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Showing posts from May 9, 2021

“Cats, I always think, only jump into your lap to check if you are cold enough, yet, to eat.”

  Who needs water parks? Josephine Falls, Far North Queensland. April 2021. The Gathering by Anne Enright I am not certain just how many Irish novels drenched in repression, guilt, shame and acerbity the world needs. How many tales of too many children, of too much drink, of sexual dysfunction, abuse and misuse before we give up on the whole island of Ireland and move on and leave them to it? Anne Enright writes well, but ultimately this tale of misery and woe, fractured families and nervous breakdown is too familiar by half. The narrative jumps all over the show, moving forwards and backwards in time as the shock of grief at the suicide of a sibling jolts our narrator out of her tepid middle-class existence back towards a troubled past. Moving as it is, the path is well-trodden to the point of banality. Yes, it is sad. Yes, it is tragic. But my word, it is misery piled upon misery that is all just oh so tedious. So if interminable and meandering descriptions of pale/ flabby/ sinewy/ g

"He was hurling words at his shrinking wife like clods or bricks and she was not dodging but receiving them like a willing saint, enduring abuse like a terrible balm."

Ezra getting some local advice on the best bombing technique, Mossman George, Daintree National Park, Far North Queensland. April 2021. Drylands by Thea Astley Thea Astley's last novel  Drylands  is a queer old thing. Presented as a series of loosely connected fragments, it begins with a decidedly clichéd post-modern flourish more Calvino than Miles Franklin. To my horror, I thought for a moment that I was getting a meta-exploration on the nature of writing and literature. Early on, it appears that we are to follow the process of a writer going through a painful attempt to birth an idea. For whatever reason, Astley gives up on this conceit - although she half-heartedly returns to it every now and again - and instead, we drift into the series of vignettes that eventually build the book. Admittedly, it is an awkward and stuttering start, but perhaps this was the author's aim. After all, novels are born out of such stutters and stumbles. From such a beginning is born a cast of exh

“They fought as though the most important thing was to damage each other as much as possible.”

  A big wrasse (with a friend). Agincourt Reef, the Great Barrier Reef, Far North Queensland. April 2021. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro  Like  Never Let Me Go  and The Buried Giant , Ishiguro's conceit here presents the perfect opportunity to explore some weighty and troubling themes through a fresh lens. In choosing Klara, an AI robot fresh out of the factory, as narrator, Ishiguro has a guide who is at once innocent and unworldly yet possesses outstanding observational qualities (it is what she is designed to do, after all). This gives the author access to a narrator possessing both the tabula rasa of a naïf and the vocabulary and intelligence to progress the story and complex themes engagingly and believably. I found this a better modern take on the issue than Ian McEwan's  Machines Like Me . With his usual deftness of touch, Ishiguro explores what it means to be human, the ethics of Artificial Intelligence and the corrosive course of history as civilisation marches o

“Death will not be denied. To try is grandiose. It drives madness into the soul. It leaches out virtue. It injects poison into friendship, and makes a mockery of love.”

  Out on the reef. Agincourt Reef, the Great Barrier Reed, Far North Queensland. April 2021. The Spare Room by Helen Garner Helen Garner's most admirable quality - to my mind - is her unremitting honesty as a writer.  The Spare Room  captures the grim reality of acting as a carer for a friend in denial facing a terminal illness. "Nicola", the friend that is desperately pursuing alternative - and obviously useless - treatments for her disease, is not the focus of the novel. Instead, in typical Garner style, we experience the inner perspective of Helen herself. As ever, she is frank. We actually don't explore Nicola's own feelings about her illness, as the lens is fixed with Garner herself. However, feelings of concern, pity, anger, guilt and resentment are all present and afford an insight too often glossed over when we talk about death. As such, there is an authenticity here often found lacking in similarly-themed books. It's also surprisingly funny. While thi