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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December 7th

Book & Publishing News

Tell us in 25 words or less about the book you enjoyed most during 2010. It doesn’t have to be a new publication. Send your entries to
THE PULSE 16-18 Lt Ryrie St.,Geelong
Phone: HONOR at the station during working hrs at 03 52225947.

We will judge the best entry during TUESDAY 21st’s program. The winner can collect a gift of books to the value of $75 from the station [$100 for subscribers.]

*Peter Corris has been designated “godfather of our crime writers”. With 30 years writing about crime in inner Sydney – mostly dealing with the life of that great survivor, Cliff Hardy – I think he has earned his stripes. In January his latest Hardy book, “Follow the Money”, will be out. I am hoping to speak with Peter about his writing life in the New Year. Before resorting to crime fiction, he lectured in English at the University of Sydney, and is married to novelist, Jean Bedford whose novel about Kate Kelly, “My Sister Kate”, is a jolly good read.

* Our poem today comes from Clifton Springs Diane Fahey. “Air” was published in Saturday’s Review in “The Australian”, quite an achievement. Those of us who live on the Bellarine will really love this poem about regrets, etc. Another of Diane’s poems appeared in today’s “Eureka Street” [ the excellent free on-line news magazine, published by the Jesuits.] She will be a guest on our show in January too.

*Late Christmas present ideas…
1. SALLY DINGO: “Unsung Ordinary Men”. Stories of WWII POWS, including her grandfather.
2. ANDY MULLIGAN: “Trash”. Remember the novel, “Towards The Beautiful North” – about three girls from a poor Mexican village who head “North” in search of some “magnificent” men to save their homes from drug dealers? I reviewed it early this year. [ You can find all our reviews under the Blog Archive on the right hand side panel]. This exceptional novel has something of that tone, but is much more serious. Three boys who ‘live’ on the garbage dumps outside Manila find a ‘treasure’ which leads them into an adventure which may take them to freedom…”Slumdog Millionaires” territory, sort of.

* Speaking of films. I use our Regional Library’s vast collection of DVDs for my film viewing – including last week Peter Brook’s 1963 B&W classic take on William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”. What a film!, What a book!

*And “Jindabyne” was on recently as part of SBS’s latest classic films offering. We will feature the [Paul Kelly] soundtrack today. We all know the film’s pedigree? Raymond Carver wrote a chilling story “So Much Water So Close To Home” which Kelly drew on for his song, “Everything’s Turning To White”…which was then picked up for the screenplay of “Jindabyne”.

* LISTEN IN to my other program “BLOOD’S COUNTRY” every Monday at 3pm.


Not in any order;

- Morais: “The 100 Foot Journey”
- Levy: “Small Island” OR “The Long Song”
- Markell: “Wolf Hall”
- Roth: “Nemesis”
- Slawenski: “JD Salinger”
- Keneally: “Australia”
- RS Thomas: “Collected Poems” Vols I and II
- Doshi: “The Pleasure Seekers”
- Miller: “LoveSong”
- Malantes: “Matterhorn”

And ‘ELEVETH MAN’/Interchange:
- Allington: “Figurehead”

- Capp: “My Blood’s Country”
- Cunningham: “By Nightfall”
- Kelly: “March of the Patriots”

I think all these were published this year so should be available. And you know where to find reviews!

This Week’s Review: “By Nightfall” by Michael Cunningham

Who has been to New York? Do you know someone else who has? [Oh, ZANE has….when he was two years old!] Anyone I know who has been there has been quite overwhelmed by the experience: the vibrancy, the variety…the little specialty shops, the café life, the bars…Central Park…The music, the food, the theatres, the galleries. The COLOUR of the place.

When I think of New York these days, it is hard for me to shake those dreadfully images from 11 pm the night [our time] of their attacks on the Twin Towers. [By the time I was watching, the coverage had gone to Washington where two reporters struggled to describe what was happening as we saw the Pentagon being attacked as we watched.]
In quieter moments I will think of:
“The Great Gatsby”, stil the most perfectly crafted novel I have read…CHAIM POTOK’s novels about the Orthodox Jews of Williamsburg, NY, especially my favourite, “My Name Is Asher Lev”…Hart Crane’s epic poem, “Brooklyn Bridge”…The Mafia, and Coppola’s “Godfather” trilogy, maybe the zenith of American film achievement…Woody Allen films..The music: of OLD [Gershwin, Cole, Porter, Rogers and Hart] and the once-new: Dylan, Paul Simon, Billy Joel.
Believe it or not, a lot of this was running around in my head as I read Michael Cunningham’s new novel. He made his name with the book about Virginia Wool’s – “The Hours” – the very good film of which starred ‘our’ Nicole [in perhaps her last real acting role?] As well as telling a very good story about a modern marriage, Cunningham has done a good job of celebrating the Big Apple of the 21st century, or at least one upper middle-class slice of it. The great city almost features as a character.

I think this is a brilliant novel – though it may not be to everyone’s taste. It is by no means slow-paced, but it is a psychological or social novel. So there are no shoot-outs or overly dramatic turns. It tells of the latest phase in the twenty-year-old marriage of Peter Harris, a successful art gallery entrepreneur, late of Milwaukee. His wife, Rebecca, is “one of the Richmond, Virginia, Taylor sisters”. She also works in the art industry, and I suspect New York is still the world’s art capital? The time is now, so the big bucks once made by agents from the latest fashion in painting, sculpture, ‘installations’, ICT/multi-media creations are drying up. Pleasing his valued, wealthy customers and discovering [ and ‘booking’] the latest art hero are just two of Peter’s current challenges. They are both worrying about their uni drop-out daughter, when the unusual nephew, Ethan [aka “Mizzy”] decides to come and stay a while. Peter is in search of beauty, in the art he studies, evaluates and exhibits as well as in his daily existence. Mizzy’s presence challenges him in ways he thought he would never dream of.

Peter’s is [as Billy J sang] very much “a New York state of mind”. Some of the novel’s best moments are when he walks the neighbourhood late at night, or discusses the latest hangings with his assistant, or visits a wealthy client in her out-of-town mansion. I found him a sympathetic character. The vents are seen very much from his point of view, but he is not given a whitewash by any means. Twenty years ago this sort of novel would have been considered daring, but we are used now to the honesty with which the serious artists treat “Ordinary People” [that very good film!] I felt for Peter not because of his advanced aestheticism [if, in fact, he possesses it] but for his willingness to face his issues. So – am I contradicting myself? – The book is also a bit old-fashioned in its prose style. There are no gimmicks here – and it is not too long.

When Cunningham takes two pages to describe, for example, a room, you can bet the effect will be memorable, and relevant to the novel’s overall meaning.

Rating: ****

Michael Cunningham: By Nightfall, 4th Estate, 2010, pp 238, rrp $34-99 pb.

December 7th

Book & Publishing News

*It’s nearly Christmas, so let’s forever CORRECT something…If you are involved in it, it is “Kris Kindle”…and NEVER “Kris Kringle”. The latter is, I think, a character in an old movie entitled “Miracle on 34th Street.

*The latest ALR was bit disappointing. No surprise The Oz gave space to NSW Right-Wing powerbroker Michael Costa to add his surgical swipes to the state of federal Labor, though what it has to do with our current LITERARY scene as such, I am not sure.

* …Speaking of which: very contrasting reviews of the Howard book from Robert Manne [in the latest “The Monthly”] and David Martin Jones [in “Quadrant”]. I honestly tried to read “Lazarus Rising”, but resorted to cherry-picking, using the index. No wonder The Oz is giving it away to new subscribers to that newspaper. There is some great summer reading in this issue of “The Monthly”.

* I’ve not time to review it, but “Chains” by Laurie Hals Anderson was a very good recent read. Set amid the turmoil of the British attack on Washington and his patriots in 1776.the book reminds us of the pain of that particular Revolution.

* ..IF YOU WANT $75 worth of new books, tell us what your favourite read was this year. Email /phone/ write in, 25 words or less. We will judge the most PERSUASIVE piece and the winner can collect the prize from our reception. [$100 if you are a subscriber to THE PULSE.]

*Dec-Jan edition of Australian Book Review announces the winner of its Short Story Comp for 2010– Deakin Geelong’s Maria Toklander. There is lots of good reading, including Maria’s rather unusual story and an essay on ‘Em Forster’ by editor, Peter Rose. Of special interest will be the favourite books for this year from prominent writers, including many we have reviewed on this program.

*I will list my favourite TEN books for 2010 during our last program before Christmas.

*My MONDAY program – “BLOOD’S COUNTRY” – goes to air at 3 pm. Lots of readings from all sorts of people telling us about our land and its People. Good Australian classical music too.

This Weeks Review: “the mary smokes boys” by Patrick Holland

This novel reminded me of all those wonderful writers who over the years have told us what it is like to be a Queenslander. Xavier Herbert’s “Capricornia” must surely be one of the great Australian novels. More recently, the late Thea Astley’s numerous books managed to cover just about every aspect - historical, geographical and social - in the Sunshine State’s experience. Of late, we have the likes of Matthew Condon. Perhaps the greatest of them all is David Malouf, master poet, novelist and short-story writer.
Well, Patrick Holland has a way to go yet, but his second outing is a very perceptive look into the lives of a handful of contemporary Queenslanders about whom we don’t usually hear much. They live just over the Great Divide from Brisbane, in fairly poor circumstances and are generally left to their own devices by family and the wider community. They are the denizens of ‘Mary Smokes’. Nothing much happens there because it is on the way to nowhere much. Our hero is Grey. He and his troubled but rather wise younger sister, Irene, lost their mother years before, and Dad is a rather ne’er-do-well, through no fault of his own, really. He’s just one of those sad people for whom life has dealt the lower cards. He has a new wife, but life has no promises left for him.

Grey is pretty much his own man, though he is continually lured into the escapades of his young Indigenous neighbour, “Ook”, and the other “Boys”. There is an element of illegality in much of what they get up to. They do love the places where they live: the Mary Smokes River and its surrounding bush which is playground and hideout. This is by no means an unlikely scenario in small towns where there is not much to do.

Having lived and taught most of my adult life in such places, I would say that the situation of youth –especially the older adolescents, with little education, just out of school – is somewhat precarious. There are the possibilities for a meaningful relationship between Grey and a local girl, but she will always be better off – attractive, better-educated, from a better side of town. Ultimately Grey has to make some choices about loyalties – between his vulnerable sister and the Boys.
It is quite a simple tale but one told with sincerity and an authenticity born of the author’s own earlier immersion in the life of rural Queensland. Holland respects his characters, though the reader is left in little doubt of their fallibility and [probably] hopelessness.

Rating: ***

Patrick Holland: “the mary smokes boys”, Transit Lounge, 2010, rrp $29-95, pp 237, pb.

Author Interview: Jane Carnegie-Poet (Bernard’s Interview)

On The Blurb’s never-ending quest to unravel poetry for our listeners, we spoke to poet Jane Carnegie about her poetry. She also gave you a taste of her work by reading some of her poems [in a much better fashion than my weekly attempts at it]. This week the show was jam packed with poets as poet Cameron Lowe joined us in the studio to talk about his recently published work.

Jane on “Why” Poetry?
One takes on the creative endeavour one by one. The poems just began. When I first began writing, I could write 3 poems a day, now it’s more 3 poems a month. It was very exciting in the beginning.

Jane on the accessibility of her poems to the reader and what makes poetry different from prose-
What I’m trying to do when I write a poem on something is to distil its essence.

Author Interview: Cameron Lowe author of poetry collection “Porch Music” (John’s Interview)

Today we were joined in the studio by Cameron Lowe, Geelong-born poet whose first full-length collection of poetry Porch Music was launched by Whitmore Press in Geelong last Sunday. (Whitmore Press is a locally-based publisher, headed by local writer and editor, Anthony Lynch).

Cameron has served as editor of the Ardent Sun and co-editor of the Geelong-based poetry magazine Core. He has published frequently in Southerly, The Age, Island, Meanjin, & now The Best Australian Poems 2010. “Throwing Stones at the Sun”, a chapbook of his poems was published by Whitmore Press in 2005. He is currently undertaking postgraduate study at The University of Melbourne.

It is worth making a special note of the fact that Cameron is one of eight poets in the Geelong region whose work appears in this year’s “The Best Australian Poem” (published by Black Inc).

I know poets (and many writers) are loath to discuss the nuts and bolts of their writing but Cameron was happy to explore some of the directions in which his work is taking him. My personal belief is that poets have a particular view of the world and of life and I think there’s a particular sort of observation that Cameron brings to this collection. Most of us in our busy lives are content to look at something and then look away at something else but poets like Cameron look and then keep on looking until they get to the essence of what they see and find the words to express this.

It’s the small, concise intimacies that Porch Music brings to our attention. For example in ‘Easy’:
‘You wake with her hand / on your back; her hand, / warm beneath sheets, / on the small of your back. / …a thing, a small easy thing’
or in Solitude where:
‘…the late sun falls sharp / and clear / into that bare white room, warming / her back…’

These are the sorts of observations that David McCooey, in launching Porch Music, described as ‘mundane yet remarkable’. Perhaps poets don’t so much look at life differently but they do keep looking and noticing the things the rest of us miss in our haste. Cameron Lowe in this collection makes us notice the small details and they are always details suffused with meaning and significance. Cameron admitted that he is much influenced by the poet William Carlos Williams in his focus on the small and seemingly insignificant.

He said also in his interview that he does attempt to de-Romanticise the idea of poetry and his focus is often on the ordinary or everyday:

In Morning light ‘Over the road, the new neighbour / polishing his ute, three magpies / exploring the median strip. / On the fence rail, by the gate, / a green can of VB its own mystery.’
Yet these ordinary objects seem to glow with an inner mystery or meaning.
However, Porch Music does not take itself too seriously. There is always humour lurking behind the lyrical.

In Summer:
‘…As the day’s / heat softens into evening there’s that / sausage again, adrift on the hot breeze, / whispering: it’s summer, it’s summer.’

While the first part of this collection contain poems which are often personal and intimate, the second section, “Corrosive Littoral”, responds to the paintings of the Australian Surrealist artist James Gleeson. Many of these poems take more time to digest and their meanings are not immediately apparent. Titles are taken from Gleeson paintings and often discard the poetic structure as if it is inadequate to contain the responses generated by the paintings.
Overall in this collection there is a balance between poems which are intensely private and personal and others which roam into wider, more universal territory. The title of this collection “Porch Music” then feels entirely appropriate, where the porch is the space which is situated between and connects the personal and the public and it is this ‘littoral’ territory that these poems inhabit

This is a beautifully presented collection from a local poet of whom we should be proud and of whom we will no doubt hear more in the future.

“Porch Music” published by Whitmore Press is available at Paton Books, Pakington St. Geelong. RRP: $24.95

For more on poetry and to check out some of John’s Very on work check out:


This week you heard the following tracks:
-“We Won’t Run” by Sarah Blasko
-“Let Go” by Frou Frou

Catch Up on The Blurb

Here at The Blurb we try and post as many reviews and other bits and pieces from our show onto our blog. Unfortunately some things get lost in translation! Here are some things that have finally found their way to our blog from past shows…ENJOY

Bernard’s ‘History Book Reviews’ from November 9th

Regular listeners to this program will know that I am pretty interested in history books. More specifically, I find ‘HISTORIOGRAPHY’ - the study of how history is recorded – totally intriguing. But why is history, usually recorded by ‘white’ males, from the material left by dead ‘white’ males? Well, maybe things are changing, have a look at the bookshelves in your library… Anyway, that is a topic for another time. In the meantime, as we approach the gifting season, I thought I should tell you about some books available which talk about some contemporary history, some recent publications as well as a few famous events, a favourite subject for writers of history books.

I have mentioned before my admiration for the work of some-time television broadcaster, Simon Schama. You may have to dig around for his books, but he has written beautifully about the French Revolution [in “Citizens"], the American slave trade [“The Middle Passage”] as well as a general history of the United States [“The American Future”.] His newest publication, "Scribble, Scribble , Scribble…” awaits me, with its promise of “Writings on Icecream, Obama, Churchill and My Mother”.
Tony Wright is a respected journalist with “The Age” [who can be heard weekly on Denis Scanlon’s “Front Page” on this station]. Ten years ago he visited the Gallipoli Peninsula on assignment and has returned several times. Allen & Unwin have just published his excellent book “Walking the Gallipoli Peninsula” which is much more a walker’s guide. Tony has done his homework and provides a rich background to events of those dreadful months in 1915 that add fresh insights, especially for the intending traveller. [I have grave personal uncertainties about just what we as a nation are doing with our wartime mythology – led by less-scrupulous politicians? - which is not to take anything away from the pain suffered by those “diggers” and their families.]

In this election year there has been an unusually large number of ‘post mortem’-type books published; have there ever been so many before? [“Montes parturiuntur/Et nascitur ridiculus mus” indeed! I laughed as I browsed “Best Political Cartoons of 2010”, out already, reminded of the unique place filled by our cartoonists in the work of the Fourth Estate. The often-hilarious, always-perceptive comments of Leunig, Tanberg, Petty, Nicholson, Leak, etc. are all there for you to smile over. Barry Cassidy is well-known for his work on ABC TV, particularly his addictive “Insiders” on Sunday mornings. He has called his record of the past three years in Australian federal politics “The Party Thieves”, a title which hints at the revelatory contents. It is for the lay reader rather than the serious student, but a good read nonetheless.

And that brings me to Bruce Guthrie’s “Man Bites Murdoch”, probably one for the media tragic's. You may remember Guthrie as a leading Melbourne newspaperman over many years who took on and beat Murdoch Snr in a recent wrongful dismissal case. His book reminds us just how capricious life can be at the upper end of the media circus.

We leave the public life of the nation now for more local histories. Victory Books are clearly cashing in on the popularity of the recent film “Animal Kingdom” by re-releasing former tabloid journalist Tom Noble's “Walsh Street", though I would say this story deserves to be recalled continually as our police go about their dangerous calling. The cold-blooded murder of two young officers is still a 'powerful and emotional’ one as Noble says in his introduction. The crime remains unsolved.

World-famous novelist [Sir?] Salman Rushdie was being as provocative as usual when he wrote in 1984 that “Adelaide is the perfect place for a horror story….because sleepy, conservative towns are where these things happen. Adelaide is an Amityville, or Salem, amid things go bump in the night.” Well, we always allow Rushdie a bit of poetic licence, but journalist Sean Fewster goes all the way back to Edward Gibbon Wakefield to explain why he thinks the “City of Churches” has been the site of so much bizarre crime. Adelaide was to be a 'planned' community of free men, avoiding the “hated stain” of convictism of the other colonies. Fewster reveals that Wakefield himself had his own skeletons clanking away in his English cupboard. Anyway, was it not inevitable that Adelaide’s obsession with propriety and secrecy would build a pressure-cooker society that must periodically burst into infamy, this is a racy read, tabloid in style but well-researched and rather compelling.
David Hill is something of a local Renaissance man, arriving as a British WWII orphan he has since taken on many prominent roles in the service of his adopted country. After being head of the ABC and running the national Soccer Federation, he has turned to writing history books. His “Gold: The fever that changed Australia” was certainly an ambitious project. The hallmarks of sound history writing are there: the footnotes, bibliography and index are sound. I feel his enterprise may have been rather over-reaching as he attempted to cover the search for the precious metal from the Palmer River to Ophir to Central Australia[Lassetters Reef] over 150 years. People like Geoff Blainey Geoffrey Serle and [Deakin’s own] Weston Bate have made it hard for later writers of the history of gold discovery in Australia. Find “The Rush That Never Ended” or “Lucky City” for the very best. That being said, Hill provides a pretty extraordinary introduction to this vast topic. He even gives the associated bushrangers a run. [Pun intended!]
To a completely different scenario. British academic Jeremy Black has written a comprehensive yet concise history called “The Battle of Waterloo". I found it dovetailed neatly with my finishing “Citizens”. Clearly the vast majority of unfortunate participants in that bloody conflict were illiterate so as usual the history is drawn from 'official' records. The work of the American, Ken Burns [with "The Civil War", notably] and our own Bill Gammage [“The Broken Years”] have been able to acknowledge the role of the ‘ordinary’ soldiers in war. People such as Black rely on the politicians and military leaders for what are usually secondary sources anyway. The people in the field are normally silent. However, this is a good all-round introduction to this area. I get annoyed with the absence of maps in such books….Not many of us know these places, for heaven’s sake. What I found most interesting was Black’s discussion of the impact of Napoleon’s campaigns, and the end of same, on the events of 19th century Europe.
It is these sorts of connections that are the real stuff of history, methinks.

Tony Wright: "Walking the Gallipoli Peninsula", A&U, 2010, 287pp, rrp $ 32-99 pb.
Jeremy Black: "The Battle of Waterloo", Icon Books, 2010, 236pp, rrp $35 hb.
David Hill: "Gold…", Heinemann, 2010, 497pp, rrp $34-95, pb.
Sean Fewster: "City Of Evil", Hatchette, 2010, 322pp, rrp $35, pb.
Bruce Guthrie: "Man Bites Murdoch", MUP, 2010, 353pp, rrp $45, hb.

Bernard’s Crime Book Reviews

Here are two very good new crime novels, one by Martin Cruz Smith, the well-known creator of Russian cop/investigator ‘Arkady Renko’, the second by a newcomer the aptly-named Attica Locke. As well as being more or less investigation genre novels, each novels presents a city that is almost character in the drama – a not unusual facet of modern crime writing [ cf Rankin and Edinburgh, JL Burke’s “New Orleans”.]
Ever since his wonderful “Gorky Park”, Smith has made modern Moscow almost as well known to readers as New York has become to TV viewers. The capital of the new Russia is depicted as a little boy grown too big for his pants: its infrastructure is groaning, its streets full of drunks pimps and petty crooks of all kinds while at the top new sorts of mafia control every aspect of business. Locke’s setting is a city new to me – Houston, in the 1980s, oil capital of the USA. Her version of this sprawling city on the Gulf coast is far from glamorous; there is little of Burk’s exotic bayous and juke joints here. Smith’s latest has Renko caught up in contemporary crime on a small scale as he stumbles onto the murder of a young apparent prostitute and, as is usual for Renko he cannot leave the initial plausible investigation alone. Meanwhile another young female vagrant from the provinces arrives in Moscow to have her new-born baby stole. The two threads inevitably come together while Renko fights to retain his status as a policeman. This is not Smith at his best. The scale is reduced from his more world-shaking plots. He writes as if in cruise control. It is worth reading, but a bit on the lazy side.

SCORE: **+

Martin Cruz Smith, “Three Stations”, Pan Macmillan, 2010, pp 241,rrp $32-99,pb

Locke’s novel shows us 1980s Houston, wrestling with its resources boom and in the throes of ‘labor’ troubles concerned with the oil trade. It opens, however, with a couple celebrating a wedding anniversary who accidentally become involved in a late-night criminal incident. He is an African-American lawyer, a bit down-art-heel, a veteran of the glory days of the civil rights movement of the 60s-70s. The story takes a while to get going, but builds into a searching investigation of just how permanent the social advances wrought by ML King Jr and the his great movement for change in race relations were. Locke’s Porter had been a prominent small player in local race politics in his younger days, but has more or less moved into the settled middle-class life of American suburbia when his father-in-law summons him to stand up again on a justice issue, labour rights this time. Meanwhile, the possible murder, from the book’s opening pages, emerges as a threat to his new-found attempts to lead the better life.

Jay’s character is multi-layered. It seems every book nowadays carries its “Acknowledgements”, etc. addendum. Locke’s is worth reading because she explains how the genesis for her novel was an incident involving her father very like the occurrence of the assault that opens this novel. Jay has to take new risks; faces up to aspects of his past that he had hoped were left behind – while looking after his wife as she prepares for the birth of their first child. Not surprisingly, the ripples spread until we discover the lurking influence of Big Oil in the mix. If this sounds soap-operatic, fear not. Locke handles a complex plot with the skill of a veteran. This is by far the best book in this genre I have read this year. It combines the intricacies of crime-and-investigation with a frank look at an aspect of US history - the advancement of “coloured people” – that resonates today as we consider the situation of the embattles President!

SCORE: ****
Attica Locke, “Black Water Rising”, Harper Collins, 2009, pp 430, rrp $ 24-99, pb

Bernard’s Review of “Nemesis” by Phillip Roth

Now, listeners, a question for you. What do the following people have in common? A wartime American President; a famous Australian soprano; two of my childhood neighbours ;one of my cousins ;the younger brother of one of my lifelong friends? Give up? All of these people, unfortunately, suffered the lifelong effects of a cruel disease that is happily no longer with us – poliomyelitis. If I call it by its earlier name, ”Infantile paralysis”, you will remember that ‘Polio’s” cruel legacy was at least the withering of one limb; the worst cases at the time led to the patient’s quick death from an epidemic that swept the Western world, including Australia in the 1940s. I think it was about 1953 when we were all immunised with a vaccine developed by the American Jonas Salk. It has been so easy for the rest of us to forget the life-changing trauma Polio visited on so many of our contemporaries, many of whom of course still live with its effects.

This is all by way of introducing this week’s book review. Eminent American writer Phillip Roth may be best known for his forgettable yet briefly notorious 1960s novel “Portnoy’s Complaint”. [I won’t embarrass anyone, myself included, by reminding you what young Portnoy’s actual “complaint’ was.] And there was another mildly successful novel, “Goodbye Columbus”, made into a reasonable film with Richard Benjamin and [the new] Ali McGraw which many of us saw in the late 60s. Fortunately Roth’s prowess as an observer of middle-class American life – I hasten to add from a Jewish point of view because his ethnicity is at the heart of his perspective - has improved with age. I venture to suggest he is now, in his 70s,at the height of his powers. I refer you to his two Zuckerman novels and “American Pastoral” of recent times – and now “Nemesis”, the last of a quartet completed in the past couple of years. Though Roth is much lauded in his own country, I could never see why until I read these later novels.

Our central character is “Bucky” Cantor whom we meet as a 23-year-old PE teacher who has been seconded to a new sports program for inner-city boys in inner Newark, New Jersey, in the early 1940s. He has been left at home by his peers because of his poor eyesight; they are off in the Pacific, fighting the Japanese. By the sheer generosity of his nature, he becomes a charismatic figure to the twenty-or-so adolescents whom he daily teaches softball and swimming. It is the dreadful summer of 1944. Not only is America on a full war footing: an epidemic of a new and fearful virus – Poliomyelitis – is afoot. The war, meanwhile, is turning; remember the awful effect the recapture of Europe had on the young JD Salinger? Bucky believes his sad childhood background has made him self-reliant, resourceful, empathetic. Nothing, however, has prepared him for the deaths of some of his charges and the awful choices that suddenly confront him as a result. His lover, Marcia, has “escaped’ the epidemic for the apparent safety of the mountains of Philadelphia where she is counsellor at a school camp attended by her younger twin sisters. Bucky not only yearns for Marcia: he is beginning to grapple with the problem of the ‘death of innocents’ up against his Jewish religion’s teaching about the mercy of God.

That covers the first half of this beautifully-written story. You will have to read it yourself to see how it unfolds. Roth’s command of prose is masterful. Unlike a lot of [dare I say] younger contemporary writers, Roth is not afraid of complex sentences, of the longer paragraph or of exploring human emotion or of establishing the particularity of a setting in place and time. Yet he never lapses into verbosity much less sentimentality. This is a gem of a novel. Now a senior in the writing academy, he has obviously learned his craft by endless practice. The prose is polished, his eye always discerning and accurate – and his heart is unerringly sensitive to the ebbs and flows of humans in history.
This is up there with “Matterhorn” and “Love Story” as my best reading so far this year.
Rating: ****

Philip Roth: “Nemesis”,Jonathan Cape,2010,pp 28o,rrp $35 HB.

News for October 19th

* The latest ABR [from “The Australian”] was a bit esoteric…academic…for me.

* The ever-active TOM KENEALLY recently turned 75, in time for his latest history venture “Three Famines’.

* A recent column in the Fairfax ‘big paper” from The Emerald City bemoaned the scarcity of female writers in the winners’ lists of international fiction awards. Cited was JODI PICOULT’s opinion. Now I have to challenge her claim to be a “serious” novelist.

* Australian Poet GWEN HARWOOD – whose work you we heard again today – is studied for the HSC English course in NSW.

* October is Cancer Awareness Month. Two books around the topic:
Janet Elder:”Huck” and [Australian] Susanne Gervay:”Always Jack”.

* The October edition of independent news magazine “The Monthly” includes JOHN [“After America”, recently reviewed] BIRMINGHAM on the ‘Wikileak’ phenomenon.

* National Geographic continues to be about the best value read around. For about $50 pa, it provides wonderful ‘wildlife’ photography as always, but also amazing articles about world history and environmental issues. This month it tackles the huge story of the Mexico Gulf oil fiasco.

* The Age”’s JANE SULLIVAN wrote recently of her experiences as a judge on one of our leading fiction awards, speaking of the dominance of ‘the big four’ novelists: can you guess who?

* When I calm down sufficiently, I will deliver my review of the 2010 Booker Prize winner, Howard Jacobson’s “The Finkler Question”. Yes, I was appalled – especially when Andrea Levi’s beautiful book was in the mix.

* Did you read the interview in “The Age” recently with playwright EDWARD ALBEE? He will be in Melbourne soon for a lecture. A superbly succinct writer.

* The latest quarterly essay includes several letters commenting on the previous edition’s now-famous David Marr’s discussion of Kevin Rudd [before his removal.] They are relevant to John Bartlett’s recent comments on our program on “the essay” as a genre.

Bernard’s Review of “Private Life” by Jane Smiley and “The Finkler Question” by Howard Jacobson

They are both well-known in their own countries – Smiley won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Literature in the US in 2000 for the splendid “One Thousand Acres” [which was spoiled by a mediocre film version.] Jacobson’s new book was awarded this year’s Man Booker Prize [for best novel published in the British Commonwealth in 2010.]

While Smiley’s works are firmly located in various parts of the USA, Jacobson in fact wrote a couple of early novels while he was teaching at Sydney Uni ,in the early 70s. Smiley’s works have a firm but gently-observing tone, whereas Jacobson’s have a more robust and satirical bent. For the last decade or more, his target has been upper middle-class life in urban England.

Smiley is looking at the life of a middle-class American woman, Margaret, from the 1880s through until the middle of World war II. She is more a Jane Austen than a Joyce Carol Oates, concentrating on the ‘small’ lives of ordinary Americans, but she does it with an unerring gaze which she uses to uncover frustrations and yearnings that are very painful, for all their banality.

On the surface, Margaret is a boring character. No, her sad life is boring. Raised the least attractive of three Mid-West daughters, she gladly allows herself to become hitched to the wonderfully-named Andrew Jefferson early. Fortunately for the reader, most of the story is filtered through Margaret’s eyes for she is a tireless observer, able to wring every possible sensory observation form the quotidian routines of hers and her family’s lives.

Her husband is a pedant. Not only does he [apparently] know everything about most things, in the areas of science - especially astronomy and cosmology – he is forever pushing into what he claims is new territory. The methods he uses in this lifelong pursuit are found to be a little dodgy, just one of the sources of the novel’s little tragedies.

Through a rather loveless courtship and marriage, Margaret makes her way into tedious middle-age. Two miscarriages and the early death of her only child leave a dark scar on her psyche, but at least they also give her a new privacy which she learns to enjoy and exploit.

The historical and political backgrounds are etched in beautifully. It is the time of America’s great industrial awakening and then its emergence as a world power. Amid all this, Margaret lives modestly but with a subtle style of feminine [not quite feminist] independence of heroic dimensions, I think it is her continuing empathy and compassion for those around her; she is never cruel, even to her awful husband. On the contrary, she reaches out to people, quietly, unobtrusively…effectively.

I really liked this novel. Smiley has created an unlikely heroine in Margaret. The scale of the book is quite vast – epic almost. The background events are more momentous than those of Austen’s books, yet they are just there, intruding but so subtly. She is a beautiful stylist. As I recommend repeatedly, read a paragraph aloud and enjoy the flow, the resonance, the language.

Rating: A strong ***

Jacobson writes social comedy. in the style of, say, the American Lisa Adler [What ever happened to her? Great stuff 15 years ago…] In the UK, Martin Amis, David Lodge, Tom Sharpe write similar satire. It is a change for the Booker judges to reward this genre. [Privately, I have not agreed with their judgement since they followed the great “Midnight’s Children” with a lesser Roddy Doyle.]

As a young academic, Jacobson spent a few years lecturing in English at our oldest university. His lectures were apparently both hugely entertaining and very scholarly, a fairly rare combination. “Coming From Behind” and “Redback” and “In The Land Of Oz” come from this period and sold well at the time.

Jacobson is in good form in “The Finkler Question”. It is a witty treatise on his favourite theme of recent times – ‘Getting Older’ – and, of course, there are Jewish men involved. I feel this is a bit anachronistic for our times. Hasn’t Woody Allen done this to death for us, albeit in a different medium?

To quote the cover blurb: “Julian Treslove, a former BBC worker, and Sam Finkler, A Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends. Despite different lives, they’ve never lost touch with each other – or with their former teacher, Libor Sevcik, a Czech more concerned with the wider world than exam results…’ [Those familiar with the novelists mentioned above will already see the relevance of my reference.] Sure, the novel is “Funny, unflinching and furious…” as claimed. I couldn’t agree, however, that as “a story of exclusion and belonging, justice and love, ageing, wisdom and humanity”, it has succeeded, if that is what the author was attempting. Jacobson has definitely become kinder in his later middle years, but his characters just did not engage this reader.

I wonder whether the novel would have worked better as a play; Jacobson is very good at conversations. A lot of people will buy this book on the strength of its Booker win. Maybe I missed something.

Rating: **

Sunday, December 12, 2010

November 23rd

Book & Publishing News

- Arrived recently: two great Christmas buys for the ageing Rockers….Brian Cadd’s “From This Side of the Fence”, lots of gossip and memoir’s from this legendary singer/songwriter, rrp $35. Also out now is “The 100 Best Australian Albums” a beautifully-presented coffee-table style souvenir, rrp $60.

- What did you think of the TV adaptation of Andrea Levi’s “The Small Island”? Our regular reviewer, John, found it all too rushed

- The latest “Quarterly Essay” is by “The Australian’s” George Megalogenis, [who also appears on “True Believers”.] Of the 2010 poll, George says wisely “…Gillard and Abbott, and behind them their poll-obsessed teams, were so terrified of offending the disengaged that they forgot to inspire the voters who were paying attention.” Excellent reading, as always. Available from Paton Books and your library, rrp $19-95.

* Geelong Library representatives will be on “The Blurb” monthly in 2011.

-What better Christmas gift than a new book? Support our station sponsors – PATON BOOKS and Angus and Robertson!

- Commencing this Monday , November 29th at 3 pm , I will be hosting a new hour-long program – “MY BLOOD”S COUNTRY”- which will present how writers, of all kinds have viewed Australia over the years. Be prepared for short stories, poems, diary extracts, interviews, etc from 1788 till now.

* Keep listening to “The Blurb” for my TOP TEN BOOKS of 2010!

This Weeks Review: A collection of Reviews from recently released books about Aussies and War

Did you watch “Sisters at War” on ABC1 the other Sunday? An excellent film about the trials of two remarkable Australian’s. It seems we still like to read about and watch the stories of our fellow countrymen/women in the throes of conflict. We want to applaud, perhaps, or maybe it just does us good to be humbled in the face of such blatant heroism. The bookstores keep a regular stock of new titles and this year has been no exception. I have already reviewed a number of ‘weightier’
books on various wars [which you might like to scroll back and find], I will make these comments briefer as there are so many books to talk about.

The quality of the story-telling in these books varies significantly, but would-readers will probably select according to their innate interest. I felt “On Radji Beach” was the standout of the current crop along with “The Changi Brownlow”. Ian Shaw tells again the truly heroic story of the survival of a group of Australian nurses in the aftermath of that most unforgivable of blunders, the “Fall of Singapore”. Having nearly escaped capture once, the original group- numbering in the hundreds – were sunk in their escape vessel, captured by the Japanese and subjected to three and a half years of humiliation…and, mostly, murdered. It is a heart-wrenching read, but superbly written.
"On Radji Beach",Macmillan,pb,rrp $35,pp 358

Though “Beersheba” came out last year, I’m not sure I gave it suitable mention at the time. This is the story of “the last great cavalry charge’, but it is more than that. Daley takes us to the site and has managed to source a lot of new material about the events. He effectively challenges some of the prevailing myths that surround our involvement in World War One, particularly the Middle East campaigns. As with the previous book, sound index and footnotes.
"Beersheba", MUP 2009,rrp 35, pb, pp 337

Roland Perry takes us into the lives of others who were in Singapore at the time of the infamous surrender – the men who suffered through imprisonment in Changi and the slaver labour camps on the Thai-Burma railway, have we forgotten that 23000 Australian and other Allied POWs died in that awful time? Gain it is a story of survival – and tenacious good humour, a product of basic humanitarianism by these amazing ‘blokes”, to this day in our district, only a handful of these soldiers still survive.
What does a group of Aussie men do when there’s nothing else to do? They grab a footy, and have a kick! Bizarre as it seems, this is what happened among the Australians in Changi – they organised an Aussie Rules comp. A very lively and uplifting tale.
“The Changi Brownlow”, Hatchette, pb, rrp $35,pb pp 376

Patrick Lindsay’s book “The Coast Watchers” brings us closer to home – to the islands of our north where, it was felt at the time, the very survival of Australia was in the balance as the Japanese war machine relentlessly thundered south. As have several of these authors, Lindsay has worked in journalism so the story moves swiftly and authoritatively. Not unlike the heroes of the next book, the Coast Watchers were ‘left behind’ to keep an eye out for the Japanese advancing across the Pacific after Pearl Harbour. When all hope of defending their particular space had been abandoned. Again, the persistence and practicality of these men and women is beyond belief to most of us today. More than thirty were captured and executed, in fact.
“The Coast Watchers” Random House, pb, rrp $34-95,pp 416

“The Men Who Came Out Of The Ground” were ‘Sparrow Force’, a Special Forces Unit set up to fight behind enemy lines on the island of Timor [sic]. It was a guerrilla war, relying on the support of the locals ,of whom many thousands died during the Japanese invasion, “avoiding pitched battles, instead picking the right time to strike…..They tied down thousands of the enemy, not just matching them, but beating them”.
“The Men Who Came Out Of The Ground”, Hatchette, pb, rrp $35,pp 382

Moving closer to our times, “Bomber” tells the story of a remarkable man, Tony Bower-Miles, who served his hour in Vietnam as a sapper and who since 2001 has devoted much of his time to the daunting job of removing landmines in Cambodia.
We’re still only slowly learning about illnesses such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as we continue to ‘debrief’ as a community the aftermath of war, for example. Tony confronted his post-Vietnam demons and turned them on their head, as it were- by enlisting fellow vets for those days to help the war-damaged people of Cambodia, The story is not always very well-written, but deserves to be heard.
“Bomber”, Macmillan, pb, rrp $35,pp 292

New Zealand-born Rob Maylor served as a soldier in various guises and in different theatres. His story ranges from his homeland to Northern Ireland through East Timor [sic] to Iraq and Afghanistan. As the cover blurb says, his was “the world of an elite Australian marksman”. Established author, Robert Macklin, worked on Rob’s memoirs with him…fortunately because this book narrowly avoids being a smoke-social, boys-own-adventure rave. I have little doubt that people like Rob are necessary tools in our defence apparatus, but I wondered at times abut his motivation and thought processes in the field, and his evaluation the events he recalls.
“SAS Sniper”, Hatchette, pb, rrp $35,pp 330

Just when I had completed these jottings, onto my desk came Craig Stockings’ weirdly-titled “Zombie Myths of Australian Military History”. The book sets out to tackle ten myths – eg the ‘heroism’ of “Breaker Morant” [not even his real name!] – most of us have entertained unquestioningly forever. Perhaps, Stockings argues, Australians have a need “to commemorate and venerate the deeds of past servicemen, conceptions of national identity wrapped in the imagery of war, and the all-encompassing social implications of our central national legends – Anzac and the ‘Digger’…challenging stuff? Indeed. I hasten to add that nowhere in this lively book is the authentic bravery of our military doubted, it is the myths that are under fire. Heartily recommended.
“Zombie Myths of Australian Military History”, Newsouth Books, pb, rrp $35, pp 275

Thursday, December 2, 2010

November 23rd

John’s Review- ‘How It Feels’ by Brendan Cowell

I have to confess I come to this review with something of a personal prejudice. This is a book written by someone who identifies as an actor albeit an actor I much admire. Brendan Cowell is an Australian actor, writer and director and perhaps best known for his role as Tom in Love My Way. He was nominated for an AFI award for his role in Noise a nomination I thought he thoroughly deserved and for a film I thought did not receive the acclaim it deserved.
However, I’m always a bit suspicious when professions cross boundaries. I mean would you employ a plumber to perform your open heart surgery? Should writers be allowed to act or actors allowed to write? Perhaps the listeners have some views on this topic.
I concede there are closer links between the skills of an actor and those of a writer than perhaps between plumbing and surgery and to be fair Cowell has written scripts for film and television.
‘How It Feels’ is basically a coming-of-age story about Neil Cronk and his girlfriend Courtney and his mates Gordon and Stuart. It’s a story of booze, drugs sex and violence told in a style that is unrelentingly gritty, coarse and very frank and perhaps comes across as trapped in an adolescent rebellious style. As a genre I suppose it could best be described as ‘grunge’ and in the Australian tradition of Loaded by Christos Tsiolkas or Praise by Andrew McGahan. The writing style is direct and unflinching and packs a real punch. It’s an unrelenting high octane story of the struggle of a young man to move beyond the self-destruction of addiction and his total focus on personal needs above those of anybody else. This is a compelling story but I do think there are some problems with the style.
For example there is some confusion about the construction of the story. The first few chapters proceed in a chronological order which is easy to follow but then in mid story there are movements back and forth in both time and location that left me confused. I’m not a rabid supporter of sticking to a strictly chronological structure and some of the best novels are flexible in playing with time and location in a narrative but here these changes were badly handled and confusing.
There are also some gaps in information and presumptions from time to time that needed more explanation, a sketchiness that the narrative doesn’t completely cover.
Despite the energy of the writing style, and there is plenty of that, at times the style fell into purple prose or felt just too overwritten. A simpler, more pruned back style could have been just as dramatic and more impactful. Take for example this statement: ‘Hell sat pregnant in my face. Something beautiful had left the building. I was a shell of a man. The scallop of my soul had been sucked out and I couldn’t help but think the cliché: I could have saved him.’ Much of the style is like this, overwritten, overdramatic, even clichéd when less might have been better.
The novel’s point of view is very definitely a strong first person main protagonist voice but it does have some limitations. We see everything through this character’s eyes and I soon wondered how reliable a narrator he really was. The other characters feel a bit like puppets or chess pieces to be moved about or given dialogue to deliver rather than living as full-blooded characters in their own right.
I’d love to hear what some female readers would make of his portrayal of the female characters and what his male characters have to say about women. I did notice that Louise Swinn in The Age on November 6th suggests that ‘we don’t get a good enough view of Courtney, who is an important character.’ One of the main revelations of the story revolves around the question of which of the 3 male characters ‘took’ Courtney’s virginity, which is a pretty sexist view.
In many ways this is a ‘blokey’ novel, not exactly from a sexist angle but more than that, concentrating on the fraught ways Australian men struggle to express affection and friendship for one another. But it should be highly commended for its attempt to portray Australian male friendship, something that has perhaps been neglected in contemporary Australian fiction.
With a first novel questions can always be asked about the quantity of autobiographical detail and this is a fair question in this case. Given that Neil Cronk’s CV has some resemblances to that of Cowell we can fairly conclude that there is some autobiographical material here. Both grew up in Cronulla and attended Drama at Bathurst University.
Despite its flaws there is an incredible energy and heart at the centre of this novel, which mostly overrides the stylistic limitations I have mentioned. This is a story told with guts and lack of pretension and armed with this sort of energy Cowell can only go on to refine his writing skills further. Perhaps after all it’s an argument for more not less intermarriage between writing books and writing for the theatre.

This Weeks Poem:

“Phar Lap in the Melbourne Museum ”- Peter Porter


This week we played the following tracks:
-‘Livin In The Seventies’ by Skyhooks
-‘War’ by Gossling

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November 9th

Book & Publishing News

Here are the nominees and winners from the 2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards:
CHILDREN’S FICTION- ‘Star Jumps’ by Lorraine Marwood
FICTION- ‘Dog Boy’ by Eva Homung
NON-FICTION- ‘The Colony: A History of Early Sydney’ by Grace Karskens
YOUNG ADULT FICTION-‘Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God’ by Bill Condon

This Weeks Reviews:

John Reviewed- ‘Resistance’ by Owen Shears

RESISTANCE by Owen Shears was published 2007 by Faber & Faber and has been translated into ten languages and was short listed for the Writer's Guild of Great Britain Best Book Award 2008. Currently under preproduction as a film.

I first discovered the writer Owen Shears on ‘A Poet’s Guide to Britain’, ABC 2, Sunday at 8.55pm and was an instant fan. Owen Sheers was born in Fiji in 1974 and brought up in Abergavenny, South Wales and has published 2 books of poetry and a novella and his work has been nominated for a number of awards.

The plot is based on a very creative premise, presupposing that the Germans defeated the Normandy landings of 1944, and counter-attacked so powerfully that they soon occupied almost the whole of Britain. The premise is actually based on historical facts that Shears discovered when working as a builder’s laborer one summer in a Welsh valley. During the war evidently men had been recruited into a Special Forces division dedicated to resisting German occupying forces, should Britain be occupied which was a distinct possibility. This particular genre is described as ‘alternative history’ or ‘counterfactual’ and in the spirit of Philip Roth’s ‘The Plot Against America.’
Sheers takes readers to a small Welsh village during a speculative WWII – featuring a German invasion of Britain . It’s 1944 and Sarah Lewis and the women in Ochlon valley are left alone after all the local men disappear one night without warning. The women’s worlds suddenly shrink to the day-to-day struggles to keep their sheep farms going until the war comes to their doorsteps in the form of Captain Albrecht Wolfram and his men, who have a murky mission to carry out in the valley. Wolfram, despite being a Nazi Captain emerges as atypical, having studied history at Oxford before the war and more interested in classical music and history than the business of war.
Promising to leave the women alone, the Germans occupy an abandoned house and the two camps keep mostly to themselves until a harsh winter takes hold, and it becomes clear that the locals and the Germans will have to depend on one another to survive. When the weather breaks and the valley reopens to the world – and hence the war – the peculiar idyll threatens to shatter. This is pretty much the plot outline, relying on the tension between these 2 groups of sworn enemies living together in this winter-bound valley.
There are mysteries and revelations: why have the soldiers been ordered to come to this particular valley? Will the men return? What will be the nature of the relationship between Sarah & Wolfram? How will the story end? It would be unfair to to reveal any of these details.
Shears is a poet at heart and he expresses this poetry in his prose too. He gives readers a wonderful sense of place in this valley with its day to day rhythms of farming and sheepherding and the connection to the land and its animals. Particularly poignant is Sarah’s dedication to keeping a diary for her absent husband detailing the small changes in nature and the farm as the seasons roll by.
The valley is cut off from the rest of the world and the only information about the outside world comes through a crackling radio broadcast which gradually reveals a picture of the gradual take-over of the country by the invading German army. The destruction of London and the major landmarks we take for granted today is particularly touching depicting the possible outcomes had that war been quite different. We learn of the almost total destruction of London buildings and Nelson’s column at Trafalgar square being dismantled and taken to Berlin as a war trophy while in small English villages groups of citizens are being executed for resisting the occupying forces.

The story has a lot to say about the futility of war and its effect on individuals. Its strength lies in the fact that it goes beyond the sorts of stereotypes of individuals that now, more than 50 years on we have come to see as normal. It is also a stark reminder of the effects an occupying force can have on a population, something Western colonialism perhaps hasn’t yet quite understood. Dare I saw the occupation of Australia is one case in point. This is a poetic and impressive story with much to tell contemporary readers.

This Weeks Poem:

“Small Man With Tree (After Domenico Tiepolo)”- by Peter Steele SJ
This poem comes from a published collection of his works ‘A Local Habitation: Poems and Homilies’, it is based on a passage from Luke 19: 1-10 in the bible.


This week’s music featured Australian artists:
-‘Rock It’ by Little Red
-‘Day Too Soon’ by Sia from her album ‘Some People Have Real Problems’
-‘Poorhouse’ by The Audrey’s from their album ‘Sometimes The Stars’

November 16th

This Weeks Review: 'Fall Girl' by Toni Jordan

Reading this book was really refreshing. Here is a newish young female novelist who is prepared to write an unashamed piece of pure escapism and does so with style and flair.
Perhaps the title is in danger of telegraphing the book’s denouement, but if the end of heroine Della/ “Ella’s” journey isn’t quite what she had hoped for, the ride is certainly entertaining. In a recent interview, author Toni said: “I’ve tried to channel my love for screwball romantic comedies of the 40s and 50s into a modern story – a novelist’s ‘Charade’ or ‘To Catch A Thief’ except set in contemporary Melbourne…fascinating characters, intricate plots, witty dialogue and sexual tension. I only hope I have done them justice.” Well, Toni, I think you have.

Della and her extended family are eccentric in way we don’t often encounter: they are ‘con artists’ with a naïve Robin-Hood principle backing their often-grand highly illegal schemes for making money. Their whole lives – where they live, the daily and weekly routine, their identities, issues of security and secrecy dictate their comings and goings. Every moment is devoted to the sourcing, planning, and precise execution of serial ‘dodginess’ involving everything from carrying out phoney real estate deals to selling shonky patent medicines. The elegant, confident and articulate Della is sure she is onto a winner with her elaborate plan to relieve a ‘ridiculously wealthy’, handsome young millionaire, Daniel, of many thousands which will finance a spurious field research program to prove that the ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ is still at large in the Wilson Promontory National Park.
Masquerading as Dr ELLA Canfield, evolutionary biology academic extraordinaire, she sets up the interview with the respective foundation, secures the promise of a sizeable grant and sets off – in a very amusing sequence – for a field trip in order to demonstrate to Daniel just how his money will be spent. As the blurb says, “Someone is going to take a fall.”
Because this is a ‘sting’ story, I will say no more. Things move at a rattling pace throughout, but it is the characters who got my attention – the sincerely amoral family: father, stepmother, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin, hanger-on Jerome and Della’s would-be-boyfriend, Tim. They represent a highly original take on the Fagin syndrome…One thinks of the British Ealing comedies [“The Lavender Hill Mob”!] of the early 50s as well as the more sophisticated American films already cited.

This is pretty daring stuff in that it defies genre which of course should guarantee Toni a broad reading audience. The dialogue is sharp and has an authentic contemporary ring. The locations – Melbourne and the Prom – are handled with sureness. It would make a good film.
I know we will be reading Toni Jordan again. An earlier novel, “Addition” ,is next on my list. She has the gift of telling a good yarn fluently and in a way that kept me turning the pages.

Published by ‘text’,2010,pp 234,rrp $32-95.

“Hand Me Down World” by Lloyd Jones

Doesn’t the variety of the human imagination just floor you? It does me. The way composers can continue to invent new tunes –and make them into songs and orchestral suites and symphonies and operas….Or the ways painters can ‘create’ new colour combinations into shade and tones and shapes that give us new visions of the world?...And the novelty of our WRITERS! Well, that is largely what “The Blurb” is about: giving you, dear reader , some of the NEW that is around in books and ideas.
New Zealand novelist, LYOYD JONES, reminded us last year about an awful civil war which raged on our northern doorstep not long ago – on the island of Bougainville – in his award-winning “Mister Pip”. Since then, he has given us an ’uneven’ [in the opinion of or reviewer] anthology of short sties, “The Man In The Shed”. Lately he is back to his best, thank heavens, with another highly-original yet topical story with “Hand me Down World”.
“Ines” is an African woman whose short-term lover kidnaps their baby son in northern Africa which leaves her utterly distraught, but not to the extent that she gives up on life. She determines to seek out both, and to get her child back. Now, you can see the possibilities for an emotional ‘journey”/”road” novel in the making. Jones manages to create the woman’s world as she moves from Africa into Italy and then northern Europe. But it isn’t until the second half of his novel that he really takes us into Ines’ mind. Until then we must be content with the viewpoint of several very different people she encounters, and this is the particular skill Jones manages in this remarkable book. Each of these people not only tell us her piece of the global story, but incidentally and importantly present an opinion on her situation. This in turn forces the reader to contemplate Ines’ plight – and the situations so many thousands face in today’s world, the stateless refugees who knock daily at the doors of us, the wealthy and comfortable. Jones re-awakened in me the shame I feel as an Australian whose successive governments effectively shut the gate on the trickle of supplicant-refugees coming to my country. Ines’ story is very moving, especially when Ines is finally able to be with her son in Berlin.
Of course, the son had been “handed on” in a sense early in the book; Ines is on occasion literally handed on, and not always kindly. Jones is a very compassionate writer, but avoids sentimentality. I suspect it is his journalism background that enables us to see his Italy, and particularly Berli [….which has been to the fore for me of late, with a TV documentary last week about Weimar Germany and :the real “Cabaret’”. There was the new Le Carre novel with its hints of his early classics “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold”, etc.] Jones has a rather spare writing style; there aren’t many adjectives or adverbs. None of those purple patches, so dreaded by teachers of English [and creative writing] Listen, for example, to Defoe, one of Ines’ lovers, talking about his stroll through Berlin on World Cup Day : pp 175-6.

Text Publishing, 2010, pp 313, rrp $32-95,pb.
SCORE: ***+

Author Interview: Toni Jordon author of “Fall Girl”

We spoke with Toni Jordon this week about her new novel “Fall Girl”. Toni also writes a weekly column for The Age as well as teaching creative writing.

Toni on the warm response her book has received
I was not expecting the response that this book got because you can’t fit my work into the box of typical genres.

Toni on the inspiration for “Fall Girl”
Classic 50s and 60s romantic comedies…People think it [romantic comedies] has to be brainless these days, but I wanted to make something that was genuinely funny.
Films are helping to portray the brainless side because the actors and actresses these days are young and can’t seem to carry off deeper, underlying stories.
My novel is a character driven comedy that can only have a funny line because it comes from that character.

Toni on her writing
I write by word count. I sit down every day and have to write at least 1500 good words before I finish for the day.

Toni on her first novel “Addiction” being made into a movie
Screen writing structure is a specific skill and I could not do it. If they [the screen writers] need more dialogue, I would be happy to write more, so that book can translate to the screen well.

This Weeks Poem:

“The Sharpener ”- Chris Wallace Crabbe


This week we played the following tracks:
-‘Dance, Dance’ by Fall Out Boy, covered by the String Quartet Tribute to Fall Out Boy. This was an instrumental version using only string instruments.
-‘Talking Like I’m Falling Down Stairs’ by Sparkadia. This is the first single to be released off their new album coming out in 2011.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October 5th

This week Bernard was on holidays in Forbes NSW so I took over solo hosting duties.

Book & Publishing News

We brought you all the winners from the 2010 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards:
• The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction: Truth, Peter Temple
• The Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-fiction: Reading by Moonlight: How Books Saved a Life, Brenda Walker
• The CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry: Possession, Anna Kerdijk Nicholson
• The Louis Esson Prize for Drama: And No More Shall We Part, Tom Holloway, A Bit Of Argy Bargy
• The Prize for Young Adult Fiction: Raw Blue, Kirsty Eagar
• The Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate: “Seeing Truganini”, David Hansen
• The Prize for a First Book of History: Becoming African Americans: Black Public Life in Harlem, 1919-1939, Clare Corbould
• The Prize for Indigenous Writing: Legacy, Larissa Behrendt,
• The John Curtain Prize for Journalism: Who Killed Mr Ward?, Janine Cohen and Liz Jackson, Four Corners, ABC Television
• The Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer: House of Sticks, Peggy Frew

This Weeks Review: “Trick The Dark”- Val McDermid and “The Glass Rainbow”- James Lee Burke

Listeners may wonder how we select the books for review on your favourite “books’n’reading’ program. First of all, the publishers are very generous and keep us supplied with new titles. It is a matter of my reading as much of the publishers ‘info’ I can get my hands on, early reviews and finding books that suit the broad framework of what is popular and what is worthwhile. Very subjective, of course, because I feel our show has an educative role as well as its entertainment goals. Old favourites are sometimes injected into the mix, and occasional ‘genre’ groupings, as with today’s two novels. I think I am trying always to fathom an answer to why we read what we read.

Having spent most of my working life studying as well as teaching, I sought out recreational reading, and mostly read work by detective writers. Naturally I developed a taste for favourites – of which crime novels have gained popularity in both literary and television worlds. By the way, did you know that students studying for a degree in Arts at the University of Melbourne these days, can attempt a first year unit in “Detective Fiction”. The course requires a close study of classics in the genre from the likes of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Arthur Conan Doyle. A bit different from my days when I was studying English from Chaucer to Hardy, circa 1400 CE to 1900 or so. About 15 solid texts from poetry, drama and fiction. Yes, I am all for progress, but I wonder why tertiary humanities students are not asked to study the foundation texts any more. I know I am playing with the lid of the worm can here. Yes, scratch me a bit and you’ll see I am quite conservative.

Readers of James Lee Burke will know that his characters generally inhabit Louisiana, the backblocks of New Orleans specifically,[though recently we see his new character Billy Bob Holland resident in Montana.] My point is that a lot of Burke’s attraction comes from the strong sense of location: we almost breathe the salty tang of the bayou country. While the plots are more or less procedure-based, Burke’s detective novels are very much character-driven. It is his staunch Catholic, sober alcoholic, Vietnam vet cop Dave Robicheaux who is front –and-centre for all the action, and it is his point of view through which we follow events.
Val McDermid, meanwhile, is a resident of Scotland so her fiction is Britain-based. This time we spend a fair amount of time in the environs of historic and tourist-attracting Oxford. For me, there is only one outstanding British crime writer: Ian Rankin whose Edinburgh is almost a spiritual location for the long-suffering John Rebus, as it is a crime scene.
There are other significant differences between Burke and McDermid, not at least in the overall quality of their writing. I’m sorry to claim that McDermid is somewhat of a hack detective writer, writing to a formula rather than accepting the challenge of crisp language and serious character and/or plot development. OK, my judgment is solitary – for she has sold over ten million books in a career of over twenty years, and is a frequent performer at all the usual writers’ festival including our [Melbourne’s] own.
Burke’s storyline is a fairly familiar one. Dave is working again with his old risky mate, Clete. We are treated to even more of both their ‘back stories’, perhaps too much – to hide a rather rambling plot-line? However, ordinary Burke is still pretty good. The usual villains appear; sleazy crooks with the slightest veneer of old-money respectability. This time, Dave’s young adult daughter, Alafair, becomes naively involved and hell hath no fury greater than Dave’s where family is concerned. The crime this time relates to what becomes a series of unsolved murders of women which leads Dave and Clete to a conspiracy within the murky, mysterious historical perspective he relentlessly, continuously, gravitates towards. I have to admit I found this book too lengthy. The ending is rather explosive though, so persevere, readers. If you have not encountered Dave and his experiences in ‘The Big Easy” you may wish to begin with an earlier title: check them out in your library.
McDermid’s book did not win me over. Not only was it very slow, I also wondered about elements of the plot. Her main character, “Charlie” [female] happens on the findings of a murder case just too easily – and the verdict in said case just isn’t plausible. My reaction to Charlie’s love interests in this novel also worried me. I hope I am not homophobic, but I felt her lesbianism not only dominated this genre novel, but somehow at the same time the theme was treated too glibly. Sex in detective fiction is as old as, well, Chandler. Maybe I am a wowser. No, there’s nothing graphic here, my unease is technical: the villainous femme we meet fairly early in the piece is also a predator of attractive women.
Anyway, the book proceeds with Charlie cleverly reclaiming her professional reputation and apparently living happily ever after. Who am I to say that McDermid can’t write good detective fiction?


Burke: ***
McDermid: **

James Lee Burke: “The Glass Rainbow”, Orion, 2010, pp 433, rrp $32

Val McDermid: “Trick Of The Dark”, Little Brown, 2010, pp 451, rrp $32

Review: “Fallen”- Lauren Kate

We did another review this week on Lauren Kate’s “Fallen” and gave a comparison between this novel and its peers in the teen fiction vampire/supernatural, epic love story genre. In particular, Stephanie Myer’s ‘Twilight’ Saga.
One can easily draw parallels between “Fallen” and Stephanie Myer’s “Twilight Saga”, having read both, in terms of supernatural themes and an underlying love story, which I believe is a strength, the fact that both writers can translate and present an epic and intense Romeo and Juliet-esque , love to a modern day audience.
However “Fallen” is distinct in the fact that it deals with angels rather than vampires and also the time sequencing in the novel.
It starts off in England in 1854 for the first 8 pages then moves into modern day. This time sequencing seems out of place to begin with, but is integral to understand the rest of the story. The story starts off with a man drawing a sketch of a woman he is in love with, when she comes into the room and catches him doing it. She is clearly in love with him too, but he doesn’t want to give into temptation because he knows if he does kiss her, she’ll disappear, which is what happens.
Then time moves into modern day where we meet one of our protagonists Lucinda at a school called Swords & Cross, which she quickly finds out is not your usual high school.
A love triangle is quickly set up between Luce, Cam; the friendly and cute guy that Luce first meets and Daniel the breathtakingly handsome guy that avoids Luce.
What we don’t find out, just yet, is that both Cam and Daniel, in fact most teens at Swords & Cross are fallen angels, except Luce and one of her friends Penelope who dies in the grand battle towards the end of the novel, that is essentially between good and evil.
It takes a fire that Daniel rescues Luce from and a fight between Cam and Daniel over Luce to find out the real story behind Luce’s attraction to Daniel, which comes quite late in the story.
It reveals that this is not the first time these lovers have met. They meet every lifetime, every 17 years. The problem is that Luce never remembers that Daniel is her lover and that they have met many lifetimes before, while he remembers everything. I think the way Kate intertwines this abstract concept into her story is cleaver, exciting and intriguing. It lets the audience explore the idea of reincarnation in a non-confrontational way by weaving it through a love story.
Daniel tries to avoid Luce in most lifetimes because their love is so intense and he just can’t deal with losing her, which is the inevitable outcome, but Luce always finds him, no matter where he is; shipwrecked in Tahiti, a convict in Melbourne, an injured solider in WW1 or dancing at the Kings coronation ball in Scotland during the Reformation.
Although this lifetime is different and Luce doesn’t disappear. The ending is left open and that’s where “Torment” comes in, the sequel to “Fallen”, which was released on September 28th and out now at bookstores. I haven’t read it yet, but if “Fallen” is anything to go by, I don’t think “Torment” will disappoint.
I also believe that while Kate’s work and Myers “Twilight Saga” are distantly different, Kate will have a collection of “Fallen” novels in the same fashion as Myer’s and that film versions will be inevitable in the future.
I know that Disney has already purchased film rights in the hope of having their own super franchise and phenomenon, much like “Twilight” did for Summit Entertainment. Keep an eye out, it is set to be released in 2012.

“Fallen” offers a wonderfully intriguing, intense and passionate love story that has been well written by Kate.

Interview with Jo from Angus & Robertson

We had our wonderful sponsors in this week. Jo from Angus & Robertson joined me in the studio to talk about what’s new and the most popular titles at the moment. She also mentioned the comeback of the ‘classics’ due to Penguin re-releasing titles in gift packs (not a bad idea to build up your collections or as a Christmas present for an avid reader). We got into a lengthy discussion about the new e-readers versus the art of buying a book in hard copy. But we left it up to you to decide which you preferred.


I shared some of my favourite tracks with you. They included:
-‘When Did Your Heart Go Missing”- Rooney
-‘1901’ – Phoenix from their album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

October 26th

Book & Publishing News

* JANE SULLIVAN always writes something interesting in her weekly column in the Saturday “Age”. She noted recently how it is not surprising that ALBERT CAMUS may be back in fashion. His “The Plague” can be purchased in the new ‘cheap’ Penguin edition.

* CALEB’s review from last week of DBC PIERRE”s “Lights Out In Wonderland” should be available on this site by the end of the week.

* PUBLISHERS: we love to hear from ALL publishers, new/old, big/small…especially local. Contact us: send us your books and we will talk about them on the program. I have recently contacted Ballan-based ‘Conner Court’ who are bringing to the public the ideas of such writers as eminent historian [ANU Emeritus Professor] JOHN MOLONY and veteran Rome-based journalist Desmond O’Grady.

*”Strine” is always with us: have you seen all the Gloria Soames out in Wandana Heights? A new edition of “Professor Afferbeck Lauder’s 1970s classic is now available. [Have you ever seen Round John Bergin in any depiction of the Christmas scene?]

* JAMES McNEISH whose “The Crime of Huey Dunstan” I reviewed recently has been lately given the New Zealand PM”s 2010 Award for Literary Achievement – at age 79. [Today’s interview with Maris Morton, is further proof that “age shall not weary” determined novelists!]

This Weeks Review: “A Darker Music”- Maris Morton

I am coming to admire the work our Australian publishers are doing in
encouraging new writers – though I know some of us are still striving to get our work out there to the public. There are fortunately quite a few ‘cottage’ publishers, even in our own region, working hard to help you out. [Please let “The Blurb” know of these so we can publicise them in our “News”: segment at least.] SCRIBE as well as Allen & Unwin, Black Inc., Text and the university presses have given us not only good texts this year, but they are presented so beautifully – which is vital in getting books OFF the shelves and into readers’ hands. Today’s author has been awarded Scribe’s Fiction Prize for this year with her “A Darker Music.”

From the Blurb
“When Mary Lanyon takes on the job of temporary housekeeper at ’Downe’, a famous merino stud farm, she is looking forward to staying in a gracious homestead with the wealthy Hazlitt family. The owner’s wife, Clio, is ill, and Mary’s task is to get the house back in shape in the lead-up to the wedding of the only son and heir, Martin.
When she arrives, however, Mary realises things are not right. Clio rarely ventures from her roo. The House is shabby, redolent of dust and secrets. As a friendship develops between the women, Mary discovers answers to the questions that have puzzled her….”

Maris has developed an interesting plot in her novel and she certainly knows how to write. It all rings true because she has herself lived aspects of the station life she depicts. I was lucky to live for a decade in Western NSW which included two years on a 5000-hectare mixed farm on the Lachlan River in the early 70s. It was amazing how quickly the culture of a ‘farm’ got into one’s consciousness. Constant talk of the weather seasons, prices/markets, stock, workmen…pet lambs, dogs and river levels, agricultural shows, camping out…and so on. The authentic fee Maris creates for life in “The Bush” with its three-dimensional human takes us right inside their lives. Mary and Clio are exceptionally well-drawn: their informal conversations, the day-to-day routine, the barely-spoken feelings each comes to share. Mary – a cosmopolitan, well-educated and sophisticated young woman, learns to be sensitive to the sad realities of Clio’s prisoner-life existence. The “darker music’ of Clio’s life is both a remembered memory and a metaphor for everyone connected to ‘Downe’. It is not a happy place. Some of the best-recalled scenes for me are when Mary escapes to an exquisite stand of wildflowers, her own “music”. The musical motif is used subtly throughout not only to reveal Clio’s inner life then, but to explore the moods and swings of all the characters really.
Not to be pedantic, the minor characters – people associated with the property – are neatly conjured up, though perhaps the husband is perhaps slightly caricatured. I was left wanting to know him better.
This is a very good novel and I am amazed to learn it is Maris’s first published work in this mode.

Maris Morton: “A Darker Music”, SCRIBE, 2010, pp 312, rrp $32

Author Interview: Maris Morton author of “A Darker Music”

The Blurb chatted to Maris Morton author of “A Darker Music” about her writing career, her first novel and inspiration for the story, here is some of what she had to say.

Maris Morton on how “A Darker Music” came about
I’ve always been an avid reader but I have never really had the time or motivation to write. Now being retired and having the time to learn a new skill, which has taken me ten years to grasp, I have started writing five novel’s but this one [A Darker Music] was the first one I have felt confident enough with to give to a publisher.

Maris Morton on the culture of farm life and her experience
I’ve lived in the Southwest where it’s a rich agricultural life and this is where the book is based. I have always enjoyed being in the country and prefer the country life. Country people are rather different and used to solitude.

Maris Morton on the woman’s quest for freedom
Cleo was purely invented, but I heard a story about a farmer’s wife where the idea of being committed to music and loosing it came from. Cleo is not a perfect woman but she does what she has to do.
Mary on the other hand made the life she wanted to have.

Maris Morton on the music motif
I grew up in a house filled with music. My dad played the Spanish guitar and was in an amateur band. Mum was a singer and came from the church and hymn singing background. I also played the piano like most people did.

This Weeks Poem:

“Gifts”- Bruce Dawe
This is a pre-Christmas poem recently published by Bruce Dawe and was released this month.


This week’s tracks included:
-‘Set Fire to the Third Bar’- Snow Patrol featuring Martha Wainwright
-’15 Step’- Radiohead

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September 21st

Book & Publishing News

* John and Rhia reported on exciting renovations to the Waurn Ponds campus DEAKIN LIBRARY; well worth a visit.

* Renowned author/illustrator GRAEME BASE will be at The Bookshop in Queenscliff at 2.30 pm September 30th to talk about and sign his new book ‘The Golden Snail”.

* SEBASTIAN JUNGER whose latest book “War” I reviewed very favourably earlier this year was a guest at the International GOOGLE Conference in Phoenix, Arizona [according to Harold Mitchell of ‘The Age’] where he attempted to explain the United States’ ‘culture of war’ – saying they are so hooked on it even though they can’t afford it!

* WILLIAM DALRYMPLE, author of “Nine Lives” [discussed last year on “The Blurb”], was on TV recently talking about the scheduled Commonwealth Games in his home town of Delhi: “Preparations are chaotic…The Games will be too. I love living in India ‘cause it IS chaotic”.

* A former Dean of Music at Melbourne University’s Conservatorium, pianist MAX COOKE, is now a regular visitor to Clifton Springs. Still performing on occasions, his autobiography “A Pedagogue On The Platform….” has just been released.

* Readers of our ‘big papers’ may have noticed reviews of “Matterhorn”, ”Bereft” and “The Vintage and the Gleaning” recently…AFTER they were discussed on our program. We are nothing if not up-to-date. [Thank you, publishers!]

* I didn’t manage to catch up with poet KATHERINE GALLAGHER during her visit to our region. Her new anthology was favourably reviewed in the latest “Australian Book Review”….which also includes a long poem by its editor Peter Rose [“Roddy Parr”.] Les A. Murray frequently has HIS poems in “Quadrant” - of which he is Poetry Editor. Is this a new sort of nepotism? Narcissism? What do you think?

This Weeks Review: ‘JD SALINGER- A Life Raised High’ by Kenneth Slavenski

Kenneth Slavenski: “J D SALINGER – A Life Raised High”,

We ‘Baby boomers’ grew into adulthood on the writings of JD Salinger, particularly the wondrous “The Catcher In The Rye”. [Some of us went on to teach it as a Year 12 English text; indeed I believe it re-appeared on the VCE Reading list again recently.] Its popularity has never waned. Is it Great Literature? It has certainly always been controversial – for its “obscene” language, “shallow” characters and “chaotic’ prose.
I found this new literary biography engrossing, entertaining and above all enlightening. I hadn’t realised how much there was to the character of “Jerry” Salinger in spite of having read all of his available offerings over the years, and anything else I could find about their author.

Salinger’s day-to-day life doesn’t look all that interesting at first. He was so often accused [inaccurately,I would now say] of re-writing his life into his fiction. From an early age he was determined on the vocation of writer and throughout his life he pursued his craft assiduously – some would say to the point of obsession about perfectionism. The most significant experience in his life was surely the four-year stint he had in the US army at the end of World War Two.
Central to this study, and it seems to his writing life is “Catcher In The Rye”. Obviously its publication and, eventually, massive reception world-wide accounts largely for his fame, and the unease that it caused him. Reading Slavenski’s book inevitably sent me back to the novel, to “Seymour-An Introduction/Raise High The Roofbeam, Carpenter”, ”Franny And Zooey” and the eight stories published as “For Esme - With Love And Squalor”….which is all that is readily available because Salinger virtually locked away all other works years before his death early this year, at age ninety-one. Slavenski’s overall thesis is that all Salinger’s writings represent a lifelong search for spiritual fulfilment [ironic in view of the constant criticism from elements of the religious Right!]. The Christian is tempted to oversimplify the journey as trying to find meaning out of the dialectic between “the World/Flesh” and ‘the Spirit” a la The Aposle, Paul; I found the discussion rather daunting at times. Nevertheless it has only increased my admiration for the depth of Salinger’s thinking – and the continued relevance of his themes. Why should the professional atheists get all the good press?

It is hard to go past his wartime experiences to explain the inwardnesss and reclusiveness of most of Salinger’s life. He was among the first Americans to land on D-Day, he was part of the awfully brutal ‘Battle of the Bulge’ and above all, he was among the first Allied soldiers to walk in to the horror that was Dachau. As an Intelligence Officer, he saw much more than most and it left him scarred – Post-Traumatic Stress – for life. He lived daily with the question of how human existence could still have meaning? You need to read the whole book to follow Salinger’s path into Christian-Zen Buddhist mysticism in order to find how he achieved some sort of peace [though I would say he lived with chronic depression all his life.].….Then go back and read the books. If you have read the books and want to take a short-cut, the index can take you to the sizeable chunks where individual texts are discussed. I refer you especially to the short story/novella “For Esme – With Love and Squalor” for a glimpse of Salinger/’Sergeant X’ before and immediately after the war.

“Catcher In The Rye” was the only novel Salinger ever published. He developed over many years, however, a sequence of sorts of short stories and novellas about the brilliant and fragile Glass family which constitute something like a novel when we take the 100,000 or so words all together [Something like many of Tim Winton’s short stories – and “The Turning” though it was published under one title]. As I have said, with Slavenski’s guidance one can see how Salinger almost urges us towards the live of selfless detachment which he apparently saw as the way to enlightenment/’Christ-consciousness’. It is quite an intense study but a very well-balanced and rewarding one.
Clearly, reading this book has been an enjoyable experience for me. I allowed myself plenty of time, and had the Salinger books at hand – a luxury only the retired as I am [more or less] can muster.

RATING: ****+
UQP, 2010, pp 432, rrp $39-95.
[ Slavenski’s website is a treasure trove for Salingerphiles.]
Review by: Bernard P. Ryan. [Presenter, “The Blurb”.]

This Weeks Poem:

“The Lamb”- William Blake
“The Tyger”- William Blake

This week’s poems were classics from William Blake as Bernard reviewed a biography about JD Salinger. Salinger often made reference to these poems as keynotes for his discussion of innocence and its loss in our modern world.

John’s Review: On ‘The Essay’ as a Writing Genre

Following the release of the 2009/2010 edition of the ‘Best Australian Essays’, printed by Black Inc., John talked about the genre of essays.

The focus of his discussion was the fundamental question of ‘What is an Essay?’ This is what he had to say:

An essay is a careful consideration of a topic and an intimate piece of writing that is subjective rather than journalistic in nature.

The essay is about questioning, not necessarily about coming to a conclusion.

It is such an intimate and personal piece of writing because it is an exploration of a topic and an offering of an opinion, therefore, being honest is an important element.


This week we dug up some interesting covers. Two out of three were of some fairly recent songs, taken from their pop roots and given a makeover into a more jazzy sound.

-‘Wonderwall’, covered by Ryan Adams. Originally recorded by Oasis in 1995
-‘Black & Gold’, covered by Katy Perry. Originally recorded by Sam Sparro in 2008
-‘Don’t Stop the Music’, covered by Jamie Cullum. Originally recorded by Rhianna in 2007

Friday, September 17, 2010

September 14th

Book & Publishing News

*The Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards for 2010 were announced Friday August 20 to coincide with ‘Children’s Book Week’ here is the short list and winners;

Book of the Year: Older Readers
-‘Stolen’, Lucy Christopher
-‘The Winds of Heaven’, Judith Clarke
-‘Liar’, Justine Larbalester
-‘Jarvis 24’, David Metzenthen (Winner)
-‘A Small Free Kiss in the Drak’, Glenda Millard
-‘Loving Richard Feynman’, Penny Tangey

Book of the Year: Younger Readers
-‘Matty Forever’, Elizabeth Fensham
-‘Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool’, Odo Hirsch (Winner)
-‘Running with the Horses’, Alison Lester
-‘The Whisperer’, Fiona McIntosh
- ‘Pearl Versus the World’, Sally Murphy, Illustrated by Heather Potter
-‘Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children’- Jen Storer

Book of the Year: Early Childhood
-‘The Wrong Book’, Nick Bland
-‘Kip’, Christina Booth
-‘The Terrible Plop’, Ursula Dubosarsky, Illustrated by Andrew Joyner
-‘Clancy & Millie and the Very Fine House’, Libby Gleeson, Illustrated by Freya Blackwood
-‘Bear & Chook by the Sea’, Lisa Shanahan, Illustrated by Emma Quay (Winner)
-‘Fearless’, Colin Thompson, Illustrated by Sarah Davis

Picture Book of the Year
-‘Isabella’s Garden’, Rebecca Cool & Glenda Millard
-‘Schumann the Shoeman’, Stella Danalis & John Danalis
-‘To the Top End: Our Trip Across Australia’, Roland Harvey
-‘Mr Chicken Goes to Paris’, Leigh Hobbs
-‘Fox and Fine Feathers’, Narelle Oliver
-‘The Hero of Little Street’, Gregory Rogers (Winner)

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books
-‘Prehistoric Giants: The Megafauna of Australia’, ‘M is for Mates: Animals in Wartime from Ajax to Zep, Danielle Clode
-‘Australia Backyard Explorer’, Peter MacInnis (Winner)
-‘Polar Eyes: A Journey to Antarctica’, Tanya Patrick, Illustrated by Nicholas Hutcheson
-‘Lost! A True Tale From the Bush’, Stephanie Owen Reeder
-‘Maralinga: The Anangu Story’, Yalata & Oak Communities with Christobel Mattingley

This Weeks Review: ‘Matterhorn’ by Karl Malantes

“Arma virumque cano…”/” I sing of arms and the man…” Thus begins the epic poem by the Roman Virgil, the story of the founding of Rome written in the century before Christ [but borrowing heavily from the much older Greek epics known as The Iliad and The Odyssey.] And Virgil’s Aeneid is about war and more war. The Jewish Torah - the foundation of the Christian Old Testament - has lots of skirmishes and conquests and invasions too, and we know Mohamet drew heavily on the Book of Genesis for the early parts of The Koran. I lack familiarity with the great Indian epics much less the ancient writings from the “Far East”. Our Western cultural canon. I would argue, however, is replete with feats of arms in all sorts of circumstances and with various motivations. Is it any surprise then that if we look at the Art – literature, painting, sculpture – of more recent history that the feats of men [sic] under arms still dominate the subject matter?

If we take the popular entertainment medium of television, nowadays the screens have quite a load of police investigative and procedural shows on offer. I remember the Sixties’ programming was full of Westerns – and the picture theatres of the Fifties and Sixties rang with gunshots from “Cowboy’n’Indian” films, with lots of World War II heroic stories thrown in.

So, there is so much about WARRING in there, isn’t there?
If we look more closely at the literature of the last 100 years, it too has addressed what seem to be eternal questions for humankind:
Why do men go to war?
What happens to them there?
The First World War gave us classics from the German side: “All Quiet On The Western Front” and “ The Good Soldier Schweik”, to name a couple I read years ago. The writings of Sigfried Sassoon “Memoirs Of An Infantry Officer” as well as his numerous poems, and Robert Graves “Goodbye To All That” along with the poetry of Wilfrid Owen and Isaac Rosenberg still haunt my memory from school days. I remember Norman Mailer for “The Naked And The Dead”, his novel about World War Two, more than for his later efforts.

When we come to the American war in Vietnam, films – “Platoon”. “Hamburger Hill”, “The Deerhunter”, “Fourth Of July” – were the first public artistic responses. Gradually, from the late Seventies on, as the nation had time to begin healing itself from the effects domestically of the political, physical and emotional trauma of the twenty years of conflict, we saw some significant writing emerge. Michael Herr’s rather journalistic book “Dispatches” became the framework for Coppola’s screenplay for the unforgettable “Apocalyspe Now”. Some of the more memorable novels still well worth reading included Philip Caputo’s, Tim O’Brien’s and Bobbie Mason’s. We in Australia are only now able to read how the war affected the Vietnamese, thanks to the work of Nam Le and others. [I am disregarding for present purposes the huge volume of non-fiction on this topic.]

This year we have “Matterhorn”, the best novel on Vietnam I have read so far. Author Karl Malantes is not only a highly-decorated veteran of the “Vietnam War” but a very well-educated academic in a number of fields. He has said the present opus is the result of thirty years’ work.
“Matterhorn” tells the story of a handful of men from a Marines’ company posted to the very north of Eastern South Vietnam, close to the “Demilitarized Zone”[MZ] and the border with Laos. Their broad objective is never quite specified, but it appears they are there to stop supplies from North Vietnam reaching the Viet Cong and NVN forces further south. This obscurity colours the mission throughout, leading to so many of the deaths and the [almost] ineffectiveness of the men’s role. No sooner has a zone been taken than the company is ordered to vacate, or re-direct or return to base camp. While the continuing agony of the lives of the soldiers is real enough, it is the boredom and futility of their lives that affect the reader most. Their situation is aggravated by the soldiers’ apparently knowing that “now” – in 1968 – their task is already being undermined by the officers further up the command line. Thrown into the mix are very edgy racial tensions between the African-American Marines and the rest, as well as the usual frictions that occur when humans are thrown together in isolation. Their “work” is to take and re-take a balded bit of mountain called “Matterhorn”. There are patrols and night guarding, retrieval of dead and wounded, off-lifting of the latter to helicopters under fire, drunken reflections, fist fights, threats of mutiny and endless post-action recriminations….If the company, eventually decimated, survives at all it is because of that unique human characteristic called bonding. They finally only have each other.
The action is seen mainly through the eyes of twenty-one-year-old Second Lieutenant Waino Mellas, thrust into leadership straight from university in a mid-Western town. He is a kindly man, willing to be with his charges every step of the way, no braver than the rest but willing to hold onto the awful burdens his rank has given him. Each time a crisis is ridden out, Marlantes also provides reactions from a handful of the men in the ranks whom we get to know as intimately as we do Mellas. It is a story about the HUMANITY of people living in the midst of war: the fear, the thirst and ‘petty’ diseases, the feelings of loneliness and abandonment, the recurring sense of loss and, above all, of futility. [cf Wilfrid Owen’s poem of that name!]
Obviously I was very moved by this novel. As one of the Sixties’ generation whose name did NOT come out in the dastardly National Service ballot for Vietnam, I can only be forever grateful. I can understand why Marlantes took so long to fashion his novel – and why so many veterans I know “ Just don’t want to talk about it”. And yet we still send our young men off to war – with so little debate! [How many times did we hear Iraq or Afghanistan mentioned in the recent election campaign, at a time when our soldiers are being wounded and are dying at a rate not seen since 1972?]
A very good American novelist Tim O’Brien wrote in ‘The Things They Carried’: “A true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe”. And in an excellent review of “Matterhorn”, Kevin Rabelais wrote: “It’s the kind of novel that reminds us why we read and why, as readers, we should remain grateful for whatever changes literature can bestow”. I agree heartily.

Rating: ****+
Allen&Unwin, 2010, 598 pp, rrp $32-99.
Review by: Bernard P. Ryan. [Presenter, “The Blurb”.]

Interviews with Sue Henczel & Fiona Baranoski

Sue Henczel- Manager of Community Engagement & Development & Fiona Baranoski- Information Services Officer, came into to talk to The Blurb about the wonderful things that Geelong Libraries are doing, the services they offer and all the events and programs they are running.
Geelong Regional Libraries are currently in partnership with ‘Gateways’ & ‘St. Laurance’ and working with schools, community organisations and disability services to provide them with access to the library.

Upcoming events include;
-The ‘Open Mind’ Lecture Series, which are designed for discussion and debate on the topic presented;
23rd September- Clean Energy, Presented by Magnus Mansie
7th October- Dementia , Presented by David Hooker
4th November-Resilient Children, Presented by Andrew Fuller

-September School Holidays Program, which has over 30 activities that children can participate in.

-Library Books for Timor-Leste, which is a ‘Trivia Night’ hosted by Brian Nankervis, that will feature auctions and great prizes. All money raised through this event will be sent to libraries in Timor-Leste for the purchase of library and literacy materials and to the district of Viqueque to support the development of library and education programs.

-Free Twilight Saga and Trivia Night for teens held on the 18th September at the Deakin University Waterfront Campus.

Visit the Geelong Libraries Website for more details and to register for events:

Sue and Fiona talked to us about the introduction of Safari E-books into the library which offers online books downloadable from home but borrowed for a specified about of time. All users will need is a home computer and an MP3 device to download to.