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Showing posts from February 7, 2021

"'I am Jessica Olive,' he heard her say absent-mindedly over breakfast. 'I am Cornelius and Nadine and George.'"

Jen and Ezra heading out. Sisters Beach, January 2021. It's Raining in Mango by Thea Astley Thea Astley is an interesting case study of gender and publishing in Australia. The winner of four Miles Franklin Awards (tied with Tim Winton as the most frequent recipient), most of her books remain out of print. It Is fair to say that she’s not as widely read as a great talent and unique voice in the Australian literary landscape deserves. Which leads me to  It's Raining in Mango , which spans multiple generations of the Laffy family in Far North Queensland. The book covers from the 1860s through to the 1980s. In it, they carry the family (and local) stories with them, and they identify as something more than themselves. These stories intersect with the history of Australia itself, from the brutal invasion and settlement, the scramble of the gold rush through the misery of the Depression to the Stolen Generation, two World Wars and the hippies, freaks and dropouts of the 1970s.

“That was the problem with Australians playing tourist. They dressed for comfort and it was impossible to tell how much they were worth.”

Jen and Ezra entering the tunnel through Hell. Haw Par Villa, October 2014. Aunty Lee's Delights by Ovidia Yu A delightful murder mystery made all the more interesting to this reader due to the contemporary Singaporean setting and harsh assessment of the Australian national character! A unty Lee harks back to older, ‘cosier’ mysteries than the darker, harsher and colder examples of the genre that I usually read. As such, it proved a wonderful ‘palate cleanser’ from its bleaker relations. A large part is due to the presents of Rosie "Aunty" Lee – widowed restauranteur and amateur sleuth – and the frequent reference to cooking and eating. Seriously, this is a book bound to make you salivate as Aunty Lee prepares wonderful meals while trying to solve crimes. Yu introduces a host of other characters that I am certain will form the backbone of future mysteries. Together, they forge a wonderful foundation for entertaining readers over a whole series of books. ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2

“The real tragedy of our postcolonial world is not that the majority of people had no say in whether or not they wanted this new world; rather, it is that the majority have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world.”

  Facing the waves, Binalong Bay, Tasmania January 2021. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie The novel's opening is an opaque and intricate introduction to both a large cast of characters and Nigerian social and political complexities. Once the domestic world starts to settle down (in conjunction with the heightening political tensions), the story positively rockets along. Adichie constructs a rich and vibrant sense of time and place and draws the reader along with horror and excitement at the formation and eventual destruction of the Biafran state. The indifference of the outside world and the wilful culpability of the (former) British colonial masters bristles off the page. Deftly shifting backwards and forwards in time, this is a beautifully constructed book. There is an adroitness in handling such weighty themes, and the righteous anger forms naturally as only high art manages. While there is a danger that such a topic can drift into a polemic of backstory, e

“No,” she said again, just because it felt good to say no to this person.”

Goodbye Ned, we barely knew you. Birches Bay Sculpture Trail, Tasmania. January 2021. An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten A decent little collection of vignettes featuring the unlikeliest of serial killers I’ve come across thus far. Much as if Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple turned out to be the murderer all along, Maude – the subject of this collection – is an unlikable old biddy who happens always to be around when people turn up dead. It’s probably appropriate that Maude does come across as a bit of an entitled prig (I’m not sure on where we stand of positing the killer as heroine these days), and the choice to present these brief segments than a singular novel was a wise decision. I’m not sure that I would be up for sharing the page with her for an extended period. All up: an interesting twist on the Swedish crime tale. ⭐ ⭐ 1/2

“He was going to take in, possess the whole of the world. Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi? Fuck off. He wanted more.”

  Ezra swims. Douglas-Apsley National Park, Tasmania. January 2021. Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas While the novel's arc did not entirely convince me – the tale of a gay half-Greek/ half-Scots/ not quite-Aussie who only ever wanted to be one thing (a world champion swimmer) –  Barracuda  held my attention the whole way through. A scathing critique of Australia’s tendency towards self-mythologising, the book bristles with an undercurrent of rage that blooms in a moment of devastating brutality on which the entire novel turns. Issues of race, class, sexuality, friendship and what it means to succeed and fail permeates throughout. All the while, the characters surrounding the central protagonist are glimpsed more in shades and shadows, echoing the self-absorption required of the elite athlete. There is a lot of pain on display, and it is grim reading at times. Still, it is thoroughly readable, and we are rewarded with a satisfactory resolution. One thing that struck me was that –

“I remembered only the good and loveable things about him, not the wretchedness he caused me, and the dope, and the resentments and silence and the half-crazy outbursts.”

  Bass Strait is blue today. Sisters Beach, Tasmania. January 2021. Monkey Grip by Helen Garner Credit must go to Helen Garner for her frank reflections on her own choices and desires in this semi-autobiographical novel. She conjures up a Melbourne long-since gone, and a world of a bohemian vision of life filled with excess, collectivism and the withering away of norms like monogamy, patriarchy and the jingoistic nature of Australians. As I say, this is a time long gone. Garner writes well and with frankness and empathy that is to be admired. Yet despite her best efforts, the appeal of Javo – which is the central premise driving the book – utterly eluded me. I could see nothing of the charm, beauty, intelligence or love in the man. Even in the frank descriptions of the sex – and there is no shortage of fucking in this book, with Javo and others in this milieu of rootless artists – didn’t help explain the obsession. The novel consists of days repeating days. Swimming and drugs an

“May a cat eat him and may the devil eat the cat.”

  The mountain has eyes. Walking the Postmans Track, Rocky Cape National Park, Tasmania. January 2021. Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles Paulette Jiles works magic with her writing. Much like the marvellous  News of the World , the story within  Simon the Fiddler  flows like molasses from a spoon. Despite moments of violence and hardship, and its Civil War setting, this is a surprisingly gentle book. Given the centrality of music – we follow Simon and his companion musicians through Texas at the tail end of the war and immediate years of the Reconstruction – the text's lyrical beauty is unsurprising. While Simon himself is hot-tempered and ill-suited to company, he is no misanthrope, and I found myself warming to him as the story progressed. Much as life, the journey is a meandering and unpredictable one. Trials and tribulations abound, love is sighted and perused, sadness and grief felt, and the converted goal of just being left alone to play music and carve out a life alwa