Weeks & Months

AusReading Month 2021

Given that I read/listen to around four books a week, it was really no problem to fill in the 9 squares of Brona’s AusReading Bingo Card (notional this year, as far as I can see), though finding the time and energy to write 9 full reviews is another thing altogether.

I read these books to fill my bingo squares:

Western Australia

Randolph Stow, The Merry-Go-Round by the Sea (here)

Victoria

Max Barry, Jennifer Government (here)

South Australia

JM Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello (brief summary here) I have since read Nicholas Jose’s Essay, “A Manual for Writers: Elizabeth Costello”. I agree with Jose that Coetzee is addressing the reader throughout on the subject of writing, and I only wish I had made time to sit down with a paper copy of EC to write a fuller (or, as WG would have it, more fulsome) review. Jose makes the interesting point that while there was no female writer of that generation in Australia like EC, there were two in/from Africa, from whence Coetzee had just emigrated, Doris Lessing and Nadine Gordimer. But it is Jose’s final para which I must applaud –

There is now a great female Australian novelist appearing on the world stage. Her name is Alexis Wright and she is real. Her heritage is Waanyi from the lower Gulf of Carpentaria. In her world humans, animals, birds, fish and spirit beings are one and she tells those stories in another reinvention of what the novel can be in extreme times … I imagine Elizabeth Costello would be surprised and pleased by this development.

Tasmania

Richard Flanagan, Death of a River Guide. Look, I read it a week or so ago but I won’t be writing a review. I don’t rate Flanagan as Lisa does (here) and I’ve already criticised him enough (here).

Years ago I watched a movie, Italian I think, where a man is about to be hung from a bridge. He dives into the water, escapes, has various adventures. Yet, as the movie ends we see him dangling from the noose. It was all a daydream in the last seconds of his life. And that is more or less how this novel is framed too, the recollections of a man trapped beneath the water and drowning. Flanagan has a tendency to fill out his Lit Fiction with action sequences. I don’t know why, and I think it is unnecessary.

Australian Capital Territory

Sara Dowse, West Block (here)

New South Wales

Murray Bail, Eucalyptus (brief summary here)

Queensland

Thea Astley, Reaching Tin River (here)

Northern Territory

Ok. I cheated. A few months ago I won the movie Top End Wedding in a giveaway on Lisa’s ANZLitLovers. Having an unexpected weekend without work, I sat down to watch it. It’s not a Rom.Com, though I suppose that’s the genre it belongs with, so much as a series of reconciliations. Lots of fun, a few tears, and acres of amazing scenery as Lauren and Ned tear around the northern part of the Northern Territory on improbable dirt roads (there are highways!) and, sadly, not a road train to be seen.

They find Lauren’s mother, Lauren’s mother finds her mother and of course they find each other.

I own a few other NT movies, all with amazing visuals – Ylongu Boy, Ten Canoes, and Australia’s first colour movie, Jedda (on VHS so I might never see it again). I toyed briefly with the idea of doing a movie Bingo card, but that was just so I could pair SA and Bad Boy Bubby, which I think is great. And also the one movie I watch every couple of years, from WA, Dingo in which a trumpeter from the bush goes to Paris to play with the incomparable Miles Davis.

Indigenous

Tara June Winch, The Yield (here)


Now on to related more equally important things, Australian Women Writers Gen 4 Week. I can’t be sure I’ll be on holidays but let’s say the week from Sun 16 Jan to Sun 23 Jan, 2022.

The definition we are using for AWW Gen 4 is women who began writing in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The Australian Women Writers Gen 4 page gives you a complete list of writers and their debut novels/works but think: Thea Astley, Jessica Anderson, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Shirley Hazzard, Helen Garner, Robyn Davidson, Elizabeth Jolley, Janette Turner Hospital, Sara Dowse, Kate Grenville, Ruby Langford and theorist/activists like Germaine Greer, Anne Summers, Marilyn Lake, Bobbi Sykes.

I unknowingly (unthinkingly) made a start on AWW Gen 4 with my review of Sara Dowse’s West Block, and on reflection I think there are elements of that novel which will prove typical, but I’ll try and write up a more comprehensive introductory post in the next few weeks. (Maybe – but see also Reaching Tin River).

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Nicholas Jose, A Manual for Writers: Elizabeth Costello, in Belinda Castles ed., Reading Like an Australian Writer, New South Publishing, Sydney, 2021

 

27 thoughts on “Weeks & Months

  1. Richard Flanagan is one of those authors I bailed on pretty soon after picking up The Narrow Road to the Deep North and finding it had no speech marks. I do not know why authors do this (I mean, I’ve seen assorted pretentious interviews that boil down to “I want to put people off reading my books”, but no actual artistic reason), but I wish they wouldn’t.

    I looked at the list of Gen 4 Australian Women Writers, and as a cohort they seem particularly good at choosing titles! Girl with a Monkey, Running Backwards Over Sand, Praise the Egg – I know nothing about any of these books but am immediately drawn to them.

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    • I read the first half of your post, so I’m honoured you chose me to comment on. Hope you’re feeling better now!

      I’ve only accessed Flanagan by audiobook, so I didn’t know about the missing quotation marks.

      I hope you find a book to review for AWW Gen 4 Week. I’ve only listed each author’s first work, but I’m sure all the best ones have many more works to choose from.

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  2. Have you turned off comments for your Gen 4 list?
    Plus, can you tweak your list to add a column for reviews? (I’ve read quite a few of what you have there, and have reviews too for some of them.)

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  3. I might mention a few books of Australian Women Writers I’ve read perhaps during a couple month to 6 month period if they aren’t mentioned by others. I didn’t like Death of a River Guide and only read half of it before I could no longer bear it. I have a hot and cold relationship with Flanagan books. I have not read any of the other titles you mention except the Yield. I’ll see how I go next year with Australian books. I imagine my book club with Fullers will throw up a few.

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    • Your Fullers book club seems to work really well. Nothing like it in Perth that I’ve ever seen advertised.
      There’s a lot of hot and cold about Flanagan. I always find something to complain about with his novels, which gets me into trouble with his fans.
      I hope you read some AWW from the 1960s, 70s, 80s. I have to set up my Gen 4 page properly and start linking to everyone’s reviews.

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      • So somehow I missed this post coming through. Every week or so I sort my blog emails by FROM and then look for my favourite bloggers like you to make sure I catch posts I might have missed so I would have got this eventually!

        My Tasmania brother is not a Flanagan fan, though I tend to be – with some questions. I haven’t yet read his first two – the river guide and hand clapping ones.

        I read Elizabeth Costello so long ago but I remember feeling inspired by it, partly because it is challenging. As I recollect Elizabeth appears in at least one other book of his. I will read Jose’s article sometime, but first will see if I can find any notes I made about the book. Yes, so I discussed this book online back in 2005. Here is one of my emails:

        “‘It’s very novel, but is is actually a novel?’
        Now, in one sense we can argue it’s a novel, somewhat postmodern perhaps, but it does have characters, some sort of chronology, and a story of sorts. However, it also reads a bit like a collection of essays, strung together with with the story of the essayist. It also reads a bit like a philosophical treatise, a bit of an apologia for writers and their role. It has some wonderful set pieces, but the whole is a still a bit mystifying to me though I have a broad sense of what I think it’s about.””

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      • A bit mystifying to me too. I thought after the first one or two chapters that It was headed in the direction of being a novel about the son; but we soon lost him and it just became about the speeches. Which is also true to some extent of Diary of a Bad Year. As you can guess, I didn’t like Coetzee ‘being’ a woman, but I thought the ‘connection’ to Lessing and Gordimer was interesting.

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  4. Thinking about Gen 4… one of my favourites, Sonya Hartnett, might sneek in (although the books that started to get her recognised came in the 90s, so I expect I can wait for Gen 5).

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    • I’ve been reading Sonya Hartnett’s wiki entry. b.1968, first novel published at 16, so 1984. By all means write her up for Gen 4, though she’s more than a generation younger than most Gen 4 writers. I’m not sure she’s “finest Australian writer of her generation” so it’s up to you to persuade us otherwise.

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  5. I picked Elizabeth Jolley’s The Well for AWW 4, and now I see that wasn’t her first novel… woops. I already ordered the book through inter-library loan, so it’s being shipped my way as we speak. Perhaps you can forgive my flub!

    I didn’t realize JM Coetzee moved to Australia. He is firmly in South Africa in my head, and when I saw his name, I thought, “I wonder how Coetzee’s doing with the Omicron variant.” I do believe I’ve read his stuff before and disliked him because he tends to write (if I’m remembering correctly) old professors who sleep with their students.

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    • I only listed first novels because year of publication of first novel was my (rough) criterion for allocating writer to generation. I’m pleased you’re reading (or going to) The Well. I was out that way yesterday with a wide load, and was parked overnight alongside the paddocks in which the book is set.

      Coetzee seems quite comfortable as an Australian, even from when he first moved here, and includes Australian culture and politics in his later novels. I think Sue (WG) said you were right to remember a professor and student in an early Coetzee novel.

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      • I’ve only read one or two of his books, but the trope of elderly white male professor scouting out teen-aged female students always throws me into an angry place. However, I’m happy to try some of his later novels and see how he’s taken to Australia.

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      • I don’t know when taking advantage of a power imbalance to obtain sex was first identified as a serious problem, but it doesn’t seem to have been too long ago. Australians are discussing it today, on the front pages of newspapers, following the release of an enquiry into the (extraordinarily poor) behaviour of federal politicians and their staff. We can only hope that a) we continue to make progress; and b) that that progress is not reversed as it quite obviously is being at the moment in the US and its satellites.

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      • Can’t think of either the title or author, but there is a new novel out which is a retelling of Disgrace, billed (IIRC) as an expression of feminist rage. It’s been reviewed positively in a couple of places so far, if that’s of interest.

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      • That was an interesting rabbit hole – I’ve been reading feminist critiques of Disgrace. I must say it seems to me Coetzee wrote it to show why Lurie’s, the professor’s, behaviour is inexcusable – but it’s a very long time since I read it.
        Search didn’t bring up an ‘alternative’.

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  6. I’ve always thought of Coetzee as Australian simply because an Australian academic I know writes about him and Iris Murdoch (who I manage not to think of as Australian). Weird. You’ve done well with the AusReading; mind, I’ve done 200% of what I did last year! I can’t guarantee to do an AWW4 writer that week as it’s the week I have off to celebrate my 50th birthday …

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    • We’re lucky to have him is all I can say. You’re forgiven in advance for missing AWW Gen 4 Week to celebrate a big ‘0’. Are you going somewhere a little less cold (great snow picture!)? I’m afraid though I do have another Australian reading project underway for which I will put the hard word on you sooner rather than later. And an American project too – though readalongs for that will be strictly optional.

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  7. I’m going to take this opportunity to TRY to finally read Helen Garner – the only book we have of hers at the library, “Spare Room.” I would especially like to, because I missed reading for AusReading Month this year.

    Speaking of Coetzee, my daughter read Disgrace at University this semester and I’ve read two of her essays on the book: one about sexism in the book, and the other about empathy (or lack of). I’m not sure I want to read it now – Lurie sounds like a miserable guy.

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    • Having read two essays you definitely have a better understanding of Disgrace than I do (One of my older daughter’s university essays is still one of my most read posts, after four or five years).

      I would love you to read The Spare Room, it is so typical Garner, mining her friend’s tragedy and her own family, to make a story and of course beautifully written.

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  8. Enjoyed the convo about what people are planning to read for next week’s big event. So many fantastic choices. You know I’d made up my mind some time ago, but I’m still excited to see what others have chosen and the discussions that will arise.

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    • Yes you could have a Gen 4 Month with a different (good) book reviewed every day. It will be interesting to see what turns up (and Lisa has started the ball rolling with Amy Witting).

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