January 2009 Archives

Poem: To What Base Use by Milky White (E.S. Emerson)

A bush bar held an old bush bard
   ('Twas yesternight at Got-a-thirst),
Beered-up, and whiskied, and three-starr'd --
   In fact, a bush bard on the burst.

And he was knocking down a cheque
   For poems supplied, and shouting beer
And fags for many a social wreck,
   Who, one by one, did chew his ear.

And what time blue and green and grey
   And yellow things climbed over him,
He spoke in an instructive way
   Of jams whose Christian name is Jim.

"They all have uses, friends," he said.
   "Observe that lizard on the bar;
Note the curved horns upon his head --
   He's worth at least a three-inch par.

"And that brown toad, with lips as blue
   As Buckley's chance, and that young snake,
With nineteen tails of different hue,
   They'll both good nature-studies make.

"I'd like to photograph them now,
   But -- see those scorpions on the chair!
They've both got udders like a cow,
   And cloven hoofs and golden hair!

"They form a genus of their own.
   S. platycerus, from the East;
Ah! what a pity they have flown;
   They meant an article at least.

"But never mind! This centipede --
   Note his dog-teeth, how huge and grim!
No doubt, no doubt I shall succeed
   To make Miltonic verse of him.

"And this" -- he rose and gripped the boss,
   And threw him heavily and knelt
Upon his bulky chest -- "this cross
   Between a pumpkin and a pelt,

"I'll screw its neck and bottle it
   In spirits, till a way I see
To dish it up well trimmed with wit --
   As Aboriginality."

But, oh! alas! that old bush bard,
   That old bush bard upon the burst,
He slept last night on something hard
   Down in the quod of Got-a-thirst.

And whilst this morn his head doth ache
   And all his senses seem to swim,
He knows the local rag will make
   A great big paragraph of him.

First published in The Bulletin, 11 March 1909

Review: The Sound of Butterflies by Rachael King

sound_butterflies.jpg Rachael King
Picador, 368 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Michael Freeman

It seems strange, given this novel's title, but an overwhelming sense of dread pervades The Sound of Butterflies. Although butterflies are probably the least scary thing imaginable, Rachael King's debut novel instils the reader with a sense of unease I have not encountered since I read Dracula as a 12-year-old. Not because The Sound of Butterflies is really about vampires (it isn't), and not because it deals with supernatural encounters (it doesn't). The Sound of Butterflies is unsettling because it explores the territory trodden by Bram Stoker in 1897, and countless others since, turning the routine into the terrifying.

When we first join the story, it is 1904, Victorian England. The novel's protagonist, butterfly collector Thomas Edgar, is returning from Brazil where he was hunting butterflies, something he has done avidly since childhood. Specifically, Thomas was hunting a particular type of butterfly which few had apparently seen and might not even exist. Thomas hoped to find, capture and catalogue the exotic insect, and name it after his loving wife Sophie, who is faithfully awaiting her husband's return at Liverpool station. But when Thomas and Sophie are reunited, all it not as it was -- Thomas has returned afflicted by near-catatonia, and is seemingly unable (or unwilling) to speak.

From this point, the narrative flits back and forth in time from England to Brazil, and we get to meet a Thomas who is not in a fugue-like state. We see Thomas (along with three other robust British naturalists) embark on an expedition to the Amazon that is funded by a mysterious benefactor known as Jose Santos, who apparently made his money from rubber plantations. Little is otherwise known of the mysterious Mr Santos, and it is assumed that he is simply benevolent, In the beginning, few questions are asked of his motives. This may strike the reader as a little naïve, although no doubt Jonathan Harker made the same initial assumption about Dracula.

It is said that in all of literature, there is only one plot -- that of the journey from innocence to experience. While such a suggestion may be a little simplistic, it more than adequately describes the plot of The Sound of Butterflies. Rachael King's descriptions of the lushness and beauty of South America, with its casual dangerousness for the unwary traveller, are rich and compelling. What was initially exciting and thrilling for Thomas and his colleagues soon becomes unnerving and ominous, and finally deadly.

There is an interesting contrast going on here with the prim and proper Victorian England which Sophie inhabits. Sophie's world is mundane, even boring -- although her friend Agatha seems remarkably insouciant for Victorian times. Sophie pines for her husband, even when he is sleeping right next to her, and is always cogniscent of appearances -- well aware of how people will react should Thomas' condition become public, Sophie strives to keep it secret as long as possible. That she should so strive should not surprise, although it seems a little unrealistic that she should succeed for as long as she does.

While the ending might seem a little trite, this tale of brutality in the Amazonian rainforest rarely disappoints. Ms King has clearly inherited the story-telling genes of her father, one of New Zealand's more successful novelists, and applies them with great effect here. Ms King continually and effortlessly manages to shock the reader, and it is to her credit that she manages to do so with a story about butterflies.

Shaun Tan Watch #1

Note: this will probably be a long one. I'm way behind on checking out Shaun Tan's links.

Reviews of The Arrival

David Mathews on the "express buzz" website: "Straddling the divide between children's picture book and adult graphic novel to splendid effect, The Arrival, by Australian illustrator Shaun Tan, is one of those rare beasts: a wholly graphic fiction that dispenses with the use of words entirely. Rare, because it is so remarkably difficult -- when attempting to tell an engaging and comprehensible story solely in pictures -- to avoid a descent into monotonous exposition."
Douglas on the "Hell in a Kiss" weblog: "The photorealistic drawing precision of the known, devoid of any identification, is in constant interaction with the imaginative plane of the new and the strange. They playfully mix into landscapes of the mind where history and the future blend effortlessly and everyday objects are enveloped with the magical aura of an archetype nostalgia and an imprecise shape of things to come. If nevertheless, this is a measure of the things to come from Shaun Tan, then we are in for some pleasant surprises in the future."
The "From Word to Word" weblog: "I was at the library with my two sons, and I happened to see Shaun Tan's The Arrival out on a table as I was following my youngest on his energetically random path. I read as I followed, and I was soon utterly immersed in the story, in its blending of the fantastic and the familiar, in its almost tactile sense of intimacy."

Reviews of Tales from Outer Suburbia

"Publisher's Weekly" gave it a starred review (it's a fair way down the page): "The term 'suburbia' may conjure visions of vast and generic sameness, but in his hypnotic collection of 15 short stories and meditations, Tan does for the sprawling landscape what he did for the metropolis in The Arrival...Ideas and imagery both beautiful and disturbing will linger."
Neel Mukherjee in "Time" magazine: "Deploying pen and ink, pencil, woodcuts, crayons and oils, the drawings in the book are exalting, filling you with joy and revelation. But crucially, Tan can also write: his stories effortlessly rearrange the pattern of reality in prose that is evocative and supple."
Barbara Taylor in "The London Free Press": "Tales From Outer Suburbia demands an alert reader accepting of a fresh approach to life and literature. Within, you'll discover 15 wonderfully wacky, yet poignant stories in 96 unusually illustrated pages. The artwork is a feast for your eyes ranging from watercolours to hand-written notes to the table of contents neatly recorded on separate postage stamps. I resisted the temptation to first thumb through the colourful pages, and was later rewarded by many an abrupt, surprise ending."
Letha Colleen on the "...pursuit of happiness" weblog: "It's a collection of short stories that introduces off kilter characters and elements into neighborhoods and towns that otherwise might be perceived of as mundane. As each story is different so too are the illustration styles."
Amanda Growe and John Lucas on the "straight.com" website from Vancouver: "Tales From Outer Suburbia is more than a kids' book but not quite a graphic novel. If this latest work from Shaun Tan -- the acclaimed Australian author and illustrator behind The Arrival and The Red Tree -- is hard to categorize, that's only fitting, since the book is filled with stories that aren't quite stories. Rather, they're descriptions of the weird denizens and absurd happenings of a seemingly mundane anyplace called Outer Suburbia, where things tend to turn up in unexpected places."
JK on the "The Keepin' It Real Book Club" weblog: "Tales from Outer Suburbia is a collection of stories that whimsically tap into the imaginative potential of suburbia - often considered a sort of sterile, mass-produced cultural wasteland (a judgment not far from the truth, says this former suburbanite). Yet tales from outer suburbia challenges this stereotype, transforming suburbia into a portal to another fantastical world (literally in one story, in which a family discovers they have a secret inner courtyard in their home). Suburbia is no longer drab and dull, but rather a
departure point for any number of possible adventures."


"New York Magazine" has published a seven-page excerpt from Tales from Outer Suburbia.


A theatrical adaptation of The Arrival by Kate Parker and Julie Nolan will play at the upcoming Auckland Festival, 5-22 March 2009.
Tan is working on an animated version of his book The Lost Thing, scheduled for release in late 2009, according to Tor.com. The webpage also includes a link to a 5 minute documentary on the adaptation.


The "inframe.tv" website films Australian artist and writer Shaun Tan introducing and discussing his work.
Lia Graigner on the "Walrus Magazine" blog.
Bernie Goedhart in "The Montreal Gazette".
Irene Gallo on "Tor.com".
Michael Shirrefs on "The Book Show", ABC Radio National.


Tan has supplied the interior illustrations for Kelly Link's new short-story collection Pretty Monsters. You can get more information about that here.
There's an illustration from The Red Tree here.
And lastly, don't forget that Shaun Tan will be a Guest of Honour at Aussiecon 4, the 2010 World Science Fiction Convention being held in Melbourne in September 2010.

Prove It All Night

"The Guardian", not to be outdone by "The Telegraph"'s 100 novels everyone should read (see last week on this weblog), lists 1000 novels you must read. [That's one book a week for twenty years!] True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey is listed under the Crime section and his novel Oscar and Lucinda appears under novels about Love, as do The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard and Maurice Guest by Henry Handel Richardson. Illywhacker by Carey can be found under the Comedy heading; The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead and The Tree of Man by Patrick White under Family & Self; and Remembering Babylon by David Malouf under State of the Nation. There are probably a couple more sections to come but I'm finding this extended website rather confusing.

Simon Caterson looks at some small Melbourne publishing houses for "The Age".

Ampersand Duck gets a rollicking from her father for not posting on her weblog often enough. I'm lucky in that regard as most of my family doesn't even know this blog exists.

M.J. Hyland has started a new website/weblog devoted to her upcoming novel, This is How. You'll remember Hyland as she was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2006 for her second novel Carry Me Down. In "the Manchester Review" you can read an essay by M.J. Hyland titled "Selling Fakes".

"The Complete Review" weblog informs us that Penguin US is releasing two new editions of Patrick White novels: Voss and The Vivisector. The first of these comes with an introduction from Tom Keneally, and the second with one from J.M. Coetzee. And the weblog is correct: the new cover for The Vivisector is about the worst I've ever seen. Reminds me of the torture scene at the end of the film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange.

ABC Books Folded into HarperCollins

"The Sydney Morning Herald" is reporting that ABC Books - the publishing arm of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation - will be taken over by HarperCollins publishers as of May this year. This will mean the end of the ABC Fiction Award, and entries will now be directed to the HarperCollins-sponsored Varuna manuscript award. The ABC media release gives the bare bones of the story, as you might expect. Further details are available on the Crikey website.

Combined Reviews: The Seance by John Harwood

seance.gif Reviews of The Seance
John Harwood
Random House

[This novel won the Best Horror Novel award at the 2008 Aurealis Awards.]

From the publisher's page:

The breakthrough novel from one of Australia's finest writers -- a gripping story of ghosts, betrayal and murder in Victorian England "Sell the Hall unseen; burn it to the ground and plough the earth with salt, if you will; but never live there." London, the 1880s. A young girl grows up in a household marked by death, her father distant, her mother in perpetual mourning for the child she lost. Desperate to coax her mother back to health, Constance Langton takes her to a seance. Perhaps they will find comfort from beyond the grave. But that seance has tragic consequences. Constance is left alone, her only legacy a mysterious bequest will blight her life. So begins The Seance, John Harwood's brilliant second novel, a gripping, dark mystery set in late Victorian England. It is a world of apparitions, of disappearances and unnatural phenomena, of betrayal and blackmail and black-hearted villains -- and murder. For Constance's bequest comes in two parts: a house, and a mystery. Years before a family disappeared at Wraxford Hall, a terrifying stately home near the Suffolk coast. Now Constance must find the truth behind the mystery, even at the cost of her life. Because without the truth, she is lost.
Lucy Atkins in "The Times": "Harwood's well-received 2004 debut, The Ghost Writer, drew heavily on the 19th-century ghost story. Now, with The Seance, he plunges us headfirst into the genre. Wilkie Collins would be proud: this is a Victorian world of mesmerism and spirits, vapours and delirium, doomed inheritances, shivering maids and spooky visitations in the night...As befits the form, there are narratives within narratives -- a tricky structural task that requires a large suspension of disbelief."
Sinclair McKay in "The Telegraph": "Harwood, like the authors he pays such elaborate tribute to, is fond of tangled family trees and great sprawling dynasties. Given the relatively fast pace of the novel, this is occasionally disorientating. But half the pleasure of this sort of fiction comes from this complexity, and from the flavourful evocations of Victorian vicarages, solicitors' offices and filthy London streets...the whole thing boils down to the old questions of inheritance and property that underpinned practically the whole of Victorian fiction. And that's what really makes it such an entertaining read."
Andrew Taylor in "The Independent": "Harwood manipulates his characters' -- and readers' -- emotions. Even when he appears to provide a comfortably mundane explanation, he has a nasty habit of revealing the terrifying uncertainties that lurk in the shadows. Its publishers compare The Seance to the work of MR James and Sarah Waters; true, Harwood has an unerring feel for the mores and language of late-Victorian England. But there are closer parallels in the fiction of Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle, both of whom were fascinated by the disputed borderland between the claims of the paranormal and the techniques of Victorian science."
Judith Flanders in "The Telegraph": "Harwood builds up tension with a series of embedded narratives that slowly unravel...The interweaving of professional mediums, haunted mansions and sceptical ghost-hunters is so efficiently done that it is only intermittently that the reader pauses to wonder at the neatness of the documentary evidence."

Short notices
Georgia Gowing in "The Independent Weekly": "There aren't too many surprises in the story and it is fairly low on the fear factor, so it won't keep you awake at night. But Harwood has researched both the period and the world of mediums meticulously, making for an entertaining novel in the best gothic tradition."
"Tangled Web UK": "Perfect fire-side reading: finely written, historically fascinating and very spooky."
Brooke Brunckhorst on "M/C Reviews": "The Seance is a mildly spooky, pseudo-Victorian pastiche in which one can almost hear the sound of pedals turning as the author rides his penny-farthing wildly to keep the whole thing afloat (to mix metaphors, and possibly periods)."
"Matilda" review.

Video interview on the Barnes and Noble studio site.
Interview by Samela Harris in "The Advertiser".

2009 Michael L. Printz Award for Young Adult Literature

According to Wikipedia, "The Michael L. Printz Award is an annual award in the United States for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature. It is named for a school librarian from Topeka, Kansas, who was a long-time active member of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). The national award is sponsored by Booklist magazine and administered by YALSA, a division of the American Library Association."

In 2009, the award has been presented to Jellicoe Road (published in Australia as On the Jellicoe Road) by Australian author Melina Marchetta.

In addition to Marchetta's win, Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan was named an honor book for the same award. This continues a remarkable run by Australian books with this award. In 2008 One Whole and Perfect Day by Judith Clarke was an honor book, as were Surrender by Sonya Hartnett and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak in 2007, and Black Juice by Lanagan and I am the Messenger by Zusak in 2006.

2008 Aurealis Awards

The winners of the 2008 Aurealis awards have been announced. These awards are presented to the best Australian sf and fantasy across a number of categories. The full shortlists for these awards were previously posted here.

The winners were:

Best Science Fiction Novel
K. A. Bedford, Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing

Best Science Fiction Short Story
Simon Brown, "The Empire", Dreaming Again, Harper/Voyager

Best Fantasy Novel
Alison Goodman, The Two Pearls of Wisdom, HarperCollins

Best Fantasy Short Story
Cat Sparks, "Sammarynda Deep", Paper Cities, Senses 5 Press

Best Horror Novel
John Harwood, The Seance, Jonathan Cape Random House Australia

Best Horror Short Story
Kirstyn McDermott, "Painlessness", Greatest Uncommon Denominator #2

Best Anthology
Jonathan Strahan (editor), The Starry Rift, Viking Children's Books

Best Collection
Sean Williams & Russell B Farr (editor), Magic Dirt: The Best of Sean Williams, Ticonderoga Publications

Best Illustated Book/Graphic Novel
Shaun Tan, Tales From Outer Suburbia, Allen & Unwin

Best Young Adult Novel
Melina Marchetta, Finnikin of the Rock, Viking Penguin

Best Young Adult Short Story
Trent Jamieson, "Cracks", Shiny #2

Best Children's Novel
Emily Rodda, The Wizard of Rondo, Omnibus Books

Best Children's Illustrated Work/Picture Book
Richard Harland & Laura Peterson (illustrator), Escape!, Under Siege, Race to the Ruins, The Heavy Crown, The Wolf Kingdom series, Omnibus Books

Peter McNamara Convenors' Award for Excellence
Jack Dann

Australian Bookcovers #146 - The Tivington Nott by Alex Miller


The Tivington Nott by Alex Miller, 1989
(Penguin 1989 edition)
Cover painting: Tug-of-War (detail) by Jon Molvig, 1949

Review: The Dark Mountain by Catherine Jinks

dark_mountain.jpg Catherine Jinks
Allen and Unwin, 488 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Bernadette Gooden

Based on historical fact, this is a deeply disturbing story of how the course of a life can be changed tragically forever by the events of a single day; how a family can be torn apart by a terrible secret.

Charlotte Atkinson was the oldest of four siblings who were being raised by their widowed mother in wealthy circumstances on a huge farm called Oldbury in the penal colony of New South Wales in the 1830's. In those days it was an isolated place with a small, tight-knit community. The work was done by convict labour and life was cruel and basic for these people. There was also a very strict class structure to be adhered to, with everybody knowing his or her place.

Catherine Jinks skilfully recreates the daily lives of these people, the harsh conditions and the never-ending work of running a large station. Charlotte's mother is a strong figure, a gentlewoman left alone to run Oldbury, helped only by her overseer, George Barton, a man universally disliked for his cruelty and coarseness.

On the thirtieth of January, 1836, in the Belanglo Forest, an incident involving Mrs. Atkinson, George Barton and a group of men never identified took place. The incident was shrouded in mystery.

For the family it was the beginning of a nightmare of madness and violence that scarred their lives, making them outcasts from the small community of "civilised people" they inhabited. Charlotte, the only child old enough to remember the chain of events from the beginning, spends the rest of her life trying to solve the mystery of what happened that day. The story is told from her point of view, expressed in the language of a well-educated woman from her era.

There are many references to the harsh realities of life for these early settlers and the brooding, inhospitable landscape that oppressed them at Oldbury, made unsafe by gangs of bushrangers. Later, when the story takes the family to Sydney Town, the hustle and bustle of the thriving, growing city is brilliantly evoked, along with a glimpse into the social life of people at that time. Charlotte, who was so deeply traumatised, tries hard to get to the bottom of the source of her misery. Her investigation reveals a connection with Australia's earliest known serial killer, a fascinating side story to the main narrative. She slowly pieces together the story from newspaper articles (hard to come by in the bush) and gossip.

I found this a great read and thoroughly gripping. There are also a lot of well researched historical details, including the fact that Charlotte's sister, Louisa Atkinson Calvert, grew up to be Australia's first female novelist. There are many references to the events set out in The Dark Mountain in her work apparently, so I will look forward to reading some of her novels. For anyone interested in stories about Australia and our history this is a must. Catherine Jinks is a talented writer who certainly takes us on an interesting journey back in to a dark part of our story as a nation.

Angel Eyes

Paul Morgan, author of Turner's Paintbox, The Pelagius Book and The Art of Richard Hughes, introduces his Literary Space - or where he does his main writing - on the "LiteraryMinded" weblog.

Enigma: A Magical Mystery by Graeme Base has been nominated for an Edgar Award in the Best Juvenile category. These "are presented every year by the Mystery Writers of America. They honor the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television, film and theatre published or produced in the past year." [Thanks to Wikipedia for that.]

"The Telegraph" newspaper from the UK lists 100 novels everyone should read. The list includes Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey as the only Australian entry. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee is also listed, but let's not get into that argument again.

Sometimes taking a punt works out well for a publisher. Michael Heywood, of Text Publishing, negotiated publishing rights to Barak Obama's two books, Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope, two years ago. Who's smiling now?

Unknown or Forgotten: Cordwainer Smith

Cordwainer Smith may not be a name that is familiar to a lot of Australian readers unless they're of the esoteric sf kind.

The author, whose real name was Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger was American by birth and was a visiting professor at the Australian National University in Canberra in 1957 and in 1965, in the Faculty of Modern History. It was probably this connection with Australia that led him to create "the planet Norstrilia (Old North Australia), a semi-arid planet where an immortality drug called stroon is harvested from gigantic, virus-infected sheep each weighing more than 100 tons. Norstrilians are nominally the richest people in the galaxy and defend their immensely valuable stroon with sophisticated weapons (as shown in the story "Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons"). However, extremely high taxes ensure that everyone on the planet lives a frugal, rural life, like the farmers of old Australia, to keep the Norstrilians tough." [From Wikipedia.] Smith also published a novel, Norstrilia, set on this fictional world.

Although his sf output over 16 years - from the publication of "Scanners Live in Vain" in 1950 until his death in 1966 - was rather small he influenced a number of authors who came after him. Harlan Ellison has been known to use the pseudonym "Cordwainer Bird" on occasion, partly in tribute to Linebarger. And Robert Silverberg has said: "Beginning in 1955 and continuing for a decade thereafter, he brought us a group of astoundingly original short stories and a couple of novels which marked the world of science fiction forever. The influence of Cordwainer Smith's stories has been incalculable."

Back in the 1970s a group of three sf fans in Melbourne started their own small publishing house which they named Norstrilia Press. Amongst other books they published An Unusual Angle, Greg Egan's first novel, and The Dreaming Dragons by Damien Broderick which was runner-up for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1981. The press, unfortunately, is no longer in operation.

Links of interest:
"Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons", which includes a link to an e-text of the story.
The Cordwainer Smith Blog which is run by the author's daughter.
Cordwainer Smith pronunciation guide.
John Bangsund manages to include A.D. Hope, Philip Adams and Cordwainer Smith in the one essay. And if you've ever wondered what the sf "fannish" world is all about, this piece might just give you some idea. Or maybe not.

Combined Reviews: Everything I Knew by Peter Goldsworthy

everything_i_knew.jpg    Reviews of Everything I Knew
Peter Goldsworthy
Hamish Hamilton

From the publisher's page
It's the year 1964, and fourteen-year-old know-it-all Robbie Burns is about to discover he still has a lot to learn.

The world is changing fast, although the news has yet to reach the small South Australian town of Penola. There Robbie leads and idyllic life of rabbiting, backyard science experiments, and hooligan scrapes with his friend Billy. Penola is oblivious even to its minor celebrity as the birthplace of the poet John Shaw Neilson, but poetry means the world to Robbie's new teacher from the city, the stylish Miss Peach, a sixties sophisticate with stirrup pants, Kool cigarettes and Vespa scooter.

Miss Peach's artistic yearnings and modern ways prove too much for the good people of Penola, but they fire Robbie's precocious imagination and burgeoning sexuality, until what begins as a schoolboy fantasy has terrible, real consequences.

Geordie Williamson in "The Australian": "In Maestro, Goldsworthy's first published novel, it was Darwin whose charms were hymned on the page...Written almost two decades later, Everything I Knew plays a similar song in a darker key. It, too, is concerned with a teenage solipsist greedy for pleasure and success: a study in arrogance shaped into regret by time...Fictional accounts of calf-love always teeter above twin abysses: the cringing embarrassment of failure and the destructive potential of success. The best, such as Raymond Radiguet's The Devil in the Flesh and Ivan Turgenev's First Love, rely on the essential amorality of sexuality to undercut mawkish displays of emotion, and Goldsworthy does something similar here. Too much would be given away by following the plot much further. It is enough to say that his pursuit of Pamela Peach ends in a way that will shape the rest of his life. In another nod to Maestro, the final chapters of the book shunt forward four decades to reveal what that shape that is."
Christina Hill in "Australian Book Review": "This is an overwrought, undisciplined novel; it indulges in hyperbole and implausible incidents, and often the dialogue between characters is embarrassingly stilted. Its strength, however, lies in its evocation of how an adolescent boy might think and behave."
Murray Bramwell in "The Adelaide Review": "The everything that the careless, sometimes cruel, Robbie Burns knows, may be a fateful insufficiency -- as, for any adolescent, it is bound to be. But the everything that Peter Goldsworthy brings -- its human vulnerability and foible, its sexual compulsion and foolishness -- is a Chaucerian plenty. It contains multitudes, and, as Terence said in the classics, nothing that is human is alien to it."
Ian McFarlane in "The Canberra Times": "Goldsworthy's nostalgic evocation of the time and place of early experience brings to mind David Malouf's Johnno, with its painful embarrassment and joyful affirmation, although the novel's coda, from a regretful Robbie in old age, introducing doubt concerning the way we see childhood from an adult perspective, seemed unnecessary to me, and weakened the overall impact." He still considered it "Highly recommended."
Peter Pierce in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Few of his Australian contemporares are so skilled at the narrative arts as Goldsworthy, let alone so fearless in seeking new, rather than familiar, fictional ground to work."
James Ley in "The Age": "What prevents Everything I Knew from succumbing to what are essentially dramatic cliches is its deftness of touch and its humour. Goldsworthy's writing is nimble enough to make the conventional aspects of his plot work for him, rather than the other way round. He is a writer whose work is often less straightforward than it appears, and though Everything I Knew does not quite have the concentrated power of the excellent Three Dog Night (2003), it is a characteristically well-realised novel."


"The Book Show" on ABC Radio National - interview by Ramona Koval, 27 October 2008
"The Age" - interview, 3 November 2008
"Brisbane News" - interview by Phil Brown
"East Torrens Messenger" - interview by Des Ryan

2009 Writers at the Convent

The 2009 Writers at the Convent literary festival has released its program (PDF file). The festival runs from February 13-15 at The Abbotsford Convent, 1 St Heliers Street, Abbotsford - which is just on the northern edge of the Melbourne CBD. Featured writers include: Steven Carroll, Robert Drewe, Peter Goldsworthy, Sonya Hartnett, Michael Leunig, Shane Maloney, and Peter Singer, amongst others.

Tim Winton Watch #8

Reviews of Breath

Bradley Winterton in the "Tapei Times": "Winton is clearly pushing the boundaries of the dangerous sports genre to include, despite the everywhere laconic style, some questioning thoughts. His conclusions are usually ambivalent, and indeed ambiguity characterizes his attitudes in other spheres as well...So -- pro or anti surfing in possibly lethal situations? Pro or anti teenage drug use? Pro or anti the outer reaches of sexual experimentation? Winton offers a sphinx-like stare, and his final position on all these issues remains a fascinating, but to the last undivulged, secret."
Tom Sutcliffe, in an article about surprises in the world of the arts in 2008, is amazed that the Winton's book didn't make the Booker long list.
According to Nielsen BookScan, Breath sold 126,000 copies in Australia in 2008.

Short Notices

"Meeting in the aisle" weblog: "I am the first to admit I am not a member of the Tim Winton Fan Club, though I do read his stuff and even like it when I do and seem to tear through them with alarming speed for someone who tries desperately to make books last longer. The four hours it took me to make it from cover to cover for this book is a case in point - I still had 7 HOURS on a bus to go -- and would have loved to have taken longer. I think I read Winton's books so quickly because I am one, in a sense." I'm not sure how that works.
"Words and Flavours weblog: "Can breathing be more than a requirement for life and become an addiction? In Breath, Tim Winton plays on our attachment to that fundamental action to explore his characters' addictions to the extreme and the dangerous."
The novel made "Seth's Notable List" for 2008: "The more time that goes by since my reading this book -- back in July-- the more I realize that it's really staying with me."

Review of The Turning

The "into the quiet" weblog: "The Turning is a mind-blowing read. Truly. It's actually a collection of short stories, but it transcends this form and slowly and strikingly becomes a novel. As soon as I finished it I wanted to read it again."

Review of An Open Swimmer

"Tall in the land of stories" weblog: "Winton's style is sparse, and his prose stripped, pared, bordering on brutal. Language and words serve inadequately his task of bringing to paper the feelings and emotions of people, the sweeping grandeur and irresistible, immutable forces of nature. The land he lives in, the world his characters inhabit, is ancient, an overpoweringly forceful existence that pre-dates man. Perhaps, in a primordial land, about an ancient earth, one can only speak in stunted words, half-sentences, broken thoughts. Perhaps, with those long-buried memories of humans at the mercy of the elements, the half-remembered/half-forgotten terrors of existence haunting like the distant sounds of the sea, one can only write like Tim Winton. His humour is sardonic, and often oblique. In his world, in our world, emotions are simple."

Review of Dirt Music

"Flourless chocolate cake" weblog: "Unlike Cloud Street, which is difficult to engage in initially, Dirt Music is easy to immerse yourself into immediately...Personally I am not a great fan of metaphorical writing and tend to prefer a rollicking read. Winton provides both in this novel. While the plot was thin in some spots, this did not take away any of the suspense and I found that I did not want to put it down."

Film Adaptation of Dirt Music

The current rumour is that Russell Crowe will replace Heath Ledger in the cast. The Internet Movie DataBase still has Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz signed up.
The director, Phillip Noyce, has told "The Australian" newspaper that production won't start until at least 2010. Something to do with a certain Baz Luhrmann film hogging all the Outback air it seems.


Watching the Climbers on the Mountain by Alex Miller, 1988
(Pan 1988 edition)
Cover design: Deborah Brash. Cover illustration: Gus Cohen.

Alexandra Adornetto Interview

As the third book in her Strangest Adventures series, Von Gobstopper's Arcade, is about to be published Alexandra Adornetto is interviewed in "The Courier-Mail" by Amanda Horswill. (You may recall that Adornetto received a two-book contract from HarperCollins a few years back when she was only 13.)

"Literature has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I can't think back before a time that I didn't love writing and reading. When I was really young my mother would read poems to me. I loved Edgar Allan Poe - I am sure I didn't understand it but I loved it. Then I went on to write poems and short stories. On holidays I would just write about anything and describe it - like a tree if that was all I could find.

"I never thought about writing a novel until I was 13 and that happened by chance. I was on school holidays and I was bored and I thought I just wanted to do something to occupy myself, instead of asking 'What can I do mum, entertain me'.

"I started and it really just took over, and I realised, 'Wow, this is an amazing experience'. I loved doing it."

Best Books of the Year 2008 #13 - International Herald Tribune

We're just about through the full set of Best Books of 2008 now. There might be a few dribbling in a bit later: I seem to recall that Locus releases its list of best sf and fantasy in Fenruary or March each year. So this list from the "International Herald Tribune" will be the last for a while, for which you'll probably be eternally grateful. The list includes the following:

THE BOAT. By Nam Le. (Knopf, $22.95.) In the opening story of Le's first collection, a blocked writer succumbs to the easy temptations of "ethnic lit."
BREATH. By Tim Winton. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23.) Surfing offers this darkly exhilarating novel's protagonist an escape from a drab Australian town.
DIARY OF A BAD YEAR. By J. M. Coet­zee. (Viking, $24.95.) 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. (Knopf, $25.) 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. (Norton, $25.95.) 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. (Harper/HarperCollins, $26.95.) With a polemicist's vision and a scholar's patience, Greer sets out to rescue Ann Hathaway from layers of biographical fantasy.

Poem: After Many Years by Henry Kendall

The song that once I dreamed about,
   The tender, touching thing,
As radiant as the rose without --
   The love of wind and wing --
The perfect verses, to the tune
   Of woodland music set,
As beautiful as afternoon,
   Remain unwritten yet.

It is too late to write them now --
   The ancient fire is cold;
No ardent lights illume the brow,
   As in the days of old.
I cannot dream the dream again;
   But when the happy birds
Are singing in the sunny rain,
   I think I hear its words.

I think I hear the echo still
   Of long-forgotten tones,
When evening winds are on the hill
   And sunset fires the cones;
But only in the hours supreme,
   With songs of land and sea,
The lyrics of the leaf and stream,
   This echo comes to me.

No longer doth the earth reveal
   Her gracious green and gold;
I sit where youth was once, and feel
   That I am growing old.
The lustre from the face of things
   Is wearing all away;
Like one who halts with tired wings,
   I rest and muse to-day.

There is a river in the range
   I love to think about;
Perhaps the searching feet of change
   Have never found it out.
Ah! oftentimes I used to look
   Upon its banks, and long
To steal the beauty of that brook
   And put it in a song.

I wonder if the slopes of moss,
   In dreams so dear to me --
The falls of flower, and flower-like floss --
   Are as they used to be!
I wonder if the waterfalls,
   The singers far and fair,
That gleamed between the wet, green walls,
   Are still the marvels there!

Ah! let me hope that in that place
   The old familiar things
To which I turn a wistful face
   Have never taken wings.
Let me retain the fancy still
   That, past the lordly range,
There always shines, in folds of hill,
   One spot secure from change!

I trust that yet the tender screen
   That shades a certain nook,
Remains, with all its gold and green,
   The glory of the brook.
It hides a secret to the birds
   And waters only known:
The letters of two lovely words --
   A poem on a stone.

Perhaps the lady of the past
   Upon these lines may light,
The purest verses, and the last
   That I may ever write.
She need not fear a word of blame --
   Her tale the flowers keep --
The wind that heard me breathe her name
   Has been for years asleep.

But in the night, and when the rain
   The troubled torrent fills,
I often think I see again
   The river in the hills;
And when the day is very near,
   And birds are on the wing,
My spirit fancies it can hear
   The song I cannot sing.

First published in The Bulletin, 9 July 1898

Peter Carey Watch #10

Review of True History of the Kelly Gang

Lubna Ahmed on the "Wooden Trunk" weblog: "Contrary to the title, the story is a work of fiction on Ned Kelly's life and his rise (or is it fall?) to becoming an outlaw. Told in first person by the leader of the Kelly Gang, the story starts with his childhood and family history and moves on to his later years. The book is divided in 13 sections, called parcels, each with a small summary of its contents, giving it a very authentic air. So much so that I had to keep reading the actual version of the incidents and remind myself that it is fiction, not biography that I am reading."

Review of My Life as a Fake

"Mindful Pleasures" weblog: "Carey's My Life As A Fake is surprisingly good, considering the lukewarm-at-best reviews it received upon publication. It's a very enjoyable, original, quite clever literary novel--perhaps too clever for its own good, since it apparently flew over the heads of most reviewers. They failed to appreciate Carey's deliberate, often subtle, sometimes intertextual, provocations of disbelief, his many signals that the text we're reading is, like all the other narratives and texts it contains, a 'fake,' a fiction the validity of which must be questioned and the motives of its teller examined. It's a delicious book, delightful, maybe the most purely enjoyable thing Carey has yet written."


In a review of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, Prof Mike compares the book to Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang: "Perhaps most striking is McCarthy's use of nineteenth century vernacular. In this sense it is slightly redolent of Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang (or should it be the other way round?)."
Winnipeg's "Uptown Magazine" gets a bit over-stretched in attempting a linking phrase: "And speaking of Nobel Prize winners, Peter Carey never disappoints. Latest proof: His Illegal Self (Random House Canada), a novel concerning a maternal love story between the child of domestic terrorists and an unwilling nursemaid."
Well before he left Bacchus Marsh to become the writer that he is today, Peter Carey was mentioned in "The Adventure of Black Peter", a Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle: "In this memorable year '95, a curious and incongruous succession of cases had engaged his attention, ranging from his famous investigation of the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca--an inquiry which was carried out by him at the express desire of His Holiness the Pope--down to his arrest of Wilson, the notorious canary-trainer, which removed a plague-spot from the East End of London. Close on the heels of these two famous cases came the tragedy of Woodman's Lee, and the very obscure circumstances which surrounded the death of Captain Peter Carey. No record of the doings of Mr. Sherlock Holmes would be complete which did not include some account of this very unusual affair."
Peter Carey will be appearing at the New York State Writers Institute on April 7th.
Scotland's national opera company will be performing a number of new operas this year, one of which will be titled "Happy Story" written by David Fennessy and Nicholas Bone, and based on a short story by Peter Carey.
The Australian National Portrait Gallery has made available Peter Carey in Kelly Country (2000) by Bruce Armstrong.

Soul Driver

Kathleen Noon, in the "Courier-Mail" takes up the idea of an Australian Poet Laureate, citing the fact that Britain, USA, Canada and New Zealand all have such a position, but that we do not. I threw together some thoughts on this topic back in the middle of 2006.

Small independent publishers can find a useful niche market, as this piece, by Victoria Laurie in "The Australian", about indigenous publisher Magabala, shows.

Australian novelist, K.A. Bedford, has been nominated for the Philip K. Dick award for his novel Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait - great title. This award "was conceived by Thomas M. Disch to honor the memory of Philip K. Dick by rewarding the best paperback original SF book of the year (since so much of Philip K. Dick's work was published in that format)." It has been awarded since 1983.

Pavlov's Cat has a look at the ratio of male to female contributors in a number of Australian literary magazines, and finds Quadrant especially remiss.

On the AustCrimeFiction weblog, Karen lists the television crime programs that are either on their way for 2009, or expected to be screened in the UK this year. Of particular interest is "Three Acts of Murder (ABC): Telemovie based on the case of a serial killer who copied a 'perfect murder' he read about in a novel by Bony creator Arthur Upfield." This was the murder mentioned in this reprint.

I'm still not sure if we can claim The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga as an Australian novel, but the book is one of the contenders in the 2009 Tournament of Books.

D.M. Cornish has made the Sf and Fantasy shortlist for the Cybils Award 2008 - these are subtitled "the children's and young adult bloggers' literary awards".

Combined Reviews: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

the_slap.jpg Reviews of The Slap
Christos Tsiolkas
Allen & Unwin

From the publisher's page
At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own.

This event has a shocking ricochet effect on a group of people, mostly friends, who are directly or indirectly influenced by the event. In this remarkable novel, Christos Tsiolkas turns his unflinching and all-seeing eye onto that which connects us all: the modern family and domestic life in the twenty-first century. The Slap is told from the points of view of eight people who were present at the barbecue. The slap and its consequences force them all to question their own families and the way they live, their expectations, beliefs and desires.

What unfolds is a powerful, haunting novel about love, sex and marriage, parenting and children, and the fury and intensity - all the passions and conflicting beliefs - that family can arouse. In its clear-eyed and forensic dissection of the ever-growing middle class and its aspirations and fears, The Slap is also a poignant, provocative novel about the nature of loyalty and happiness, compromise and

James Ley's review of the novel in "Australian Book Review" (not available on the web) is titled "A furious moralist" and Ley bases his review on his explanation of Tsiolkas's political stance: "Tsiolkas considers himself a man of the left, but is impatient with what he sees as the complacency, prim hypocrisy and ineffectual nature of his own side of politics. Much of the energy of his writing is generated by the friction between a frustrated idealism of the left, which sets itself against inequality and exploitation and prejudice, and a tough-minded realism that wants to insist upon the regressive impulses that perpetuate these social evils. More than any other contemporary Australian novelist, he has a powerful sense of humankind's capacity for hatred. His fiction acknowledges its primal allure, its negative validation; his characters often experience a surge of excitement when they allow themselves to think a vicious or bigoted thought...The Slap, a long novel, contains some ragged writing, but its multiple perspectives work together to illuminate the difficulties of the issues it raises, and its length is justified by the breathing space it permits its characters." Ley concludes that this is "an engaging and stimulating book".
Venero Armanno in "The Australian": "Tsiolkas's book will remind many readers of the different forms of violence they might have experienced in growing up: from too-rough discipline in the home, to the bloody battlefields that sports matches can turn into, to the corporal punishment that used to be a mainstay of school discipline...One of the greatest problems faced by a writer attempting such a bold multi-voiced narrative is that so many distinct points of view can, in the end, total a point of view that is nothing at all. The Slap manages to achieve the opposite. Tsiolkas's gallery of characters encompasses not only what Australia is in the early 21st century, but also explores the roots of this latest generation, found back in the 20th. His book is distinctly Australian: from the idiom to the blended families to the multi-multi-multicultural lives of its protagonists."
Gerard Windsor in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "In the first 37 pages of The Slap we're introduced to 31 active characters. In Tolstoy we'd have the chamberlain announcing 'Prince and Princess Oblonsky, Miss Natasha Rostov' and so on as they arrive at the ball. Christos Tsiolkas has his characters swarming through an open front door to a suburban Melbourne barbecue. This loading up is a bit of a scramble, a bit confusing, even a bit flat but once everyone's on board the novel's voyage is a great trip...Tsiolkas made his name as a wild man of Australian fiction but, for all its swearing and bad behaviour, The Slap is a strikingly tender book. No character, not even the brat, is written off. Rapprochement and forgiveness are the abiding subjects of the novel and you might say the author is an exemplar to all his characters. His psychological acumen and sympathy extend liberally across the range of his cast, over women as generously as men."
Genevieve Tucker on the "reeling and writhing" weblog: "The interesting thing about this book was its effortless blend of well-observed local detail ("I shot a man in Vermont, just to watch him die"), with the hyper-realism common to soap opera, but rarely well managed in novel form. Like the folks who wrote the end of Mullet, Tsiolkas knows this story has to be bigger than real life, soap without the bubbles: dirt, blood and a few broken teeth left in the bath when it's emptied. Yes, some silly things happen: but they do not have to be believable to make the book move and live and have its being, and his control of all threads is mesmerising - he never lets go. I don't think I've really explained what I mean there, but let it be."

Short notices
Scott Whitmont on the "Boomerang Books" weblog: "The language issue aside, The Slap works. It would not be inappropriate to describe it as a contemporary Australian masterpiece, reminiscent of Elliot Perlman's Seven Types of Ambiguity."
"A Novel Approach" weblog: "Tsiolkas truly is one of the best novelists this country has at the moment. His ability to be pitch-perfect on so many topics and ideas is astounding, and whether this is because he has such a unique background, or because he's just has an amazing imagination is not important. He manages to create characters that are real, believable, and above all, sympathetic. Each and every chapter, you totally understand what and why these people are thinking, and each truly believes they are totally justified in their actions. And while each reader will take their own side of the debate, this novel touches a part of Australian culture that is often skimmed over."
"Jennysreadingblog": "The title of this book is very apt. It hits you in the face with a sharp sting that seems to linger for days afterwards."

"The Book Show" on ABC Radio National.
"Readings" weblog with Belinda Monypenny and Jo Case.
"SlowTV" with Sophie Cunningham.

Helen Garner Watch #7

Reviews of The Spare Room

"Publisher's Weekly": "Garner (Monkey Grip) employs her signature realism in this stunted novel about the infuriating and eye-opening experience of caring for a terminally ill loved one."
Madeleine Keane, who is literary editor of "The Sunday Independent" chose the book as one of her books of the year: "The Spare Room by Helen Garner (Cangonate) was an exquisitely-crafted novel which dealt with death -- and the indignities and injustices of cancer -- delicately and unflinchingly with humour and humanity. An overlooked gem."
Natasha on "The Book Crowd" weblog: "I read this book in one night, do I need to say anymore?...I loved this book, the emotions and frustrations seemed quite real, it was a brilliant read that opened my mind to new ways of thinking, living, feeling and understanding."
Harriet Klausner on the "Genre Go Round" weblog: "Although Helen's eternal squabbling and lecturing become irritating as she either needs to support her friend's dying wishes, which centers on miracle treatments that probably will fail or toss her out, readers will relish this poignant character study as the reactions to how to behave when pending death seems shortly."
Keri on the "bloody_keri" weblog: "This is a beautiful, haunting novel that feels like a rare jewel in that way some books do. It's too brief, and that's the first compliment I give it, a rare one given the simple yet devastating subject matter: a woman caring for a friend who is dying in the last stages of cancer. Not something I would normally want to dig into for too long and generally, the more abbreviated the better. Death is easy; the process of dying is one of those unspeakable things; the enormous white elephant in the room. Many writers have touched it, some with more success than others, but I don't think any book I've read on the subject captures the jarring mix of comedy, love and grief this one does."
Simon Savidge on the "Savidge Reads" weblog: "Well to say that I agree with all the praise from the other book bloggers have been giving this would be an understatement, in fact to say that I was blown away by it would be a complete understatement. Like many others I don't know how this didn't get onto the Man Booker long or short list." Simon also prints both the UK hardback and paperback covers for this book. The hardback is a realistic interpretation of the Text Publishing cover but the paperback has taken a different tack, one that I think is rather boring. As Simon asks, "why have they given it a new cover that simply doesn't make sense for a spare room and I can't see a single man reading on the tube etc."

Review of The Children's Bach

"The Resident Judge of Port Phillip": "I think that brevity is an intrinsic feature of this book. Like a small Bach piece, it is short and self contained, simple and yet complex. It takes a slice of life in 1980s Melbourne, and in this regard, Garner's keen observations almost provide an ethnographic (and now historical!) artefact...This is not the stuff of crashing drama: it's lived-in life, with fallible and flawed human people, mess, and making do."

Review of The Feel of Steel

Anne-Marie on the "Archives Tragic" weblog: "Helen Garner's essay collection The Feel of Steel has been republished by Picador this year and it brings forth again her lovely piece 'Woman in a green mantle'. Garner's work holds appeal for archives tragics in something like the way that Janet Malcolm's does. Wide and acute observation is bound to bring out, somewhere along the line, insights about the records and record-creation parts of our lives."


Video of the author being interviewed by Richard Fidler, on "The Conversation Hour", ABC Radio, dated 8 December 2008.


Suse recounts an anecdote from a friend about the origins of a character's name in Monkey Grip.

Australian Bookcovers #144 - The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard


The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard, 1980
(King Penguin 1983 edition)
Cover illustration by Renate Belina
[Yes, the main image is a bit on an angle - it's not just you. That was the way it was printed, but I do need to adjust it a little.]

Clive James Watch #11

Reviews of Opal Sunset: Selected Poems, 1958-2008

Benjamin Lytal in "The LA Times": "Opal Sunset contains poems of compact grace and steady, modest emotion. James' lines, anchored by memorable phrases and obviously the production of a serious verbal talent, more than fulfill James' meager definition of poetry, that it be sayable."

Articles by James

What we need is thinking action heroes, but less swearing.
Under the title "Terror Chic", James looks at a film adaptation of the events surrounding the Baader Meinhof terrorists in Germany in the mid-late 70s. Trouble is, he hasn't seen the film. This is never a good idea. He also criticises Spielberg's film Schindler's List as it "left some of us wondering just how useful a contribution it was, to make a movie about how some of the Jews had survived, when the real story was about all the Jews who hadn't": thereby criticising a film for what it isn't, rather than commenting on what it is. Two major critical faults in the one essay, which is a bit disappointing. I'm afraid there might be more, but I had to stop there.
In "World famous. Within our borders" James concludes that there "is no Australian national identity crisis and never has been."
And, in an essay that I can relate to, he ponders "The brilliance of creative chaos". Though, in my case, it's not too brilliant and not very creative. I just make do with the chaos.

Poetry by James

"The Guardian" published the author's poem "Under the Jacarandas".
And "The New Yorker" has made "Signing Ceremony" available.


James picks his best books of the year for the "Times Literary Supplement".
"The New York Times" chose Opal Sunset as one of its best books of the year for 2008.
The blogger on the "Nigel Beale Nota Bene Books" weblog, posts six fun things about Clive James.
Lastly, be aware that Revolt of the Pendulum, the next instalment in James's multi-volume autobiography, will be out in July 2009.

Katherine Johnson Interview

Katherine Johnson's first novel, Pescador's Wake, has just been published by HarperCollins. It concerns Patagonian toothfish and a real-life chase of an illegal fishing boat in the treacherous high seas near Antarctica. The author is interviewed in "The Courier-Mail" by Fiona Purdun.

"The conditions are so extreme, with the storms and icebergs, the Southern Ocean is one of the most dangerous spots in the world," she says.

"It's like another world down there and people are risking their lives for the sake of fishing. I was wondering what personal dramas prompted them and this played on my mind.

"What motivates Australians to go to such lengths to protect the seas and be prepared to take on such danger? What's it like to be on board one of these boats, what's it like to be back on shore.

"It's such a dangerous way of making a living especially when many people on these illegal vessels are poorly paid."

Johnson looked over an apprehended fishing boat,Taruman, which was docked at Hobart as part of her research. She also interviewed long-time fisherman Martin Exel because even though it is a fictional story she "felt an obligation to make sure it was credible and accurate with what it's like to fish on the Southern Ocean".

Poem: An Encouragement to Literature by Silas Snell (Edward Dyson)

Premier Murray explains that the Vic. Government has appointed a new hangman. The payment he receives is 2s. a day as a retaining fee and £3 for an execution. The man is known as plain "Smith of Victoria," but his real identity is kept dark.

Who would not be a hangman fine,
   A hero of the choking rope?
   The job extends a wider scope
Than offers in another line
For thought profound and dreams divine.

The hangman whiles his hours away
   'Twixt catting backs and breaking necks,
   With no grim cares his soul to vex;
For though he have no man to flay
He gaily draws two bob a day.

From hangings and from floggings he
   Can turn, and sweet occasion find
   To feed his eye, improve his mind --
How glad would any poet be,
Endowed with Smith's retaining fee!

But stay! M.'sP. have striven with
   A hope to smooth the lot austere
   That waits on men of letters here;
A strong suspicion whispereth --
An Austral bard is Mr. Smith!

He coils the rope, the cat resigns;
   And now the bard has ample time
   To build anew the lofty rhyme,
Well knowing (though the press declines)
That men will hang upon his lines.

First published in The Bulletin, 4 March 1909

Brilliant Disguise

My wife often looks at the piles of books all round the house and wonders - in a vociferant tone - why we don't actually get rid of some of them. Now, thanks to Peter Robins I have the answer.

Jonathan Strahan's anthology The Best SF and Fantasy of the Year Vol. 3 includes stories by Margo Lanagan and Greg Egan.

Australian authors Pamela Freeman and Sean Williams, back in December 2008, appeared on a Bookgeeks SF and Fantasy panel answering a few questions inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law of Prediction: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".

In "The Guardian", Eloise Millar writes about Letty Fox: Her Luck by Christina Stead, and states: "Christina Stead's tale of high society and low morals is difficult to recommend, but underlines the variety of Virago Modern Classics". According to "The Courier-Mail", there actually are differences between all-male book clubs, and the other, mostly-female ones. Who knew?

YellowMonkey, "Yellow" to his mates, runs his own cricket blog and keeps an eye peeled for sloppy cricket writing. He was particularly annoyed by Miller's Luck by Roland Perry.

The Popular Penguin series seems to have done very well here in Australia, enough to convince sceptical Penguin executives in the UK to launch the idea there later in 2009. Three penguins for the price of a one normal trade paperback? Bit of a no-brainer I would have thought.

Max Barry sold the film rights to his novel Jennifer Government to Warner Bros. for Steve Soderbergh and George Clooney. The deal didn't work out. But that wasn't why he felt compelled to write an open letter to the film production company stating that the next time they come calling some of the clauses in the contract will be firmly struck out.

Best Books of the Year 2008 #12 - Various Again Again

I'd guess it's going to be a while before these "Best of the Year" lists finish. Some sites even wait until a month of so into the new year before making their choices - shock, horror.

In "The Independent", Susie Boyt picks The Spare Room by Helen Garner.

"The Washington Post" gave a nod to Breath by Tim Winton, Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee, and His Illegal Self by Peter Carey.

Clive James provides his choices for the "Times Literary Supplement".

And the "HorrorScope" weblog gave its choice of the best Australian Dark Fiction of the year.

The Glugs of Gosh by C.J. Dennis

In case you missed it the first time around, The Glugs of Gosh radio program on "The Book Show", featuring your present interlocutor, was replayed on ABC Radio this morning. Listen and be amazed at how someone, who thinks he might know a little bit about a subject, gets hopelessly lost, and is saved only by the good graces of the program presenter and editors.

Combined Reviews: The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon

trout_opera.jpg Reviews of The Trout Opera
Matthew Condon
Random House

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2009 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. It was also shortlisted for the 2008 NSW Premier's Literary Award, and the 2008 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards; and longlisted for the 2008 Australia-Asia Literary Award.]

From the publisher's page:

THE TROUT OPERA - more than ten years in the writing - is a stunning epic novel that encompasses twentieth-century Australia. Opening with a Christmas pageant on the banks of the Snowy River in 1906 and ending with the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, it is the story of simple rabbiter and farmhand Wilfred Lampe who, at the end of his long life, is unwittingly swept up into an international spectacle. On the way he discovers a great-niece, the wild and troubled young Aurora, whom he never knew existed, and together they take an unlikely road trip that changes their lives. Wilfred, who has only ever left Dalgety once in almost a hundred years, comes face to face with contemporary Australia, and Aurora, enmeshed in the complex social problems of a modern nation, is taught how to repair her damaged life.

This dazzling story - marvellously broad in its telling and superbly crafted - is about the changing nature of the Australian character, finding the source of human decency in a mad world, history, war, romance, murder, bushfires, drugs, the fragile and resilient nature of the environment and the art of fly fishing. It's the story of a man who has experienced the tumultuous reverberations of Australian history while never moving from his birthplace on the Snowy, and it asks, what constitutes a meaningful life?

John Birmingham in "The Brisbane Times": "But I'm afraid that this year the hovercraft and the Bunnies will just have to remain unbuffed. Because this year you'll be buying Matty Condon's epic tome, The Trout Opera. Buy it for yourself, buy it for your friends or buy it for your difficult auntie but get off your worthless butt and buy it because this sucker is The Great Australian Novel. Ten years in the writing, beautifully realised, every goddamned page is a smack upside the head to the rest of us loser writers who couldn't hope to string together a single phrase with the pure bred artistry that Condon lavishes over nigh on 600 pages."
Carmel Bird in "The Age": "This is a grand novel with the scope of opera. The structure is seductive, shifting confidently from character to character, from one age to another, back and forth as the stories reveal themselves, as the lives move in tandem, cross, head for focal points, rise and fall."
Louise Toma on the "M/C Reviews" website: "A hundred years is a short time in the general spectrum of the cosmos. Heck, 250-years have gone by and Australia is still considered one of the youngest countries around, and mocked relentlessly for its lack of history by the whole of Europe. If you're a person, however, one-hundred years is a very, very long time; longer than most people expect to live. A person that old would have had an amazing life, all the wonderful development they would have witnessed, all the grand adventures they would have had. Then again, what makes a life worth living and how much experience can you cram in hundred, twenty-six or fifty-two years? When is the time to finish your life? When is the time to start over? Matthew Condon takes on some of the big questions and a large slice of Australian history in his very own opus, The Trout Opera."
Murray Waldren in the "NZ Listener": "Matthew Condon has earned his literary chops the hard way via the slog of daily journalism. In the past 20 years, he has published seven novels, a children's book and an exposé of the golf tragic's obsessions...The Trout Opera is his triumphant retort to the mockers, cover-blurbed by his friend Peter Carey as being 'sensual, sweet, creepy ... a triumph'. It's easy to see why Carey was hooked: The Trout Opera inhabits a parallel universe to his own rambunctious Illywacker, both sprawling overviews written from passionate affection and with a wry eye but also in an impatience of frustration...This is a novel filled with loss, grief and the quest for redemption, yet it sheds a corollary light on how resilient the human heart is. From its hallucinatory opening passage, where two whisky-supping high court judges on a hotel veranda are mesmerised by a giant trout walking across a bridge (a young Lampe in homemade costume), to its slightly OTT plot-tying Olympian extravaganza, it is a saga of extravagant aspiration."

Short notices
"LiteraryMinded" weblog: "The novel honours simplicity, substance, and peace, and laments the loss of closeness in a moment of quiet. An insightful, brilliant Australian novel, destined to become a classic."
"ANZLitLovers LitBlog": "The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon - this is a brilliant book and I don't understand why it wasn't nominated for the MF shortlist. It has an engaging plot, memorable characters and a vivid Australian setting, bringing to life the Snowy River in a moving portrait of Australian country life."

In his own words
"On writing The Trout Opera" by Matthew Condon

Angela Meyer on the "LiteraryMinded" weblog.
"The Book Show" on ABC Radio National.
Rosemary Sorenson in "The Australian".

Eddie Campbell Interview

Comics writer and artist Eddie Campbell, who now lives in Australia, is interviewed by Tom Spurgeon on "The Comics Reporter" website.

TOM SPURGEON: I don't think it fully registered with me before, but you have a massive collection of your autobiographical work coming out in 2009. I always thought that this was a natural for a book at some point and I look forward to it with a not insignificant smile on my face. Is there a reason this seemed attractive to you right now?
EDDIE CAMPBELL: The evolution of our medium has made this the right time. If you think back, at first we'd publish serial comics because that was what the economics permitted (all those "mini" and "maxi" series). Then we would gather the material into a book. The medium developed to the stage where a publisher could pay an author an advance to take himself away and make the whole book before showing any of it. We now find ourselves at an even more advanced stage, where several of a veteran author's books are gathered into a huge compendium. Thus Will Eisner's Life in Pictures, which collected his various books that had an autobiographical element, Gaiman's Absolute Sandman, Gilbert Hernandez' Palomar, etc.
Campbell is probably best known as the artist on the graphic novel From Hell, which was written by Alan Moore.

2008 ACT Book of the Year Award Winner

I was late in posting about this award in December (after the shortlist had been released in November), and now I find myself lagging behind again as the winner was announced in December - the day after I published the shortlist as it happened: sometimes you just can't win.

The 2008 ACT Book of the Year was Walking the Camino: a modern pilgrimage to Santiago by Tony Kevin. Also announced in the press release cited above were four ACT Poetry Prizes.

Judith Wright Prize for a published collection by an Australian poet
Winner: Barry Hill (VIC) - Necessity - Poems 1996-2006 (soi3 modern poets, an imprint of papertiger media inc)
Highly Commended:
J S Harry (NSW) - Not Finding Wittgenstein (Giramondo Poets)
Meredith Wattison (NSW) - Basket of Sunlight (Puncher and Wattmann)
Petra White (VIC) - The Incoming Tide (John Leonard Press)
Elizabeth Campbell (VIC) - Letters to the Tremulous Hand (John Leonard Press)
Brendan Ryan (VIC) - A paddock in his head (Five Islands Press)

Alec Bolton Prize for an unpublished manuscript by an Australian poet
Dr David Musgrave (NSW) - "Phantom Limb"
Highly Commended:
Cate Kennedy (VIC) - "The Taste of River Water"
Jean Kent (NSW) - "Travelling with the Wrong Phrase Books"
Carolyn Leach-Paholski (VIC) - "The Sorrow Bird"
Tracy Ryan (WA) - "The Argument"

Rosemary Dobson Prize for an unpublished poem by an Australian poet
Andy Jackson (VIC) - "Secessionist"
Anna Buck (NSW) - "A Council House in Heaven"
Paul Cliff (ACT) - "Snake-Man (La Perouse)"
Chris Andrews (VIC) - "By Accident"
Jennifer Compton (VIC) - "Approaching Firenze"
John De Laine (SA) - "Field Mouse"
Joan Kerr (VIC) - "Gobray, bunhan bunahan, khen"
Dr Edward Livings (VIC) - "Tawny Frogmouth"
Nathan Shepherdson (QLD) - "unlike"

David Campbell Prize for an unpublished poem by an ACT poet
Dr Danijela Kambaskovic-Sawers - "A Migrant Writer on a Bus (Thinking of Kundera)"
Dr Elizabeth Lawson - "On the Undoing of Buttons"
Dr Paul Magee - "Like words laid down in sleep"
Lesley Lebkowicz - "The Spy, Volodya Petrov, leaves his home..."
Moya Pacey - "The Wardrobe"
Geoff Page - "Dancing in a Paper Hat"
Maggie Shapley - "Changdeokgung"

Tom Keneally Watch #7

Reviews of Searching for Schindler

Dwight Garner in "The New York Times": "The book was published as fiction, Mr. Keneally writes, because: 'I felt that in Schindler I had written as a novelist, with a novelist's narrative pace and graphicness, though not in the sense of a fictionalizer. If three or four people told me that Schindler had more or less said certain things, I certainly put them in quotation marks, but otherwise the manuscript was largely innocent of dialogue.' He adds: 'For both commercial reasons and reasons of passion, I didn't want this book stuck in that section against the back wall of most American bookstores labeled JUDAICA.'"
Laura L. Hutchison in "The Free-Lance Star" considers the book "one to put on your 'list'".
"Lighthouse Patriot Journal": "you enjoyed the original story, you will also enjoy this follow up. Stephen Spielberg stated that he would have added film time if Keneally had written this book before the film was created."


Nicholas Wroe in "The Guardian".

Keneally has written about relations between Aboriginal and white settlers in Australia as well as European dealings with white Australia. He has produced novels and non-fiction books about the American civil war and the Irish diaspora. He has written about the fight for independence in Eritrea and repeatedly circled the events and implications of the second world war.

It is a fascination he traces back to childhood. "The town where I grew up had two Aboriginal settlements. Questions of the balance between races and, when two races don't get on particularly well, how they behave towards each other were everywhere. This was wartime, and the notion that Catholics couldn't be trusted if it came to the crunch, because they would side with the Pope not the Queen, was very strong. It is essentially the same rhetoric that is currently used against Muslims, and even at the time that fascinated me as much as it scared and affronted me. This stuff has always been my bag. It's what I'm interested in."


The DVDTimes website from the UK provides a review of The Devil's Playground, a film by Fred Schepisi that featured Keneally in an acting role.
The same website reviews the film adaptation of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.
The National Library of Australia has recently acquired an extensive selection of Tom Keneally's papers.

Australian Bookcovers #143 - The Orchard Thieves by Elizabeth Jolley


The Orchard Thieves by Elizabeth Jolley, 1995
(Viking 1995 edition)
Jacket illustration by Rosanna Vecchio

Richard Flanagan Watch #2

Reviews of Wanting

"Publisher's Weekly": "The interlaced stories focus on conquering the yearning that exists both in the Aboriginals and the noble English gentlemen, and though Flanagan has a tendency to hammer home his ideas, his prose is strong and precise, and the depiction of desire's effects is sublime."
[Note: the novel won't be released in the USA until May.]
Magdalena Ball on The Compulsive Reader website: "One of the key objections I had to Richard Flanagan's last novel, The Unknown Terrorist was that it put the ideology first: making a political point at the expense of the characters and the plot. This isn't at all the case in Wanting. Indeed, in Wanting, as in Gould's Book of Fish, the whole notion of historical fact becomes subservient to the greater truth -- that of human nature -- the most fundamental of emotional responses and how they underpin the making of history. Wanting is a novel that traces the trajectory of desire...Like good poetry, the novel is full of correspondences, connections, and vivid imagery."
Sandra Hogan on the "M/C Reviews" website: "Wanting is a sad, vivid book in which Flanagan expresses his very strong feelings about the painfulness and uncertainty of life through powerful, compact prose. This artfully constructed novel, with its variety of astonishing characters and stories, is introduced deftly in short, contrasting chapters, bringing the reader back in small climaxes to the central theme of conflict between reason and wanting. A good deal of craft has gone into this book with its clear, spare writing style and --ironically, given the theme -- deep, but controlled emotions."

Other mentions of the novel

ABC television gardening legend Peter Cundall launched the novel in Launceston, Tasmania.

Screenplay for Australia

A lot of coverage has been given to Baz Luhrmann's new film Australia but the bulk of it has concerned itself with Nicole Kidman and her acting abilities. Rarely has there been much in the way of critical thought applied to the screenplay. In "The Australian" David Stratton states: "With considerable help from computer-generated material, Luhrmann creates a genuinely spectacular saga with this often impressive film; a cattle stampede towards a precipice and a Japanese bombing attack on Darwin are among the highlights. Still, given the status of his distinguished collaborators on the film's screenplay -- Ronald Harwood, Richard Flanagan and Stuart Beattie -- it's surprising so many cliches have found their way into the story. Given Luhrmann's fondness for old movies and popular songs, it's not surprising he manages to make frequent reference to The Wizard of Oz (which was released in 1939) and its famous song, 'Over the Rainbow', unlikely as this channelling may seem at first."

Review of The Sound of One Hand Clapping

kimbofo listed this novel as one of her favourites of 2008. She reviewed the book back in March: "The Sound of One Hand Clapping is a book about new beginnings that shatters the myth of Australia as the 'lucky country'. It does not shy away from presenting white Australians as uncouth, uncultured and racist at a period in the country's history at which immigration was running at an all-time high. For that reason alone, it is a refreshing -- and challenging -- read."


Sally Warhaft interviews the author on Slow TV.
Ramona Koval spoke to Flanagan on "The Book Show" on ABC Radio National in November.

2009 Age Short Story Competition

Peggy Frew's story, "Home Visit", has won the 2009 Age Short Story competition. Glenys Osborne, won the second prize, for the second year running, for "A House Was Built Around You While You Slept" and Bronwyn Mehan won third prize for "Frozen Cigarettes". The winner was published in the print edition of "The Age" over this past weekend - no sign of it online as yet.

Major Australian Literary Anniversaries in 2009

Births in 1909
Mavis Thorp Clark (d. 1999)
Joyce Dingwell (d. 1997)
Ronald McKie (d. 1991)
Osmar E. White (d. 1991)

Deaths in 1909
Emily Mary Barton (b. 1817)
George Essex Evans (b. 1863)
W.T. Goodge (b. 1862)
Stefan von Kotze (b. 1869)

First Publication in 1909
The Barb of an Arrow by Roy Bridges
Fugitives from Fortune by Ethel Turner
The Golden Treasury of Australian Verse by Bertram Stevens
"The Meeting of Sighs" by John Shaw Neilson
Some Everyday Folk and Dawn by Miles Franklin
"To Sydney" by Louise Mack

Births in 1959
Venero Armanno
Gabrielle Carey
Bill Congreve
Stephen Dedman
Michael Heald
Michael Heyward
Philip Hodgins (d. 1995)
Andy Kissane
Mike Ladd
Sophie Masson
Paddy O'Reilly
Terri-Ann White

Deaths in 1959
Charles Barrett (b. 1879)
Vance Palmer (b. 1885)
Mervyn Skipper (b. 1886)

First Publication in 1959
The Big Fellow by Vance Palmer
The Big Smoke by D'Arcy Niland
The Blue Crane by Ian Mudie
Bony and the Black Virgin by Arthur W. Upfield
The Dame by Carter Brown
The Darkness Outside by George Johnston
The Devil's Advocate by Morris West
"Ghost Wanted: Young, Willing" by Bruce Dawe
"In Midland Where the Trains Go By" by Dorothy Hewett
Lantana Lane by Eleanor Dark
"Late Tutorial" by Vincent Buckley
"Leopard-Skin" by Douglas Stewart
"Man Friday" by A.D. Hope
"Prize-Giving" by Gwen Harwood
Seven Emus by Xavier Herbert
"Suburban Song" by Elizabeth Riddell
Walkabout by James Vance Marshall and Donald Gordon Payne
"Waterfall at Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand" by David Rowbotham
Young Man of Talent by George Turner

Currently Reading


 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 ore 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.


Recently Read


 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.

 Wyatt by Garry Disher
Disher's anti-hero is back after an absence of ten years with a gritty, fast, noirish struggle for survival. All the best aspects of Disher's work are on display here.



 Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
A Young Adult steampunk novel set at the start of an alternate history First World War. Fast-paced, intriguing and totally captivating.



 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Dick's novel of the near future when the difference between human and android is barely discernible. One of the great all-time sf titles.



 American Journeys by Don Watson
Watson journeys into the heart of America, by train and car. There he discovers the best, and the worst, of humanity and society.



 Ghostlines by Nick Gadd
2009 Best First Novel at the Ned Kelly Awards. Murder in the art world involving political intrigue and business corruption in Melbourne.


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