Innes

LONDON, May 17

O, send Lewie Gordon hame,
And the lad I daurne name;
Now his back is to the wa
Here's to him that's far awa'.

The words of the old Jacobite toast haunted me, for they seemed, on that morning in May, to echo from the days of Bonnie Prince Charlie -- the lad they dared not name -- the faith of a great Clan that all its bards and fighting-men would at last come home.

Here, in this "acre sown indeed with the richest, royalest seed," the prayer had been answered; for the occasion was the unveilng, by the Duke of York, of the Memorial to Adam Lindsay Gordon in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. Not only had the clansmen gathered; men of letters, statesmen, and ambassadors had assembled to pay homage to one who, having with his own hand freed the soul from its cage of clay, was found dead with a revolver in his hand and his last shilling in his hat beside him -- the first suicide to gain the immortal memorial of entertainment in the greatest temple of our race.

Among those present were the Marquess of Huntly, accepted by the Scots Peerage as chiefs of all the Gordons in Scotland, notwithstanding that their ancestor was a Seton who married the hieress of Gordon; the Marchioness of Huntly; the Marquess and Machioness of Aberdeen, whose families are the Gordons; the Duchess of Hamilton and others of the Gordon kin; Lord Dunsany, the Scottish peer and poet; and Miss Rosemary Haslam, great-niece of Adam Lindsay Gordon and daughter of Colonel Lovell Haslam. Memories which stretched far into the past were those of Mr. J.J. Virgo, the noted Y.M.C.A. organiser, who, before he made his nine tours of the world, was a little boy at Glenelg, South Australia, and often sat on the knee of the poet, a frequent visitor at his parents' house.

Beside Tennyson

From the north-west tower of the Abbey flew the Australian flag, and it draped also the bust of the poet, from which is was removed for the unveiling by the Duke of York, who was accompanied by the Duchess. The Duke later, on behalf of the people of Australia, presented the memorial to the safe keeping of the Dean and the Chapter. It bears the inscription:

"Adam Lindsay Gordon. Poet of Australia.
Born 1833 -- Died
1870."

It is beside the memorial of Alfred Tennyson, and close to those of Coleridge, Wordsworth and Campbell. It is fitting that Gordon, Englishman first and Australian afterwards, should be commemorated in the Abbey. But we keep Henry Lawson's memorial in Australia and in the hearts of every Australian for his is our very own.

After the unveiling, a short voluntary, specially composed for the occasion, was played. It was based on that lovely lament, "The Flowers o' the Forest are a' wede awa'," which no Scot may hear unmoved.

Archbishop's Address

In his address, the Archbishop of Canterbury said:-

"One hundred years ago Adam Lindsay Gordon was born, and now his restless spirit finds a home in the peace of the Abbey. How little could he have dreamed that such a destiny awaited him! What would Tennyson, Coleridge and Wordsworth have thought of this young Australian horsebreaker and steeplechaser thus brought by his memorial into their company? Surely they would generously welcome him as a brother poet. "He would think that it was even stranger that it should be an Archbishop who ventures today to vindicate his place among the poets of the English tongue; yet amid the cares and burdens of that office I have found refreshment and exhilaration in his songs of swift and eager action in the open air."
Having competently sketched Gordon's career, the Archbishop continued:-
"Though outwardly true to the title of his clan, 'The Gay Gordons,' he was ever haunted by a wistful melancholy. Finally, after only 37 years of life, broken in body and clouded in mind by a racing accident, his own hand set free his soul. But already he had published his poems, and almost at once Australia took them to her heart, where ever since they have remained ... Sometimes his verse seems to recall that first rapture when the morning stars sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy. It seems fitting, therefore, that he should have a place in this shrine of British poetry.

"Whatever a stern criticism may say as to the abiding merit of his work, at least there can be no doubt as to the value which the heart of Australia sets upon it. He is the voice of the national life of one of the young nations of the British race. The memorial of him will be an enduring link between Australia and the Motherland."

Thus, and with these words, has the memory of Adam Lindsay Gordon come to "stand like stone" in a place where stone and the spirit shall endure; where the strength of stone which it never possessed in life has entered into the presentment of his face amid "the aisles Death's sceptre rules supreme"; where the light of stained glass illumes the
long perspective of pillars and gives denial to what were almost his last words:-
"There is nothing good for me under the sun
But to perish as these things perished."
It may here be said that the work of the Gordon Memorial Committee is worthy of all praise. That it should have been brought to so dignified a conclusion is largely due to the untiring energy of Mr. Douglas Sladen -- who, by the way, was recently awakened at 4 a.m. to receive a cable message from the Gordon Memorial Committee in Melbourne felicitating him as Gordon's Boswell.

Not the least gratifying feature of the occasion was the manner in which the English and Scottish newspapers recorded it. Numerous biographies of Gordon were published, which for the most part afforded sound estimates of the merit of his work, though few of them traced its affinity with that of Swinburne, and none its kinship with the hunting verses of G.J. Whyte-Melville.

First published in The Herald, 21 June 1934

Reviews of Australian Books #70

Jonathan Yardley, of "The Washington Post" enjoys the new novel from Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book. Identifying its subject matter as being similar to such books as The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason, and even The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, Yardley states that "The good news is that this new novel by the author of March, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2006, is intelligent, thoughtful, gracefully written and original. Brooks has built upon her experience as a correspondent in Bosnia for the Wall Street Journal to construct a story around a book -- small, rare and very old -- and the people into whose hands it had fallen over five centuries, people who 'had known unbearable stress: pogrom, Inquisition, exile, genocide, war.'...Suffice it to say that it's a book that resides comfortably in a place we too often imagine to be a no-man's land between popular fiction and literature."

And dovegreyreader out of Devon in the UK agrees: "Geraldine Brooks has mixed truth with history and with mystery, there's violence and intrigue, a bit of torture, through which I had to close my eyes because I can't bear to read it, (fountain pens fine, torture not it would seem) and all wrapped up in the modern-day world of book restoration, fine-art forgery and an awful lot of parchment and ink made with some very dubious substances. The detail however is meticulous and I was confident that Geraldine Brooks had done a vast amount of homework without waving it under my nose and asking for an A*."

On the Australian "HorrorScope" weblog, Michael Tait reviews Fivefold by Nathan Burrage, and is quite impressed: "Some of novel resonates with an early Clive Barker feel; feints and charms are used; possession is a factor. Also, there are philosophical undertones on the nature of pain and pleasure ... and whether eternal ecstasy and agony are fundamentally one and the same...Above all, FIVEFOLD is just plain entertaining. With synaptic sparring, mental warring, and clandestine cabals -- FIVEFOLD displays an absolute impressive debut and a novel that could perhaps teach even veterans a thing or two about the game."

Damien, on the "Crime Down Under" weblog, commends Perfect Suspect by Vincent Varjavandi: "The Perfect Suspect begins as a tight psychological thriller that appears to be told along the usual lines where a killer will pick off his victims until our protagonist tracks him down. But this is no ordinary psychological thriller and it soon blossoms out into a much more complex thriller that becomes increasingly confrontational...[the novel] proves to be a compelling thriller with a hidden complexity that plays out to a resounding finale."

2008 "The Age" Short Story Competition

"The Age" newspaper has published the winner of this year's Short Story Competition: "A Parachute Landing in Siberia" by Stephen McGrath. The second-placed story, "The Feeder" by Glenys Osborne, will be published next week, and the third-placed story. "The Heron" by Alison Rate, presumably the week after.

2008 Philip K Dick Award

According to its website: "The Philip K. Dick Award is presented annually for distinguished science fiction published in
paperback original form in the United States. The award is sponsored by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society." This year Sean Williams from Adelaide has been nominated for his novel Saturn Returns. (Full list of nominees.) The winner of the award will be announced at Norweson 31, which will be held in Seattle over the weekend of March 20-23, 2008.

[Thanks to Jonathan Strahan for the link.]

Australian Books to Film #38 - Storm Boy

storm_boy.jpg

Storm Boy 1976
Directed by Henri Safran
Screenplay by Sonia Borg and Sidney L. Stebel from the novel by Colin Thiele
Featuring Greg Rowe, Peter Cummins, David Gulpilil and Judy Dick.

Online Zombie Novel

Chuck McKenzie, Australian sf and horror writer, is writing an online zombie novel, titled One Day at a Time: Life, the Zombie Apocalypse and All That, in the form of blog entries. The first entry is dated January 1st 2008, and deals with what happened on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Looks interesting.

[Thanks to Horrorscope for the link.]

A Classic Year: 1.3 Robbery Under Arms by Rolf Boldrewood

When we last left my discussion of the plot of Robbery Under Arms, two of the main characters, Dick Marston and Captain Starlight, had been convicted of cattle-stealing and sentenced to 5 and 7 years respectively. Their prospects didn't look exactly rosy at this point, but Boldrewood is not about to allow his main protagonists to linger too long in a state of inactivity and within a couple of months Dick's brother Jim and Starlight's main companion, the half-caste Warrigal, have sprung them from prison and helped them back to the Hollow, their secret hideaway. After this the Marstons and Starlight take to robbing stage-coaches and banks. The gold rush of the 1850s has started and there is money to be had at practically every turn. A large number of city-folk, unschooled in the ways of the bush, have left home to work on the diggings and they prove to be easy pickings for the gang. And yet all through this period, Boldrewood goes out of his way to paint the Marstons and Starlight as conflicted criminals: they are only doing this as they are already well down the road to destruction, and they would go straight if they could. An opportunity presents itself and, for a year, Starlight and the Marstons join the goldfield diggings outside Bathurst in New South Wales until their identity is revealed by a woman that Dick has previously jilted. A narrow escape for Dick Marston and Starlight, but capture for Jim, leads the group to re-evaluate their lot. The result is the rescue of Jim from custody and the execution of a daring plan to escape to Queensland, and from there to America. Needless to say, it all goes wrong.

This is real "Ripping Yarns"/"Boys Own Adventure" stuff here: brazen adventures, falls from grace, and daring escapes all adding up to a plot that keeps moving, which is rarely allowed to settle, and which maintains its level of tension throughout. Boldrewood paints his main characters as complete humans - with their desires and hates, virtues and foibles, their good side and their bad side. Some of the lesser characters in the book tend more towards stereotypes - either fully good or fully evil - but this is a minor problem. The rollicking plot and the depiction of the main players more than makes up for this slight failing. Set at a time of great change in Australia, as the country was slowly moving towards nationhood, the book truly deserves its place in this classic list of Australian literary works.

John Birmingham Novel Extract

In my first list of forthcoming books for 2008, I listed a new "what-if" novel from John Birmingham, due in October. I didn't give it a title because, frankly, there didn't seem to be one. Never mind, you can now read an extract from the novel on John's weblog, "Cheeseburger Gothic". Be aware though, the author supplies a number of caveats:

It's unedited raw copy. It does contain errors which will be fixed up. Some ranks will change. The cam scene will change. And there are some narrative details which will definitely be different in the finished product. But it will give you an idea where I'm going. And yes, the Caitlin opener is a direct homage to the sleeping assassin genre. But she wakes up.
Still doesn't have a title though.

Major Australian Literary Anniversaries in 2008

Births in 1908

Sir Donald Bradman (d. 2001)
Harry Hooton (d. 1961)
Eve Langley (d. 1974)
Ronald McCuaig (d. 1993)
Cynthia Nolan (d. 1976)
T.G.H. Strehlow (d. 1978)
Frederick J. Thwaites (d. 1979)
R.M. Williams (d. 2003)

Deaths in 1908

Ernest Favenc (b. 1845)
David Syme (b. 1827)

First Publication in 1908

"The Austra-laise" by C.J. Dennis
The Call of the South by Louis Becke
For Life and Other Stories by Steele Rudd
Maurice Guest by Henry Handel Richardson
The Missing Link by Edward Dyson
"One Hundred and Three" by Henry Lawson
Sea and Sky by J. Le Gay Brereton
The Squatter's Ward by Edward S. Sorenson
That Girl by Ethel Turner
We of the Never-Never by Aeneas Gunn

Births in 1958

Debra Adelaide
Graeme Base
Isobelle Carmody
Lilian Darcy
Sarah Day
Michelle de Kretser
Lionel Fogarty
Steven Herrick
Paul Hetherington
Christopher Kelen
Stephen Lawrence
Kathy Lette
Rownena Cory Lindquist
Kathryn Lomer
David Metzenthen
Kathleen Stewart

Deaths in 1958

Ethel Anderson (b. 1883)
Mary Grant Bruce (b. 1878)
C.R. Jury (b. 1893)
Philip Lindsay (b. 1906)
Hugh McRae (b. 1876)
Ethel Turner (b. 1870)

First Publication in 1958

All the Rivers Run by Nancy Cato
Antipodes in Shoes by Geoffrey Dutton
The Backlash by Morris West
The Boys in the Island by Christopher Koch
The Four-Legged Lottery by Frank Hardy
Girl with a Monkey by Thea Astley
Inland: Poems by David Rowbotham
Kings of the Dingoes by Judith Wright
The Penguin Book of Australian Verse edited by John Thompson and Kenneth Slessor
Naked Under Capricorn by Olaf Ruhen
The Rainbow and the Rose by Nevil Shute
To the Islands by Randolph Stow

Location and Literature

I recently received an email from a reader from Holland who travelled to various parts of Australia a year or so ago, and was so taken with the place she wants to read books by Australian writers.

Normally I'd be fine with this sort of request, sending along my usual set of modern Australian novels as a starting point. But in this case, my correspondent was particularly interested in books that were set in, or reflected, the areas she had visited: Brisbane and Queensland, Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. And I got to thinking that I don't remember ever coming across a listing of Australian books organised by location. Is anyone aware of such a list?

In reply to the Dutch reader I asked if there were any restrictions on the type of novels she was seeking: modern or historical, genre or literary? And the only indication she gave was that she wasn't overly interested in sf. All other genres were okay, and whether a novel was modern or historical was of little importance. I pointed out that I was reading through a set of Australian classics this year and blogging about it here, and also supplied a few other books she might consider: for Melbourne, Maloney's crime novels, Three Dollars by Elliott Perlman and Helen Garner's books came immediately to mind. That might give her a start, but what else?

Best Books of the Year #10 - Detectives Beyond Borders

Peter Rozovsky, of the "Detectives Beyond Borders" weblog, has been listing his favorite crime novels of 2007. Included in the list are a few Australians: Nice Try by Shane Maloney Diamond Dove by Adrian Hyland Crook as Rookwood by Christopher Nyst The Broken Shore by Peter Temple

Australian Bookcovers #96 - Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey

theft.jpg

Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey, 2006
(Knopf 2006 edition)
Jacket design: Jenny Grigg. Jacket photograph: Tomek Sikora

A Classic Year: 1.2 Robbery Under Arms by Rolf Boldrewood

Publication History

The novel Robbery Under Arms started life as a newspaper serial, appearing in issues of weekly paper, "The Sydney Mail", between 1 July 1882 and 11 August 1883. The first published edition of the work appeared in London in 1888 in 3 volumes from Remington publishers. The second edition, in one volume in 1889 reduced the original text from 269,000 words to approximately 231,000. This is the current, generally accepted, version of the work. It was published in London, New York, and in Leipzig (Germany) as part of a Collection of British and American Authors series from publisher Tauchnitz. Various, and numerous, other editions followed, including the Five Mile Press edition from 2005 that I am reading.

Film/TV and Other Adaptations
According to the Internet Movie DataBase, Robbery Under Arms was first filmed in 1907, which was followed by a version in 1920; both these films were black and white silents.
In 1957, the film was remade with Peter Finch in the role of Captain Starlight, Ronald Lewis as Dick Marston, David McCallum as Jim Marston and Jill Ireland as Jean Morrison. The film was directed by Jack Lee from a script by Alexander Baron. Sam Neill played Starlight in the 1985 television adaptation, at 141 minutes the longest of all versions to date. Michael Jenkins, Graeme Koetsveld and Tony Morphett wrote the script, which was directed by Donald Crombie and Ken Hannam. It also featured Steven Vidler, Christopher Cummins and Liz Newman.
You can see the poster for the film here. I'm not sure why the TV adaptation had a movie poster; maybe there was a theatrical release at a later time.

More Forthcoming Books for 2008 [Updated]

Additions to the previous list of forthcoming Australian books for 2008:

February

  • Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan (F)
March
  • School for Heroes by Jackie French (F)
  • The Dragon Queens: Mytique Book Two by Traci Harding (F)
  • Creeping in Reptile Flesh by Robert Hood (F)
  • Star Wars: The Force Unleashed by Sean Williams (F)
  • The Changeling by Sean Williams (F)
April
  • The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth (F)
  • Hal Spacejock: No Free Lunch by Simon Haynes (F)
  • The Dream Horsemen: Dreaming in Amber Book Four by Tony Shillitoe (F)
May
  • The Steele Diaries by Wendy James (F)
  • The Serpent Bride: Dark Glass Mountain Book One by Sara Douglass (F)
  • The Twisted Citadel: Dark Glass Mountain Book Two by Sara Douglass (F)
June
  • Mer Magic by Kate Forsyth (F)
  • Hammer of God: Godspeaker Book Three by Karen Miller (F)
July
  • Year's Best Australian SF & Fantasy: Fourth Annual Edition edited by Bill Congreve & Michelle Marquardt (F)
  • Dreaming Again edited by Jack Dann (F)
  • The Black Madonna: Mytique Book Three by Traci Harding (F)
  • Runcible Jones and the Frozen Compass by Ian Irvine (F)
August
  • Riversend: Book Two of the Amberlight Series by Sylvia Kelso (F)
September
  • The Ultimate Fairy Book by Justine Larbalestier (F)
October
  • Macabre: A Journey through Australian Horror edited by Angela Challis and Marty Young (F)
  • Wolf Kingdom by Richard Harland (F)
  • The Red Country: Book Three of the Chronicles of Rihannar by Sylvia Kelso (F)
November
  • The Destiny of the Dead: Book 3 of the Song of the Tears Trilogy by Ian Irvine (F)

A lot of the entries here were taken from the list of forthcoming Australian sf and fantasy compiled last year by Deborah Biancotti, Garth Nix, Trevor Stafford and Jonathan Strahan. And one directly from the author. If you want a bit more information about some of the big-hitters returning in 2008 (Carey, Garner, Bail etc) have a look at Susan Wyndham's post on her "Undercover" blog.

Note: I've updated this list to remove Dragon Moon by Carole Wilkinson. It appears the item listed will be a new international edition. The Australian edition was published in 2007 by Black Dog Books.

Centenary of Simone de Beauvoir's Birth

This week will be the centenary of Simone de Beauvoir's birth. Angelique Chrisafis, in "The Guardian", talks to someone with a major interest in the subject.

Hazel Rowley, an Anglo-Australian writer whose recent book Tête-à-Tête detailed how De Beauvoir and Sartre's open relationship polarised public opinion, said she was worried that next week's rush of debates would see the couple described as "monsters". She said it could set off a stream of pronouncements on De Beauvoir's sex life, including "cruel, sadistic, manipulating, lying and all these stupid words".

"I don't think we should be trivialising this incredible figure by fixating on lascivious sex," Rowley said. "Why are we doing this? Are we puritanical? Do we think we're superior, and why?" She said she hoped the centenary year would "stop people mocking and belittling De Beauvoir".

Poem: To the Memory of Claude Marquet by C.J. Dennis

Because to him the wise gods gave
   Rare gifts, to lesser folk denied,
He might have thriven, Mammon's slave,
Rich in the goods that small men crave,
   But poor in all beside.

And yet, because his was the pride
   Possessed by earnest men and brave,
He stayed by his weak brothers' side
And there he fought, loved, laughed and died,
   And went, loved, to his grave.

Because his was the simple heart
   That found small lure in pelf or praise,
For greater ends he plied his art,
And, asking little, played his part
   A rich man all his days.

The simple heart, the single aim
   That guided e'er his ready pen,
The gay indifference to Fame --
Things such as these shall leave a name
   Cherished 'mid fellow men.

And we who knew that steady gaze,
   The open hand, the ready laugh,
The fighting face and kindly ways,
Know, too, his smiling scorn of praise.
   Yet this for epitaph:

A fighter all his days was he,
Yet, dying, left no enemy.

First published in Cartoons by Claude Marquet Memorial Volume 1920
[Claude Marquet (1869-1920) was a well-known political cartoonist who expressed a radical philosophy and an idealistic view of the worker in his cartoons. His work appeared in such publications as The Bulletin, Melbourne Punch and Australian Worker.]

A Classic Year: 1.1 Robbery Under Arms by Rolf Boldrewood

rolf_boldrewood_small.jpg

"Rolf Boldrewood" was the pseudonym of Thomas Alexander Browne (1826-1915), who was born on 6 August 1826 in London, the eldest child of Sylvester John Brown, a shipmaster who had served with the East India Co., and his wife Elizabeth Angell, née Alexander - he added the "e" to his surname in the 1860s. Browne arrived in Australia at the age of five, after sailing to Sydney with his father who, as captain of the barque Proteus, had delivered a cargo of convicts to Tasmania. Browne was educated in Sydney until 1841 when he moved to Melbourne to join his father who had firstly taken up a run at Mount Macedon, and then started the first ferry runs between Melbourne and Williamstown across Port Philip Bay. After finishing his education in Melbourne, Browne earnt his living as a pastoralist, firstly near Portland, and then Swan Hill in Victoria, and subsequently near Narrandera in New South Wales. A succession of severe droughts finished his career as a squatter in 1869, and he went to live in Sydney. Appointments as a police magistrate in 1871 and as a gold commissioner in 1872 in New South Wales followed, and he continued in this line until he retired to
Melbourne in 1895. He died on 11 March 1915 and was buried in Brighton cemetery.

As a writer he was quite prolific, starting with My Run Home in 1874, he subsequently wrote a total of 16 novels, finishing with The Last Chance: A Tale of the Golden West in 1905. In addition he wrote a volume of autobiography (Old Melbourne Memories 1884), the non-fiction works Shearing in the Riverina in 1870 and An Australian Grazier's Guide in 1879, and a collection titled In Bad Company and Other Stories in 1901.

Browne's pseudonym, "Rolf Boldrewood" is derived from a line in the narrative poem Marmion by Sir Walter Scott whom Browne admired.

Australian Dictionary of Biography entry.

J.M. Coetzee Watch #3

Judith Shulevitz, writing in "Slate" finds Coetzee's work to be, well, hard work: "In novel after novel, his protagonists are, to put it nicely, unattractive: men and women in late middle age or old, their bodies in breakdown, their manners chilly, their self-pity in full bloom. Plots he doles out in pinches, like salt. His settings are as barren as deserts, even if they're in cities."

Rachel Donadio ponders the question, in "The New York Times", of why Coetzee left South Africa for Australia: "Why would a novelist who has written so powerfully about the land of his birth pack up and leave? Were his 2002 move and his taking of Australian citizenship last year a betrayal of his homeland, or a rejoinder to a country whose new government had denounced one of his most important novels as racist? Was it just another example of the 'white flight' that has sent hundreds of thousands of generally affluent South Africans to other Anglophone countries since the end of apartheid? Or was it a tacit acknowledgment that Coetzee had exhausted his South African material, that the next chapter in the country's history was the rise of the black middle class, and what did an old resistance writer, with his aloof, middle-aged white narrators, know about that?" She comes up with a possible answer involving T.S. Eliot and an essay Coetzee wrote in 1991.

Review of Disgrace

On the "Stains of Blue" weblog: "Its a really enjoyable read, not very long and beautifully written, but I think its one of these books that I'll have to read again because it has so many layers. Its a lot about politics about the situation of the white minority in South Africa after the Apartheid was abolished, about how to deal with a past like that. How different generations deal with it incredibly differently because of their respective experiences. I must say that this part of the story touched me deeply, because my country, too, has a horrible history and I, too, know how the different generations (my grandparents who have actually lived in the war, my parents, who lived with the guilt of their parents, and my generation, who still find it hard to have a real emotional bond to their country) experience these things differently. There is a lot about how to deal with that accumulated guilt and how that affects every relationship."

Review of Inner Workings - Literary Essays, 2000-2005

Bob Mustin, on the "Fire When Ready" weblog: "In the end, Coetzee manages to sketch literary, social, and political impulses into an imaginative rendering of the twentieth century. All collections have their limitations, and Inner Workings has its own. Coetzee's commentary is largely drawn from novel and short story prose, barely touching poetry and the relevance of essays such as his here."

Reviews of Diary of a Bad Year

In "The New Yorker", James Woods warns us not to be taken in by the surface chill of his work, there much greater depth than first appears to be the case. "Coetzee's chaste, exact, ashen prose may look like the very embers of restraint, but it is drawn, again and again, to passionate extremity: an uneducated gardener forced to live like an animal off the South African earth (Life & Times of Michael K); a white woman dying of cancer while a black township burns, and writing, in her last days, a letter of brutal truths to her daughter (Age of Iron); a white woman raped on her farm by a gang of black men, and impregnated (Disgrace); a recent amputee, the victim of a road accident that mangled a leg, helpless in his Adelaide apartment, and awkwardly in love with his Croatian nurse (Slow Man). Coetzee seems compelled to test his celebrated restraint against subjects and ideas whose extremity challenges novelistic representation."

Marco Roth in "The New York Sun": "Diary departs from his earlier work only by inverting the terms of who
suffers and who can offer consolation. Usually, it's the voice of civilization, in the form of a (usually) male narrator, who comes to recognize that he is not alone in the world of his desires. Here, it's the old, bachelor writer, at the mercy of strangers, who resembles the stray dogs in Disgrace. He cannot depend on common humanity, nor does he ever appeal to it."

Allen Barra, in "The Houston Chronicle": "Diary of a Bad Year is so compelling, in fact, that it's not easy to pin down precisely why it doesn't work. Coetzee's technique isn't a gimmick, but the way it is used here sometimes seems gimmicky, a self-consciously Postmodernist presentation of obviously anti-Postmodernist ideas, particularly about the relentless coarsening of language and music in the modern world."

Hilary Mantel in "The New York Review of Books": "In the days of naive photo-tourism, travelers in torrid zones could show us a near-naked and sexually null human being, as wrinkled as a blob of tar on a scorching road, and then surprisingly reveal that he or she was only twenty-seven. Something the same happens with Coetzee's characters: they seem on the brink of extinction, but there's life in the old dogs yet. The strong opinions never flag. Al-Qaeda. Pedophilia. Harold Pinter. Avian influenza, intelligent design, Guantánamo Bay. We are aware that they are edging us from the stock-in-trade of the finely pessimistic yet liberal commentator, and toward Coetzee's familiar and haunted and powerful preoccupations: disgust, disgrace, shame, the painful lives of animals. The arguments above the line are ariously persuasive, invariably robust. Sometimes the opinion offered above the line is slyly taken apart by the characters below it. The miracle of the book is that it is deeply involving, wryly funny, and perfectly easy to read, even when the bifurcated narrative splits into three."

Kathryn Harrison in "The New York Times": "Coetzee's fiction -- and, Diary of a Bad Year suggests, his psyche -- has always manifested a fault line. On one side of the divide is reason, moral and sober, charged with the responsible stewardship of human society. On the other lie the passions, especially lust, that undermine and sometimes trump intellect."

Harry Siegel in the "New York Post": "...while Coetzee is a tremendously gifted craftsman, the material he's assembling is mostly too flimsy for the structure he's attempting to shape."

A Classic Year: 1.0 Robbery Under Arms by Rolf Boldrewood

robbery_under_arms(1).jpgRobbery Under Arms
Rolf Boldrewood 1888

Whichever way you look at it, Robbery Under Arms has one of the great Australian novel openings:

My name's Dick Marston, Sydney-side native. I'm twenty-nine years old, six feet in my stocking soles, and thirteen stone weight. Pretty strong and active with it, so they say. I don't want to blow -- not here, any road -- but it takes a good man to put me on my back, or stand up to me with the gloves, or the naked mauleys. I can ride anything -- anything that ever was lapped in horsehide -- swim like a musk-duck, and track like a Myall blackfellow. Most things that a man can do I'm up to, and that's all about it. As I lift myself now I can feel the muscle swell on my arm like a cricket ball, in spite of the -- well, in spite of everything.

The morning sun comes shining through the window bars; and ever since he was up have I been cursing the daylight, cursing myself, and them that brought me into the world. Did I curse mother, and the hour I was born into this miserable life?

Why should I curse the day? Why do I lie here, groaning; yes, crying like a child, and beating my head against the stone floor? I am not mad, though I am shut up in a cell. No. Better for me if I was. But it's all up now; there's no get away this time; and I, Dick Marston, as strong as a bullock, as active as a rock-wallaby, chock-full of life and spirits and health, have been tried for bushranging -- robbery under arms they call it -- and though the blood runs through my veins like the water in the mountain creeks, and every bit of bone and sinew is as sound as the day I was born, I must die on the gallows this day month.

We know right from the start what we are getting into here: a novel of bush-rangers, crime, and, hopefully, high adventure. Our narrator, Dick Marston, is stuck on death-row waiting his execution which is due in a month from the time the book starts. To pass the time, and to keep his mind off his coming fate, he takes to writing his life story. And this is what comprises the bulk of the novel.

Marston is a country lad with a mainly-absent father, and a mother, sister Aileen, and younger brother Jim, all living and scratching out an adequate, if bare, existence on a country farm in New South Wales. At the start of the book we're not sure of the actual real-time frame of the novel's setting but we can guess it's some time in the mid 1800s - which is later confirmed as starting in the late 1840s. The father has fallen in with a criminal set who make their money from cattle-duffing - altering the brands on cattle and selling them for illegal profit - and horse-stealing. By the time they reach their late teens both Dick and Jim have helped their father with this activity and within the first 80 pages of the book have been completely won over to the criminal life. Chief among their father's associates is Captain Starlight (supposedly based on the real-life bushranger Captain Moonlite), a charismatic, intelligent gentleman who has taken to crime with some relish. Starlight has evaded capture over the years due to his knowledge of a country hideout called the Hollow. This is basically a "hidden valley", probably in the Great Dividing Range, well-watered with good natural pasture and almost impossible to find. It reminded me somewhat of The Hole in the Wall which featured in the Newman/Redford film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", and is used for a similar purpose: a place to rest up and agist any stock they may have happened to steal.

The first major exploit of the book concerns the theft of a large number of cattle from a nearby station - the number is variously described as being between a thousand and eleven hundred. The cattle are rounded up by Starlight's gang, the brands are altered where required and the whole herd transported overland to Adelaide where they are sold at auction for a rather handsome profit. This whole exercise takes a fair degree of planning for the group with the droving alone taking upwards of three months to complete. The auction proceeds without a hitch and the men all depart Adelaide to separate parts, with the Marston boys taking a steamer to Melbourne while Starlight decamps to New Zealand. After a few months Dick and Jim find themselves back home in New South Wales where they receive the news from their father, just before Christmas, that Starlight has been captured returning from Australia from New Zealand. The boys are warned to get clear but remain at home with their mother hoping to see out the festivities. It proves to be a mistake. Dick is captured by the police - Jim escapes fortuitously - and is sentenced to five years in jail; Starlight gets a sentence of seven years at the same trial.

Boldrewood goes to some pains in the first half of the book to show how conflicted Dick Marston is with the life he has now chosen. In almost every chapter he laments his decision to associate himself with his father's life and with Starlight, and the manner in which he corrupted his younger brother; and his sister is always trying to steer him straight and into the arms of a young woman living on a nearby property. This becomes rather over-repetitive and I wonder if this was a product of the initial serialisation of the work, with the readers demanding some sort of moral tone from a character who, while being a criminal, is shown in a rather flattering light. Or maybe I'm reading more into it than was originally intended, using a modern perspective rather than a nineteenth-century one.

The question that is raised here is how do we read classics of this sort? How much are we willing to forgive in terms of prose style and characterisation, sentimentality and pathos? I believe we can only read these works as they are presented. Attempting to approach them as an original reader is impossible. A classic will stand the test of time if it talks to readers across different periods. We in the 21st century may not read Robbery Under Arms for exactly the same things as did its 19th-century readers - though I'm sure some of the book's qualities apply equally to both - but if it supplies a similar sense of enjoyment then it has made its mark.

You can read more about the book on Wikipedia, which includes a link to the full text of the novel.
The novel is also available on Project Gutenberg.

Australian Books to Film #37 - Candy

candy.jpg

Candy 2006
Directed by Neil Armfield
Screenplay by Neil Armfield from the novel by Luke Davies
Featuring Abbie Cornish, Heath Ledger, Geoffrey Rush and Tom Budge

Reviews of Australian Books #69

In "The Brisbane Times", John Birmingham is quite definitive, The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon is The Great Australian Novel: "Ten years in the writing, beautifully realised, every goddamned page is a smack upside the head to the rest of us loser writers who couldn't hope to string together a single phrase with the pure bred artistry that Condon lavishes over nigh on 600 pages."

Cynthia Ward concludes that a new sf novel by Sylvia Kelso, Amberlight, "is the best new fiction I've read in 2007". It's a change, she says, from all the sf that sees no amicable resolution to the battle of the sexes.

In "Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard", Kirk Robinson reviews The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan: "...what is most compelling is Flanagan's astutely cynical portrayal of a contemporary society -- celebrity culture -- in which fear is a prized commodity to maintain control; a world in which innuendo and rumor-mongering is instantly available to all...It's a darkly imagined urban wasteland where legitimate and illegitimate worlds become indistinguishable, one in which the media is not interested in the truth, or its victims, but only in how the story will play."

Emily Donaldson opines, in "The Toronto Star", that Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital just doesn't quite make it: "Under all this awkward hyperbole and metaphorical bling there is a decent thriller trying to claw its way up and into the light of day."

Film Adaptations: My Brilliant Career

Kevin Lee, proprietor of the weblog "Shooting Down Pictures", has a short-term (!) project dedicated to watching all 1000 of the greatest films of all time, as listed on the "They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?" website.

Coming in at number 939 is My Brilliant Career, adapted from the Miles Franklin novel. This is a pretty comprehensive coverage of the film, including links to the novel's text and Eleanor Whitcombe's screenplay, reviews of the novel and comparisons to the film version, reviews of the film and career reviews of the cast and crew. If you're at all interested in this film then this webpage looks like the place for you.

A Classic Year: 0.2 Introduction

I had originally thought that I might provide the full list of entries in Jane Gleeson-White's Australian Classics, but took a minute and decided that was just my geeky penchant for lists coming to the fore. It's a habit I've been trying to break for a while and it seems that the start of a new year is as good a time as any for old habits to be chucked out. Then Margo Lanagan commented on my previous posting here and suggested I not follow a direct linear route through the book's contents but jump around all over the place, following whims as much as any specific pattern. While the contents of the book are not quite in publication order, following the sequence as specified presents a basic Australian literature overview, as well as providing a sense of the development of that literature over time. I'm going to stick with the order as published. I'm not, though, going to tell you which of the contents I've previously read. Firstly, that would be too embarrassing, and secondly, I want to approach these works as if I hadn't seen them before.

So here are the first four entries in Gleeson-White's book (with original publication dates):
Robbery Under Arms by Rolf Boldrewood (1882/83)
Such is Life by Tom Collins (1903)
"The Sick Stockrider" by Adam Lindsay Gordon (1869)
His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke (1872)

I'll list each month's list as I go. I have started Robbery Under Arms, but a brief technical problem is holding up my first comments about it. That should be fixed later today.

2007 - A Year in Australian Literature

January

  • Passarola Rising by Azhar Abidi is chosen as the best sf novel of 2006 by "Locus" magazine
  • Surrender by Sonya Hartnett and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak are named as Honor Books in the 2007 American Library Association's Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature
  • Will Elliott wins the Golden Aurelais award for his novel The Pilo Family Circus

February

  • Elizabeth Jolley, author of the Mles Franklin award winning novel The Well, amongst many others, dies at the age of 83

March

  • Luck in the Greater West by Damian McDonald is announced as the winner of the 2007 ABC Fiction Award
  • The Commonwealth Writers' Prize regional winners are announced. In the South East Asia and South Pacific region, the winners are: Best Book: Mister Pip, by Lloyd Jones (New Zealand), Penguin Best First Book: Tuvalu by Andrew O'Connor (Australia), Allen and Unwin
  • "The Guardian" newspaper from the UK reports that Borders plans to sell its Australian stores

April

  • The Australian Society of Authors announces a major new literary prize (worth $35,000) to be given to "the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society"
  • East of Time, by Jacob Rosenberg, is announced as the winner of the 2007 National Biography Award
  • Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee is included on the shortlist for the 2007 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
  • The shortlist for the 2007 Miles Franklin Award is announced, with only four novels making the list

May

  • Tom Kenneally is named the 2007 recipient of the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award, an annual award based on a writer's full career
  • the small township of Clunes, about 20 kilometres north of Ballarat in Victoria, decides to try to set up Australia's first dedicated booktown. The first weekend event takes place on May 20
  • Deborah Robertson wins the 2007 Nita Kibble Award for Women Writers for her novel Careless
  • Justine Larbalestier wins the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, for her novel Magic and Madness. The prize is awarded by the SFWA (Science Fiction/Fatasy Writers of America)
  • Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones of New Zealand is named as the winner of the 2007 Commonwealth Writers' Prize
  • The winners of the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Awards are announced. Book of the Year: Shaun Tan, The Arrival; Fiction: Peter Carey, Theft: a Love Story; Non-fiction: Robert Hughes, Things I Didn't Know: a Memoir; Poetry: John Tranter, Urban Myths: 210 Poems; Children's: Narelle Oliver, Home; Young People's: Ursula Dubosarsky, The Red Shoe.

June

  • The Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelists 2007 are announced as Danielle Wood, Will Elliott, and Tara June Winch.
  • Austlit, the major Australian literary bibliographic index housed at the University of Queensland, announces the commencement of "Black Words", a literary website specialising in Australian Indigenous works
  • 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
  • Chinua Achebe is announced as the winner of the 2007 Man Booker International Prize
  • The 2007 Ditmar Awards (otherwise known as the Australian Science Fiction Achievement Awards) are announced with The Pilo Family Circus by Will Elliot, picking up the Novel award
  • Out Stealing Horses, by Norwegian author Per Petterson, is announced as the 12th winner of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
  • Alexis Wright is announced as the winner of the 2007 Miles Franklin Award, for her novel Carpentaria
  • The Great War by Les Carlyon and Colonial Ambition: Foundations of Australian Democracy by Dr Peter Cochrane are announced as joint winners of the Prime Minister's Prize for Australian History
  • The winners of the 2006 Western Australian Premier's Book Awards are announced. Premier's Prize: Shaun Tan, The Arrival; Fiction: Simon Lazaroo, The Travel Writer; Poetry: Dennis Haskell, All the Time in the World; Non-fiction: Quentin Beresford, Rob Riley: an Aboriginal Leader's Quest for Justice and Peter Edwards, Arthur Tange: Last of the Mandarins; Children's: Shaun Tan, The Arrival; Young Adult's: Kate McCaffrey, Destroying Avalon

July

  • Peter Temple is announced as the winner of 2007 Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award (formerly the Golden Dagger) in the UK, for his novel The Broken Shore
  • The 2007 Australian Literature Society Gold Medal is awarded to Alexis Wright for her novel Carpentaria
  • Glenda Adams, the Miles Franklin Award winning author of Dancing on Coral, dies at the age of 67 after a long illness
  • Bronwyn Clarke wins the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Golden Heart contest for unpublished manuscripts, for her novel Falling into Darkness

August

  • M.J. Hyland is awarded the 2007 Hawthornden Prize for her novel Carry Me Down
  • Federal Education minister, Julie Bishop, announces that the Australian Government will allocate funds to $A1.5m to create a Chair of Australian Literature in an Australian university
  • Charlie Rimmer, Group Commercial Manager for Angus and Robertson bookshops, writes to a number of Australian independent publishers indicating that the bookshop chain will refuse to stock their books without compensation
  • The 2007 Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards are announced - Older Readers: Margo Lanagan, Red Spikes; Younger Readers: Catherine Bateson, Being Bee; Early Childhood: Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwoood (illus), Amy & Louis; Picture Book of the Year: Shaun Tan, The Arrival; Eve Pownall Award for Information Books: Mark Norman,The Penguin Book: Birds in Suits
  • The winners of the 2007 "The Age" Book of the Year Awards are announced. Fiction: Every Move You Make by David Malouf; Non-Fiction: Colonial Ambition: Foundations of Australian Democracy by Peter Cochrane; Poetry: The Goldfinches of Baghdad by Robert Adamson. Cochrane also won the Book of the Year Award
  • The 2007 Ned Kelly Award winners (for crime fiction) are anounced: Chain of Evidence by Garry Disher in the Novel category; Diamond Dove by Adrian Hyland won Best First Novel; Killing for Pleasure: The Definitive Story of the Snowtown Murders by Debi Marshall and Written on the Skin by Liz Porter for Best True Crime; and the Lifetime Achievement Award went to Sandra Harvey and Lindsay Simpson

September

  • The winners of the 2007 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards are announced. Fiction: Alexis Wright, Carpentaria; Non-fiction: Danielle Clode, Voyages to the South Seas: In Search of Terres Australes; Poetry: Judy Johnson, Jack; Young Adult: Simmone Howell, Notes from the Teenage Underground
  • The winners of the 2007 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards are announced. Fiction: Alexis Wright, Carpentaria; Non-fiction: Professor Tom Griffiths, Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica; Children's: Glenda Millard, Layla Queen of Hearts; Young Adult: Judith Clarke, One Whole and Perfect Day
  • Stefan Laszczuk is named as the winner of the 2007 The Australian/Vogel Award, for an unpublished manuscript for an Australian writer under the age of 35, for his novel titled I Dream of Magda

October

  • Lonely Planet, the iconic Australian publisher of travel guides, is sold to the commercial division of the BBC in a deal reportedly worth $A200 million
  • Markus Zusak wins the 2007 Exclusive Books Boeke Prize for his novel, The Book Thief. This is a South African award
  • Ladbrook's, a major UK betting agency, lists Les Murray as a 6/1 second favourite - behind Claudio Magris - for the 2007 Nobel prize for Literature. The prize is subsequently won by Doris Lessing who was not listed by Ladbrook's
  • Anne Enright's novel The Gathering, is announced as the winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize
  • Steve J Spears, author of The Elocution of Benjamin Franklin and a recent series of crime novels, dies at the age of 56

November

  • Shaun Tan is announced as the winner of the Best Artist category in the 2007 World Fantasy Awards
  • 9 Australian novels make the extended longlist for the 2008 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
  • David Rowbotham is announced as the winner of the 2007 Patrick White Award
  • The winners of the 2007 Davitt Awards (crime written by Australina women) are anounced. Best True Crime and Readers' Choice: Karen Kissane, Silent Death: The Killing of Julie Ramage; Best Adult Crime: Sydney Bauer, Undertow; Best Young Adult Crime: Jaclyn Moriarty, The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie; Readers' Choice: Kerry Greenwood, Devil's Food and Karen Kissane
  • Eric Rolls, author of A Million Wild Acres, dies at the age of 84

December

  • Australia's new Prime Minister announces a major new literary prize of $100,000 in both fiction and non-fiction categories

Best Books of the Year #9 - Kirkus

A few Australian books have made the grade in the "Kirkus Reviews" Best Books 2007 listing [PDF file].

In the fiction section, Arabella Edge's The God of Spring is decribed as gathering "together threads of artistic obsession, urgent sex, beyond-horrific deprivation, the dizzying spin of madness, scandal and the need to make palpable the awful and awesome possibilities of the human condition."

Amongst the non-fiction is J.M. Coetzee's Inner Workings: Essays 2000-2005, and in the "Best Indie Books" list lies Chain of evidence by Garry Disher, though there doesn't appear to be any review or description of either.

Australian Bookcovers #95 - War Crimes by Peter Carey

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War Crimes by Peter Carey, 1979
(UQP 1979 edition)
Cover illustration by Brian Morris

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Dick's novel of the near future when the difference between human and android is barely discernible. One of the great all-time sf titles.

 

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