Monday 31 October 2011

Just A Dog

I didn't know a lot about this book before I picked it up at the library. I knew that it had been an Honour Book in the Children's Book Council of Australia awards this year. I had seen the cover, and liked it. Who wouldn't? That's some cute dog. Looking a bit sad. Or maybe guilty. 

The thing about reading a dog story, any dog story, is that you know the dog will die. They all do. In life and at the end of the book. And Mr Mosely is no exception. And we'll cry. We always do. 

The book is more than just a dog story however, it is the story of a family told through the oldest child, Corey, who picks Mr Mosely, the quiet one in the mixed Dalmation/bitzer litter. Mr Mosely quickly becomes part of the family, and we learn of their struggles, ups and downs through Corey and Mr Mosely. Corey's dad loses his job, the family is under considerable financial strain, and the inevitable ensuing tensions between the parents. 

I haven't read anything by Michael Gerard Bauer before. Indeed I didn't know all that much about him. It's not surprising to find that he is from Queensland, given that Corey's family have a big mango tree in the back yard. His first book (and possibly most famous) The Running Man is in my 1001 quest, and I look forward to reading more from him. 

Saturday 29 October 2011

Halloween- Gone to the Dogs

We don't really celebrate Halloween in Australia. Traditionally we haven't anyway. There are moves by supermarkets and other stores to sell Halloween items. Chocolates, and even pumpkins to carve! 

These are the only two shabby pumpkins my local Woolies has on display

But they have to tell Aussies when it is. 

I was very surprised to walk into Big W and see two stands of Halloween products!

including special Twisties

My recent trip to Texas, even in September showed me a completely unexpected side to Halloween. For the dogs!

My dogs remain grateful that I didn't buy any of these products and will continue to restrain from dressing them up.

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books.

Friday 28 October 2011

The Arrival

Reading every Shaun Tan book is such a wonderful experience. Earlier this year I read and loved The Lost Thing, and most recently I've read The Arrival. For some reason, I was a bit reluctant to read this one. I think perhaps it was the drab sepia colouring of the cover. I'd never even thumbed through The Arrival in the library or a bookshop. Reader, I shouldn't have doubted him.

In The Arrival Shaun Tan takes on the immigrant experience. In a story at once familiar, and yet foreign, a man prepares to leave his wife and daughter. He is clearly leaving his homeland, overrun by a menace that feels second world war Europe, but is represented with shadowy dragon tails.

He leaves his family and travels alone to a new land, to make his fortune, to better his family. He journeys by ship to a new country, a surreal kind of New York harbour.

Once again Tan pays homage to well known images. This one was immediately familiar

but I couldn't recall the name until the Artist's Note at the back named Tom Roberts, Going South, 1886, held at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Once again Shaun Tan has blurred the line between picture book (yet this isn't for toddlers), and graphic novel. Wordless and told in a series of nuanced and highly detailed vignettes, the effect is especially moving. The cover, and styling actually are setting up The Arrival as an old, much loved family photo album.

As with any Shaun Tan book there is just so much detail in each and every drawing that rewards your attention, and will reward multiple re-readings.

If you find yourself with a free 20 minutes one day you could do much worse than browse this wonderful book. In the meanwhile, here is a lovely excerpt to give more of a taste.

Read what I thought of The Lost Thing.

Thursday 27 October 2011

The Three Musketeers- the 2011 Movie

For some reason film makers are besotted with The Three Musketeers. There have been at least 23 movie versions, another 7 animated versions, and multiple TV series in the past 100 or so years.

I really want to see one of these old versions

It was with great excitement that I prepared to see the new movie version of The Three Musketeers. Then I read the weekend papers. The review in the Herald, not too bad. 3 1/2 stars. Then I read the review in the Sunday Telegraph.  One star! One for all, all for one, and everyone for the exit. Ouch.

Clearly it's a movie, that you either like or hate.

So how was it?

Picture credit

Well, it bares the slightest resemblance to Alexander Dumas' classic The Three Musketeers. Which I read and loved last year. The character names are the same, and some scant elements of the story. But Dumas did not write about frogmen in Venice, or flying galleons designed by Leonardo DaVinci. This is more The Three Musketeers for the computer gaming generation. There are many Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon moments which always breaks the spell for me, as I remember the soul destroying experience of being trapped inside a cinema for hours and hours enduring that movie.

Still there's lots of swashbuckling action, wonderful costumes, with lots of heaving bosoms to keep the teenage boys entertained.

Picture credit

Sadly this incarnation of The Three Musketeers was shot in Germany. Not Paris. So clearly Not Paris. If you're going to make a movie that is set in Paris, even in 17th century Paris, please make it look like it could be Paris, don't just use scenes of Germany and add Notre Dame to the skyline. It doesn't work, and is just plain annoying.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday- 26/10/11

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

My first word is from the excellent Rain May and Captain Daniel that I recently reviewed. 

1. Ferengi (Noun)

The Ferengi at the supermarket told her. 

The character who writes this sentence is quite obsessed with Star Trek, so I figured it was a Star Trek reference. But it wasn't one that I knew. Off to Google:

        The Ferengi are indeed a fictitious extra-terrestrial race.

The rest of my words today come from Michael Scott's The Alchemyst

2. Travertine

Vast and sprawling, built entirely of white travertine marble, and accessible only by a private road, it occupied a sixty-acre estate surrounded by a twelve-foot wall topped by an electric fence. 

A white, tan, or cream-colored form of limestone, often having a fibrous or concentric appearance. Travertine is formed through the rapid precipitation of calcium carbonate, especially at the mouth of a hot spring or in limestone caves, where it forms stalactites and stalagmites.

3. Necromancer

4. Scrying

He had mastered necromancy and sorcery, astrology and mathematics, divination and scrying. 

     Necromancy is a claimed form of magic in which the practitioner seeks to summon the spirit of a    
      deceased person, either as an apparition or ghost, or to raise them bodily, 
      for the purpose of divination. (wiki)

      Scrying. To see or predict the future by means of a crystal ball. (the free dictionary)

5. Nathair

Huge flocks of nathair swooped across the skies and the bushes, and tall grasses were alive with unseen crawling, slithering, scuttling creatures.

     A snake, serpent or adder. Scottish gaelic. (Wiktionary). It is also apparently a boys name in Scotland. 

6. Sigils (Noun)

Unlike in her previous prison, she couldn't see any magical wards or protective sigils painted on the lintel or the floor. 

      i) A seal; a signet
      ii) A sign or an image considered magical. (the free dictionary)

Photo credit

7. Virescent (adjective)

He snapped his fingers and sent a sheet of virescent fire blazing into the fog. 

      1. Becoming green.
      2. Somewhat green; greenish. 

Virescent green metallic bee

Monday 24 October 2011

The Art of Travel

Having just returned from Houston, it was a perfect time to stumble across this audio book on the shelf at the library. Travel does broaden the mind. Certainly Houston had surprised mine, and I was ready to contemplate travel more widely with de Botton. I've bought, but never read, Status Anxiety, although I might have watched the tv show. So I popped the CD into the player into the car. And steadied myself to be swept up in the joy of travel. How surprising to find that Alain starts with how disappointing travel is!

Few things are as exciting as the idea of travelling somewhere far from home. Somewhere with better weather, more interesting customs and more inspiring landscapes. So why are we so often dissatisfied with the reality of travel? Perhaps we should listen less to the guidebooks that tell us what to do when we get there, and learn to enjoy the journey. 

What? I'm sure glad I don't have to go on holidays with Alain. I already enjoy the journey Alain.

I'd expected The Art of Travel to be a journey of sorts, but I really wasn't expecting to be a journey to Gustauve Flaubert, William Wordsworth and Vincent Van Gogh, as much as it is a journey to Barbados and Amsterdam.

Much of Disc 2 was taken up with Flaubert, and I found it particularly fascinating. So much so that I listened to disc 2 twice. Flaubert wrote Madame Bovary of course, which was my introduction to French classic literature a couple of years ago. Astonishingly different to what was going on in England at the same time. How incredible to learn that if Flaubert had lived in my lifetime he would most likely have ended up committing a high school massacre as a teenager! His teenage self apparently wanted to blow the heads off the good citizens of Rouen as they passed by, and he had a particular enmity for the local Mayor.

Flaubert was very taken with the exoticism of Egypt, and I knew that he had famously travelled there. He was particularly taken with camels and spent quite some time trying to mimic their sounds! What a different experience travel must have been, to return home with just writings, drawings and the noises you could reproduce. I didn't realise that he was quite taken with examples of local colour such as donkeys shitting in cafes- which he apparently found quite appealing.

I learned more about Wordsworth than I ever had before. Not hard certainly as I don't think I knew anything except that he was a poet. He was born and worked in the Lake District of England, and he encouraged us to "see the many animals living alongside us whom we typically ignore, registering them only out of the corner of our eyes, having no appreciation for what they are up to and want".

We also journey to Provence with Van Gogh (in the news this week after speculation that he was murdered, excellent publicity for your new book) and to the lonely American highways, motels and petrol stations of Edward Hopper (who I had only learnt of from Shaun Tan back in May).

To me, Alain was telling us that all these famous thinkers and artists were telling us to notice the Detail of Travel, more than the Art. To see the colour as Van Gogh did, the birds as Wordsworth did, and the donkeys shitting in the corner of the cafe as Flaubert had.

How does Alain wrap up our rather esoteric travels? Alain makes his final journey in the last section accompanied by Xavier de Maistre in his fetching pink and blue cotton pyjamas. I'd not heard of Xavier before, but in 1794 he published a book called Voyage autour de ma Chambre (Voyage around My Bedroom), with the sequel Expedition Nocturne autour de ma Chambre (Night Voyage around My Bedroom). In his journey Xavier is apparently asking us to consider the detail of our daily lives, to shake off our habituation and the blinkers that blind us to the magnificence that is our own bed or chair. There is of course merit in noticing the joy of our everyday surroundings, and not being blind to the life that is already around us.
And yet de Maistre's work springs from a profound and suggestive insight: that the pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than non the destination we travel to. If only we could apply a travelling mindset to our own locales, we might find these places becoming no less interesting than the high mountain passes and butterfly-filled jungles of Humboldt's South America. 

Which is perhaps disingenuous to some extent. Some places are inherently more beautiful or captivating than others. There are reasons why Paris is the biggest tourist destination in Europe. The feeling of warm Parisian sun on your shoulder standing in Tuileries can not be recaptured whilst looking at your own loungechair, or filling your car with petrol at your local petrol station. I remember being shocked at the bored locals riding the metro. How can they be bored? Look depressed? In Paris?

And what of the audiobook itself? Again, as with Lance Armstrong's It's Not About the Bike, the reader struggles with the frequent references in other languages. Predominantly French, but he bumbles over a smattering of Spanish and German too. So much of The Art of Travel references paintings and visual splendour that I ended up borrowing the book version from the library too, needing to see the many illustrations that I knew this book would have.

It was certainly pleasant to listen to as I journeyed to and from work in the car each day. Although I must admit that his notion of man as "dust postponed" shook me up quite a bit. Just arriving in the car park to start another 10+ hours of work. And all you are is dust postponed. It's a discouraging start to the day. But when you think of the biblical dust to dust pronouncement, I guess that's what we are- dust postponed. Oh dear, I think I need to book another holiday.... and stop listening to philosophy in the car.

BTW Audiobooks are apparently a big craze now, with Hollywood jumping on board, but it's digital downloads that are cool, not people like me borrowing daggy old CDs to listen to in the car.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Houston Sculptures

Sometimes you drive down an average suburban street and see something that isn't quite average, or quite suburban. And you know that you need to stop and investigate further. I'm so glad we did. I got to have a brief chat with Mark Bradford "Scrap Daddy", who turns scrap metal into amazing creatures, most of which are cars that actually go! There is an astonishing amount of work in each sculpture. Cutting, beating, welding pieces of metal into his incredible creatures. Some are even made from spoons discarded by the airline industry when they stopped using real cutlery. 

Birds nest on the top of this emu like creature

Friday 21 October 2011

The Alchemyst

Sometimes it's good to get taken out of your comfort zone. And Irish fantasy is definitely out of my comfort zone. For some reason my 10 year old was captivated with the covers of this series of books, yes kids do judge books by their covers, just like we do. Recently it came the time to start on the first of the series for out bedtime reading. I was dreading it somewhat, although a friend at work had gushed over the series late last year, and she'd read them for herself, not to her kids. If she enjoyed them, perhaps I would be proved wrong? Thankfully I was.

What do we get? Immediate action from the very first page! Fifteen year old twins Sophie and Josh are spending the summer working in shops very near each other in San Francisco. Sophie in a coffee shop, and Josh in the book shop directly across the road. Doesn't sound like the setting for too much excitement, but within pages we are drawn into another world completely. A world where the legendary figures of mythology are real, and still living.

It must be said that my knowledge of mythology isn't that vast. So names like Yggdrasil, Bastet and Scathach don't mean that much to me, and making reading aloud rather cumbersome at times as I stumble across these unfamiliar sounds. But fear not, you don't actually need to undertake an online degree in Norse or Celtic mythology to enjoy the book. Indeed it was only after we finished reading this book, that I wondered if indeed these were indeed real mythologic identities. Michael Scott dips into most of the major world myths and legends at times, to weave an intricate, yet believable fantasy (I know) adventure. But really, once you've suspended one lot of disbelief then whole lot may as well go, no?

It's a classic good vs evil tale. The good here being headed by Nicholas Flamel, and the bad by Dr John Dee. Nicholas Flamel was a real person who lived in Paris in the 14th century. He was a scrivener and an alchemyst. Apparently he figures in the first of the Harry Potter books, but I've only read that once, in 1999, and can't remember. For some reason after he died his grave was opened and found to be empty, thus it was rumoured that he was immortal. There is a Rue Nicholas Flamel and an Auberge Nicholas Flamel in Paris. I know that the young fantasy fan will be keen to see these on our next trip to Paris (there is always one in the planning stages).

Picture credit

The evil is headed up by Dr John Dee, who again was a real person, living in 16th century England, and an advisor to Elizabeth I. Michael Scott describe him as "one of the most brilliant men of his time" in the Author's Note at the back of the book. Here he is working at the behest of the Dark Elders, and has a stench of sulphur when performing his acts of magic. There is an incredible array of monsters that must be battled in their various forms. It's great fun.

Quite incredibly all the action of this book takes place over a mere two days, starting in San Francisco, and moving to various places in California. It's all tied up a bit neatly in the end, but I think we can forgive him that at this stage. I'm quite keen to move on to the second book in the series, The Magician. I'm not sure if the enthusiasm will last for all six books (I'm not all that good with really long series), but hopefully we can get through the first five and be ready to await the final instalment, The Enchantress, sometime in the middle of 2012.

Thursday 20 October 2011

The Slightly Bruised Glory of Cedar B. Hartley

Just as it can be hard taking on a childhood favourite, it can be hard deciding when to tackle a sequel. Say, you've read a book recently that you've loved. And then you find there's a sequel. You don't really have that much time in your heavily regimented reading life, but you know you want to fit it in. Should it be soon, to climb on the shoulders of the wondrous gem you've just finished? Or will it be too samey? What if it's not as good, will the shine start to dull on your new favourite? It's a quandary alright.

But being the brave soul that I am I decided to strike while Cedar's iron was still hot, and jump on to the second Cedar B. Hartley book.

Cedar has grown up a little since her first book. Although if I was over fifty I'd say "Now is that really Cedar B. Hartley? My, hasn't she grown up."

Cedar is facing some new challenges in this book. She's still mad on Kite, although he has done a rather dastardly thing and moved to Albury to join the Flying Fruit Fly Circus. Understandably Cedar is devastated. But then two new people come into her life, Aunt Squeezy, and the mysterious girl down the street.

Aunt Squeezy has been away living in India, and has done a lot of thinking about Buddhist beliefs whilst there. We get lots of well-expressed thoughts from Cedar, Aunt Squeezy and sometimes Cedar's mum (although most of the time she's at work)

In the end, we moved the chairs in the living room and she showed me some yoga and I showed her some balances and Mum took photos and drank wine. She said wine was just as relaxing as yoga but required less effort. 

And there's still wonderful rambling Cedar passages:

I was suspicious. I felt she was stealing my feelings. My unique feelings. She was flouncing round, tipping spices into a big pot of lentils and stealing my feelings. It was kind of great having her around because she cooked food all the time, and since Mum was always at work and too tired to cook, and Barnaby only knew how to make spaghetti with a can of tomatoes, and I only made cheese and tomato Brevilles, it was exciting to have someone making a big deal about meals. She even made porridge in the morning, with dates in it and grated apple and almonds on top. But, best of all, she was always up for a talk. And I mean a  real talk. A chewing and burrowing and blazing-up kind of talk, not just a how-was-your-day kind of talk. She and I got to talking about real things. I'd never met someone who wanted to talk about life as much as I did; about the big stuff like love and difference and hope and lentils and the nervous system and bigotry. 

The mysterious girl turns out to be a refugee from Afghanistan, and the girls discuss their lives in the two countries.

"I feel bad, you know, because you have got such a good country and you do not feel grateful. Here people are so fortunate. They get to have everything. I mean, what else do you want?"
 I can't answer her because I know there is lots that I want, and suddenly it doesn't seem right to be wanting when I can go and play in my street whenever I choose. As we walk back to our street, I can't get her words, what else do you want? out of my head. I think of me wanting to be a circus star, wanting it even more than ever now that the possibility of joining a real circus is here. I even think of Marnie always wanting to look pretty and great, and Mum wanting one day to buy a house, and Barnaby wanting to play his songs to the world. And then I think of all the girls in Afghanistan who just want to be able to go outside and play. It confuses me. Maybe wanting something is just what you do. It's not really about what you have or what you need, it's about something else. 

Refugee politics and the inequities of the modern world are all dealt with rather well.  And Aunt Squeezy is there to give the more adult, Buddhist slant on things.

She said there're two ways to make people richer: one is to give them more money and the other is to teach them how to desire less. 

This book certainly gives us plenty to think about, as well as more of a story pushing us forward than the first Cedar book, The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley. I read it in two days! Both books make you want to read even more of Martine Murray's work.

Monday 17 October 2011

The Tower Treasure

It's tricky taking on a childhood icon. Will it have stood the test of time? Will it look dated? Twee? Clunky?

I was really interested to read the first of the Hardy Boys adventures, The Tower Treasure recently. Turns out Frank and Joe Hardy had many surprises in store for me.  Firstly, even though I have quite a number of Hardy Boys books that have survived from my childhood, this, their first book wasn't among them. Thankfully I'd recently come across a 3 in 1 volume of Hardy Boys stories (The Tower Treasure, The Secret of the Old Mill, The Haunted Fort), so still had it on hand. 

The next surprise was that this book was first published in 1927! I suspect that I had no inkling of this when I was reading them in the early 70s. Whilst I definitely remember reading Hardy Boys books, and have some old hardbacks to prove it, with my name written on the endpapers in my childish hand, I don't remember the individual books. 

The biggest surprise was that the author Franklin W. Dixon didn't actually exist! I certainly had no inkling of that in my childhood readings. Dixon, and indeed the Hardy Boys, were the creations of  Edward Stratemeyer, who with his Stratemeyer Syndicate created a vast amount of my childhood reading. Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys that I was reading, as well as The Bobbsey Twins who I didn't read, and two other series I hadn't heard of- The Rover Boys, and Tom Swift books. I love the quote in the Wiki article on the Stratemeyer Syndicate that libraries refused to carry these books for decades- apparently they considered them to "cause a mental laziness, induce a fatal sluggishness, and intellectual torpor"! And I thought I was like that because I grew up down the road from a smelter and my lead levels were too high! It was all those books I read the whole time. 

A number of authors wrote under the name Franklin W. Dixon, but the first, and longest serving was Canadian journalist Leslie McFarlane, who wrote what are seen as quintessentially American books. He received $100 for each book, or $85 during the Depression, and was never paid any royalties! Apparently Mr McFarlane was glad for the work during hard times, and happy to make lots of money for other people. The Hardy Boys series still sells over 1 million books a year in the US, with 100, 000 of those being The Tower Treasure. 

And so what of the book itself? It is a somewhat dated, but still charming adventure for young readers. I'm sure the age of the readers for these books will have declined with the generations. My 10 year old has expressed an interest in reading The Haunted Fort because he started reading a copy in the school library, and thought it seemed exciting. The language was definitely that of an earlier time. There were constant references to school chums such as Chet Morton. I think as I will never have a daughter that I will have to call my next female dog or cat Iola- it's such a swell name. 

The Hardy Boys are clean cut, earnest, hard working and diligent. They use words like swell, chums, hobnob and cahoots. They go to school willingly, are saving for their college fund, attend church on Sundays, and are pleased when their father takes them to see a performance of The Merchant of Venice during their detective trip to New York. None of which is bad. It's interesting to note that the Hardy Boys books were "modernized" by Edward Stratemeyer's daughters in 1959. They commissioned rewrites to remove racial stereotypes, speed up the plots for modern audiences- 1959 was already feeling the effect of the television age, and remove dated references. The Tower Treasure shrank from 240 to 180 pages! It was this 1959 rewrite that I read as a girl in the 70s, and a slightly older girl in 2011. Applewood Books publishes the older, original versions of these books- how fascinating it would be to compare them. 

Still, I love that Mrs Robinson on hearing some bad news needs to be revived with "smelling salts and her special medicine". Brandy? We can only hope! I can only presume that more passages like this were removed:

There was a rustle of skirts, and Adelia Applegate appeared. A faded blond woman of thin features, she was dressed in a fashion of fifteen years before, in which every colour of the spectrum fought for supremacy. 

Saturday 15 October 2011

Birds in my Backyard

It's always exciting to get avian visitors in the backyard. Recently we've been seeing quite a few of these two:

European Goldfinch. Carduelis carduelis

 As we are such excellent gardeners we have lots of dandelions in the lawn which the Galahs love to eat

Galah. Eolophus roseicapilla

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books.

Heidi- the Shirley Temple movie

Every Friday night we have a movie and pizza night as a family. It's a lovely tradition that we've been doing for a year or two. Of course it doesn't happen every week, but whenever we're all home it's on. This week was our first chance in ages, and it was my turn to pick. I'd been wanting to watch Heidi since I read the book earlier in the year. Tonight I had my chance, I passed up the endless stream of Dr Who, modern animated features and dinosaur movies that seem to fill our agenda, and picked Heidi.

I guess I had seen a Shirley Temple movie when I was a kid, but don't remember if I saw this particular one. It's astounding to realise that she made over 40 movies. This was certainly the first of her movies that I remember seeing as an adult. She was rather impossibly cute with those ringlets and dimples.

The quality of my DVD copy was rather poor, but it was still enjoyable. The movie followed the book reasonably closely on the whole. The major elements of the story are there at least. Heidi is taken to live with her grumpy, hermit grandfather who she has never met. They make a life in his simple, isolated Alpine cabin. I was actually hoping for more Alpine scenery. I'm not convinced that any of it was filmed in the Alps actually. Certainly we don't get to enjoy Heidi's idyllic time on the Alpine meadows with Peter and the goats as I hoped we would.

There is only really one song and dance sequence, this is slipped in as Grandfather is reading Heidi a story and she imagines herself dancing around as a little Dutch girl in wooden clogs. After the story moves to Frankfurt the plot diverges quite a bit from that of the book. It's all wrapped up at Christmas, a few months earlier than in the book. There must have been a fashion in the 1930s for horse carriage chases, as we have another one here, similar to the 1940 Pride and Prejudice.

Much to my surprise, after some initial grumblings from the boys about the lack of dinosaurs, aliens and disruptions to the space time continuum, we did all rather enjoy Heidi. Perhaps I'll try to slip some more old movies in to our schedule....

Thursday 13 October 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday 12/10/11

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

My words today come from Christos Tsiolkas' controversial Australian book The Slap

1. Solipsistic (Adjective)

Was art for the good of mankind or was art only good when it was elitist and solipsistic?

I know that I've looked this word up multiple times, for some reason it never sticks. Maybe this time. 

Solipsistic, refers to solipsism
i) The theory that the self is the only thing that can be known and verified.
ii) The theory of view that the self is the only reality. The Free Dictionary. 

2. Firmament (noun)

She drove in ten-hour stretches, seeing nothing but the burnt scrub and the infinite blue firmament, parking the car in isolated service stations and braving the freezing cold of that emptiness while she willed herself to sleep. 

The vault or expanse of the heavens; the sky. The Free Dictionary. 

The Australian firmament

3. Bricolage (noun)

He was the only one with balls enough to denounce the hopelessly outdated postmodern bricolage of the artist's work.

i) The jumbled effect produced by the close proximity of buildings from different periods and in different architectural styles. 
ii) The deliberate creation of such an effect in certain modern developments. The Free Dictionary. 
I noticed the beauty of the bricolage in Luxembourg last year- I just didn't know it had a name!

4. Catamites (noun)

Vasili Grigorovich D'Estaing, the legendary French Huguenot admiral who had defected to the court of Queen Elizabeth I, was infamous not only for being the bastard child of Ivan the Terrible, but also for his ribald behaviour: it was said that he had boasted of one hundred mistresses and a dozen or so boy catamites. 

(This is from a fictional account written by a teenage boy)

A boy who has a sexual relationship with a man. A boy kept for homosexual purposes. The Free Dictionary. 

Wednesday 12 October 2011

All Sorts of Stupidity 4

As I was researching a bit to write my post on The Slap, I came across a news article that just left me astonished.

Radio National is a branch of our Australian national public broadcaster The ABC. I moved on from JJJ to Radio National quite a few years ago. JJJ is the youth broadcaster, and I listened to it longer than most I think. But it comes a time when you want more thought, more content and less indie rock. So you start listening to Radio National. And it's great!

So many fabulous programs. Radio National can make stuff that you're not really interested in, interesting. You can download most of it from their very good websites, and listen to it whenever it's convenient.  One of my great favourites is of course The Bookshow. Ramona Koval is fabulous. They explore a wide range of books and literature, big sellers and little known. You always learn something. Recently I listened to a story on the literary life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis while I was cooking one Saturday afternoon. I'd had no idea that she'd worked as a book editor. I'd had no idea that she'd worked actually. It was unexpectedly fascinating.

And now I find out that The Bookshow is under threat! RN are apparently planning to turn The Bookshow into an hour long books and arts show (up from the current 45 minutes), and claiming that this will increase the coverage of books! The Age has taken up the story. And The Australian. I haven't come across anything in The Herald as yet, which I presume is why I didn't know about this.

Thankfully Christos Tsiolkas has come out swinging. And I will too. Earlier this year I became old enough to write my first letter to the ABC. My second letter, well alright email, is under construction.  I hope yours is too. As the news reports have said of The Bookshow- everyone loves it just the way it is, and if it ain't broke- don't fix it!

Random photo of tulips in Launceston last month

Sunday 9 October 2011

The Slap

It's been quite a while since I read an adult book, and it's been a refreshing change. Even though this is quite an adult book. This was THE book of 2009. As perhaps the last person in Australia to read it, I finally succumbed to the pressure in the week leading up to the airing of the miniseries on TV. I naturally, wanted to watch it, but had to read the book first. Of course I'd left it so long that I was then forced to buy the TV tie-in copy instead of the proper cover. I hate that. I want to imagine the characters as I see them, not the actors playing it out on screen. And then I didn't finish in time to watch the first episode before I'd finished reading. Another quandry. In the end I decided to plow on and finish the book before I started with the mini-series. Interestingly this edition has three pages of "Praise for The Slap" at the front, and an extra two pages at the back. I don't know that it needs that for readership, but there it is.

This book literally was everywhere in 2009. It won the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction in the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards. It was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin (beaten by Tim Winton's Breath), and longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. They talked about it on the First Tuesday Book Club. On the Bookshow on Radio National (where the reviewer wonders if Tsiolkas has mellowed as The Slap isn't nearly as raw and confrontational as his previous works! WOW. They must be something. This is a great 5 minute audio review actually). And it was lauded and discussed in just about every paper, magazine and on every scrap of paper. 

Still, even though it's been so talked about I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Yes, everyone knows by now I'm sure that it involves a child who is slapped by a man, not his father, at a backyard barbeque in suburban Melbourne during the later years of John Howard's Australia. It is however, much more than that. The actual slap is quite near the beginning of the book, and the book is more about the year following the slap. The events the slap unleashes and the strains it puts on the rather complex relationships between the characters. Cleverly told in 8 sections, each narrated by a different character who was present at the barbeque and involved in the narrative in various ways. 

There are of course many more than 8 characters, and initially I found the first chapter a bit confusing. Who was related to who, where everyone fitted in. Much like when the hordes descend at a real barbie I guess. This soon sorted itself out. Perhaps the most shocking thing is the insight into each character's head. As many have said, the vast majority of the characters are flawed, and well, particularly obnoxious and rather awful. I felt very uncomfortable being inside their thoughts. They are vulgar and profane on many levels. Is this really what it's like in other people's heads? I hope not, because it's very, very awful. 

Tsiolkas does broach many subjects as well as the debate about whether anyone has the right to slap an obnoxious, awful child. He takes on private vs public schooling, Australian drinking culture, marriage, fidelity, the mores of the modern world, the role of the media. He even taught me a slang racial epithet that I didn't know that was used to depict Australians! (Skip). There is tenderness. I found Manolis' section particularly moving. And humour too.

Connie looked alarmed at that option. "I don't know anything about hats."

"It's the sad decline of civilisation. What can I say? It's okay. I don't wear them either now that I'm a hippie."
One passage that really stood out for me was when the court case is held. She here is Rosie, the mother of the child who is slapped.

When they finally entered the courtroom she  had to stifle her disappointment at how unimpressive it was. A lone Australian coat of arms sat above the judge's seat and already a stain of weak, lemon coloured damp was rising in a corner of the room. They took seats near the front and waited for the case to be heard. 

The pettiness of people's lives, the mundane sadness of what people did, mostly for money, sometimes for love or out of boredom, but mostly for the desperate need for money, is what Rosie took away from that day. Young men- just boys really, but already with long, tedious prior convictions read out by equally young, bored coppers in hesitant monotonous tones- faced the dock for stealing toys, stealing radios, stealing iPods, stealing televisions, stealing handbags, stealing work tools, stealing food, stealing liquor. There were young mothers ripping off the dole, young girls shoplifting trinkets and mascara and DVDs and CDs and Barbie dolls for their kids. 

I'm glad that I finally read got around to reading The Slap. It's very uncomfortable reading for much of it, but does have a lot to say about how we live now (which I have just realised is Helen Garner's blurb on the front cover). I hadn't read any of Tsiolkas's work before, and perhaps this was a good place to start. . I'll be interested to read more of it. And  now I have television series to look forward to. If I could get near a screen this weekend, what with Dr Who finales then a Series 6 marathon, car racing and endless games of World Cup Rugby, then I could watch the first episode.