July 2008 Archives

Man's Job

Muphry's Law is an adage that states that "if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written." John Bangsund of the Victorian Society of Editors (Australia) identified Muphry's Law as "the editorial application of the better-known Murphy's Law", and set it down in 1992 in the "Society of Editors Newsletter". You can read more about this on Wikipedia. John Bangsund is one of Australia's greatest ever sf fans. I would also point you to his Wikipedia page, but, unfortunately, there isn't one. Yet another little project I'll have to get to some time soon.

In "The Courier-Mail" Ian Barry speculates that Western Australian author Greg Egan might be one of those who steps up to fill the void left by the death of Arthur C. Clarke earlier this year.

Angela Savage gives a rundown on the panels she moderated and participated in during the Crime & Justice Festival held in Melbourne recently.

"Sunnie's Book Blog" looks at the festival from the other side. As does Karen on the "Aust Crime" weblog.

And Jane, of the "Speakeasy" weblog has been at the Byron Bay Writers' Festival.

On the "My Book, the Movie" weblog, Jarad Henry discusses how he would like to see his second novel, Blood Sunset, adapted for the screen.

"The Book Grocer" has opened a new shop in High Street, Armadale - the suburb of Melbourne.

2008 Ned Kelly Award Shortlists Announced

Damian, of the "Crime Downunder" weblog is reporting that the shortlists for the 2008 Ned Kelly Awards (for Best Australian crime fiction) have been released. The awards presentation is being held on Friday August 29th as a part of the Melbourne Writers' Festival.

Best Crime Fiction
Among the Dead by Robert Gott (Scribe)
Sucked In by Shane Maloney (Text)
El Dorado by Dorothy Porter (Pan Macmillan)
Shatter by Michael Robotham (Hachette Livre)

Best First Crime Novel
The Low Road by Chris Womersley (Scribe)
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz (Penguin)
Golden Serpent by Mark Abernethy (Allen & Unwin)

Best Non Fiction
Underbelly: The Gangland War by John Silvester and Andrew Rule (Sly Ink)
Killing Jodie by Janet Fife-Yeomans (Penguin)
Red Centre, Dark Heart by Evan McHugh (Penguin)

That's two nominations in a row for Steve Tolz, after he made the longlist for the 2008 Man Booker prize yesterday.

2008 Australian Poetry Festival

The 2008 Australian Poetry Festival will be held at the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts,
280 Pitt Street, Sydney, over the weekend of 5, 6, and 7 September 2008. You can download a full program from their website.

2008 Man Booker Prize Longlist Announced

The panel of judges for the 2008 Man Booker prize have announced their longlist of titles, 13 in all.

The list comprises:

Aravind Adiga The White Tiger
Gaynor Arnold Girl in a Blue Dress
Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture
John Berger From A to X
Michelle de Kretser The Lost Dog
Amitav Ghosh Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs
Mohammed Hanif A Case of Exploding Mangoes
Philip Hensher The Northern Clemency
Joseph O'Neill Netherland
Salman Rushdie The Enchantress of Florence
Tom Rob Smith Child 44
Steve Toltz A Fraction of the Whole

Two Australians in de Kretser and Toltz.

The shortlist will be announced on 9th September, and the winner on 14th October.

2008 Australian Literature Society Gold Medal

A couple of weeks back I noted that the 2008 Australian Literature Society Gold Medal had been presented to The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser (who I'm sure I saw driving through Richmond last Friday night). Now comes the news that, as well as the Gold Medal, the ALS also presents a biennial Magarey Medal for Biography. And this year that award was won by Ida Leeson: A Life by Dr Sylvia Martin.

[I probably got confused with this medal.]

C.J. Dennis Festival in Toolangi

Stephen Whiteside has written to tell me about the Toolangi Festival to be held over the weekend of 18th and 19th of October 2008. Toolangi was the major residence of C.J. Dennis for about the last twenty or so years of his life. As Stephen puts it: "CJD is not the whole focus of the festival, but he is a large part of it. The plan is for the festival to now be held every year. "There is also a written poetry comp attached to the festival. Winners will be announced at a ceremony on the Saturday, at The Singing Gardens. Also at the Gardens on the Sunday will be a poetry show featuring the work of CJD. Entry will be by gold coin."

For those not in the know, Toolangi is about 15 kilometres north of Healesville in the Yarra Valley in Victoria. It's also about 90 minutes from the Melbourne CBD. I'll be making every effort I can to get there.

Australian Bookcovers #124 - Jacko by Tom Keneally

Jacko by Tom Keneally, 1993
(William Heinemann 1993 edition)

Reviews of Australian Books #92

AS Byatt is pretty keen on The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser, writing in "The Financial Times": "This is the best novel I have read for a long time. The writing is elegant and subtle, and Michelle de Kretser knows how to construct a gripping story...This writing is new and constantly surprising, without being showy or quirky. It is exact, like Penelope Fitzgerald; it is strange, like Patrick White."

In "The Washington Post" Dara Horn sees The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser as being haunted by history and modern life: "While the plot is subtle, the book's musings on modernity are anything but. Nearly every page offers observations on how contemporary Western life attempts to efface the past: faddish dress, gentrified neighborhoods, the disposability of old technology."

Patrick Ness revels in Jamaica by Malcolm Knox in "The Guardian": "Alongside Tim Winton's Breath, this is the second excellent novel in as many months to examine masculinity and male friendship in Australian sport, a subject that might seem of limited intrinsic interest. But it's not the song, it's how it's sung, and if Winton is an aria, Knox is early Rolling Stones."

Mark Bahnisch isn't impressed by Inside Kevin07: The People. The Plan. The Prize by Christine Jackman: "I'm unable to think of any good reasons for parting with $34.95 for Jackman's book, which is touted as the ultimate insider account of the Labor Party's campaign strategy in the lead up to last year's federal election...Inside Kevin07 is a yawn as a yarn, summoning up little dramatic tension, and telling us almost nothing new and interesting about the campaign, unless you're the sort of person as obsessed with campaigning wonkery as its cast of characters are."

Nicola Walker in "The Brisbane Times" finds that The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelaide may be in a class of its own: "In an interview published by this paper, Adelaide, a lecturer at UTS, and the author of two earlier novels, expressed her belief that fiction can be both literary and a commercial success, 'which is something we don't do in Australia', while adding that she 'was just writing the sort of book [she] wanted to read'."

In "The Age", Jeff Glorfeld is impressed with Bright Air by Barry Maitland, calling it "classy stuff and a pleasure to read".

Short Notices

On the Book Bath weblog Karen has a look at The Household Guide to Dying Debra Adelaide: "This book was divine -- beautifully narrated by Delia who I just adore. A wonderful mixture of sharp, quickwitted, intelligent, reflection -- everything I would love to be!"

"The Reading Log" weblog has a look at The Well by Elizabeth Jolley: "This winner of the Miles Franklin award is a tight piece of writing, a powerful study of isolation and obsession played out in a power struggle spanning two distinct generations."

The "A Novel Approach (!)" weblog reviews Careless by Deborah Robertson: "A warning: this book is not happy. At all. It is very, very good, but it is certainly not a feel-good novel. At all. Considering the themes of this book are grief, and how we deal with it, that's probably not a surprise. In the hands of a lesser author, this would probably have been a mess of clichés, and feel good moments that make humanity seem kind and caring. Robertson does not fall into this trap."

Susannna Yager in "The Telegraph" calls Peter Temple's Shooting Star "a taut, action-packed thriller".

Geraldine Brooks Watch #7

Short Notices

"The Hindu Literary Review" on People of the Book: "A gripping, intricate account by Geraldine Brooks of how a very rare, ancient prayer book was restored."
The "A Life in Books" weblog on Year of Wonders: "Anna's story doesn't end with the plague, and where she ends her journey is both surprising and satisfying, especially since it doesn't always appear that the story will take the turns it does."
The "Garish & Tweed" weblog enjoyed People of the Book, but wish it had been written by someone else. Which is a review point that you don't come across very often.
The "endomental" weblog found March "fascinating, if overblown".
Rebecca Adler, on the "The Inside Cover" weblog, seems to have really enjoyed Year of Wonders: "When I first saw this book I knew it was going to be an easy read, merely because of its length (only 336 pages!). What I didn't know was how much I'd enjoy reading it. This book packed in a ton of information, along with many vivid scenes. Time and again I found myself being shocked by how much I learned from this book and how many different places/people were described in so few pages. Brooks is an amazing writer for both her economy of words and her ability to tell a story well."
"The life domestic" weblog went on a bit of a Brooks-reading spree after "reading and loving March."
The "A Book a Week" weblog has a look at Year of Wonders.
Megan Michelle on Year of Wonders: "This is one of my all time favourite books, by an author whose work I enjoy every time. Obviously I love this book. Except for the epilogue that is. I find it completely incongruous with the rest of the book. Every time I reread this book I declare that I'm going to stop before the epilogue. I never actually do though, and always end up annoyed that I didn't stop."
RabbitReader on March: "It is hard to believe the horror that must have been the Civil War, but Brooks does a masterful job of telling this story in a 19th century voice complete with semi-colons. March compares favorably with the tone provided by Ken Burns' quoting of letters and diaries in his marvelous documentary on the Civil War."


If you're looking for more information about the author and her books you can find it on her website.

David Brooks Profile

After his novel The Fern Tattoo was shortlisted for this year's Miles Franklin Award, author David Brooks returns to poetry with the release of his new collection, The Balcony. The author is interviewed in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

"I have been struggling, trying to shift myself out of some very old and deeply lodged ideas about how I should write poems. I have been trying to find a new voice - I mean, I didn't know that I was trying to find a new voice, I didn't even know I was lodged in some old ideas of the poem - but now with what has happened with these poems, I at last know that I am speaking as myself.

"I also realise now that at last, after all this time, I am not afraid of speaking as myself. I realise that I hadn't before. But now I know that there is nothing else you can do: you come to a point in your life where you don't worry about how you seem to other people. That is where I am now. That really is a huge relief, getting over yourself. And I am getting over myself at last."

Instances of Matilda #2


Matilda's, Nambucca Heads, NSW

Poem: A Jug of Wine: Pursuing Omar by Hamer (Harold Mercer)

A book of verse as pillow for my head;
A Jug of Wine -- what is the use of bread?
   And your voice singing in the wilderness --
Why, even that would cause me little dread!

A book of verses of a decent size
Can make a pillow that the best might prize;
   And you -- the you that always will intrude --
Why, you can hunt away disturbing flies.

Sing if you will; in a suburban street
I live my days, and there much music meet.
   I doubt if you such discord can create
As when the neighbours with their songs compete.

But why the bread, that happens in the line?
Is it the poet's, or the flies', or thine?
   Perchance it is a pillow for your head --
My thoughts are centred in the Jug of Wine.

First published in The Bulletin, 4 June 1908

Review:The Biographer by Virginia Duigan

biographer.jpg Virginia Duigan
Random House, 321 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Perry Middlemiss

The biographer's role is a strange and complex one: part detective, part confessor, part social worker, and part schoolyard bully. Is it all worth it? Does the end product justify the journey? Does it help or injure the subject? And what of the people around them - the family and friends? Even if the subject is dead a good juicy biography surely must dig the dirt. And if the subject is still among the living, well then, all the better.

It's a teasing prospect to watch someone rummage through dirty linen, even ironed and well-aired linen. We are all voyeurs of a sort. But normally we only get to see the end product - the biography - divorced from the subject and presented by the biographer with all his or her prejudices to the fore. Virginia Duigan's new novel The Biographer attempts to reverse that process somewhat, giving us a version from the subject's point of view.

Greer Gordon ran away from a new career and a new marriage with Czech-born painter, Mischa Svodoba, in the 1980s, severing all contact with her family and friends in Australia. Twenty-five years later he is a world-renown artist, and the two of them live in a Tuscan commune with Rollo, another artist, and his partner Guy in a hilltop group of houses that they have all gradually renovated over the years. Into this small community comes Tony, a young art critic who is researching a biography of Mischa. We learn very soon that Tony is near the end of his researches and that his time in Tuscany will be used in tying up some loose ends of the knot that is Mischa's life, and, possibly, attempting to extract the last possible drop of blood out of the artist's relationships, though, of course, Tony puts it rather more delicately than that.

But Mischa proves to be rather elusive. Not in a physical sense, as he is always there somewhere, in his studio working, or eating and drinking with the others. His distance comes from his very nature, his drive to succeed at his art. All else is background noise, and he tends to ignore Tony whenever possible, even though it was he who initially invited Tony to Italy. So Tony finds himself getting little out of the artist - his main subject - and he slowly turns his attention to Greer, or Gigi as she is now known.

Is this really the way it has turned out, by chance, or did he come to the commune fully intending to concentrate on Gigi in the first place? And if that's the case then does he have anything up his sleeve or is he of the view that she will prove to be an easier target?

The novel is told mostly from Gigi's point-of-view and, as she questions Tony's every move and motive, she also examines her own life with Mischa, reading back over an old diary that she keeps hidden from everyone, especially the biographer. The forward thrust of the novel is controlled by the flashbacks to her earlier life, instigated by passages in her diary, and the present-day machinations of Tony as he fills in gaps in his understanding of the artist's life. And, slowly, the reader starts to realise there is something else lurking in the background, something unspoken and painful. The touch has to be just right for this to work. Too light and you don't care for the characters nor for whatever happens to them; too heavy and it dives into sentimentality, which is just another route to "not-very-good".

Duigan handles the authorial weight here very well. She steers a delicate path between the traps she sets for herself and arrives at an endpoint that is neither mawkish nor obvious. For just a moment in the last few chapters I thought she was going to succumb to what I keep thinking of as a "soap-opera" ending. A lesser writer would have taken the low road to cliché and ruined all the good work in the rest of the novel. Duigan doesn't, and this reader closed the book with a sense of deep satisfaction.

Tim Winton Watch #5

Reviews of Breath

John Repp in "The St Petersburg Times": "Despite its flaws, Breath should enhance Winton's American reputation. It's a fast read that digs deep, proving once again that in the hands of a skilled writer, the metamorphosis from child to adult can yield fresh discoveries."

Stephanie Johnson in "The New Zealand Herald": "Breath's characters and story hang in the reader's mind for days after finishing. Strangely and beautifully, it resonates more as a lengthy poem rather than a novel, perhaps because the notion behind it is so metaphorical and profound: breath and the fear of losing it. This is despite the voice not being particularly poetic and the sometimes heavy-handed Australianisms."

Ian Mcgillis in "The Calgary Herald": "In a novel whose characters are compelled to test the limits of the flesh, much depends on Winton being able to convey some of that rush, and he does."

Darryl Whetter in "The Vancouver Sun": "For all its mid-sized accuracies, Breath doesn't fully transcend surfing or its protagonist to make a lasting, universal statement...One consequence is the mixed blessing of the
novel's close, a slippery dénouement in which intelligent emotional confessions are made but too many years and crises slide by too quickly. In short, we see little connection between the adolescent surfer who risks his life in one spot but not another, who is loyal in some ways but not others, and the articulate but distant adult he becomes."

Short Notices

MetroSantaCruz.com on Breath: "Despite the potential richness of this kind of material, most surfers write novels about as well as most novelists surf. Here's the exception."
"The New Yorker" on Breath:"Winton's latest novel is both a hymn to the beauty of flying on water and a sober assessment of the costs of losing one's balance, in every sense of the word."
"Word Lily" weblog on Cloudstreet: "I loved the setting and all the book's interactions with it. It's a novel place for me, and I love 'visiting' new places. I really was drawn in by the novel's place...This book seemed a bit crass to me. It talks about sex in low ways. Not titillating, just a little bit disturbing."


Lisa Wrenn in "PopMatters".

The west coasts of Australia and the United States have much in common, says Tim Winton. In fact, that's an international phenomenon that includes left coasts from Africa to Ireland. "Everyone on the east coasts look at the westerners as a bit more wild, a bit more gauche," explains the Perth-based writer, over tea in San Francisco. "Sometimes, it's more romantic, much more of a frontier." And, as in the U.S., more politically progressive? "And that's where the analogy falls down," he says with a laugh. "In the Australian sense, the West can be more like the American South."

Tim Winton talks about The Tree of Man by Patrick White.

The Tin Wreath by Kahuna

The future Australian poet laureate, like a resurrected Don Quixote, came ambling along the straight in the Mount Parnassus Stakes bestride a woeful Pegasus suffering from incipient locomotor ataxia and just a soupçon of pareisis of the wings. The spectators, pale in the face and palpitating with excitement, surged forward to get a glimpse of the
winner's number. Yells of approval, or execration, or silence, or something, rent the air when The Bulletin laurel wreath (tin) was handed down from its nail and duly delivered, under protest, to Roderic Joseph Quinn to have and to hold or wear for the term of his natural life. The judge, with youth, a sound constitution, and careful nursing, pulled round. Will Ogilve was disqualified at the starting gate for not being more careful in the choice of his parents and birthplace.

Quinn, the winner, is never likely to be mistaken by fervid admirer or carping critic for a Byron or a Shelley, or have an orchestra stall kept warm for him among the noble army of immortals.

He handles his subjects daintily, and possesses an instinctive rightness of touch which covers a multitude of sins. His style bristles with subtlety and suggestions and tone, and his imagery and skilful word-painting appeal to the ear, if not to the heart, of the discriminating reader. There is such animation and suppleness in his adroit turn of phrase, and his color sense is so well defined and true, that one can overlook the absence of profundity and Promethean fire, at times so apparent, and be content to sit back lulled to rest by the sweet melody of his singing.

Moreover, he is of Australia, Australian. Not in the blatant, State-rights, Wild Colonial Boy manner of some of our popular balladists, but in a more dignifed and subdued style, which forecasts the advent of a newer and more refined phase in the evolution of our national literature. There are three verses in his "Lotus Flower" which always appeal to me as a typical sample of his work:-

"The Lotus dreams 'neath the dreaming skies,
   Its beauty touching with spell divine
The grey old town, till the old town lies
   Like one half-drunk with a magic wine.

"Star-loved, it breathes at the midnight hour
   A sense of peace from its velvet mouth.
Though flowers be fair -- is there any flower
   Like this blue flower of the radiant South?

"Sun-loved and lit by the moon, it yields
   A challenge-glory or glow serene.
And men bethink them of jewelled shields,
   A turquoise lighting a ground of green."

As there appears to have been only sufficient surplus hardware to make only one wreath, and as that has been well and truly laid on the noble brow of Roderic Quinn, let us offer consolation to les autres; for, as the Scripture sayeth: "Many are called, but few get up."

First published in The Bulletin, 16 April 1908

Roderic Quinn's Australian Dictionary of Biography webpage.
Posts about Quinn on Matilda.
And you can read more of Quinn's poems on Sydney University's SETIS website [PDF file].


Shaun Tan's The Arrival has been adapted for the stage by the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre.

The "Monkey with a Machinegun" weblog posts a possible last paragraph to the "Not-So-Great Australian Novel". Needs to change "sidewalk" to "footpath", however.

Karen spent a fair amount of time at the Crime & Justice Festival last weekend and has been writing about what she found there on her weblog.

"The Independent" newspaper runs a piece titled "Crime Fiction: Around the World in 80 Sleuths". Two of them are Australian: Diamond Doves by Adrian Hyland, and The Broken Shore by Peter Temple. The rest of the list is pretty damn good as well.

The "Sleepers Alamanac" people have made available podcasts from their Salons held over winter in Melbourne: Ramona Koval in conversation with Zoe Dattner, Sophie Cunningham in conversation with Louise Swinn, and Steven Carroll (this year's Miles Franklin Award winner) also in conversation with Louise Swinn.

D.M. Cornish's Monster Blood Tattoo series now has a book trailer up on YouTube.

Australian Books to Film #47 - FernGully: The Last Rainforest


FernGully: The Last Rainforest 1992
Directed by Bill Kroyer
Screenplay by Jim Cox from the book FernGully by Diana Young
Featuring the voices of Tim Curry, Samantha Mathis, Christian Slater, and Robin Williams.

Helen Garner Watch #4

Reviews of The Spare Room

Neel Mukherjee in "The Times": "Only great fiction demands us to reset our moral compass and look at our value coordinates all over again. The Spare Room achieves this by relentlessly working out the dimensions behind the simple words: 'Death will not be denied. To try is grandiose. It drives madness into the soul. It leaches out virtue. It injects poison into friendship, and makes a mockery of love.'"

Olivia Laing in "The Observer": "How we die and how we stand to be with those who are dying are serious questions, but even at the most painful moments Garner maintains a characteristic lightness of touch, a combination of wit and lyricism that is immensely alluring." She concludes that this is an "extraordinary, exhilarating novel".

Stevie Davies in "The Independent": "In Australia, Helen Garner has a controversial reputation for writing fiction as if it were memoir. This compulsively readable, searing novel narrates the author's own nursing of a close friend through terminal cancer. Author and narrator are called Helen. So is this a fictionalised memoir? Not really. It's a fiction about truth; about witnessing to truth -- and, disturbingly, about enforcing it upon the dying. A hymn to friendship tested to its limits, the novel is also a manifesto and a confession."

Claire Allfree in "MetroLife": "Garner tackles what could be a dangerously mawkish subject with a cool head and a piercing eye, cutting through the sentimental clutter to the bones of what matters: the selfishness of grief and suffering; the denial and courage that death inspires; and the power of love to keep on going."

Short Notices

Jane Shilling in "The Telegraph": "Garner writes with the cool authority of personal experience, and apprehends Helen and Nicola's loving and warring worlds in such fine and sensuous detail that pain itself is rendered beautiful."


After going to see "the Children's Bach" performed by the ChamberMade Opera, fibee71 wonders if Garner has any joy in her life. And Jack Teiwes reviews the performance for "Australian Stage Online".

2008 Dylan Thomas Prize

The longlist for the 2008 Dylan Thomas Prize for young writers has been released. In case you've forgotten (and who wouldn't with all these awards around?) the Dylan Thomas prize "is open to young writers of any nationality, from anywhere in the world, writing in English. Writers must be under 30 years of age on 3rd April 2007. The following Genres are all eligible for entry: novels, collections of short stories, poetry, screenplays, radio and theatre plays." Which is interesting as I wasn't aware that poetry was a "genre".

Sorry "Genre".

Anyway, enough joking around.

The longlisted works are:
Ishq & Mushq by Priya Basil
The Orientalist and the Ghost by Susan Barker
Trouble Came to the Turnip by Caroline Bird
The Secret by Zoe Brigley
Zoology by Ben Dolnick
Blood Kin by Ceridwen Dovey
Submarine by Joe Dunthorne
Oystercatchers by Susan Fletcher
Satsuma Sun Mover by Adam Green
Blackmoor by Edward Hogan
Sons and Other Flammable Objects by Porohistra Khakpour
The Boat by Nam Le
Children of the Revolution by Dinaw Mengestu
There is an Anger that Moves by Kei Miller
God's Own Country by Ross Raisin
St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

The only Australian in the group is Nam Le. The short list will be announced in September and the winner in November this year.

Upcoming Literary Talks

Debra Adelaide and Toni Jordan will appear at a writers' dinner in Goondiwindi, Queensland, on August 1st.

Lonely Planet writer and regular contributer to "The Age", Victoria Kyriakopoulos will speak at the Friends of Nunawading Library Literary Lunch on July 30th.

A number of writers will feature in literary lunches associated with the Tasmania Book Prize, during the "Ten Days on the Island Festival", held from 27th March to 5th April 2009.

Sheryl Gwyther, author of Secrets of Eromanga and Children's Literature Trust fellow, will be farewelled at a literary lunch on Friday, 29th August, in Burnside, South Australia.

Author and photographer Holly Kerr Forsyth will talk about her book The Constant Gardener at Pialligo Estate, ACT, on Friday 19th September.

Jane Gleeson-White, author of Australian lassics, will be in Port Macquarie, NSW, on Friday 5th September.

Tobbie Puttock, author of Italian Local, will be in Palm Beach, NSW, on Wednesday 6th August, and Balmoral, NSW, on Thursday 7th August.

Lee Tulloch, author of The Woman in the Lobby, will speak at dinner in Camberwell, Victoria, on Wednesday 3rd September.

Clive James Watch #7

Five Years Ago
Clive James on "The Good of a Bad Review" in "The New York Times" (7 Sept, 2003): "Adverse book reviews there have always been, and always should be, lest a tide of good intentions rise to drown us all in worthy sludge. At their best, they are written in defense of a value, and in the tacit hope that the author, having had his transgressions pointed out, might secretly agree that his book is indeed lousy. All they attack, or seem to attack, is the book. But a snark blatantly attacks the author -- not simply to retard his career but to advance the reviewer's, either by proving how clever he is or simply by injuring a competitor. Since a good book can certainly be injured by a bad review, especially if the critic is in a position of influence, the distinction between the snark and the legitimately destructive review is well worth having."

Ten Years Ago
James spends 200,000 UKP to build himself a ballroom in his London apartment - "Sunday Mirror, 11 Oct 1998.

It is possible to get inspiration for poetry from the most unlikely sources.
James will be at the Edinburgh Festival with his show "Clive James in the Evening", Aug 19-24, Assembly @ Queen's Hall. "The Times" newspaper lists it as one of the 50 "Shows It Would be a Crime to Miss".
Adrian Bregazzi gets stuck into James, on the weblog "Suddenness May Happen", concerning his treatment of Borges in Cultural Amnesia. "The Spotsyltuckian" weblog sees James's latest book as a means to an end: "In Cultural Amnesia, Clive James presents a hundred short biographies, which are anything but compendiums of births, degrees earned, accomplishments made; they are, instead, ruminations which compel a reader to follow the most intriguing clues -"

Australian Bookcovers #123 - Bettany's Book by Tom Keneally

Bettany's Book by Tom Keneally, 2000
(Doubleday 2000 edition)

Review: The New Angel by Ali Alizadeh

new_angel.jpg Ali Alizadeh
Transit Lounge, 254 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Michael Freedman

Debut novels are often the most interesting to read, and certainly the most interesting to review. Like debut albums, an artist puts their heart and soul into their first novel, and it is the initial work that is often the most personal. After all, the debut novelist never knows when they will be published again, and if the novel is not well received then Andy Warhol's musings of the length of fame may take on a more literal meaning. It really is a case of get it right first time, because, like everyone else, novelists rarely get a second chance to make a first impression.

I suspect that The New Angel is an intensely personal work for its author, and not just because it is his first novel. While he may be new to the novel game, Ali Alizadeh is an accomplished, published and award winning writer already. He writes, performs and edits poetry, holds a PhD, and has also collaborated on an award-winning film. But I suspect it is the subject matter of The New Angel which would hold special significance for Mr Alizadeh.

The New Angel's protagonists are Bahram and Fereshteh, who, like their literary creator, grow up in Iran, and live much of their childhood in conditions of unbelievable fear and violence. They are also a teenage couple who, despite living lives of unimaginable hardship, somehow find the time to meet to meet and fall in love. Much of the novel is set against the Islamic Revolution of the 1980s, and it is against this backdrop that the characters face their biggest tests.

In some respects this is a love story, and because for much of the novel the young lovers are 13 and 14 years old, and because they must face almost insurmountable external barriers to their relationship, comparisons to Romeo and Juliet are inevitable. But it is more than a love story, and is as much about violence and barbarity, religious intolerance, the innocence of childhood, and the horrors of complete helplessness as it is about love and desire. It is a tragedy - a work of fiction set against the background of the unbelievable atrocities committed during the Iran-Iraq War could scarcely be anything else - but the author engages the reader through Bahram, who narrates most of the novel, and what he finds funny we do as well.

Although The New Angel is set in an intensely religious and conservative Islamic country, it is not difficult to relate to the predicament of the characters. Fascism because of religious zeal is not so different to fascism motivated by racial differences, whether perceived or real. One of the characters, for example, would not be out of place if transplanted in whole cloth to Germany in the 30s and 40s. The mistrust and censorship of art, literature and its creators, indiscriminate death caused by technologically superior firepower, family members taking sides against each other, and the pervading fear and uncertainty of not knowing when the authorities are going to come for you. These are all familiar themes to anyone who has lived through a large scale war.

It is a strange and yet auspicious characteristic of human nature, that in such horrific and uncontrollable circumstances such as those in which the characters of The New Angel find themselves, something as poetic, romantic and all-consuming as young love can not only begin, but flourish. The characters of Bahram and Fereshteh at first captivate, then enthral, and in the end, in different ways, become victims of the time in which they lived. It is to the author's credit that a work that seems so personal, so emotional, and so raw, is able to provide such a powerful lesson about the best and worst of humanity.

Reviews of Australian Books #91

In "The Age", Michael McGirr: "Arnold Zable's exquisite new novel, Sea of Many Returns, charts more recent comings and goings from Ithaca. Zable's fiction has often found disquieting resonances between physical and emotional space. Here, once again, he embraces restless and heartsore characters, people whose deep longings are sketched with a few reverent gestures...Zable has a remarkable gift for this. He holds pain with unsettling gentleness. His prose is such good company that you accept its honesty."

In "The Sydney Morning Herald", John Huxley on The Pages by Murray Bail: "Though short and sharp, it is as refreshing as its predecessors and arguably more far-reaching in its range of big ideas, probing the fitful engagement not just between men and women, brothers and sisters, Sydney and the bush, Australia and the wider world, but between thinking and doing...Interspersed in a narrative that is part romance, part mystery, part domestic comedy, part intellectual road trip, part personal diary, are interludes; pauses for reflection, for observation and instruction, that are educational and entertaining. The tone is witty, conversational, provocatively commonplace."

And in the same newspaper, Jennifer Moran on The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper which "...explores many themes -- the uneasy relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, the legacy of our cruel history, the poverty and problems that beset many remote Aboriginal communities, the unequal application of justice -- but at its heart is a compelling human story in which hasty passion and terrible chance propelled one man to defend his character and his profession and the other to a painful, untimely death."

In "The Courier-Mail", Cheryl Jorgensen on Mutiny on the Bounty by John Boyne: "Despite an illustrious career, it was the notorious mutiny on The Bounty which, until now, seems to have marred William Bligh's reputation. He has been portrayed in popular fiction as a tyrant. What [Boyne] has created is no academic tome, but a stirring story of high adventure.It is a great yarn and it finally gives us a truer picture of Bligh...This is not to say that Bligh has been eulogised in this book. Boyne portrays him as a humane man whose judgment is not always perfect but whose high moral character and his consideration for his crew, ironically contributes to his downfall."

In "The Australian", Nigel Krauth also looks at the new Bail novel: "The Pages, Bail's first novel in 10 years (after Eucalyptus), focuses on realms beyond the visual: philosophy and psychoanalysis...The Pages extends the ideas of Eucalyptus. It's about men and women who fail to categorise existence satisfactorily. Actually, I like this novel better. It's mature, not as forced; it chooses a patch and works it simply, confidently. "

Alison Goodman Interview

Alison Goodman, author of Singing the Dogstar Blues, which won the Best Young Adult Novel Award in the Aurelais Awards in 1998, is interviewed by Jason Nahrung in "The Courier-Mail". The author's new fantasy novel, The Two Pearls of Wisdom, has just been published by HarperCollins.

The society of Two Pearls is drawn from numerous influences, with Goodman having had a Japanese aunt whose influence is plain in (Killing the Rabbit, the author's crime novel from 2007), and also drawing on Goodman's travel experiences in Asia. It's not surprising that her book is being compared to Lian Hearn's widely successful Tale of the Otori, set in a mythic Japanese-style universe.

"It's an imagined Asian country which has many sources feeding into it," says Goodman of her universe. "I like not being tied to a specific period. It was fun mixing the cultures and etiquettes.

"I did a lot of reading about China and I've been to Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and done a lot of research.

"I love getting a feeling space and how people use it, to see and touch artefacts that people have been using for hundreds of years.

"You can't beat the feeling of holding something in your hand. Sensory detail is very important to me when I'm writing. I like to get sensory specificity.

"I had some lessons with a practice Chinese sword, learnt some moves so I knew what the heft was like. It's very long and curved, I couldn't move my wrists for days.

"But I wanted to know what happens when something stops a sword. My teacher kindly wrapped himself up and allowed me to whack him to get that feeling of hitting something."

The sequel, The Necklace of the Gods is due to be published in 2010.

Poem: The Selfish and Revolutionary Poet by John Bede

I have not spent a gladder day in years
   Than Friday, July 24, '08.
At 10 a.m. (or thereabouts) my ears
   Were soothed with silence, whereat I elate.
Dashed to the peg whereon my hat was hung,
   And gained with eager haste the outer air.

The cars had stopped! My withers were unwrung.
   I sought a tramguard out, and spoke him fair.
"Greetings, old friend!" I cried with shining eyes;
   "You do me signal service even while
The tramway service you disorganise --
   The which explains my gay and joyous smile.

"Weak is my liver, weaker still my mind;
   While street cars run I WON'T take exercise.
The street cars cry a halt. What do we find?
   I have to walk. My liver trouble flies.
"I -- in my trade of poet -- always found
   That inspiration vanished with a yell

What time she heard the loud, insistent sound
   Of your (forgive me) blanky warning bell.
"My Pegasus, a sorry steed at best,
   Went lame in front, got string-halt and behaved
Outrageously, making himself a pest
   When he saw trams -- trams rendered him depraved.

"Strike on, old friend, strike on! Cherish no fears
   That we will disapprove your deeds who rhyme
For bread. Stand fast! The strike may last for years;
   Hewers of verse are with you all the time!"

First published in The Bulletin, 30 July 1908

Tim Winton Watch #4

Reviews of Breath

Carolyn See in "The Washington Post": "Breath, Winton's latest novel, is stunning in the depth of its audacity. Because, when you think about it, breath is our relationship to the cosmos. We breathe in an iota of the universe, we breathe it out; without it, we die. But then why is there something in us that makes us want to hold our breath as kids until we pass out, or makes us just stop breathing while we're sleeping until our rattled partners shake us

Jennifer Schuessler in "The International Herald Tribune": "What is it about surfing that inclines so steeply toward the mystical? To the Polynesians who first rode the waves on heavy wooden boards, surfing was a spiritual practice aimed at connecting with the gods of the sea while cementing the power of the nobility, who jealously protected their breaks against incursions by commoners and rivals. The Australian surf legend Nat Young, author of the imposing Complete History of Surfing (along with the more usefully prophylactic Surf Rage), reportedly once tried to register surfing as a religion...Winton's novel succeeds as a tautly gorgeous meditation on the inescapable human addiction to 'the monotony of drawing breath,' whether you want to or not." It's the same review in "The New York Times".

The "Herald Sun" has links to Winton reading extracts from the novel.

The "Book & Reading Discussions Forum" weblog has posted a video of Winton promoting Breath at the Brisbane Town Hall in May.

Short Notices

Chazz W on Breath: "Winton writes with a vivid love and respect for the ocean that is remarkable. Anyone who has ever surfed needs to read this book. But it's not a surfer book, or just a surfer book, by any means. It's a book about breath and breathing: the breath of life and how fragile it is, the thin barrier that separates us in our lives from death. And it's not just a coming of age novel, though it is a heartbreaking and tender one of those. It's a novel of yearning and fear and coping and acceptance and finding
one's place. It's a novel of lost hopes, the loss of innocence, middle age and of coming to terms with the parents we thought we'd never want to become."

Hebdomeros: "In Breath, the eighth novel by two-time Booker nominee, Winton transforms the dangers of surfing and thrill seeking into a powerful metaphor for the transition from childhood to adulthood."


Aida Edemariam in "The Guardian":

"Writing a book is a bit like surfing," he said. "Most of the time you're waiting. And it's quite pleasant, sitting in the water waiting. But you are expecting that the result of a storm over the horizon, in another time zone, usually, days old, will radiate out in the form of waves. And eventually, when they show up, you turn around and ride that energy to the shore. It's a lovely thing, feeling that momentum. If you're lucky, it's also about grace. As a writer, you roll up to the desk every day, and then you sit there, waiting, in the hope that something will come over the horizon. And then you turn around and ride it, in the form of a story."
"It can sometimes be a bit of a struggle if you are passionate about story and you like to write about things where something happens," says Winton, a rangy, ponytailed figure who seems a tad constrained by the Dublin hotel conference room he's been corralled in for the day.

"The legacy of modernism," he continues, "is that the more serious you are, the less will happen in the book. There'll be waves of energy, in that sort of Wolfian, Joycean sense, but essentially the less that happens, the better off we'd all be, that's the understanding. And what turned me onto reading as a kid was momentum, the fact that something was going to happen, Robert Louis Stephenson and Mark Twain. It was exciting, and story was really important. You get that from Tolstoy and Dickens.

"But somehow it's as though two world wars was enough to disqualify story forever. Everything had to be this endless pristine interiority. And that's okay, but if you've had a certain kind of a life where you live in a vivid natural environment, then you want to write about that and not feel like you've got to apologise for the fact that you're not essentially writing for some pure, aesthetic, endlessly embellished series of rhetorical questions."


A new portrait of Winton is on display at the Kidogo Gallery in Fremantle: "The oil-painting by local artist Michael Legge-Wilkinson depicts the acclaimed WA author standing with arms folded in front of the turquoise blue coastline of southern Ningaloo Reef."

The "Lockie Leonard" and "Dogstar" television series, based on stories by Winton, have received funding for a second series of each.

The Dinkum Bloke by C.J. Dennis

The public memory is notoriously short, and the brief mention in the press this week of the passing of Arthur Tauchert was probably passed over by the many while it recalled to a few some vague memories of the one outstanding Australian triumph that was associated with his name.

Arthur Tauchert was an actor of sorts -- not a celebrated actor in any sense -- but one who, through a fortunate circumstance, fitted into a character role for which he was pre-eminently suited.

When we were selecting the cast for the silent film version of "The Sentimental Bloke" we had much difficulty in choosing exactly the right type of man to play the leading part. Finally, after many had been considered and rejected, the producer, Mr Raymond Longford, wrote me from Sydney that he had happened upon an ideal man to play the Bloke. With the letter came a photograph of Tauchert and a brief sketch of his stage career. I was not impressed, either by the photograph or the history.

Although more or less in touch with theatrical events, I had never heard of the man before, and the face that looked out at me from the picture was certainly unlike any film hero I had ever seen or imagined.

Fortunately, I realised in time that the producer knew more about his business than I did, and I replied half-heartedly accepting the choice.

The film had been completed and cut before I had my first opportunity of having a pre-view in Adelaide, in company with the local sharebrokers, newspaper men and squatters who had taken a sporting chance and put up the money to back the filming of the "Bloke".

My first glimpse of Tauchert on the screen filled me with dismay. His decidedly homely, not to say ugly features, his ungainly deportment, his crude efforts to achieve pathos struck me in the beginning as the last word in clumsy amateurism. Then, as shot followed shot, as reel followed reel, I found myself forgetting all these things and the sheer sincerity of the man's acting overspread and dominated every palpable fault in technique, until I found myself in complete sympathy.

And not myself alone; for, at the end of the film, the rather large audience of film people and professional actors - including Mr Frank Harvey, I remember -- who had been invited to the private view, rose to rain congratulations upon all connected with the production. They declared enthusiastically that we had an undoubted "winner".

What a winner it eventually proved to be is now ancient history. And I still believe that by far the greater part of the success was due to the wholehearted sincerity of Arthur Tauchert.

It was not until two years later, after I had met Tauchert in the flesh, that I solved the riddle of his peculiar attraction in the film. He had not merely acted the Bloke -- he was the Bloke, and, by an extraordinary coincidence, might have been the very man upon whom I modelled the character.

Like the Sentimental Bloke, he had been wild and uncontrolled in his early youth. Pubs and two-up schools had known much of him. Again, like the Bloke, and most amazing coincidence of all, he had really met and married his Doreen, whose influence had weaned him from dissolute ways, until he had become, even as the Bloke, a self-respecting member of reputable society.

In that film Tauchert did not merely play the part; he played his own life over again and so achieved that remarkable sincerity that could never have come from artistry alone.

Poor old Arthur. Even until the end he could never quite understand why, despite his growing baldness and other evidence of age, I would not consent to his playing the Bloke in every subsequent interpretation of the part. I really believe that, after his success with the role, not only in Australia, but in England as well, he ceased to be Arthur Tauchert, but became, and remained until the finish, the only real "Sentimental Bloke."

I saw little of him in those later years; but the sudden and unexpected news of his passing affected me quite as much as if I had lost an old and valued friend. Arthur had little to answer for at the judgement seat, for, despite many hectic experiences and an environment that tends to "toughness," he remained always strangely unsophisticated and, in the true Australian sense, ever a "dinkum bloke."

First published in The Herald, 30 November 1933

[Note: Arthur Tauchert featured in the 1919 silent-film version of "The Sentimental Bloke", which you can see here.]

Human Touch

In "Newsweek", Jennifer Egan, author of the National Book Award finalist Look at Me, chooses Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard as one of her "Five Most Important Books". Also featured is Invisble Man by Ralph Ellison, which reminded me that recently I happened to be switching tv channels in typical male fashion when I came across "Mission Impossible 3". I switched in just as the character played by Laurence Fishburne was saying something along the lines of: "He's like the invisible man. That's Wells, not Ellison." Which I thought was rather witty for a crappy action movie.

The "Rough Front" weblog - which looks at book cover art - is impressed with a recent cover for 1988 by Andrew McGahan.

The International Horror Guild award nominations have been announced and Shaun Tan's The Arrival is on the nominee list for Best Illustrated Narrative. Tan's book is many things, but horror? That seems a bit of a stretch.

Chloe Hooper introduces her new book, The Tall Man, on YouTube. Authors take note.

Back in April, Anne Summers launched Virginia Lloyd's new novel The Young Widow's Book of Home Improvement - which I think is one of the best book titles around - and you can now read the speech she gave. Lloyd indicates that she is scheduled to appear on Australian daytime television sometime in August. She'd better make sure her dancing style is up to scratch.

A while back I made a comment about how there seems to have been a big revival in that great old sf sub-genre space opera. Sean Williams thinks he's about to start a second wave with some new, big ideas. And let me tell you, as far as space opera is concerned, bigger is definitely better.

Sophie Masson loves libraries. Our family does too. When my son visted the local public library just down the street from his school, he was one of the few kids in his class with his own card. I found that rather disappointing.

2008 Melbourne Writers' Festival

The program for the 2008 Melbourne Writers' Festival is now available online. The full schedule will also appear in "The Age" newspaper on Friday 18th July. The festival runs from August 22nd-31st, and this year has moved its main venue to Federation Square, at the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets in the city.

Peter Carey Watch #7

Short Notices

In Winnipeg's "UpTown Magazine", Quentin Mills-Fenn provides a short review of His Illegal Self and concludes: "It's a suspenseful story, but at its heart is the beautiful, tortured relationship of Che and Dial. Carey not only masterfully creates a precocious eight-year-old boy, he also describes how two people, even with all the love in the world, can't always say what they know."

The "Complete Review" provides a full round-up of reviews of the novel. Their conclusion: a B+, "Not quite a consensus, but most at least impressed by his dazzle."

Meg, on the "A Snippet a Day" weblog decides that "Jack Maggs is a colonial reimagining I can dig...I prefer it to Great Expectations, the novel that inspired Carey. Not by a lot, but really, Dickens's novel sags at the end. Carey's books don't have that problem (except his first, Bliss)."

We don't see many reviews of Carey's short stories these days, but Leah Cave has a look at The Fat Man in History, the author's first collection, which "operates on the same paradox as that of Shakespeare's wise fool, the only character speaking the truth. To seek reality, you must depart from it. Opting for the absurd and the comical, the eerie coincidence and the flight of fancy, Carey carefully stages each element of the story in order to provide comment on modern society while also reflecting it's elusive nature."


In attempting to answer the question "What makes a good writer?", the "Insightwards" weblog finds that, with Carey, it's the voices: "...doing the various character voices properly takes you more than half the way to being a good writer. Truth is, he does that wonderfully well. His characters are almost real people, I wouldn't be surprised to come across one of them in the flesh in the nearest café around the corner."

In "The Boston Globe" we learn that Geraldine Brooks is reading His Illegal Self, while Carey is reading Helen Garner's The Spare Room. For a second there I thought they were doing a swap.

The Perfect Word

Arthur Stace found the right word. This elusive homeless man mystified Sydneysiders for decades by writing the perfect word wherever he could. Eternity. The perfect word, his gift to a young city perched on the edge of an ancient continent, came to him like a ringing call one day when he was in a church. He said the word was the only one that got the message across, that made people stop and think. It was still there, on the headstone of his grave, as I had discovered when we visited Waverley cemetery. Arthur Stace was almost illiterate and yet he achieved literary perfection. Eternity contained everything he needed to say. In one word he had written an entire poem, an unforgettable one. He chalked it on the footpaths and hoardings of the city over fifty times a day for thirty years. As you would, having found the perfect word.

From The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelaide, pp 144-145

2008 Melbourne Festival of Travel Writing

Over the weekend of 19-20 July 2008, the Melbourne Festival of Travel Writing will be held at Melbourne University. The website gives a list of speakers, a programme and a map of locations within the university.

Australian Bookcovers #122 - The Playmaker by Thomas Keneally

The Playmaker by Thomas Keneally, 1987
(Hodder & Stoughton 1987 edition)

Crime Fiction in Australia

As we lead into the Crime and Justice festival this coming weekend here in Melbourne, Liz Porter writes about the state of the genre in Australia for "The Age". She talks to Peter Temple, Garry Disher, Kerry Greenwood, and Jarad Henry.

Alan Wearne Profile

Alan Wearne is one of those Australian poets who, like Les Murray and Dorothy Porter, has tackled the demanding strictures of a verse novel. Wearne took seven years to write The Nightmarkets, his tale of Melbourne, which won a Banjo Award and an Australian Literature Society Gold Medal back in 1987. As his new collection of poetry, The Australian Popular Songbook is published by Giramondo Publishing, the poet is profiled by Caroline Baum in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

He has orchestrated his love of music into The Australian Popular Songbook, a collection with a soundtrack that captures the era of his adult life - popular songs from the charts, refrains and choruses providing a counterpoint to snatches of his own life and the lives of friends and a cast of imagined characters. Pop songs are not what Wearne listens to at home - his "uber hobby" as he calls it, is classical music. His normally diffident demeanour evaporates on the subject of Bob Dylan. "The most overrated person of the 20th century!" he pronounces, screwing his eyes tightly shut, as he often does when making a point.

He has the acute ear of the cultural anthropologist who specialises in urban tribes. Some of the lines in Wearne's latest collection may belong just as well in an episode of Kath & Kim (which he says he has never seen). Words such as "swatvac" and "ridgey didge" may not be normally associated with sonnets but they're there, as are references to Ikea and Target. He peppers the lot with political figures from both sides: Billy McMahon, Don Dunstan, Gough Whitlam, Harold Holt, positively bristling at the suggestion that he is some kind of unofficial poet laureate of the left. "I know where the bullshit stops and starts and it's on the right but I'm not of the left, I'm an individualist, a radical. Sure, on social issues, I am left of centre but I don't like the left's preachy side," he says.

Reviews of Australian Books #90

The first review here isn't actually of a book at all but a short story: "The Goosle" by Margo Lanagan. It's not often that anyone puts as much effort into a single story as "The Torque Control" blog does here. Admittedly, a lot of the review examines other reviewers' reactions to the story, but it uses those reactions as a springboard to get to the heart of the story, rather than restricting itself to a "what they said" approach.

Jane Shilling in "The New Statesman" on The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser: "Ranging between the present and events of the past, whose convergence has led her protagonist to his crisis, de Kretser pursues ideas of exile, loss, disappointment, mortality; the nature of happiness and also of evil; the relation between humanity and beastliness; the significance of objects, both present and remembered; the means by which we conjure and protect identity; the shared characteristics of words and shit; ideas of duty, responsibility and attachment -- and much more."

Of the same book, Stephen Abell in "The Telegraph", states: "The Lost Dog, we are told at its conclusion, 'draws directly and obliquely on works by Henry James'. This is a risky ploy, with two obvious pitfalls: the hubris involved in setting your prose in comparison with that of the Master; and the fact that, in the reams of James's thoughtful literary criticism, there are likely to be all sorts of strictures that can be used against you." He then proceeds to do so.

And in "The Guardian" Ursula Le Guin sees a lot of promise in the novel: "There is no feminine for 'avuncular', but there ought to be. I want, in auntly fashion, to praise Michelle de Kretser for being good and beautiful, while scolding her for being afraid to show her goodness and beauty. What do you want to hide behind all that face-paint for, child? Do you think you have to be as skinny as a pencil and wear a ring in your navel just because other people do? The fashionable disfigurements and artificialities I complain of are, of course, literary, and they affect not her, but her novel, The Lost Dog." And to show you how much reviewers can differ in their views, she continues: "Kretser's native style is clear, vigorous, sensitive to mood and cadence, and strongly narrative - an excellent tool for a novelist with a story to tell." Compare that to Abell's view that the book is over-written.

In "The Age" Peter Pierce finds that Tom Gilling's latest novel, Dreamland will leave the reader "satisfied if not sated".

David Mattin, in "The Independent", appears pretty impressed with the first novel by Steve Toltz: "It's no surprise that the Australian author of A Fraction of the Whole, at 36, is a little older than we've come to expect from our debut novelists. This absurdly incident-laden, feverish, farcical 700-page life story bears the watermark of long gestation. What's more, it stands above the vast majority of debut novels because it seems so marvellously sure of itself and what it should be."

Linda Newbery is enchanted by The Ghost's Child by Sonya Hartnett. I know I was.

Dean, on the "HA" weblog, found more in Venero Armanno's Candlelife than I discovered.

Short Notices

Damien, of the "Crime Down Under" weblog, is obviously pretty impressed with Barry Maitland's latest, Bright Air. So impressed that he's written a partial review of the book even though he's only about halfway through. I'm going to have to write to him and get him to stop this sort of thing. It's giving the rest of us a bad name.

Jocelyn on the "Teen Book Review" weblog on Justine Larbalestier's How to Ditch Your Fairy: "I sat down and started reading this book as soon as it arrived in the mail, and I didn't put it down until I was finished; I didn't even notice the time passing, that's how caught up I was in the story. It's fun and interesting and has a main character I absolutely couldn't get enough of!"

Guy Salvidge finds himself reading a lot of Andrew McGahan's novels. The latest is 1988: "Overall, it would appear that 1988 is a lesser book than Praise. Same style, same stark truthfulness, same nihilism. There's no development between the two books, almost to the extent that it would appear that McGahan had painted himself into a corner."

The "No two persons ever read the same book" weblog didn't enjoy Grace by Robert Drewe. Which sort of proves the title of their blog, because I did.

"The Griffin Reviews" weblog has a look at Greene on Capri by Shirley Hazzard.

Poem: The Money Bowl by Kodak (Ernest O'Ferrall)

This is the legend poets troll
   Of One on some first-floor
Who keeps a brimming money-bowl
   Beside his office door.

And ev'ry morn the office waif --
   A small, old-fashioned boy --
Doth fill it gaily from the safe
   With jingling, golden joy.

Then, as the day draws slowly on,
   The bards creep up the stair
And feast their hollow eyes upon
   The treasure gleaming there.

A tattered sign that swings above
   The bowl gives all to know,
"Take what you need, with my best love!
   Don't count; to count is low."

So, stooping to the calabash,
   Each bard drops in a tear,
And takes a handful of cash
   That buys the soothing beer.

They steal like ghosts adown the stair,
   They creep like spectres up;
And gradually pubwards bear
   The Treasure of the Cup.

Next morn the office waif appears
   To sweep with might and main;
He brushes up the poets' tears,
   And fills the bowl again.

This is the legend poets troll
   Of some good editor
Who keeps a brimming money bowl
   Beside his office door.

First published in The Bulletin, 23 July 1908

2008 Australian Literature Society (ALS) Gold Medal

A couple of websites have posted that the winner of the 2008 Australian Literature Society (ALS) Gold Medal has been announced as The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser.

Low and Den by Alec Chisholm

Rather more than a year ago (B. 16/1/'57) I made some mildly critical remarks about David Low's references to C. J. Dennis's "Australaise." My point was that Den did not, in fact, label his verses "The Austra-bloody-aise," nor did he use the adjective in any verse or the chorus; and, moreover, he did not write "Pull yer bloody pants on, tie yer bloody boots," but "Shift yer --- carcasses. Move yer --- boots."

Now, a trifle belatedly, I've received a note on the subject from Dave Low in London. He says that an Australian friend sent him as a Christmas-present a copy of my Dennis biography, The Making of a Sentimental Bloke, with "The Bulletin" article tipped-in, and he suggests that I've fallen into error in my comments upon him.

As to "The Australaise," Low didn't dispute my corrections of his quotations, but says that he and his friends always sang the verses with "bloody" filling-in the blanks. So, of course, did the Diggers of World War I. But the fact remains that Den didn't use that word in print - he suggested (maybe with tongue in cheek) that where a dash replaced a missing word the adjective "blessed" might be interpolated, and that in cases demanding great emphasis the use of the word "bloomin-" was permissible.

When I did fall into error, it would seem, was when, in commenting on the scanty nature of Low's references to the writers and artists of his Melbourne period (as given in his reminiscences published serially in "The Bulletin"), I asked had he forgotten Garry Roberts and his wife, "that warm-hearted couple who entertained him and his colleagues at Sunnyside, Kallista, over a long period," I also asked if he had forgotten the rich talk of Tom Roberts, Web Gilbert, John Shirlow and, among others, Harold Herbert.

Actually, Low went to Melbourne to live (so he tells me) in 1914, and therefore had no part in Roberts's "Sunnyside Circle." He says he never met Tom Roberts or Web Gilbert and was only slightly acquainted with John Shirlow and Harold Herbert. "Garry Roberts," it is added, "I thought of as a friend of Gye and Dennis; I was his guest at Sunnyside only once."

My impression that Low used to be a regular Sunnysider was due, firstly, to the fact that some members of "the Circle" often referred to him as one of their number, and secondly, to the fact that Den commemorated him, along with Hal Gye and Garry Roberts in verses which he wrote around "Ingavar."

Ingavar was a property near Sunnyside which Roberts had rented for his son Frank (the lad who later served Web Gilbert as the model for the figure of the Australian soldier on Mount St. Quentin, where he died in September of 1918), and it so called because it had formerly belonged to fellows named Ingless and Avard.

Den produced at least two sets of merry verses (both little known) centring upon Ingavar. Here's a sample of one of them, featuring Garry Roberts (the "Lord High Pot" of the area), Hal Gye and Den himself:-

Loud laughed ye mockinge dead-wode tree:
Goe search ye neere, and seeke ye far,
I wot in vaine your quest will bee
For him, ye Potte of Ingavar.

In armoure clad and cap-a-pie
Ye stout Sir Hal rode thro' ye glen,
And by hys side, wi' flashing eye,
Rode galantlee ye Lorde of Den . . .

Moreover - and this brings Low into the local picture - the second set of rhymes of Ingavar introduces some very odd birds of the area, among them the Davlo Owl, the Halgi Tit and the ruthless Denawk. The "song" opens thus:-
O, the trees grow straight and the trees grow tall,
And the trees grow all around;
And the long limbs sprout the trunks about
Where the Davlo Owl is found.
And the Davlo bird is most absurd
In the early days of June -
For he sings this song, the whole day long,
To a strange, fantastic tune -

"O, ink, ink, ink! I sit and think
I brood on the Wildwood Tree;
But, near or far, on Ingavar,
No ink, no ink I see.
And late or soon, the swift Cartoon
Must soar to the Utmost Star -
O, ink, ink, ink! I swoon! I sink!
O, inkless Ingavar!"

The rhymes run on through half-a-dozen other verses, reaching an end on this high note:-
The Davlo hoots, the Halgi toots,
The Denawk swoops no more,
Alone to yearn, the Nude Nocturn
Adorns your leafy floor.
But trees, O, trees, what ectasies
Thrill thro' you, root and spar,
When the Lord High Pot comes up to squat
In the glades of Ingavar,
Green glades of Ingavar!
Clearly, when Den proclaimed Roberts's Ingavar to the spot "where the Davlo Owl is found" he gave the impression that this distinctive creature was a regular denizen of the area. That was slightly misleading. Any list of the "birds" of both Sunnyside and Ingavar, it would appear, should record the Davlo Owl only as what ornithologists term a "casual".

First published in The Bulletin, 19 February 1958

This piece follows the extract from David Low's autobiography, and Alec Chisholm's first response to that extract, both published here over the past two weeks.

You can read the full text of the poem Ingavar.

All the Way Home

Margo Lanagan's story "The Goosle", a re-telling of the Hansel and Gretel story, has been causing a bit of a storm around the intertubes.

Andrew Kelly meets an illustrator who has moved away from the electronic medium and back to paper. Which is an excellent idea, as long as what you put on the paper is legible. I'm finding that my writing is getting worse and worse. From a very poor base this is not at all useful and I now find I'm printing letters as often as I scrawl. Makes it at least readable to me. Can't say about anyone else.

Toni Jordan, whose debut novel Addition features on the Richard and Judy book club's summer reading list in the UK, has listed her "Top 10 flawed romantic heroines" for "The Guardian" newspaper.
[Thanks to Marshal Zeringue and his weblog "Campaign for the American Reader" for the link.]

The local council in Creswick, Victoria, is developing a playground in the town based on Norman Lindsay's novel The Magic Pudding.

The "Out of Battle" weblog has published Edward Dyson's poem, "Billjim".

Australian Books to Film #46 - Death in Brunswick


Death in Brunswick 1991
Directed by John Ruane.
Screenplay by John Ruane from the novel of the same name by Boyd Oxlade
Featuring Sam Neill, John Clarke, Zoe Carides and Yvonne Lawley.

J.M. Coetzee Watch #9

Review of Disgrace

Sam Jordison, of "The Guardian" books blog, found Disgrace to be "didactic, thinly characterised and melodramatic". He concludes that "It's unconvincing, humourless and not at all challenging. In common with too many of these later Booker winners, it provides literature for people who don't really want to put any work in. Everything is spelled out slowly, obviously and at the most basic level."


Tim Ashley of "The Guardian", wasn't overly impressed with Philip Glass's operatic version of Waiting for the Barbarians: "The fundamental problem is that Glass's style sits awkwardly with his subject. His lulling, repetitive phrases assert spiritual and emotional certainty, but preclude the articulation of rage or pain."

On the other hand, Robert Maycock gave the opera four stars (out of five) in "The Independent". And Geoff Brown gave it three stars in "The Times".

On the online "Granta" site, Simon Willis writes about "J.M. Coetzee and His Censors".

Writing under the threat of censorship, Coetzee has said, is 'like being intimate with someone who does not love you', someone waiting for you to slip up, someone who measures your mistakes and then runs to tell their friends. Censorship has long been an obsession of his, but his attitudes have always been marked by subtlety. His essays on the subject, collected in Giving Offense (1996), 'do not,' he wrote, 'constitute an attack on censorship'. Coetzee's tone is always investigative and probing. With humility he wrote that 'I cannot find it in myself to align myself with the censor... the dark-suited, bald-headed figure, with his pursed lips and his red pen'.
"The Times" of South africa has published an extract from Diary of a Bad Year.

In late June, Coetzee appeared at the University of East Anglia in Norwich for the New Writing Worlds festival, and spoke about the "late-apartheid mindset" of South Africa. Boyd Tonkin reports in "The Independent".

The film version of Disgrace, directed by Steve Jacobs and featuring John Malkovich in the lead role, will have its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, which runs from September 4 to 13.

A Classic Year: 16.0 10 for 66 And All That by Arthur Mailey

10_for_66.jpg 10 for 66 And All That
Arthur Mailey

This would have to be the hardest book to find in this list of Australian classics. My local library didn't have a copy; none of five or six second-hand bookshops had it in stock; and according to Austlit the book hasn't been reprinted since its initial publication in 1958. I was left with having to read it over a series of lunchtimes in the Victorian State Library. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with that, it's just that I have this hoarder's mentality which pushes me towards possessing my own copy whenever possible. In any event, it was an entertaining read, though you would need to be a cricket fan to get a lot out of it.

Arthur Mailey was born on January 3 1886 and played Test cricket for Australia between the years 1920 to 1926. He was a legbreak googly bowler who took 99 wickets at an average of 33.91, in 21 Tests. The title of his autobiography is explained by the Cricinfo website: "His most noteworthy achievement outside Tests was the taking of all ten wickets for 66 runs in the Gloucestershire second innings at Cheltenham in 1921, a performance which inspired the title of his autobiography in 1958: Ten for 66 And All That." A rather fortuitous statistic, it allowed Mailey to riff on the title of the comic English history book by W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman. Those with some knowledge of the game will understand that taking all ten wickets in a cricket innings is a rather rare event: it has only happened about 80 times in all first-class cricket played anywhere in the world in 150 or so years, and only twice in 1879 Test matches since 1876/77. But Mailey was more than just a cricketer. At a time when Test cricketers were expected to be professional in just about everything they did, they only received an amateur's remuneration, and hence were generally required to find part-time employment along the way. Mailey took to journalism and cartooning and this book provides ample proof that he was adept at both.

There is a lot of comment on cricket and cricketers in the book, some of it now rather dated but a lot is still relevant to the cricket culture of today. And I think Mailey might have well got himself into all sorts of trouble with the media and authorities if he'd been alive during the 1990s and 2000s. Maybe not as much as Shane Warne, but Mailey would have had his moments. As to why this book is included in this list of Australian classics rather than, for example, Don Bradman's My Cricketing Life or Goodbye to Cricket, or any of the other vast numbers of Australian cricket books, I can't say. Gleeson-White notes that the book "is now recognised as one of the classics of world cricket writing, celebrated for its story of Mailey's extraordinary life...for his sharp insights into the game of cricket and for the thoughtful warmth and humour of his writing." That will do.

The full text of this book is not available as it it is still under copyright.
Arthur Mailey Wikipedia page.
Arthur Mailey Cricinfo page.

The next four works in this Classic Year:
17. Lucinda Brayford by Martin Boyd (1946)
18. A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facey (1981)
19. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (1967)
20. "Five Bells" by Kenneth Slessor (1939)

2008 Byron Bay Writers' Festival

The 2008 Byron Bay Writers' Festival will be held over the weekend of July 25-27, with preliminary workshops starting on July 21. There is a fairly extensive list of writers attending, from Debra Adelaide and Waleed Aly, to Arnold Zable and John Zubrzycki.

Dreaming Down Under edited by Jack Dann and Janeen Webb, 1998
Cover by Nick Stathopolous
(HarperCollins 1998 edition)

2008 Romantic Book of the Year Awards Shortlists

The "Boomerang Books" blog has announced that the shortlists for the Romance Writers of Australia's 2008 Romantic Book of the Year awards have been released.

Long work
Claiming the Courtesan, Anna Campbell (Harper Collins Australia)
Duet, Kimberley Freeman (Hachette Livre Australia)
Tomorrows Promises, Anna Jacobs (Hodder)
Ashblane's Lady, Sophia James (Harlequin Quill)
Serendipity, Melanie La' Brooy (Penguin)
Lands Beyond the Sea, Tamara McKinley (Hodder & Staughton)

Short work
The Prince's Forbidden Virgin, Robyn Donald (Harlequin Mills & Boon)
Their Lost-and-Found Family, Marion Lennox (Harlequin Medical)
The Single Dad's Marriage Wish, Carol Marinelli (Harlequin Medical)
Island Heat, Sarah Mayberry (Harlequin Blaze)
One Night before Marriage, Anne Oliver (Harlequin Sexy Sensation)
Outback Man Seeks Wife, Margaret Way (Harlequin Sweet)

The winners will be announced in Melbourne on August 23rd, at the Romance Writers' annual conference.

Michael MacConnell Interview

With his first novel, Maelstrom, currently on the longlist in the Best First Novel catgeory of the 2008 Ned Kelly Awards, Michael MacConnell, has a new novel titled
Splinter out this week, and is interviewed in "The Sydney Morning Herald" by Keith Austin.

Sitting in a Thai restaurant on the Terrigal beachfront just minutes from his home, MacConnell says the new book begins with his female protagonist dealing with post-traumatic stress caused by the violent denouement of her first outing: "I wanted to work that into the novel because I got a bit tired of characters who can get into a stoush with criminals or terrorists or whatever, throw in a snappy line and then walk away into the sunset and everything's peachy.

"It's not like that, it's nothing like that at all. I tried to insert some of my own experience in there because I had some post-traumatic stress after some incidents at work [working security for RailCorp], some attacks, arrests, that sort of thing. I wanted to show what you go through just as a biological creature, not because you are weak or because you aren't tough or whatever, it just happens, it's unavoidable. So she's suffering a bit from that. And the story's different because it's a kidnapping, or rather a failed kidnapping."

Poem: The Mystic by C.J. Dennis

An "Ode to the Moon" did he indite
   With his two-and-half soul-power.
('Twas the child of a starlit summer night,
   Begot by a gloomy hour.)

And he vowed it was a work immense,
   And he quoted it a lot,
And he published it at his own expense;
   But the cold, hard world said - "Rot!"

And he wrote him ringing verse of horse,
   And the stockman, and his pipe,
And the brooding bushland; but, of course,
   The world just murmured - "Tripe!"

So he sat him down for another fling,
   And his time-exposure mind
Evolved a topical sort of thing,
   Of a gay and hum'rous kind.

And he looked to see the world go wild,
   And laugh until it cried;
But the verse was poor and the humor mild,
   And - "Bosh!" the tired world sighed.

Then he oiled his weird, ball-bearing mind,
   In a dull, despairing mood,
And he wrote a thing of a cryptic kind,
   Which nobody understood.

'Twas an ode to the "Umph" and the "Thingmebob,"
   With a lilt and a right good ring,
And hints of a smirk, a snarl, a sob,
   And a murky murmuring.

Nay, nobody understood a word,
   Nor strove to understand;
But few dared say it was absurd,
   So most agreed 'twas "Grand!"

Then he let his hair grow lank and long,
   And an air intense he got,
And ever he strove to nurse in song
   The cult of the "Dunnowhat."

And now he never writes in vain,
   But a famous man is he,
With a ten soul-power and a chuck-lathe brain,
   And an air of mysterie.

So, of his lot take heed; I wot
   If you aspire to fame,
Don't waste a tune on horse or moon,
   But rave of Whatsitsname;
                        It's tame,
   But still it's Whatsitsname.

First published in The Bulletin, 9 April 1908

2008 Melbourne Writers' Festival

Some dates of interest relating to the 2008 Melbourne Writers' Festival:

July 16, Wednesday 12:30 - 1:30pm A special preview of the program will be held. BMW Edge, Federation Square Corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets, Melbourne

July 16, Friday Release of the festival program.
August 22, Friday to August 31, Sunday The festival itself.

You can get further details from the Festival's website.

Born to Run

An odd little item I noticed as I was just about to throw out the racing form from today's morning newspaper: race 2 on tomorrow's racing card from Flemington is called "The Banjo Paterson". Might just be worthwhile having a flutter on the basis of that. Nothing with a name like "Matilda" is listed, however.

Tom Keneally Watch #4

Short Notices

Juhana Pettersson on Victim of the Aurora: "The interesting thing about Victim of the Aurora is that it talks about sex and sexuality, a topic completely missing from all the period accounts of polar travel in the early 20th century. The book's sense of a historical period is impeccable and the 'uncensored' vibe you get is refreshing."

The "Panorama of the Mountains" weblog reviews Woman of the Inner Sea: "The novel ... is strongly Australian. At once it is personal and as large as the continent. The gleaming cities of the coast are contrasted with the rugged towns of the outback."

"50 Book Challenge" on Schindler's List: "A stunning novel based on the true story of how German war profiteer and prison camp Direktor Oskar Schindler came to save more Jews from the gas chambers than any other single person during World War II. In this milestone of Holocaust literature, Thomas Keneally uses the actual testimony of the Schindlerjuden -- Schindler's Jews -- to brilliantly portray the courage and cunning of a good man in the midst of unspeakable evil."


A new exhibition in Frankfurt celebrates the 100th anniversary of
Oscar Schindler's birth. Keneally has sold his house of thirty years, and also his vast library of books.

Low and Den by Alec Chisholm

Dave Low has got off the beam, probably through trusting to memory instead of looking up readily-available references, in regard to C.J. Dennis's "Australaise". Den certainly did not label his verses "The Austra-bloody-laise," nor did he use the adjective in any verse or the chorus; and moreover he did not write "Pull yer bloody pants on, tie yer bloody boots," but "Shift yer --- carcasses, Move yer --- boots."

"The Australaise" was first published ("With some acknowledgements to W.T. Goodge") in THE BULLETIN of November 12, 1910. Then entitled "A Real Australian Austra--laise," it consisted of four verses and a chorus, and it won its author a special prize in a National Song Competition, promoted by THE BULLETIN, which drew 74 entries.

In further comment, the judge suggested that "The Australaise" would gain "immediate popularity" because it would "go to the swing of the 'Merry Widow' waltz"; but in fact (as far as I know) that air was never adopted. Instead Den borrowed a more rousing melody - he issued "The Australaise" in 1915, in the form of a leaflet containing seven verses and chorus, as "A Marching Song," and he suggested that it be sung to the tune of "Onward Christian Soldiers." That suggestion accorded with the ideas of the lads of the A.I.F. (for whom, chiefly, the leaflet was issued), and so they learned to bawl, not only the first but the last of the verses:-

Fellers of Australier,
   Cobbers, chaps an' mates,
Hear the --- German
   Kickin' at the gates!
Blow the --- bugle,
   Beat the --- drum,
Upper-cut an' out the cow
   To kingdom- --- -come!
Neither in THE BULLETIN nor the leaflet (nor, indeed, in any of the later issues of "The Australaise") did Low's adjective appear. Discreetly enough, Den left that matter to his readers, as witness his footnote to the 1915 issue:-
Reprinted from THE BULLETIN with alterations. Where a dash replaces a missing word, the adjective "blessed" may be interpolated. In cases demanding great emphasis, the use of the word "blooming" is permissible. However, any other word may be used that suggests itself as suitable.
Because unbound publications of some few pages soon fall asunder, that one-page "Marching Song" is now very rare. Personally, I have seen only a single copy, and I considered myself lucky to locate and borrow that one for use as an illustration in my Dennis biography of 1946, The Making of the Sentimental Bloke.

Aside for Low's error regarding "The Australaise," plus a minor one touching Den's latter-day home at Toolangi (which was not "the same house, rebuilt magnificently," as his original shabby old dwelling), what surprises me in the cartoonist's narrative is the scanty nature of his reminiscences of the writers and artists of his Melbourne period.

Has David forgotten Garry Roberts and his wife, that warm-hearted couple who entertained him and his colleagues at Sunnyside, Kallista, over a long period? Has he forgotten the rich talk of Tom Roberts, Web Gilbert, and John Shirlow, to say nothing of the pranks and quick-witted quips of Hal Gye (who, with Low himself, is the only member of the Sunnyside group now living), Harold Herbert, Bob Croll and Guy Innes, as well as those of the author of "The Australaise"?

When collecting material for the Dennis biography I gathered at second-hand (for I was not in Victoria in the period under discusison) quite a lot of fruity and amusing material relating to the Sunnyside circle in general and Den in particular, and thus it was reasonable to expect from Low, as a member of the group, additional material in kind - one of the brightest literary-artistic circles known to Australia.

David has not, for instance recalled the quaint error he made when illustrating Den's Backblock Ballads. Nor, to mention just one other snappy item, has he told us about the rice-pudding, complete with basin, which he took to the Melbourne railway-station and presented to Den and his bride when, in 1917, they were starting on their honeymoon.

Is it too late for Low to do a spot of amending and amplifying? An hour of two of meditation, I imagine, would be quite worthily productive, and if memory fails on any point it could be jogged by that sprightly combination of artist and writer, Hal Gye.

Alec Chisholm (N.S.W.)

First published in The Bulletin, 16 January 1957

Note: this essay was written in response to an extract from David Low's Autobiography, that was being published in "The Bulletin" at the time.
You can read the full text of the poem "The Australaise".

Over the Rise

"The Vapour Trail" website looks at the history of Richmond larrikins from the early 20th century.

Pavlov's Cat is reading a book about a middle-aged woman who's teaching a writing class, who "has a blog, and a malicious anonymous troll/stalker to go with it." PC is a bit worried about possible similarities.

D.M. Cornish reveals what he's up to.

Sophie Masson writes about her experimentation of making a book trailer for her latest YA mystery, The Case of the Diamond Shadow. She also provides a link to the end product.

"The Times" newspaper picks its best Summer Reads - for the Northern hemisphere - and includes some familiar works: His Illegal Self by Peter Carey, Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones, A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz, and The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser.

Michael Evans, Defence Editor of "The Times", picks On the Beach by Nevil Shute as one of his top six books on "nucleur (sic) war". Maybe he's taking pronunciation lessons from a certain US president.

2008 Noosa Long Weekend

The program
for the 2008 Noosa LongWeekend has been released. The festival runs from July 4-13, so you'd best get organised if you intend getting there.

Australian Books to Film #45 - Australian Rules


Australian Rules 2002
Directed by Paul Goldman
Screenplay by Paul Goldman from the novel Deadly, Unna? by Phillip Gwynne
Featuring Nathan Phillips, Luke Carroll, Lisa Flanagan, and Tom Budge.

Review: The Poet Who Forgot by Catherine Cole

poet_who_forgot.jpg Catherine Cole
University of Western Australia Press, 272 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Michael Freedman

The Poet Who Forgot is about a great many things -- although on one level, it is not really about anything in particular. Rather, it is the author's musings about topics as diverse as love and memory, loneliness and travel, Australia and its national identity. More fundamentally, it is about AD Hope, one of Australia's most famous and prolific poets, but it becomes clear from the opening pages that one thing The Poet Who Forgot is not is an biography. It is, I think, more accurately described as a tribute -- a loving tribute by a gifted writer and poet, who clearly had much affection for Mr Hope, and he for her.

AD Hope sadly passed away in 2000 at age 93, after suffering from dementia for many years. As a poet he won many awards, was known for his acerbic and occasionally crushing literary reviews, and in time became one of Australia's best-known poets. His mental decline in his later years was all the more regrettable, not just because a brilliant poet was lost to the literary world, but because, as Ms Cole points out, writers rely on their memory to write. Writing, particularly poetry, is far more rich and vivid and satisfying when behind the written word lurks the author's own experiences. For writers, dementia is especially cruel.

At its core, The Poet Who Forgot is about a relationship, between a mentor and an apprentice, between experience and youth. A relationship which Ms Cole could scarcely have foreseen when, as an undergraduate student, she wrote to AD Hope, expressing her admiration. That letter was a catalyst for a lasting friendship, which the book explores in the form of a series of letters between the two. If the book was only a series of letters, it would surely be of interest only to AD Hope's most diehard of fans. But Ms Cole skilfully guides the reader through an emotional and often funny journey, augmenting the letters with poetry and her thoughts on a range of diverse topics. This is stream of consciousness writing at its best. Even a reader who is not a fan of poetry, and has never heard of AD Hope, can still enjoy The Poet Who Forgot.

That is not to say that the book is not hard going in places -- when Ms Cole and Mr Hope are apologising to each other for tardy replies, when arranging when they will next meet, or during Ms Cole's ongoing treatise about the activities of her cat. If the letters have been edited for publication, it is not evident. Perhaps the author's goal was to show the mundaneness of her relationship with a famous poet. A brush with fame, after all, is not what this book is about. When rereading the letters, Ms Cole says, she was "surprised" by their "ordinariness".

AD Hope's struggle with dementia is not fully explored -- I suspect that Ms Cole intended for the reader to remember AD Hope as he was, rather than what he became -- a wise choice. While The Poet Who Forgot covers a number of themes, it's discussion of memories and the lamentable act of forgetting are the ones that come to mind most readily, and are the most interesting. Ms Cole quotes historian Paula Hamilton as suggesting that the past is continually refashioned through memory. Even if AD Hope was the "poet who forgot", books such as Ms Cole's will ensure he is remembered.

A Classic Year: 15.2 Order of the Works

Back at the beginning of this year, when I started working my way through the entries in Jane Gleeson-White's Australian Classics I mentioned that I was unsure of how she had arranged them in order. They didn't seem to have been listed by publication date, nor was there any alternation of form - novel then poem then story then... and so on. So I was a bit stumped until I saw that Gleeson-White had included, on her contents list, the dates of birth and death of the first third of the entries. And there it was. The works are listed in order of the author's birth. Which is a strange way to do things. Publication order I can understand, but birthdate seems a little odd. I can see that publication date might cause a few problems, especially when a work has been revised a number of times over an extended period - do you chose the first or most recent date? - but I think it would provide a view of the development of Australian literature over the 135 years or so since the first publication of For the Term of His Natural Life. I'm quibbling again. Lists of this sort always seem to bring it out in me.

2008 Port Augusta Writers' Weekend

The 2008 Port Augusta Writers' Weekend will be held from July 11th to 13th. For those not in the know, Port Augusta is about 4 hours by car north of Adelaide in South Australia; at the top of Spencer Gulf. I can't find a full program on the webpage but if you follow the links returned by this search you should be able to figure it out.

A Classic Year: 15.1 List of Contents

There have been a couple of comments posted about this series requesting details of the full set of works in Australian
. At first I resisted including the list on the basis that it wasn't mine to reproduce. Then I found that the book's publisher, Allen and Unwin, or the author, Jane Gleeson-White, had created a webpage showing the full contents. I think the contents are out there in the public domain now, so I've reproduced it below.

Don't, however, consider that this is all you need to get from the book. Gleeson-White introduces each of these works, putting them into context, both in terms of the author's other work and Australian literature as a whole. She uses these points to justify their inclusion, and having these introductory essays gives you with a lot more information and expertise than I can possibly provide.

1. Robbery Under Arms by Rolf Boldrewood
2. Such is Life by Joseph Furphy
3. 'The Sick Stockrider' by Adam Lindsay Gordon
4. His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke
5. 'The Chosen Vessel' by Barbara Baynton
6. 'The Man From Snowy River' by Banjo Paterson
7. 'Nationality' by Mary Gilmore
8. 'The Drover's Wife' by Henry Lawson
9. 'Lilith' by Christopher Brennan
10. Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner
11. The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson
12. 'The Gentle Water Bird' by John Shaw Neilson
13. My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin
14. The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay
15. Coonardoo by Katharine Susannah Prichard
16. 10 for 66 and all that by Arthur Mailey
17. Lucinda Brayford by Martin Boyd
18. A Fortunate Life by AB Facey
19. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
20. 'Five Bells' by Kenneth Slessor
21. Capricornia by Xavier Herbert
22. The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead
23. The Pea-pickers by Eve Langley
24. 'A Letter from Rome' by AD Hope
25. Voss by Patrick White
26. My Brother Jack by George Johnston
27. 'Woman to Child' by Judith Wright
28. Tirra Lirra by the River by Jessica Anderson
29. Power Without Glory by Frank Hardy
30. 'No More Boomerang' by Oodgeroo Noonuccal
31. Storm Boy by Colin Thiele
32. The Lucky Country by Donald Horne
33. Milk and Honey by Elizabeth Jolley
34. The Acolyte by Thea Astley
35. The Glass Canoe by David Ireland
36. The Tyranny of Distance by Geoffrey Blainey
37. The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard
38. An Imaginary Life by David Malouf
39. The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith by Thomas Keneally
40. Visitants by Randolph Stow
41. Grand Days by Frank Moorhouse
42. 'The Buladelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle' by Les Murray
43. The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes
44. The Plains by Gerald Murnane
45. Monkey Grip by Helen Garner
46. Our Sunshine by Robert Drewe
47. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
48. Lilian's Story by Kate Grenville
49. My Place by Sally Morgan
50. Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Australian Bookcovers #120 - Bring Larks and Heroes by Tom Keneally

Bring Larks and Heroes by Thomas Keneally, 1967
(Cassell 1967 edition)

Currently Reading

The Marvellous Boy

The Marvellous Boy by Peter Corris
The third Cliff Hardy novel from 1982. Corris writes in the classic Private Investigator tradition, mixing a complicated plot with memorable characters and solid locale descriptions. Terrific stuff.


A Storm of Swords

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
Book Three in Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" saga. Many, many story-threads come to a head and then open back out again to maintain a stunning series.


Recently Read

Killing Floor

Killing Floor by Lee Child
The first Jack Reacher novel, in which he investigates the death of his brother and a major crime ring in a small country town. A little rough around the edges but you can see where the later novels sprung from.


The Eerie Silence

The Eerie Silence: Are we Alone in the Universe? by Paul Davies
Davies contemplates the subtitle, examining all the evidence and possibilities.


The Diggers Rest Hotel

The Diggers Rest Hotel by Geoffrey McGeachin
The 2011 Ned Kelly Award winner - the first Charlie Berlin novel. A Melbourne detective investigates a series of robberies and a murder in Albury-Wondonga in the 1950s.


A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
The second volume of Martin's monumental Song of Fire and Ice sequence. Not as good as the first volume and acts more as a stage-setting set of exercises, but you can tell it's building up to something big.


The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
The 2011 Man Booker Prize winner. Not Barnes's best book but highly readable and echoes some of his very early work.


Hook's Mountain

Hook's Mountain by James McQueen
McQueen's sadly neglected novel from the early eighties. A WW II returned serviceman dives headfirst into environmental confrontation. This may be Australia's first "eco-terrorism" novel.


The Troubled Man

The Troubled Man by Henning Menkell
Menkell's last "Kurt Wallander" novel. As the detective investigates the disappearance of his daughter's future parents-in-law he encounters dark clouds everywhere, including his own life, past and future.



Shatter by Michael Robotham
This 2008 Ned Kelly Award winner is an excellent thriller featuring a revenge-seeking ex-army killer, and a physically and mentally scarred psychologist who races to avoid being the next victim.


Odd and the Frost Giants

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman's coming-of-age story about a crippled boy and his attempt to save Asgard from the Frost Giants.


Goldilocks Enigma

The Goldilocks Enigma by Paul Davies
Davies's investigation into why the universe is like it is - "weak", "strong" and "final" anthropic theories all get a going over.


The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.jpg

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann
A collection of Grann's journalism featuring tales of murder, madness and obsession. Varied but generally fairly interesting, and sometimes just plain bizarre.



Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell's investigation of why some people are more successful than others. Interesting but not up to his previous work.



The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin
Rankin's second novel featuring his new detective Malcolm Fox of The Complaints. There are echoes of Rebus here, but it still has some way to go to reach those heights.


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