Ok, I’ve been away. After six years I still haven’t got a handle on this blog while you work thing. In fact, each iteration of my employment over that time has seen me doing more driving/fussing around with my truck and paperwork and less time reading and writing. And then there’s not being in iso, and having a social life, which is where last weekend went.
Milly made it clear why she keeps me hanging around by sending me out for a ute load (about a tonne) of soil for her vegie garden, which has grown since the picture above. Of course she was cunning enough to say ‘just dump it here and I’ll spread it out with a bucket’ and so I spent an hour shovelling premium vegie mix from the ute into her various garden beds. At least I didn’t have to put it in a barrow and wheel it out the back. And then I didn’t get fed! It was Saturday, I had already asked her out.
We went to our local Italian, Bravo’s in Vic Park. There had been a mini-Covid outbreak in the morning, the big football match of the week was being played in front of a crowd of zero, no need to worry about our booking, we were the only ones there until later in the evening (seafood risotto for me, walnut and cream gnocchi for her, and a bottle of Italian pinot grigio if you were wondering).
Sunday it was a week since my last post but Gee and the kids were at Milly’s for the afternoon and so was I. Monday I had three trailers to unload – I got in from Melbourne late Friday – so here we are at Tuesday.
My other problem is Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian which I am determined to finish. That’s not to say I’m not enjoying it, but the writing is so ornate, so dense, that I am proceeding very slowly. The story itself is good, a genuine action thriller. So we will have to make do for another week with some audiobooks. First a couple of Australians.
The Women in Black (1993), Madelaine St John. The story of a young woman coming to a major Sydney department store in the 1950s to work in women’s cocktail frocks and gowns. The story was made into the movie Ladies in Black by Australian director Bruce Beresford in 2018. Beresford provides an Introduction to the Bolinda audiobook version (which of course, in complete disrepect of the author, is named after the movie). He knew St John at Sydney Uni, in the drama club, in the late 50s and describes seeing her, mouse-like in the wings while her more illustrious fellows – himself and Clive James – held centre stage. He holds her up to ridicule for using the pronunciation Sinj’n for her name when all her family use Saint John (yet I remember her father, Edward St John insisting on Sinj’n in Parliament in 1969). He catches up with her before her death in 2006, when she was poor and in ill health, and mocks her not once but twice for dying her hair to its original colour, and praises himself for taking her out to dinner. I’m still angry at having to listen to this nonsense. The book itself is pleasant enough. Like Beresford, I’m surprised to learn that St John claims not to have had any work experience in one of those old fashioned department stores like David Jones or Grace Bros. Read Whispering Gums (here) for a proper review.
The Year of the Farmer (2018), Rosalie Ham. I had it in my mind to dislike this, I don’t like farm stories much, don’t trust city writers to tell them, but here I am, nearly at the end, and enjoying it. The big, big problem is Caroline Lee’s reading. Her Australian screech suits YA but is totally destroying this, which requires more nuance.
It took me a while to catch on but I think Ham is attempting something unique, attempting to capture a whole small country community in a just slightly over the top romp and taking at the same time the opportunity to skewer Australia’s corrupt water trading industry. With a couple of chapters to go (I hope I get some work soon so I can listen to the end), will the (married) leading man end up with his childhood sweetheart? Will the wicked witch of the waterworks end up in jail? Will (I forget her name), the third in a threesome end up with a guy of her own? Has one of you already reviewed this, I’m sure you have. First up in DuckDuckGo is Theresa Smith (here). The comparison I spring to, of course I do, is Miles Franklin’s Old Blastus of Bandicoot. A similar country setting, the same over the top ness.
Clock Dance (2018), Anne Tyler. Liz Dexter’s #AnneTyler2021 project led me to pick up this one. As Liz is working through Tyler’s oeuvre (there’s a word I hate having to use) it’ll be a while before she gets to it, so I won’t say much. Liz wrote recently (about Earthly Possessions, 2004), “I’m definitely starting to see patterns in Tyler’s preoccupations and themes as I work my way through them – a very pleasing aspect of reading all of an author’s works in order. Here we have the tropes of multiple siblings, each with their oddity, the woman alone with her odd family, photographers, the runaway wife, the young and seemingly attractive but pretty useless drifter guy, and the small town (not Baltimore again), as well as the house full of STUFF.”
Do these patterns persist up to Clock Dance? [insert: the following sentence is actually a summary of Sarah Cornwell’s What I had before I had You. How embarrassing! I really should stop the truck and take notes.]
There’s certainly a “woman alone with her odd family” whom we see over two timelines, one as an awkward adolescent living alone with an often absent mother, and ‘today’, after leaving her husband with two adolescent children of her own and returning to the town where she grew up.
I look forward to Liz’s review later in the year. Next up in #AnneTyler2021 I think is Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, which I’m sure we have all read (though do I retain even the slightest memory?).
[Another insert: I’d better listen to Clock Dance again and remind myself what it actually was about]
This Perfect Day (1970), Ira Levin. If you check the list below, starting from Jasper Fforde, you’ll see I had a very SF-ish last trip. All just alternate or slightly futuristic versions of our own world, nothing to frighten the horses. Levin’s was very much in the strain of Brave New World, people being engineered to be all the same colour and size, and all their choices made for them by a central computer. They are drugged monthly to keep them compliant and are made to inform on each other for any variations from norm. The protagonist is admitted into a small society of malcontents who are able to reduce their drug intake.
One effect of the drugs is to reduce their sex drive to one casual encounter per week. The malcontents have very active sex lives but the protagonist becomes fixated on the leader’s girlfriend who has bigger breasts and paler skin. Eventually he kidnaps her and begins forcing himself on her. I thought, this is going to end soon, and Levin will draw a moral. He doesn’t, the rape is described in some detail and I’m sure Levin’s intention is to have the woman swoon in admiration at our protagonist’s forcefulness. I did not, could not, read on to find out.
Marking Time? No, I’m not become a teacher like my son, I’m waiting to get The Italian out of the way and to start reading again.
Rivers Solomon (x, USA), An Unkindness of Ghosts (2017) – SF [Solomon identifies as non-binary]
Amor Towles (M, USA), A Gentleman in Moscow (2016) – Hist.Fic.
Lilja Sigurdardottir (F, Ice), Snare (2015) – Crime
Natacha Appanah (F, Fra), Waiting for Tomorrow (2015)
Gillian Flynn (F, USA), Gone Girl (2012) – Crime
Madeline St John (F, Aust/NSW), The Women in Black (1994)
Christos Tsialkos (M, Aust/Vic), Merciless Gods (2014)
Jasper Fforde (M, Eng), Early Riser (2018) – SF
Anne Tyler (F, USA), Clock Dance (2018)
Sarah Cornwell (F, USA), What I had before I had You (2014)
Alex Scarrow (M, Eng), Reborn (2017) – SF (no ending – you’re expected to buy #3)
Sarah Fine (F, USA), Uncanny (2017) – YA/SF
Charles Lambert (M, Eng), The Children’s Home (2017) – Fable?, SF-Dystopian
Ira Levin (M, USA), This Perfect Day (1970) – SF (DNF, attempts to justify rape)
The Australian Military Forces (M, Aust), Stand Easy
Jessica Gaitán Johannesson (F, Eng), How We Are Translated
Ann Radcliffe (F, Eng), The Italian