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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

June 7th

WELCOME to Emma and John […and thanks to BOB APPLETON whose mind came up with the name of this program over two years ago!]

Book & Publishing News

* Remember my review of JC BURKE”s novel “The Pig Boy”? I have now read a second book – “The Story Of Tom Brennan” – which is currently on the NSW Yr 12 English syllabus. I am still trying to line Jan up for a chat.

* Book-to-film Nos. 39 and 40. We watched a 1990s’ film version of the Raymond Chandler classic “The Big Sleep”. Don’t bother: why did the director [the competent Michael Winner] move the action to the UK? Robert Mitchum is just too cool as Marlowe.
I read Burdick/Lederer’s “The Ugly American” when I was in my late teens and it awakened in me my interest in foreign affairs, particularly re. the US and Australia in SE Asia. The film came out in 1963: it was fascinating to see it now, with Marlon Brando as the embattled US Ambassador in Sarakan [Vietnam?]

* As the new month begins, all the news and books mags are coming out. You can purchase them at PATON’s in Newtown. Some highlights:
OVERLAND – BENJAMIN LAW on the Brisbane floods.
ALR [in “The Austrlian”]– an essay discussing who is the more selfish, the Babyboomers or Gen Y.
THE MONTHLY – a great article on the implications of China’s latest Five-Year Plan.
ABR – PATRICK ALLINGTON {“Figurehead”] has a long article on the criteria for the Miles Franklin Award.
QUADRANT – I enjoyed an article on GRAHAM GREENE’s “Catholic” novels.
SOUTHERLY – a special India edition…which reminds me that I must tell you soon about a great new novel set in SW India, ”Tiger Hills”.

* Torquay is holding its “Froth’N’Bubble Festival” on June 18-19. Check out the website for all the FREE events.

* BLOOMSDAY is June 16th and our Geelong library will host readings from That Book [”Ulysses”] by local writers.

* Melbourne Writers’ Festival is coming to Geelong…more later.

* BOOK DESIGN is a fad of mine. I love the look and feel of A&U’s “Good Living Street”, not to mention “The Roving Party”.

* I may not have time to review these, but interesting reading at present: “Amexica”. a documentary on the border wars on the USA-Mexican border….”Tamil Tigress’ tells the story of young Sri Lankan woman caught up in that civil war; she now lives in Australia. I will review “Those Who Came After” by ELISABETH HOLDSWORTH which is VERY good so far.

This Week’s Review: “The Precipice” by Virginia Duigan”

In spite of “Moby Dick”, ”The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Catcher In The Rye”, I am rather wary of novels presented from a first-person narrator’s perspective. I also look askance on novels about writing – ah - novels. Hence my alarm with “The Precipice” as Duigan’s Thea Farmer begins to tell us about her unfulfilled retirement to her “shack” in the Blue Mountains, relieved mainly by her regular excursions to the local town’s Creative Writing evenings.

The nearby town could be Leura. It is never named, but Thea lives deep within that glorious terrain which is beautifully if ominously depicted in her reveries. She is a former principal of a girls’ secondary school. The circumstances of her finishing up in the profession are somewhat murky for most of the book. She had designed her dream retirement home, but had to sell up when the GFC hit. The purchasers are ‘tree changers’, Frank and Ellice, and his adoptive daughter, Vietnamese-Australian teenager, Kim. The only friends Thea has are Oscar, the man who ruins the Creative Writing course, and the local secondhand bookshop proprietor, Sandy. She dotes on her dog, Tim. Thea is intelligent, articulate, prickly, self-opinionated – and fascinating, for most of the book. I can’t say I liked her or even sympathised with her lonely plight. Increasingly I was reminded of those other memorable fictional teachers, Miss Jean Brodie from Muriel Spark’s terrific novel and Jack Keating [from the film, “The Dead Poets’ Society”.]

Thea’s private life is slowly, and [mostly] cleverly revealed, my reservation arising from my confusion at times about what was the novel and what was for her Creative gradually Writing class. We discover the lingering cloud over her work relationship with a gifted young male teacher, Karl Rhode. Meanwhile she seems to be getting awkwardly close to Frank. The friendship with Kim seems mutually beneficial as she mentors the girl’s English skills and Kim acts as a surrogate daughter. Remember, however, that I had begun to see Brodie-Keating signals – and we know how THEIR patronage ended up! Does the author want the reader to read such signs? Maybe that’s a question I’ll ask Virginia when I speak with her.

Kim is a regular “good kid” who laps up the attention and responds to Thea’s educative guidance. By halfway through the story, Frank’s specific artistic project comes in for attention while the overtly-loving relationship he displays for his wife begins to look just a little forced.
And Thea seems just a little too entranced by the brooding presence of her surroundings.

The novel has many of the elements of a conventional adult-child relationship story, but increasingly moves in to the realm of mystery. It is quite readable and Thea is an intriguing enough subject for a novel: God knows, there are enough of us oddball retired teachers around for a whole fiction genre!
But…Remember my unease about the structure and point-of-view?
The mystery just isn’t sufficiently enigmatic. The final climax is a giveaway. I thought so, anyway. I worked my way through the novel too slowly; I like to be drawn into a book, either by the fascination I derive from the characters, or the setting, or the sheer brilliance of the language. And if the writer steers me towards MYSTERY, that should make me turn the pages quickly. “The Precipice” finally disappoints though it is worth a look, for the Blue Mountains location at alone.

SCORE: **+
VIRGINIA DUIGAN: “The Precipice”, Vintage pb, pp 284, rrp $35.

Please feel free to respond to the material here, by writing to us or by phoning in between 3 and 4 pm on Tuesdays, during the show.

Author Interview: with Rohan Wilson author of “The Roving Party”

Rohan Wilson was the winner of the 2011 Vogel Literary Prize, for “The Roving Party” and is based in Launceston.

You can read my review of Rohan’s book if you scroll back to mid-April.

We spoke of Rohan’s interest in Tasmanian history, the “darkness” of the literary output from the island state [“Tasmanian gothic”?], the seminal work of ROBERT DREWE [“The Savage Crows”] in looking at Indigenous-European issues in fiction.

Rohan is working on his Ph D thesis, looking at the relationship between historiography and fiction, an area prominent in recent Australian writing [ cf “The Chant Of Jimmy Blacksmith”. ”Out Of Ireland”, ”That Deadman Dancing”, ”The Secret River”, ”Figurehead”.]
The novel almost juxtaposes the role of John Batman with Indigenous Vandiemonian [sic], Black Bill, in hunting down ‘marauding natives’. It is a graphic tale, full of the bleakness of the Tasmanian landscape– and the cruelty of the hunters’ minds and methods.

Guest Interview: Leah Swann, author of short story collection “Bearings”

John spoke with LEAH SWANN, author of the short story collection, “Bearings”, one of the six excellent books in AFFIRM PRESS’s recent publishing initiative.

CHARACTERS? People adrift with the title highlighting the experiences of people trying to find a place, an occupation; their resulting vulnerability.

STRUCTURE? Leah’s short stories are not anecdotes. Some follow a sequential structure, some are more “layered”. The structure comes out of the process of telling as a pattern emerges out of developing images.

CONCLUSIONS? They are often uncertain with the reader left to ‘conclude’.

POINT OF VIEW? Occasionally SECOND person: notoriously difficult, but that is how “Street Sweeper” emerged for her.

IMAGERY: the stories feature sensual detail – because that is what Leah herself enjoys in her reading: people love to experience the world from someone else’s awareness.
The “compressed energy” of the short story remains a most attractive feature for Leah though she is working on longer forms.


This week you heard Mel Torme singing “Blue Moon”….the best popular singer of the 20th century [says I.]

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