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writing of readerly reviews of writings

Tag: :ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club Aussie Top 50:

Review: Craig Silvey’s “Jasper Jones”

craig silvey jasper jonesI think this was a very good book but I didn’t love it; I’m not sure why. I’d seen it on assorted people’s shelves, then the First Tuesday Bookclub readers got all excited about it, so eventually I gave into the pressure and snaffled a copy as overtime pay. It’s an exploration of mateship and truth and loyalty; nerdy hero Charlie helps town outcast Jasper Jones in a brutally difficult situation; the Vietnam War is on, and race relations in small-town Corrigan, WA, are vile. Add his Vietnamese best mate Jeffrey Lu (NO 12 year old speaks like that, I tell you!) and his love interest Eliza Wishart, and you have the ingredients for the plot. The characters are by and large believable, the town is skilfully evoked, the plotting thorough, Charlie’s relationships are well established, the fear and torment suffered by so many is palpable. It’s a harsh world to spend your summer holidays in at 13. The book even got stronger as it progressed, but I still didn’t love it. I think it was only set in 1966 because you were told so, not because the time or Aussie lingo of the time was called up. I think the teenagers were unrealistically precocious and word-savvy (JJ really used the word “comport” as an undereducated 14yo indigenous boy?). I think it was good, and craftful, and quite gripping, but something about it just didn’t convince me at the end of the day. I reckon it’s worth reading to see for yourself.

Where it came from: UPB
Time and manner of reading:
One big travelly read
Where it went: AJM
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Readers after a good bit of contemporary Australiana
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper; Belonging by bell hooks

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Review: Joan Lindsay’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock”

joan lindsay picnic at hanging rockMy Lord, this book was shite. Overwritten, melodramatic, one suspects of woolly historical accuracy and little interest, it was PAINFUL. The last 20pp I just skimmed through to confirm that the headmistress was actually the devil incarnate. Otherwise, yes, those chicks went missing, oh dear, no-one knows what happened to them, oh woe is them and the college, and there’s no reason to write a terrible novel about it. And thank god this didn’t include her posthumous final chapter that speculated that the lost women had fallen into a time warp (I kid you not). The only moderately interesting features were the rudimentary class analysis acted out by the characters, and the fact that so many of the characters were clearly gay: Albert and the Hon. Michael, most of the girls in the college re Miranda and the French Mademoiselle. Still didn’t remotely salvage this book from awfulness.

Where it came from: Library via Bookclub
Time and manner of reading:
Increasingly tedious bed and armchair reads
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Historical novel desperadoes
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief”

markus zusak the book thiefMore interesting than the fact that this was on First Tuesday Bookclub’s Top Ten Australian books was the fact that three respected reading conspirators of mine thought this was no great shakes. A couple of hundred pages in, and I can only concur. The Book Thief has death as a narrator (a device Terry Pratchett uses with much more entertaining effect), a chatty, po-mo tone, a girl book thief, and the wonders of Nazi Germany to play with, ie bad things are bound to happen to good people. Eminently readable and eminently shallow; I know this was originally YA that went viral in the adult publishing world, but if this is the standard of fiction and perception which “addresses” WWII, I think we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. I shan’t even bother to continue. And to give MM her due, her review goes something like: “Two shallow gimmicks [death and thief] to prop up a book which casts no light whatsoever on the Holocaust”.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
A few uninspired bed reads
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Also reading: Rabbit #4; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades by Munya Andrews

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: Ruth Park’s “The Harp in the South”

ruth park harp in the southLoaned by DC when I was last near her bookshelf, and due – any month now, so they say – to come up for Bookclub, I cracked it and decided to pull this off the Don’t Touch Pile. This is the first volume of the Darcy family’s life in the post-WWII slum of Surry Hills – Roie’s romances, Hughie’s adventures with the drink and the lottery, Mumma’s relationship with Grandma, Dolour’s school excursion to the beach as funded by the local bordello mistress. Excellent to read in terms of Sydney’s industrial history, and absorbing in that it reminded me that Australia too has (and has had) poor white folk (compared to our contemporary image of ourselves a bourgeois, urban and professional), and slum community stories from anywhere around the world have the same gutsy flavour of tough love and struggle. No modern Australian family would want to be heard slagging off at each other with the smart-arsey love of the Darcys, we’re too bloody proper nowadays — and our turns of phrase are nowhere near as picturesque. A damned good read, recommended.

Where it came from: DC’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Armchair and bed reads, long overdue
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Cloudstreet, of course, but this is both grittier and pithier
Who I’d recommend it to:
Readers looking for mid-20th-century Aussie life
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

Review: Christina Stead’s “The Man Who Loved Children”

It’s on KAM’s list, Bookclub felt we needed some Aussie Women, and we all blanched when its 500+ pages of glory emerged at the last book-in. This is considered Stead’s greatest novel of her 15, her childhood mildly fictionalised by all accounts. In the latest edition, Jonathan Franzen provides a generally rapturous introduction of this poor, undervalued novel (published here in the New York Times). Methinks this might be narcissism, given the two novels’ tonal similarities. My feelings about the Stead are near identical to my feelings about Franzen’s own Freedom: all the main characters are warped and unpleasant, and they do warped, unpleasant things to each other for *way* too many hundreds of pages. Hard to get into, drag-drag-drag in the middle, and I wish the last 150pp – which were quite good – had been the entirety of the novel. Overrated, not recommended, so glad it’s over!

Where it came from: Library via Bookclub
Time & manner of reading: Two weeks putting it off entirely with other things, a week of bits, then a week of getting the bloody thing out of the way
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of: Franzen’s latest, Freedom
Who I’d recommend it to: Only those who are really truly on the Australian Women Writers mission
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

Review: Kate Grenville’s “The Secret River”

How you come to Australia as a convict in 1806 and become a local gentleman ten years later. A very good novel, well researched, powerful, moving, terrible. Somehow reads as if it were written for non-Australians, although I can only pinpoint the lack of the word ‘bush’ to support this theory. I also wish it dealt more with women colonists, although Sal is quite a lived character. Do read it. It reminds us of the truth about ourselves and our country.

Where it came from: NE’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: Engrossedly over the course of a day
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: KLM, methinks
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Plumed Serpent by D.H. Lawrence; The Reivers by William Faulkner; Moby Dick by Herman Melville; Affinity by Sarah Waters