September 7, 2016
I like Tim Winston’s writing. I like his highly readable prose and earthy, often funny, similes. His characters are well defined and his descriptions of landscape evocative without being overwrought. I even like the Australianess of his voice. Sometimes it feels forced, but maybe that’s due to a bias born of the pervasiveness of American and English fiction. It’s partially for these reasons that Cloudstreet is one of my favourite novels.
All Winton’s strengths are present in his latest novel, Eyrie. Despite this, it (pun intended) fails to soar, largely because it commits the cardinal sin of taking the reader for granted.
Eyrie centres on Tom Keely, a former environmental spokesperson who has shut himself away from the world in his apartment, high atop a notorious high rise for Freemantle’s down-and-out. An undefined public scandal and divorce have left him a wreck of a man, broke, jobless, plagued by mysterious migraines and pain, only able to get through the day with booze and fistfuls of pills. Read the rest of this entry »
May 27, 2011
There are lots of stories about drug addiction out there. It’s a subject that will always attract readers because, while most people wouldn’t want to experience something like a heroin habit, many would want to understand why drug addicts find it so hard to give up. It’s also a topic ripe for fictionalisation, with its ready made tension between addiction and rehabilitation, crime and punishment, as well as the constant threat of death lurking in the background.
But while there many books that tackle the same issue, I couldn’t imagine a more authentic depiction of heroin addiction than Luke Davies’ Candy. Like the novel’s narrator, Davies had a smack habit for over a decade, and his hard won experience allows him to achieve a novel that is harrowing and poignant and overflowing with unmistakable truth. In Candy, there is no of the glorification of a sex and drugs and rock’n’roll counter-culture, no breaking of taboos, none of the mad freedom of Hunter S. Thompson or Jack Kerouac. Just a steady descent into addiction that destroys the lives of two beautiful young people. Read the rest of this entry »
December 13, 2010
As a guy, The Romantic wasn’t the easiest novel to read in public. First, there’s the girly title. Then, there’s the cover – a nude woman lying with one breast slightly exposed – that made me worry people would think I was reading the book equivalent of Zoo.
I could get around this by reading with the novel flat against a coffee-shop table, or on my lap when I was reading on the bus, but this presented a new problem – the curious passenger. See, people who don’t bring a book or iPod on the bus get understandably bored and look around at what their neighbours are doing. And since The Romantic has generous lashing of sex throughout, and people only pick up the a few words when glancing at a page, anyone who sat next to me over the past week probably knows me as “the guy who reads porno on the bus”.
Oh, well. It was worth it, not just because I’ll probably have a two-seater to myself from now on, but because The Romantic was damn good. It’s beautifully written, brutally honest, and, yes, very sexy. Read the rest of this entry »
December 5, 2010
As I was reading God of Speed, I tried not to think of the episode of The Simpsons that parodies Howard Hughes, when Mister Burns opens a casino, secludes himself on the top floor and becomes a germaphobe. Because it’s hard to engage with a novel when you’re picturing its protagonist like this:
It was a toss-up between this, or “Freemasons run the country”
Unfortunately for old Howard, there’s a fair bit of truth to this impersonation. He spent the last ten years of his life crippled by obsessive compulsive disorder, living in hotels and fleeing the tax collector. He was waited on by an army of Mormons, who were the only people he believed he could trust, and to whom he wrote instructions that were so exact they specified the number of Kleenex to use when picking up his hearing-aid, or how many inches to park from the curb.
For much of his life, though, Hughes was the king of the world, and he looked like this:
Handsome bastard. In addition to being really, really good looking, Hughes had more money than God, a Hollywood studio, multiple world air-speed records and bedded most of the famous, beautiful women of his era, including Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Ava Gardner and Gene Tierney, to name but a few.
So what the hell happened to him? In God of Speed, Luke Davies attempts to get inside Hughes’ head to answer this question and explore the genius and madness of this icon of the 20th century. Read the rest of this entry »
September 8, 2010
Review by Gabriel
On the “About” page of this website, I say that I have a reading rotation of an Australian book, an international book and a Japanese book. For regular readers of this blog (all three of you), you might also have noticed that this reading rotation has gone out the window. One of the main reasons for this is that Australian books were so consistently underwhelming that they were kicked off the reading list, and I’m not the kind of person to sacrifice my down time and energy due to some vague sense of nationalism.
Drylands by Thea Astley embodies some of the worst tendencies of Australian literature. Astley writes like a first year creative writing student – she can’t help but indulge in flowery descriptions and uses lots of big words that serve little purpose other than to show off her vocabulary. Her characters are boring, unsympathetic rural Australian cliches, and her dialogue is clunky and unrealistic. Drylands has no plot. In addition to writing like a first year creative writing student, Astley’s world view is about as nuanced as a first year gender studies student, so blatant is the sexism and snobbishness of this novel. Read the rest of this entry »
January 1, 2010
Review by Gabriel
There were three books that dominated the awards and popular consciousness in Australian literature in 2009 – Tim Winton’s Breath, Nam Le’s The Boat and Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap. Of the three, I enjoyed The Slap the most, largely because it is the book I have read that best captures my reality of suburban, multicultural Australia.
The plot revolves around an event that occurs at a suburban barbeque, when a parent slaps another person’s bratty child. This “watercooler issue” serves to unify a series of vignettes on the lives of a diverse group of family and friends, while at the same time highlighting the differences in their values. Read the rest of this entry »
December 9, 2009
Review by Gabriel
Winner of the 2009 NSW Premier’s Award, the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction, and the subject of numerous glowing reviews, The Boat is definitely one of the Australian books of the year. Its critical success is doubly extraordinary for being the debut work of a young author, Nam Le, and a short story anthology, a medium that is typically overshadowed by novels in awards season. Are all the stories in The Boat perfect? No. Is it a damn promising start from a young writer? Definitely. Read the rest of this entry »