February 2009 Archives

Poem: Rod Quinn by John Le Gay Brereton

How many years, how many years have fled,
   Since in the cool dim parlour sat the three --
   Lawson and I and, lounging easily,
The beaming indolent poet! Then instead
Of labouring weary at the mill, we led
   The careless life of wanderers, frank and free,
   And had the wealth of a new-found world in fee:
How pitiless time gropes on with tireless tread!

A glass was raised, and golden liquor glowed
   When a ray from summer streets came piercing in;
      He drank the sunlight in the gloomy place!
And now I know the magic drink bestowed
   A vital golden splendour on Roderic Quinn,
      Which fumbling fingers of Time will scarce efface.

First published in Swag's Up! by John Le Gay Brereton, 1928

Combined Reviews: The Good Parents by Joan London

good_parents.jpgReviews of The Good Parents
Joan London
Random House

[This novel has been shortlisted for the Best Book award in the South East Asia and the Pacific region of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.]

From the publisher's page:

Maya de Jong, an eighteen-year-old country girl from the West, comes to live in Melbourne and starts an affair with her boss, the enigmatic Maynard Flynn, whose wife is dying of cancer. When Maya's parents, Toni and Jacob, arrive to stay with her, they are told by her housemate that Maya has gone away and no one knows where she is.

As Toni and Jacob wait and search for Maya in Melbourne, everything in their lives is brought into question. They recall the yearning and dreams, the betrayals and choices of their pasts - choices with unexpected and irrevocable consequences.

With Maya's disappearance, the lives of all those close to her come into focus, to reveal the complexity of the ties that bind us to one another, to parents, children, siblings, friends and lovers.

Pacy and enthralling, The Good Parents is at once a vision of contemporary Australia and a story as old as fairytales: that of a runaway girl.


Cath Kenneally doesn't pull any punches in her review of the novel in "The Australian".

London's first novel, Gilgamesh, was published in 2001, short-listed for the Miles Franklin and won the 2002 The Age Book of the Year fiction prize. The Good Parents is better; it ought to win every prize going.

In many novels, one character stands out as being so well-realised you suspect that character is the author. With The Good Parents, you feel that about them all, male or female, young, middle-aged or elderly.

In "The Age", Michael McGirr sees a natural progression from the author's earlier work: "Joan London writes wonderfully about intimacy between strangers...Her new novel, The Good Parents, is full of characters who vanish but not without trace. In this regard, it shares something with her previous book, Gilgamesh, a story in which small town Western Australia is the hub of a world where characters struggle to find their place of belonging...The Good Parents is no less skilful in handling the many shades of loss, the eerie and sometimes petulant presence of the absent. Once again, small town Western Australia is the hub of a moving world...The Good Parents is underwritten by a wealth of human understanding. It knows stuff. It has compassion for people who make choices they don't have to; for families that never set."
Roxana Robinson in "The New York Times": "London, who's Australian, recalls celebrated British stylists -- Elizabeth Bowen, William Trevor -- and another Aussie native, Shirley Hazzard. Like theirs, London's language is so lovely, her tone so gentle, that the sadness of her truths is somehow shocking...London's dark and lovely work is both a novel of ideas and one of emotions. Here are dangerous currents that pulse beyond control, as well as the great intellectual movements that shape our lives."
David Pullar on "PopMatters": "London's style is mostly the issue. She is heavy on description -- even to the point of overload in the early chapters -- yet sparing with metaphor or poetry. As a result what might otherwise have been a languid, dreamy narrative, reminiscent of the pace of rural life, ends up as merely dull. There is simply not enough flair in the writing to make up for the sluggishness of the plot...Unfortunately, the undistinguished prose detracts from the interesting themes London touches on: the generation gap and the challenge of parenthood. The Boomer narrative has been told over and over, but The Good Parents sets out to explore its echoes in the next generation. Every generation has its distinctives and its repetitions of previous groups. By contrasting Maya's story with those of her parents, London draws out these similarities and differences."
Claire Cameron in "The Globe and Mail": "Though it sounds like the plot of a dark mystery or a cryptic crime novel, The Good Parents is a slower book about the restlessness of waiting. Answers start to unravel quietly and elegantly through the characters thoughts and memories...Author Joan London shows how moving to a new place turns a person into a stranger and an outsider. This strangeness can change many things, including the relationship with those you have left behind...London's prose is straightforward and purposeful, which allows space for her sharp observations. She is especially good on how the generations affect each other...Family history, in London's world, does not repeat itself. Instead, it creates a pattern. What you have been taught in childhood always comes back."


Romona Kaval on ABC Radio National's "Book Show".


Judith Ridge remembers Sandy Campbell, "One of the great champions of Australian children's books and their readers".

The Man Booker Prize admininstration people are making some rule changes for submissions. "For clarity, former winners get free entry, former shortlisted authors now have to have been shortlisted within the past five years." This five years had previously been ten.

Sean Williams writes about a story he's been toying with since 1994. It's now to be published as a novel and he has also posted an excerpt. No title as yet, but he does say that the original, Widow of Opportunity, has been discarded.

Jonathan Strahan explains what it's like to be nominated for a major literary award, in this case a Hugo in 2008.

"Adelaide from Adelaide" - cos she's now in Abu Dhabi - posts about "plotting": writing not crime.

Marg, from the "Reading Adventures" weblog, went along to the first Australian Romance Readers Convention and writes about what she found there.

Jennifer Fallon spent a night in hospital hooked up to all sorts of equipment, got little sleep and felt like one of the Borg.

This isn't Australian and doesn't involve any Australian personnel yet, and probably won't - unless they cast Miranda Otto in the lead role - but it does concern a book that I have previously stated is probably as close to my favourite as any other I can think of. The word is that the BBC is in talks to make The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles into a four-hour television mini-series. I've never seen the Pinter-scripted film with Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep, and I'm not sure I'd want to watch this either. I'm funny like that.

Margo Lanagan Watch #2

Reviews of Tender Morsels

Ken on the "Neth Space" weblog: "The underlying reality of humanity lies at the heart of this story. It's a world of overwhelming cruelty interspersed with acts of incredible kindness and everything in between."

Deirdre Baker in "The Toronto Star": "Based on the tale Snow White and Rose Red and a Catalonian bear ritual, this powerfully imaginative, compelling novel explores trauma and desire, transformation and healing. Lanagan's vivid language and masterful use of mythic imagery give it extraordinary depth and beauty."

"BookLoons" weblog: "Though her story begins in darkness and abuse, Margo Lanagan moves it steadily and assuredly into the light, with strong (mainly female) characters, intriguing magics, and beautiful writing. Tender Morsels will stay with you long after you turn the last page."

"The Celebrity Cafe" weblog: "The plot moves like a leaf caught in the river's grasp, sometimes speeding along over white water and other times floating aimlessly. There are bright moments when the course is clear and well written here and there, but the uneven narrative and disconcerting point of view changes make Tender Morsels a thorny story to follow."

Review of Red Spikes

"Needs More Demons?" weblog: "Lanagan isn't one for big dumps of exposition. She demands a willingness to read a few pages before you're quite sure what's going on, and perhaps to re-read as your understanding grows. Her prose and structure are fiercely economical."

Review of short fiction

"Chasing Ray" weblog on "The Goosle": "It's hard to simply recommend "The Goosle" because it is upsetting -- it disturbs as much as it enlightens. But some stories are supposed to scare the crap out of us; some stories are supposed to make us wary for what might come or thankful for what we have."


Lynne Jamneck on Suite101.com:

You deal with a number of dark themes in your latest novel, Tender Morsels, including rape and sexual abuse. How do you respond to those who would object that this is not a book suitable for young readers?

I'd agree that it isn't a book that's suitable for all young readers. I'd agree that it shouldn't be compulsory reading on a school curriculum. However, I think young readers generally have a pretty clear idea what they're ready for and what they can't handle yet, and I'd say, 'How about we put it out there where they can find it, and trust them to walk away from it if it's too much for them?' I would also point out that it's not the best book for adults to read if they're in any kind of fragile state. It's a very intense book; it kicks you around emotionally. You need to be feeling resilient to take on the first part, particularly.

Margo was also a part of my Australian LitBlog Snapshot in December 2008 (the link isn't working for this at present).


"Publisher's Weekly" chose Tender Morsels as one of its best children's books of the year for 2008, stating: "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."

In addition, Tender Morsels appeared on the "best of 2008" or "recommended reading for 2008" lists from the following: "Locus" magazine, "School Library Journal", and Amazon.

In early February 2009, Margo Lanagan was "blogger-in-residence" at the State Library's Reading Victoria program. You can read the introductory post here.

This continued a busy schedule for the author in the early part of 2009 as she had previously appeared as one of the tutors at the 2009 Clarion South writer's workshop in January.

Combined Reviews: The Spare Room by Helen Garner

spare_room.jpg Reviews of The Spare Room
Helen Garner
Text Publishing

[This novel has been shortlisted for the Best Book award in the South East Asia and the Pacific region of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize. In 2008 it won the Victorian Premier's and the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards for Fiction.]

From the publisher's page:

Helen lovingly prepares her spare room for her friend Nicola. She is coming to visit for three weeks, to receive treatment she believes will cure her cancer. From the moment Nicola staggers off the plane, gaunt and hoarse but still somehow grand, Helen becomes her nurse, her guardian angel and her stony judge. The Spare Room tells a story of compassion, humour and rage. The two women -- one sceptical, one stubbornly serene -- negotiate an unmapped path through Nicola's bizarre therapy, stumbling towards the novel's terrible and transcendent finale.

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."
Susie Boyt in "The Financial Times" : "Delivered in an almost conversational tone, this is an unsettling and skilled work that raises important questions about the process of dying and what caring well for the dying requires. Is the etiquette of death yet to be devised - and ought there to be one? We sometimes behave differently with those facing death - perhaps being economical with the truth orplacating at every turn. Maybe something in us alters or we lower our standards when it comes to caring for the terminally ill. Do we create new rules for ourselves - and is this kindness or cowardice? The Spare Room doesn't shirk from such awful enquiries."
Kate Bateman in "The Irish Times": "The book itself is a little beauty, nice to hold with beautiful end-papers and a silk marker to hold your place...A most appealing feature of this novel is the elegance and taut style of the narrative voice as she gives expression to large and small questions - friendship, death, tolerance, truthfulness, and the work of the day. The authentic, down-under voice sustains the work through thoughtful and dialogue sequences."
Neel Mukherjee in "The Times": "Only great fiction demands us to reset our moral compass and look at our value coordinates all over again. The Spare Room achieves this by relentlessly working out the dimensions behind the simple words: 'Death will not be denied. To try is grandiose. It drives madness into the soul. It leaches out virtue. It injects poison into friendship, and makes a mockery of love.'"
Olivia Laing in "The Observer": "How we die and how we stand to be with those who are dying are serious questions, but even at the most painful moments Garner maintains a characteristic lightness of touch, a combination of wit and lyricism that is immensely alluring." She concludes that this is an "extraordinary, exhilarating novel".
Stevie Davies in "The Independent": "In Australia, Helen Garner has a controversial reputation for writing fiction as if it were memoir. This compulsively readable, searing novel narrates the author's own nursing of a close friend through terminal cancer. Author and narrator are called Helen. So is this a fictionalised memoir? Not really. It's a fiction about truth; about witnessing to truth -- and, disturbingly, about enforcing it upon the dying. A hymn to friendship tested to its limits, the novel is also a manifesto and a confession."
In "The Monthly" Robert Dessaix has some problems with how to tackle the new work.
Libby Brooks, in "The Guardian", looks at the attention Helen Garner has received and the perceptions that her latest novel, The Spare Room, is based on her own life. She puts the whole idea into perfect context.

It's a beautiful work: the prose is clean and the probing of the duties of friendship subtle. But I also know that a version of Nicola existed in reality - Helen did have a sick friend who came to stay with her, and subsequently died. But Helen's fictional rendering of these sharp realities has now left her exposed, as interviewers and reviewers hint at something underhand, attempting to drag the story back to where they perceive its origins ought to be.

There is, of course, an obvious transformation that occurs when a book is written as fiction. It distinguishes this writer from Frey, and from Margaret Seltzer and Misha Defonseca, whose memoirs about growing up in gangland Los Angeles and the Warsaw ghetto, respectively, were exposed as fraudulent this month. Offering a story in novel form alerts the reader that they would be wrong to assume events happened that way, because the writer has taken all the liberties of compression and conflation and invention that fiction permits.

Short notices

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."
"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."
"The Resident Judge of Port Phillip" weblog: "I loved the embeddedness of this book within Melbourne suburbia, and her confidential and warm tone --like a good, satisfying talk with an old friend."
"Dovegreyreader" : "Susan Hill suggested I read this one and also told me to look carefully at the very clever ending, which I did and yes, how very clever it is. I won't divulge because then you can watch out for it too, it's more about style than plot but such a clever way for a writer to preserve for posterity a moment of utter guilt, trapped like the insect in the amber. Regardless of what may happen next, nothing will assuage Helen's agony over her decision, one that tests her innermost feelings about the bonds of friendship to the very limits and Helen Garner has captured it with utter precision."
The "Nice Lady Doctor" weblog: "In the few hours I was reading it, I learnt more about the psychological effects of a terminal diagnosis on the patient and on his or her carer, than I have in some years as a doctor. It's such a human piece of writing, and so full of affection and humour."
Claire Allfree in "MetroLife": "Garner tackles what could be a dangerously mawkish subject with a cool head and a piercing eye, cutting through the sentimental clutter to the bones of what matters: the selfishness of grief and suffering; the denial and courage that death inspires; and the power of love to keep on going."
Jane Shilling in "The Telegraph": "Garner writes with the cool authority of personal experience, and apprehends Helen and Nicola's loving and warring worlds in such fine and sensuous detail that pain itself is rendered beautiful."


Video of the author being interviewed by Richard Fidler, on "The Conversation Hour", ABC Radio, dated 8 December 2008.
Slow TV has a streaming video of Helen Garner's talk about her influences and inspirations from the 2008 Sydney Writers' Festival.
Deborah Bogle in "The Advertiser".
Susan Wyndham, of "The Sydney Morning Herald", interviewed Garner and found her rather wary.
On the "Readings" website, Michael Williams talks to the author and gathers some insight into her view of character.

Australian Bookcovers #150 - The Commandant by Jessica Anderson


The Commandant by Jessica Anderson, 1975
(Penguin 1988 edition)
Cover illustration by John Hinds. Cover design by Cathy van Ee.

Combined Reviews: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

white_tiger.jpg Reviews of The White Tiger
Aravind Adiga

[This novel won the 2008 Man Booker Prize, and has been shortlisted in the Best First Book category for the South East Asia and the Pacific region of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.]

From the publisher's page:

Meet Balram Halwai, the 'White Tiger': servant, philosopher, entrepreneur, murderer... Born in a village in the dark heart of India, the son of a rickshaw puller, Balram is taken out of school by his family and put to work in a teashop. As he crushes coal and wipes tables, he nurses a dream of escape.

His big chance comes when a rich village landlord hires him as a chauffeur for his son. Arriving in Delhi with his new master, Balram's re-education begins, as he learns of a new morality at the heart of a new India. As the other servants flick through the pages of Murder Weekly, Balram begins to see how the Tiger might escape his cage. For surely any successful man must spill a little blood on his way to the top?

The White Tiger is a tale of two Indias. Balram's journey from the darkness of village life to the light of entrepreneurial success is utterly amoral, brilliantly irreverent, deeply endearing and altogether unforgettable.

Adam Lively in "The Times": "At first, this novel seems like a straightforward pulled-up-by-your-bootstraps tale, albeit given a dazzling twist by the narrator's sharp and satirical eye for the realities of life for India's poor. ('In the old days there were 1,000 castes...in India. These days, there are just two castes: Men with Big Bellies, and Men with Small Bellies.') But as the narrative draws the reader further in, and darkens, it becomes clear that Adiga is playing a bigger game. For The White Tiger stands at the opposite end of the spectrum of representations of poverty from those images of doe-eyed children that dominate our electronic media -- that sentimentalise poverty and even suggest that there may be something ennobling in it. Halwai's lesson in The White Tiger is that poverty creates monsters, and he himself is just such a monster."
David Mattin in "The Independent": "Adiga's plot is somewhat predictable -- the murder that is committed is the one that readers will expect throughout -- but The White Tiger suffers little for this fault. Caught up in Balram's world -- and his wonderful turn of phrase -- the pages turn themselves. Brimming with idiosyncrasy, sarcastic, cunning, and often hilarious, Balram is reminiscent of the endless talkers that populate the novels of the great Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal. Inventing such a character is no small feat for a first-time novelist."
Peter Robins in "The Telegraph": "The White Tiger is a furious and brutally effective counterblast to smug 'India is shining' rhetoric -- that particular slogan is never mentioned, but the election it lost is crucial to the plot -- which also directs hard, well-aimed kicks at hypocrisy and thuggery on the traditionalist Indian Left...It is certain of its mission, and pursues it with an undeviating determination you wouldn't expect in a first novel. It reads at a tremendous clip."
"The Complete Review" website gave the book a B-: "Yes, The White Tiger 'says a lot' about contemporary India, but it tries to do so far too hard. Adiga has some talent, but leaves it at loose ends here. What suspense he builds up early on surrounding Balram's crime dissipates far too fast, while he tries too hard with his Indian panorama. And Balram isn't a fully realised or convincing character, either, even though he's talking (or telling his story) all the time, as Adiga's attempt to make him both a peasant-everyman (representative of so many Indians) and a white tiger confuses things."
S. Prasannarajan in "India Today": "The White Tiger is a novel born in that infinitesimal moment of darkness. And as a debut, it marks the arrival of a storyteller who strikes a fine balance between the sociology of the wretched place he has chosen as home and the twisted humanism of the outcast...With detached, scatological precision, he surveys the grey remoteness of an India where the dispossessed and the privileged are not steeped in the stereotypes of struggle and domination. The ruthlessness of power and survival assumes a million moral ambiguities in this novel powered by an India where Bangalore is built on Bihar."

Short notices
Richard Marcus in "BlogCritics" magazine: "In the end, what makes the events in the book so believable is the character of Balram. He is the perfect servant. He worries whether his master is eating enough, takes pride in him when he behaves honourably, and is disappointed with him when he is weak. For all his protestations about the system, he is still as much a part of it as anybody else, and it takes an enormous amount of strength and luck for him to live up to his name of white tiger."
"The Economist": "In creating a character who is both witty and psychopathic, Mr Adiga has produced a hero almost as memorable as Pip, proving himself the Charles Dickens of the call-centre generation."


Arthur J Pais in "Rediff".
Stuart Jeffries in "The Guardian".
Man Booker page.
Rebecca Yolland on "Untitled Books".


The author's website contains a large number of links to other material about the author and his work.

Australia-Asia Literary Award Suspended

"The West Australian" newspaper is reporting that the Australia-Asia Literary Award will not be held during 2009.

Arts Minister John Day said the total prize money, format and timing of the Australia-Asia Literary Prize, which was claimed by revered Australian writer David Malouf last year, was under review and expected to be finalised by the middle of this year. "There will not be an Australia-Asia Literary Award held in 2009, although it is expected that the award will be held in early 2010, pending the review recommendations."
I thought the whole thing overly ambitious when it was first announced. And the prizemoney was a peculiar figure, set, it seeemd, to ensure it was the highest in the country: at $110,000 it was $10,000 more than the Prime Minister's Literary Award amount.

Poem: The Ineffable by Charles Harpur

Words are the special dies of Thought,
   And well they mint its gold,
But Feeling cannot so be brought
   Within their sublest mould.

With minds on some great theme intent,
   We seek to them at length,
And lo, we utter all we meant,
   To wonder at their strength.

But when we thought their might would wreak
   The expression, hardly sane,
Of highest joy or grief -- how weak
   We find them, and how vain?

Acting the bliss of feeling, Thought
   May seize her very air,
And then, as to her heaven upcaught,
   Its transports thus declare:

My joy floods out, like Horeb's rill
   Loosed by the Prophet's rod!
My soul, all light, with blissful will,
   Rays like a Star of God!

But Feeling's happy self the while,
   All silently apart,
May only wear a glowing smile,
   And breathe as from the heart.

Or Thought, to imitate her woe,
   May wildly cry aloud,
My peace is wasting as I go,
   Even like a summer cloud!

My spirit hath so deep a wound,
   No cure might be devised,
And shed like water on the ground
   Is all that most I prized.

While Feeling's self may only shake
   Her weary head, or start
To find how vainly words would break
   The silence of her heart.

Or when the holiest spirit, Love,
   Plumed with purpureal beams,
Comes like a heaven-descended dove,
   To nestle with our dreams;

In vain would Thought in words, though rich
   And rare as gems, reveal
That mystic grace of passion which
   We feel -- and can but feel.

But most, when Music's seraph-fire
   Runs kindling through the air,
Making it such as Gods respire,
   (And Gods perhaps are there!)

How vainly would the sublest wit
   Word-picture as they roll,
The clouds of glory it hath lit
   Like sunrise in the soul!

Like sunrise, when its conquering glow
   Smiles through the vapours cold,
Till all their ragged inlets flow
   With floods of burning gold!

The deep of the Ineffable --
   That Deep which none may sound,
Pours round us, with its breathing spell --
   Immeasurably round!

First published in The Australian Town and Country Journal, 1 January 1876

2009 Commonwealth Writers Prize Shortlists

The shortlists for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers Prize have been announced. Books are shortlisted in the categories of Best Book and Best First Book in each of four different regions: Africa, Canada and Caribbean, Europe and South Asia, and South East Asia and the Pacific (Australia fits into the last of these regions). Winners for each category for each region are announced in March 2009, and then the overall winners in each category (chosen from the regional winners) will be announced in May 2009.

The shortlisted works for the South East Asia and the Pacific region are:

Best Book
Between The Assassinations by Aravind Adiga (Australia)
The Spare Room by Helen Garner (Australia)
The Good Parents by Joan London (Australia)
Forbidden Cities by Paula Morris (New Zealand)
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (Australia)
Breath by Tim Winton (Australia)

Best First Book
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (Australia)
The Boat by Nam Le (Australia)
The Year of The Shanghai Shark by Mo Zhi Hong (New Zealand)
Misconduct by Bridget van der Zijpp (New Zealand)
Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan (Malaysia)
The Shallow End by Ashley Sievwright (Australia)

[Links here will take you to "Combined Reviews" posts for the relevant books on this weblog. I'll aim to add entries for each of the other Australian books on the lists over the coming weeks.]

Streets of Fire

Justine Ferrari, in "The Australian" newspaper, reports that "A Children's laureate to champion reading among kids will be appointed from next year under a program established by an alliance of authors, teachers, librarians, publishers, booksellers and arts administrators." The newly formed Australian Children's Literature Alliance will be running the initiative.

Jonathan Strahan, Perth-based editor and sf anthologist, is interviewed by "Locus" magazine. "The challenges that arise while editing an unthemed anthology are, essentially, the same as those that arise while editing a themed book. However, there are one or two differences. It can be harder to give writers a clear idea of the kind of book you're hoping to create because there isn't a simple idea or theme to point them towards. Writers will ask what sort of story you're looking for, and it's important to be able to give them a useful answer, but framing that answer can be a challenge. I'm aiming for variety, for flexibility of form with Eclipse, but I'm also focusing on stories with more traditional narrative structures, with character, plot and some kind of clear link to a sense of 'genre'. Probably the most unexpected challenge, though, is to assemble a series of books that have a similar character, that are unmistakably related to one another and will reward readers who follow the series equally. I'm still working hard on that."

Tracey Rolfe recently attended a poetry reading in Yarraville (A suburb of Melbourne) and encountered heckling. Not of her, of the poet.

Estelle, from the "3000 Books" weblog, volunteered to help out at the Writers at the Convent festival, and reports on what she found there. "My volunteer shift was short and painless. Actually, it was frighteningly enjoyable. Even though historical fiction is not my usual literary fare, I was entertained by Jenny Pattrick, Claire Thomas and Anthony Neill's discussion entitled Plundering the Past. The way Thomas described the evolution of a single fact -- the crushed form of lapis lazuli was used in Renaissance-era Venice to create ultramarine pigment -- into her novel, Fugitive Blue, put me in mind of a bloodhound's singular focus. Her delight in the 'perverse integrity' of deliberate, minute research was palpable in her and the other authors' stories. I was beginning to see how easy it would be to get sucked into chasing history

Angela Meyer, on the "LiteraryMinded" weblog, has started what-I-hope is a series of simultaneous film and book
reviews. The first features Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. Great idea.

Max Barry states that he's probably written 1.5 million words since he published his novel Company. Trouble is nothing has gelled as yet. But, now he says "I am going to do something. I know what the something is. It will be good. And it will be in March."

Clive James Watch #12

Review of Angels over Elsinore: Collected Verse 2003-2008

Bill Greenwell in "The Independent": "Much of the verse collected here (from 2003-2008) is very funny. James can write slow-fuse poems as well as George Burns told jokes. They develop, do a little hoofing along the way, arrive at a well-timed, laconic conclusion. James being James, there is a casually rich mix of cultural allusions, but the most important quality is complete clarity. Sometimes he can be sonorous, and achieve only a slightly artificial note of grandeur, as in a poem about a painting: 'Art must choose/ What truly merits perpetuity/ From everything that we are bound to lose.' This is that fatal thing, not-quite-Larkin."

You can read the title poem of this collection here.

Essay by James
"Getting rich quick - and having much more money than you ever need - will look as pointless as taking bodybuilding too seriously, says Clive James", on the BBC News website.

In "Poetry" magazine, James has a second look at Stephen Edgar's poem, "Man on the Moon", and comes to realise why he thought it was so good on the first look.

James is interviewed about his musical interests by Paul Mardles for "The Guardian".

Unquestionably, James knows how songwriting works, having made six albums in the 70s with Pete Atkin, who wrote the folky music to his sidekick's pointed words. Now, three decades after being "blown away by punk", their back catalogue is to be reissued, encouraging James to begin writing lyrics anew. "And I think I've improved," he says, referring to his new-found uncomplicated style. "Maybe a 30-year layoff is about right."

If James has improved with age, he is hardly unique. James Taylor has grown more interesting, he says. Ditto Leonard Cohen, whom he used to find "boring". "But then I caught on that he had the secret because even then he would produce a couple of lines that were lovely, like, 'There's a funeral in the mirror and it's stopping at your face.'" He exhales, dramatically, and pulls a startled face. "I was like, 'Wow! How did he do that?'" Some of Dylan's lyrics, too, he says, invite the same response. "Yes, I'm a huge admirer." He pauses. "Well, with qualifications. I believe I'm notorious for saying that there is no stanza in a Dylan song that is all as good as its best line, and that there's no song that's all as good as its best stanza. And I think that's largely true."

In the "Haringey Independent", James wonders: "I sometimes look at my row of books and TV programmes and think, 'How did I manage to fit that all in?'"

Clive James and Robert Hughes discuss Jack Kerouac, in 1959 (!).

James recently delivered the give the first Lord Forte Memorial Lecture, under the heading "Writers on Cities". The author took Florence as his subject and Sarah Sands of "The Financial Times" was there to listen.

James will be appearing at the Cheltenham Town Hall in Gloucestershire later this year.

On February 1st, the South Bank Show was broadcast on ITV1 in the UK. It carried the following description: "Beyond the Footlights. The arts show returns with a look through the register of those students of the comedic arts who learnt their trade among the Footlights at Cambridge University. Stephen Fry, Griff Rhys Jones, John Fortune, Clive James and David Mitchell top the bill as pontificators on the influence of the Footlights on mainstream and alternative comedy. Plus a plethora of comic clips featuring alumni of this ultimate school of comedy. Presented by Melvyn Bragg."

Books for Bushfire Relief

I'm sure most of us reading this weblog would consider that books constitute a form of food for the soul; as much a requirement of life as clothing, shelter and physical sustenance. The recent bushfires that have ravaged the Victorian countryside have brought out the best in a huge number of people, with charities being overwhelmed by the amount of goods they have received in donation. Yesterday I received an email forwarded to me, by the novelist Susan Johnson, from Tali Lavi, a person in Australia who is attempting to add the donation of books to the list of goods previously mentioned. Here is the note I received:

I hope you and all you know are well.

I've been wondering what I can do for those people who have been affected by the terrible fires that have raged through Victoria. There are so many stories of devastating loss and those fortunate to be left with their lives are lacking any possessions.

You and I both place great value on the power and magic of words so I have a plan which I hope will take off.

It is to approach as many writers as I know and ask them if they would donate some of their own books - those they have written or any they can spare - to those affected. It would be wonderful if they wrote messages in them to make the gesture more personal. (Examples might be, 'Thinking of you', 'Wishing you solace', 'Hoping this book offers some magic', etc.) So this is what I'm asking of you ...

... because all people, but especially children, can find some kind of relief and inspiration in stories. As Horace writes in his Satires, 'Change the name and it's about you, that story.' Change their names (the bushfire victims) and it could very well be us. Hopefully, in turn, our stories and the stories of others will help them to see through the smoke and transport them to other, more beautiful, places than the ones they might occupy now.

At the moment - while the project is in its infancy - I can take the books at my place. My email address is talilavi[at]netspace[dot]net[dot]au.

Writers supporting this project to date include:
Antoni Jach
Sally Rippin
Jacinta Halloran
Rosalie Ham
Ellie Nielson
Jeff Sparrow
Howard Goldenberg
Susan Johnson
Damon Young
Maria Tumarkin
Kate Holden
Christine Darkas

Tali also supplied a mobile number here but I thought it best to leave that off for the present. If you think it would be easier to make contact that way, then write to me (perry[at]middlemiss[dot]org) and I'll pass it along. Sounds like a pretty good cause to me.

Kate Grenville Watch #5

Reviews of The Lieutenant

Jay Parini in "The Guardian": "Grenville inhabits characters with a rare completeness. The focus of The Secret River was the highly circumscribed mind of Thornhill. In The Lieutenant, Rooke's thoughts and perceptions take centre stage; the whole world unfurls from his viewpoint, and little escapes his capacious intellect. He revels in everything from mathematical problems to Latin declensions...Grenville explores the natural rifts that arise between settlers and native people with a deep understanding of the ambiguities inherent in such conflicts."
Melissa McClements in "The Financial Times": "Sydney-born author Kate Grenville tackled the evils of colonialism in her previous novel, The Secret River, about a London thief who is deported to Australia. His desire for private land leads to violent clashes with the Aborigines, who are bewildered by the very concept of possession. In Grenville's latest book, she again examines the colliding worlds of the Georgians and the Aborigines, at a time when Australia was a dumping ground for Britain's overcrowded penal system. The Lieutenant, however, is a story of burgeoning comprehension, rather than mutual miscomprehension...In less capable hands, this could make The Lieutenant either mawkishly sentimental or rigidly polemical, but Grenville manages to avoid both. Genuinely affecting, her new novel is another capable tranche of character-based, historical fiction and a worthy foil to its predecessor."
Lucy Atkins in "The Times": "Initially, the novel is hard-going. There is plenty of information about Rooke -- his interest in mathematical constructs or rocks or the mechanism of a rifle, his mum's oatmeal, his little sister. But he seems documented rather than felt, perpetually once removed. This may be a deliberate strategy, but it makes the early part of the book feel distinctly flat. Then, about halfway through, Rooke's emotional journey really kicks in...Inevitably, 200-odd years of retrospective guilt hang over this book. But Grenville's touch is light here, too. There are occasional nods to history (Tagaran's language, observes Rooke, has 'the very cadence of forgiveness') but no self-indulgence."
Marg on the "Reading Adventures" weblog: "Not long before I started blogging back in 2005, I read The Secret River by Kate Grenville. Set at the time of the First Fleet it looked at the relationship between white settlers and the native Australian Aborigines who were already here. Grenville returns to this same setting in The Lieutenant...Whilst the setting is similar, there are significant differences between the two stories. In this novel, Grenville has pared the narrative right back to the basics of the story. We are very much focussed on Rooke's life, and his interactions. For me, this made The Lieutenant a much stronger, more interesting book."

Review of The Secret River

Wendy on "The List - Books for the Obsessive Reader" weblog: "Grenville shows the wide gap between English and Aboriginal cultures...and the tremendous misunderstanding fueled by an inability to adequately communicate. Her prose is magnificent as she describes the land of Australia and gradually builds the tension between the characters, before bringing the novel to its inevitable and devastating conclusion. I was completely absorbed by this historical piece of work which is evocative, poetic and pulsing with the life of a time far in the past."

Essays by the Author

Grenville discusses the origins of The Secret River for "The Guardian" Book Club. You can also read John Mullan's piece about the same book for the same Book Club.

Author appearances

The author will be appearing at the Perth Writers' Festival at the end of February

Interview with Katherine Scholes

Tasmanian author Kathreine Scholes has a new novel out, The Hunter's Wife. As it is released she is interviewed by Christopher Bantick for "The Courier-Mail".

Scholes had finished the manuscript for The Hunter's Wife before she returned to Tanzania last year. What readers will find is a novel written by someone who knows the country intimately. She says that even after more than three decades, there was a profound sense of belonging.

"I really felt incredibly strongly connected to the landscape," she says. "This was interesting as we landed in Zanzibar on the coast which is tropical and nothing like where we grew up. Just as Tasmania has become such a part of me, I was often puzzled how this far inland area of East Africa on a flat dusty plain, how that could feel like home to me. It did; right down to the smell of the dust."

So notwithstanding her evocative return to the land of her childhood, does Scholes feel more African than anything else?

"I do," she says without hesitation. "I actually came home to Tasmania feeling I was a born-again Tanzanian. When I went back, I was welcomed as a Tanzanian. I was referred to as a child of the land. It felt very special."

Australian Bookcovers #149 - The Last Man's Head by Jessica Anderson


The Last Man's Head by Jessica Anderson, 1970
(Penguin 1987 edition)
Cover illustration by Donna Cross. Cover design by Cathy van Ee.

Interview with Kate Morton

Kate Morton is the author of two novels, The Shifting Fog and The Forgotten Garden. The second of these has been selected for Queensland's Big Book Club, and, as Morton gets ready the tour the state for the Club, she is interviewed for "The Courier-Mail" by Madeline Healy about her upcoming novel.

Set in 1940s England in the Kentish countryside, The Distant Hours looks at a time in World War II when the English were convinced a German invasion was not far off.

"And of course there's a bit of the future in there as well," Morton says.

She likes to mix up the past and present, taking readers on a journey back into the last century where secrets are uncovered and questions answered.

"But I wouldn't call myself a historical novelist," Morton says.

"I pick periods I'm interested in but wouldn't say I write historical fiction. I don't think that way because my interest in the past is always in relation to the future.

"The 20th century is a gift for me as a novelist."

Instances of Matilda #3


Matilda Bookshop board, Stirling, SA

Poem: White Paper by Sydney Jephcott

Smooth white paper 'neath the pen;
   Richest field that iron ploughs,
Germinating thoughts of men,
   Though no heaven its rain allows;
Till they ripen, thousand fold,
   And our spirits reap the corn,
In a day-long dream of gold;
   Food for all the souls unborn.

Like the murmur of the earth,
   When we listen stooping low;
Like the sap that sings in mirth,
   Hastening up the trees that grow;
Evermore a tiny song
   Sings the pen unto it, while
Thought's elixir flows along,
   Diviner than the holy Nile.

Greater than the sphering sea,
   For it holds the sea and land;
Seed of all ideas to be
   Down its current borne like sand.
How our fathers in the dark
   Pored on it the plans obscure,
By star-light or stake-fires stark
   Tracing there the path secure.

The poor paper drawn askance
   With the spell of Truth half-known,
Holds back Hell of ignorance,
   Roaring round us, thronged, alone.
O white list of champions,
   Spirit born, and schooled for fight,
Mailed in armour of the sun's
   Who shall win our utmost right!

Think of paper lightly sold,
   Which few pence had made too dear
On its blank to have enscrolled
   Beatrice, Lucifer, or Lear!
Think of paper Milton took,
   Written, in his hands to feel,
Musing of what things a look
   Down its pages would reveal.

O the glorious Heaven wrought
   By Cadmean souls of yore,
From pure element of thought!
   And thy leaves they are its door!
Light they open, and we stand
   Past the sovereignty of Fate,
Glad amongst them, calm and grand,
   The Creators and Create!

First published in The Secrets of the South: Australian Poems by Sydney Jephcott (1892)

J.M. Coetzee Watch #13

Reviews of Disgrace

Sowmya on the "Shallow Thoughts to profound Insights" weblog: "The entire book is from the protagonists perspective. Only his thoughts, view points and philosophy is projected. As one reads the book, one understands the other characters only from the conversation that the protagonist has with them. Nothing is explained. One also feels the frustrations the protagonist feels because he cannot understand the people around him. The reader cannot too. In course of reading the book, the reader experiences only the protagonists world because that is the only 'truth' that is projected. It is like living life without feedback. Uni-dimensional."

Spudz on the "Eclectic Indulgence" weblog: "I found myself lacking any interest in the characters, and the African landscape was not shown as beautiful or hideous... it was simply not shown. If I wasn't continually reminded the story took place in Africa, I wouldn't have noticed a difference. The prose was poor and the plot simply had trouble developing."

Reviews of Waiting for the Barbarians

"Book Club Classics" weblog: "Coetzee does create a 3-dimensional character in the narrator and his journey from a position of power to imprisonment to humility was reluctantly engaging. I also enjoyed contemplating what 'freedom' means when one is imprisioned -- freedom of thought, freedom of action, freedom of belief."


The Harvard Crimson magazine names Coetzee as one of its "Five Melancholy Elderly Literary Men": "On this list, J. M. Coetzee is the youngest -- and the most melancholy. In his famous 1999 novel Disgrace, he showed the late-life education of a literature professor forced, in a post-literate age, to teach 'Communications'. He returned to the
theme in his more recent novel -- it was released on Dec. 27, 2007, to avoid end-of-the-year-list mania on the blogs -- Diary of a Bad Year. More humane and generous than Disgrace, less tightly controlled, the book nonetheless argues that no one reads books anymore." The others on the list are John Updike, V. S. Naipaul, Philip Roth and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

"The Existence Machine" weblog posts a quote from Youth.

"The Visual Wikipedia" has produced a kind of mind map based on Coetzee which allows you to navigate his career and works using visual cues. It looks like the text is taken from the standard Wikpedia entry on the author.


A new book, Summertime, is due out in the UK in early September. Can't find any mention of it on the Text Publishing website, the author's most recent Australian publisher.

Quote: The Australian Countryside

JANUARY 20, 1836.

A long day's ride to Bathurst. Before joining the high road we followed a mere path through the forest; and the country, with the exception of a few squatters' huts, was very solitary. We experienced this day the sirocco-like wind of Australia, which comes from the parched deserts of the interior. Clouds of dust were travelling in every direction; and the wind felt as if it had passed over a fire. I afterwards heard that the thermometer out of doors had stood at 119 degrees, and in a closed room at 96 degrees. In the afternoon we came in view of the downs of Bathurst. These undulating but nearly smooth plains are very remarkable in this country, from being absolutely destitute of trees. They support only a thin brown pasture. We rode some miles over this country, and then reached the township of Bathurst, seated in the middle of what may be called either a very broad valley, or narrow plain. I was told at Sydney not to form too bad an opinion of Australia by judging of the country from the roadside, nor too good a one from Bathurst; in this latter respect I did not feel myself in the least danger of being prejudiced. The season, it must be owned, had been one of great drought, and the country did not wear a favourable aspect; although I understand it was incomparably worse two or three months before. The secret of the rapidly growing prosperity of Bathurst is that the brown pasture which appears to the stranger's eye so wretched is excellent for sheep-grazing. The town stands at the height of 2200 feet above the sea, on the banks of the Macquarie: this is one of the rivers flowing into the vast and scarcely known interior. The line of watershed which divides the inland streams from those on the coast, has a height of about 3000 feet, and runs in a north and south direction at the distance of from eighty to a hundred miles from the seaside. The Macquarie figures in the map as a respectable river, and it is the largest of those draining this part of the watershed; yet to my surprise I found it a mere chain of ponds, separated from each other by spaces almost dry. Generally a small stream is running; and sometimes there are high and impetuous floods. Scanty as the supply of the water is throughout this district, it becomes still scantier further inland.

From The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin [whose birth day occurred 200 years ago today]

Working on the Highway

On his weblog "Eurthythamia", Michael C. publishes the final version of a sub-chapter cut from his PhD thesis. The essay is titled "Three Dollars and Economic Times, Subtopia as Grunge Bildunsroman". The title refers to the novels Three Dollars by Elliot Perlman, and Subtopia by Andrew McCann.

Margo Lanagan has been blogging over at the State Library of Victoria site as part of the Reading Victoria program. A recent post details her version of "Ten things I know about writing". I specifically like number 10: "You should always be trying to write a story that's slightly bigger than your own head." Same thing could apply to blogging. More commentary, maybe.

Susan Wyndham, on the "Entertainment" blog attached to "The Sydney Morning Herald" reports that "Frank Moorhouse has been appointed as the first CAL [Copyright Agency Limited] writer in residence at the University of Technology Sydney." While there he will be working on the third volume of his Palais des Nations trilogy (following Grand Days and Dark Palace). No title on the new novel as yet.

Susan Johnson uses the resurgence of interest in Richard Yates to post: "As any regular reader of this blog will know, part of this blog's raison d'être is to give an unvarnished view of the writer's life. I have long argued that the brilliant careers of, say, a Peter Carey or a John Updike are exceptions to the rule, and that the careers of most writers of literary fiction have more in common with Yates...A literary life cannot be measured by the success of a single book." Or failure for that matter. [Yates wrote the novel Revolutonary Road which was recently adapted for the screen by Justin Haythe, directed by Sam Mendes, and featured Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.]

An editor on the "Alien Onions" weblog remembers a book from their childhood, Dragon's Breath by Michael Dugan, illustrated by Allen Hicks. It concerns a girl who befriends a dragon who later saves the girl's home town from bushfires. Sounds both appropriate and comforting at this time.

2009 Perth Writers' Festival

The 2009 Perth Writers' Festival will be held over the weekend of February 28 to March 2. A full program is now available on the website (PDF file) along with ticketing information. Featured guests include: Sebastian Barry, David Brooks, Sophie Cunningham, Robert Dessaix, Robert Drewe, Mem Fox, Kate Grenville, Sonya Hartnett, Cate Kennedy, John Kinsella, Justine Larbalestier, Julia Leigh, Joan London, Barry Maitland, James McBride, Alice Pung, Peter Singer, Anne Summers, Susan Wndham and Arnold Zable; amongst many others.

Sonya Hartnett Watch #1

Reviews of Butterfly

Sophie Masson in "The Australian":

The first novel of Sonya Hartnett's that I read was the haunting Wilful Blue (1994). Hartnett's lush yet fresh prose, spiced with gothic, her novel's combination of intense observation, sensual detail, pervasive melancholy, sensational events and characters with unusual, fin-de-race names, had for me more the feel of, say, American southern literature, or the work of writers such as Wilkie Collins, than what we were accustomed to in Australian literature... ...Hartnett's interest is in the way families work -- especially unhappy ones, of course, following Tolstoy's dictum -- and most especially in sibling relationships, whether it's the twisted sibling relations of Sleeping Dogs or Princes, or the more positive ones of Butterfly. The way in which family relations, especially between siblings, can alleviate or worsen the loneliness of the individual is important in most of her books, but especially so in this one.
Owen Richardson in "The Age": "When Sonya Hartnett published Landscape with Animals under a pseudonym, it was for fear this novel might end up falling into the hands of her younger audience: it was definitely not a book for kids. This one isn't either but it's not R-rated, though illicit love is here, and teenage dread and cruelty, and the kinds of ghosts haunting the suburbs that perhaps can only be seen by adolescents, just as dogs can pick vampires...While Hartnett doesn't overcook the ordinary miseries of childhood, nor does she lacquer them and protect us with nostalgic humour, and even if you had nicer friends when you were 13, you'll squirm in recognition."

Kristy on the "Books in Print" weblog: "Sonya Hartnett's novels are read by adults and young adults alike, and her first novel since being awarded the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (March 2008) will no doubt appeal to an audience well beyond the age of the protagonist...Butterfly is beautifully written and cleverly expresses the trials of early adolescence..".

Bookman Beattie on "Beattie's Book Blog": "Hartnett is a demanding author, she leaves much to the reader's interpretation; that is one of her hallmarks. So another impressive work of literary fiction from her but not one that worked for me."

Reviews of The Ghost's Child

Linda Newberry in "The Guardian": "It's a story that seems bigger than its generously spaced 192 pages, and the stylised illustrations by Jon McNaught -- waders silhouetted on a shore, dolphins thronging in a yacht's wake, a cloud of butterflies -- add to the sense of travelling through a world both familiar and strange."
Celia Keenan in the Irish "Independent": the book "is a poetic and beautifully written story in which an old woman is visited by a ghost child on the opening pages. Love and loss are both sensitively evoked against the backdrop of inevitable death."
Mrs. D. on the "Daniel Boone Regional Libray" weblog: "Such a lovely little book! Mrs. D. is so grateful that every once in awhile a fine writer will attempt to make us think about important things and give us a chance to learn some wisdom rather than merely entertaining us!"
Allison on the "Thumbs Up" weblog: "In the end I don't think this is thumbs up material. For such a short book it is still slow and I don't see it as having wide teen appeal."

Reviews of The Silver Donkey

Angela Youngman on the "Monsters and Critics" website: "Beautifully written with simple shadowy illustrations; this is a book to treasure. It is imaginative, and thoughtful. War is not shown as glorious -- it is shown as sad and useless. You can really feel the tension, the way in which the children strive to understand and help."

Reviews of Surrender

Lisa May on the "Look at that Book" weblog: "Hands down, Surrender is a fantastic book...I wouldn't recommend it for younger readers, though.. the story is bleak and heartbreaking."
quippe on "LiveJournal": "Despite some well executed tense moments, this book is overwritten in a prose that's sometimes a rich shade of indigo. Lacking the action and pace to be the thriller that it advertises itself as, the twist ending so cliche that I almost threw the book at the wall on reading it."


Jo Case on "Readings.com".
Christopher Bantick in "The Courier Mail".
Margaret Throsby on "Life is Beautiful", ABC Classic FM.

Hartnett will be appearing at the 2009 Perth Writers' Festival.

Peter Porter Interview

An interview I missed when I was interstate over the Australia Day long weekend is Darleen Bungey's with poet Peter Porter published in "The Australian" newspaper.

Porter's dreams, he let slip in an earlier conversation, are still apocalyptic and continue every night. By day, he hunts them back down and fashions them into intricate works. "Poetry has to be made, it doesn't lie around waiting for you to pick it up; words are its material," he says. Porter doesn't use these images from what he calls "the alternative world" directly, but tries to capture their strange atmosphere. "The waking life is constantly under control but produces all the material the sleeping life uses," he says. "Things that are only reportage in life come alive in the experience of the dream world. A poet has to have invention, like a novelist, you don't just sit there and pour a bucket of blood over the page."

Porter's invention is broad. He employs all manner of rhyme, meter and form, with a rich variety of stage and cast, from the interior of a quiet English church to a war-waging Greek god; from felines to contemporary fat cats; from a Renaissance painter to a serial killer; from the shores of the Shoalhaven River on the NSW south coast to the mouth of the Deben Estuary in Suffolk, England.

While he often uses colloquialisms, he freely quotes German and Latin and some of the most obscure words in the English language. "Poetry," he says, "is language at its most concentrated form."

Australian Bookcovers #148 - An Ordinary Lunacy by Jessica Anderson


An Ordinary Lunacy by Jessica Anderson, 1963
(Penguin 1987 edition)
Cover design by Susan Newman. Cover illustration by Doug Henry.

The Victorian Bushfires

In writing about the horrific bushfires that have swept through parts of the state of Victoria over the past few days, Jewel Topsfield and Daniella Miletic of "The Age" newspaper had this to say about the devastation of the small town of Marysville:

Scorched earth, a blanket of smoke; a calamity appears to have destroyed civilisation. It's like a film set, maybe for Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel, The Road. On the Maroondah Highway, a shrouded corpse lies on scarred earth, surrounded by police tape. Black dots under trees turn out to be baked animals.
Maybe fiction is the only vehicle that will allow us to grasp the enormity of it all.

[Note: there doesn't appear to be a link on the paper's website to this piece.]

2008 - A Blogging/Reading Year in Review

In many ways 2008 was a year to forget for me and my family. Too many health issues - wife, father, mother-in-law, and brother-in-law - dominated the whole of last year, and some of this, and produced a sense of lethargy that left little energy for much beyond the day to day stuff.

This lack of drive was rather evident in a few areas directly concerning this weblog: I didn't get much reading done in the second half of the year, and blog posts became perfunctory at best. I fell way behind in some reviews I intended to write - and I'm still behind on them (sorry Sophie). But just lately things have begun to settle down a bit and I can start to see my way through the haze.

I feel particularly embarrassed/annoyed that I didn't continue on with the "A Classic Year" reading program I set myself in 2008. I suppose, in my heart of hearts, I realised right from the outset that I was doomed not to finish the schedule in a single year but I did have the feeling that I would make a better fist of it than I did.

I blame Martin Boyd.

Well, not entirely. I struggled through Lucinda Brayford and didn't enjoy it very much. It is well-written and certainly a classic of Australian literature, but it was just the wrong book at the wrong time for me - much like The Tree of Man when I was 16. Anyway, I'm a little more hopeful for the year ahead: recognising the problem and the need for change is certainly a start in the right direction. Maybe the discussion about reviewing that is currently running on this weblog, or the questions I've been answering from a new weblogger looking for advice have been the final spur. I don't know. I just think things have started to turn around a little. So I'll be getting back into the reviewing business, restarting the Classic Year reading, and beginning a series of small pieces on classic Australian poems based on a book I've started dipping into.

You might notice that some regular features of this weblog will appear less often. The "Blast from the Past" series of reprints was taking up a lot of time to identify and type up each week, so they will be reduced this year. The "Reviews of Australian Books" feature is probably about dead by now. Again it was taking a lot of time to research and write up and has been superseded now by the more regular "Combined Reviews". The Saturday poem has been running pretty much since this weblog began in late 2004 and I can see that staying on, especially as last Saturday's Words by Charles Harpur was the 200th such entry. The rest of it will appear as and when it seems appropriate. If anything becomes too tedious then I'll drop it. I don't know how long I intended this weblog to run when I first started it. I've got a rather poor record when it comes to sticking to a particular task over a long period, so this one is probably hitting a turning
point of some sort. I'm not looking at this as a complete change of direction, more as a sort of streamlining and getting back to basics.

[Note: this is about the third version of this I've started. All the previous drafts came across as having a "woe-is-me" tone, and I'm not sure I've overcome that here. I haven't written this looking for comments of any sort, rather as a means of crystalising my own thoughts on this weblog's direction.]

Sonya Hartnett Interview

A new Sonya Hartnett novel is always a treat in our house, as it is one of the few novels that my wife, my teenage daughter and I will all be guaranteed to read. Her latest, Butterfly, is out and about in the bookshops and she is interviewed by Christopher Bantick in "The Courier Mail".

Hartnett makes tea and with Shiloh at her feet reflects on her own teenage years.

"I can't remember particularly having an extremely difficult teenage-hood," she says. "I had an older sister who did the extreme things on behalf of all of us. I used to watch her and her behaviour and say that it was really stupid and embarrassing. I wanted to keep a lid on it as a teenager.

"I certainly had my moments. I had feelings of such frustration and rage and self-hatred; all the kinds of things that you go through. I was not a wild kind of kid. If anything, I just became more withdrawn and sullen. I guess I came through my teenage years relatively unscathed."

Even with Hartnett as an emerging writer as a teenager, it comes as a surprise when she says being an author was not an aim.

"I never knew when I was an adolescent that I was going to be a writer, I still don't. Adolescence was when I started to write. Back then was when I was really absolutely in love with doing it.

"It was a feeling that was to last until I got to my early 30s. That sustained me for a long time. But back in those days, this was the time when I really used to fall in love with my characters. That's long in the past."

Poem: Words by Charles Harpur

Words are Deeds.
The words we hear
May revolutionize or rear
A mighty state.
The words we read
May orb a spiritual deed
Excelling any fleshly one,
As much as the celestial sun
Transcends a bonfire, made to throw
A light on some Raree-show.
A simple proverb, tagged with rhyme,
May colour half the course of time;
The pregnant saying of a sage
May influence every coming age;
A song in its effects may be
More glorious than Thermopylae;
While a great Book is in my view
A greater deed than Waterloo,
And many a lay that schoolboys scan
A nobler feat than Inkermann.

[Note: I'm not sure when this poem was first published; Austlit puts it as An Anthology of Australian Verse edited by Bertram Stevens (1907). I'd guess it was originally published in an obscure New South Wales newspaper that is yet to be indexed, or was found in the poet's papers after his death in 1868.]

Dry Lightning

Terra Incognita is an Australian website that features podcasts of Australian sf writers reading their own short stories. It presents a new story every month, and you can download the files, listen online, or access them via iTunes. This month's story is "The Slimelight, and How to Step Into It" by Robert Hood.

Sean Williams has a few stories and a novel coming out in 2009. He looks like he's been busy.

The Sydney Writers' Festival has been going from strength to strength over the past few years under the stewardship of director Wendy Were. She is due to have her first child a month before this year's festival and is aiming to take a year off work. Needless to say SWF doesn't want to lose her and has agreed to her proposal. Now, according to "The Sydney Morning Herald" the festival board has appointed Chip Rolley to fill in for the year. The newspaper report details his background.

D.M. Cornish has posted some pages which may appear in the appendices of the third book in his Monster-Blood Tattoo fantasy series. It's just a pity we have to wait till May 2010 for publication date.

Pavlov's Cat posts a photo of her to-be-read file. Given she is a book reviewer for a major Australian newspaper I'm not sure if this is the stuff she has for review or just the stuff she wants to get to for herself.

Judith Ridge bemoans the fact that there aren't many children's and youth bloggers in Australia, comparing the situation to the USA where there are lots. She introduces Persnickety Snark from South Australia, and We Heart Books. This also elicits the mention of the Look at that Book weblog in the comments. To which we can also add The Book Chook. Seems like Judith has started something.

Speaking of new weblogs, James Bradley (author of Wrack, The Deep Field and The Resurrectionist which I reviewed here) has started his own weblog with the title City of Tongues. One to keep an eye on.

Sonia Orchard Interview

Jacinta Halloran, of Readings bookshop, interviews Sonia Orchard, whose new novel The Virtuoso has just been released. The novel draws on the life of Australian pianist Noel Mewton-Wood, who committed suicide in London, in 1953, at the age of 31.

When writing fiction about a real person, the border between fact and fantasy can sometimes become problematic for the novelist. The creation of a fictional narrator relieved Orchard of some of her concerns in this regard. "I initially struggled with the notion of how much I should stick to the facts [of Mewton-Wood's life] but, once I had decided to write from the point of view of a fictional and very unreliable narrator, I felt the problem was solved. I also follow the postmodern idea that there is no one absolute truth and that every viewpoint has its own agenda." However, she coloured The Virtuoso with anecdotes from Mewton-Wood's friends, and stayed true to factual details concerning his concert dates and programming details. "These things gave me something to work with."

The narrator of The Virtuoso is a remarkable creation. Through him, the intriguing life of Mewton-Wood is chronicled with meticulous detail, and yet there is much about Mewton-Wood -- his deeper thoughts and feelings about his art and his talent -- that the narrator does not know or understand. By creating this obsessed and somewhat deluded narrator, Orchard has intentionally left us with a sense of mystery surrounding Mewton-Wood's true self. "I fell in love with Mewton-Wood during my researching of his life, so I wanted to write about him from the perspective of an obsessed fan or lover. There remains something elusive about him. People I interviewed had contradictory ideas about his personality and no-one really understood why he committed suicide."

The Ethics of Reviewing

In a recent post on his weblog, "The Happy Antipodean", Matt had this to say:

In a recent survey of Australian literature blogs, Perry Middlemiss of "Matilda" blog asked about 15 bloggers to talk about their experiences, and what they thought about blogging. In my first draft, I included a line saying "Ethical bloggers don't accept review copies". I said this because marketers for publishing companies are starting to infiltrate the scene. The kind of books, as a result, that get reviewed are frequently new releases. And they're mostly not very interesting.

Perry's blog is a case in point and I seldom read the reviews. Alternative Oz litblog "Reading Matters" also contains reviews of copies of books received from publishers. It's a shame.

Given that this comment speaks of me directly I thought I might reply here. But first a bit of context: Matt started his post discussing Natalie Tran, You-Tube poster who has decided against accepting sponsorship money for her video-blog saying "It [sponsorship money] is very tempting but it's not really what I'm looking for -- I've spent a long time creating something and I don't want to give that up." (The quote is from "The Sydney Morning Herald".) Matt thinks it refreshing that she has done this and I agree.

But it's the next step along from direct sponsorship where Matt and I differ. This weblog has been running for a touch over four years now and is attracting enough visits a month for people to take a bit of notice. Some of that notice has resulted in a couple of emails asking if I would be interested in accepting advertising, and on one occasion, a suggestion that I might like to incorporate my weblog into another, much more commercial one. I've always said no, as politely as I could. I consider this little venture to be a hobby, pure and simple. I don't want to be told - in whatever manner - what I can or cannot post about, and I don't want to feel that I have to temper any comments I might make on the grounds that it might annoy the person paying the bills. I need to be able to post as often or as little as I want. I need to be able to restrict myself to Australian literature, with occasional forays elsewhere if I so choose. I need to be able to take time off when I want without feeling guilty that I'm not delivering product in a timely manner. If I decide I've had enough of the whole thing I can drop it at a moment's notice and not feel obliged to explain myself. I have a full time job already, so I don't need or want another one. It's a personal interest, nothing more.

Matt thinks, and I'm only surmising here as he doesn't actually state this in so many words, that accepting books for review from publishers, authors or publicists is the next step removed from sponsorship. And I would agree with him if I felt obliged to post only positive reviews of the books I receive. But I don't feel so obliged, and I have never told any publisher that I will review a book favourably. Nor have I asked any of my reviewers to do so either. I'm not keen on writing reviews that cut a novel to pieces just for the sake of seeing my fine words on the page. But that doesn't also mean that I set out to praise on all occasions. I have the view that it takes a lot of effort, by a lot of people, to get that copy of that book into my hands, and that I should respect that effort by considering the work carefully.

As a parent, and likewise as a reviewer, I've found that more is to be gained by thoughtful criticism and judicious use of praise and reproach than by overuse of either. Another worthy aim which I don't always live up to.

Some time back, on another weblog which discussed this same issue, I noted that I would include a statement of origin for all book reviews that I published here. Make what you will of that extra piece of information. It might help you understand the review's stance, or it might have no bearing whatsoever. I feel more comfortable having it there.

Matt doesn't find reviews of new books interesting and doesn't read the reviews I post here. That's fair enough. I have a peculiar sort of mind that allows me to jump from Charles Harpur and Mary Fortune to Margo Lanagan and James Bradley, and from poetry to sf to crime to literary fiction. It's just how I work. I don't expect that many, if any, of the readers of this weblog will follow me down every path. One or two branches a week should be enough.

I'm not going to give you some high-minded mission statement about how this weblog's aim is to promote Australian literature in a new medium. If it does that, then all the better, but it was started as a hobby and as a means for me to learn more about the literature of this country: past and present, fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose. That's what matters to me at this time, and hopefully for the life of this weblog. I see receiving books for review as a means of helping me understand more about Australian literature. I appreciate all the books I am sent, but don't feel compromised by any of them.

Melbourne Looks for New Literature Centre

"The Age" is reporting that Caro Llewellyn has withdrawn from taking up the role of director of Melbourne's new Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas, citing unexpected personal reaosns for her decision. Llewellyn was appointed at the end
of 2008 with the expectation that she would take up the director's post in May this year.

Reprint: Poems by Charles Harpur: General Introduction

[Charles Harpur (1813-68) is considered one of the great early poets in Australian literary history. Although he wrote poetry that dealt with many aspects of colonial life, he can in no way be considered a bush poet, and he seems to have been more heavily influenced by the English style. The "preface" reprinted here preceded a sequence of 39 poems, by Harpur, to be published in the bi-weekly newspaper "The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser" over the following seven months.]

I am painfully aware, that amongst the wiser and most virtuous portions of educated society, there exists at present a strong pre-possession in disfavor of poetry. I do not, however, infer from this, that there is any vital decay of imaginative taste amongst these, the highest order of readers. On the contrary, I believe, that, in such circles, the ideal requirements of our nature (poetical as well as musical and pictorial) are in constant pace with the progress of real refinement; and that the disrelish alluded to, is owing chiefly, if not solely, to the evil uses to which compositions in this kind have been prostituted by certain modern writers of great but depraved genius. But deeply as the divinity of the Poetic muse may have been thus sinned against, it yet behoves the refined and philosophic, rightly to distinguish between her proper tendencies, and the moral alloy with which these have always been more or less darkened by the corruptions of her children. Her true vocation is at once to quicken, exalt and purify, our nobler and more exquisite passions; and by informing the imagination with wisdom-suggesting beauty, both to enlarge and recompense our capacities of pathetic feeling and intellectual enjoyment: and further, in social and national regards, to illustrate whatever is virtuous in design, and glorify all that is noble in action; taking occasion also, from time to time, to pour the lightning of her indignation upon everything that is mean and cowardly in the people, or tyrannical and corrupt in their rulers. Such is the belief I have ever entertained of the genuine purposes of poetry; and to such uses only, I have devoted, I believe, to the best of my powers, whatever of inspiration I may have been gifted with in the compositions which will now be offered to my Country, through the columns of the "Maitland Mercury". In this faith they are presented, and in this faith they should be received; with the reservation, of course, that their readers will judge of them for themselves, after a candid and judicious perusal.

I will but add one further remark, with reference to the language and verse of these poems. I believe the reader will never have to complain of words being used in them which are at all superfluous to the meaning; or that the natural order of language is often deranged by the metres and rhymes, to a degree beyond what would be allowable in the simplest prose.

First published in The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 3 June 1846
[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]
Note: you can read a large selection of Harpur's poems courtesy of the University of Sydney's SETIS project.

Combined Reviews: Life in Seven Mistakes by Susan Johnson

life_seven_mistakes.jpg Reviews of Life in Seven Mistakes
Susan Johnson
Random House

From the publisher's page:
'You're pathetic,' her brother said. 'Still bleating about what mummy and daddy did to you when you're almost old enough to retire. Are you still going to be blaming your parents when you're seventy? Life's too short, Liz.'

After years of patient, passionate effort, Elizabeth Barton's career as a ceramicist is finally taking off. She's about to fly to New York for her first solo show at one of the world's most prestigious galleries. First, though, she has to survive Christmas with her family on the Gold Coast.

Why is it impossible to act our age in front of our parents? And how can we begin to care for ageing parents we've spent our lives trying to avoid?

Life in Seven Mistakes is a black family comedy with an unexpected, and deeply moving, climax. Beautifully written, and imbued with a rich sense of irony, it is acclaimed Australian novelist Susan Johnson's finest achievement to date.

Lousie Swinn in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Johnson has shown substantial breadth [over 20 years as a writer]. She has a knack for presenting what can be unbearable in reality, of rendering it on the page with tremendous heart, making it readable and going one step further: somehow managing to make it enjoyable...Life In Seven Mistakes is funny, ironic and brutal in the same way that life can be. It's the work of a novelist at the peak of her game, as confident as ever with voice but now with a more ambitious structure and with a wider variety of characters being drawn using colours from the fullest of spectrum."
Felicity Plunkett in "The Age": "Her memoir A Better Woman, and her recent novel, The Broken Book, both deal with questions of maternal love, and the ways in which the maternal might co-exist with an artist's life. Through her examination of the ways in which Elizabeth's mothering differs from Nancy's, Johnson again brings this theme into focus."
Stephen Davenport in "The Independent Weekly": "Her latest novel, Life in Seven Mistakes is something of a deviation from her earlier work in that it is a domestic black comedy about familial duty. But like all her work it is subtle, immensely readable, engrossing, touching and extraordinarily evocative."
Christina Hill in "Australian Book Review" (Sept 2008): "This novel suggests that family intergenerational conflict is inherent and that, in this sense, all unhappy families are alike...The central and universal question this novel poses is how so many elderly people atrophy into bitterness and inflexibility."
Kim Forrester on the "Reading Matters" weblog: "Life in Seven Mistakes has been described as a black comedy, but I'm not sure that's an apt description. While there are funny moments throughout the book, for the most part this is a richly layered family drama imbued with emotion. There's plenty of thought-provoking material here to mull over too: How do you ever reconcile your childhood with your adult life? How do parents cope with children who don't live up to expectation? At what point do you learn to accept responsibility for your own life and your own mistakes?"
Jo Case on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show": "Life in Seven Mistakes is a complex, suitably messy portrait of contemporary family life, with a distinctly Australian flavour. Though less epic in scale and ambition, it has distinct echoes of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. It similarly combines social observation, satire and family saga. And like all the best fiction, it raises more questions than it answers."
Jennifer Levasseur in "The Australian: "As is life, the novel is at times too much and at others not enough. Though its publicity material calls it a 'black family comedy', Life in Seven Mistakes reads like a family drama with moments of humour, a novel to while away a long winter's afternoon."

Short notices
Genevieve Tucker on the "reeling and writhing" weblog: "The descriptions of making art in this book are beautiful, yet like their creator, they are not allowed to dominate. What does dominate is the parents' story and the parents' life - the weight of this sweet, often funny novel is pitched against Elizabeth's late boomer generation quite deliberately, and one recognises over time that the novelist has made a choice to examine her controlling, self-involved parents as forensically as possible without excavating their hearts, wisely leaving us to fill in those gaps ourselves."
Damon on the "That Young Philosopher" weblog: "It is precisely what a novel should be: intimate, unflinching and illuminating. Sometimes the prose is overzealous, but it doesn't matter. Johnson's writing is crisp, vivid and unpretentiously poetic."

Interview by Matthew Condon in "The Courier-Mail".
Interview by Jane Sullivan in "The Age".
The author reprints an interview she gave with "The European English Messenger" journal.

Susan Johnson writes about her family, specifically her grandmother, for "The Guardian".

Chinese Award for Alex Miller

Susan Wyndham, on the "Sydney Morning Herald" weblog, is reporting that Alex Miller's novel Landscape of Farewell was chosen among the "Annual Foreign Novels, 21st Century" by the People's Literature Publishing House and the Chinese Association of Foreign Literature, thereby becoming the first Australian novel to be so honoured in the seven years that the award has been presented.

Best Books of the Year 2008 #14: Locus Magazine

This may well be the last of the "Best of 2008" lists given it's now February: but, then again, maybe not.

Locus magazine covers the sf scene (which includes fantasy, horror and that sort of stuff) and has now published its list of recommended reading for 2008. Australian entries I discovered:

SF Novel
Incandescence by Greg Egan

Young Adult Books
Monster Blood Tattoo: Lamplighter by D.M. Cornish
The Two Pearls of Wisdom by Alison Goodman
Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier

Dark Integers and Other Stories by Greg Egan

Dreaming Again edited by Jack Dann
Eclipse Two edited by Jonathan Strahan
The Starry Rift edited by Jonathan Strahan

Anthologies - Best of the Year
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Two edited by Jonathan Strahan

Art Books
Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

"Crystal Nights" by Greg Egan (Interzone 4/08)
"Lost Continent" by Greg Egan (The Starry Rift)
"Machine Maid" by Margo Lanagan (Extraordinary Engines)
"Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarsköe" by Garth Nix (Fast Ships, Black Sails)
"Infestation" by Garth Nix (The Starry Rift)

Short Stories
"The Fooly" by Terry Dowling (Dreaming Again)
"The Fifth Star in the Southern Cross" by Margo Lanagan (Dreaming Again)
"The Goosle" by Margo Lanagan (The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy)
"Ardent Clouds" by Lucy Sussex (The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy)
"Ass-Hat Magic Spider" by Scott Westerfeld (The Starry Rift)

Australian Bookcovers #147 - The Sitters by Alex Miller


The Sitters by Alex Miller, 1995
(Viking 1995 edition)
Cover painting: Untitled by Joy Hester, 1955

Christos Tsiolkas Interview

In addition to the "Combined Reviews" post, of a few weeks back, regarding The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, we can now add Angela Meyer, of the "LiteraryMinded" weblog interviewing the author.

One of the main themes through the book, to me, seems to be the notion that we live now, in Australia, in an age of new conservatism and over-the-top political correctness. Is this something you wanted readers to think about?

At one point while working on the second draft of the novel I was tempted to put a prologue and an epilogue, the prologue being just before the "Tampa" election and the epilogue being just after Rudd wins the most recent election. I'm glad I didn't do that as it is obvious that readers can do that work for themselves and that it might have been misread as an end-of-an-era critique which is not how I imagine the world and communities the characters in The Slap live in. It is too simplistic and facile to place all that is unsettling or ugly or uncomfortable in contemporary Australia on John Howard's shoulders and not to see the continuity in politics and practices between Keating, Howard and Rudd, for example. It seemed to me that a significant change occurred in Australian society over the last twenty years that has seen a withering away of traditional notions of Australian class and of a supposed ethos of egalitarianism. That was a very conscious decision to set the novel in the backyards and bars and coffee shops of a new middle-class which does not necessarily look or sound anything like the middle-class that usually inhabits the pages of Australian fiction or is on our cinema and television screens. This is a middle-class as much wog as it is anglo, a middle-class that emerges as much from the working class as it does from the world of universities and the eastern suburbs. This shift in the cultural landscape of urban Australia is about money, the global economic boom of the nineties and early twenty-first century, and because it is about capital and status the values embodied in this shift are conservative and materialistic. In a strange way the book may turn out to be an end-of-an-era work not because of the electoral shift from Liberal to Labor but because of the consequences of the contemporary economic crisis.

And that statement makes it even more imperative that I pick up a copy and read it.

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.


About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from February 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

January 2009 is the previous archive.

March 2009 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en