October 12, 2016
‘The great Australian silence’. It’s a phrase I’ve heard, referring to our country’s whitewashing of its history with its Indigenous people, but one I’ve never really understood. Having read Stan Grant’s Talking to My Country, I feel like I’ve begun to amend my ignorance.
Grant is a Wiradjuri man and journalist who has worked for numerous Australian news networks, as well as internationally for CNN. He has long been an advocate for Aboriginal issues, but has risen in prominence this year on the back of a powerful speech at the Ethics Centre IQ2 Debate in January 2016.
Talking To My Country is a brave, honest and raw book that communicates how it feels to be Aboriginal. It covers, briefly, the history of European and Aboriginal contact: the occupation of land, the genocidal government policies, the theft of children, the sundering of culture, the racism, both official and societal, that plagues Australia to this day. It talks, too, of how the dominant narrative ignores the many atrocities committed by the British during the frontier wars. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
June 3, 2016
Escapism. It’s a term used for stories that are entertaining, light, and inconsequential. Nothing more than an escape from reality. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay doesn’t just revel in escapism; it makes a two-fisted defence of it.
The novel tells the story of Joseph Kavalier and Sam Clay, two Jewish cousins growing up in the era when Nazism began to cast its shadow across the world. Joe is a talented artist with a passion for escape artists and stage magic. Aided by his family’s life savings, his magic teacher and an inanimate golem, he escapes Europe just as the fascists are closing the trap. Sam lives in New York with his stereotypical Jewish mother (who doesn’t love a stereotypical Jewish mother?) and grandmother, having been abandoned by his circus strongman (really) father. Despite coming from such burly stock, Sam is short of stature and spindly of leg due to a bout of polio at a young age. He has a big mouth, he is able to conveniently translate into a knack for bombastic writing. Read the rest of this entry »
March 18, 2016
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Of all the writers I’ve read, Tolstoy is best able to capture the totality of human nature. Again and again, I was floored by the depth of his characters’ internal worlds, his ability to sketch out the motivations and contradictions and fantasies of people whose circumstances are so varied and different from his own.
Anna Karenina is, for those that don’t know, the story of an aristocratic woman who has an affair. There’s also a lot about a guy who likes farming. That’s it. As far as plots go, it’s not the greatest hook, but around this unexceptional subject is more insight into the human condition than you’ll find in a hundred best sellers. Read the rest of this entry »
January 4, 2015
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is a funny book, both in the ha ha and peculiar sense. It introduces a lot of loosely connected plots about a computer programmer, an Electric Monk (which, for those that don’t know, is a kind of labour saving android that believes things on behalf of its owner), a dotty old Oxford Professor of Chronology, a millionaire philanthropist, his cellist sister, and a spoiled wannabe intellectual with a grudge. The titular character and antagonist doesn’t even enter the story proper until over a hundred pages in.
The first time I read this book about six years ago, I put it down half finished. Each plot seemed to amble along while the characters encountering complications ranging from mild to ridiculous, with only a vague promise that it would all tie together somehow to engage the reader. During my recent reading, I found the same problem with the first half of the book, but I persisted. Read the rest of this entry »
July 27, 2014
Despite apparently being Australia’s most popular book, I put off reading Pride and Prejudice for a long time. I imagined it to be about dreary, terribly proper English people gossiping about how some lady exposed her ankle at a ball, and engaging in chaste, bloodless courtships while having their boots polished by peasants. Since I’d seen The Bridget Jones Diary, I also thought I pretty much knew the whole plot.
Now that I finally picked it off the shelf, I know that I wasn’t really wrong on either of these counts. The only thing is that it’s all so well written that I couldn’t help enjoying Pride and Prejudice from beginning to end. Read the rest of this entry »
January 25, 2014
Set in Cuba and Key West, against the background of prohibition, the Great Depression and the spread of communism, To Have and Have Not, as the title suggests, is about the difference between the rich and the poor. The first half of the novel focuses in Harry Morgan, a tough, often cruel rum runner who works the Gulf Stream. He’s in the classic Hemingway mold, but is neither as noble nor as colourful as some of the author’s more beloved protagonists.
After a rich passenger stiffs him for a season’s work, Harry is forced to take a job smuggling ‘ Chinamen’, typical of the dangerous assignments he feels he has to take on to feed his family. At this point, the theme is subsumed by the exotic setting of Cuba and the adventure of the smuggling trade. Read the rest of this entry »