October 2008 Archives

Matilda Waltzes

This is just a brief note to let you know that Matilda will go off for a brief rest as of Friday 24th October, returning on or about November 4th, Melbourne Cup Day. Frankly, I think this will be a good idea for all concerned. Life has been a little hectic over the past two
months - basically since I got back from the USA in early August - and I've come to realise that I'm not, currently, as enthusiastic about this weblog as I have been in the past. As a result the entries here have been terse and pretty mediocre. So a holiday in the sun will hopefully rejuvenate me, and allow me to catch up on my reading which has been sadly neglected of late. Where I'm off to has a TV - but only in a TV lounge, which means I can ignore it entirely; no internet as far as I'm aware, but I'm leaving the laptop home in any event; and probably no compatible mobile phone connection. Just what I need. See you in a couple of weeks.

Bryce Courtenay

Australian author Bryce Courtenay was recently recruited by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu "for the book, film and travelling exhibition by the American photographer Andrew Zuckerman, all titled Wisdom. Zuckerman travelled the world, filming, photographing and interviewing luminaries such as Nelson Mandela, Clint Eastwood, Malcolm Fraser and Henry Kissinger." In a talk the author gave at the State Library of New South Wales to mark the opening of the exhibition, "The Sydney Morning Herald" reported: "I thought it was a gag," he says. "None of us believes we have wisdom. Wisdom isn't a commodity that many of us particularly like to have anyway, because it sounds presumptuous and it sounds precocious." The exhibition runs at the State Library of NSW until November 16.

Australian Bookcovers #134 - The One Day of the Year by Alan Seymour


The One Day of the Year by Alan Seymour, 1967
(Souvenir Press 1967 edition)
Jacket design by Oliver Elmes.

2008 Australia-Asia Literary Award Longlist

The longlist for Australia's richest literary prize, the $110,000 Australia-Asia Literary Award, was announced on October 17, 2008 by Western Australia's Culture and Arts Minister John Day.

The longlisted works are:

J.M. Coetzee, Diary of a Bad Year, Publisher: Random House Group Ltd
Matthew Condon, The Trout Opera, Publisher: Random House (Vintage)
Michelle de Kretser, The Lost Dog, Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Ceridwen Dovey, Blood Kin, Publisher: Atlantic Books
Rodney Hall, Love Without Hope Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Publisher: Penguin
Mireille Juchau, Burning In, Giramondo Publishing
David Malouf, The Complete Stories, Publisher: Random House
Alex Miller, Landscape of Farewell, Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Haruki Murakami, After Dark, Translator: Jay Rubin, Publisher: Random House Group
Indra Sinha, Animal's People, Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
Janette Turner Hospital, Orpheus Lost, Publisher: HarperCollins

The winner will be announced on Friday November 21, 2008.

Margo Lanagan Interview

As her latest novel, Tender Morsels, is released in the US Margo Lanagan is interviewed on the "Bookslut" weblog by Gavin J. Grant.

Is the reader a tender morsel you chew over as you write?

The reader is not exactly the farthest thing from my mind as I write a story, but they're some distance off. I've found that it just gets in the way of the writing if I think of any reader bar myself, until quite a way along in the process.

That said, the reactions I get make me think that, yes, people can feel a bit chewed up and spat out after having read a Lanagan story. And Tender Morsels is no different; it really puts you through the mill before the good stuff starts. All the way along, though, I scatter pretty things, sparkly things, so that you'll have a hard time resisting being drawn into my lair. And afterwards, you'll be so glad you visited!

Poem: The Man Next Door by Kodak (Ernest O'Ferrall)

Fragments of song around me lie,
   Fair ballads of delight,
Sweet things an editor would buy
   And treasure at first sight;
All broken now, they're but a heap
   Of paper on the floor.
(Some night, armed with an axe, I'll leap
   Upon the fiend next door!)

Whene'er a verse I try to write,
   Or spin a story gay,
There comes a howling in the night
   That chases thought away;
Then, throwing down the pen, I call
   Down curses on his roar.
(Some night, with daggers three, I'll fall
   On him who shrieks next door!)

If I am feeling fit and well,
   And forth the inkpot bring,
He gives a wild and dismal yell
   And starts his bellowing.
I glare upon him from above
   As round his room he prowls,
While all the songs I most do love
   He mangles into howls.

The golden guineas fade away,
   The bailiff waits without;
I curse each agonising bray,
   I curse each empty shout;
My pen is still, my brain is numb,
   My senses sick and sore.
(I've asked for something swift to come
   And slay the Noise next door!)

First published in The Bulletin, 16 July 1908

Reprint: Australian Essays

Ever since the centenary year 1888 Australia has had a legion of verse anthologists, from Douglas Sladen down to Walter Murdoch and Percival Serle, each with his or her bouquet of blooms from the slopes of our Austral Parnassus. Some time ago Nettie Palmer and George Mackaness made an expedition among our Australian short stories, and each brought back rich pillage in a vivid and breezy book of selected stories. But it was not until the end of 1930 that any one ventured to collect a volume of Australian Essays. The reasons for this seeming delay are not far to seek. The essay has always been a late comer in the evolution of a nation's literary self-expression. As a distinct literary form it only arrived in the world when all the other forms had reached their maturity. Montaigne, in his round tower at Perigord, began it in 1580 with his charming egotisms and his tolerant philosophy of life, and though Bacon within twenty years was writing essays in England that will always remain classics for their aphoristic splendour of phrase they long diverted the English essay from its mobile and imaginative Gallic archetype to a ponderous sententiousness and critical gravity from which it needed all the wit of Addison, the good nature of Steele, the delicious satire of Goldsmith, and the whimsical wisdom of Elia to deliver it. Even the essay of the Victorian Age, for all the brilliance of a Macaulay, the tempestuous vigour of a Carlyle, and the lucidity of a Bagehot, had more of the solid construction of a treatise than the tentativeness of the
intellectual sally, as is connoted by the very name of "essay." The modern essay, that is, the typical twentieth century essay, has consciously reverted to the spirit of Montaigne without his garrulity. It has fancy, personality, and, for all its desultory spontaneousness, art.

Australians, encouraged by the daily Press, have been cultivating this elusive art during the last twenty years, and now Dr. George Mackaness, assisted by John D. Holmes, has sampled the vintage in this first volume of "Essays: Imaginative and Critical"; chosen from Australian authors (Angus and Robertson). It Is chiefly due to the foresight of the late George Robertson and his awareness as a publisher that Australia had reached the stage of intellectual development when it asked for essays, that those green volumes began to appear some six years ago in the format he designed, which have secured for the Australian essay an enthusiastic Australian audience. Everybody knows Walter Murdoch's three immensely popular books in this verdant series -- "Speaking Personally," "Saturday Mornings," and "Moreover" - and many readers have been tempted by so persuasive and guileful a practitioner in the art to extend their study to the "Knocking Round" of Le Gay Brereton, "Talking It Over" of Nettie Palmer, "The Magic Carpet" of Elliott Napier, and others. The last four years have witnessed a remarkable renaissance in Australian publishing - the rate of exchange has something to do with it, and the need of philosophy of life in dull times more - and if the cultivation of the essay is a sign of national adulthood, as some, not themselves essayists, aver, well - Australia has come of age, and this volume is the proof of it. With a prefatory grimace the joint-editors say, "For a collection such as this it is customary to provide a preface explaining the method of selection and other mechanical principles. This saves the critic the trouble of reading the rest of the book. In this particular work we reject the time-honoured custom, and suggest that the critic read the essay entitled 'On Being Australian'."

There could have been no neater hint than this sardonic one to our literary critics in a hurry, who might otherwise have scurried to check the nativity of the essayists and say supercilious things about non-Australian themes with the zeal of an Australian Natives' Association. And it is no less salutary a nudge to the weary London critic who, assuming that Australians have no ability to write about other things, those typically Australian, might take exception to Mr. Godsall's fine essay on "The Cornish Coast," Mr. Macgrath's on "Spanish Moonshine," or even the late Professor Strong's essay on "The Devil," as lacking in local flavour. Walter Murdoch, as becomes his Scottish ancestry, has struck a blow for "the liberty of prophesying." Like a sound strategist, he takes the offensive. "Robert Lynd, an Irishman," he says, "writes, a delightful essay on 'The Nutritive Qualities of the Banana'; does any one rebuke him and tell him that the subject has not the true Irish flavour, that he shows no attachment to the Irish environment, that his essay has few native qualities? Do we beseech him to stick for the future to shillelaghs and banshees, and colleens and Kilkenny cats? Nobody says anything so absurd. It is at least equally absurd to ask us Australians to concentrate our interest on the affairs of the parish. We must assert our right to become, if we can, citizens of the world." It remains to be said that this fine selection fortifies that claim, and discounts, if it were worth while, Sir John Squire's admonition to the high-brows of the "London Mercury" to expect nothing from Australia but "Philistinism and frozen meat." Twenty-five writers have been laid under contribution for this interesting and diverse anthology. Marcus Clarke's famous, if disputable, preface to Lindsay Gordon's poems rightly reappears for its sheer glitter of style. In literary criticism Professor Tucker's essay on "The Supreme Literary Gift" would be hard to surpass. In the biographical essay what could be a more discriminating centenary tribute to Flinders than Ernest Scott's? In Alec Chisholm's essays we discover the true disciple of W. H. Hudson, an observer of Nature, who more and more is becoming a master of literary style. In town essays the reader will find Henry Boote's "Our Street" and Nettie Palmer's "The Bus" drenched with humanity; and Mary Gilmore in "Roads of Remembrance" plucks facts entwined with fancies from the wayside of memory as only a poet can. No doubt there are some names omitted, as is inevitable in so small a book, but the editors have included nothing flashy or insincere. It is a book to browse over in these summer days, and it is the first of its kind.

First published in The Courier-Mail, 6 January 1934

Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.

Kate Grenville Watch #3

Reviews of The Lieutenant

Stella Clarke in "The Australian Literary Review": "You have to admire Kate Grenville, not only because she is among Australia's elite novelists, but also because of her tenacity. Here she is again, with The Lieutenant, daring to dabble in Australia's fraught, and still unsettled, British settler history...Arguably, ethical commitment is what characterises Grenville's fictional harrowings of Australia's violent past. It is evident in this new novel, and might be understood to validate her fictional embellishments of a handful of facts...Previously, however, Grenville hasn't just remade mainstream history. Her 1988 novel Joan Makes History was a lively, irreverent burlesque that subversively caught up the sort of female experience that traditional accounts let fall. Though The Lieutenant is edging her into the standard historical novelist box, her most successful earlier novels (Lilian's Story, 1994, Dark Places, 1995, and The Idea of Perfection, 2003) were original, darkly comic, profoundly probing explorations of vulnerable, odd or deviant people trying to make their stories prevail. Obliquely, they dealt with the extent to which power and authority dictate which accounts of events achieve currency...Grenville's novel suggests a laudable determination to guard storytellers' jittery claims on history, but at the price of truly startling inspiration. The historians' high dudgeon has apparently succeeded."
Genevieve Barlow in "The Weekly Times": "Were there doubters among the early white settlers to Australia who did not agree with the British way of settling another people's country? Perhaps it is Grenville merely recasting the scene and imbuing it with 21st century sentiments and regrets...This easy-to-read book set this reader thinking about the attitudes of many of our earliest settlers towards Aborigines."
Nigel Krauth in "The Australian": "At school I learned that the first 50 years of non-indigenous Australian history was a period of exploration, part of a grand project of European discovery. In my textbook, contact with 'the natives' was presented as marginalia, mere notes to the main narrative. There was no suggestion that the processes of indigenous and non-indigenous connection might involve opening up territory vaster than the interior of the wide brown land stretching before the explorers. There was no hint that the most challenging region to explore was the interior of the explorer himself...Grenville hasn't written a historical novel. She has written astutely about dark hearts today."

Short Notices

"BookBath" weblog: "I loved this seemingly simple but powerful book - even though this is a fictionalised account based on the life of a real person, William Dawes, I think it can still possibly inform us of some of the events and feelings of this traumatic and often violent part of this countries past - obviously still from the perspective of a white person which needs to be taken into account in our reading of this book."
Mark Rubbo from "Readings": "As in her masterful previous novel, The Secret River, Kate Grenville uses the early history of European settlement of Australia as a means to provoke and confront us. The reader is forced to reflect upon what she or he would do when faced with the choice between the 'intention of evil' and the intention of good, when the choice of good will almost certainly result in catastrophic personal consequences...From the slimmest items of history, Kate Grenville has constructed a tale that will delight and move you."


Ramona Kaval on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show".


"Caribousmom" weblog on The Secret River: "Grenville shows the wide gap between English and Aboriginal cultures...and the tremendous misunderstanding fueled by an inability to adequately communicate. Her prose is magnificent as she describes the land of Australia and gradually builds the tension between the characters, before bringing the novel to its inevitable and devastating conclusion. I was completely absorbed by this historical piece of work which is evocative, poetic and pulsing with the life of a time far in the past."
"Musings" weblog on The Idea of Perfection: "This book had a surprisingly strong impact on me. I loved the slow reveal of the characters, and their ultimate depth. And while the book moved quickly, Grenville suggests plot in the same way she does her characters. There were many times in this novel where she made a subtle point that connected several other events in a way that literally left me wide-eyed, astonished, and saying 'OH ... !!' out loud. "

Combined Reviews: Frantic by Katherine Howell

frantic.jpg Reviews of Frantic by Katherine Howell
Pan Macmillan

[Winner of the 2008 Davitt Award for Best Novel.]

From the publisher's page: "In one terrible moment, paramedic Sophie Phillips' life is ripped apart -- her police officer husband, Chris, is shot on their doorstep and their ten-month-old son, Lachlan, is abducted from his bed. Suspicion surrounds Chris as he is tainted with police corruption, but Sophie believes the attack is much more personal -- and the perpetrator far more dangerous... "While Chris is in hospital and the police, led by Detective Ella Marconi, mobilise to find their colleague's child, Sophie's desperation compels her to search for Lachlan herself. She enlists her husband's partner, Angus Arendson, in the hunt for her son, but will the history they share prove harmful to Sophie's ability to complete her mission? "And could one dangerous decision
cause Sophie to ultimately lose everything important in her life?"


"Crime Down Under": "One of the most popular genres in crime fiction is the police procedural as the reader is able to become immersed in all aspects of the crime-solving procedure. Also well represented in the literary landscape is the fire department with a few authors, notably Earl Emerson, doing a wonderful job of detailing arson and other suspicious fires. But a branch of the emergency services that has been almost completely ignored is the ambulance service. Katherine Howell has started to fill that hole and, judging by the pulse-quickening, breathless action she generates, should kick-start a whole new frenzy of excitement...Frantic is an outstanding thriller that I found immediately entertaining."
"Aust Crime Fiction": "The author of FRANTIC is a paramedic herself, and that perspective of a crime scene, an accident scene, an investigation is very unique - and it's written in a very accessible manner. It brings a refreshing perspective from the participants, at the same time that FRANTIC covers the reaction of a family or victim to the events that surround that crime. And there's definitely a distinct feeling of frenzy about FRANTIC. The pace of the book starts from page one and it doesn't let up until the end - mirroring the life of a paramedic firstly where they move case by case at breakneck speed, then the reaction of a frantic mother, desperate to find her son, unable to sit and wait."

Short Notices

"Boomerang Books": "Written by a former ambulance officer, this is a real page-turner and will certainly appeal to fans of medical-based crime thrillers. This good first novel, with some stylistic drawbacks, could easily be recommended to those seeking a fast-paced and involving read to fill in some entertainment hours."
"Reviewers' Choice Reviews": "FRANTIC is Katherine Howell's first published novel and one that shows great promise. The action starts on page one and maintains its momentum until the very last paragraph."


International Thriller Writers.

How do you approach your writing? I don't plan my novels too closely: I know where I'm starting and where I want to end up, and a few of the 'stepping stones' along the way. I've tried outlining, wanting to feel more secure about where I'm headed, but it just doesn't work for me. Invariably by the middle of a draft I'm floundering about, worrying that it's never going to work, but I was reassured at Harrogate recently to hear Tess Gerritsen describe her process in exactly the same way. I write straight onto computer, as I can type (even three-fingered) faster than I can hand-write. I find that the writing flows best in the afternoons, so the mornings I tend to fill with emails, research, sometimes writing notes, but generally no actual text. I have lots of documents and notebooks where I write down thoughts, ideas for scenes and characters, possible titles and endings and so on, but there is no real order to any of it. When I feel a bit stuck I read back through them and often find the solution was something I'd already thought of then forgotten.
"Articulate" - May 2007.
Genevieve Swart in "The Sydney Morning Herald" - July 2007.
"Crime Down Under" - March 2008.


You can read an excerpt from the novel on the author's website.


Howell put in a guest spot on Sarah Weinman's crime weblog "Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind" in August 2007.

2008 Man Booker Prize Winner Announced

The winner of the 2008 Man Booker prize has been announced as Aravind Adiga, for his novel The White Tiger.

The other works on the shortlist were:
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

Adiga is the third debut novelist to win the award after Arundhati Roy for The God of Small Things in 1997, and DBC Pierre for Vernon God Little in 2003.

Richard Flanagan Interview

Lachlan Jobbins, on the "Boomerang Books" weblog, interviews Richard Flanagan, whose new novel, Wanting, is
released at the beginning of November.

The novel touches on a very contentious subject - the extermination of the Tasmanian Aborigines at the hands of the Van Diemen's Land colonists. Whether this was a deliberate program of genocide or perhaps ill-intentioned experiment in "civilising" them is still debated. How conscious were you of trying to balance the perspectives of the colonists with contemporary feelings about history?

I was a historian before I was a novelist. No one can read the primary sources of Van Diemonian history without seeing that a war, often pitiless, was waged against Tasmanian Aborigines. Documents of the period are clear about what was happening: at the time it was referred to as a war of "extermination". I wasn't trying to balance past or contemporary feelings about what happened, because I have no doubt what went on. There will forever be a debate about the particular nature of the evil that befell the Tasmanian Aborigines, its causes, its particular nature, its consequences, and such a discussion, such questioning, is a good thing. But only in the distortions of those pursuing ideological vendettas is it possible to claim it did not happen.


Australian Bookcovers #133 - Cabin Fever by Elizabeth Jolley


Cabin Fever by Elizabeth Jolley, 1990
(Penguin 1991 edition)
Cover illustration by Richard Ross. Cover design by Cathy van Ee.

2008 Man Booker Prize Lead-Up

With the 2008 Man Booker Prize winner to be announced tomorrow, Tuesday 14th October (UK time), "The Age" has a look at each of the shortlisted titles, and also interviews the Australian author on the list Steve Toltz.

The book, based around 20-something Jasper Dean's account of his life with his father Martin, was originally commissioned as a short story by a magazine but, Toltz said, he just "couldn't bring myself to submit it".

"I thought I could expand it to a larger story, a slightly larger story, so I kept expanding it, and kept expanding it, and about 690 pages and five years later, I finished it," he said while in London ahead of the award ceremony at the Guildhall.

"I wanted to explore how it would be for the children of people who are crucified, or skinned alive, in the media, that was my first instinct.

"And also ... explore how a child of rebel could also rebel."

In "The Australian", Elisabeth Wynhausen and John Zubrzycki profile two of the authors on the list, Toltz and Aravind Adiga, who have struck gold with their debut novels - both of whom the paper identifies as being Australian.

Matthew Reilly Interview

Matthew Reilly, author of The Six Sacred Stones, is interviewed in "The Courier-Mail" by Samela Harris.

He attributes much of his name recognition to plain hard work.

"In the early days, I said 'yes' to everything," he says.

"Schools, radio or TV interviews, I said 'yes' and I did them all, so it came to a point in the last couple of years that a lot of people know who Matthew Reilly is -- and it is always a surprise.

"You know, you spend so long climbing the mountain that you don't actually realise you might be near the top. But now, when you say 'Matthew Reilly', they say 'you mean the author?'. And that has always been my goal, that people know Matthew Reilly is the guy who tells these stories."

Reilly continues to love interacting with his readers. He says book clubs are a favourite thing. And he sustains a lively dialogue on his website through a blog and a Frequently Asked Questions section in which he more or less interviews himself.

2008 Davitt Awards

The 2008 Davitt Awards were presented in Melbourne, at the Celtic Club, on Friday 10th October. These awards are presented by Sisters in Crime (Australia), and aim to honour Australian crime fiction written by women. The full shortlists for these awards are available here (PDF file].

The winners were:

Frantic by Katherine Howell

YA Fiction
The Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Mandy Sayer

True Crime
Killing Jodie by Janet Fife-Yeomans

Readers' Choice
Scarlet Stiletto - The First Cut by Lindy Cameron

Poem: "So Nice" by D.M.W. (David McKee Wright)

A poet's crown is mostly made of thorns.
His throne is something fashioned like a cross.
His singing robes are mentioned in the bill
The tailor sends what time the month is young.
His rhymes are all of gold, but nosey men
Regard his paper as of little worth.
The washerlady cannot understand.
The grocer will not take his grandest ode
As an exchange for butter. Woe is me!
Old Homer singing when the world was young
Had better luck. The butcher at the gate
Paused wondering when he sang, and gave him forth
Three sausages for each hexameter.
The milkman called on Sappho, pouring out
Measures of milk for each stately line,
And also cream on Sundays. Ovid too,
In banishment beyond the Euxine wave,
Had but to troll a song of gods and loves,
And all the Gothic swine-herds rendered pork
In token of their homage. Times are changed.
The only things my golden rhymes will buy
Are Mary's smiles. If these were edible,
Then were my larder largely stocked indeed.
Yet must I sing. Mary is darning socks,
And when the ode has end her dear lips frame
Three golden words, three only, every time;
She bites a thread and murmurs, "It is nice."

First published in The Bulletin, 10 September 1908

2008 Nobel Prize for Literature

The French author Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio has been named as the 2008 Nobel Prize Literature laureate. Wikipedia has a fairly extensive page devoted to the author. Ladbrokes betting agency didn't have Le Clézio in their top ten.

Reprint: Our Australian Poets: Charles Harpur by F.

I have frequently heard the remark made that we have poetry enough; and so we have, if the idiosyncrasies of every age were alike; but they are not, and we might as soon expect to see the fashion for dress unchanging as to see the taste for the same kind of poetry existing from age to age. I confess my taste for modern poetry expired, with a few exceptions, with Byron and Scott. The exceptions were Mrs. Hemans, Bryant, and Whittier. Occasionally, indeed, I have met with a gem in a review or a newspaper, and though I have endeavored to read Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Tennyson, and Longfellow, they never awoke in me any enthusiasm; in fact, with the single exception of Southey, the reading of that class was a task.

Such is my idiosyncrasy, and yet I know there are thousands for more intellectual than me who literally dote on these writers, and who would prefer "Hiawatha" to he "Girusalem Liberati" of Tasso, or the "Orlando Furioso" of Aristo; aye, and there are some who would rather wade through Chaucer's "House of Fame" and Spencer's "Fairy Queen" than read the finest passages in " Childe Harold."

The British colonies are not remarkable for producing much literary wealth, especially of this kind; and I believe New South Wales is the only one of the Australian colonies which has yet produced a poet whose works will descend beyond his own generation; and yet, after all, literary wealth is as necessary to our well being as the wealth produced by the plough, though scarcely so tangible. A good many reasons may be adduced why this should be the case. The most prominent is no doubt the necessity there exists for active exertion; and another lies in the fact that those in power have never patronised efforts of that description, Sir John Young being the only gentleman I am aware of who acted the part of a Mecaenas.

Mr. Harpur was first pluming his poetic wings for their flight upon my arrival in the colony, and the promise he then gave of attaining the very highest summit of Parnassus has been ably sustained. As a nervous, impassioned, although a powerful and correct writer, he has been rarely surpassed. He never descends to mediocrity, or losses himself in the misty vapors of what has been aptly termed the spiritualised nonsense of the modern school of poetry. He is always clear, melodious, and (shall I add?) sensible; and to my taste resembles Schiller more than any other poet I am acquainted with. In descriptive power he is only excelled by Scott and Byron, and is quite as truthful in his delineations as either. One of the finest things I have ever read was a piece from his pen, which seemed to have been written impromptu, and appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. It was fully equal to the well known and justly famous "Diver," of Schiller. In his minor pieces Mr. Harpur strikingly resembles the American poet George Whittier. I have heard him, too, likened to that brilliant but eccentric and turbid genius, Edgar Allen Poe, but I confess I can see but little similarity in their works, for there is nothing in Mr. Harpur which outrages probability - a rule which seems to be lost sight of in the greater part of modern poetry.

Of necessity remarks such as I am making must be brief, and I regret the fact principally as it prevents me from giving some extracts. It is singular enough that my first acquaintance with the poetry of Mr. Harpur commenced with the following, which I picked up in a fragment of newspaper by the roadside. I believe it is part of "Spring", in "Saul".

From the herded horse a trample,
   Like a torrent's rupture rolls,
As round and round they wheel them,
   In the glory of their souls;
And the sand of the far desert,
   By the lion is uphurled,
As the tempest robe of winter
   Is gathered from the world.
No Australian library should be without the works of Charles Harpur.

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 27 February 1869
Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.
[Try as I might - and I do have a copy of The Poetical Works of Charles Harpur - I can't find the poem this article refers to.]

Further On (Up the Road)

The "Neglected Books" website lists The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney series by Henry Handel Richardson. "Henry Handel Richardson is a writer of the very top rank...Sentence for sentence, the writing holds your interest as only the best novels do. Here is a writer in English we can read without the filter of translation."

Anita Heiss discusses the question: "What makes Australian Literature Australian?" Alex Miller has a good line: "Anyone who believes we need a definition of something indefinable is not an artist, but publicist." Something always gets left out of any such definition. It's like trying to herd cats.

Glenn Harper, on the "International Noir" weblog has discovered the tv adaptations of the first two Murray Whelan novels by Shane Maloney, and is pretty impressed.

Book launches aren't all beer and skittles, as Kirsty Brooks makes clear.

D.M. Cornish has loaded a zoomable map of his Half-Continent from his "Monster Blood Tattoo" series of YA novels.

Crikey, the major independent Australian news site, has launched Crikey Blogs. This includes the usual suspects: politics, business, environment and sport, but also includes an Australian literary weblog. Angela Meyer's "LiteraryMinded" blog has now moved over under the Crikey umbrella.

Sean Williams reprints a piece he wrote for the "Adelaide Advertiser" about how he came to write Star Wars novels.

William Kostakis Interview

William Kostakis, author of the novel Loathing Lola, is interviewed by Angela Meyer on the "LiteraryMinded" weblog.

How long all up have you worked on Loathing Lola, and what compelled you to begin it?

I remember sitting in the back seat of my car, with my worn copy of Worry Warts on my lap, the back cover facing up. I'd imagine my face there instead of Morris Gleitzman's. The caption would read "11-year-old author William Kostakis", that was my dream... and then I turned 12, so that daydream became "12-year-old author William Kostakis'...That's when I realised I should probably start writing something.

I finished a novel featuring Courtney and Co. by the end of Year 7, and my computer congratulated me with a terminal virus. It was the age of the floppy disk, and I hadn't learned the importance of backing up the file, so, from memory, I restarted it in Year 8. I must've remembered more than was there, because the word count doubled (think: just falling shy of Harry Potter 5's grand total). I left it for a few years, came back to it in Year 10, and after one more rewrite, I was content with it, so I started thinking about a sequel. What if they had a camera crew following them around? How would that change the way they acted, what they said, who they were nice to, who they weren't? What would they hide? What parts of their characters would they accentuate? It didn't take me long to realise that this would be a far more compelling read than the original novel I'd written, so, after my bajillionth rejection letter, I decided to restart from scratch. By the end of Year 12, I had Pan Macmillan on board. And now, in my second year of uni, I have a book out.

So, to answer your question in a non-round-about way, it took seven-eight years to write, and I started it because I wanted to be Morris Gleitzman. Only 11.

Review: One Foot Wrong by Sofie Laguna

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one_foot_wrong.jpg    One Foot Wrong
Sofie Laguna
Allen & Unwin, 256 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Tineke Haze

There is indescribable suffering of a mentally retarded little girl, Hester, in this book. Hester is growing up as an only child, forbidden to go outside and with no one to play with other than her Cat. She has an Abridged Picture Bible she loves to look at, and a spoon, a doorhandle, a broom, and a tree who talk to her. The moment she puts one foot wrong, her angry and deranged mother Sack, takes her down into the cellar and hangs her from the shoulders above the table for punishment, while her weak and ineffectual father Boot protests, without results. Hester sleeps in her parents room at the end of their bed, but, when she is a little older, gets a room of her own. It is then that Boot starts his night visits to Hester, who doesn't understand that this is so out of order, and wouldn't be able to tell her mother anyway. The Welfare Department somehow become involved and after some tests it is decided Hester must attend the local school. Sack is powerless to stop this and Hester is thrown into a situation where everything is strange for her. It proves a disaster in the end when Hester has shown she has violent tendencies when she cannot make anyone understand what she feels or wants. She is sent home again and resumes her domestic life there with the added responsibility of
chopping wood with the axe for the woodstove. This proves a significant skill for her later in her life.

When Hester turns eighteen, Sack finds herself looking at this young woman is who is now so grown up, Sack becomes angry and tells her off and locks her in her room for the night. After attacking her mother over this incident, Hester is sent to an institution where she observes the inmates being drugged into zombies and learns to avoid getting the knockout needle by behaving the way institutions like them to behave, subservient and subdued. Hester's subsequent escape can only lead to one conclusion.

It was very interesting to read Kathy Hunt's article in "The Weekend Australian" some weeks ago, on Criticism. In it she said, "as a reader, I too react emotionally to every book under review, but as a critic I must push through this barrier and find my way to an opinion." To me, as a fledgling critic, those comments were very helpful. To push through the emotions as you read One Foot Wrong, takes some doing. The imagery in it is both beautiful and disturbingly ugly. One feels for little Hester and the terrifying moments thrust upon her, not only by her ignorant parents but also by an institutionalized society. Yet we get to see a child's fresh world and a child's wonder through Hester's young eyes.

The tension in the book builds up, dark and sinister like a gothic novel, yet the climax is curiously ugly and unbelievable. This is the second young female author whose books I have read within a short space of time, both dealing with the shadowy side of humanity. It doesn't make for enjoyable reading, yet they are portraying what present day society needs to be made aware of; whether we like it or not.

Colleen McCullough Interview

Colleen McCullough's new novel, The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet , is a sequel of sorts to Pride and Prejudice, shifting "the action 20 years on and remaking the neglected middle Bennet sister, Mary, into a heroine." As the book is published the author is interviewed by Rosalie Higson for "The Australian".

"It's the perils of Pauline," McCullough says with her trademark boisterous laugh. Now 71, she is always looking for something new. Her CV includes romances, histories, cookbooks, mysteries and biography. "The trouble with living long enough to write 20 novels is that you start to get a bit short of genre," she says.

It was a televised version of Pride and Prejudice that reminded her of some things she'd wondered about "for donkey's years".

"First of all, why Jane Austen didn't like Mary, to whom she devoted a whole eight sentences. The other question was whatever happened to Mary? Then I saw this film and I thought that writing about that will really get under the skins of the literati. That will really, really irritate them," she says with another roaring laugh. "And I love irritating the literati.

"So I thought, I will write about what happened to Mary Bennet." Reading between the lines, in many ways the "pig-headed" Mary resembles McCullough: the plain girl with the brain, pursuing knowledge, then breaking out into the world, stubbornly independent, full of ideas, ultimately successful, admired by people in high places and finding love in middle age as a bonus.

Australian Bookcovers #132 - Bad Debts by Peter Temple


Bad Debts by Peter Temple, 1996
(Text Publishing 2004 edition)

J.M. Coetzee Watch #11

Review of Diary of a Bad Year

"News Blaze": "Diary of a Bad Year remains a good reading experience only for the first few chapters when Coetzee's political commentary intrigues the reader toward some grand unfolding in the coming pages. However, it never arrives; instead, the book underwhelms for more than one reason. "First of all, the desultoriness with which the author hops from one topic to another -- thematically unrelated -- topic destroys the book's coherence. Few of the topics are developed to a thought-arousing level and the author's person continues to overshadow his views. That also holds for the story in which the characters feel like 'voice generators' for communicating the author's mind and not as palpable human figures. There is no climax and the book remains as plain at the end as at the very beginning."

Short Notices

"Underthought" weblog: "Short, thought-provoking, intermittently brilliant and strangely captivating, Diary of a Bad Year is one of the most bizarre novels (if you can even call it a novel) I've ever read. But it's also a little irritating -- for its brevity and for its staccato rhythm, as Coetzee hops from one political bugbear to the next."
"Joan's Book Nook" weblog: "Voted in 2006 as 'the greatest novel of the last 25 years', Disgrace is not a book you hurriedly skim over, as each of Coetzee's words is bold, potent and very deserving of the readers' attention that it commands. His exemplary craftsmanship, partly stems from the fact that he doesn't shy away from the full exploration of the emotional core and psyche of his characters, never once allowing his concern for the exterior to eclipse his attention to the interior by hiding underneath layers upon layers of descriptive detail, as some authors do."

Film Adaptation of Disgrace

The Internet Movie Data Base has a page devoted to the film, but does not, as yet, indicate any general release dates. The film had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in early September, and picked up an international critics' award (the FIPRESCI Prize for Special Presentations). Reviews have been trickling out: Screen Daily ("...a disturbing insight into the soul of modern South Africa..."); "The Dewey Divas and the Dudes" weblog ("It's a gutsy film and while it's difficult to 'enjoy', it certainly leaves you with lots to think about."); and "exclaim.ca" ("The film certainly presents some interesting ideas about the complex nature of forgiveness and reconciliation in the wake of monumental brutality, and can be taken as a metaphor for the larger political situation.").


"sne" weblog on Life & Times of Michael K: "Coetzee is distinctly highly inventive and a man with translucent conviction. Like in his other novel Waiting for the Barbarians, Coetzee describes the landscapes of suffering little by little with the art of moral disclosure. His stories are universal because they can take place anywhere and to anyone. He does not use abstractions in his stories; his stories are engrossed in the minute and the concrete. Through the minute details in his stories, it is possible to learn how to sow, how to plough, how to use a pump, or how to make a house of earth. His sentences are simple, direct and pure. They are so acute that the readers get the effect deep in their minds."

Susan Duncan Profile

Susan Duncan, author of the memoir Salvation Creek: An Unexpected Life and its upcoming sequel The House At Salvation Creek, is interviewed in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

If you catch the ferry across Pittwater from Church Point on Sydney's northern peninsula, you'll probably notice a house on the hill at Lovett Bay. It is a striking, rather grand classical-revival home among the gum trees, with fat columns and a deep wraparound veranda and it stands above, and slightly aloof from, the dwellings that cluster around the shore. It looks like a house with a story -- and Susan Duncan has written it.


Up close, Tarrangaua is beautiful, with lovely proportions and a sense of grace and grandeur. "I think the veranda is the key to the whole house," Duncan says. "We live on it in summer; sleep on it in summer." The house was built in 1925 for Dorothea Mackellar, who wrote the poem "My Country" 100 years ago. But its story doesn't end there.

Duncan's new book is a kind of whodunit about the house. Word-of-mouth had always said that Tarrangaua's architect was the classical-revival master Hardy Wilson, but when experts pooh-poohed that, Duncan went looking for evidence. The unfolding mystery of the house is the thread that pulls the reader through anecdotes about life in Lovett Bay, of neighbours, nature, dogs, boats, ageing, good food, friends, fun, mothers and daughters, cancer and cake.

Poem: Boronia by Waif Wander (Mary Fortune)

Welcome, sweet Spring, but not for wealth
   Of wattle bloom, or daffodil,
Or violets, or lilies fair,
   Or perfumed, pale jonquil;
We love them all, but willingly
   We would them all delete,
Rather than lose thy heavenly breath,
   Boronia, brown and sweet.

Thou fair, fair West, what wealth is then,
   Thy kauri forests grand,
Thy happy homesteads, and thy stretch
   Of green, productive land;
Thy streamlets margined rich with flowers,
   Thy rivers deep and wide,
Where the graceful black swans thou hast limned
   For thy insignia glide.

Thou hast thy "Gold of Ophir," too,
   Where in the deep, dark mine,
With hidden wealth for workers' hands
   The wine-red rubies shine;
We envy not thee one or all,
   But gladly turn to greet
Thy spring-sent messages of love,
   In brown Boronia sweet.

The lover lays thee on his lips,
   And sighs for kisses fled,
The mother lays thee on her breast,
   And weeps her baby dead;
I place thy by my weakling pen,
   And Heaven-sent tidings greet,
For well I know thou hast been there,
   Boronia, brown and sweet.

First published in The Australasian, 23 September 1907

[Thanks to Lucy Sussex for providing this.]

Kate Grenville Watch #2

In the post "Kate Grenville Watch #1" which appeared here yesterday I included the line: "A British author takes exception to the implication that Grenville's novel is the first to tackle this subject matter." The passage from "The Canberra Times" which instigated my note is as follows:

British author Jane Rogers has accused Grenville of implying on her website that the novel, The Lieutenant, is the first to cover this ground. Rogers' 1995 novel, Promised Lands, which won the Writers' Guild Best Fiction Book award in Britain, is also based on the life of the amateur scientist and astronomer Dawes. In an email to a Canberra acquaintance which was forwarded to The Canberra Times, Rogers said Grenville "has based her novel on exactly the research that I did for Promised Lands, although she seems to imply that hers is the first novel ever to cover this ground".
There is more, which you should read, but this was the part that caught my eye. I didn't make any comment on this at the time for a few reasons, mostly to do with time. And then last night I received a comment from Kerryn Goldsworthy on the original post that made me go back and have a look at the full newspaper piece, and also at Grenville's discussion of how she came to write the novel, from her website.

"The Canberra Times" includes the paragraph (On her website she says, "When I came across the germ of this story in historical sources, I knew I had to try to tell it: I wanted others to feel the hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck excitement I was feeling about these two people and what happened to them.") which, I assume, they feel supports Rogers' case. It is a statement taken from an interview Grenville has also posted on her website.

The question is: does this lead you to think that Grenville believes she is the first to see the literary possibilities with this material? I don't think so, and I'm with Kerryn here; I just can't see anywhere in Grenville's piece where she implies anything, and if the interview answer is all they have to base their accusations on, well...it's bit thin. Maybe the thought is that because Grenville doesn't explicitly acknowledge Rogers' novel then she implies, I don't know - maybe it's "non-existence". It's a real stretch.

Grenville, herself, has stated that she was aware of Rogers' novel but only skimmed it enough to ascertain that her approach to the story would be different to her own; a wise move in my view. But I can't see how this can lead to anything. As Kerryn says, it's a beat-up. And to top things off, how about this last sentence from "The Canberra Times": "Grenville has been at pains in recent interviews to make it clear that The Lieutenant 'is not history', preferring to refer to the book as a novel about 'the past'." I just love the quoted words 'the past'. It's an historical novel. Let's leave it at that.


Readings and ABC Radio's The Book Show.

Margo Lanagan Interview

Jeff Vandermeer interviews Margo Lanagan for "Clarkesworld" magazine as her new novel, Tender Morsels, hits the bookshops.

To what extent does living in Australia influence your fiction? Some would claim that when you write fantasy the place in which you live is at best expressed in your fiction indirectly...

This is a big, rich question. In terms of Tender Morsels...Well, I was just about to say, this is not Australia, this is some kind of fairytale Eastern Europe, but in fact you don't have to look very hard at this book to find the kind of boofhead male behaviour Australia has something of a reputation for, so maybe my homeland is making itself felt that way. Then you could start drawing all sorts of parallels about St Olafred's being the centre of commerce and politics and power and Liga's cottage being all isolated and remote down there in the valley -- but then you'd be getting silly. I don't know that this is a question that can be answered from the inside. There are some US readers who say they can see a characteristic 'Australian-ness' in my stories, but I don't really know what they're talking about. People tend to fixate a little on this, and spot Australianisms where they don't exist; for example, assuming that any strange turn of phrase they encounter is something characteristically Australian, when in fact, you know, I'm a writer, I make things up. Or that any dark-skinned person in a story is Aboriginal; generally my dark-skinned people are just dark-skinned people.

Tender Morsels
publisher's page.

Reprint: Henry Kendall by G.B.

On August 1 will occur the 40th anniversary of the death of Henry Kendall. Though not our first native born poet - at least one, Charles Harpur, preceded him - Kendall was the first of our long line of singers whose inspiration is the charm of nature. His paternal grandfather came to New South Wales as a lay missionary in 1809, and in 1814 went in that capacity to New Zealand. After a few years' service among the Maoris he resigned from missionary work and went to South America, to which place he was accompanied by his son Basil - the father of Henry. In 1826 they returned to Australia, and the older Kendall received as a reward for his missionary labours, a grant of 1,200 acres of land in the Ulladulla district, towards the south coast of New South Wales. On part of this estate Henry Kendall was born in 1841. Five years after the poet's birth the family went to live in the Clarence River district. Here, in an isolated home, Henry received from his father his early education. The future poet was only 11 years of age when his father died of consumption, and the family of five children was scattered. Henry and another brother were sent to the home of a relative near their birthplace, where Henry had "fellowship with gorge and glen," the lasting impression of which is shown in much of his poetry. At the age of 13 he was given a place as cabin boy in a small brig owned by one of his uncles. He, however, had not the venturesome spirit of his father, who during his brief stay in South America saw service in the Brazilian Navy in a struggle against Portugal to which Brazil up to this time was subject. During his two years of seafaring Kendall visited among other paces the Marquesas and Japan, but he hated the life and was glad to escape from it. For a while he held a position in a Sydney drapery establishment, and later became clerk in the office of James Lionel Michael, the poet who was a solicitor. Michael was a most kindly employer and showed the young clerk the use of his library and encouraged him in his literary work.

When Kendall was 21 his first volume of verse was published. A little later he was appointed to the New South Wales Lands Department at a salary of £150 per annum, his qualification, according to the official notice of his appointment, being "his literary promise " A couple of years later he was transferred to the Colonial Secretary's office at an increased salary. In 1869 he resigned his Government appointment, intending to devote himself wholly to literary work. He came to live in Melbourne, where he worked at different tasks. At one time he was employed in the office of the Government Statist, but, probably "haunted by the sound of waterfalls two hundred miles away," he deserted the position after three days. About this time his second book, "Leaves from an Australian Forest," was printed, but it commanded only a poor sale. Kendall's couple of years in Melbourne was a period of sorrow and poverty. He gave way to drink, a tendency to which he may have inherited from both parents. For this sin he did ample penance in several poems, particularly in one in which he describes "the dreadful portion of a drunkard's home." To add to his sorrows he lost his young daughter. In 1871 he returned to Sydney, but trouble still dogged his footsteps, and he had to be placed in an asylum - the shadow of 1872, as he speaks of it. He soon recovered his mental balance and engaged in literary work for a little while. Then he accepted a position as accountant in a timber business at a place called Camden Haven, where, with his family, he spent some of the best years of his life. In 1870 Kendall won a prize of £100 for a poem on the Sydney International Exhibition, and a year later his third book, "Songs from the Mountains," was published under a subscription arrangement which guaranteed it's financial success. In 1881 Sir Henry Parkes - ever one of his good friends - created for him the position of Inspector of State forests, but he had held it only a few months when he was afflicted with consumption, from which he died in 1882, at the age of 41. Kendall had no ethical message for his time, the only person he seems to have wished to reform was himself. He was essentially a lyric poet, and wrote with exquisite beauty of the charm of mossy springs and streams and waterfalls - "songs interwoven of lights and of laughters." In one of his poems he says that he longs to steal the beauty of the brook, and put it in his song, and he went as near accomplishing this impossible task as any poet, and in the well known lines on the Bellbirds he seems to have succeeded in capturing some of the wild singers' notes for his poem. He also had the happy gift of being able to paint a scene in a phrase or two. He pictures autumn as a gipsy standing in the gardens splashed from heel to thigh, and winter as a woodman who comes "to lop the leaves in wind and rain," and elsewhere as a departing wearisome guest. Spring is blue-eyed and million-coloured; summer has "large, luxurious eyes," and dances "a shining singer through the tasselled corn," and the wild oak is a wan Tithonus of the wood "aghast at Immortality in chains." In Kendall's poetry there are "notes that unto other lyrics belong, "and there is no doubt that he was influenced by Wordsworth and Tennyson. In one of the prefatory sonnets, in his second book, he excuses the "stray echoes" in these words -

Lo, when a stranger in soft Syrian glooms
   Shot through with sunset, treads the cedar dells,
   And hears the breezy ring of elfin bells
Far down be where the white-haired cataract booms,
   He, faint with sweetness caught from forest smells,
Bears thence, unwitting, plunder of perfumes.
Mountains, whether seen in their mightiness with "the royal robes of morning" on their heads, or with broken lights upon their gorges and streams, were always an inspiration to Kendall, and the address "To a Mountain," which prefaced his second book, is one of the finest pieces of blank verse written in Australia. Though he also sings of "the grand hosanna of the sea," he has but little affection for it, perhaps the result of the two unhappy years he spent on his uncle's brig. In his journalistic days Kendall wrote some humorous verse, and though he did not care for horse racing, he also wrote "How the Melbourne Cup was Won," but he was much more in his element when singing of the running of a mountain stream among shadowy boulder-strewn ways. In the memorial lines on Adam Lindsay Gordon he speaks of his fellow-poet's work as having "the deep autumnal, half-prophetic tone of forest winds in March." The same may be said of Kendall's own poetry. Through the best of it is a note of disappointment and regret. He was a man of a somewhat melancholy mood, and this has been accenuated by his early sorrows and the tribulation of his later years. "Some men grow strong with trouble," but it was not so with Kendall, and even in the poems, written in his happiest times, there are sounds of "strong authentic sorrow."

Kendall frequently speaks in his writings of the austere lot that fell to the men of letters of his day, but he seems to have forgotten some of the favours he received. At 21, on the ground of literary promise, he was appointed to a Government clerk ship, and when then promise showed sign of fulfilment he was transferred to a better position, and in after years a special post was created for him by the Government of the day. In the present age the creation of Government posts for favoured individuals is not altogether unheard of, but they are not usually for literary men. His early books were not commercial successes, but better writers had known similar experiences. However, probably no poet whose work has not mean financial gain has found much comfort in the reflection that "Paradise Lost" brought its author only £5. Kendall had, at any rate, the satisfaction of knowing that his poetry was appreciated by all the literary people of Australia - a reward that some of his followers have been denied. Undoubtedly, Kendall suffered a bitter Gethsemane, due to causes quite beyond his control. His inherited weakness brought on him penalties of destitution and suffering, and increased his other unfortunate inheritance of a tempermental melancholy, and it is doubtful if success as a poet would have saved him from the sorrow which was his lot during much of his life.

First published in The Argus, 29 July 1922

Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.

[You can read the rest of the poem quoted here.]

Robert Drewe Interview

Robert Drewe's new collection of short stories, The Rip is in the shops, and Jo Case on the Readings" weblog spoke to him about his new book and other things:

You write across a range of forms: short stories, novels, memoir. Do you have a favourite? What draws you to short stories as a form?

I don't favour any particular form, other than preferring to write fiction. No contest: fiction is more fun to do. After writing a long novel -- most recently, Grace -- I find it pleasurable to write stories next. A book is such a long haul and you have to keep yourself diverted and entertained. It's like painting your house: after painting three blue walls you can't wait to switch to a yellow wall. Short stories have an immediacy and power, and speak to us personally more than a novel does. Apart from its sharper focus, what the good story has over the novel is that it sets up a need in us that we weren't aware of -- and then fulfils it. I appreciate that small miracle.

The stories in The Rip are loosely linked by their setting on the Australian coast, and many of the characters you write about have a deep affinity to the water. Is that an affinity you share? If so, how does it inform your writing?

The Swan River estuary, the lunar West Australian landscape and the Indian Ocean coast were set in my consciousness as a child, and clearly affect my writing, especially my story collections such as The Rip and The Bodysurfers. Like most Australians I prefer to live near it, but in my work I'm not a hostage to the coast. My most successful novels, like The Drowner or Our Sunshine or The Savage Crows, reach a bit further inland. My characters aren't always going swimming or applying suntan oil.

Kate Grenville Watch #1

Reviews of The Lieutenant

Kerryn Goldsworthy in "The Age": "The Lieutenant, set before and during the first few years of the colony of NSW, recreates recorded historical relationships and events, and several of its characters are closely based on
real people. It also deals in detail with the first contact between Europeans and the Aboriginal population. It is, says Kate Grenville firmly, fiction. At least one of those things might get her into strife, as did her last novel, The Secret River, and there are certainly a number of complex issues to be addressed.
This novel's dark materials prevent it from 'sparkling', but it glows with life: imaginative in its re-creations, respectful of what cannot be imagined, and thoughtful in its interrogation of the past."
Andrew Rimmer in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "...as in The Secret River, The Lieutenant comes to an end with an epilogue of a kind, set decades after the main events of the novel. "There are, nevertheless, striking differences. This novel is much more compact, with fewer characters and leaner prose. Grenville's restraint will not please everyone. No doubt some readers will miss the greater amplitude and richness of atmosphere of the earlier work. To my mind, though, Grenville's approach is entirely valid, appropriate to the ambitions of this essay in forging a fictional narrative from well-documented history."
A British author takes exception to the implication that Grenville's novel is the first to tackle this subject matter.

Short Notices

"Reading, Writing and Retirement" weblog on The Idea of Perfection which "is filled with quirky characters, mostly people who are uncomfortable in their own skin and who question their own every move and every word that comes out of their mouth (or not, as the case may be)."
"Vulpes Libris" weblog on The Idea of Perfection: "It's very tempting not to summarise the book at all, because there's no way a summary could do this gem any justice. It is a story about some fairly low-key romances that happen in an obscure, oppressively hot, mostly barren part of the world -- doesn't sound very good so far, does it? But somehow Grenville manages to say so much about relationships and love and life that the book has a secretly broad reach and counts as the most satisfying novel I've read in a long time."
"Nikky's Journal" compares Conrad's Heart of Darkness with The Secret River: "...as Marlow and his crew were flowing in their boat down the river, I couldn't help but contrast it to the aboriginals, even the way Conrad has described these beasts. The emotive language he uses to describe their very existence is fabulous and so like the aboriginals - even the way they were used for labor - and then left to die..."


"Historians neglecting storyteller's role" by Justine Ferrari in "The Australian":

History has been "dulled down" by focusing exclusively on analysing evidence and argument, with historians neglecting their role as storytellers. Award-winning historian Peter Cochrane is urging his colleagues to look to the narrative techniques of literature to recreate the past in a vivid and lively way. Cochrane, an inaugural winner of the Prime Minister's Prize for Australian History, said historians should be able to cross freely into the territory of novelists and poets to use their techniques of plot, character, and imagination.
"We should be crossing boundaries and borrowing what we can from fiction, or at least from fiction writers ... in terms of structuring and vivifying a story."
Cochrane wants historians to use the techniques of novelists, and while he doesn't come right out and say it, it seems only reasonable that novelists should use the subject matter of historians.

Nobel Prize Odds

In Australia the Australian Rules Football season is over for another year, the National Rugby League grand final is this coming weekend (Melbourne vs Sydney, sweeeeet) and then we drop headlong into the Spring Racing Carnival. So we all start thinking about betting and odds, and quinellas and trifectas.

Which leads me to the news that Ladbrokes is running a book on this year's Nobel Prize for Literature. Outright favourite is Claudio Magris (yes, I shrugged as well), the Italian novelist, at 3/1, with our man Les Murray on the 8th line of betting at 10/1; Peter Carey sits at 40/1, and David Malouf at 66/1. The laureate will be named on or about October 16th.

[Thanks to The Literary Saloon for the link.]

Combined Reviews: The Low Road by Chris Womersley

low_road.jpg Reviews of The Low Road by Chris Womersley

[Winner of the 2008 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel.]

From the publisher's page: "A young petty criminal, Lee, wakes in a seedy motel to find a bullet in his side and a suitcase of stolen money next to him, with only the haziest memory of exactly how he got there. Soon he meets Wild, a morphine-addicted doctor who is escaping his own disastrous life. The two men form an unwilling, unlikely alliance and set out for the safety of a country estate owned by a former colleague of Wild's named Sherman.

"As they flee the city, they develop an uneasy intimacy, inevitably revisiting their pasts even as they desperately seek to evade them. Lee is haunted by a brief stint in jail, while Wild is on the run from the legacy of medical malpractice. But Lee and Wild are not alone: they are pursued through an increasingly alien and gothic landscape by the ageing gangster Josef, who must retrieve the stolen money and deal with Lee to ensure his own survival. By the time Josef finally catches up to them, all three men have been forced to confront the parts of themselves they sought to outrun.

"Part classic film-noir crime-thriller, part modern tale of despair and desperation, The Low Road seduces the reader into a story that unfolds and deepens hypnotically. This is a brilliant debut novel."


Louise Swinn in "The Age": "It is difficult to believe that The Low Road is a first novel. It has the controlled pacing of an experienced hand. With echoes of Peter Goldsworthy's Three Dog Night, Kenneth Cook's Wake in Fright and Cormac McCarthy's The Road, this is both modern tragedy and crime thriller. "Rife with images, it unfolds like a film. "As well as being a noir thriller, this is a violent, gritty and macabre study of the effects of crime on those who carry it out. There is little redemption, and escape appears elusive."
Graeme Blundell in "The Australian": "Chris Womersley begins The Low Road in a classic crime-thriller, almost film-noir style, its shadowy setting in what may be a dystopian Melbourne. It could also be Boston, Brisbane or Birmingham. Or what W.H. Auden called 'the Great Wrong Place'...Womersley writes with quirky sparkling detail. Fringe suburbs are places of failure, suspicion and negect. Car parks hum in their particular fluorescent silences, all angles and dark solids. Ribbons of highway unrave through wet suburbs. And bus shelters, with a scuffle of soft-drink-cans beneath wire seats, stink of domestic misfortune."
"Australian Crime Fiction Database": "The Low Road is a dark chronicle of a brief life on the run as two men try to escape the consequences of their own weaknesses with a misguided belief that salvation is their destiny. Chris Womersley has written a confronting debut novel that offers little hope for the two central characters, pacing them along their desolate road, merely observing their desperate journey. This is an Australian noir thriller in the tradition of Jim Thompson's The Getaway told in a rich, lavish voice."

Short Notices

Readings bookstore: "Part classic film-noir crime-thriller, part modern tale of despair and desperation, The Low Road seduces the reader into a story that unfolds and deepens hypnotically. This is a brilliant debut novel."
Debra Adelaide in "The Australian": "On the cover of this book are the usual claims re brilliant first novel, gripping, hypnotic, thrilling, and so on. This time you can believe every word. In some ways it's a merciless read, taking you by the throat and not letting go for a minute. For a better scene you could not go past chapter 10 which, in a few thousand words, offers an entire history of two older characters, their old uneasy alliances, the bitter as well as the quietly amusing shared memories, the mutual distrust despite all of that, then the truly shocking end."
"First Tuesday Book Club": "The story is dark and cold. The characters are all tortured and scared, have done terrible, unspeakable things yet you still want them to escape and be given a chance at happiness and redemption. But who will live and what horrible actions will they be forced to make to ensure this survival?..The Low Road is an engrossing, confronting and excellent novel from a talented young Australian writer."


"The Age":

As we chat, the evolution of The Low Road, and Womersley's approach to the writing process comes up a number of times. The antipathetic relationship between the planning and the organic growth of the narrative seems central to his writing experience.

"It's a faith thing I think," he says. "At one point I had the rather dispiriting experience of getting to 30,000 words and not knowing where to go.

"You move into the story and hope it reveals itself to you as you go. You hope for that moment where the book develops an appetite, where everything feeds into it, music or art, other books, films you're watching, where it develops its own momentum."
"I toyed with creating a fictional place but it never really rang true. The novel was almost always going to be in a non-time and non-place. In my own mind I'd initially conceived of characters moving through an underworld in a number of different ways, as if they were already dead and moving through an alternate reality, a strata where common rules don't really apply any more."

With that in mind I mention that I'd pictured the seedy motel at the book's beginning somewhere on the Hume Highway beyond Bell Street, and he laughs.

"Coburg was one of the places I had in mind. And the house that they escape to is loosely based on a house where I spent time in Castlemaine. But more than creating a sense of place, for their trip out of the city I wanted to have that sense of moving backwards in time."

Conflux 5

"Conflux 5 will be the fifth speculative fiction convention held under the Conflux name in Canberra. The first was in 2004 and was the national convention (Natcon) for that year. Since then, Conflux has become one of the most well known cons in Australia." The convention will be held this coming weekend, Friday October 3 to Monday October 6, and will feature guests Liz Gorinsky, Jack Dann, Cat Sparks, Gillian Polack, Mark Shirrefs and fan guest Bruce Gillespie. The website carries full information about the program, the venue and membership rates.

Digitised Newspapers at the National Library of Australia 2

As a follow-up to my piece about the newspaper digitisation project being undertaken by the National Library of Australia, I've been tracking the number of pages the project has scanned. On 12th September that number was 207,172, and as of this morning the figure is 294,181. A touch under three weeks and a touch under 90,000 pages. According to the project schedule, the aim is to hit 500,000 by the end of 2008, and 4 million by the end of 2010. I'll be checking back in from time to time to see how they're going, but on current rates they should hit their end of year target without too much trouble.

Currently Reading


 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.


Bomb, Book and Compass

 Bomb, Book and Compass by Simon Winchester
The amazing tale of Joseph Needham and his exploration of the history of China. The story is very interesting even though the writing is somewhat flat.


Recently Read



 The Lost City of Z by David Grann
The story of Percy Fawcett's obsessive search for a lost city in the Amazon. It cost him his life in 1925 but he might just have been right.



 The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Grossman's take on the "magician-in-training" fantasy sub-sub-genre. Starts off being rather derivative but slowly morphs into something very interesting.



 The Years That the Locust Hath Eaten by Marjorie Quinn
The long-delayed publication of the memoirs of Sydney poet Marjorie Quinn. An intimate portrait of the Sydney literary scene between the wars and one woman's struggle for a literary life.



 Whispering Death by Garry Disher
Disher is back with another Hal Challis/Pensinsular Murder mystery. As good as ever but this time with more dead bodies, and an intelligent, elusive burglar.


the complaints.jpg

 The Complaints by Ian Rankin
Rankin's new crime series, following on from the very successful Rebus novels. As good as ever.



 The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry
Fry's second autobiographical volume of memoirs. The name-dropping is relentless, but we forgive everything to allow Fry to tell his story.



 Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
The second book in the "First Law" series. Epic fantasy written to honour the honour and explore the standard fantasy tropes, as well as to poke more than a little fun at them at the same time. A big book, but still a page-turner.



 How it Feels by Brendan Cowell
A debut novel from a multi-talented author/actor/director. A coming-of-age novel which might well be semi-autobiographical.



 Monster Blood Tattoo: Factotum by D. M. Cornish
The third book in the MBT series. Will we finally find out who Rossamund really is? And will we be sad to leave this fully-realised fantasy world? I suspect the answer will be "yes" to both.



 Rendezvous at Kamakura Inn by Marshall Browne
Browne's first novel in a new series, this time featuring a Japanese detective, Inspector Aoki. This novel finds the inspector investigating an old murder in a snowed-in remote Japanese retreat.



 The City & The City by China Miéville
Miéville's Hugo Award winning novel of two cities inhabiting the same physical location. A murder mystery with hints of classic sf/fantasy memes, from Dick to Borges, but in a European setting.

 Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child
The 13th Jack Reacher novel. Suicide bombers on the New York subway and international terrorism mixed with hard-boiled action makes for an interesting brew.



 The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
Heroic fantasy in the modern style. A fantasy that is laced through with noirish elements, and excellent characterisations. First book of The First Law trilogy.

 Where Have You Been? by Wendy James
What happens when a sister returns after being missing, presumed dead, for twenty years? James enhances her reputation as one of Australia's rising literary novelists.

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