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writing of readerly reviews of writings

Month: February, 2013

Review: Margaret Craven’s “I Heard the Owl Call My Name”

margaret craven i heard the owl call my nameSecond time around, this book is still an utter pleasure, and a perfect palate cleanser after my last read. Young vicar Mark Brian is sent to minister to the Tsawataineuk people in Kingcome Village, British Columbia. During his two years there, he learns enough about life to be ready to die. Simple, clear and poetic, this slight novel is a humble hymn to the world. The descriptions of Kwakiutl life are sensitive, those of the country magnificent. I cried at the end. My life is richer for reading this book.

Where it came from: KS’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
One caffeine-fuelled Sunday morning read
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Splendid simplicity
Who I’d recommend it to:
Everyreader
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Light between Oceans by M.L. Stedman; Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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Review: Keri Hulme’s “The Bone People”

keri hulme the bone peopleThis book was frankly annoying after a while. Quirky lost-soul Kerewin Holmes (remind anyone of the author’s name?) meets Joseph, Maori adoptive father of mute, mystery lost-boy Simon P. Gillayley. The three bond. Many beatings occur. Much Maori soul-work is done. A surfeit of splendid convoluted language is used. Love is found and held in the tricephalous being. Why oh why did it go on for so long?

It was on Bookclub following a Clubber’s trip to NZ and associated NZ author recommendations (possibly even mine), and I was delighted – I’d thought this a splendid book when I read it, oh, a dozen years ago. Most unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my awe-struck memory. Joseph is overwritten and underfilled. Kerewin is complete, and her character development interesting, even though she is somewhat improbable. The Maori lore and language is fascinating to begin with, then too dense for the non-NZ reader as the book drags into its fifth century of pages. The violence is brutal and too glibly excused. The whole is simply too convoluted and unnecessarily lengthy, and my enjoyment of it sadly too brief. It did, however, provide much fodder for enraged discussion come next bookclub meeting.

Where it came from: Library via Bookclub
Time and manner of reading:
Two weeks’ worth of increasingly impatient snippets
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
New Zealanders
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Light between Oceans by M.L. Stedman; Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Review: Virginia Woolf’s “Jacob’s Room”

virginia woolf jacob's roomA random op-shop pick, I don’t think I did it justice by squeezing its poetic scissoring of time and perspective into snippets of a busy week – it took oh so long to get into. The novel is meant to be a stepping stone on Woolf’s path to literary greatness, genre breaking, etc. etc. I was remaining unimpressed by the mirrored emptiness of Jacob’s character – just this dull, upper-class bloke leading a privileged, fatuous life in London á la Edwardian loafer – but when I got really into it I appreciated that this was precisely what she was showing you, his soul’s emptiness, as symbolised in his surprisingly abandoned room which ends the narrative. Glad I finished it, glad there’s more Woolf to be read.

Where it came from: Opshop
Time and manner of reading:
Confusing, time-passing handbag reads, leading to the final, attentive 100pp spurt
Where it went: ???
Reminds me of/that: There is yet more Woolf to be read and reread
Who I’d recommend it to:
Those interested in Woolf’s development as a writer
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Light between Oceans by M.L. Stedman; Great Expectations by Charles Dickens; The Bone People by Keri Hulme

Review: Helen Garner’s “The First Stone: Some Questions about Sex and Power”

helen garner the first stoneMM has recommended this so often and so strongly that I finally picked it up. I knew it had been controversial, and that HG had had a literary brawl with a spiteful ex-lecturer of mine (Jenna Mead), and I couldn’t be bothered to be involved in the controversy. This book is Garner’s exploration of a sexual harassment case at Ormond College in Melbourne Uni in the early ’90s, and her premise was “Has feminism come to this?” – that is, women taking male academics to the court for squeezing an undergrad’s breast at a party. After a distasteful 70pp attempt, I could no longer be bothered humouring Garner’s retrograde opinions. Once she’d said that men are expected to read women’s minds to know they don’t want sexual advances in trains, etc – bullshit! How many times have men been told explicitly that their hand- and eye-contact is unwanted?! – and that she couldn’t understand why the young women were so angry that they’d taken this perfectly nice man to court – because, simply put, women are never not afraid of sexual violence by men, in case Garner hadn’t noticed that – she’d worn out my patience and her credibility. Pathetic. Abandoned.  Be off with you. (I have, however, remained irritated at those 70pp since I dumped the book, and hope this review gets its unwelcome presence out of my head. Bah.)

Where it came from: MM’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
A couple of unenthusiastic bed reads
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Feminism’s work is far from done
Who I’d recommend it to:
Conservatives wanting a feminist to bolster their misogynist claims
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Light between Oceans by M.L. Stedman; Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf; Great Expectations by Charles Dickens; The Bone People by Keri Hulme

Review: Dorothy Porter’s “Akhenaten”

dorothy porter akhenaten

WARNING: Cover dysphoria!

I fortuitously saw this at the second-hand bookshop just after picking up A Woman’s Voice, and snaffled it with something very close to glee. As soon as I’d finished AWV, I was into this one, the brief, powerful poems making it perfect for short work-breaks. Akhenaten was Porter’s novel-in-verse, a poetic rendering of the life of the eponymous sun-worshipping pharaoh. ‘Ambient’ and ‘interrogative’ would be my adjectives of choice for this one – and also ‘carnal’ – and I’m so delighted to own this now so I can share it around. Highly recommended.

Where it came from: Second-hand bookshop
Time and manner of reading:
Smitten work-break and bed reads over a day or so
Where it went: Keeper Shelf via KS
Reminds me of/that: The pleasure of the pithy word
Who I’d recommend it to:
Language-loving readers
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Light between Oceans by M.L. Stedman; Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf; Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Review: “A Woman’s Voice: Conversations with Australian Poets”, edited by Jenny Digby

jenny digby a woman's voiceMy one purchase from the entirely overwhelming Lifeline Book Fair in Brisvegas, I jumped into it and was absorbed from beginning to end. Digby interviews a dozen Australian poets – Judith Beveridge, Pamela Brown, Diane Fahey, Gwen Harwood, Dorothy Hewett, Antigone Kefala, Jan Owen, Dorothy Porter, Judith Rodriguez, Jennifer Strauss, Ania Walwicz and Fay Zwicky – only a very few of whom were on my radar. It was most interesting to read the poets I respected (e.g., Porter) as well as those I find unreadable (e.g., Walwicz), as they teased out their practice and philosophy. Some of the poets I found most interesting in interview (e.g., Fahey) seemed the most uninteresting to me from the description of her poetography, while others (e.g., Brown) appeared to be intriguing writerly curmudgeons. As a whole, the book was clearly situated in the popular feminist theory of the early—mid 90s, like Kristeva, Irigaray, etc., which dates it to some extent. Digby was well prepared in her interviews, and this was a most fruitful book. Recommended, particularly to writers.

Where it came from: Lifeline Book Fair
Time and manner of reading:
Armchair, work-break and bed reads
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Reminds me of/that: Oh yes, I’m one of them [Australian women poets]
Who I’d recommend it to:
Poets
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Light between Oceans by M.L. Stedman; Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf; Great Expectations by Charles Dickens