Well, I Guess That’s Settled Then…

Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life They Change It
Daniel Klein
Text Publishing
$29.99

every_time_i_find_the_meaning_of_life_they_change_itWhat is the meaning of life? It is a question that has haunted drunk teenagers and philosophers since the invention of beer and philosophy respectively. Is there even such a thing as an extrinsic meaning of life? And if the meaning of life is in actuality created, not discovered, then how does one go about carving the good life out of the hard rock of daily routine, with all of its disappointments and trivialities?

Broadly speaking, these are the questions that Daniel Klein orbits around, examining, questioning and mulling over. I say ‘orbits’ intentionally. With subtle humour, wit and skill, Klein circles topics, whilst at the same time holding himself at a distance–not aloof–but perhaps cautious, even suspicious of the clever ideas he examines. This is a curious, interesting approach. It reflects a perspective where Klein, now approaching his ninetieth decade, seems to have decided that the important things in life may have less to do with clever twists of philosophic wit after all, and maybe more to do with afternoons in a lazy sunlit garden with the family dog and one’s own thoughts.

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The Lady Has Wonderful Eyes

Sophie and the Sibyl
Patricia Duncker
Bloomsbury
June, 2015, RRP $29.99

Sophie and the sibylBefore I start I should mention that there are a few minor spoilers within this review. So if you are sensitive to that sort of thing best look away now.

A long time ago I read a historical romance in which the heroine had, unbeknownst to her family, run off to live with an artist—our romantic hero—with no discussion of marriage. At one point in the novel they went to visit the beautiful and spirited lady novelist George Eliot, who, if I remember rightly, bestowed some words of wisdom about living with conviction, or something. It was meant to make the heroine feel better about not following the proper path for a young lady of her time. Continue reading

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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If the Answer isn’t Violence, Neither is Your Silence

Panic
David Marr
Politics and journalism
Black Inc
2011

panicDavid Marr was, for a little while there, what I wanted to be when I grew up.  We’re talking high school here, which I started in 2001, deep in the Howard era and quite shortly before the terror panic gripped much of the “western” world.  For extra context, the first political protest I ever remember going to was one against the incarceration of refugees in the Woomera Detention Centre in 1999.  David Marr was one of an assortment of public figures who espoused opinions aligned with my own, one who was just as angry as I was about everything Wrong with Australia.

This book is a collection of edited pieces by Marr in his capacity as a journalist, tracking the bloom and boom of several panics that have gripped the Australian public, focusing especially on the time since 1997.  Even more especially, it focuses on the extremely vexed question of race as it pertains to immigration, in the wake of backlash against the revocation of the White Australia Policy, and to Australia opening its doors (kinda) to (hold onto your hats) refugees who are not white.  But there are other scandals thrown into the mix too; Jim Henson’s naked children, drugs, hommus-ectuality and that kind of thing.  The point Marr wants to make is that as a people Australians are pretty partial to getting in a flap about things.  Unfortunately, we see as a consequence such draconian and often poorly drafted laws as 2006’s anti terror legislation, or anti bikie laws introduced in various states in the last few years*. Continue reading

On the Beat

Tennison
Lynda La Plante
Simon and Schuster
September 2015, RRP$39.99

TennisonA long time ago—back when the term ‘on a school night’ actually referred to a night before attending a learning institution—I remember sticking a tape into a VCR recorder to capture the rest of the first Prime Suspect mini-series. It was after all a school night and Netflix was not yet the tiniest twinkle in a TV addict’s eye. I don’t remember the series in great detail; Helen Mirren striding down a corridor to visit someone in the cells, Helen Mirren drinking more than she should, Helen Mirren yelling. Basically, Helen Mirren is about all I remember. Continue reading

The Demons and Devils of Van Diemen’s Land

The Diemenois
JW Clennett
Graphic Novel
Hunter Publishers
December 2015
Hardback
$39.95

CoverDiemenois-841x1024Like anyone who survived the same public school education that I did, I’d hazard to say I know more about ancient Egypt, dinosaurs, and the social and political environments that led to the first and second world wars than I do about Australian history.

What I do remember of my schooling on Australia’s history can be listed thusly:

Pangaea, Gondwanaland, Megafauna, Dreamtime, human fire-clearing practice leading to the evolution of fire-dependent flora, Abel Tasman, First Fleet, Convicts, Burke and Wills.

Vicious colonisation, genocide, bloody massacres were mentioned, sure, but in a kind of blink-and-you´ll-miss-the-whole-apartheid-thing way. It’s enough to suspect some sort of government conspiracy of silence on our shameful past. Hmm. Continue reading

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.

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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?

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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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