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Thursday, March 10, 2011

March 1st

Book & Publishing News:

* Did you survive a week without “The Blurb”? I welcome Leo who will panel for us today.

* I find it comforting to find reviews of books we’ve already looked at coming out in the big newspapers and the literary mags: “The Hundred Foot Journey”, “The Cypress House”, ”Notorious”…and today’s book. If you go to PULSE’s website and find the page for “The Blurb”, you will have about 100 book reviews for your perusal, TWO years’ work from our past shows.

* Still no takers to tell me what “shibboleth” or “widdershins” mean…I’ll tell you next week.

* Academy Awards are boring, baseless. OK – “The King’s Speech” was good, but THE best from the last twelve months? Haven’t they seen “The Fighter”?

* “An Afternoon With HENRY LAWSON” is coming up on March 19th. More details later. To whet your appetites, meanwhile, we will feature today our Bob Knowles’ sensitive reading of “Past Carin’” as poem of the week.

* Couldn’t Natalie Hooker have come up with a less ironic title for the biography of LJ, her father, than “Nobody Does It Better”?

* John’s guest a few weeks back, poet ROBYN ROWLAND, has just been awarded an international poetry prize in Ireland. She will be back with us in a few weeks to talk some more.

This Weeks Review: “Bright and Distant Shores” by Dominic Smith

Here on “The Blurb”, I am not above referring verbatim to – um – BLURBS, on occasion. So here I go again: the cover notes on this particular new and exciting novel suggests similarities to the works of “Melville, Doctorow and Carey”. Pretty good company. As an Australian-born academic based in Texas, Smith would have read “Moby Dick” at least, surely one of the Great Books, not just of American literature. For me, the jury is still out on Peter Carey. He wrote very good short stories back in the 70s [“The Fat Man In History” anthology.] I have yet to read a masterpiece; in fact, I have found several of his books impossible to finish. Yes, he has won all the awards, and he has written historical fiction. When it comes to American contemporary writer, E L Doctorow, however, I can see the similarities, and consider Smith in good company if the comparison is accurate, and I think it is. The lively and engaging characters, his overall lightness of touch, the ironic humour, but above all the authentic flavour of the historical situations reminded me of Doctorow at his best. [“Ragtime”, “Billy Bathgate”, “Waterworks”.]

As happens to me with fortunate regularity, I was forced to read this novel, straight through, so absorbing was it. The pace of the turn-of-18th-century action and the seductiveness of the subject quite held me in thrall. “Pacifica”: this novel is about one [fictional] man’s search for exotica from the Pacific region, objects – and people! – to form the centrepieces of a new Chicago museum atop a skyscraper, no less.
My enthusiasm perhaps brings up the question immediately: what constitutes “Good Literature”? [And then is this book “literary”?] I’ll avoid an answer by citing some practices the better writers do not indulge in:
- CLICHÉ – in plot, character…phrases.
STREAMS OF ADVERBS, ADJECTIVES in place of crisp, compressed description.
- PAGES WITH WIDE SPACING in an attempt to make it look like a long book.

Oh, I could write a book about it.

Smith has chosen historical fiction – a very popular genre always for his first major publication and he takes it to new level. Admittedly a book like last year’s “Wolf Hall” set the bar very high, but in its own way this is just as appealing and certainly more entertaining. Smith has obviously done the research because his characters are engaged in very credible if exotic pursuits. His hero, Owen, collects “Pacifica” – anthropological objects - and people – from the South Pacific. Owen is Indiana Jones without the histrionics or special effects, but is no less romantic. His father was the “Whelan-the-Wrecker” of 1890s Chicago, a good gig when you consider the amount of pulling down and building that went on in the Windy City in those days. Dad has been killed in a work accident, and one of his clients commissions Owen to furnish the exhibits for a roof-top museum that will be the crowning glory of the client’s latest skyscraper. So begins a wonderfully adventurous cruise and our meeting a most interesting cast of characters. The millionaire behind the scheme, Hale, cannot accept the threat of a new building being higher than his…He must send his son, Jethro, on the expedition [because he cannot find anything useful for him at home] and so sets in chain a handy sub-plot for later. Owen’s fiancée Adelaide, is the daughter of a Boston Brahmin family, but will stay true for him while he’s away through her engaging letters. The ship’s captain, the rambunctious and lustful Terrapin, is colourful, to say the least. Part of Owen’s commission is to bring back “several” Islanders which brings us to the inventive Anglo-phile, Argus Nui, and the sister whom he from a worse fate and brings her along….There are storms at sea, bloodthirsty ‘natives’, lovably roguish shipmates…And all the exotica of the “new” Melanesia. As I have perhaps hinted, there is a fair bit of vintage Speilberg in this excellent novel. In a class of its own, really. It is epic in scale and a most competent piece of storytelling.

SCORE: ****
DOMINIC SMITH: “Bright And Distant Shores”,A&U, pp 500, rrp $30 pb.

Author Interview: John Hawkins author of “The Bush Orphanage”

We were fortunate to have John Hawkins visiting our town last week and he came in to talk with us about an arresting and very interesting book “The Bush Orphanage”, concerning the dreadful “importing” of young British children to our shores through the connivance of some religious organizations, the British government and our Federal government. John was one of these “Forgotten Children” and he has chronicled some of his life experiences in the book. Perhaps more importantly, his work reveals the depths of cynicism around the “scheme” which was a way of getting ‘migrant’ labour for our growing economy on the 50s. John found himself, having already been handed over by his birth parents for adoption at six months, on a boat bound for Perth when he was seven. He would spend the next fifteen years at an “orphanage” four hundred kilometres out in the Western Australian, receiving some schooling and earning his keep by working the farm that went along with the institution: clearing the bush, shifting rocks…hard physical work for a growing youth. Remarkably, John is able to reflect rather positively on these years. It is rather the ugly fact of his removal from loved ones by a callous bureaucracy and the years of denial that followed [by the governments] that riles him still. Particularly since his retirement, he has been able to bring to light clear documentary proof of years of collusion and cover-up. His story deserves wide reading!
[A film based on events such as John spoke about is coming out
soon, starring David Wenham and Hugo Weaving – “Oranges and Sunshine”.]
John’s book is available at all the local independent bookshops.


This week you heard the track:
- “Aqua e Vino”, guitar and recorder, from Doug de Vries and Rod Waterman.

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