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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• The Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer: House of Sticks, Peggy Frew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