writing of readerly reviews of writings

Tag: :Terania Times:

Review: Melissa Lucashenko’s “Mullumbimby”

melissa lucashenko mullumbimbyAgain, this looked like the lightest and most entertaining book on my TBR pile, and it turned out to be quite the surprise. Slap my wrist for doubting a local writer. Lucashenko’s novel is unabashedly the Northern Rivers made print, told by politicised and creative Bundjalung woman. There’s the quirky characters, dreaded and not; the references to BluesFest and the Writers’ Festival and Mardi Grass and Sangsurya; the evocation of the river at Bruns and Wollumbin and Mount Chincogan; the abundant queers (I love it when a dyke’s just called a dyke); the rain, the rainforest, the beach… Such a pleasure to read this place rendered with such smart-arsey love. The multifaceted examination of indigenous rights is smart-thinking and smartly plotted, the narrative trips along, the characters are human, the language vernacular and gritty, and the book an accessible, informed, good-timer. Well recommended.

*** I predict that some version of this will appear in the Terania Times.***

Where it came from: ED & LD’s bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
An evening of fireside reading
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: ‘Light’ does not mean ‘fluffy’
Who I’d recommend it to:
Readers after a good, powerful yarn, be they locals or curious about the locals
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper; The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe


Review: Alex Miller’s “Lovesong”

alex miller lovesongAJ was reading a new one of Miller’s, recommended this one with reservations, said it might not be my cup of tea. She was right. Sappy Australian nice-guy John Patterner  (ventriloquised in a silly framing story) recounts his romance with womb-hungry Tunisian woman Sabiha, set in Paris in the 1990s (?). It was highly llevadero (carrying-along), i.e. very fluid and easy to read, but really – to what end? No great conflicts, no fascinating characters, no fabulous information. Uninteresting, and abandoned at p140 odd, which – (RANT ALERT!) had the publisher not been so sly with large fonts, fat margins, and excessive leading, in order to make a fatter book and boost the selling price– ought to have been p80. Still too many pages.

***A version of this review appeared in the Terania Times***

Where it came from: AJ’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Evening snippet and frustrated morning lie-in
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: The old chestnut re prizewinners failing as recommendations
Who I’d recommend it to: I’d not
Also reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades by Munya Andrews; The Politics of Ecstasy by Timothy Leary

Review: Kate Grenville’s “Searching for the Secret River”

kate grenville searching for the secret riverIn need of some intellectual fluff, I moved onto this totally-not-urgent loan and devoured it over a couple of days. This is Grenville’s writerly analysis of her own research and writing process for the acclaimed Secret River, light in tone but sensitive in detail, thoroughly thought provoking. I appreciated it as a white Australian, a writer and a reader. Highly recommended.

***The forthcoming Terania Times will carry a fleshier version of this review.***

 Where it came from: MM’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
A few reads, mostly bedside
Where it went: Home, but I think a copy should head to KLM
Reminds me of/that: Oh, I do love a writerly read
Who I’d recommend it to: Historians and writers, Aussies and 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; Wonderful Women by the Water by Monika Fagerholm; The Stone Key by Isobelle Carmody

Review: Nicolas Rothwell’s “The Red Highway”

This book is a bit of a mixed bag, but I cannot fault Rothwell’s brilliant nature writing, nor the questing impulse which he has crystallised herein. Rothwell, recently returned from war reporting, takes an “inadvertent” journey through the north – largely the Red Centre and the Kimberley – as he explores his own sense of place and the concept of emplacement in Australia. The title clearly locates it as a contemporary Aussie response to Least Heat-Moon’s luminous Blue Highways (do read that, if you get a chance). Rothwell reads explorers’ narratives, travels to churches and museums and lost Western outposts, converses with artists and anthropologists and one blackfella and novelists and two women (only) &tc. &tc., and considers spiritual, emotional, biological, philosophical bonds to landscape. Rothwell’s analysis and storytelling gifts shine when he is narrating his learned knowledge – and I was intrigued and delighted by the fact that there was no bibliography attached to this thoroughly investigated novel – but the dialogue of his “chance” encounters was both stagey and staged, and the persona he writes for himself in those scenes was that of a prattish, adversarial cynic pleased to be convinced by his friends’ genius. Nevertheless, a very good book, and a fine example of white Australians interacting with country and philosophy. Recommended. The glorious cover alone would make you adore it.

Some parallel-universe version of this review will appear in the next edition of the Terania Times.

Where it came from: L’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading: A few good reads, with quizzical devourment
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of: Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez; Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon
Who I’d recommend it to: Seekers of homegrown, country-centred philosophising
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; Selected Essays by George Orwell; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Kalila and Dimna by Ramsey Woods; Gifts of Unknown Things by Lyall Watson

Review: Gail Jones’ “Sorry”

Perdita is ten years old, and lives in a shack in the Kimberley filled with books, current WWII press cuttings, a tryhard British anthropologist father (Nicholas) and a crackpot mother (Stella) who recites Shakespeare at the drop of a powdered wig. She also has an Aboriginal sister, Mary, stolen from her mother and convent-trained in Perth for a life of servitude. Nicholas is stabbed, and bleeds his last on the shack floor. Mary is taken to a reformatory. Perdita is struck stammered. The two meet again in Perth and lo, the truth will out.

This book is splendid. Immaculately written, weighted with a plumb-bob, and carefully – so carefully wrought and wringing – to talk of family and silence and exclusion and whitefella/blackfella love and debt. Amazing book. I had tears in my eyes for the last forty pages. Hollowness inside. Amazing. Read it. I’ll read everything of hers I can get my hands on.

*** Some version of this review, conceivably bearing nothing in common except the same title, will soon appear in the October/November edition of the Terania Times.***

Where it came from: Library via Bookclub
Time and manner of reading: Two good armchair-reads
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of: All those things whitefellas don’t want to be reminded of
Who I’d recommend it to: Any human
Also reading: Rabbit #5; The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister edited by Helena Whitbread

Review: Miles Franklin’s “My Brilliant Career”

My God. I’m devastated. What the hell was she doing?! She ditched him!? What was wrong with her?! She’s nuts. I’m all a-flutter and can’t calm down. What kind of crazy was she to write this, and, one rather suspects, to live it first?!

So having spoiled the ending with my post-lectoral frenzy… Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin wrote this at 16, sent it to Henry Lawson using her manliest names, he wrote a patronising prologue about “girl” writers, it was published in 1901 and has become a worthy Australian classic. Heroine Sybylla grates against her family’s drink-induced poverty, craves literature and the arts, gets sent to rich granny, lives the good life for a while, and flirts with a good, rich man, Harold Beecham. After some trials and tribs on both sides, she breaks his devoted heart because she’s not good enough for him (but really, doesn’t want to be married? Fears she won’t become a writer if she marries him? Is clinically insane? I got the strong impression even she didn’t really know).

It’s a good book, *very* impressive, although it has a few moments where the adolescent angst is a little too real. I loved the 19th-century Aussie-ness of it, and Sybylla’s zeal and striving to be… something, she doesn’t know what, but definitely a something. Her seething anger at the world made my heart ache for her: such flinging of enraged fireballs at the world! (Yours truly of course recognises her truliness in our heroine). I was certainly sucked into the love story, as indicated by the drama above.  Well, entirely sucked in, and I’ll possibly still be writhing over the injustice of the ending come the morning.* (DC reckons Beecham was too boring for Sybylla, but I still plump for inherited insanity/undirected rage. Don’t even try to convince me that Franklin was post-modern a century ahead of her time, breaking with readers’ expectations of the romantic genre.)

* It’s true. My dreams and head were all full of the book when I woke up.

NB: A largely different version of this review appears in the August/September 2012 edition of the Terania Times.

Where it came from: DC’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: The last few days, in tram- and bed- and waiting-reads
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of: That esteemed literary tradition of headstrong, intelligent young women trying to become themselves – I’m sure you can come up with another heroine or two in this mould
Who I’d recommend it to: Damned good book, especially considering it was finished when she was 19 (!!!)
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Reivers by William Faulkner; Moby Dick by Herman Melville; Working Hot by Mary Fallon

Review: Arnold Zable’s “Cafe Scheherazade”

Martin, a “no-good scribbler”, makes his way to a café in St Kilda in search of a news story, but instead is entranced in the history of the café’s owners, three of the regulars, and the café itself. Avram and Masha have been running their small piece of Mitteleuropa since 1959, when they arrived in Australia as WWII refugees. Yossel, Laizer and Zalman come daily to drink their strong coffee, and slowly share their stories of war and emigration with the scribbler. Martin deciphers their various Yiddish accents as they trace their separate flights from Vilna (Vilnius, Lithuania) to Siberian workcamps, Shanghai’s shortlived Jewish ghetto, a Parisian nightclub rendezvous and reincarnation in Melbourne.

This is a wonderful book, hypnotic and historical at the same time. I wasn’t excited about the idea of another WWII tragedy, but each character’s tale was so absorbing, and Zable’s touch so deft, that this book was a delight. I kept finding myself stopping to reread sections that were written so limpidly that I’d lost the meaning in my urge to say with the rhythm of the language. The heartaches were powerfully written but not dwelt on in any callous way, and the vibrancy of each city and each scene makes this 1001 nights alive and rich. Zable obviously researched his wanderers’ tales quite thoroughly, but you never feel like you’re being forced through a lesson on Jewish migrations – and more importantly, you don’t come out of the book with a heartache yourself. Instead, Café Scheherazade sings of home, and community, and story, and sanctuary. It made me feel grateful, once again, to live far from war and near to the home of my heart.

Beautiful and highly recommended.

Where it came from: KT’s Housesat Bookshelf
Time taken to read: Three bed-nights
Where it went to: Back on the shelf
Reminds me of: Its poetic tone is similar to Annie Dillard’s “The Maytrees”
Who I’d recommend it to: HG
Also reading: “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene; “The Blind Eye” by Georgia Blain; “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons; “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” by James Joyce, “Gertrude” by Hermann Hesse; “Black Swan Green” by David Mitchell

Post-Script: A version of this review appears in the June-July 2012 edition of the Terania Times.