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Monday, May 2, 2011

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”.

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