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Phone 52225947 between 3 and 4pm on Tuesdays to speak to us live on air. Email: Post: 68-70 Little Ryrie Street, Geelong VIC 3220.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

June 14th

WELCOME to Leo, panelling today.

* NEXT WEEKEND in Torquay brings the “Froth’N’Bubble” Literary Festival, Saturday and Sunday at Torquay College. All FREE.

* In our conversation last Tuesday, ROHAN WILSON spoke of his doctoral work on the relationship between historiography and fiction: that same day the marvellous621 am/Radio National’s “Bush Telegraph” featured a discussion of the novel-to-film process of “The Chant Of Jimmy Blacksmith” with author Tom Keneally, actor Tommy Lewis and director, Fred Schepsi. [You can download the podcast.] NOTE: in 2001,”The True Story OF Jimmy Governor” was published, Moore/Willaims. Very interesting.

* The latest GRANTA from the UK looks at the “F” word…FEMINISM.

* NEIL HUMPHRIES, an early guest on this program, has a new novel, “Premier Leech”, which looks at the ‘underbelly’ of English football.

* The new “Quarterly Essay” by JUDITH BRETT, looks at the city-country divide. I will talk about it next week.

* BLOOM’S DAY will be recognised Thursday 16th June at the Geelong Library by having local writers read from “Ulysses”.

* “Phil the Greek” – aka the Duke of Edinburgh – turned 90 recently and “The Oz” Saturday listed 100 foot-in-mouth eruptions from the Royal Consort. I will read one each week for your AMUSEMENT. Eg: “If you stay here much longer, you will go home with slitty eyes”. [To a British student during a 1986 visit to China.]

* Book-to-film Number 40: Hemingway’s “The Old Man And The Sea”, starring Spencer Tracey, was on TV Sunday.
The short story I recommended to Rohan last week was the
definitive “The Snows Of Kilaminjaro” [of which a film version came out, I think, with Ava Gardner and Stewart Granger?... maybe.]

* Hesse Street, Queescliff, is BOOKS street. Now PETE [sic] has opened a rag-tag second-hand shop where you will find classics such as John Del Vecchio’s novel of the Vietnam war, “The Last Valley.”

* Poet GEOFF GOODFELLOW will be visiting Geelong as part of the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. More on this later. Karen Mayo is the contact and she is also organising a photography exhibition – “Certificate Of Presence” by KAREN MAYO – in the ‘old’ Dimmey’s building in Malop Street. Dates, times and details… later.

* GARRY DISHER’s new Peninsula [Mornington!] crime novel is out: “Whispering Death”. Stay tuned for my review soon and the follow-up interview.

* I have just begun the second novel by ARAVIND ADIGA who won the Man-Booker with “The White Tiger”. So far it is hilarious and right up there with his first.

* GALLIPOLI. Remember I spoke about the monumental new book by British historian PETER HART on April 26th? MICHAEL McKERNAN, formerly of the Australian War Memorial, prolific writer on Australian war history, has just published a very good SHORT history about the doomed 1915 campaign which is a great introduction. In a very concise manner, he raises all the issues – and provides some challenging answers.

INTERVIEW with ADRIENNE FERREIRA, author of a brand-new vovel,”Watercolours” [ 4th Estate pb, rrp $40, pp 340.]

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

June 7th

WELCOME to Emma and John […and thanks to BOB APPLETON whose mind came up with the name of this program over two years ago!]

Book & Publishing News

* Remember my review of JC BURKE”s novel “The Pig Boy”? I have now read a second book – “The Story Of Tom Brennan” – which is currently on the NSW Yr 12 English syllabus. I am still trying to line Jan up for a chat.

* Book-to-film Nos. 39 and 40. We watched a 1990s’ film version of the Raymond Chandler classic “The Big Sleep”. Don’t bother: why did the director [the competent Michael Winner] move the action to the UK? Robert Mitchum is just too cool as Marlowe.
I read Burdick/Lederer’s “The Ugly American” when I was in my late teens and it awakened in me my interest in foreign affairs, particularly re. the US and Australia in SE Asia. The film came out in 1963: it was fascinating to see it now, with Marlon Brando as the embattled US Ambassador in Sarakan [Vietnam?]

* As the new month begins, all the news and books mags are coming out. You can purchase them at PATON’s in Newtown. Some highlights:
OVERLAND – BENJAMIN LAW on the Brisbane floods.
ALR [in “The Austrlian”]– an essay discussing who is the more selfish, the Babyboomers or Gen Y.
THE MONTHLY – a great article on the implications of China’s latest Five-Year Plan.
ABR – PATRICK ALLINGTON {“Figurehead”] has a long article on the criteria for the Miles Franklin Award.
QUADRANT – I enjoyed an article on GRAHAM GREENE’s “Catholic” novels.
SOUTHERLY – a special India edition…which reminds me that I must tell you soon about a great new novel set in SW India, ”Tiger Hills”.

* Torquay is holding its “Froth’N’Bubble Festival” on June 18-19. Check out the website for all the FREE events.

* BLOOMSDAY is June 16th and our Geelong library will host readings from That Book [”Ulysses”] by local writers.

* Melbourne Writers’ Festival is coming to Geelong…more later.

* BOOK DESIGN is a fad of mine. I love the look and feel of A&U’s “Good Living Street”, not to mention “The Roving Party”.

* I may not have time to review these, but interesting reading at present: “Amexica”. a documentary on the border wars on the USA-Mexican border….”Tamil Tigress’ tells the story of young Sri Lankan woman caught up in that civil war; she now lives in Australia. I will review “Those Who Came After” by ELISABETH HOLDSWORTH which is VERY good so far.

This Week’s Review: “The Precipice” by Virginia Duigan”

In spite of “Moby Dick”, ”The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Catcher In The Rye”, I am rather wary of novels presented from a first-person narrator’s perspective. I also look askance on novels about writing – ah - novels. Hence my alarm with “The Precipice” as Duigan’s Thea Farmer begins to tell us about her unfulfilled retirement to her “shack” in the Blue Mountains, relieved mainly by her regular excursions to the local town’s Creative Writing evenings.

The nearby town could be Leura. It is never named, but Thea lives deep within that glorious terrain which is beautifully if ominously depicted in her reveries. She is a former principal of a girls’ secondary school. The circumstances of her finishing up in the profession are somewhat murky for most of the book. She had designed her dream retirement home, but had to sell up when the GFC hit. The purchasers are ‘tree changers’, Frank and Ellice, and his adoptive daughter, Vietnamese-Australian teenager, Kim. The only friends Thea has are Oscar, the man who ruins the Creative Writing course, and the local secondhand bookshop proprietor, Sandy. She dotes on her dog, Tim. Thea is intelligent, articulate, prickly, self-opinionated – and fascinating, for most of the book. I can’t say I liked her or even sympathised with her lonely plight. Increasingly I was reminded of those other memorable fictional teachers, Miss Jean Brodie from Muriel Spark’s terrific novel and Jack Keating [from the film, “The Dead Poets’ Society”.]

Thea’s private life is slowly, and [mostly] cleverly revealed, my reservation arising from my confusion at times about what was the novel and what was for her Creative gradually Writing class. We discover the lingering cloud over her work relationship with a gifted young male teacher, Karl Rhode. Meanwhile she seems to be getting awkwardly close to Frank. The friendship with Kim seems mutually beneficial as she mentors the girl’s English skills and Kim acts as a surrogate daughter. Remember, however, that I had begun to see Brodie-Keating signals – and we know how THEIR patronage ended up! Does the author want the reader to read such signs? Maybe that’s a question I’ll ask Virginia when I speak with her.

Kim is a regular “good kid” who laps up the attention and responds to Thea’s educative guidance. By halfway through the story, Frank’s specific artistic project comes in for attention while the overtly-loving relationship he displays for his wife begins to look just a little forced.
And Thea seems just a little too entranced by the brooding presence of her surroundings.

The novel has many of the elements of a conventional adult-child relationship story, but increasingly moves in to the realm of mystery. It is quite readable and Thea is an intriguing enough subject for a novel: God knows, there are enough of us oddball retired teachers around for a whole fiction genre!
But…Remember my unease about the structure and point-of-view?
The mystery just isn’t sufficiently enigmatic. The final climax is a giveaway. I thought so, anyway. I worked my way through the novel too slowly; I like to be drawn into a book, either by the fascination I derive from the characters, or the setting, or the sheer brilliance of the language. And if the writer steers me towards MYSTERY, that should make me turn the pages quickly. “The Precipice” finally disappoints though it is worth a look, for the Blue Mountains location at alone.

SCORE: **+
VIRGINIA DUIGAN: “The Precipice”, Vintage pb, pp 284, rrp $35.

Please feel free to respond to the material here, by writing to us or by phoning in between 3 and 4 pm on Tuesdays, during the show.

Author Interview: with Rohan Wilson author of “The Roving Party”

Rohan Wilson was the winner of the 2011 Vogel Literary Prize, for “The Roving Party” and is based in Launceston.

You can read my review of Rohan’s book if you scroll back to mid-April.

We spoke of Rohan’s interest in Tasmanian history, the “darkness” of the literary output from the island state [“Tasmanian gothic”?], the seminal work of ROBERT DREWE [“The Savage Crows”] in looking at Indigenous-European issues in fiction.

Rohan is working on his Ph D thesis, looking at the relationship between historiography and fiction, an area prominent in recent Australian writing [ cf “The Chant Of Jimmy Blacksmith”. ”Out Of Ireland”, ”That Deadman Dancing”, ”The Secret River”, ”Figurehead”.]
The novel almost juxtaposes the role of John Batman with Indigenous Vandiemonian [sic], Black Bill, in hunting down ‘marauding natives’. It is a graphic tale, full of the bleakness of the Tasmanian landscape– and the cruelty of the hunters’ minds and methods.

Guest Interview: Leah Swann, author of short story collection “Bearings”

John spoke with LEAH SWANN, author of the short story collection, “Bearings”, one of the six excellent books in AFFIRM PRESS’s recent publishing initiative.

CHARACTERS? People adrift with the title highlighting the experiences of people trying to find a place, an occupation; their resulting vulnerability.

STRUCTURE? Leah’s short stories are not anecdotes. Some follow a sequential structure, some are more “layered”. The structure comes out of the process of telling as a pattern emerges out of developing images.

CONCLUSIONS? They are often uncertain with the reader left to ‘conclude’.

POINT OF VIEW? Occasionally SECOND person: notoriously difficult, but that is how “Street Sweeper” emerged for her.

IMAGERY: the stories feature sensual detail – because that is what Leah herself enjoys in her reading: people love to experience the world from someone else’s awareness.
The “compressed energy” of the short story remains a most attractive feature for Leah though she is working on longer forms.


This week you heard Mel Torme singing “Blue Moon”….the best popular singer of the 20th century [says I.]

May 31st

Well,we are back again...but illness prevents my getting the FULL
story on-line for you this week. Be assured we will be back better
than ever from 3pm on June 1st

Book & Publishing News

* Torquay Froth'N'Bubble Festival is FREE: June 18-19 at Torquay
Secondary College hall. Lots of writing,etc. workshops for all
ages.Check the website.

* JC BURKE ["The Pig Boy",reviewed April 19th] was to speak with me
today;unavailable,but we will follow up.

Next Week

The Blurb will be speaking with ROHAN WILSON, this years Vogel Prizewinner for, "The
Roving Party"] and short story writer LEAH SWANN.

* Bernard will review "The Precipice", by VIRGINIA DUIGAN, who 'The Blurb' will be speaking with soon.

This Week's Review

This week's review was "Where Colts Ran" by ROGER McDONALD

Score: ****

Sunday, May 22, 2011

May 17th

Book & Publishing News

* My apology for this print version of my review of the excellent “The Tiger Wife” being so brief…I lost some of it somewhere.

* LIAO YIWU continues to be harassed by the culture police of the People’s Republic: his “The Corpse Walker” is about as harmless a piece of social documentary as one could imagine…in a true democracy.

* JOSEPH HELLER’s unforgettable “Catch-22” is 50 years old. [I read pp 54-5 where Doc Daneeka defines Catch 22.]

* There was an article on 2011 Booker winner HOWARD JACOBSON [“The Finkler Question”] in Sunday’s “Age” which tells his story well. Scroll back to my review last year.

* I spoke at the recent meeting of the Bellarine Historical Society, Wednesday last on “What makes history?”, drawing on 20 or so history books we have discussed on this program over the last year. The excellent Drysdale museum is open the first Sunday of the month. Lots of local histories for sale.

* The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards were announced this week: MALCOLM FRASER and MARGARET SIMONS for his memoirs and ALEX MILLER for “Love Song” were the main winners.

* VICTOR FRANKL’s classic “Man’s Search For Meaning” has been re-published: a thorough review in last Saturday’s “Review” in “The Oz”.

* The latest ABR has their winning 2011 essay by DEAN BIRON. Excellent. Another interview with GERALDINE BROOKS…I still haven’t read “Caleb’s Crossing”.

* Local poet JUDE McCUDDEN will be Poet-In-Residence at Portarlington’s friendly “Blue Dolphin Café” whose hosts Kamil and Helen are generous supporters of the arts on the Peninsula…and make great coffee!

* “THE MONTHLY” for May includes a long analysis of CHRIS LILLEY’s work…Novelist Nicholas Shakespeare on Tasmania… “the Oz”’s PETER van OLENSEN on the future of the Liberal P…And a review of MARK McKENNA on manning Clark; I have just begun this lengthy work. There was also another review of LINDSAY TANNER’s “Sideshow” [which I will review in a fortnight. An interview later, I hope.]...A review of MARK McKENNA’S large tome on Manning Clark which I am wrestling with at present…HELEN GARNER on “Mad Bastards” and “Snowtown”, two notable new films.
The best edition of this magazine for a while.
PATON BOOKS stocks all these magazines.

* I felt for the forlorn workers in “Borders” as they packed lonely books into crates in That Shopping Centre this morning…No sympathy at all for the company though – who spruiked books at “bargain” prices which were effectively the same as the ‘rrp’. LONG LIVE Kathryn, Marylou, Jane and all the ‘little’ booksellers!!

This Weeks Review: “The Sparrows of Edward Street” by Elizabeth Stead

In 1948, Sydneysiders were shocked when Ruth Park’s “The Harp In The South” portrayed the ‘underbelly’ of their city in all its squalor, disease, crime and poverty. Not in our backyard, surely! Sly grog, illegal abortions, domestic violence…and SLUMS. Investigation by the press revealed that, yes, Surry Hills WAS that seedy and low-lived.
[The book, of course, deservedly won all sorts of awards, was made into a successful play, and later became one of our first memorable TV mini-series. Park’s trilogy is still popular, never having been out of print, I believe – as has her trilogy of memoirs.]

I was reminded of “The harp..” as I read this novel from the great Christina Stead’s niece. The eponymous family – delicate apostate-Jewish mother, Hanora; our narrator, the feisty Aria; the vulnerable younger sister, Rosy – are consigned in the late 40s to a “public housing” camp in outer Sydney, having been evicted from a miserly city unit by a landlord who couldn’t find favour with Hanora. They are much put upon. It is a remote cluster of sheds really, full of the dispossessed, with some better-off migrants up the road – and Aborigines in a separate compound. The Sparrows quickly assert themselves, thanks to Aria pride and Hanora’s ingenuity. The place is peopled with some memorable characters – the rabbitoh, Mr. Sparkle; the local priest; a tragic war veteran – and the various women who gather at the laundry for mutual support and gossip. It is rather an anachronistic tale: why publish it now, I wondered? Park had done the job very well half a century ago. Perhaps we need to reminded that “working families” really had it tough not long ago? That there were strong women slogging away for recognition and dignity before the “women’s movement?” I would like to see some documentary work done in the area Stead had re-created.

It is definitely an entertaining book, sometimes amusing, rarely dull. We suffer alongside the Sparrows and the denizens of the camp as they long for escape into the outer world. We marvel at Aria’s endurance, but it was all a bit déjà vu, I thought.

SCORE: **+
ELIZABETH STEAD: The Sparrows Of Edward Street, UQP pb, pp 288, rrp $29-95.

I also gave a brief review of
RON RASH: One Foot In Eden, text pb, pp 197, rrp $30.


You heard Sandy Denny singing “3.10 to Yuma”. The original film with Glenn Ford is on TV at 4pm today! As well as Robert Plant and Alison Krauss singing, “Killing the Blues” from RAISING SAND.