Little Girls Are Life Sized

Cat's Eye
Margaret Atwood
Literary Fiction
McClelland & Stewart
September 1988

Cat's_Eye_book_cover“Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life-sized.”

I have never understood the tendency for some older people to view childhood as an easy time, free of care and responsibility. Sure, you don’t have to pay the bills, but you get no choices on where you live, what you eat, and you are forced to go to school. I was a little girl and little girls can have the capacity and the opportunity to be utterly horrendous to each other, as they frequently are.

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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.

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Find Your Measure, Do What You Will

the_dark_towerIn a not especially festive turn of events, I am undertaking, slowly, the task of rereading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.  I first read it in my early days at university, I can’t remember exactly when.  I wasn’t quite sure if I liked them at first, but I couldn’t stop reading them, so I guess I did.  I certainly liked the genre mash.  The series, as best as I can describe it, is a post-Apocalyptic fantasy western. Continue reading

Rumination on the Echoes of Art and Life and Memory

The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch (20th Anniversary Edition)
Neil Gaiman, Illustrated by Dave McKean
Bloomsbury
Nov 2015, $29.99

mr_punchThe early Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean graphic novel, The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of  Mr. Punch, is one of those pieces of work that I’d never quite got around to reading. Both Gaiman and McKean are prolific in their works, and given their large bodies of work, there will almost certainly be the odd story that slips a reader by. Mr. Punch would be one such story for me. We are, however, at the 20th Anniversary of Mr. Punch, and Bloomsbury have brought out a lovingly remastered edition to celebrate. This seems as good a time as any to acquaint oneself with the graphic novel in question.

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Northern Soul

ANNA OF THE FIVE TOWNS
Arnold Bennet
Penguin. First published 1902

anna_of_the_five_towns_london

Anna of the Five Towns is the first of Arnold Bennet’s five novel series set in the Staffordshire potteries. It has the authentic ring of someone who really knows the town and its people, and this is true for Bennet who was writing about his own beginnings and the people he grew up with. What a wonderful gift for a writer, to grow up amid such writing fodder.

The titular heroine, Anna Tellwright, is the cowed daughter of Ephraim Tellwright, a miser and small-time tyrant. There is a beauty and inner goodness to Anna which puts her at odds with the hypocrisy and shallowness of the God-fearing folk of ‘the five towns’—a string of pottery-producing towns along a winding river.

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Beware of Southerners Bearing Gifts

41Bik09kqwL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_TIME WILL DARKEN IT
William Maxwell
Vintage Classics, 2012, RRP $14.99
First published 1948

Sometimes it is not only what a book is about but the way it is written that makes it special. Time Will Darken It is one of those. After reading the first chapter I got on the internet and ordered two more of William Maxwell’s books. I fingertip tappingly await their arrival. If a dead guy can write as well as this I want his books.

First published in 1948, Time Will Darken It is set in a small American town in 1912. It tells the sad tale of Austin King and his wife, Martha, receiving visitors from Mississippi. The Potters, mother, father, son and daughter sow the seeds of the destruction of Austin King, a decent man whose only crime was trying to keep everybody happy and doing it quietly.

The story opens with a quite scene of marital tension before a house party to welcome the Potters. In this, Maxwell gives himself the almost impossible task of introducing a myriad of characters almost at once. Any teacher of writing will tell you that is a no-no…unless you can write like William Maxwell. His words take the reader by the hand and leads him or her from room to room, catching snippets of conversations, auditioning the characters for their roles and hinting at things to come.

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School Finds: The Rabbits by Shaun Tan and John Marsden

rabitsTHE RABBITS
John Marsden and Shaun Tan
Lothian Children’s Books, September 2010, RRP $17.99

‘The Rabbits’ is a picture book by Australian author and illustrator Shaun Tan and author John Marsden.  Those familiar with Tan’s work, perhaps though ‘The Lost Thing’ or ‘Tales of Suburbia’, will know that he is a genius in all respects.  Tan’s illustrations are beautiful and so detailed but the stories he weaves also explore themes and concepts central to what it is to be a modern Australian.

‘The Rabbits’ is the tale of the colonial invasion of Australia and the near eradication of those that were already here but not recognised by those arriving.  Tan and Marsden use the analogy of rabbits, representing the British colonists, and bandicoots, representing the indigenous inhabitants, to make a pointed comment on the damage done to those losing their land and way of life. Continue reading

School Finds: Arcadia by Tom Stoppard

arcadiaFirst Performed April 13, 1993, Lyttelton Theatre

ISBN 978-0-573-69566-7

If ever I were to meet Tom Stoppard I would run to him and hug him.  Then, the warmth of the embrace still palpable in my bosom, I would punch him in the face.  Then I would hug him again.  He is the evil wizard of playwrights and he makes life worth living but for those who have to write essays on his work he also makes you wish you were dead.

‘Arcadia’ is a play that was first performed in the 1990s.  It is about Science, Mathematics, Landscape Gardening and the tension between sex and intellect.  If you don’t understand iterated algorithms, Chaos Theory or are not intimately acquainted with the laws of thermodynamics or Euclidean Geometry you will be after reading this play.

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School Finds: The Fox, The Captain’s Doll and The Ladybird by DH Lawrence

DH LawrenceThe Fox/The Captain’s Doll/The Ladybird
D.H. Lawrence
Penguin Classics 2006, First Published 1923, RRP $24.99

When I began teaching Year 12 Literature I inherited a horrid list of texts. Often the VCE Literature list reflects the interests of old ladies, jaded and bitter about the world. One of the texts I had foist upon me was Thea Astley’s collection of short stories Hunting the Wild Pineapple. It was as horrendous as it sounds. The problem was that the students had bought it and it was in their lockers, some had even read it. But I couldn’t do it. It was repulsive and I felt like the bromine poisoning from the over consumption of pineapple would surely end my Literature journey. So I sent it to the compost and made a late change.

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School Finds: Rear Window

School Finds: Rear Window – Alfred Hitchcock (Director) 1954rear-window-first-outfit-sitting-down-2

Having admitted in a recent review to being ‘not much of a reader’ it would seem somewhat duplicitous to go straight back to a novel or play or collection of poetry and sing its praises. Rather than appear two-faced I shall stick to my first love – the silver screen.

Currently, my time is consumed by re-writing my Year 11 Literature course for 2016 as the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority has seen it fit to shift the goal posts just when I thought I was getting the hang of it. The upshot of this is that I am to lose my ability to round out the first semester from here on by teaching Rear Window. Having taught it seven times I feel I have refined my delivery and breakdown of the film to a fine art. Hitchcock’s masterpiece has become so much a part of me that the other day my class observed that my hairstyle very slightly resembles that of Grace Kelly’s at the conclusion of the film. I’m not sure whether I should be distressed by that or see it as a great compliment to my beauty. Continue reading

The Grand Sophy

THE GRAND SOPHYGrandSophy

Heyer, Georgette (The Book Club, edition 1951 (orig 1950), ISBN – n/a)

I was at a social event back in the 1990s and someone was reading a copy of The Grand Sophy.  Soon there was a collection of us standing around laughing and giggling in reminiscence of it’s amusing scenes. The boyfriend of one of the girls wandered over to see what we were talking about.

“Oh,” he said. “A romance book.” And he attempted to walk off. The poor man, he never understood till then exactly how offending a bunch of nerds can go down so very badly.  He was sat down and lectured for about two hours on the merit of Georgette Heyer and how, while romance was part of it, it was a genius comedy he was dissing out of hand. I believe I recall his feeble excuse was that his mother had some Georgette Heyers. We all then agreed his mother must have excellent taste in books. Continue reading

School Finds: Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

cloudstreet coverCloudstreet by Tim Winton, 1991 Penguin Book ISBN: 978 0 14 027398 4

I need to say up front that I write this review after marking a lot of essays written on this text. I may, as is understandable, be slightly over it at the moment. However, I see this review as a chance to pull this text back from the precipice that is my classroom experience and into the warmth of the bedside lamp.

I am not really one for Australian fiction generally and I certainly don’t like straight up and down stories of the good old Aussie battler but I found myself reading Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet as the most likely choice to replace a novel leaving the English list at the end of 2013. The novel facing extinction was The Life of Pi and I had liked it quite a bit but the students had never warmed to it. Faced with Winton’s phonebook and a story that spanned twenty years I wasn’t convinced I was onto a winner here either. Continue reading

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      THE ADVENTURES OF HOLLY WHITE AND THE INCREDIBLE SEX MACHINE Krissy Kneen Text Publishing, April 2015, RRP $29.99 I confess. I adore Angela Carter. I adore her overblown, pretentious style mixed with her joyous embrace of the lewd and taboo. I adore that even when she failed, you know that … Continue reading