The Georges’ Wife, Elizabeth Jolley

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Elizabeth Jolley (1923-2007) is one of our most important recent writers. Astonishingly, she doesn’t have an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, though her husband does. I’ve read some (too few) of her novels and have owned Brian Dibble’s apparently definitive biography, Doing Life (2008) for a number of years without actually getting round to reading it.

Consequently I come to The Georges’ Wife (1993) with only the scantiest background knowledge off where it fits either autobiographically or in relation to her other work, though I’m vaguely aware she was in one or more unusual marriages. I decided to maintain my ignorance and to read this book in isolation as it were, which is not really my usual position.

Jolley is quite obviously a lover of words, and in this she seems similar to Gerald Murnane, both older writers writing carefully, beautifully about their fictional younger selves. We advance in bits and pieces as the older protagonist, Vera as we eventually learn, recalls from time to time bits and pieces of her younger life.

Vera is on a ship being asked for her story; she is pushing an old Mr George in his wheelchair; she is a doctor with her own surgery; then she is acting as maid to Miss George, Mr George at university, teaching. We learn she has daughters, a six year old and a baby, was a nurse during the War and is now training to be a doctor. Vera and Mr George, 22 years her senior, grab moments to be together as lovers. We learn, not straight away, who was the father of the first daughter, who was father of the second. There was a couple before Mr and Miss George, and after. Vera’s mother and father are not happy about the relationships she enters into, but do not condemn her for the babies, or not directly.

‘Tell me about yourself, Migrant’, the rice-farm widow says to me. So I tell my widow things about myself. When I tell her about Felicity and Noël her mouth is so wide open, as she listens, I can see her gold fillings.

From Harold Avenue we turn … My heels, the heels of my shoes, newly repaired, sound on the new surface of the road, like a trotting horse, a little trotting horse. Like a toy horse, Mr George makes this observation saying, at the same time, that his feet are not making any noise on the road.

In many ways this is a novel about couples, about Vera seeing her life through her connections with couples. Her mother and father, her father’s sister and her live-in companion, Mr and Miss George, Felicity and Noël, Magda and Dr Metcalf who came before the Georges.

‘I shall always love you and want you,’ [Mr George] told me then, ‘but in the end we all do have to leave each other. Even when I do leave you, ‘he said, ‘I shall have given you myself and you will be different because of knowing me.’

As a contrast to the couples around her, Vera always makes a third, but is fascinated by her opposite, widows, who are singles, Gertrude who came before the story starts, her mother’s friend, Mrs Pugh, the ‘rice’-widow on the ship (who has actually moved on to sheep farming), Miss George, who she has to be reminded is actually a spinster.

Is there a story? Sort of. Vera completes her training and gains a residency at the old hospital in the industrial Midlands town where her parents live and where she was originally a nurse. She falls in with Felicity and Noël, Cambridge educated ‘hippies’ in a dirty, falling down farm house on a scrap of pasture between factories and coal mining slag heaps. Her children back at the Georges’, cared for by Miss George and an au pair, and later in boarding school. From Noël she catches TB – hard to remember how prevalent it once was, and how fearful my father was of us boys catching it – and spends a year in a sanitorium.

We discover she is on board a ship to Australia where she and Mr George have separately been offered positions, and much of the second half of this (quite short) book has Vera reflecting on her friendship with the widow and Mr George’s discomfort with that. In later years Vera thinks as much about the Widow as she does about Mr George, though she only sees her one more time, a brief idyll on the widow’s sheep station.

We end almost as we started, Vera pushing Mr George along the now-familiar streets of  an unnamed Australian city and Vera has come, belatedly, to a revelation.

We, Mr George and I, are a couple.
‘We do not seem to be like a couple.’ I say.
‘Vera, what is it you are saying? What did you say, Vera?’ Mr George wants to know.
‘We do not,’ I tell him, ‘seem to be like a couple.’
‘Why do you bother, Vera,’ Mr George replies, ‘with such an ugly word?’

This is astonishing writing that captures exactly the quality of remembering incidents in detail but in an order that conforms only to some inner logic of its own.

 

Elizabeth Jolley, The Georges’ Wife, Penguin, Melbourne, 1993

see also:
Lisa at ANZLitLovers Elizabeth Jolley page (here)
Meg’s guest review at ANZLitLovers (here)

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Not reading, Not writing

Journal: 028

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Mallee Sunrise (near Ceduna)

Eighty percent of east-west freight goes by rail, so when there’s a derailment road freight goes mad. In the two weeks since my last book review, The Glass Canoe, I have done trips ex-Perth to Port Augusta and to Melbourne, with a bare minimum 24 hour break in between. And that only served to make me late into Melbourne, 7.00 pm Friday. I thought I would get to spend the weekend at mum’s, but the carrier had my two trailers off-loaded and re-loaded in four hours and off I went again.

Mum was due to spend a week with B3 at Bendigo anyway, so he ran down and picked her up and I caught up with them the next morning for breakfast and some shopping at a little farmers market. No interesting second hand books, but very nice locally grown apples, plums and grapes. And a jar of home-made peach jam.

Coffee and a shower and I was off up the Calder Highway – slightly longer than the Western Highway through Adelaide (map) but infinitely more peaceful. Of course Dragan was soon on the phone to put an end to that. The western end of the Nullarbor was closed due to bushfires and the customer was considering offloading me in Adelaide. After four hours sitting at the Yamba, SA roadhouse I was allowed to proceed.

We often drive through bushfires, especially out in the desert where there’s no one to stop us, but eleven years ago there were fires in the scrub country on both sides of the Great Eastern Highway west of Coolgardie. At the time I was delivering cement out of Perth to Kambalda, about 80 kms past Coolgardie, four or five trips a week, and over the course of a number of days I could see the fires along the hills about a kilometre back from the road.

On Dec 30, 2007 my diary records that I was between Coolgardie and Kambalda, “Engine too hot to go up hill. Westrac out – unable to fix it.” While I sat beside the road I talked on the CB to the trucks coming past. The highway had been closed at Coolgardie and all Perth-bound traffic was being turned around and sent via Esperance (map). I let my engine cool down then ran in to Kambalda and was offloaded by about 10.00pm. Luckily for me, my engine played up again and instead of trying to sneak around the roadblock, I pulled over and went to sleep.

The next morning word on the CB was confused. The fires had intensified and Coolgardie was closed indefinitely. A convoy of trucks had been allowed through overnight, had been turned back when fire and dense smoke crossed the road, some forced to abandon their trailers. I joined the stream of traffic southbound to Esperance and it was only slowly, via the CB and ABC local radio that we learned 3 truck drivers had died, burnt to death in their trucks (Boorabbin Fire. Official Report).

Ever since, Main Roads have been (understandably!) hyper cautious, closing roads at the earliest warning. There was no sign of fire when I came through this trip, though apparently fires had threatened Kambalda (which is 40-odd km off the main highway).

These last couple of days I have been getting my truck ready for inspection as part of my National Heavy Vehicle scheme accreditation, which is turning into a saga in its own right. I could say I haven’t read or written a word, which is what it feels like, but I’ve read all your posts, lots of Oz politics and Trump and Brexit, but barely a word of The Georges’ Wife which I’ve started a couple of times in the past two weeks. Hopefully, this coming trip I’ll get a proper 24 hour break and be able to settle down to a long read.

Two books from the last two or three trips –

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The Quality of Silence (2015) is an action thriller set in mid-winter Alaska. It wasn’t too bad;  Lupton writes interesting and likeable characters; and her protagonist Yasmin – “a beautiful, troubled astrophysicist” – hijacks a semi trailer to get her, and her precocious, deaf, ten year old daughter, Ruby, to her missing, environmental activist husband in the deep north. Once the truck was wrecked, I skipped to the last disc. The ending was as unlikely as you’d expect.

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Jane Harper’s Force of Nature (2017). Harper writes moderately entertaining Australian crime fiction, but she butchers Australian geography – see my review of The Dry (here). This one was supposedly set in the ranges three hours east of Melbourne, the Australian Alps with its majestic eucalypt forests and ferny understory, which she describes as ‘hilly with lots of trees’ (I paraphrase). How she can be considered for literary awards I do not understand. The plot? Five women on a weekend survival course get lost in an area where a serial killer has previously lived/worked. Only four of them emerge from the bush. The fifth has been an informant for federal white collar crime detective Aaron Falk so naturally he goes up into the mountains to search for her.

Recent audiobooks

Sunni Overend (F, Aust/Vic), The Dangers of Truffle Hunting (2016)
Nele Neuhaus (F, Ger), Snow White Must Die (2010)
Kerry Greenwood (F, Aust/Vic), The Spotted Dog (2018) DNF
Isabel Allende (F, Chile), In the Midst of Winter (2017)
Kate Atkinson (F, Eng), Started Early Took My Dog (2010)
Bernard Cornwell (M, Eng), Agincourt (2009)
John Sandford (M, USA), Storm Prey (2010)
Rosamund Lupton (F, USA), The Quality of Silence (2015)
Elizabeth Berg (F, USA), Talk Before Sleep (1994)
Chris Lynch (M, USA), Irreversible (2016)
Patricia Cornwell (F, USA), Point of Origin (1998)
Fiona Barton (F, Eng), The Child (2017)
Jane Harper, (F, Aus/Vic). Force of Nature (2017) read by Stephen Shanahan
Tom Woods (M, Eng), No Tomorrow (2014)
Erich Maria Remarque (M, Ger), All Quiet on the Western Front – BBC play, 2014
Monica McInerney (F, Aus/SA), The Alphabet Sisters (2004)
Ashley Claudy (F, USA), Outside the Ropes (2014)
Fern Michaels (F, USA), About Face (2003)
Kevin Wignall (M, Eng), To Die in Vienna (2018)

Currently reading

Haruki Murakami, The Strange Library
David Ireland, The Glass Canoe
Elizabeth Jolley, The Georges’ Wife

DVDs sitting beside the television

Cleverman series – interesting way to look at racism in Australia
Luis Bunuel, The Exterminating Angel – I love 1970s arthouse cinema; Bunuel, Fellini, Lina Wertmuller.

 

The Glass Canoe, David Ireland

Feature Author 2019: David Ireland

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The Glass Canoe (1976) was David Ireland’s fifth novel and his second (of three) Miles Franklin Award winners. It’s a blokey book, everything I’ve read of Ireland’s including, as I’ve already argued A Woman of the Future (1979), is blokey, reflecting his age, his generation. The Glass Canoe is set, although it’s nowhere stated, in the 1950s, in the years after the War when Ireland was in his young manhood, but before the white Australian working class was swamped by waves of southern European immigration.

The writing however is of its time, post-60s and the sexual revolution, one of the reasons that Ireland’s age – he was born in 1927 (here) – sometimes comes as a surprise. If he were younger this would almost be ‘grunge’.

This is the story of a young man, Lance, the Meat Man, ‘Meat’, in Sydney’s west, out Parramatta way, he calls it ‘the Mead’ – Westmead? (map) – working as a groundsman at the local golf club, a serious drinker at his local, the Southern Cross, and secretly recording the stories of his ‘tribe’, the men who gather daily to drink in this dilapidated, yellow-tiled, suburban blood house.

On hot days we jumped fully clothed into our bottomless beer glasses and pushed off from shore without a backward look. Heading for the deep, where it was calm and cool.

The Mead was our territory, the Southern Cross our waterhole. The next tribe west drank at the Bull, and on the other side the nearest tribe holed up at the Exchange. While your tribe’s waterhole flowed, you never went walkabout to another tribe’s waterhole.

Unless there was trouble, some little matter to be settled.

The novel consists of short chapters of half, one or two pages each, sketches from his life, his past, his work, his darling, sketches of his mates and their lives as members of the tribe. A style reminiscent in both the writing and the layout (as I remember them) of Richard Brautigan’s The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 (1971).

In many ways this is what the Australian Legend had come to – from bushmen cutting out their cheques at the nearest pub in the 1890s after months shearing or droving, to working men in the endless suburbs gathering daily to drink and fight. There are women, as there always are, to serve the beer, to wait at home and cook the dinner and shout at the kids, to have down the creek or up against a wall or in the back of the car, there are even some, as big and tough as the men, drinking at the bar, and then there is his darling, petite, beautiful, endlessly pleased to see him.

To the extent there is a plot it concerns Sibley, the boy who chose to escape from the Mead but who returns to study drinkers, whom he sees as outside of and beneath society, for his PhD; Meat’s ongoing and probably failing relationship with his darling; and the decline and eventual redevelopment of the Southern Cross, foreshadowing the decline of the Tribe.

Ireland uses Meat, who was good at school but chose not to do anything with it and instead muses whimsically about how things work, from record players to the universe, without ever wishing to know, to tell the story, but uses another character, Alky Jack whom Meat admires, to present Ireland’s own libertarian views.

‘The population must be kept passive,’ I heard him say. ‘This is done by myth. These myths are put in your cornflakes every morning …’

‘… that it’s a free society … human rights are respected … we’re all equal, the elite is generous and just and the best people to be in charge … that our bosses work like buggery and the mob is lazy, they’re honest and we’re dishonest, they’re superior and we’re inferior. That’s the myth.’

The Glass Canoe is a contradiction, and I think this is true of much of Ireland’s work, brilliantly written and politically, hopelessly old-fashioned, though he’s pretty modern, gross even, about fucking and fighting. The following year, 1977, Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip came out, another novel of inner suburban substance abuse in which the characters are clearly a generation younger than Meat’s ‘tribe’ (though the MF judges went with another old fashioned work, Ruth Park’s Swords and Crowns and Rings). Ireland is old fashioned to the point of being reactionary about male bonding, about the subservience of women, and about the irrelevance of Aborigines and the appropriation of their stories

Being forced to drink at another pub was cruel. Like black men forced to leave their sacred places and water holes and become strangers in another tribe.

In the 1970s and 80s I devoured Ireland. I still think he is one of our great writers. But it is obvious too that I had absorbed the myths of Australian manhood and hadn’t – despite a decade’s immersion in socialist, anarchist and anti-war philosophy – begun to even remotely understand the problems race and gender identity.

Do I think you should read The Glass Canoe, yes I do. It’s an accurate portrait of working men, of working men who drank, of our fathers’ generation. If you’re a baby boomer who spent endless afternoons and evenings in the backseat, in the car park of the local hotel, then you will know Meat, you will know King and Mick and Serge and Alky Jack and Darkfella. David Ireland is worth reading, but read him (read everyone!) critically.

Above all, read David Ireland and post a review so I can share it and link it to my page (it’s coming!).

 

David Ireland, The Glass Canoe, Penguin, Melbourne, 1976

see also:
Lisa’s review at ANZLitLovers (here)
Kim’s review at ReadingMatters (here)
David Ireland (here)

Bungaree

Journal: 027

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A week or so ago Sue at Whispering Gums reviewed Reading Victoria’s Suburbs & Pieces page, “a new piece of writing each week, free and online, themed around a suburb or town in Victoria. From fiction to nonfiction, poetry to prose, the only constant was the titles.” (I’ll link you to Sue (here) and you can follow her links to Reading Victoria). Despite the 25 years I’ve lived in the West, my heart still lives in Victoria where I was born, grew up and raised a family. Bungaree is not one of the 20 or so Victorian places I lived in but it played a short, significant part in my life (and I in its!).


Bungaree is of course the name of a prominent Indigenous man, of the Kuringgai people north of Sydney, during the early days of white settlement. It is also the name of a farming hamlet, south of Ballarat on the old Western Highway, long since bypassed, green, damp, hilly, black-soil potato country.

In the early hours of March 27 – mum’s birthday as it happens – 1976, I was at the wheel of a Brown & Mitchell Kenworth, a big red truck towing a big red pantec trailer loaded with 20 tons of bagged gypsum from Adelaide to Melbourne. My brother B3, a young policeman, was with me because, well because he could be. Any chance to drive. We’d called in at Stawell caravan park before midnight, found the Young Bride out, with friends at the Glenorchy football club ball, in the long cream dress she got married in still seeing occasional service as an evening gown, so we pressed on.

Misty rain was falling as we crested the rise into Bungaree then dropped down into the long right-hander through the scattering of houses. A car was coming towards us, lights on high beam. I aimed to the left of it, backing off, unable to judge the sweep of the corner in the dark and the rain and the blinding light. The crunching of gravel told me I was off the bitumen and on to the shoulder. And still the car was directly in front. I pulled as hard as possible to the right. Crashed into, over the car, swerved out across the wide verge, skating on wet grass, steering, braking furiously, around a power pole, through the front verandah of a weatherboard house, the Bungaree Police Station and into the front room.

Where there were five people sleeping on mattresses, an old man, his son, and three children.

In the pitch dark the truck engine roared. The man trapped under the left front wheel screamed. Someone, the policeman came running from the back of the house, shouted at him to shut up, he did, at me to stop the noise, I tried. Forced my arm under the windscreen lying flat on the dash, to the key, which did not work. Shoved the truck into gear and stalled the engine. For a moment all was quiet. B3 said “I’m ok, are you ok?” (At some stage he also said “Happy birthday, Mum”, but now I don’t remember when) and, his door up against an interior wall, crawled out through the sleeper cab, around the roofing iron separating us from my left ear to his right ear and we both got out my side, over the old man quiet beside the right hand steer.

At that stage we didn’t know about the three kids. One was rolled up in a mattress, in the stumps of the house, under the front of the truck, one had run away out the back, and I guess the third one we missed. Anyway they were all ok, though you can only imagine their nightmares.

B3 and I left the policeman to his family and ran out onto the road, to the car. It was crushed all down the left side, knocked off the road into the table drain. The driver told us to leave him alone, let him sleep. He was young, coming home from a party, had just dropped off his girlfriend, and driving home to Ballarat, had pulled up on the road, on the wrong side, had fallen asleep, lights blazing.

Within minutes, as you can imagine, there were police everywhere. The car driver was taken to hospital where doctors, on strike about something, managed to not give him a blood alcohol test. B3 was taken to hospital to have his head stitched. At this point I discover I don’t know how he got home. The old man was taken to hospital where he died the next day of heart failure. Rescuers jacked the truck off the ankle of the trapped man and he was taken to hospital. I sat in the back of a police car, was questioned then left alone. Later, the depot manager from Adelaide on his way to Melbourne, had his worst fears realised when he saw the ‘B&M’ on the sides of the trailer sticking out of the wrecked house. He came over to where I was sitting. “Are you ok?” I was ok. “All right, stay here, you’re in charge.” And off he went.

Some time after daybreak we all went back to the Ballarat police station. I sat in the canteen. When a load of stuff from Bungaree was brought in I joined the policemen putting it in storage. But mostly I just sat. It was lunchtime before Don my mate came down from Stawell in his powder blue GT Falcon to collect me, bringing Laverne, his girlfriend, and YB.

We went down to Bungaree for a look then headed off home. “Are you ok?” YB asked. “Yeah sure.” “Today was the day I was going to tell you we’re breaking up,” she said.

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Not my photo. It’s been on the net for ages and I’m pretty sure it’s my truck. At the coroner’s enquiry we were told that hitting the car had destroyed my steering, severed the airlines to my brakes and pushed the left front wheel back into the battery box. So I had no lights, no steering, no brakes and all my desperate maneuvers to avoid the power pole, to miss the house were illusory, without effect, without the possibility of effect. At a subsequent court case the car driver had his licence suspended and received a small fine.

Recently I discovered that school students had written an account of the accident (here). There are differences between my account and theirs. There were differences between my account and B3’s at the inquest. I have told the story as I have remembered it, or as I have remembered retelling it. I’m with Murnane, we don’t remember events, all we remember is memories.

The Strange Library, Haruki Murakami

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I know I came to Murakami late, but now I’m coming to know him I enjoy his work, a blend of literature, grunge, and SF bordering on (dreaded!) magic realism. Murakami’s first three works make up the Trilogy of the Rat. I reviewed the first two, Wind/Pinball (here) some time ago and gave teacher son the third, A Wild Sheep Chase (1989) this Christmas, expecting him to have it finished on Boxing Day as usual. Inconsiderately, he took it with him to Morocco from whence he wrote –

I thought you despised magical realism. I liked most of it. The psychic girlfriend, and the historic davinci-code of a mystery, and the banality of everyday life- I expected him to stop by Nighthawks, or find a flatmate dead with a falafel on any given page. The symbolic sheep was exposed in a way that made it a genuine wonder. Not sure about meeting the Rat, though. I felt cheated when even the almost explicable mystical became brazenly magical.

Not all of this makes sense so, in the library for audiobooks this week, I thought to borrow a copy for myself but there wasn’t one and I borrowed The Strange Library (2005) instead. The Strange Library is a strange and beautiful book, seemingly a novella for children/YAs. I think I would read it to Mr 8 and Ms 7, my younger grandkids, and yet I enjoyed it well enough myself. It’s in that rarefied territory occupied by Lewis Carroll, The Magic Pudding and Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and there are the most wonderful illustrations throughout taken “from old books in the London Library”.

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The protagonist, a schoolboy, enters his local library and is ushered downstairs to a strange basement area he never knew existed nor thought the local council could afford.

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A little old man asks him “the manner of books that he seeks” and the boy is flustered into answering ‘tax collection in the Ottoman Empire’ which has just popped into his head. The old man ducks through a heavy steel door and returns with three terribly old books, The Ottoman Tax System, The Diary of an Ottoman Tax Collector and Tax Revolts and Their Suppression in the Ottoman-Turkish Empire. I might have to explain to the grandkids what an ottoman is (when it’s not being a couch).

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The boy is fearful of being late home to his mother, who has been in a state of nerves since he was attacked by a big black dog with green eyes and a jewel-encrusted collar, and anyway she may, she will forget to feed his pet starling, but the old man is insistent the books must be read on site and straight away.

Are you planning to read this for yourself, then Spoiler Alert. The boy is led away through a maze of corridors, to a prison cell. A warder clad only in a sheepskin attaches a ball and chain to his ankle and warns him that when he is finished reading the old man will remove the top of his head and eat his knowledge-rich brains.

Despite this, The Diary of an Ottoman Tax Collector comes alive as he reads it.

The old man came to check on me that evening. He was delighted to find me lost in my book. Seeing how happy he was made me feel a little happier. No matter what the situation may be, I still take pleasure in witnessing the joy of others.

A pretty girl brings him meals. The sheep man bakes him doughnuts. In the darkness of the night of a new moon they escape together only to find their last exit barred by the old man. And the big black hound.

The starling, or it might be the girl, comes to their rescue. The boy goes home where his mother seems not to have noticed that he has been gone.

To be honest, I was worried before writing this review that I might have missed the point, so I have since been making my way through the reviews I could find on the net. This from the Independent:

It is an odd and beautiful thing – a thing more than a book, whose design doesn’t just adorn but penetrates the story, melting into it with its dainty, surreal and haunting images that almost, at times, seem to finish Murakami’s sentences.

It had me enthralled, a pretty artefact that was a story of childhood, death and reading, drawn in both words and pictures, like a fairytale, yet there was nothing childish about it. (Arifa Akbar, 27 Nov. 2014. here)

So I guess I got it right.

 

Haruki Murakami, The Strange Library, Harville Secker, London, 2008. First pub. in Japanese, 2005. Translated by Ted Goossen.

 

David Ireland

Feature Author 2019: David Ireland

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Sydney, the emerald city towards which all politicians, businessmen and other spivs naturally gravitate is little more than a fringe of high rises and multi million dollar mansions with Harbour or Ocean views. The rest, from inner suburban Glebe to the Blue Mountains, 4 million plus of Sydney’s official 5 million population, is the West, its heart Parramatta, these days a CBD in its own right, 20 km up river (map). And it is the West which is David Ireland’s home.

Reportedly born on a table in Lakemba (south-west Sydney) in 1927, Ireland grew up around Parramatta and was employed for a number of years at the Siverwater oil refinery, on the river downstream of Parramatta, and the setting for his most famous novel, The Unknown Industrial Prisoner. In another novel, The Glass Canoe, the protagonist discusses being good at school work but chucking it in to be with his mates. Interestingly, although it occupied most of his teen years, he does not seem to write about the War (WWII).

Over the last couple of years looking at early Australian women writers we have been building up an idea of the characteristics of each “generation” (see Gen 1, Gen 2). We’ll see later in the year that my Gen 3, which encompasses the 1920s through 1950s, is marked both by social realism and the last decades of white monoculturalism, although plenty of guys in particular stuck with the tropes of Gen 2 – nationalism, the Bush, mateship (and that is still true today), extending them into writing about the two World Wars.

It is often said that ‘the sixties’ didn’t arrive in Australia until the 1970s, but realistically they arrived and Gen 4 dates from, around 1966 or 67, with anti-Vietnam War protests, second wave feminism and the advent of multiculturalism following post war migration from southern Europe, dates in fact from the late teenage years of us Baby Boomers.

The relevance of this to Ireland is that he, like Thomas Keneally for instance, is too old to be a baby boomer but his writing mostly fits within Gen 4, though he does look back in his early work to a male, Anglo working class that by the time he began writing was coming to an end. Still it is very easy, reading his novels to think of Ireland as 20 years younger than he actually is. His novels are –

The Chantic Bird (1968)
The Unknown Industrial Prisoner (1971) – Miles Franklin winner
The Flesheaters (1972)
Burn (1974)
The Glass Canoe (1976) – Miles Franklin winner
A Woman of the Future (1979) – Miles Franklin winner
City of Women (1981)
Archimedes and the Seagle (1984)
Bloodfather (1987)
The Chosen (1997)
The World Repair Video Game (2015)

Over the course of 2019 I hope to write and/or collect reviews (from you!) for all Ireland’s novels, and of course to set up a page so that they are all accessible. Ireland is undoubtedly an important Australian writer and The Unknown Industrial Prisoner especially is one of our great books. For various reasons Ireland has become unpopular with readers and with publishers and his reputed right-wing politics may be part of this though I could find nothing through google. His most recent work The World Repair Video Game was eventually serialized and then published in hardback by Tasmania’s Island literary mag (who may still have copies on hand).

Ireland will be 92 this year. Is he still writing? You’d think not. But I suspect that 18 year gap after The Chosen contains more than one unpublished novel.

Reviews:

The Unknown Industrial Prisoner Lisa/ANZLL (here)
Burn I found intolerably racist and could not finish.
The Glass Canoe Lisa/ANZLL (here)
A Woman of the Future (here) see Bonny Cassidy Sydney Review of Books (here)
The World Repair Video Game (here) Lisa/ANZLL (here)

Other material:

D. Musgrave, Post-Carnivalism in David Ireland’s The Unknown Industrial Prisoner, 2013 (pdf here)
The Conversation: The Case for David Ireland’s The Glass Canoe, Apr 2014 (here)
ABC podcast: The Renaissance of David Ireland, May 2015 (here)
SMH: The Return of David Ireland, Genius, May 2016 (here)
Aust Explained: The Glass Canoe, Sept 2016 (here)
J.Rank.org: David Ireland critical study (here)
Helen Daniel, Double Agent: David Ireland and His Work, Penguin, 1982
Ken Gelder, Atomic Fiction: The Novels of David Ireland UQP, 1993.

The Butcherbird Stories, A.S. Patrić

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As a writer I wonder about those of us who have been removed from our places of birth, who leave language, history and ancestry to begin anew somewhere else. We become proud owners of words inherited from parents that are not our own. Our first sentences are composed within a literary history that has given us so few pages we barely exist. (Punctuated Air).

Alex Patrić is an astonishingly good writer. I loved Black Rock White City (2015), his debut, and yet (illogically!) felt betrayed by his next, Atlantic Black (2017), read the reviews but wouldn’t read the book, wanted him back here, back in Australia, Melbourne, dissecting us, himself, Anglos and reffos, with his precis, ‘removed’ prose. And now we have him, in this collection, published by Transit Lounge in hardback. I bought a copy at Christmas, but was unable to give it away, have been reading one story each night I was sufficiently awake.

The collection consists of 11 stories, unrelated (to continue a discussion I’ve been having elsewhere), from a few pages long to sixty, that reflect in different ways Patrić’s heritage as an eastern European (Bosnian Serb) man in Australia. The longest story, Among the Ruins reads as a European fairy tale, of a street-vendor of roasted nuts, bankrupted when his nut wholesaling business burnt down, now supporting himself as a subcontractor employed to play terrifying tricks on others.

Bruna Kramzer had a wife and two children, and in-laws who lived in house, for the most part harmoniously. He lied to them every day when he told them he still ran his business selling nuts … His family came to know he was moonlighting as a professional rogue. They needed Bruno’s earnings so they didn’t speak about it openly.

So you can see the writing is simple, but deceptively simple. With each step forward we learn also a little about the past, as the tricks and tricksters circle round on each other.

In another story the protagonist attempts to stop an old widower from committing suicide. I don’t agree with him. It’s not your business. Walk away. Milly argued with me, each individual has a ‘line’ beyond which some acts, by others, are immoral. Me, I have enough trouble being moral myself without forcing it on others. I divide acts by others into the categories ‘useful’ and ‘harmful’.

Patrić resumes his love affair with his adopted home city, with the bayside suburbs he obviously knows and loves. A taxi driver and his passenger –

… had reached the car park overlooking the bay. The beach ran south for two or three kilometres. Red Bluff was barely visible in the overcast haze. The steep cliffs rose thirty metres into the air all the way out to Black Rock. The bay roiled with shallow surf below them. Hundreds of boats and ships bobbled at their berths …

What are the other stories? And more to the point what do I remember of the earlier ones? Taking notes interferes with the process of reading. Taking notes is studying, not reading. And much as I would love to, I cannot bring myself to underline, let alone to desecrate with marginalia. Ah, Avulsion. I’d forgotten the swimming story. A guy doing laps spots a small shape on the bottom:

I swim up the lane, come back. I really don’t want to see it again. I’d rather it was a hallucination… The lane ropes guide me over and past the finger …

Training is addictive, once you’re in you don’t want to stop. Just follow the line, tumble, follow the line, counting laps. But be careful, especially if you’re sharing the lane, not to drift to the side, not to catch your fingers in the hard, coloured circles that make the lane ropes float.

Dead Sun, a man is in hiding, in the attic room of an old couple’s house, in seemingly the room of their dead son, a longer story, placeless, strange.

Punctuated Air, a boy grows up in working class St Albans:

I was born in Belgrade, Serbia, in a part of the city called Zemun – right at the confluence of the rivers Danube and Sava. There was one small room for the three of us to sleep in… My parents were still driven by new love and talked for months about a long journey that would take us far from our two rivers… Australia was one of the first words I heard, whispered in the darkness of that cold bedroom. A word … filled with the warmth of their love for me and their hopes for the future.

In Black Rock, White City the protagonist comes to Australia as an adult, in Punctuated Air as a child, in The Flood he’s born in Mildura (Australia). The novel, these stories, are informed by his lived experience, I don’t expect, or wish, them to be biographical.

And the title story, Butcherbird. A Melbourne man, on a resort holiday with his family, wonders if butcherbird song is no more than a ringtone, mourns a dead lover, swims late at night with a flirtatious fourteen year old, a few pages, a fragment of a life.

The best story, well my favourite, and they’re all good, is Memories of Jane Doe, the last days of a young woman, told backwards.

I’m not sure how old Patrić is, fortyish I suppose. A bio (here) lists his earlier work. I look forward to reading him well into the future.

 

A.S. Patrić, The Butcherbird Stories, Transit Lounge, Melbourne, 2018

Lisa (ANZLitLovers) review (here)