Contact us

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

Sunday, May 22, 2011

May 17th

Book & Publishing News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

May 10th

Book & Publishing News

* May “ALR” had a challenging article by Stephen Schwartz pleading for the restoration of humanities in our universities. Hear here!

* The apers were generous to Rohan Wilson, winner of 2011 Vogel…You will have heard/read MY review. I cannot agree with most reviewers who saw it as an utter triumph.

* The current “Monthly” is full of good things, including a long article on Chris Lilley and “Angry Boys” which I haven’t seen yet

* …because I was speaking to the Bellarine Historical Society on a topic of MY choice: “What MAKES history? “

* We received the latest “Windmills” from Jo and friends at Deakin and the new booklet from Geelong Writers Inc with “our “ Jo and DR Alyson on the cover.

* Today I will feature a winning poem from recent interviewee, Melbourne Poet Jane Carnegie.

* Book-to-film Number 32: “Water For Elephants”…a NICE film generally, no aspirations to real sense for mine. Emma is going to read the novel and tell us about it.
Book-to TV SERIES…another “Moby Dick”. I won’t bother with the second part. Too CLEAN-looking and too much mumbling from Bill Hird [as Ahab.]

* “100 Books Of Liberty” comes from the Institute Of Public Affairs, a neo-Con thinktank so one is not surprised by the selection or the selectors. Have a look though.

* Chinese author Liao Yiwu thought he was going to be a guest at Sydney’s coming Writers’ Festival, but his government found his novel about the “Tienamen Square Massacre” and his current documentary “The Corpsewalkers” [which I am currently reading] dangerous…to someone, we can only guess. Will the People’s Republic go the way of the USSR, I wonder?

* If you missed our Anzac special when I reviewed a swag of books about Australia and wars [ on April 26], don’t forget all reviews can be read on our website.

* Clive James’ later poems are discussed in the new “ALR”: he has taken a more ‘spiritual’, late-in-life direction apparently.

* Linsday Tanner’s book, “Sideshow” is selling well, apparently…but has had poor reviews. I am still hoping to interview him soon. [When will he actually write about the LABOR governments he served in, I wonder?]

* June Alexander whose “A Girl Called Tim” I spoke about recently will be on Greg McHenry’s “Roads To Recovery” on June 8th.

This Week’s Review: “The Roving Party” by Rohan Wilson

A couple of preliminary remarks.

I read and reviewed this book BEFORE reading any other preview/review.
Congratulations to Allen & Unwin for the excellent presentation of this new Australian novel! The cover design is fetching and appropriate, bespeaking quality immediately. This is – I think it is worth saying - a comparatively BRIEF novel, probably only 70,000 words or so. Furthermore I approached it not as a first novel: I judge each book as I find it. Now, TIM WINTON’s “The Open Swimmer” won the Vogel years ago, and I’d say it now rates as rather forgettable. Well, I’ve forgotten all about it - whereas I will never forget Tim’s “Cloudtreet”. I love to see any writing encouraged, especially those who launch into the huge challenge of creating a novel. Finally, for the moment, I did wonder whether the controversial nature of the Wilson story – John Batman, Victoria’s “founder”, plus an Aboriginal Vandemonian competing for brutality in hunting down SE Van Diemens Land “blacks” – did not distract the judges in their deliberations. Maybe we can ask one of them, Cate Kennedy, when we speak to her soon.

Now, to the book itself.
[Cover blurb] “ John Batman, ruthless, single-minded; four convicts, the youngest still only stripling; Gould, a downtrodden farmhand; two free black trackers [from NSW]; and powerful, educated Black Bill, brought up from childhood as a white man. This is the roving party and their purpose is massacre…”
The narrative framework then is a long chase over several months covering the rock-strewn hilly plateaux and plains of south eastern Tasmania in the 1840s. One is immediately struck by Wilson’s spare and crisp writing style. This is very much the vogue at present. Listeners may be surprised that the doyen of the style – Cormac McCarthy – has been writing this way for over twenty years. I well remember the impact of “All The Little Horses” and the others in the trilogy. And the sometimes-great HEMINGWAY set the benchmark with his classic short story [among others] “The Snows of Kiliminjaro” [though I found “For Whom The Bell Tolls” very long-winded, actually.] Maybe these new young writers do what Gay Talese spoke of in a recent interview. He types drafts in CAPITALS and quadruple-spaced, pins them up around his writing office and chops away at them in large clusters for weeks…And then does it all over again. Well, our new word-processing obviates a lot of those needs, but I still wonder just how they achieve such a lean-cuisine sparseness. Having said all that, I am quick to applaud Wilson’s depiction of the Tasmanian countryside. Even today one has only to stray a kilometre from the [few] roads to become very conscious of a dark and brooding wilderness pretty well all over the island state. It carries a haunted feel [and well it should, not just because of the Black Wars.]
The compressed story-telling suits too the single-minded, driven quest Batman and his cohorts undertake – and even more so the ‘finishing’ tale of Black Bill’s hunt. The drama is somehow pre-historic, primeval, pre-literary – as Wilson reminds us with his constant allusions to nature: weather, topography, fauna and flora. None of the meagre props of even the primitive villages avail. The bounty-hunters barely survive by living off the land.

ROHAN WILSON: The Roving Party, A&U pb, pp 280 [wide-spaced!], rrp $20

Monday, May 16, 2011

May 3rd

Welcome Leo, panelling for us today. Also welcome to work experience student, LIAM from Year 10 at St. Joseph’s.

Book & Publishing News

* THE AUSTRALIAN/VOGEL Award this year goes to Rohan Wilson for his tale of “The Roving Party”, comprising a fictionalised John Batman and a Vandiemonian Aborigine, Black Bill, plus assorted convicts, after money and tickets-of-leave for bringing in the remaining ‘Blacks’ of south eastern Van Diemen’s Land
in the 1840s. I will review the novel next week and we will speak with the author early June.

* The BBC has a 100 Books-One-Should-Have-Read list on its website…I was humbled to be able to claim only 59!

* Book-to-film No. 30: Michael Lincoln’s “The Lincoln Lawyer” was pretty good, though the lead is a bit too smooth and handsome for Connelly’s character.

* GRIFFITH REVIEW is always full of good reading: available from PATON’s.
Matthew Condon on post-Floods Brisbane, Veteran women’s rights advocate Wendy McCarthy on “Woman And Power” these days; Bronwyn Adcock: the sad tale of dispossessed Central Tilba Aborigines; Greg Lockart with a new look at how Australia was preparing for WWI.

* Leslie Canold [“The Book Of Rachael”] has had to postpone our interview indefinitely.

* My former colleague BRONWYN HODGE has a beautiful new daughter, Zoe. Congratulations, Rob, Anthony and big sister, Abigail.

* Film from book No.31: we watched the B&W film of Steinbeck’s “East Of Eden” with Raymond Massey and James Dean [as the tortured Caleb – from whence we took Number 2 son’s name 33 years ago.]

This Weeks Reviews:

“The Moment” by Douglas Kennedt

What is it about Berlin? The only pre-War images I can conjure belong to the unforgettable film, “Cabaret”, the stage show of which was drawn from the writings of Christopher Isherwood. We’ve probably all read some of Brecht, again set in the final stages of the Weimar Republic: seedy, unsettled and cynical. Then there were the countless “war” films, in B&W then Technicolour. Then “The Third Man” with Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton lurking in the sewer with the zither theme plunking away in the background. Novels by Gunther Grass and Kurt Vonnegut Jr….Topping such memories, of course, are vignettes from John Le Carre* novels [and films and TV series!], not least the lonely figure slowly crossing the bridge at the end of “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” [still his best for me]. *I don’t think we have had too much else set in the DIVIDED Berlin?

* The “real “ Le Carre has at last nominated a biographer. ‘Can’t wait.

A couple of years ago, Australian Ann Funder wrote “Staziland” about the end of East Germany, a book which still sells well – and deservedly. Do you remember all those relics of The Wall that circulated in the aftermath of its destruction? Now we have a novel that somehow updates the LE CARRE existentialist zeitgeist. Douglas Kennedy is new to me, but he joins the ranks of such illustrious journalist/travel writers turned novelists as Paul Theroux and Jonathan Raban.

We spend most of the book in Berlin, immediately before and right after The Wll came down. Finally, this is a love story, but delves far deeper into the human psyche than Mills’n’Boon ever reached. First of all, it is a LONG novel – at 200,000 words, but Kennedy needed this sort of volume to get his story across which he does admirably. As well as the suitably noir setting of Berlin – with its coffee bars and dim-lit streets – he provides some rippling dialogue, full of wit and irony [reminiscent of Arthur Philip’s “Prague” which I enjoyed last year]. Just as some of the characters discuss Graham Greene and other authors, so this novel echoes some of the angst so beloved of that great English novelist.**

** I cannot remember EVER reading an American novel in which a character mentions Greene, much read a novel where the writer pays such tribute to Green’s thematic preoccupations the way I feel Kennedy does. Le Carre, of course, is in eternal debt to GG.

Kennedy is a patient writer who demands patience of his reader. We begin with the protagonist – successful travel writer, Thomas Nesbitt - just emerging from a tired marriage and about to embark on a work-oriented fact-finding trip to Berlin. We are in roughly the present.
“ [His] solitude [is] disrupted by the arrival one wintry morning of a post box marked Berlin. The return address on the box – Dussmann – unsettles him completely for it is the same woman with whom had had an intense love affair with 26 years ago in Berlin – at a time when the city was cleaved in two, and personal and political allegiances were haunted by the deep shadows pf the Cold War…” [Cover blurb] Nesbitt must confront the issue of how and why he ended the greatest love he had ever had. The reader is then taken back to a Berlin BEFORE the end of the Cold War. Thomas is a young writer in search of a breakthrough “travel book”. Getting a job with the American foreign services information NGO, he soon meets Petra Dussmann, to whom he loses his heart. We find that she is more than a refugee from police-state East Berlin; there is a deep sadness in her life which is only slowly revealed. As I said, in a sense this is a slow read – the final third of the book brings us back to the present - but it is totally absorbing. I already mentioned the wit of the dialogue, but it is also the intensity of the scenes between Thomas and Petra that raise this novel to a higher level. Meanwhile there is the Le Carre-like intelligence/ spy/ Cold War overlay with their threats of misinformation and betrayal, and the characters themselves – Thomas, Petra, Thomas’s Berlin housemate, the flamboyant, vulnerable, brilliant Expressionist painter, the Irish Fitzwilliams-Ross. There are other minor characters, so neatly composed, almost in the manner of an Altman film script.
The book operates in two time zones, as it were: the present and the past, the time of Thomas and Petra’s fraught relationship, and it is all under the spell of The Wall. It haunts Thomas from the first moments of his arrival in the early 1980s. Inevitably he “makes” East Berlin the subject of the first column he will write in his day job. A pattern is set, the atmosphere established. Read the book as a love story, or a Cold War mystery thriller. It just works so well on many levels.
I am on the lookout for some more of Douglas Kennedy.

SCORE: ***+
DOUGLAS KENNEDT: The Moment, Hutchinson pb, pp 489, rrp $35.

“The Tiger’s Wife” by Tea Obreht

I thought of Tim Winton as I began this book because I had just been reminded that he won the VOGEL many years ago now with his all-but-forgotten “The Open Swimmer”[ Not his best book by a long shot. I will review this year’s winning novel NEXT week.] Apparently TEA OBREHT is already being touted as the Next Bright Young Thing in the States. At 25, this is her third published work and I think it is a novel remarkable for the maturity of its insight into the extraordinary complexity of values, emotions, politics and humanity that is “the Balkans”[if one can still use the term] which touches all of us as all good art should. It is never didactic, but rather tells an epic story – the grandfather’s - amid the tragic mess of the second half of the twentieth century in that region.

We begin in 1941. “As German bombs are falling, a tiger escapes from his zoo, padding through ruined streets and onwards, to ridge above the village of Gaina. His nocturnal visits hold the villagers in terrified thrall. But for one boy, the tiger is a thing of magic- ‘Shere Khan’ awoken from the pages of ‘The Jungle Book’. Natalia [our narrator] is the granddaughter of that boy. Now she is a doctor. It is the 1980s and she is visiting after another war that has devastated her region. On this journey she receives word that her beloved grandfather has died, far from their latest home, in circumstances shrouded in mystery.” [Cover blurb.] And so our story begins, weaving through history, family reminiscences and local folklore – somewhat in the manner of the Latin magic realists, but Tea is no imitator or parodist. We have here a distinctive and impressive new voice.

Score: ****
TEA OBREHT: The Tiger’s Wife, Weidenfeld & Nicholson pb, pp 336, rrp $30

This Weeks Poem

“The Poor Commissioners” by Cate Kennedy whom we will be speaking with, in a couple of weeks.


This week you heard LINDA RONSTADT singing “A La Orilla…” from a 2010 CD of THE CHIEFTAINS and various Mexican bands/singers plus the ubiquitous RY COODER, “San Padricios”

Monday, May 2, 2011

April 26th

Book & Publishing News:

* THREE finalists have been named for 2011 Miles Franklin Award:
KIM SCOTT for “Dead Man Dancing”, ROGER McDONALD, “When Colts Ran Free” and CHRIS WOMERSLEY, “Bereft”. Scott’s is my pick, but I suspect Womersley’s will win.

* The Australian/Vogel Award [for best new novel] will be decoded from BOMY ASH, JADE MAITRE and ROHAN WILSON. See Saturday’s WEEKEND REVIEW for lots of detail plus a sample of their work.

* Book-to-film No 29: I watched “War And Peace” for the first time [on DVD] recently: a very long film with great battle scenes, but very melodramatic. Audrey Hepburn steals the show utterly. I’m ashamed to say I’ve not read the book…yet.

* NEXT WEEK I hope to speak with LESLIE CANNOLD about her novel.”The Book Of Rachael” which I reviewed last week.

* I think it was good to see “The Age” continuing the discussion of what Anzac Day means “Commemorate” not “celebrate” was a theme as well as questioning whether we want it to be our “national day”. I wonder what the day means to those who do not attend services or go to the MCG on the day.

* And to continue: should we remember Indigenous warriors who fought and died to defend their land…on Anzac day?

‘THE BLURB’ welcomes comment: email me c/e Pulse or phone us during the program.

This Week’s Interview: Gerard Windsor author of “All Day Long The Noise Of Battle

I was privileged today to speak for 20 minutes with GERARD WINDSOR – historian, novelist and memoirist – about his well-reviewed new book, “All Day Long The Noise Of Battle” which looks in exhaustive detail at the three-day battle fought by “C” Company of the 7th Battalion RAR in Phuoc Tuy in February 1968
[as part of the Allies’ preparation for the “Tet Offensive”.]

Gerard spoke of the gestation of the book, an unlikely project for the novelist. He had come across after many years the fact the a schoolmate had not only served in Vietnam, but had earned the respect of his comrades to the extent that one had said the man [ Mark Moloney] should have been decorated for his role in the “Bunkers action”.
We spoke of the anomaly of historians’ reliance on eye witness accounts where possible – when, in Gerard’s experience, even witnesses will vary in their memory of events, given the split-second dramas taking place. This becomes an issue, of course, when one looks at the official reports of battlefield action…and the awarding of decorations, for instance.

Gerard ended up being able to talk to nearly 60 of the officers and ranks in preparing this marvellous story of events that had largely been lost in the ‘fog of war’. He spoke of being continually impressed by the raw courage the men showed, with little thought or rationalisation, really, about what they were involved in…And might not the enemy have retaken their positions within days of the Australians’ cleaning them out anyway!

GERARD WINDSOR: All Day Long The Noise Of Battle. Pier 9 pb, pp 255, rrp $35.
SCORE: ****

This Week’s Reviews:

I will mention [only] the books on AUSTRALIANS AND WAR that I have received this past year and will review a couple in more detail.

-TONY WRIGHT: Walking the Gallipoli Peninsula. Much more than a mere guide.

-PATRICK LINDSAY: The Coast Watchers. Behind enemy lines with the men who “saved the Pacific”.

-ROLAND PERRY: The Changi Brownlow. How these amazing POWs found Aussie Rules as a way to help them survive.

-ROB MAYLOR/ROBERT MACKLIN: SAS Sniper. Maylor was in the Royal Marines and later served with Australian troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

-CRAIG STOCKINGS[ed]: Zombie Myths Of Australian Military History.
Demythologizing such myths as the one that says there was no Aboriginal resistance to the European invasion; and that “Breaker” Morant was a hero…

-PAUL DALEY: Beersheba. The journalists travels far and wide to find out what happened with the ‘last great cavalry charge’.

-ANDERSON?TREMBATH: Witnesses To War-the history of Australian conflict reporting.

-SCOTT BENETT: Pozieres. An extraordinary story not told before in such detail.

-ROBER MACKLIN: Bravest – Australia’s greatest war heroes and how they won their medals. Fifteen winners of Victoria and George Crosses.

-LEON DAVIDSON: Zero Hour. An introduction to the Anzac action on the Western Front.

-WILLIAM CULL/Pegram [ed]: Both Sides Of The Wire. The memoir of an Australian Officer captured during World War One.

-DAISLEY: Traitor. A novel about a friendship between an Anzac and a Turk during the Gallipoli campaign.

-PETER HART: Gallipoli. This may be THE book about the events of 1915. Written by an Oral Historian from the Imperial War Museum. I am still working through its 533 pages and will review it later.

“The Men Who Came Out Of The Ground” by Paul Cleary

PAUL HAM has written the best book I have read yet on Australians in Vietnam. In reviewing Cleary’s book, he wrote: “[He] tells this story in an arresting narrative, unblemished by the lapse into histrionics that so often debases the history of war. Nor will he indulge in careless triumphalism. The men of the 2/2 demonstrated HUMAN [emphasis mine] not peculiarly Aussie qualities of courage and resilience”. This is a point GERARD WINDSOR made about the Australian Viet vets he interviewed in preparing his book and would be welcome in the talk that surfaces annually around this time of the year [though I suspect the jingoistic hysteria has faded significantly now that Howardism is fading…one hopes!] Many of the recent books about war – and they are legion – that I have seen of late seem to be re-evaluating what we mean by soldiering and its place in our particular national story. Cleary gives us the facts and largely refrains from judging, much less eulogising. Decisions about the situation in Timor early 1940s that were naïve, ill-informed and catastrophic and often poorly-planned.

Obviously,…in retrospect. Civilians, for example, WERE executed. Soldiers deserted. As HAM said, this was human endeavour, undertaken amid extraordinary stress we in our comfort can hardly imagine.

The setting is mostly “East Timor” [today’s Timor Leste], 1942. Immediately, it is amazing to remember that casualties were quite low amongst the 200 Australians as they tied up a Japanese force totalling 20,000, over two years or more... Sadly, many thousands of Timorese were killed during World War to, having no real say in the politics of it all, often spending years with the Aussies behind the lines, away from family and safety though some joined Japanese=sponsored militia.

“Sparrow Force” were trained quickly [at Wilsons Prom – a lively early section of this absorbing book], but selected for their athleticism. They were ferried in and virtually left until Macarthur [surprisingly?] heard of their valuable work in stalling the Japanese eastward march and ordered a better means, of supply and support. Cleary seems to imply that overall the Portuguese remnants were more active in helping the Allied effort than were the Dutch colonist, but I may be
mistaken; I’d have to look up the post-WWII history of Indonesia again.
Throughout their relentless ordeal, the Aussies were not just outnumbered, they were poorly led FROM AUSTRALIA, never being totally clear about he project’s overall objectives. Were they really meant to DEFEAT the Japanese? Surely not, but by endlessly ambushing, retreating, skirmishing and hiding out, they kept an enormous army occupied and actually inflicted considerable damage.

The role of the locals, as I said, was significant – which makes our abandonment of the East Timorese during the militia campaigns of recent times even more shameful. [ Surely, Gough’s most shameful act!]

SCORE ***+
PAUL CLEARY: The Men Who Came Out Of The Ground, hatchette pb, pp 382, rrp $35,2010

“My Dear I Wanted To Tell You” by Louisa Young

I’m sure I reminded listeners before of the opening phrase of Vergil’s epic, “The Aeneid” [“Arma virumque cano”= I sing of arms and the Man/men.] And isn’t it sad that WAR is the inspiration for so much great art – in literature, music, film, painting…And still novelists find new lodes of story from the “Great War”. The recent benchmark for me is PAT BARKER’s “Regeneration” trilogy where she imagines the war as it was affecting the poets Sassoon, Owen and Co. in their personal circumstances. Our ROGER McDONALD [“1915”] and DAVID MALOUF “Fly Away Peter” hold their own, of course, and so does this novel – beginning with its startling cover, just by the way.

The novel begins slowly. After all, the war was supposed to be over by Christmas 1914. It seemed “safe” for all those men to enlist. The enemy were boorish Teutons, surely no match for the stiff upper lip and public-school masterly leadership of the sons of an Empire on which the sun never set.
British grit would prevail and quickly….which made the drawn out abominations of the Western Front all the more horrific.

And that is the story our book tells. Our main character, Roger Purefoy, is poorly-educated and working-class though from the start he seems to be blessed by opportunity, initially in being placed as the gofer for a low-ranked but rather toffy painter. This opens doors for him such that he is almost going up in the world. Young is very good on the drawing-room society of Roger’s all-but-adoptive new family – as she is in reminding us, via the person of Roger’s mother, of his humble origins,. This is Waugh without the satire because we empathise [in their later tragedy] with both “Upstairs” and “Downstairs”. This war was cruelly democratic in Young’s world.

At home, Roger will probably never have the only girl he aspires to. In a fit of disappointment, he rushes to enlist. Meanwhile, out in the country, the aristocratic peter Locke accepts a commission and the pair are off to France, soon ending up together on the killing fields of 1915. Amid the needless slaughter, Roger shows exceptional leadership and is rapidly promoted from the ranks while Peter barely hangs on. The devastating casualties affect Roger physically and personally while Peter becomes a psychological wreck.

There are interesting minor characters in this deceptively epic story. The women at home struggle to find appropriate roles and to accept the awful realities of what is going on Over There.

I thought this was a terrific novel. Some of the battle scenes are reminiscent in their compression and naturalistic imagery of Owen and Rosenberg. We are reminded once again of the chilling FUTILITY [cf Owen’s poem] of it all.

SCORE: ****
LOUISA YOUNG: My Dear I Wanted To Tell You, Harper Collins pb, pp 330, rrp $35, 2011

This Week’s Poem: “The Company Of Lovers” by Judith Wright

She was in her early 20s, attending Sydney Uni, fresh from country Armidale, and Sydney was full of soldiers – Aussies and Americans… From her first published anthology, “The Moving Image”. I am currently reading “Nine Lives” [Susan Sheridan], a beut little book about nine “Postwar women writers making their mark”. You must read it if you are at all interested in Australian literature. A sound introduction to Wright, Astley, Hewett, etc.


Holtz “The Planets” – MARS.

April 19th

Book & Publishing News:

* SHAKESPEARE: I will look briefly today at four new books involving the Great Man.

* Book-to-film No. 27: I have just watched the DVD of the 1930 black and white film of “All Quiet On The Western Front” [from the Library, of course] which was only published in 1938. It starred LEW AYRES who I think became young Doctor Kildare in the late 30s films.
FILM-TO-MUSIC: I also watched a great concert of Bluegrass music, a DVD called “Down From The Mountain” [2000]:the artists were the people who featured on the soundtrack of 2001 Coen Brothers’ film, “O Brother….”, such people as the now-famous Diana Kraul.

* …No. 28: I look forward to seeing the newest film version of GRAHAM GREENE’s “Brighton Rock”.

* …And a MUSICAL from a great book: we saw “Dr Zhivago” Sunday. Excellent. Go to a matinee: convenient and much cheaper.

* AIREY”S INLET has several book launches coming up in tandem with Bells Beach’s 50th. Check it out at

* JUNE ALEXANDER from Clifton Springs will be speaking about her very moving memoir “A Girl Called Tim” at Ocean Grove’s great little bookshop, Bookgrove, at 11am, Saturday, April 23rd. I will be speaking with June in a couple of weeks’ time.

* Some new books I received this week:
CATE KENNEDY: The Taste Of River Water [New poems]
FRANCIS WEBB: Collected Poems [The authentic anthology by our most neglected poet.]
TEA OREHT: The Tiger’s Wife.
PETER DOCKER: Someone Else’s Country

This Week’s Reviews:

“Brush Up Your Shakespeare!” by James Shapiro
Contested Shakespeare. The latest attempt to solve the mystery that lingers – did Bill REALLY write all those plays and sonnets? A very well-written lively discussion. This is a scholarly but accessible examination: sound index and bibliography.

“The Merchant Of Venice” by John Drakakis [ed.] [ARDEN SHAKESPEARE]
Arden is THE authoritative edition used in universities, etc. And this is a 2010 version with a very good new Introduction by the editor. Faber pb, pp 367, rrp $24-99.

“Dictionary Of Shakespearean Quotations” [ARDEN] Beautifully presented, a must for everyone’s coffee table.
rrp $ 45

“Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets” by Don Paterson
This is a terrific book for anyone who has studied or just dipped into “The Sonnets” by an academic whom is in love with his subject. I am slowly working my way through at about eight pages a day. There is so much new and amusing material here. Each sonnet gets about 600 words so it is never laborious reading. Faber hb, pp 500, rrp $50.

“The Pig Boy” by J C Burke

One of the “New Realist” young writers discovered in the 70s and 80s was American PAUL ZINDEL who wrote a very good book, “The Pigman”, this book is nothing like the other! Back then the “YA”: readership was really taking off, and books dealing with the ‘generation’ gap, rites of passage, adolescent sexuality, authority, separation, death, etc. were at last getting on to the school English curriculum here as well as being read by millions of teenagers the world over. The standard of Australian output in this genre has been outstanding for years now. In fact, I find it rather specious to draw separating the YA genre because many of the books are well worth reading by all ages [from maybe fourteen on.] And JAN Burke’s book is the latest I’ve had sent to me. I loved it.

This is a tough book. It is shocking at times, but never sensationalist in the mode of the TV “current affairs”, “reality” TV and the glossy magazines. Life is hard for Burke’s late-teen protagonist, Damon. He is overweight, a loner, good at English, but at odds with everything else at school, and the book opens with his expulsion just before his final secondary school exams. Mum, “the old girl”- is miserable, estranged from husband and lover. She consoles herself with takeaway meals and liberal infusions of Rum’n’Coke, financed by her recent win in Powerball. Damon too shares in this largesse which enables him to indulge in his hobby of on-line games [which, I confess, I still don’t understand.] He suffers from constant porcine name-calling everywhere he goes. There is something more, however, the details of which we learn only as the plot unfolds, but it has him terrified. The only person resembling a friend as the book opens is the son of the local shopkeeper, but this boy’s loyalty is soon challenged – on ethnic grounds, which he gets wrong any way.. He might have had a girlfriend, but he has destroyed that possibility by a clumsy act of over-protection on a recent school camp. There are mysterious objects secreted in his locked wardrobe….
There is a subculture of violence in Strathen, this small country town, and another loner, “Miro”, apparently a refugee from the Balkan conflict whom most of the town thinks is weird if not dangerous. Miro is “the Pigman” who kills feral pigs for local butchers, but also makes regular excursions further west where he and his two dogs rid graziers of these feral pests.

Damon decides he must learn to shoot and Miro seems the most likely teacher. The reader is now alert: will this book end up in a Columbus-style massacre? Some of the locals suspect Damon is thinking such thoughts. Damon, however, not only goes shooting with Miro, but the two become friends. This is the most powerful theme in the book – not unusual, the mutual attraction of ‘outsiders’ – but I found the friendship very moving in the light of current global phobias and local jingoism. Secrets are shared between the veteran of the 1980s killing fields and the troubled Australian boy. Meanwhile, the pig-boy slander becomes a badge of honour almost as Damon passes the physical test out in the scrub. Some of these scenes reminded me of the film “Wake In Fright”. The hunting episodes are by no means exaggerated: quite a few boys in rural towns all over Australia train “pig dogs’ to savage feral pests.
I will score this book AS A YA NOVEL going against what I’ve said above, yes.]

J C BURKE: The Pig Boy. Woolshed pb[from Random House],pp 325, rrp $25

“The Book Of Racheal” by Leslie Canold

Not by choice, I have found myself with a lot of time on my hands for the last couple of years – and this job, hosting “The Blurb”, shepherds my favourite pastime, READING, in a productive direction. I tend to have four or five books on the go at any given time: a ‘serious’ novel; a history; a memoir; a detective/crime novel; some poetry. A friend in Melbourne recently sent me “A Portrait Of Jesus” by well-known Australian Scripture scholar, GERALD O’COLLINS SJ. Note the title: “A” and “Portrait”. My slow and reflective reading of Gerald’s book coincided with the arrival of “The Book Of Rachael”, a novel about the fictional sister of “Joshua”/Jesus of Nazareth. We have no biography of Jesus, the Christ of Christian believers, of course. The four ‘Evangelists’ wrote in a genre which the author Mark called “gospel”, translated “good news”. Three of them used pretty well the same sources. Forty years later, the author of “John” drew somewhat from the three “synoptic” Gospels as well as some of his own, but shaped his book for a very different purpose. I digress, I know, but I wondered as I began how Leslie’s Joshua might look, speak, act. Last century saw lots of devotional writers penning “lives” [sic] of Jesus, designed to give would-be-believers the REAL picture of the Nazarene. They were not at all scholarly and indeed did a lot to ambush the developing rational approach – source criticism, etc.- to the study of Scripture. Leslie comes to her task with a very open mind [unlike, say, PHILIP PULLMAN of recent times.] She comes from a Jewish background, but claims to be an atheist-humanist. She is a well-known and very respected ethicist whose earlier publications have included feminist studies and analyses of issues surrounding abortion. This is a story ABOUT a fictional 1st century Jewish Israelite girl called Rachel whose parents are Miriam/”Mary” and Josep/”Joseph”. She has several siblings, most notably as it turns out her older brother, Joshua. The social environment is captured vividly – the geography, the culture, the busy-ness of village life. Early on, Rachael is “the good little girl” her almost-shrewish mother expects her to be. Gradually, the onset of puberty and the rape of her older sister steer her towards another sort of life and a radical change of personality. As she secretly learns Hebrew and the Scriptures, she also acquires “secret women’s business” from a local shaman, the midwife, Bindy. So far, so good. I found, however, that once the scene had been set and the story begun, the novel stalled. Rachael falls in love with a local young political rebel called Judas. [Yes, the same.] Obviously we will have certain plot developments pushing for space hereon in. The final sections, interestingly, are among the best. I was left, however, wondering why Leslie chose this particular story for her first entry into novel-writing. OK, Rachael is a proto-feminist, but why THIS family and WHY this historical period which surely has been mined to death over centuries. Lots of people seem to be buying it, so my responses may be coloured by my personal academic background [which is Literature, History and Biblical Studies.*] I hope not because I commenced reading the book with an open mind.

SCORE: **+
LESLIE CANOLD: The Book Of Rachael,Text pb, pp 325, rrp $32-95

* I am not sure why Leslie cited just half a dozen sources from her research: if she wanted some sort of academic accountability, she would need to have read much more widely.

I will be speaking with LESLIE CANOLD in a future program. Stay tuned.

I also will be speaking with JC BURKE in a few weeks’ time.


This week you heard excerpts from the soundtrack of the 2008 Australian film, “South Solitary”.

Next Week:

Coming up next week is a special ANZAC DAY program, including an interview with GERARD WINDSOR about his new book chronicling a five-day battle in Vietnam in 1068,”All Day Long The Noise Of Battle”.

April 12th

A special welcome to Stephen, Michael, Leo and Doreen…and to Leo Renkin, filling in at the desk for Emma.

Book & Publishing News:

* “The Monthly” is a good read again, although I’m not sure what PETER VROBB was attempting with his piece on Marcia Langton. I usually love his work [eg “Street Fight In Naples”,2010.] Beautiful artwork from the talented SHAUN TAN. Succinct assessment of Tony Blair by one of the last great hopes the Labor Government had, LINDSAY TANNER.

* “Overland’s” theme this edition is freedom so WENDY BACON reminds us of the censorship battles of the 60s and 70s. ALEXIS WRIGHT [“Carpentaria”] on the Intervention legacy. JUSTIN CLEMENS on the poetry of PORTERS,P. and D. and DOROTHY HEWETT.

* ANZAC DAY I will look at some more books on Australians and war…and hopefully speak with GERARD WINDSOR about his new book on Vietnam, “All Day Long The Noise Of Battle”.

* Advance notice of Torquay’s “Froth’N’Bubble” Literary Festival, JUNE 19-20.

* I recently found a little treasure of a book, “Who Wrote The Ballads?” by J.S. Manifold,1964 whose “The Tomb Of Lt. John Learmonth” featured here for Anzac Day 2009.

* The latest “Quadrant” has a long essay by an academic from the DFA in Duntroon on that most bloody of novels, “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy. I’ll try to find time to talk about the book and the article one day.
Did you know the American Civil War began 150 years ago this month? April 12th,1861.
There is a good article about the causes this month too.

Gaita [ed.]: Essays On Muslims And Multiculturalism
Birch: Jamrach’s Menagerie [Review coming up.]
Griffiths: A Love Letter From A Stray Moon […novel about Freda Kahlo.]
Kennedy: The Moment
CD set of R.S. THOMAS reading his poems. [I have featured the work of the late poet on the program.]

* Local author, JUNE ALEXANDER, will be speaking about a new book “A Boy Called Tim” at Bookgrove in Ocean Grove,11 am, Saturday April 23rd.

* The April ALR [in “The Australian”, first Wednesday of the month] maintains its rather lofty tone; as I do so often ask – who are the audience? An interesting article on the ‘difference’ of writers from WA. [I believe GEORDIE WILLIAMSON does a great job with the same paper’s Saturday “Review”.]

* This month it will be 150 years since the American Civil War began.. There is a useful article on the causes in the latest “Quadrant” – which borrows very heavily from a book discussed on this program early last year: McPherson – “The Battle Cry Of Freedom”. The exceptional KEN BURNS’ documentary from years ago on the Civil War is available on DVD from Geelong Regional Library.

* Wed April 6th’s “ALR” continued on its rather lofty way, though there was an interesting article on the ‘loneliness’ of Western Australian writers.

* I’m looking forward to GERALDINE BROOKS’ latest, “Caleb’s Crossing”, another historical novel based on the life of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard.

* Would-be-writers can take advantage of a CREATIVE WRITING GROUP which gathers at “Cloverdale” in Purnell Rd 9.30 am Wednesdays.

*…And there is a BALLAD WRITING WORKSHOP held
at Belmont Library from 6-8 pm Wednesdays.

* My pedantic pout for this week: when will someone teach our PM how to pronounce the consonant “t”?..And is her “HYPERBOWL” [hyperbole] held the same time as the USA’s Superbowl.

This Week’s Reviews :

John reviewed- “Five Bells” by Gail Jones


“The Many Worlds of RS Mathews- In Search Of An Australian Anthropologist” by Martin Thomas

Another beautifully designed tome from A&U, this has clearly been a labour of love for Thomas. His ‘search’ has ranged far and wide in place [all over Australia and to the British Isles] and in time [from the 1850s to the present.]
He also seems to be after an answer to the question: What is anthropology?...and ethnography?......and “ethnomania”, a term he coined for Mathews’ [hence, “RHM”] decades-long dedication to an emerging science. Both targets prove rather elusive, so the book takes on some of the elements of a detection story. RHM left almost tonnes of leaflets, booklets, articles, sketches and notes which our author has ruthlessly sort out and studied. The results provide a portrait of a most interesting man and, in the process, the reader learns a lot about perceptions of the first Australians to be gleaned from RHM’s unique research. Thomas uses the phenomenological approach RHM himself apparently used: trust only the ‘sensible’ evidence – what can be recorded or gathered. Lots of us studied this model, preached by the pioneering MIRCEA ELIADE. Hence, the author examines EVERYTHING he can find that remains of RHM. This leads to a long book, but I never found it boring.

I must single out the “PROLOGUE” [sic] to this book: it is fine an essay as you will ever read. Our author writes beautifully as he tells us why and how he became captivated by this project. The remainder of the book didn’t let me down. The reader needs to be patient as Thomas trawls for information about RHM’s forbears and his childhood. We are rewarded through learning that the young Mathews was determined to be successful because of a shadow in his ancestry that rendered his father an unsuccessful farmer in the Goulburn region of New South Wales in the middle of the 19th century. It was here that RHM developed an acute love for The Land – and friendships with local Indigenous youth that inevitably led to the later passion. He had a first career – as a surveyor – which gave him financial wherewithal to indulge his ethnomania from early middle age. His empathy for Aborigines was probably fairly unusual for the times; it underpins his every observation though he doesn’t always have the language to express it. The book is replete with quotations and RHM’s sketches, as well as other useful illustrations.
There is so much to talk about in this book, though I would assume only those with a keen interest in Australian history and anthropology would find it as absorbing as I did. It is at time a challenging read. Throughout, however, we are drawn to this man who almost single-handedly – because he was continually out of step with contemporary academics [usually from overseas! in this new field] – found evidence of cultural practices and beliefs unknown until then.

Read this book and learn. There is so much more we must find out about Indigenous Australians.

SCORE: *****
MARTIN THOMAS: The many Worlds Of RS Mathews – In Search Of An Australian Anthropologist, A&U hc, pp 462, rrp $45

This Weeks Poem:

The last two stanzas of “Five Bells” by KENNETH SLESSOR, read by our guest Michael Bartlett.

Bernard would like to say FAREWELL to that encyclopaedia of jazz history, BARRY HART, who is returning to England to live. Thank you for the music and memories, Barry, and the friendship.