November 2008 Archives

Poem: Poets of the Tomb by Henry Lawson

The world has had enough of bards who wish that they were dead,
'Tis time the people passed a law to knock 'em on the head,
For 'twould be lovely if their friends could grant the rest they crave --
Those bards of `tears' and `vanished hopes', those poets of the grave.
They say that life's an awful thing, and full of care and gloom,
They talk of peace and restfulness connected with the tomb.

They say that man is made of dirt, and die, of course, he must;
But, all the same, a man is made of pretty solid dust.
There is a thing that they forget, so let it here be writ,
That some are made of common mud, and some are made of GRIT;
Some try to help the world along while others fret and fume
And wish that they were slumbering in the silence of the tomb.

'Twixt mother's arms and coffin-gear a man has work to do!
And if he does his very best he mostly worries through,
And while there is a wrong to right, and while the world goes round,
An honest man alive is worth a million underground.
And yet, as long as sheoaks sigh and wattle-blossoms bloom,
The world shall hear the drivel of the poets of the tomb.

And though the graveyard poets long to vanish from the scene,
I notice that they mostly wish their resting-place kept green.
Now, were I rotting underground, I do not think I'd care
If wombats rooted on the mound or if the cows camped there;
And should I have some feelings left when I have gone before,
I think a ton of solid stone would hurt my feelings more.

Such wormy songs of mouldy joys can give me no delight;
I'll take my chances with the world, I'd rather live and fight.
Though Fortune laughs along my track, or wears her blackest frown,
I'll try to do the world some good before I tumble down.
Let's fight for things that ought to be, and try to make 'em boom;
We cannot help mankind when we are ashes in the tomb.

First published in The Bulletin, 8 October 1892

Best Books of the Year 2008 #7 - "New York Times" Again

I'm not sure why the "New York Times" didn't include these children's books in with their earlier list of "Best Books of 2008". Nor, for that matter, why I missed them earlier. Anyway... Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury: "A witty and winsome look at babies around the world that has a toe-tapping refrain: the words sound easy and familiar, as though they have been handed down to children forever. And the story ends with a pitch-perfect moment: one little baby who is 'mine, all mine.'"

James Cowan Interview

James Cowan, who won the Australian Literary Society's Gold Medal back in 1998 for his novel A Mapmaker's Dream, is interviewed in the "Sunshine Coast Hinterland Times".

James has returned to Australia with a swag of new manuscripts which he is now preparing to publish with planned visits to agents in America and the UK. "The novel The Deposition was published in Argentina before I left. It's a novel set in Palestine 6 months after the death of Christ. It looks at the doubts in the mind of one of the Jewish high priests on the Sanhedrin that convicted Christ, and his doubts about the good sense of that decision. I've written a book of four essays called Quartet on the nature of power. I've just finished my first modern novel in 20 years called The Shores of Philae, set in Egypt. It's a modern love story.
James Cowan commented on his astonishing range of literary interests and at 66, where he is headed as a writer. "I've never wanted to be pigeon-holed. I think I have come from that old tradition of literature where writers should not just be writing good novels or poetry, but should also try to take on big themes. For example, in my latest book (The Deposition) I am looking again at the story of those who survived the death of Christ. At first I thought, you can't write about Christ, it's been done to death. But, as a writer, you've got to take on some of the big subjects to see if there's anything new to say about them. So I am constantly looking for ways of re-expressing old virtualities; seeing whether or not you can extract new flecks of gold out of old stories. A writer can't afford to just sit there and write about realities as they are. He has to dig deeply into the great issues of all time.

Best Books of the Year 2008 #6 - "New York Times"

The "New York Times" picks its best 100 books each year. The Australian books on their list this year include:

Fiction & Poetry
The Boat by Nam Le: "In the opening story of Le's first collection, a blocked writer succumbs to the easy temptations of 'ethnic lit.'"
Breath by Tim Winton: "Surfing offers this darkly exhilarating novel's protagonist an escape from a drab Australian town."
Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee: "Coetzee follows the late career of one Señor C, who, like Coetzee himself, is a South African writer transplanted to Australia and the author of a novel titled Waiting for the Barbarians."
His Illegal Self by Peter Carey: "In this enthralling novel, a boy goes underground with a defiant hippie indulging her maternal urge."
Opal Sunset: Selected Poems, 1958-2008 by Clive James: "James, a staunch formalist, is firmly situated in the sociable, plain-spoken tradition that runs from Auden through Larkin."

Shakespeare's Wife by Germaine Greer: "With a polemicist's vision and a scholar's patience, Greer sets out to rescue Ann Hathaway from layers of biographical fantasy."

Reprint: Why Gordon Became a Poet by C.R. Long


People do not easily remember dates. Though there are many admirers of the verse of Adam Lindsay Gordon, most of them, it is safe to say, cannot recall, and would like to be reminded that October 10 was the date of the poet's birthday, and that he was born in the year 1833. More would be able to tell the date of his death, June 24, 1870, for it is chiselled on the base of the pillar that marks his grave in the Brighton Cemetery, and thousands have visited that spot for the pilgrimages held annually without a break since 1910. From the inscription on the monument, admirably designed - no doubt the Yorickers, of whom Gordon had been one, saw to that - the visitors learn also the names of his three volumes - "Ashtaroth," "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift," and "Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes."

In spite of the large sale of the poetical works of Paterson, Lawson, and Dennis, "The Argus" referendum, taken about this time last year, served to show that Gordon was still what he became in the 'seventies, when the first collected edition of his poems was published, the most popular poet of Australia. Students of Australian literature, and they are increasing in number with the Commonwealth's development, have put into print a great deal about Gordon's life. In reading these biographical details, one cannot but pause at times to note by what rare good fortune incentives to the using of a talent that would other wise have remained dormant were supplied.


For considerable periods before 1853, in which year his father, a retired Indian army officer, engaged in teaching Hindustani in the Cheltenham College, England, packed him off to Australia, Gordon had lived at home, a ne'er-do-well, frequenting training stables and racecourses, and getting a mount when he could. Among his associates he was the "squire." When, in 1860, he wrote "How We Beat the Favourite," his memory took him back to those days.

"Aye, squire," said Stevens, "they back him at evens;
The race is all over bar shouting, they say."
Stevens was the rider of five Grand National winners. At many a convivial evening, one may be sure, young Gordon's talent for verse-making, fostered in a home of culture, and probably practised at the Woolwich Military Academy and the Worcester Grammar School, both of which he had attended, would be called into requisition. Hence came the incentive to compose "Galloping Rhymes." One at least of them he considered worth preserving. It begins with the lines which possess the true Gordon ring and voice the true Gordon sentiment.
"Here's a health to every sportsman, be he stableman or lord,
If his heart be true, I care not what his pocket may afford."
The emotions caused by the thought of being exiled in circumstauces the reverse of creditable were the stimulus to the composition of another kind of verse, the lines "To My Sister," filled with echoes of his favourite poet, Byron, and expressive, of recklessness and defiance --
    "My hopes are gone, my time is spent,
   I little heed their loss,
And, if I cannot feel content,
   I cannot feel remorse."
Some years, barren of poetic effort, had gone by in South Australia, during which he carried out the duties of a mounted policeman, and subsequently a horse-breaker, when, as if it were destined that his talent should not remain unused, there came in his way a man of discernment and sympathy, the Rev. E. J. Tenison Woods, a Roman Catholic priest, who overcame the young man's reticence and gained his confidence. Encouragement to write followed with the loan of books, among them Horace's "Ara Poetica," which Gordon, who had a remarkably retentive memory, learned by heart. In his leisure, which was scant, Gordon read voraciously, and occasionally he composed verses, but he published nothing.


By-and-by, however, marriage, a legacy of several thousands of pounds, and election to the South Australian Parliament produced more favourable conditions. From the Parliamentary library Gordon sent some sporting verses to "Bell's Life in Victoria" (August, 1865). The discerning editor, seeing in them a quality above that found ordinarily in such compositions, printed them, and wrote expressing the hope that more would follow. Ambition was aroused in the young poet, and during the next year or so "Hippodromania" and "Ye Wearie Wayfarer" appeared - extracts from which are familiar on the tongues of thousands. Here are two from "Ye Wearie Wayfarer":-

   "No game was ever yet worth a rap
   For a rational man to play,
Into which no accident, no mishap,
   Could possibly find its way."
"Life is mostly froth and bubble,
   Two things stand like stone
Kindness in another's trouble,
   Courage in your own."
A couple of years saw a change for the worse in Gordon's position. In 1868 he was struggling to earn a living by keeping a livery stable at Ballarat, and he was afflicted by both bodily and mental pain. Poetry went out of his life. Before the end of the year, however, he had sold the business and removed to Melbourne. There the gloom of his existence was lifted for a time by the appreciation and friendship of several sporting and literary men, among them F. W. Haddon, editor at that time of "The Australasian," and afterwards editor of "The Argus" for 30 years, Marcus Clarke, George Gordon McCrae, Dr. J. E. Neild, Henry Kendall, Robert and Herbert Power, and Major Baker. Milton wrote long ago:
"Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise
To scorn delights and live laborious days."
Amid the training of horses and the riding of steeplechasers the longing came to Gordon again to express his thoughts and emotions in verse.


The fates were kind. John Riddoch, who had got to know and like him when they were in Parliament together, invited him to spend the slack season for racing at his homestead in the Mount Gambier district, at no great distance from Gordon's old home. The period during which he was at Yallum Park - January and part of February, 1869 - gave him an
opportunity and an environment for composition rare in his chequered life, the quiet of a comfortable home, the admiration of its inmates, and the certainty of publication in the leading literary journals of Australia - "The Colonial Monthly," edited by Marcus Clarke, and "The Australasian." Gordon used to go out after breakfast and climb an old gum tree in the home paddock, to a seat in its branches, and there jot down his verses, of which he made fair copies in the evening. Thus came into being, among other poems, "The Sick Stockrider," "The Ride from the Wreck," and "Wolf and Hound" - those that Kendall had in mind, no doubt, when he penned the following lines in his "In Memoriam" to Gordon:

"A shining soul with syllables of fire,
Who sang the first great songs these lands can claim
To be their own."
The student, examining Gordon's output of verse, and meditating on how it came to be written, fails, alas! to find any incentive strong enough to overcome the anxiety of mind and pain of body that afflicted him henceforth till the end. He apparently wrote no more after his visit to the Riddochs, though he had, fortunately, energy enough left to collect and prepare for the press the poems that form the volume "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift," published the day before his self-inflicted death. Let us be thankful to those discerning and sympathetic men who supplied the impulse and conditions that caused this reckless man to employ the poetic faculty which had been entrusted to him.

First published in The Argus, 20 October 1928
[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]
Note: you can read the full text of all the Gordon poems mentioned here at Project Gutenberg's Library of Australiana.

Review: The Jihad Seminar by Hanifa Deen

jihad_seminar.jpg Hanifa Deen
University of Western Australia Press, 271 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Michael Freedman

Human nature is a strange thing. Who we are as individuals is partly defined by our differences from each other, but it is those differences that are the biggest cause of conflict in our lives. This is particularly so of racial and religious differences, which have been the catalyst for individual and global conflict since the dawn of time. By attempting to examine these differences within a legal trial framework, The Jihad Seminar is thus an important book, but, by its end, the obvious and depressing conclusion is that after thousands of years of war and death blamed on disparities of ideology and physical appearance, the greatest lesson we are taught is that history is constantly repeated.

The Jihad Seminar chronicles a protracted legal battle fought in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) in 2003, following multiple, unsuccessful attempts at mediation between the parties. The protagonists were the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) and Christian organisation Catch the Fire Ministries (CTF), not the first time in history Muslim and Christian groups have been at loggerheads. Yet, while the conflict did not exactly capture the minds of the nation, some pretty important principles were at stake. Ms Deen considers these principles at some length, but this is only part of the story -- this tale is also about a legal system coming dangerously close to spiralling out of control. What was supposed to be a VCAT hearing of only three days, took closer to two years to finally complete. Then came the inevitable appeals, and finally a stalemate in 2007, described euphemistically by Ms Deen as an "out-of-court agreement".

To discover how we got to this sorry state, we have to go back to January 2002, when the Victorian Parliament, amid some controversy, passed into law the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. The Act, among other things, prohibits "conduct that incites hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of" others "on the grounds of religious belief or activity". Fair enough, you might think, but it is these words that became the subject of intense scrutiny just months after they were passed into law. It was on 9 March 2002 that CTF, headed by Pastor Danny Scot, held a seminar entitled "An Insight Into Islam" which was, on any view, somewhat critical of Muslim beliefs. Attending the seminar were three Australian-born Muslims, who reported back to the ICV. In turn, the ICV made a complaint of religious vilification under the Act.

It needs to be stated immediately that Ms Deen is a Muslim, and this meant that she was treated with suspicion by most of the CTF supporters and hangers-on, who refused to speak to her. It is fair to say that the book at times is a little one-sided, but this is more due to the CTF refusal to talk to the author rather than any pre-existing bias on her part. It also probably reflects the intransigent attitudes displayed at times by both sides to this conflict, which no doubt added significantly to both the length and ferocity of the battle. Few ideologies polarise people more readily or more completely than religion.

Overall, Ms Deen does an admirable job of covering a complicated legal hearing from a layman's point of view, and while she does have some fairly caustic things to say about CTF and their organisers, for the most part she stays to the objective side of the line. Issues such as religious freedom, free speech, and right not to be vilified, along with prolonged legal action that is not really fully understood by anyone participating in it, including the lawyers and appellate judges, combined to make Ms Deen's task a less than enviable one. Nonetheless the book remains at all times interesting, and her commentary is never condescending.

2008 Warwick Prize for Writing

According to the webpage: "The Warwick Prize for Writing is an innovative new literature prize that involves global competition, and crosses all disciplines. "The Prize will be given biennially for an excellent and substantial piece of writing in the English language, in any genre or form, on a theme which will change with every award.

The winner of the inaugural Prize will be announced in February 2009. "The winner of this award will receive £50,000 and the opportunity to take up a short placement at The University of Warwick."

The 2008 longlist includes Someone Else by John Hughes, a collection of fictional essays. "The Sydney Morning Herald" asked him about it all.

Margo Lanagan Watch #1

Reviews of Tender Morsels

Van Ikin, in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Proclaimed as Lanagan's first novel 'for adults', Tender Morsels is far more than that: it is a towering work of imagination in which a supremely talented writer opens rich new frontiers."
"Eva's Book Addiction" weblog shows the cover of the US edition, with the note that the book is aimed at grades 9 and up. I assume that means 14+: "From its truly horrifying and brutal beginning to its satisfying but bittersweet end, this novel is mesmerizing. Language (characters speak in a country dialect that sounds both fantastical and utterly authentic) and tone remain consistent, whether the story is being told from Liga's damaged but sweet perspective, from the perspective of one of the Bears who ends up in Liga's heaven, or from those of any number of other carefully drawn characters. No one is perfect -- all have flaws, some much more than others -- but we can understand, if not sympathize with, each person. Often wrenching, at heart this is a truly tender story of healing, growing, and redemption."
Sarah Miller, on her "Reading, Writing, Musing..." weblog: "Once upon a time, the skeleton of this story was called Snow-White and Rose-Red. Like all fairy tales, it left much unexplained. Too much. Well, Margo Lanagan took those bones and added muscle and guts, bracing the loose joints of the plot with her characters' emotions, motivations, and histories. That's the secret of successful retellings: fleshing out the gaps that relied almost entirely on the readers' willful ignorance or suspension of belief, yet still leaving room for the existence of magic. And Lanagan knows how to handle magic delicately enough to make it believable: Tender Morsels revolves around magical doings, but never degrades enchantment to the level of coincidence." Miller concludes that this was "quite possibly THE best reading experience" she had had all year (her caps).
Lucas Klaus goes all zombie on us in his short note, stating that "Bottom line, I envy Margo Lanagan's brain and want to steal it."
The "Chicago Tribune" newspaper: "This dark, medieval fairy tale is as complex and brilliant as it is disturbing...The prose in this extraordinary fantasy is exquisite."


David Larsen in "The New Zealand Herald".

Lanagan has been writing all her life, ever since she and her older sisters began competing to get stories and poems published in the local Catholic weekly as children. She continued writing poetry through her teens and 20s. "But I really wanted to have an audience, a bigger audience than poetry was probably ever going to reach, and I also wanted to write more generously. I wanted to write big flowing things, rather than just fill up one page with very intense language and thought."
The particular thing she needed to clear her mind in order to write was, literally, "tender morsels'." She was working full time at this point, as a technical writer for a food packaging manufacturer, commuting 90 minutes every day. This, and bad memories of her previous crash and burn novel experience, made her decide she needed to break her intended novel down into bite-size pieces - into tender morsels. "I made a deal with myself that I would produce one short story every week, while I was commuting, and that every story would jump off from one central story. So that at the end, at the worst, I'd have a bunch of connected short stories, and at the most I might have something that could eventually turn into a novel."
I have linked previously to Jeff Vandermeer's interview for "Clarkesworld" magazine, and to Gavin J. Grant's interview on "Blog of a Bookslut", but it's worth repeating those links here.


Lanagan launched her book once at "Conflux", an sf convention held in Canberra in early October. Sarina Talip, of "The Canberra Times", spoke to her there: "I moved over into fantasy partly because my ideas were just getting odder and odder and I thought I would see what fantasy writing was like," the author said.

The other book launch was at Berkelouw Books in Leichhardt, Sydney, and Judith Ridge was there with her camera.

On Stephanie Campisi's eponymous weblog, Lanagan lists her favourite bookshops.

Other works

Lanagan has a short story, "The Goosle", in The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by Ellen Datlow. Richard Larson reviewed the book on the "Strange Horizons" website: "There are plenty of other brave choices by Ellen Datlow in The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Most notable is the inclusion of Margo Lanagan's 'The Goosle', an update to the Hansel and Gretel story which has generated a fair amount of controversy..The subject here is child abuse, and the power dynamics of abuse in general, during an apparent sequel to what is already a retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story, one in which Hansel has escaped the witch's evil intentions but his sister (Kirtle, not Gretel, in Lanagan's telling) has, alas, been consumed...'The Goosle' is not an easy story, and Margo Lanagan is not a writer who makes easy choices. Aversions to certain pieces of fiction, however, should be based on the quality of the writing and the effectiveness of the storytelling rather than knee-jerk reactions to particularities of troublesome content.."

Larson points us to another review of the same book and the same story, by Dave Truesdale on the SF Site website, who sees the story in an entirely different light: "I really don't know where to begin in describing 'The Goosle' by Margo Lanagan, except to say it is a retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story. Lanagan turns this traditionally gruesome fairy tale into one of child porn (depending on your point of view) and repeated homosexual rape of a child (Hansel)...With several other stories in this collection aimed at juveniles or teenagers (the Ballingrud and the Cadigan), I find this story highly inappropriate." He criticises the story for its "shock value", using that word-set no less that six times in his short review. I think I got the impression he wasn't keen on it.

Australian Bookcovers #138 - Mr Scobie's Riddle by Elizabeth Jolley


Mr Scobie's Riddle by Elizabeth Jolley, 1983
(Penguin Books 1983 edition)
Cover illustration by John Burge
[This novel won the The Age Book of the Year Award in 1983 and the Fiction section of the WA Premier's Prize in the same year.]

2008 Australia-Asia Literary Award

David Malouf has been announced as the winner of the 2008 Australia-Asia Literary Award for his short story collection, The Complete Stories.

The shortlisted works were:
Michelle de Kretser, The Lost Dog, Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Ceridwen Dovey, Blood Kin, Publisher: Atlantic Books
Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Publisher: Penguin
David Malouf, The Complete Stories, Publisher: Random House
Janette Turner Hospital, Orpheus Lost, Publisher: HarperCollins

Best Books of the Year 2008 #5 - "Kirkus Reviews"

"Kirkus Reviews", one of the major reviewing outlets in the USA, has released its list of Best Children's Books of 2008 [PDF file]. Included on the list is: The Donkey of Gallipoli: A True Story of Courage in World War I by Mark Greenwood, illustrated by Frané Lessac.

Amanda Lohrey Interview

As her new novella, Vertigo is released by Black Inc., Amanda Lohrey is interviewed by Christpher Bantick for "The Courier-Mail".

Lohrey, who lived for a while in Brisbane, has based the book on a place that is not identifiably set in Tasmania. It is far more like Queensland, with its warmer temperatures.

"Landscape affects people," she says. "I think there is a great love for your country. For me, it is more intense as I get older. D.H. Lawrence writes in Kangaroo that there is a strange beauty about Australia. I do think, though, that with sea-changers, the change takes place before you actually make the move.

"This might be partly to do with age. As you get older, many people become jaded. Australians have a great love of the open spaces and this is what many sea-changers look for. Still, while men may exhale a great sigh of relief, women may miss the social contact more."

Poem: On Adam Lindsay Gordon by A. Patchett Martin

We know thy tale, and rashly deem it crime,
   O Bard! who won us with thy wild bush songs;
No more shall we in thy deep passionate rhyme
   Read the fresh utterance of a poet's wrongs.
Thy end was sad-cut off in Life's full prime,
   When Fame seemed nigh, and all else that belongs
To high endeavour. Who, alas! can tell
   The hidden sources of thy soul-felt woes?
Thou did'st not murmur, but th' untimely bell
   Rang out that thou and this cold world were foes.
Ah! when he sailed, young, resolute, and proud,
   From England's shore, to make a home on this.
Perchance some maiden weeping in the crowd,
   Cared for naught else beside his parting kiss.

First published in The West Australian, 3 October 1885

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

Best Books of the Year 2008 #4 - "New Statesman"

The "New Statesman" magazine asks contributors and critics to pick their best of the year. No indication is given whether all contributed to the magazine during the year, or whether all are critics or... John Lanchester chose People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.

Reprint: Australian Authors' Week

THE LONDON EXHIBITION. (From Our Correspondent. ) LONDON. Oct 1. - The Australian Literature Society may congratulate itself upon the success of Australia's Book Week. It was inaugurated by Mr. A. P. Herbert, of "Punch," and Mr. J. C. Squire, and it has already attracted hundreds of booklovers to Australia House. The exhibition hall on the ground floor has been converted into a vast display library, devoted to books of Australian origin. But this is only the beginning of the valuable work. Every publisher, bookseller, and critic in Britain has had his attention directed to the fact that there is a body of Australian literature comparable with the painting and sculpture which have come from Australia. Editors of the literary weeklies and monthlies are tumbling over one another for authoritative articles upon Australian books and authors, and every great daily newspaper has published some account of the opening ceremony on Tuesday afternoon, including an excellent article on Australian literature in "The Times" Literary Supplement from the pen of Mr. A. W. Jose. This alone would have justified the trouble which the London committee and the staff of Australia House have taken to ensure the success of the venture. Two thousand invitations were sent out to booklovers, critics, publishers, and others in the London area, and a representative gathering, numbering many hundreds, filled the cinema hall at Australia House, when the High Commissioner (Sir Granville Ryrie) introduced Mr Herbert and Mr. Squire to the audience. They treated their task of introducing Austialian literature to London with happy frivolity which manifestly delighted their hearers. Nor was a light note out of place, for the Australian Authors' Week makes no claim to place Australian literature on the map of world letters, in any final sense. The 2,500 books which are on show this week are miscellaneous in character, and the lighter forms of poetry, fiction, and belles lettres are dominant.

Nevertheless the Australian Authors' Week afforded evidence of unexpected achievement in the realm of letters -- unexpected because Londoners, at any rate, had not realised how many of the books they treasured were written by men and women of Australian origin. All readers know that Henry Handel Richardson is an Australian, because the subject matter of her novels betrays the fact, but many forget that the high scholarship of Miss F. M. Stawell also belongs by right of birth to Australia, as does the work of Sir Gilbert Murray, Mary Gaunt, A. G. Hales, W. H. Fitchett, who is represented by several very interesting exhibits which first saw the light in "The Argus," W. J. Turner, the poet, and Arthur Lynch are other writers who had been taken into the cosmopolitan stream, until the present display recalled the debt they owed to Australia.

The display of books was interesting and ingenious. The best of the books were in glass cases. The novels were collected on a huge shelf at one end of the exhibition, where the gay covers added a welcome note of colour. One case was devoted to the "Art in Australia" publications and other books relating to Australian painting and architecture. This case showed that a high level of colour reproduction had been reached by Australian printers, particularly in the reproduction of their own brightly lighted landscape art. Mr. A. W. Jose's "Art of George Lambert" and "Australian Landscape Painters of To-day," by MacDonald and Burdett, are examples of books with which Londoners were glad to make acquaintance, not only for their intrinsic worth, but also for the Australian matter which they contained. Charles Barrett's "Aboriginal Art," published by the Government printer, Melbourne, was another book that tempted one to study. The books of the Lindsay family also aroused interest and attracted the attention of Mr. J. C. Squire, who made special mention of them in his address. Ida Rentoul's fairy books, with their deliciously juvenile illustrations, also made a brave display.

The sections devoted to the war naturally attracted attention, and again there was general praise for the production of such volumes as the Official History of Australia in the War, by C. E. W. Bean, H. S. Gullett, F. M. Cutlack, and their colleagues in the records department. It was interesting to compare them with another official record, "The Australian Contingent to the Soudan," which dealt with Australia's first overseas expedition, dating from 1885. Thanks to the Royal Empire Society and Lady Coghlan, there was a good show of early Australian books dealing with the voyagers and explorers. Aboriginal and early settlers' life has also been excellently treated by native authors. Mr. James Bonwick's volumes alone suggested study for months. More substantial and scientific were the volumes of Sir Baldwin Spencer. Indeed the whole section devoted to Australian science and natural history has a manifest value in introducing books to English readers which they might well miss. Not every scientific bibliography will record books upon the platypus or the native bear published in Australia, though bibliographers might well be trusted to search the London catalogues. For this reason the 20-page catalogue of Australian Authors' Week should have permanent value. It sets out the exhibits under the names of their Australian authors, these being under certain general headings, such as Exploration, History, Poetry and Belles Lettres, Fiction, Art, Drama and Music, Agriculture and Industry, Natural History. It is hoped that many of the authors represented will leave their works in the possession of Australia House with a view to future exhibitions, not only in London, but also in such provincial centres as Glasgow, Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham, and Hull. Inquiries have already been received regarding the possibility of such exhibitions.

First published in "The Argus", 7 November 1931
[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

Long Time Comin'

David Francis, author of Stray Dog Winter, is a guest blogger on PowellsBooks.Blog.

Readings Bookshop has compiled a list of Australian Fiction titles published during 2008. It's pretty good, even if it does leave out most genre titles, and even some that we have reviewed here.

Garth Nix is the first confirmed guest of honor for the 2009 World Fantasy Convention to be held in San Jose, California. This follows the announcement of Jenny Blackford from Melbourne as one of the World Fantasy Award jury of judges.

Katherine Howell, author of the Davitt Award winning novel Frantic, is a guest blogger on the UK crime weblog "It's a Crime (Or a Mystery...)".

According to Wikipedia: "The Martin Beck Award is an award given by the Swedish Crime Writers' Academy
(Svenska Deckarakademin) for the best crime novel in translation." Text Publishing have announced that Peter Temple's novel, The Broken Shore, has been shortlisted for the 2008 award.

Best Books of the Year 2008 #3 - "The Spectator"

"The Spectator" magazine uses the technique of asking a number of their reviewers to pick their best and worst of the year. It works. Rupert Christiansen picked Shakespeare's Wife by Germaine Greer, as it was new in paperback this year. "I loved it -- a daringly original piece of scholarship and speculation which makes one rethink received suppositions and opens up fascinating new possibilities."

Combined Reviews: The Boat by Nam Le

the_boat.jpg Reviews of The Boat by Nam Le
Hamish Hamilton

From the publisher's page:
The Boat will take you everywhere. In 1979, Nam Le's family left Vietnam for Australia, an experience that inspires the first and last stories in The Boat. In between, however, Le's imagination lays claim to the world. The Boat takes us from a tourist in Tehran to a teenage hit man in Columbia; from an aging New York artist to a boy coming of age in a small Victorian fishing town; from the city of Hiroshima just before the bomb is dropped to the haunting waste of the South China Sea in the wake of another war. Each story uncovers a raw human truth. Each story is absorbing and fully realised as a novel. Together, they make up a collection of astonishing diversity and achievement.
Heidi Maier in "The Courier-Mail": "In this, his ambitious and compelling debut collection of short stories, Australian expatriate writer Nam Le blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction with an ease that might be disturbing were it not so beautifully executed...Occasionally, parts of Le's stories can feel more like student exercises in characterisation or plot than fully realised works of short fiction, but when he succeeds he does so with an astonishing deftness and originality."
James Ley in "The Age": "This is a remarkably accomplished collection, not merely on account of its uncommon breadth, but for its consistently high level of craftsmanship. Each of its seven stories is, in its own way, a substantial and well-developed piece of writing...Indeed, if there is a criticism to be made of this collection it is the relatively mild one that among the various modes and settings it attempts, there are some that are more successfully realised than others."
Michiko Kakutani in "The New York Times": "[The title story of this collection], like many in The Boat, catches people in moments of extremis, confronted by death or loss or terror (or all three) and forced to grapple at the most fundamental level with who they are and what they want or believe. Whether it's the prospect of dying at sea or being shot by a drug kingpin or losing family members in a war, Nam Le's people are individuals trapped in the crosshairs of fate, forced to choose whether they will react like deer caught in the headlights, or whether they will find a way to confront or disarm the situation."
Michael McGaha in "The San Francisco Chronicle": "You may never have heard of Nam Le, but with the publication of his first collection of short stories, The Boat, you can expect to hear much more about him in the future. Nam Le was born in Vietnam, grew up in Australia and worked as a corporate lawyer before coming to the United States to attend the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Not yet 30, he is already an extraordinarily accomplished and sophisticated writer."
Heller McAlpin in "The Christian Science Monitor": "The opening story in Nam Le's debut collection, The Boat, is as dazzling an introduction to a writer's work as I've read..."Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice" begins as a metastory about a blocked, Vietnamese-born student at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. His estranged father visits from Australia just when he's struggling with his last assignment of the semester. What first appears to be a story about not knowing what to write-- yawn -- becomes, through sophisticated literary legerdemain, a devastatingly powerful exploration of a fraught father-son relationship and the son's gradual understanding of how his father's brutal wartime experiences at the hands of Americans affected them both."
Peggy Hughes in "Scotland on Sunday": "Nam Le takes us around the world in 271 wince-making, heart-breaking pages of a debut collection disarming for its grace and notable for its incisive, memorable prose. Containing deft slices of portraiture which feel like they've been taken from larger canvases, his stories touch upon fragmented lives of hardship, with assurance, tenderness and an honest eye to the capriciousness of reality."

Short Notices
Readings: "There is something audacious about an author who, in their first collection of stories, moves between six continents, yet Vietnamese-Australian writer Nam Le navigates the globe confidently and convincingly...As a collection of stories Nam Le's The Boat is certainly impressive; for a debut collection, it is exceptional."
Web Wombat: "These are very well written poignant tales that would position many a reader outside their comfort zone. Don't read this if you are looking for happy endings. Be prepared for the dark side of life where emotions plummet the depths and all seems desperate."

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer in "Bookninja" magazine.
Michael Harry in "The Advertiser".
Angela Meyer on the "Literary Minded" weblog.
Michael Williams in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

Profiles of the author
"The Australian" [PDF file]
"The New York Times"

Le won the Dylan Thomas Prize for this collection of stories.
"Publisher's Weekly" named the book as one of their Best Fiction Books of 2008. named it as #29 in their Editor's Picks: Top 100 Books.

2008 Patrick White Award

John Romeril, Melbourne playwright and screenwriter, has been announced as the winner of the 2008 Patrick White Award. This award was set up by Patrick White, using the prize money from his 1973 Nobel Prize for Literature. The aim of the annual award is to recognise Australian writers who may not have received their due recognition.

The relevant Wikipedia page carries a full list of past winners. The most recent of which are:
2007 - David Rowbotham
2006 - Morris Lurie
2005 - Fay Zwicky
2004 - Nancy Phelan
2003 - Janette Turner Hospital
2002 - TAG Hungerford
2001 - Geoff Page
2000 - Thomas W. Shapcott

2009 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Longlists

The longlisted works for the 2009 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award have been announced. This is always one heck of a list so don't be surprised if I miss an Australian entry. (Feel free to write and inform me of any omissions.)

Australian books longlisted:
The Time We Have Taken by Steven Carroll
Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee
The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon
Love and the Platypus by Nicholas Drayson
The Widow and her Hero by Tom Keneally
The Memory Room by Christopher Koch
The Butterfly Month by Ariella Kornmehl (trans. Faith Hunter)
Landscape of Farewell by Alex Miller
A Curious Intimacy by Jessica White
The Seamstress by Geraldine Wooller

The shortlist will be announced on 2nd April 2009, and the winner on 11th June 2009.
[Update: Doh, wrong year!]
[Update 2: Added books by White and Wooller.]
[Update 3: Faith Hunter has pointed out that she translated the Dutch novel The Butterfly Month by Ariella Kornmehl.]

Clive James Watch #10

Reviews of Opal Sunset: Selected Poems, 1958-2008

Abigail Deutsch reviews the collection for "The Village Voice": "James's artistry lies in his ability to seem both casual and careful: He observes an imperfect world with acerbic off-handedness, often setting his informal voice within formal verse. His ambling iambics snap into regularity right when they should, just when they become, as James writes, 'Scared into neatness by the wild sublime'...For all the piercing confession that marks these pages, James's is a roving sympathy, landing on the handicapped child, the inspired vagabond, the fellow poet. And, being James, he's occasionally less than sympathetic."
David Orr in "The New York Times": "What James wants to do here, of course, is establish that one may be a full-fledged, divinely inspired Romantic poet without doing the things that full-fledged, divinely inspired Romantic poets supposedly do. (You know, striding across darkling moors, engaging in passionate and poisonous affairs, swooning, judging the Academy of American Poets' James Laughlin Award, etc.) This is both touching and unnecessary. As he rightly notes, the only thing that actually matters is the poetry itself, and while the politics of the literary world can sometimes obscure that fact in the short term, the truth will generally out -- if only because readers eventually stop caring who had coffee with Robert Lowell or slept with Lorine Niedecker."
In "Newsweek", Katie Baker takes a brief look: "Part anthology of his best, part showcase for his new verse, the book displays the same formidable erudition and giddy love of pop culture that infuses James's prose: in his stanzas, Hamlet and Plato get equal play with Elle Macpherson."

Articles by James

Interviewing Secrets - "The Australian broadcaster gets far better results webcasting in his own home than making television studio interviews".
Salman Rushdie talks to Clive James.
"A Point of View: The name's Bond, Clive James Bond".
James ponders elections, especially in the light of the recent US Presidential version.
James pays tribute to Pat Kavanagh, the UK literary agent, who died recently.

Video Interviews by James

James interviews Barry Humphries

Short Notices of Other Things

The "Christmas Reading List" weblog on Cultural Amnesia: " the heart of the book is something that I often brood over, the pursuit of knowledge and the way in which knowledge and talent are drained by death. Where do memories go when the vessel that carries them ceases to be? And perhaps, more importantly, is there a responsibility in reading. Is it increasingly a revolutionary act."
"The Guardian" looks at James's poem "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered" in an essay about remaindered books.

Australian Bookcovers #137 - Miss Peabody's Inheritance by Elizabeth Jolley


Miss Peabody's Inheritance by Elizabeth Jolley, 1983
(University of Queensland Press 1987 edition)
Cover design by Christopher McVinish using an illustration by Cynthia Breusch

Ivan Southall (1921-2008)

Ivan Southall, Australian writer of children's books and memoirs, has died at the age of 87. Southall won the CBCA Australian Children's Book of the Year on four occasions: Ash Road in 1966, To the Wild Sky in 1968, Bread and Honey in 1971 and Fly West in 1976. His novel Josh won the Carnegie Medal (UK) in 1971, becoming the first Australian book to do so.

A retrospective of his work was held by the State Library of Victoria in 1998 and is still available online.

Notices about the author can be found at:
ABC News
"The Age"

Adrian Hyland Interview

Adrian Hyland, author of Diamond Dove which has just been published in the UK, is interviewed by Stuart MacBride for "Shots Magazine".

SM: Diamond Dove is one of those wonderful novels that really envelops the reader in a culture that they probably never get to experience first hand. What made you decide to set the story in the world of the outback?

AH: I lived for many years in the outback -- went there straight after Uni, and the place kind of crept -- well, roared like a wildfire into my soul. I did a bit of mining and station work, then ended up working in Aboriginal community development -- which sounds impressive, but in fact meant bouncing around the Tanami Desert with a Toyota full of Aboriginal people -- sometimes taking them back to places they'd walked out of thirty years before. I've travelled pretty well everywhere, lived in a lot of far-flung places, but Central Australia remains the most fascinating place I've ever seen. All of the big questions -- development vs. environment, the spiritual vs. the material, toast vs. cereal or fry-up -- are there, in your face. The human comedy unravels before your eyes: you've got hippies and rednecks, superannuated commies, grey nomads, miners, pastoralists, boozers, bruisers, substance-abusers and some really weird people -- have you seen Wolf Creek? - living cheek by jowl. Most importantly, of course, there were the Aboriginal people: they were the touchstone for me.

SM: Well, it certainly comes across. Emily Tempest is a great central character, someone who's got a foot in both camps -- the settler and the aboriginal -- but as a middle-aged white bloke did you get any stick for writing from the point of view of a young black girl?

AH: Not yet, but there's still plenty of time, if anybody's interested. I was writing about people I knew and loved. I've never met anyone quite like em. They're beautiful people, rich in spirit of place and the funniest buggers you could ever hope to meet -- I spent many a night by a camp fire rocking with laughter. I wanted to bring that world to life, and I'd like to think that my intentions were honourable.

[Thanks to Aust Crime Fiction for the link.]

Poem: The Sick Dray-Horse by Kodak (Ernest O'Ferrall)

Melbourne horses have been suffering greatly with influenza. - News Item.

Horse poets have sung in this cantering metre the deeds of the moke and the way they were done,
Of brave steeplechasing, mad charges and musters; of cups of great value and how they were won;
The race-horse, the pack-horse, the colt and the filly, the mare and the gelding -- they've all had their say.
Now here's how the dray-horse contracted the "flu" by absorbing the germs that were hid in the hay.

The life of a dray-horse is dreadfully sordid -- he toils in the shafts that the fav'rite may fling
The mud of defiance on following horses when flying for home to the "roar of the ring"
(Which technical phrase is a trifle confusing unless you're well up in the verses of those
Who've sung in this jiggity-joggity metre the) -- What's that? The dray-horse's story? Here goes!

His name doesn't matter -- his pedigree either. I'm ignorant, too, of the date of his birth.
I really don't know whereabouts he was bred, but no doubt it was somewhere on top of the earth.
He hadn't a point you could hang one poor verse on; not once in his life had he been near a course;
He worked for his living by drawing a milk-cart; he was, in plain speech, "just an average horse."

The life of the suburbs -- that doleful existence -- ne'er quickened his stride nor affected his ears
(You've noticed no doubt, in the horse poets' verses how his brute goes on when the multitude cheers);
"He pricked up his ears and shot out like an arrow by shouting released from the galloping crowd;
I muttered 'Good boy!'" -- and so on and so forth. (I'm convinced such verses should not be allowed.)

He had no adventures, this dray-horse I speak of; his nerves they were steady -- he lived on a farm,
He had no occasion to rush at high fences, nor gallop like mad at a midnight alarm;
He knew not bush-fires, nor troopers, nor bookies; he'd no habit of snorting when war trumpets blew;
He hadn't a vice and he hadn't a virtue. His only performance was catching the "flu."

I may be allowed to remark ere proceeding, a horse of this kind makes a terrible job,
You simply can't stretch him much more than a column; his value in ink is about twenty bob;
But having adroitly made up five long verses, I'll put down the fact that you all along knew.
In proper horse language: "The gallant old fellow was down in his stall.

He'd contacted the 'flu.'" "We treated him well" -- you observe I continue to write in the poet's pathetical strain --
"But spite of bran mashes and ev'ry attention, he never got up in the stable again;
He died like the game 'un he was just at daybreak. I broke down and sobbed as his last breath he drew.
God grant his old ghost in the Paddocks of Peter will never again catch the merciless 'flu.'"

First published in The Bulletin, 8 October 1908

The "Guardian" First Book Award

Steve Toltz's novel, A Fraction of the Whole, continues to impress as it is named on the shortlist for the "Guardian" First Book Award.

The full shortlist is as follows:
A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
Stalin's Children by Owen Matthews
God's Own Country by Ross Raisin
The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

The winner will be announced in early December.

Reprint: Story at Inquest: Bones Found in Fire

Remarkable evidence was given by Arthur William Upfield, when the Coroner to-day opened an inquiry in an effort to solve the mystery surrounding the death of a man believed to be Leslie John Brown, also known as Louis Carron, who disappeared near Mount Magnet in 1930.

It is also hoped that the inquiry will lead to the solution of the strange disappearance of George Lloyd and James Ryan, who were Brown's companions.

John Thomas Smith, alias "Snowy" Rowles, who has been charged with the murder of Brown, is alleged to have been seen driving a motor lorry accompanied by Brown, which had previously been seen in the possession of Lloyd and Ryan.

Upfield, in evidence, said that he was a writer of mystery stories, but was formerly a boundary rider. Some time ago, while Rowles was working as a stockman on the Narndee Station, witness discussed with him and a man named George Ritchie, the plot of a mystery novel which he proposed to write.

The witness told Rowles that his story required to be written around a murder mystery, but there must not be any corpse. The story required the corpse to be disposed of in such a manner that it would be thoroughly destroyed. On October 6 1929, he discussed with Rowles a scheme suggested by Ritchie, under which the corpse in the story was to be burned and the ashes sifted for metal and other unburned parts. These metal parts were to be dissolved in acid.

In order to heighten the mystery a kangaroo was to be burnt on the same spot.

The witness said that since then a book embodying this plot had been written, under the name of "The Sands of Windee."

Evidence by the police showed that human bones, thought to be those of Brown, were found in the ashes of a fire.

A pathologist giving evidence said that he had examined some of the bones found in the fire, but they were so broken that they could not be recognised as human. However, several teeth found were human.

A representative of a city jewellery firm identified two watches produced by the police has having been repaired for Lewis Carron.

First published in The Canberra Times, 19 January 1932
[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

Susan Johnson Interview

Susan Johnson, author of Life in Seven Mistakes, has reprinted an interview she gave with "The European English Messenger" journal.

Q: The idea of a writer struggling to combine the demands of creation with a child and husband is a common floor in some of your books such as A Better Woman, The Broken Book and Life in Seven Mistakes. Can it be seen as a gleam of your own life?

Most definitely. I read an article by the Irish writer and Booker Prize winner Anne Enright recently in which she said that she didn't understand writers who felt children were the enemies of promise, and she felt that the pram in the hall was a fine thing for a writer. Well, yes, I agree emotionally -- having children is the ultimate way of engaging with the world in a very hands-on, visceral way, and it stretches you emotionally in very challenging ways (Fay Weldon says you can believe you are a nice person until you have children!) However, it is also exhausting, time-consuming, expensive and very, very hard. I have discovered that, deep-down, I believe in a very unreconstructed, antediluvian way that a "real" artist gives her life over to art, and doesn't compromise her art by having children! In some ways I DO think that having children slowed me up, and profoundly compromised me for all times. And yet having children also engaged me with life on the deepest level, and who knows if my writing might be a more sterile, impoverished thing if I hadn't had them? I think all writers are quite good at giving reasons why they are as never as brilliant as they might have been, and perhaps the having/not having of children argument is simply another version of that! (Arguably the world's deepest, richest, most wonderful books have been written by childless women, so having a child is therefore not a passport into a "better" or deeper emotional state, or resonance: having a child does not automatically make you a "better" person, or indeed a better writer). I do know my life is enriched by my children, but I am not entirely sure my art is very, very hard for me to combine writing with running a household, having children, and a marriage. Most of the world's greatest women writers did not have children. This is not an accidental fact.

2008 Dylan Thomas Prize

Nam Le has been announced as the winner of the 2008 Dylan Thomas Prize, for his collection of short stories, The Boat. This prize is awarded to writers under the age of 30, who write in English, and is worth a cool £60,000. This book will feature in a Combined Reviews post next week.

Markus Zusak

Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief amongst other works, is interviewed in "The Courier-Mail" by Kathleen Noonan, and he's quite candid about the luck he's had.

Early on in Zusak's writing life, living at home in Sydney's western suburbs, he scratches away at stories when not at school or playing football.

He sends them off to various publishers.

"Usually you hear nothing. But one day, I get this letter back saying, 'No thanks, but you do have promise'."

That is enough to fire his passion and make him decide to be a writer.

Later he rings the publisher to talk to the letter-writer to get more advice, believing she is an editor. No. She doesn't work there. She never did.

She was just a work-experience student who was given the rejection letter to write.

Zusak laughs. "So you see, I based my entire career path on a work-experience girl's advice. How random is that?"

Combined Reviews: The Pages by Murray Bail

the_pages.jpg Reviews of The Pages by Murray Bail
Text Publishing

From the publisher's page:

It was a privilege to be allowed into the mind of another person, the life work of another. She was curious to see what he had thought, what he had found. Already she respected his effort. It would have been difficult to sustain across the pages, the many years, the isolation, the heat, perhaps the silence.

What are the pages?

On a family sheep station in western New South Wales, a brother and sister work the property while their reclusive brother, Wesley Antill, spends years toiling away in one of the sheds, writing his philosophy.

Now he has died. Erica, a philosopher, is sent from Sydney to appraise his life's work. Accompanying her is Sophie, who needs distracting from a string of failed relationships. Her field is psychoanalysis. The pages Wesley wrote lie untouched in the shed, just as he left them. What will they reveal? Was he a genius? These turn out to be only a couple of the questions in the air. How will the visit change the lives of Erica and Sophie?

The Pages is a beguiling meditation on friendship and love, on men and women, on landscape and the difficulties of thought itself, by one of Australia's greatest novelists, the author of the much-loved Eucalyptus.

Jonathan Gibbs in "The Independent": "Bail's prose is as full of space and glaring, almost painful light as the landscape...This wouldn't be a novel if its characters didn't hide secrets, though in this delicate construction they appear with all the melodramatic force of a cup of tea being placed on a kitchen table. Bail's rhythm forms into a pattern, and we find we are reading twin accounts of opposing journeys.."

Patrick Skene Catling in "The Telegraph": "The Pages is a nicely written, wonderfully entertaining novel with optional depths about the discoveries of an Australian who devotes his adult life to an introspective search for truth...Philosophy is a big, difficult subject -- there is none bigger -- that Bail depicts thoughtfully and with sympathetic humour."

Stephanie Johnson in "New Zealand Herald": "Ironically, there are so few emotions anywhere in this novel, apart from those of self-regard and self-consciousness. The Pages may well be a novel that polarises its readers."

Hermoine Lee in "The Guardian": "Murray Bail plays a laconic, self-concealing game, cunningly luring the reader in to his interlinked stories. The Pages is not an easy or open book, but it is an oddly compelling one."

Geordie Williamson on ABC Radio National's "Book Show": "Murray Bail's new novel The Pages is an imaginative recapitulation of this meeting of Europe and the antipodean interior. In fact, like [Patrick] White, Bail's larger contribution to Australian letters has lain in his application of the form, style and aesthetic currents of post-war German-language literature to local subjects. "As such, his voice can be pessimistic, high-minded and cantankerous. It can seem at once anti-modern and avant-garde, lapidary and essayistic. A prose engine fuelled by intellect and contrariness, Bail's work recalls that of the fiery Austrian playwright and author Thomas Bernhard and, in its more lugubrious and melancholy aspects, that of the sublime antiquarian miserabilist WG Sebald, a German academic and writer based for decades in England's north-east."

Short Notices

"A Novel Approach" weblog: "To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed by The Pages. It is a short little thing that tries to talk about philosophy in an interesting and unusual way, but it is just too short and light to be very good at that. For me, a story like this needs to be either a short story, or a massive, sprawling novel. Instead, it kind of meanders around its characters, not really allowing them to be very much (the three women in particular), and kind of leaving you feeling a bit flat."

Anna Hood on "Boomerang Books" weblog: "My only concern is that readers who loved Eucalyptus may be disappointed in The Pages as it lacks the descriptive elegance and light humour of Bail's previous novel. Yet The Pages is an interesting and thought-provoking piece of modern literature."

"The Bookbag" weblog: "The hard truth is, this is one of those books that attempts to cover a lot of topics and ends up barely covering one or two. It has some really great ideas but lacks definition. The book parts add up (most of the time), but it does not read true or believable."

"The Economist" "The book subsides in the end into a pile of aphorisms, but this is not a displeasing finale. It has been worth the wait."


Susan Wyndham interviewed the author for "The Age".

Poem: Two Minutes by C.J. Dennis

"Armistice Day emphasises sharply our obligations to the thousands of Australian soldiers who are waging a grim, exhausting fight against the cruel rigors of unemployment and adversity." - From a leading article.

The Armistice....A silence shrouds the city:
   Men's heads are bowed and many an eye is wet,
As minds con o'er an olden tale of pity,
   Of grief and terror no man may forget.
Then thro' the silence break old sounds - the cheering,
   The marching feet, the clattering limber wheel;
And, thro' the tears, blurred pictures are appearing
   Of leaf-brown soldiers and the glint of steel.

The Armistice....A sound comes now of weeping:
   New pictures form, and merge, and fade away
In grim succession, thro' the dread years creeping
   Unto the dawning of this Glorious Day.
"The Peace! The Victory!" Done is the grieving,
   As thro' the land speeds that exultant roar.
Yet, thro' it all, a thread of pain goes weaving -
   Pain for the men who marched to march no more.

The Armistice....Now bugles cease their wailing;
   The Silence ends, and life flows on, once more....
And this our tribute; what is it availing
   While living warriors still plead at our door?
Warriors yet, grown old, but ever keeping
   The grim fight on, unarmed, unmailed, unled.
Is all our debt to quit ghosts, long sleeping?
   Mourner, return. You would not mock the dead?

First published in The Herald, 11 November 1931

Best Books of the Year 2008 #2 - "Publisher's Weekly"

"Publisher's Weekly", from the US, usually puts out quite a comprehensive Best Books list each year. The Australian books I've found - and I should warn you that there is always a good chance I've missed something - are as follows.

The Boat, Nam Le (Knopf): "The stories in Le's stunning debut collection cover a vast geographic territory and are filled with exquisitely painful and raw moments of revelation, captured in an economical style as deft as it is sure."
Breath, Tim Winton (Farrar, Straus & Giroux): "Two daredevil Australian teens get involved with a dangerous surfer (and his more dangerous wife) in this taut story of death, life, pleasure and thrill-seeking."

Children's Picture Books
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, Mem Fox, illus. by Helen Oxenbury (Harcourt): "In a paean to babies around the world, Fox's rhymes feel as if they always existed in our collective consciousness and were simply waiting to be written down."

Children's Fiction
Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan (Knopf): "Dense, atmospheric prose holds readers to a cautious pace in an often dark fantasy that explores the savage and gentlest sides of human nature and how they coexist."


The Newspaper of Claremont Street by Elizabeth Jolley, 1981
(Fremantle Arts Centre Press 1992 edition)

Christos Tsiolkas Interview

Christos Tsiolkas's new novel is titled The Slap, which seems vaguely appropriate when I see a photo of the author - he always seems like he has been, or is about to be, slapped. Just me, I guess. I always look like I have a very bad case of gas in all my photos. Anyway, the author is interviewed for the "Readings" weblog by Belinda Monypenny and Jo

What was your inspiration for writing such a grounded, earthy novel in a domestic, suburban setting after the globetrotting sprawl of Dead Europe?

Dead Europe was a very difficult novel to write. It took time for it to find its form; it also took me, in the writing of it, into dark and fearful places. As a writer you take on aspects of your characters and if you are not careful the world you are creating begins to blend with the world you actually inhabit. That's not only a problem for yourself, but more importantly, for the people around you.

So I started working on notes for The Slap towards the end of writing Dead Europe as a way of escaping the bleak world of racist Europa and also as a return to just the pure joy of writing. To use a musical metaphor, which I am prone to, I wanted to just "riff", create characters and scenarios and stories and see where they took me. I think suburbia, such a part of the Australian experience, has always interested me; the push-pull of it. Suburbia tends to be viewed as static in our cultural and literary representation and I think that's simply not true. What does the new "wog", aspirational suburbia look like? That seemed a good jumping-off point for a novel.

Best Books of the Year 2008 #1 - Amazon

Mid-November and the Best Books of the Year entries start up again. I thought this was pretty early, but a brief check in the 2007 archives shows that I made the first such posting in that year on November 12. We'll call that even.

In the Science Fiction and Fantasy category, Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan comes in at number 4.
In the Comics & Graphic Novels category, The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard by Eddie Campbell is listed at number 10.
Under the Editor's Picks: Top 100 Books, The Boat by Nam Le sits at number 29, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (yes, I'm still thinking about whether this one should be included here) at number 32, Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan at number 71, and The House at Riverton by Kate Morton at number 90.

Richard Flanagan Watch #1

Reviews of Wanting

Don Anderson in "The Australian".

Without doubt a main subject of Wanting is what its author calls the "catastrophe of colonialism". Notions of the "savage", the "other", warp all sorts of notions and arguments. Thus, one-third into the novel, a propos allegations of Franklin's crew's cannibalism, Dickens asserts: "We all have appetites and desires. But only the savage agrees to sate them with all the attendant horrors that ensue." Almost at the novel's end, however, Dickens, his cheek pressed on stage against Ellen's "uncorsetted belly", notes that "he, a man who had spent a life believing that giving in to desire was the mark of a savage, realised that he could no longer deny wanting".
Short Notices

Boomerang Books: "Flanagan treads a fine line. He doesn't imply that the British were all cruel, or that the Aborigines were entirely victims or 'noble savages'. There is a spectrum of perspectives, from the brutal to the misguided-and even the supportive. It must be difficult to write a novel like this without judging, excusing or idealising."
Readings: "Wanting is a powerful piece of writing that affects in many ways. Above all, it's about unbridled desire and its tragic consequences."

Video clips relating to the novel

Book trailer
Interview: Part 1 - What led you to write WANTING?
Interview: Part 2 - Who are the main characters in WANTING?
Interview: Part 3 - What would you consider to be the themes of WANTING?
Interview: Part 4 - How are the lives of Charles Dickens and Mathinna connected?
Interview: Part 5 - There are fictional and historical characters in the story. How much licence did you take with the facts?
Interview: Part 6 - How different was it writing the script for Baz Luhrmann.


I've previously linked to this interview with the author by Jason Steger, which was published in "The Age" at the start of November.
Flanagan is also interviewed in "The Mercury" by Simon Bevilacqua.


The publisher has created a webpage for the novel which includes details of the book as well as where Flanagan is appearing this week in Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane.


Flanagan has received a writing credit on the new Baz Luhrmann film Australia, and "The Weekend Australian" magazine provides some details about how the collaboration came about.
In a piece in "The West Australian", Flanagan reveals the real-life inspiration for the character played by Hugh Jackman in the film.
The author was featured recently on ABC TV's "Australian Story". You can still watch that program on the show's website.
And related to that television program is a report from "The Mercury" newspaper detailing some comments Flanagan made about retired Tasmanian premier Paul Lennon.

Juliet Marillier Interview

Juliet Marillier, New Zealand born and Australian resident, writer of historical fantasy, (The Sevenwaters Trilogy, Saga of the Light Isles, and The Bridei Chronicles) is interviewed by Therese Walsh on the "Writer Unboxed" weblog, as her new novel, Heir to Sevenwaters is published.

What would you like people to know about the story itself?

HEIR TO SEVENWATERS is a stand-alone novel but shares the same setting as my first series, the Sevenwaters Trilogy. In other words, it's set in Ireland in early Christian times. It's a blend of romantic historical novel and folkloric fantasy. People need not have read those earlier books to enjoy this one. The first person narrator is the daughter of an Irish chieftain, whose world is turned upside down when a devastating event befalls her family at the birth of a long-awaited son. Clodagh's main skill lies in household management. She likes her world orderly and calm. Now she must undertake a desperate journey into an unknown realm in an attempt to put things right for her family. Her companion on this quest is not the highly suitable young man she likes, but a more mysterious character who has far too many secrets to be trusted.

Poem: Mortgaged by Hugh McCrae

These spotted trousers, now too short,
Were once some verses smoothly wrought,
The worn-out bluchers on my feet
Twin sonnets to My Lady Sweet,
This "decker" hanging round my nose
The product of an ODE TO ROSE;
The collar, tie and underpants
Are still an editor's advance
For some wild Bacchanalian song
The gods, I hope, will send along...
To work a dead horse off one's hand
(More so, of Pegasus's brand)
Is what a poet hates to do,
Yet still is what Fate drives us to.
Ah me, I feel my soul is ripe
For forty couplets' worth of tripe,
Three lines of beer, a verse of bread,
But O ... I'll have to pay instead
   That d___d old Editor!!

First published in The Bulletin, 27 August 1908

Helen Garner Watch #6

Reviews of The Spare Room

Raffaella Barker in "The Independent": "It is difficult to get excited about this book. Helen Garner is a good writer. This is her first novel in 15 years and she has a gift for creating a scene and illustrating character that is airy and enduring and essentially Australian. No one who gets through this book would deny that Garner is skilful. Given that the central character is a woman writer in her sixties called Helen, it is probable that this is a cathartic exercise for her following a traumatic life experience of her own, but I am not convinced that it needs to be inflicted up on the reading public. It is just too depressing. It is the business of a novel to transform experience, not just for the sake of it but to illuminate our minds and to touch our hearts. If we want veritas we read non fiction, and there are numerous moving memoirs about cancer which may well provide comfort through the solidarity of shared experience and which could perhaps show us how to grieve."
David Pullar on PopMatters: "On first appearances, The Spare Room should be a difficult read. This is not for the words and sentences therein: it's a short book and written in clear, simple prose. It's more that the content appears heavy and rather bleak. The story goes something like this: an older woman provides her spare room to a friend with terminal cancer who is in town for treatment. 'Not a barrel of laughs,' you would think...Humour is not just an occasional relief in The Spare Room, it's actually the lifeblood of the book. The old cliché that 'you've got to laugh' in the face of tragedy is given new meaning by Garner. For all the sickness and suffering and thankless service involved in the story, it's only an acute sense of the absurdity of the situation that keeps the heroine (also named Helen) sane."


Garner's novel, The Spare Room, won the top prize at the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, and at the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards, in September.
At the National Library in Canberra in October "Helen Garner, Alex Miller, Robert Drewe, Frank Moorhouse and Alexis Wright were among the authors who spoke at a colloquium in honour of Bruce Bennett, emeritus professor at the University of NSW at the Australian Defence Force Academy."

Ten Years Ago

Don Anderson on Garner's My Hard Heart: Selected Fictions, in "Australian Book Review".

What do we talk about when we talk about Helen Garner? About her writing, that is, about such a consummate novella as The Children's Bach, about extraordinary stories such as "A Vigil", in Cosmo Cosmolino, about the eponymous "Postcards from Surfers", and a dozen others? We talk about domestic realism, we talk about fiction that encompasses not merely the present supposedly self-obsessed Baby Boomer generation but children and grandparents also, we talk about discipline, control, and the assurance that more is less. We talk, despite her 'despair of feeling trapped inside [my] own style' (in True Stories: Selected Non-Fiction, 1996, from which my epigraph also is taken), of a virtuoso who hit her distinctive style early -- in Honour, say -- and has progressively refined it to more and more subtle effect. We think of a connoisseur of the moral and emotional life who renders these with unflinching honesty, whatever the cost, whatever the pain, to herself and others. We -- or, rather, I -- talk about her modesty, while not assuming patriarchally that woman ought to be modest, but with Jane Austen's letter of 1805 in mind: 'If [s]he were less modest, [s]he would be more agreeable, speak louder & look Impudenter; -- and is it not a fine Character of which Modesty is the only defect?'

Peter Goldsworthy Profile

Peter Goldsworthy's seventh novel, Everything I Knew, has just been published and is bound to cause a bit of a stir. The author was interviewed by "The Age".

Based on elements of his own childhood - including teenage crushes on teachers - Everything I Knew is about growing up, friendship, forbidden desires and what happens when boundaries are crossed. It's set in the 1960s in Penola, a small-time country town in South Australia's Coonawarra region, where Goldsworthy lived as a child and where he experienced his "first sexual stirrings". Goldsworthy says he has long been interested in "the eros between teacher and student" and wanted to explore it in his book.

SF Rears Its Ugly Head

In October 2007 I made a note, when Doris Lessing was announced as the 2007 Nobel Literature laureate, that she was the second science fiction writer to be so honoured. Kerryn Goldsworthy took up the challenge and asked who the first one might have been; William Golding, I replied. And now, according to David Langford's Ansible we might just have a third.

J.M.G. Le Clézio, this year's Nobel Prize for Literature winner, has long had an Encyclopedia of SF entry on the strength of Les géants (1973), set in 'a nightmare shopping complex in a futuristic city.'

Reprint: Mr. Edward Dyson


Mining Tales and Other Volumes.

Mr. Edward Dyson, one of the ablest and most versatile of Australian writers, died at his home, 94 Tennyson street, St. Kilda, early on Saturday morning after a long illness. His age was 66 years.

Beginning to write in early youth Mr. Dyson became one of the best-known of the Sydney "Bulletin" authors in the years when much work by Henry Lawson, A.B. Paterson, and Victor Daley was being published. He was born at Morrisons in the Ballan district, on March 4, 1865 and his early years were passed on various mining fields in Victoria. Much of his work related to mining life. The memories of his father, who arrived in Australia in 1852, suggested some of his stories of the goldfields. His own experiences of mining fields in Victoria and Tasmania, active or worked out, were also freely used. "A Golden Shanty," Mr. Dyson's humorous tale of an old field, gave the title to a widely read collection of writings by Australian authors published in Sydney in the late eighties, and with other stories of his own it was issued independently at a subsequent period. "Rhymes from the Mines," which appeared in Sydney in 1896, contained that striking poem "The Worked-out Mine." The title of "Below and On Top" (Melbourne, 1898) suggested the well-written mining stones which were added in that book to miscellaneous narratives; and there were similar themes in the long story, "The Gold Stealers" (London, 1901) one of his best works, and in the novel "In the Roaring Fifties," which he regarded as his principal volume. ln addition to much entertaining topical and miscellaneous work in prose and verse Mr. Dyson wrote several series of light stories for the "Bulletin" and Melbourne "Punch." These were collected in "Fact'ry 'Ands" (Melbourne, 1907), "The Missing Link," "Tommy the Hawker," and other volumes. Some of the books were illustrated by his brother, Mr. Will Dyson, the noted caricaturist. Another brother, Mr. Ambrose Dyson, who died some years ago, also had ability as a black-and-white artist. Plays were based by Mr. Dyson on "Fact'ry 'Ands" and other stories.

Mr. Dyson has left a widow and a daughter.

First published in The Argus, 24 August 1931
[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

300,000th Visitor

Sometime in the early hours of 3rd November, this weblog received its 300,000th visitor
since I started collecting statistics on October 19, 2005. This note is here for
housekeeping purposes only.

Wreck on the Highway

Does the number of small literary magazines being published give an indication of the literacy rates of the general population? That's a question that Fiona Gruber seeks to answer in an essay in "The Australian".

Susan Johnson went along to see Geraldine Brooks talking about her latest novel, People of the Book, and recalled working with Brooks on the Good Weekend section of "The Sydney Morning Herald" in the 1980s. She also muses on her own current novel and Stephen King's writing memoir, which is a nice touch.

If you're pounding away on that current book commission, or just struggling to get started on the new novel then I suggest skipping this news item in "The Sydney Morning Herald": 26 years after being contracted to write a biography of Miles Franklin, author Jill Roe has finally delivered. Given that Franklin left behind 124 volumes of her papers, and correspondence with over 1000 people, the time taken to work through it all is hardly surprising. I actually admire Roe's persistence.

Ampersand Duck picked up a nearly new secondhand copy of Colleen McCulloch's new novel The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet - a sequel to Pride and Prejudice - couldn't resist reading it, and suddenly wondered why the author bothered.

2008 Colin Roderick Award

The Colin Roderick Award is the principle award of the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies, and is presented to the best book published in Australia, in the preceding year, which deals with any aspect of Australian life. The award is currently valued at $10,000.

The winner of the 2007 award was Jamaica by Malcolm Knox (Allen & Unwin).

Also shortlisted for the award were:
The Fern Tattoo by David Brooks (UQP)
Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital (HarperCollins)
Where the Sea Takes Us by Kim Huynh (HarperPerennial)
Typewriter Music by David Malouf (UQP)
Another Country by Nicolas Rothwell (Black Inc.)
Communism: A Love Story by Jeff Sparrow (Melbourne University Publishing)

Richard Flanagan Profile

Richard Flanagan's new novel Wanting is now in the shops and the author is interviewed in "The Age" by Jason Steger.

Richard Flanagan knows that some people will read his new novel, Wanting, as a historical novel and pillory him for that. But he has been a historian in another life and knows it is not for him.

"History, like journalism, is ever a journey outwards and you must report back what you find and no more. But a novel is a journey into your own soul and you seek there to discover those things that you share with all others. In reading you sense the divine, the things that are larger and greater and more mysterious than yourself."

Wanting is 19th century in location and characters: polar explorer and governor of Van Diemen's Land, Sir John Franklin, and his wife, Lady Jane; Mathinna, the Aboriginal girl they adopt and later abandon; and the great literary voice of the time, Charles Dickens.

But Flanagan is adamant it is not a historical novel. What's wrong, he asks, with writers using history; they have been doing it forever. What about Shakespeare's use of Holinshed's Chronicles? "Shakespeare was completely fictionalising the people who were then the great celebrities of English."

You have to think that all Australian novelists will need to develop a similar response given the way Kate Grenville was criticised for The Secret River. It would be nice to be able to read novels in isolation without the need for some sort of framing mechanism to separate them from other literary, social and political considerations. But we can't. Novels exist and live in the real world and the better ones have an effect beyond the boundaries of their covers. We can't expect the forces at work to only act in one direction.

2008 Australia-Asia Literary Award Shortlist

The shortlisted works for the 2008 Australia-Asia Literary Award have been announced.

The shortlisted works are:

Michelle de Kretser, The Lost Dog, Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Ceridwen Dovey, Blood Kin, Publisher: Atlantic Books
Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Publisher: Penguin
David Malouf, The Complete Stories, Publisher: Random House
Janette Turner Hospital, Orpheus Lost, Publisher: HarperCollins

The full longlist was published here. The winner of the $A110,000 prize will be announced on November 21, 2008.

Graeme Base Profile

Graeme Base, author and illustrator of such works as Animalia, The Eleventh Hour and Uno's Garden is interviewed by Sherrill Nixon for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

In Animalia he successfully fought against his publisher's attempt to simplify the vultures' language on the V page (words such as "vociferous verbosity" and "vexatiously vocalising"). A decade later he waged a battle over Uno's Garden when the American marketing gurus wanted to declare it a "fun math book" on the cover, rather than leave it to the reader to discover the clever maths component of this book, primarily about the balance between civilisation and nature.

"Maybe I will be brave enough to say this: the problem is more evident in America, where there's the need, it seems to me, to spoonfeed," Base says. "You can't leave something slightly ambiguous or not show the solution ... they needed explanation for something where my inclination was to not explain but to ask the reader to work it out or to slowly realise there's something else going on here."

The author's latest work, Enigma, is now out from Penguin.

2008 NSW Premier's History Awards

The winners of the NSW Premier's History Awards were announced on October 27th. The judges for the 2008 NSW Premiers History Awards were Rosemary Block, Sean Brawley, Alan Dearn, John McQuilton, Catherine Robinson and Richard Waterhouse.

The winners were:

Audio/Visual Prize
Captain Cook: Obsession and Discovery, Tony Wright, Paul Rudd, Matthew Thomason and Wain Fimeri (Screen Australia National Interest Program, December Films, Cook Films, Fern Productions, South Pacific Pictures)

Australian History Prize
Vietnam: the Australian War, Paul Ham (HarperCollins)

Community and Regional History Prize
Sacred Waters: the Story of the Blue Mountains Gully Traditional Owners, Dianne Johnson, in collaboration with the residents of the Gully and their descendants (Halstead Press)

General History Prize
The Politics of War: Race, Class and Conflict in Revolutionary Virginia, Michael A McDonnell (The University of North California Press)

John and Patricia Ward History Prize
Australia's Forgotten Prisoners: Civilians Interned by the Japanese During World War Two, Christina Twomey (Cambridge University Press)

Young People's History Prize
Australians in the Vietnam War, Robert Lewis & Tim Gurry (Ryebuck Media)

The shortlisted titles were chosen from 268 audio/visual and book entries.

Each of the book prizes is worth $15,000 and the shortlists were as follows:

Audio/Visual Prize
A Question of Trust: Stolen wages in Queensland, Lorena Allam and Andrei Chabunov (ABC Radio National, Hindsight)
Our Secret War, Tom Morton (ABC Radio National, Social History Unit)
Captain Cook: Obsession and Discovery, Tony Wright, Paul Rudd, Matthew Thomason and Wain Fimeri (Screen Australia National Interest Program, December Films, Cook Films, Fern Productions, South Pacific Pictures)

Australian History Prize
Van Diemen's Land, James Boyce (Black Inc.)
Big White Lie: Chinese Australians in White Australia, John Fitzgerald (UNSW Press)
Vietnam: the Australian War, Paul Ham (HarperCollins)

Community and Regional History Prize
Sacred Waters: the Story of the Blue Mountains Gully Traditional Owners, Dianne Johnson, in collaboration with the residents of the Gully and their descendants (Halstead Press)
The Railways of Victoria 1854-2004, Robert Lee (MUP)
Grandeur and Grit: a History of Glebe, Max Solling (Halstead Press)

General History Prize
Captain Cook: Voyager Between Worlds, John Gascoigne (Hambledon Continuum)
The Minefield: an Australian Tragedy in Vietnam, Greg Lockhart (A&U)
The Politics of War: Race, Class and Conflict in Revolutionary Virginia, Michael A McDonnell (The University of North California Press)

John and Patricia Ward History Prize
Magnificent Obsession: the Story of the Mitchell Library, Sydney, Brian H Fletcher (A&U)
The Secret War: a True History of Queensland's Native Police, Jonathan Richards (UQP)
Australia's Forgotten Prisoners: Civilians Interned by the Japanese During
World War Two
, Christina Twomey (Cambridge University Press)

Young People's History Prize
Lofty's Mission, Krista Bell, illus. David Miller (Hachette Livre Australia)
Australians in the Vietnam War, Robert Lewis & Tim Gurry (Ryebuck Media)
The Prime Ministers' National Treasures, Matthew Thomason, Paul Rudd & Perry Stapleton (A Screen Australia National Interest Program)

Australian Bookcovers #135 - Palomino by Elizabeth Jolley


Palomino by Elizabeth Jolley, 1980
(UQP 1988 edition)
Cover design by Noella Hills

Poem: Carnival Time by C.J. Dennis

The present Melbourne Cup Carnival promises to be, from many points of view, one of the most successful. Clubs and hotels are taxed to the limit for accommodation, and everywhere men speak confidently of returning prosperity.

Now is the season of Carnival.
   Who's for the sunlit course?
Who's for the beat of galloping feet
   And the day and the way of the horse?
Who joins the dance, tho' Lady Chance
   Pleasure or pain may yield,
Who comes to the call of Carnival?
   "Seven to four the field!"

This is the week of the Carnival
   And the sign of a brighter dawn In men's affairs.
Who sheds old cares
   Where gay frocks fleck the lawn?
Who would forget old days of fret?
   Who comes to the call of mirth
And the conquering steeds? ... They're off! Who leads?
   And the hoof beats spurn the earth.

Then, Hi! for the height of Carnival,
   Gayer than all gone past:
And the nameless fears of the deadening years
   Forsake men's minds at last.
Bright jackets flash beneath the sun
   As the roar of the crowd begins,
And lifts and swells at a great home run:
   "Who leads? Who lasts? Who wins?"

Ho! for the call of Carnival!
   Way for the Sport of
Kings! And men, grown sane, turn once again
   To all that high hope brings.
Who's for the Carnival? Who grows gay
   Where galloping Fortune speeds
Around the turn to gallop our way
   With the galloping, galloping steeds?

First published in The Herald, 6 November 1933
[Today is Melbourne Cup Day.]

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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This page is an archive of entries from November 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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