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Friday, April 22, 2011

April 5th

Author Interview: Cory Taylor author of “Me and Mr. Booker”

My first guest was CORY TAYLOR, Brisbane-based author of “Me and Mr. Booker”, reviewed last week on “The Blurb”.

Cory has written children’s books “Rate Tales” #1 and #2 and worked on film scripts. She spoke of the positive influence of an inspiring English teacher and the poet GEOFF PAGE.

Cory is currently working on a novel, which takes up the character of Victor, Martha’s Mittyesque father.

Interview with Robyn Rowland

ROBYN ROWLAND was in to talk about her current work, and to publicise the Geelong Regional Library’s next “Conversations With Poets” which will feature Catherine Bateson and Alex Skovron. Last month’s evening was sold out, so contact the library if you intend going. More details next week.
Meanwhile as we mentioned a few weeks back Robyn was recently awarded the Irish “Writing Spirit Award” for her recent writings. She read a recent poem about BILL HENSON’s photos and we talked about our concerns regarding the sexualisation of children – a natural follow on from my conversation with Cory Taylor.

This Week’s Review: “Angelica” by Arthur Phillips

JOHN FOWLES hit the literary scene with a bang in the 1970s,with “The Magus” soon followed by “The Collector” and “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”. [The last two were made into very good films.] The last book apparently came out of Fowles’ teaching about the English novel at university. It was his attempt to write a “Victorian” novel. Think George Elliot, Thackeray, Hardy. Yes, the book’s language had a somewhat archaic and stilted period feel to it, but the novel worked very well without apology or explanation. I loved it back then and must find time to read it again. Today’s book reminded me very much of Fowles’ for the style and setting Phillips has adopted. A far cry from “Prague” which I reviewed last year [though apparently closer to his later “The Egyptologist” which I am yet to see.] “Prague”, you may remember was a very talky but enjoyable contemporary story about a group of English 30-somethings ‘on the make’ in Central Europe. A comedy of manners, really.

Phillips is in a darker mood here. Inevitably the blurb mentions HENRY JAMES’ classic novella, “The Turn Of The Screw” [made into a brilliant black-and-white horror film in the 1960s, starring Deborah Kerr in one of her final roles. One of my favourite films.] The novel echoes the earlier book’s themes somewhat and the tone is decidedly gothic with evident sexual suppression and bottled hysteria [like James’ governess.]

Constance, the wife, was a lowly, orphaned shopgirl until she was wooed by the handsome Barton [nee “Bartone”, Italian parentage…as in hot-blooded, of course.] He never quite made it through medical school and is a reasonably well-off research scientist, working in immunology and experimenting with live animals which the reader finds out well ahead of his wife. Constance has managed only one live birth, Angelica, from three pregnancies and has been warned that another will be fatal. Naturally then she dotes on her eccentric [at least] daughter. Barton is clever and arrogant. He enjoys an independent social life and is finding the near abstinence from sexual contact very difficult [being, as he is of Mediterranean lineage!]. Constance tries to play to his needs, but this only seems to encourage animosity and resentment from her husband.

Meanwhile their daughter is having “episodes”: perhaps they are supernatural? Or is it hysterics? Now, at this stage, it is good to recall that our word “hysterics” comes from the same Greek word as “hysterectomy”,etc. In Victorian and earlier times, hysteria was the name for the female ‘complaint’ of sexual enjoyment. As Constance observes Angelica’s night time experiences, she comes to wonder whether they are somehow connected with or even caused by her husband. Coupled with the eerie atmospherics of the house and its history, there is a domestic who seems to know more than she should. If “Little People” [last week] belongs in the genre melodrama, what is this book? Constance reacts to her husband’s edict to sleep in their bed by sneaking down nightly to sit with her daughter…Are the nocturnal phenomena real? Surely an external, objective witness is called for. Enter, Anne Montague, a spiritualist who has her own interesting history and commanding presence.

What is going on here? One critic called “Angelica” a ‘psychological detective story without a detective’ and so it is. The novelist lets the story be told by using four voices, as it were, none of which is entirely omniscient [I think], but rather - layer upon layer – the facts might finally emerge. Yes, the plot is somewhat convoluted, but it all comes together in the end. There are some wonderful elements: the night “dreams”; Constance’s visit to her husband’s laboratory; Barton’s relationship with his boss, Harry; the awful “women’s specialist”, Dr. Miles, which Constance is sent to. And all the Freudian connections are on show: daughter-father; fear of sex; sex and death; the latent power of childhood trauma to affect adult life. Phillips is a young writer who may already be at the top of his form. He is not afraid of long paragraphs with sentences containing lots of complex clauses, but he is always in charge. If the plot remains murky right to the end, I believe that is precisely what the author intended. Listen to the opening sentence:
“I suppose my prescribed busywork should begin as a ghost story, since that was surely Constance’s experience of these events….”

Shades of “The Catcher In The Rye’ or “Portnoy’s Complaint”…Who is speaking? To whom? We should have known we’d be kept guessing….

SCORE: ****
ARTHUR PHILLIPS: “Angelica”, Scribe pb, PP 331, rrp $35

And speaking of OPENING SENNTENCES: in a few weeks’ time, I’d like to offer listeners what I think are come classic openings from some well-known/well-liked novels. You may like to contribute some. Send them in to me at PULSE.


This week you heard “Stormy Weather” by Steve Murphy. Steve can be heard every second Friday at “The Wrong Crowd” in Moorabool Street, Geelong.

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