I’ve been cheating. Not on Milly I hasten to add, though what form that would take with an ex-wife who is quite happy with and indeed likes the one woman friend I have had in the past few years, is difficult to say. And no I haven’t been cheating on my faithful and amazingly reliable Volvo truck, lusting after chromed and noisy Americans (well, sometimes in my heart, like Jimmy Carter). I’ve been cheating on you.
When I wrote to you last, a fortnight ago (here), I said that I was working away diligently but painfully slowly, on Radcliffe’s The Italian. And I was. But coming out of the Library with some audiobooks for the next trip, now passed, The Hydrogen Sonata was front and centre in the library’s display and I was unable despite owning a copy of my own, to not pick it up. And having picked it up to not read it every spare minute. Which of course is not possible with books like The Italian, the reading of which require forethought, concentration, a certain girding of the loins.
Iain Banks (1954-2013), sadly, died young, of cancer according to Wikipedia (and despite owning his books for years I only just noticed that ‘extra’ i). For his science fiction he used the author name Iain M Banks. He wrote 15 works of straight fiction and 14 of SF, 10 of them, of which The Hydrogen Sonata is the last, in the “Culture” series. Looking at the titles I think I may have read them all. One of the straight books begins with the male protagonist committing a carefully described rape – Complicity probably, though I’m not going to check – and yet it develops into a thoughtful and readable (dark) novel. He was a wonderful writer.
The Culture is a multi planet society in which an important part is played by “Minds”, AIs which control spaceships. They are always whimsical and sometimes take roughly human-sized shapes in order to interact at social gatherings. The society itself is anarchist in the best sense, beyond the relatively primitive anarchism of Ursula Le Guin, with everyone interacting, mostly, for the common good.
There are other multi-planet societies, some of them humanoid and some not. In this book one of those societies, the Gzilt, is planning to leave this plane and move on to heaven. An option taken by earlier, mature societies, and about which, though sometimes individuals return, nothing is known.
I have written in the past that SF is generally used to discuss current problems, but I can’t see that Banks does this. Rather, he has created a giant multi-volume artwork, of which lesser readers, like me, may view only small parts at a time. The joy being in the interactions of the characters.
That’s enough SF. To follow on from the discussion in that previous post, this should have been out Sunday. But. I got away from Melbourne late, didn’t get into Perth till Sunday morning. Going back out for the last trailer (with book reading grandson) takes a few hours. Drinks with Milly a few more. Monday I barely got started before breaking down – minor but taking hours to repair – Tuesday I had 3 trailers to deliver, over five sites, some of them on opposite sides of the town. Today, Wednesday, I should be doing book work. But it can wait. And my next trip can wait till after the weekend.
I showed some bloggerly diligence while I was away, listening to one Canadian, two Australian women, and a Wolf Hall compendium for Brona. Francesca Ekwuyasi, Butter Honey Pig Bread and Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall etc. I will review (I hope!) separately. The two ‘Australians’ were –
Lucy Treloar, Wolfe Island (2019). A dystopian fiction set in a near future of rising sea levels and organised antagonism towards immigrants of colour. Or should that be immigrants of color, as the setting appears to be the Atlantic coast of northern USA. Only ‘local’ names are used so it is impossible to tell, but the book I listened to had a US reader (Abbe Holmes) with a mild, vaguely southern accent denoting that Kitty, the middle aged protagonist, was from one of the previously inhabited and now largely flooded islands, the fishing communities on which had their own distinctive accents.
Kitty’s granddaughter comes to hide out on Wolfe Island, where Kitty is the last remaining inhabitant, with her boyfriend and two ‘runners’, children whose parents have already been arrested. The implication is that they are Latino. Interestingly, there are no African Americans in the story at all. Yes, this is a fable in an imaginary land a bit like New England, with the country to the north, also unnamed, representing Freedom, but I found the likenesses to and the diversions from ‘reality’ a bit distracting.
When things get too hot on the island they all go on a road trip, which reads like a standard YA adventure, only with a middle aged narrator, and then there is a final, years later, wrap up. It’s well done, enjoyable enough, and probably contributes to Aust.Lit. But it does nothing to contribute to my understanding of what it means to be Australian which is what I mostly read Aust Lit for. (Interestingly, I might say the same thing about Butter Honey Pig Bread and Canada).
Pip Williams, The Dictionary of Lost Words (2020). Another not about Australianness. As I’m sure you know, this is Historical Fiction about the compiling of the original Oxford English Dictionary framed as the coming of age of Esme whose father was one of James Murray’s researchers. Set at the beginning of the C20th it fades into an entirely gratuitous discussion of the horrors of WWI – which of course might seem new to a young writer. Its strength is its focus on words, the “lost” words which don’t make it into the OED, from the spoken language of ordinary working people and especially women. Esme makes friends with a woman actor who is one of Emily Pankhurst’s suffragettes. This makes sense but is almost certainly historically inaccurate as I don’t think there was any discussion of language excluding women until Greer et al set off the second wave. And yes, I enjoyed it.
Lucy Treloar (F, Aust), Wolfe Island (2019) – SF
Pip Williams (F, Aust), The Dictionary of Lost Words (2020) – Hist.Fic.
Louise Douglas (F, Eng), Your Beautiful Lies (2014) – Crime
Francesca Ekwuyasi (F, Can), Butter Honey Pig Bread (2020)
Hilary Mantel (F, Eng), Wolf Hall (2009) – Hist.Fic
Hilary Mantel (F, Eng), Bring Up the Bodies (2012) – Hist.Fic
Iain M Banks (M, Scot), The Hydrogen Sonata
Ann Radcliffe (F, Eng), The Italian