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

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

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

The Shadows of Suburbia are Long

THE LIVES OF WOMEN
Christine Dwyer Hickey
Allen and Unwin/Atlantic Books, RRP $27.99
May 2015

the lives of womenSome books have language that submerges the reader into their world from the first sentence. The Lives of Women by Christine Dwyer Hickey was one such book for me. One moment I was cracking open the cover for the first time wondering what was to come, the next I was ensnared in the world of our narrator Elaine.

As an adult Elaine has returned to care for her invalid father in her childhood home, a place where her teenage life remains a ghostly overlay. The landscape of family and the family home are clearly spaces which Elaine has been detached from—both emotionally and physically—for many years and it is time to unravel the cause of this detachment. The adult Elaine’s narrative is interspersed with snippets of her younger life as a teenager coming of age in a suburban estate during the 1970s and her life as an adult in New York and Paris. The different threads of Elaine’s life slowly reveal the tragedy which occurred during her last summer living with her parents. 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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Writers Never Show Their Teeth

THE STORY OF MY TEETH
Valeria Luiselli, translated by Christina MacSweeney
Granta, $24.99
April 2015

Story of my teeth

Firstly, if clowns and questionable dentistry are not your thing I am just going to warn you that there is a scene in Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth containing both creepy clowns and discussion of teeth and dentistry—enough so that you will be falling asleep with your mouth firmly closed and keeping one eye on all large projection screens in the near future. However, do not let that put you off entering the world of Gustavo ‘Highway’ Sánchez, main narrator of The Story of My Teeth and self-proclaimed best auctioneer in the world, who on the first page announces that he wishes to tell the story of his teeth. This tale is also Highway’s life story–and not just for the fact that teeth generally being in one’s mouth throughout one’s life imply that the teeth and the owner of the mouth have the same story.

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Transformation Through The Words Of Desire

Book cover for The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine by Krissy KneenTHE 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 she failed with every ounce of inspiration on the page. And yet, I was initially hesitant to read The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine, a book influenced by Carter’s least accessible book, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman; a book that exhausts me just at the thought of cracking the cover.

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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

School Finds: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

imagePublished by Penguin Books, 1966 ISBN 978-0-141-18257-5

In 2011 I had very few choices.  When you allocate text to a VCE class there are lots of factors impacting that decision.  Unfortunately the first is not ‘Do I like, or even know, any of the books that are listed?’ The first decision is usually ‘What books are new to the list?’  See, books are only on the list for four years so you want to get bang for your buck.  Preparing a text for VCE Literature is a lot of work and I want a full four years to milk all the reading, preparation and, hopefully, knowledge and insight gained.

But in 2011 I had very few choices.  I was not able to choose a play or a novel.  I already had one of each and having another of either text type limits the students’ choices for the exam.  I could put on some poetry but it tended to be very challenging to do well and, to be honest, I was only just wrapping my head around how to teach it in an analytic way. There were some great options but they were all in List A (the non-examinable list) and I had to replace a List B (examinable texts).  I had a collection of short stories by Peter Carey, a non-fiction text about bushfires and a novel that they seemed to have placed accidently in the ‘Other Literature’ category.  It was by Truman Capote. Continue reading

School Finds: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

While we are at school we are made to study texts that we did not choose.  As both student and teacher alike I have encountered novels, plays and poetry that I have despised to the point of once burying a novel in my back garden.  Happily, I have more often found a gem that sits proudly in a sacred place forevermore on my shelf rather than being relegated to the compost.

In 1996 I was shackled to a desk and force-fed a tale of the distant and, to me, irrelevant 1920s.  A land of flappers, prohibition and openly racist millionaires.  The characters of old New York had no redeeming features to me and to be honest I did not even finish reading it.  I, rather ironically, felt the novel was a car crash of storytelling and couldn’t comprehend why anyone would want to follow the exploits of someone that called everyone ‘old sport’ far too often. Continue reading

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      BEOWULF J. R. R. and Christopher Tolkien Mariner Books, August 2015   A thousand years on, the sharpness of Beowulf‘s images still strikes us. Longships cruise amid icy spray. A king stares with fear amid the riches of his hall. Then comes the fiend Grendel stalking across the moors. Tolkien’s … Continue reading