I Felt You in my Arms Before I Even Met You

Carol
Patricia Highsmith
as The Price of Salt 1951; as Carol 2016

carolAt least in my circles, Todd Haynes’ new film Carol created quite a buzz.  After all, it’s still quite a rarity to see a movie about a same sex relationship that doesn’t end in tears.  In 1951, when The Price of Salt was first published, it was unheard of, not just in movies but also in books.  Censorship, both official and soft, meant publishers were unwilling to produce books about same sex relationships.  Pulp lesbian fiction, which because of said censorship ended in death or in the blessed powers of the healing cock, was pretty much it for the ladies.  In terms of fiction, men had even less to turn to. Continue reading

Lust in a Hot Climate

Clancy of the Undertow
Christopher Currie
Text Publishing
December 2015
$19.99

9781925240405Clancy of the Undertow tells the story of 16 year old Clancy, middle child of the apparently dysfunctional Underhill family. Living in small town Queensland is no fun for a tree-frog shaped misfit at the best of times but these are the worst of times (sorry Dickens). Do not be put off* by this though. It is not an earnest misery-fest, but a story told with such humour that I laughed out loud and quoted lines to anyone who happened to be in the same room at the time—and they laughed too.

Continue reading

I Will Face God and Walk Backwards Into Hell

Notes on the Death of Culture
Mario Vargas Llosa, trans. John King
Essay
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
2015
Hardback
227
AU $35.00

notes_on_the_death_of_cultureI don’t mean to be alarmist or anything, but I have some terrible news.  Culture.  It’s… dead.  It’s dead, Jim!

How do I know?  Well, Mario Vargas Llosa told me so, and as the bastion of all that is Good and Right and Noble in this world, he should know.  Oh, how he laments the loss of glorious enlightemnent ideals, aesthetic art and literature.  A time when intellectuals were given their proper value, listened to and affecting the way society operated.  A time, you see, that only exists in the misted eyes and rose-tinted glasses of the privileged few.  Because apparently any kind of mass culture, any non-western-based culture, is just not worth your time.  And forget about the devilish Internet or about any kind of Islamic culture.  I mean really.  Really. Continue reading

Supposedly Human, the World’s Shame

Between Enemies
Andrea Molesini, trans. Antony Shugaar and Patrick Creagh
Allen & Unwin
November 2015
AU $29.99

between_enemiesAndrea Molesini’s Between Enemies is an eloquent tale of occupation, collaboration and resistance set in WWI.  Based on true events, it follows the aristocratic Spada household as their property is requisitioned by German soldiers, then Austrians.  Their village is occupied.  Eventually the whole household as well as several villagers are drawn to resist the occupiers.

Told from the perspective of 17-year-old Paolo, writing as an adult some ten years later, the story is full of high drama, but also nostalgia and melancholy.  Because the narrator is a teenage boy during the events, the story is also sadly filled with the objectification of Paolo’s crush Giulia.  While this is probably realistic, it’s a little tiresome to read, especially when the novel purports to say something about the natures of men and women and their relationships*.  This is usually by way of commentary delivered by Paolo’s eccentric but wise grandfather, and manages to be the same sort of thing supposedly wise men always say about women in stories of this kind.  If authors** could stop doing that, that would be swell. Continue reading

L’ll Sista from Hell

My Sister Rosa
Justine Larbalestier
Allen & Unwin
January 27th
$19.99

MySisterRosaThose of us unlucky enough to have grown up with younger siblings know how annoying they can be at times. But what if your little sister was more than annoying? What if she was a psychopath? I don’t mean psychopath in the metaphorical or hyperbolic sense but in the actual medical diagnosis sense. What if your ten year old sister was clever, charming, manipulative, callous and completely lacking in empathy? What if you had to ask her to promise not to kill anyone and not to trick someone else into killing anyone?

Continue reading

A New York Tale

Paradise Alley
Kevin Baker
Perennial
2002

imagesParadise Alley is an epic novel tracing the events of the days of rioting in New York City in July of 1863. It follows a number of characters—refugees from the Irish potato famine, a escaped slave, a newspaper reporter and a child prostitute, to name but a few. Think of Martin Scorsese’s film, Gangs of New York crossed with the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution—only more violent and barbaric.

Continue reading

Confetti and Cakes and Cats, Oh My!

The Adventures of Miss Petitfour
Anne Michaels, illustrated by Emma Block
Bloomsbury
December 2015
Hardback
$19.99

miss_petifourDigressions are things that should occur once things have begun. Don’t you think? One couldn’t possibly begin with a digression when there is nowt yet to digress from.
Of course, I could have begun and then gone off on a digression but I’ve always been a little contrary. I do love a good digression. It is in life’s digressions that one finds the adventure, the pith, the meaning. Does this have anything to do with the story at hand? No, not a whit. Continue reading

A Better Life Imagined in his Eyes

The Belly of the Atlantic
Fatou Diome, trans. Lulu Norman and Ros Schwartz
Serpent's Tail
2006

the_belly_of_the_atlanticFatou Diome’s The Belly of the Atlantic is a passionate story about the dream of migration and its harsh reality.  Told from the point of view of Strasbourg resident Salie, the novel nonetheless focuses mostly on her brother Madické.  Madické lives on  the Senegalese island Niodior and dreams of being headhunted to join a big European soccer team.  This dream is shared by many of his friends, persisting despite the warnings of Salie and the teacher Ndétare that neither the road to nor the life in Europe is as good as they believe. Continue reading

Space Zombies!

Illuminae
The Illuminae Files_01
Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Allen & Unwin
October 2015
$19.95

Illuminae_smIlluminae is a visual wonder piece of science fiction narration. It straddles the undefined landscape between novel and graphic novel in a way that is almost cinematic in its execution. Rather than a story told in a series of words, what we have are words presented as in a dossier; “found” documents (e.g., chat room logs, mission reports, narrated surveillance footage) that show the bloody unfolding of one corporation’s ruthless attack on another. We’ve stumbled upon someone’s dirty little (well-documented) secret, the kind of dirty secret that the most cynical of us assume that all corporations must have, and we can only hold our breathe as the carnage accelerates, and ask, “Will they get away with it?”

Continue reading

Formation, Transformation

Tom Houghton
Todd Alexander
Simon and Schuster
October 2015, RRP$32.99

tom-houghtonGrowing up is hard, for everyone, no matter the circumstances. At least that’s the impression I have taken away, and taken comfort in, from the many creative expressions which delve into the experience of growing up and coming of age. This theme is also at the centre of Todd Alexander’s novel Tom Houghton. Continue reading

Justice for All

Ancillary Justice
Imperial Radch
Ann Leckie
Orbit Books
Oct 2013

ancilI started reading science fiction with a copy of ‘Ringworld’ by Larry Niven that my brother owned. I went on to read the classics: Asimov, Clarke, Silverberg. When I attended the science fiction/Fantasy fan club meeting at university, I argued strongly on the side of SF in the debates ‘What is better, SF or fantasy?’ Clearly, it’s science fiction! Duh. Why is this even a thing? Though this was that days before Harry Potter and Mieville; I might have to concede defeat on those fronts.

Continue reading

You’ll be Given Love

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
Sun-Mi Hwang, trans. Chi-Young Kim
Oneworld

the_hen_who_dreamed_she_could_flyThe Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a beloved story in South Korea*, appearing for the first time in English after its initial release in 2000. It follows the chicken Sprout, who has lived her life inside a battery farm and dreams of one day hatching an egg of her very own. She is given up for dead and thrown out. This is when Sprout finally gets the opportunity to fulfil her dream.

Targetted at both adult and child readers, at least in English translation, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a simple tale with a complex message.  The writing is enchanting, evoking the seasonal changes and the dangers of living in the wilds.  The story is concisely told, with drama and adventure in measured doses.

With easy comparisons to Charlotte’s Web and similar such tales, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a gentle and enjoyable read.

*According to the author information anyway. Since I don’t speak Korean, know any South Koreans, and have never been to South Korea, I cannot verify this first-hand.

  • You might also like

    • Everything Can Be Changed

      Ten years ago, Elizabeth Gilbert published her little memoir about the year she spent picking her life together after divorce and depression by travelling to Italy, India and then Indonesia to find what she’d been missing. Not without its detractors, Eat, Pray, Love became a worldwide smash hit phenomenon, spawning … Continue reading