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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

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