As someone whose adopted home is Western Australia I have very fond feelings for Elizabeth Jolley who emigrated from England, made WA her home, and became one of Australia’s most loved authors. I wouldn’t attempt to apply any isms to her writing, but she wrote throughout the Gen 4 period and she wrote beautifully. Kimbofo, who has also made her home in WA, has reviewed one of Jolley’s later novels.
The orchard thieves of the title of Elizabeth Jolley’s 1997 novella aren’t bad people stealing fruit trees but two little boys who pinch fruit to gobble up when they are staying at their grandmother’s house.
This rather delightfully told story is essentially about inheritance and taking what you think is rightfully yours — perhaps prematurely – Read on …
Today seems to be Janet Turner Hospital day. Whispering Gums posted a review of JTH’s short story ‘The Insider Story‘, a discussion ensued about Orpheus Lost which we had both reviewed and lo, Lisa was also working up a review of Orpheus Lost from her reading notes, so here it is,
This was a gripping novel. Leela, from ‘Paradise Land’ in the US Bible Belt meets Jewish-Lebanese Mishka Bartok from the Daintree Rainforest, and they fall in love. They are both students in Boston: she’s doing the maths of music and he’s doing the music of the Middle East. They make a lot of passionate love. Read on …
Monkey Grip (1977) is famously Helen Garner’s first novel. It comes mid-generation, marking a clear point of no return, a clean break with with Australian writing’s past. If any one novel represents AWW Gen 4, then this is it.
When I first read Monkey Grip I saw it in the tradition of the Beats – Kerouac, Burroughs, and as I read more widely and time passed, of Kathy Acker and Irvine Welsh, leading on to Australia’s brief Grunge movement in the 1990s – Ettler, Tsiolkas, McGahan. With this re-reading, I don’t resile from those connections, but I’ve also read a lot more Garner. This is more than just living poor and taking drugs, this is Garner’s deep connection to co-operative living, to co-operation between women, to caring for others, and of course to autofiction.
The book it now reminds me of most closely is her fictionalised account of her friend’s treatment for late-stage cancer, The Spare Room (2008).
In December 1972 Garner, who was then 30, was fired from her job as a teacher for talking dirty to her 11-13 year old pupils: ” …the words some people think of as dirty words are the best words, the right words to use when you are talking about sex. So I’m not going to say “sexual intercourse”, I’m going to say “fuck” and I’m going to say “cock” and “cunt” too, so we’d better get that straight. Is that OK?”
Joseph Steinberg writes in an ALS article that “the terms of Garner’s firing inform the countercultural realism of her first novel Monkey Grip (1977), which is unabashedly fluent in, and indeed narratively yearns for, various forms of the four-letter contraband that got her sacked in the first place.” He quotes Kerryn Goldsworthy: “[male] reviewers were made uneasy ‘by frank, serious, knowledgeable utterances about sexuality made by a woman’ in Garner’s early novels and sought ‘to query her status as a literary author: in a word, to sack her’ (again)”.
In Monkey Grip, Nora – who stands in for Garner – is a single mother, with a five year old daughter, Gracie, living in share houses, old workers’ cottages in nineteenth century terraces around the CBD and Melbourne University (both presences which are felt but hardly ever mentioned); if I’ve got it right, first in Fitzroy, then near the Victoria Markets, and then back in Fitzroy.
It was early summer. And everything, as it always does, began to heave and change. It wasn’t as if I didn’t already have somebody to love. There was Martin, teetering as many were that summer on the dizzy edge of smack… But he went up north for a fortnight and idly, at the turning of the year, I fell in love with our friend Javo, the bludger, just back from getting off dope in Hobart.
Or as Steinberg summarises: “Nora needs to fuck Javo, Javo needs dope; Nora needs Javo not to need dope, but Javo needs it to need Nora, and Nora needs to be needed by Javo, ‘must learn not to need him’ though he needs her, for when it is her turn to need him he will ‘he will have nothing to give’. ‘Smack habit, love habit – what’s the difference?’, muses Nora midway through the novel.”
Gracie is an odd presence throughout, bored witless in her first year at school, already able to read, and at home, a Jiminy Cricket, seeing everything, an independent spirit with her own opinions, her own life.
One of the most interesting things about the story telling is the complete absence of back story for any of the characters. You get to know them as they appear on the page, entirely without explanation. Anything that’s not relevant at that moment, you don’t hear about.
Kevin Brophy in another ALS essay writes about Monkey Grip‘s reception over time. Especially early on, male reviewers were unhappy with Garner’s focus on women’s issues; Garner was an author who ‘talks dirty and passes it off as realism’; male and female reviewers, as was always the case with works by women, shrugged it off as a love story; almost no attention was paid to the innovation in both writing and subject matter. Brophy suggests an alternative reading, one which was resisted by nearly every reviewer:
The text proposes that people can throw conventions aside and reinvent themselves and their social relations in a process of change that is self-imposed, liminal, unpredictable and spontaneous. These new possibilities involve the reader in a world where communal living and single parenting can be the norm, where children are relatively independent and have insights to offer on the behaviour of the adults around them, a world where women insist on meeting men as equals. It is a world where a woman can speak and write of sex explicitly, dispassionately, even ‘tastelessly’ in a literary work — an accomplishment long granted to male literary figures. In these and other ways Monkey Grip invites readers to recognise and reassess the conventions by which they take their ‘realist’ fiction and by which they live.
Today, forty something years later, Garner’s autofiction is still controversial. In 1977 it was just plain un-literary.
I haven’t made it clear, but we make our way through a year and a bit of inner Melbourne life; hot summer days at the Fitzroy baths; cycling through Carlton and Fitzroy’s achingly familiar plane tree lined streets; in and out of each others’ share houses; in and out of beds in all the painful permutations of ‘open’ relationships; struggling to a resolution.
One last quote from Brophy:
[T]here is a further, more socially fundamental and political perspective on addiction offered in the novel. The patriarchal value system— the ideology that socialises us from childhood—is here presented as the overwhelming addiction suffered by characters who are wanting to reinvent value systems for social relations.
Garner is a revolutionary, remaking the way we think about living, about bringing up children, about relationships; remaking the way we think about Literature. If you haven’t read Monkey Grip yet, do yourself a favour.
Helen Garner, Monkey Grip, Penguin/McPhee Gribble, Melbourne, 1977. 245pp.
References: Joseph Steinberg, Helen Garner’s Education, Australian Literary Studies, 28 Oct 2021 Kevin Brophy, Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip, The Construction of an Author and her Work, Australian Literary Studies, 1 Oct 1992
Lisa/ANZLitLovers is first off the block for AWW Gen 4 Week with a review of Amy Witting’s, The Visit (here) and Sue/Whispering Gums has promised to be on topic in tomorrow’s Monday Musings, and now (Sunday afternoon) I see she’s reviewed a Janet Turner Hospital short story (here) as well.
Re my North America Project 2022, I’m sorry but it’s weeks since I’ve been in the truck so I have not made a start on Their Eyes Were Watching God audiobook. As I have Octavia Butler’s Kindred on my shelves, I am reading that and will put up a review on 31 Jan. Next month is still The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and March is Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber (BIP, I know you suggested Salt Roads, thank you, but I decided to go with MR because it is earlier.) I’ll advise other months, including Their Eyes, when I get more organized.
Carol Emshwiller (1921-2019) was an American writer of avant-garde short stories and Science Fiction . She started writing short stories in the 1950s, at about the same time as she started having children. Her first collection was published in 1974 and Carmen Dog, her first novel, in 1988.
The Women’s Press, a London publisher – and not to be confused with Onlywomen Press – was founded by NZ/Australian writer Stephanie Dowrick. Her co-publisher, Naim Attalah (a guy) had some connection with Virago and so as a point of difference, The Women’s Press focused on contemporary fiction, and also, as you see, Science Fiction. All this of course is ‘research’, and I see from Wikipedia that their early writers included Alice Walker, The Colour Purple and Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions.
I own and have previously reviewed from TWP SF The Planet Dweller and Moving Moosevan by Janet Palmer and The Total Devotion Machine by (Australian) Rosaleen Love. I’m not sure why this cover does not have The Women’s Press’s familiar black and white stripes (though, inside is the same jokey logo, an iron and ironing board – see the motto: Steaming ahead).
Carmen Dog is a postmodern romp through Science Fiction, Magic Realism and Women’s Lib. The core of the plot is that women everywhere (ie. New York. I’m not sure Americans understand the difference) are devolving into animals and that female animals are evolving*, in the space of a year or two, into women.
There is not really any science in the SF, but also the fantastical elements do not make it SFF. Instead, the implication is that you must read Carmen Dog as you read SF – accept the premise as possible and think about what events in this altered reality tell us about what we think of as the real world.
‘The beast changes to a woman or the woman changes to a beast,’ the doctor said. ‘In her case it is certainly the latter since she has been, on the whole, quite passable as a human being up to the present moment. There may be hundreds of these creatures already among us. No way to tell for sure how many.’
The principal characters are Pooch, a female pedigreed setter who has partway changed into a woman; a baby, in fact the baby of the woman the doctor is speaking about, who is in the process of changing into a snapping turtle; the woman’s husband, Pooch’s ‘Master’; the doctor; the doctor’s wife, whose name we learn is Rosemary; and half a dozen women changing variously to/from a wolverine, a cat, a duck (or maybe a swan), a python etc.
Pooch finds herself being given more of the housework and babysitting, till one day the baby’s mother grabs the baby in her beak and won’t let go. Pooch rescues the baby, but thinking she’ll be blamed for the wound on the baby’s arm, runs away with it, from the suburbs into central New York. There she realises her dream of attending the opera, Carmen of course, but cannot help herself and begins singing in an untrained but powerful voice over the top of the soprano.
Meanwhile, the doctor has applied for a research grant into these changes to women and has constructed a laboratory in his basement where he can keep six women/animals and conduct tests on them.
Pooch is arrested, along with baby, and is put in the pound, where every seven days those unclaimed are taken away to be euthanized. There, out of compassion, she exchanges identities with Isabel, who is becoming a wolverine, enabling the real Isabel to escape when the Master, too busy to come himself, sends Pooch a travel pass for the subway.
Pooch makes friend with those around her; they are handed over to the doctor for his experiments; Rosemary cares for them; and slowly reveals herself as another changeling, preserving her appearance with a rubber mask.
In another part of town the Academy of Motherhood, an exclusive club for men who are attempting to take women out of the motherhood process altogether, has its own laboratories where women test subjects are inseminated –
The academy uses only the best genes in the nation: from governors, generals (three star or above), atomic scientists as well as the directors of nuclear reactors, presidents of the largest countries, oil magnates and so forth. The men picked are splendid, tall and blonde for the most part and all earning over $100,000 a year not even counting perks. Of course it has taken time for these men to achieve status in their fields, so most of them are, by now, paunchy and bald.
From here it gets more than a bit chaotic. Pooch escapes and is engaged briefly in a love triangle with a (female) cat and a (male) opera lover. She loses her voice and can only bark. A tall blonde man who had seen her sing is also seeking her. Pooch, being a dog, remains loyal to Master, but when finally reunited and she leaps up on him, he french kisses her and gropes her new breasts.
A protest meeting addressed by a range of women all in Rosemary masks is broken up by the police. The women overpower the police and disguise themselves in police uniforms, the police disguise themselves as Rosemarys. The women march on the Academy of Motherhood.
Pooch finds love. Marries. Adopts baby. Has a litter of setters. Did I enjoy it? I loved it, and you would too if it were available which I suppose it is not.
Carol Emshwiller, Carmen Dog, The Women’s Press, London, 1988. 148pp.
‘Evolving’ is Emshwiller’s (mis)usage. Evolution is of course a process covering generations.
AWW Gen 4 is (Australian women) writers who were first published in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. I have written elsewhere that the changeover from Gen 3 was marked by the end, in Australia, of a white, Anglo monoculture – where our major ‘other’ was the large Irish Catholic, largely working class, minority. Gen 4, then, begins with waves of ‘Mediterranean’ immigration, from Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia and Lebanon; the ‘youth culture’ of the sixties; Womens Lib; Civil Rights; a release from the sexual constraints of the 1950s; much greater access to tertiary education, and indeed to late secondary education; and a widely shared prosperity which, by the end of the eighties had crashed headlong into the neo-liberalism of Regan and Thatcher (and of Keating and Howard), though it was another couple of decades before we began to recognise what we had lost.
I have a problem in that I enjoy reading Lit. Theory but very little of it sticks. There is no doubt though that at the beginning of the period, the majority of writers were still working in the Modernist tradition (see last year’s Late Modernity), and that the ideas of Postmodernism, post-structuralism, post-colonialism being explored overseas, were both poorly understood and only slowly taken up.
Keneally, (Bethany’s Book) and probably every other author at least once, pissfarted around with the idea of conflating the book being read and the author of the book being read with the book and author being written about (which Miles Franklin did earlier and better in My Career Goes Bung); and my feelings about Peter Carey’s taking up of the fashion of Magic Realism, beginning with Illywhacker (1985) don’t bear repeating.
Putting the author into the work always seemed to me to be a straight riposte to the ‘Death of the Author’, and pointless after it had been done once; MR was a fashion that worked when used sparingly but soon became every aspiring author’s new toy. If you want more, the ALS Journal has an interesting review of Maria Takolander’s Catching Butterflies: Bringing Magical Realism to Ground (2007)*.
Other aspects under the postmodern umbrella are irony, unreliability, commercialism, pop culture. Modernism was a serious project to understand the nature of writing and of the self; without the politics of feminism and post-colonialism, postmodernism is largely a cop out, promoted by the left and taken up joyously by the right as cover for their aversion to truth telling.
The first writer in our Gen 4, in more than one sense, is Thea Astley, whose first work, Girl with a Monkey, came out in 1958. Leigh Dale says that while Astley’s fiction is post-colonial in that much of it is concerned with the consequences of the colonisation of Australia, and particularly of course, Queensland –
Astley’s novels have a tendency to reject the recuperation of resistance that has been the major task of much post-colonial literary and cultural criticism, and to emphasise both the devastation caused by colonialism on indigenous populations, and the lasting refusal of colonial regimes to recognise the causes or effects of that devastation.
This is understandable, both because she is a pioneer in the recognition of the violence done to Indigenous peoples, and because “the recuperation of resistance”, establishing that the Indigenous were more than just victims, is the task, in the first place, of Indigenous writers.
Astley was an innovator in her subject matter, but in her writing she was concerned to write in the Modernist tradition, seeking reassurance from Patrick White, and most similar probably in the denseness and precision of her writing to her contemporary Randolph Stow. Still, I noted in my recent review of Astley’s Reaching Tin River (1990) that Astley had clearly, over time, absorbed some of the tropes of postmodernism, playfulness say, allowing two characters 70 years in time apart, to be in some way aware of each other.
Two other AWW Gen 4 writers I’ve reviewed this year are Sara Dowse and Carmel Bird. Bird was the recipient of the 2016 Patrick White Award. The judges wrote: “Using elements of the Gothic, fantasy and fairy tale as easily as realism, Bird can be surreal, quirky and macabre, but also humorous, humane and warm.” I struggled with the postmodernism of The Bluebird Café (1990) but that might have been just me. I gave Milly Bird’s The Family Skeleton (2016) for xmas. How that will go I cannot say.
Dowse I’ve run into a couple of times in the newspapers. In reviews of work by Australian poet Kate Jennings, and US feminist Shiela Rowbotham, Dowse revisits her own time as an activist in the sixties and seventies. In the period covered by West Block (1975-76) Dowse is already bogged down attempting to get women’s policies past an unfriendly (Fraser/Liberal) government. But there was a time of hope before that.
[Kate Jennings’] Trouble has brought it back: the demos, the passion, the laughs, the daring. Subtitled Evolution of a Radical, the book is a selection of Jennings’s writing from 1970 to 2010. The first entry is the raw, spitting speech Jennings hurled at a 1970 Vietnam moratorium rally on the front lawn of Sydney University – the opening salvo of Women’s Liberation in Australia. Did we actually speak like that?
That day, at that moment, I was 850 kms down the road, with the Melb Uni contingent listening to similar speeches in Treasury Gardens prior to the March – 100,000 people or more, all the length of Bourke St. What a day!
My first review for the Week will be Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip (1977). The women’s movement for Garner’s Nora is already just a hum in the background, women living co-operatively, but still seemingly at the beck and call of men.
I’m looking forward to seeing how this period, the beginning of adulthood for many of us, appears to you. And please, let me know in Comments what you hope to read (and review!).
References: Leigh Dale, Colonial History and Post Colonial Fiction: The Writing of Thea Astley, Australian Literary Studies, 1 May 1999 (here) Karen Lamb, “Yrs Patrick”, Southerly, Vol 72.1 2012 Sara Dowse, Trouble, Age, Melbourne, 23 April 2010 Sara Dowse, Days of Hope, Inside Story, 17 December 2021 (here)
“Maria Takolander’s ambitious project, Catching Butterlies: Bringing Magical Realism to Ground, seeks to clear up the confusion surrounding the literary term ‘magical realism’, an oxymoron which Takolander says has become ‘a dumping ground for the convenient disposal of any fiction that deviates from or experiments with the rules of realism’ …
Takolander goes on to argue that using MR to represent the spirit lives underlying Indigenous cultures is necessarily inauthentic. The reviewer (and I) disagree:
“However, rather than suggesting that reality itself does not exist, [non-European authors] propose that there are other ways of experiencing it. Such magical realist authors recognise and expose the cultural clashes, merges and changes in postcolonial situations, and express it through magical realism. Such works are not, or not necessarily, ‘inauthentic’ because they present twentieth-century versions of indigenous cultures.
Tanja Schwalm, Review of Maria Takolander, Catching Butterflies: Bringing Magical Realism to Ground (2007) in Australian Literary Studies, 1 June 2009.
Richard Brautigan (1935-84) is one of those authors I would automatically pick up if I saw his works second hand – increasingly unlikely as he gets further out of date and all the second hand stores anywhere near me close, leaving only op shops – though this seems to be the only work of his I own at the moment.
In my twenties, I read Watermelon Sugar (1968), Trout Fishing in America (1967), and gave to the Young Bride The Abortion: An Historical Romance (1971). I was aware of his first novel, A Confederate General from Big Sur (1964) but can’t recall now if I ever read it. I loved his work and if I ever wrote, Brautigan would be my model.
Brautigan, an alcoholic and depressive, married and separated a number of times, died by his own hand in 1984. An Unfortunate Woman: A Journey (2000) was published posthumously, first in France, as Cahier d’un Retour de Troie [“Diary of a Return from Troy”] and only later in English.
An Unfortunate Woman is written as the narrator R reflecting on his wanderings over a few months in 1982 – which it would be cliched to see as an odyssey, though the author probably means us to – circling a number of times through the house of a woman in San Francisco, who had hanged herself some time previously, before ending up back home in Montana
maybe part of what I’m trying to say is … I wonder how old the woman was who hanged herself. Have I been working obliquely, almost secretly to this end. I think she was in her early forties, but I do not know her exact age and probably never will. I guess it wouldn’t make that much difference in the long run. She’s very dead.
With writers like Brautigan (and Helen Garner) their lives and their fiction intersect so closely that it is impossible to know where one ends and the other begins. Brautigan begins this novel with, as a sort of prologue, a letter to a friend, N (Nikki Arai), who has just died, aged thirty eight, of cancer. The letter is dated Pine Creek, Montana, July 13, 1982. The novel chronicles the days from Jan 30 to Jun 28, 1982, so before N’s death, ending with R alone on his Montana ranch, on the hills above a tributary of the Yellowstone River.
R begins his ‘odyssey’ with an empty notebook and the intention of writing every day until it is filled. He doesn’t of course, and is frequently sidetracked.
With this auspicious beginning [a single abandoned shoe], I’ll continue describing one person’s journey, a sort of free-fall calendar map, that starts out what seems like years ago, but has actually been just a few months in physical time.
In those few months prior to Jan 30, 1982 R went from Montana to San Francisco, then to Buffalo, a week in Canada, back to San Francisco for a few weeks, up to Alaska, where he got drunk with a young politician, spent some time in Hawaii, and now, at the beginning of this record, he is back living in Berkley, in the house already mentioned. Having listed where has been, R takes us backwards and forwards between descriptions of ‘now’, accounts of those initial travels, and bouts of pure speculation.
My trip to Canada was wasted. At that time in my life I probably should have gone to any other place in the world but Canada…
Toronto will always be like the flipside of a dream for me. I called heads but Toronto came up tails. [R goes looking for a Chinese movie theatre, but the only one he finds is showing American movies]
What else did I do in Toronto? I had a very bitter affair with a Canadian woman, who was really a nice person. It ended abruptly and badly, which was totally my fault.
The novel, novella really, is not getting written as quickly as it was meant to. R has been to Chicago and is now back in that house again in Berkeley where he is awakened each morning by the sounds of a woman in a neighbouring house making love. He makes another visit to Chicago and …
… suddenly it’s March 1: What happened to the last 14 days of this book, which is now obviously chronologically mischievous and grows more and more to follow the way life works out?
There’s a gap, he’s home, has taught a semester at the local university – presumably Montana State University in Bozeman (which I struggle to believe is a real place) – goes on a blind date which works out better than a previous blind date where he got into an argument about the woman’s masters dissertation on Italian architecture in Henry James; advises a young student to write about herself because when you’re young that’s all you know; does some other stuff; takes a call from his daughter whom he won’t see because he doesn’t like the guy she married; and, finally, thinks a little about his dying friend, sends her a telegram, calls her, talks to her
My friend continues to die of cancer, even as I write now shardlike cells grow inside of her, never stopping until I talk about her only in the past tense.
R has nearly reached the end of his notebook. What about all the things I’ve left out he worries. He goes for a walk across the creek to his neighbours’. Leaves the last line empty.
“Iphigenia, your daddy’s home from Troy”.
Richard Brautigan, An Unfortunate Woman, Canongate, Edinburgh, 2000. 110pp.
see also: Emma/Book Around the Corner’s review of Trout Fishing in America (here)
The best read of 2021 was definitely any report of the failure of Donald Tr#*mp to retain the presidency of the USA. However, I don’t have much doubt Republicans will return to power and once there will begin some years of neo-Facism (see the New York Times editorial of 1 Jan 2021 – “Every day is Jan. 6 now”).
If you want a Best (Australian Political) Read for 2021 try Bernard Keane’s Lies and Falsehoods: The Morrison Government and the New Culture of Deceit (I’ve read excerpts in Crikey).
Now on with books which we might actually read, or you might actually read. As usual, I read very few new releases. The best which accidentally jumped out of me at the bookshop were An I-Novel by Minae Mizumura (USA/Japan), How We Are Translated by Jessica Gaitán Johannesson (Eng/Sweden) and Another Day in the Colony by Chelsea Watego (Australia/Indigenous). I’m sure I’ll come across others eventually.
Fifty years back we are in AWW Gen 4 territory, though I’m afraid the best books are by guys –
There were 20 novels published, 18 the previous year – those are astonishingly small numbers don’t you think – most of them unmemorable; and a couple of interesting non-fiction which I still own.
Kenneth Cook, Piper in the Market Place Dymphna Cusack, A Bough in Hell Geoffry Dutton & Max Harris, Sir Henry, Bjelke, Don Baby and Friends (NF) Frank Hardy, The Outcasts of Foolgarah Donald Horne, But What if there are no Pelicans David Ireland, The Unknown Industrial Prisoner (review) George Johnston, A Cartload of Clay (Memoir) Thomas Keneally, A Dutiful Daughter (review) Cynthia Nolan, Paradise, And Yet (Verse) Elizabeth Salter, Daisy Bates (NF, review) Kylie Tennant, The Man on the Headland (Memoir) Barbara Vernon, A Big Day at Bellbird (yes, that Bellbird!) Judah Waten, So Far No Further
The number of books published is slowly picking up after the War, but at around 40, you could probably have read them all if you had to. I’ll list all the novels plus a few others.
CEW Bean, Vol I,II, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 Marie Bjelke-Petersen, Dusk (Popular Romance) Dulcie Deamer, Revelation CJ Dennis, A Book for Kids (Childrens) Mary Fullerton, Bark House Days Agnes Gwynne, The Mistress of Windfells Ada Holman, Sport of the Gods Arthur Lynch, O’Rourke the Great Mary Marlowe, Ghost Girl Maurice Furnley, Arrows of Longing (Verse) Bernard O’Dowd, Alma Venus! (Verse) Ida Outhwaite, The Enchanted Forest (Childrens) AB Paterson, Collected Verse KS Prichard, Black Opal Steele Rudd, We Kaytons (S/Stories) JM (James) Walsh, Tap-Tap Island (illus. by Percy Lindsay) Arthur Wright, Fettered by Fate
Six authors for eight books, just one novel (by the author of The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn)
Marcus Clarke, Old Tales for a Young Country (S/Stories) Henry Kingsley, The Boy in Grey Richard Rowe, Episodes in a Obscure Life (Memoir, Goodreads)
Joy Hooton and Harry Heseltine, Annals of Australian Literature, 2nd Ed., OUP, Melbourne, 1992
It took me a while to realise that in teaching Indigenous anything I was meant to be teaching students to feel good about being a coloniser: that in my presence I was meant to be the site of absolution both for the institution and its students …
I was meant to teach them ways that they could save us, to redeem their unsettled self via sanctioning their continued control over our lives. I was meant to teach us as problems and them as solutions …
READ THIS BOOK!
Chelsea Watego (Dr Chelsea Bond), Another Day in the Colony, UQP, St Lucia, 2021. 250pp. Cover photograph from Michael Cook’s Broken Dreams series.
Chelsea Watego is a Munanjahli and South Sea Islander woman born and raised on Yuggera country.
That’s christmas done. I came home without any leftovers and now after two days of Milly being visited by her sisters, there won’t be any, not even fruit probably. I should have gone down to Gee’s, they got through a whole pavlova for breakfast this morning.
Did I get any books? A voucher from one daughter for a little store in Freo (not New Editions/Crow Books with which I have long been unhappy for their lack of support for Australians in general and WA’ns in particular); Another Day in the Colony which I bought while shopping, and which I hope will be special; and the book above, thankyou Milly’s sister, the little Diva, which will hopefully reinspire me to better (and less!) eating.
I’m writing Monday in the vain hope that a job will pop up Tues or Weds and I’ll be on my way. And no, Liz, I haven’t read any late top ten contenders. Yet. Maybe tomorrow. [Weds evening. No work this week. Plenty left in Milly’s fridge, even pavlova. My sisters in law are all wonderful human beings].
I thought I had posts written in advance way into the forseeable future, I even had a posting schedule on my wall calendar, but of course that ends on 30 Dec. ‘EOY21’. I’d better buy a new one. I see now all remaining future posts are for my upcoming gig on the (former) AWWC site. I do have a couple or three in my head for AWW Gen 4 Week, 16-23 Jan 2022 but as we all know, that is not the same as having them written down.
Ok, here are my reading stats for 2021, 2020 in brackets.
Books read: 145 (164)
Gender balance: Male authors 57, Female 84 (67/97)
Author from: Australia 45 (29), UK 36 (35), USA 39 (79), Canada 7 (3) Europe 12 (10), Asia 2 (5), Africa 2 (1) Other 0 (2)
Genre: Non-fiction 12 (12), Literature 52 (43), General 21 (39), SF 29 (18), Crime 28 (48), Short Stories 7 (4)
Year of Publication: 2021-20 27 (6), 2010-19 57 (61), 2000-9 15 (27), 1960-99 23 (36), 1900-59 12 (26), pre-1900 9 (8) – I definitely need a few Melanie/GTL pie graphs to make this all readable! Tries Table Block.
That’s made up of 103 (118) audiobooks, 39 (41) ‘real’ books, and 3 (5) e-books (all old, pdf or Proj. Gutenberg)
Fewer audiobooks is down to less time in the truck (in the second half of the year), but fewer real books? What am I doing with my free time? As for the composition of my reading, it doesn’t seem to have changed much. The big increase in current year books (2020-21) is mostly down to new general and genre fiction audiobooks at the library. Although it doesn’t show, I actually read more new release poetry than I did new release Australian Lit.Fic.
And I’m happy that the US/Crime portion of my reading has gone down. At least some of the reason for that is that I’ve been able to target my listening better by using Audible and BorrowBox.
Posts for year: 93 (90)
Made up of: Reviews 55 plus 12 Such is Lifes (63), Journals 18 (21), Other 8 (6). Though some of the Journals were also largely Reviews. Five (8) reviews were supplied by guests or were reposts – all for AWW Gen 3 Week II. Reviews seem to have split 21/35 male/female by author (13/50).
In 2021 I put up 15 (20) reviews to the Australian Women Writers Challenge. Last year I wrote: “Theirs is a great site, I thank them, and hope they keep going for many more years” and bugger me, it comes to an end. Theresa Smith who has done a marvellous job for a number of years needed to wind down and a replacement could not be found. The result is a) the AWWC’s founder, Elizabeth Lheude, has asked Sue/Whispering Gums and me to work with her on the site to produce a weekly journal with a focus on early Australian Women Writers, commencing Feb. 2022; and b) Theresa will continue with the Facebook page “Love Reading Books by Australian Women” on which I hope you will all continue to post.
Last year I had a worst book, Miles Franklin’s Bring the Monkey. Do I have one this year? I can think of two, but let’s say Bill Green, Small Town Rising. The best, mmm … I mentioned three very good new releases last week, but for something different how about my ‘discovery’ of Australian SF/satirist Max Barry, Jennifer Government.
The theory of AWW Gen 4 is one of the posts which is mostly in my head. The definition we are using is authors who began publishing in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. There’s a (hopefully) complete list on the AWW Gen 4 page. These are the aspects of theory I am thinking about – modernist writing; feminism (second wave/women’s lib); post-colonialism; post-War society: prosperous, middle class, increasingly multi-cultural; the slow uptake of postmodernism; and what happened to the radicalism, sexual liberation and drugs of the anti-Vietnam War years?.
All the best for a Prosperous and Healthy New Year!
Omar El Akkad (M, Can), What Strange Paradise (2021) Ian Rankin (M, Sco), Rather be the Devil (2016) – Crime Hunter S Thompson (M, USA), The Rum Diary (1998)
Mihail Sebastan (M, Rom), Women (thank you Bron) Willa Cather (F, USA), Alexander’s Bridge Richard Brautigan (M, USA), An Unfortunate Woman Georgette Heyer (F, Eng), The Quiet Gentleman Helen Garner (F, Aus/Vic), Monkey Grip Gerald Murnane (M, Aus/Vic), Tamarisk Row Louisa Atkinson (F, Aus/NSW), Gertrude the Emigrant Belinda Castles (ed) (Aus), Reading Like an Australian Writer (NF – Criticism) Clare Bailey (F, USA), the clever guts diet recipe book (NF – Cooking)
Tamarisk Row (1974), Gerald Murnane’s first published novel, is a fictionalised account of his boyhood in Bendigo (here called ‘Basset’) in the late 1940s. Murnane was born in 1939, so these are his primary school years. His second novel, covering his high school years in Melbourne, and a year in a Catholic seminary, was A Lifetime on Clouds (1976), which was only recently expanded and republished as A Season on Earth (2019).
In a Foreword dated 2007 Murnane writes that it took him years to get started, that he first had to discard any literary theory he had learned: “Even after I seemed to myself to have grasped something of the literary theory then fashionable, that theory remained wholly unrelated to my experiences as a reader of fiction, let alone a would-be writer of it.”
I complained in my review that A Season on Earth begins quite conventionally. That is not true of Tamarisk Row whose writing is immediately familiar to the reader of his later works, A Million Windows, Border Districts.
I have my own term for the sort of narration that I used in Tamarisk Row. I call it considered narration. It might be said of some works of fiction that they bring to life certain characters. I would hope that the text of Tamarisk Row could be said to have brought to life the fictional personage responsible for it: the narrator through whose mind the text is reflected.
All of Murnane’s familiar themes are right there in the first few pages – his fascination with the plains of central Victoria and the Mallee stretching endlessly to the north and west; his immersion in Roman Catholic doctrine; his endless curiosity (and ignorance) about girls; the way he experiences light through glass; the life his protagonist, Clement Killeaton, lives in his imagination
Clement sees strange creatures in coloured glass
When the sun is low in the sky west of Basset a peculiar light shines in the panel of the greenish/gold glass in the Killeatons’ front door. Creatures neither green nor gold but more richly coloured than any grass or sun try to find their way home through a land where cities of unpredictable shapes and colours rise up on plains of fiery haze …
Of course Murnane’s most famous fascination, in life, is with horse racing, as spectacle I think, though here Clement’s father is both a hopeless gambler, and in a small way, a racehorse owner-trainer. ‘Tamarisk Row’ is in fact the name of an imaginary horse and also of an imaginary farm in the far back corner of Clement’s back yard where the wife waits for her husband to return from the races and will remove all her clothes and lie naked with him if the horse has done well.
There is a narrative arc – Clement progresses through St Bridget’s school, run by nuns, and into the first year of the boys school run by the Brothers; he doesn’t grow out of wanting to see girls’ knickers, though the few times he is successful in persuading a girl to remove them, I am not sure he believes or understand what he sees; Clement’s father travels the state laying bets for a big Melbourne gambler, with the sting that will set him up for life always in the future, and meanwhile falling increasingly in debt; their own horse, obtained cheaply after failing in Melbourne, is slowly trained up to cause a surprise on a distant country racetrack.
Clement’s father teaches him that a real stayer takes up a comfortable position near the rear of the field, waiting until the winning post is in sight before making his run and closing in on the leaders, which strategy Clement applies not just to the imaginary races he runs in the backyard, with marbles for horses, or to his own efforts as a runner at school, but also to his exams, passing up easy marks in the earlier tests to close on the class leader in Geography, his best subject, only to fall agonizingly short.
As his debts grow Clement’s father’s position becomes increasingly untenable. He enters his horse, Sternie, in a maiden handicap in a distant town, over a distance that doesn’t suit it, and without the money to back it anyway, but persuades ‘friends’ to back it for him
He knows that if Sternie is beaten he might never load another horse onto a float in the early morning and travel with him to some town where all the mystery and uncertainty of far northern distances gathers for one afternoon at the far side of a racecourse. [The jockey] will go on riding other men’s horses and men like [his ‘friends’] will cheer home winners that land them bets of hundreds of pounds, but Killeaton might never again send his colours out towards an imprecise horizon and watch them being shifted about by forces he has no control over and wait to see swept back towards him a great jumble of colours and signs and patterns …
I love the flow of Murnane’s writing, could follow it forever irrespective of the presence or absence of meaning, or of my understanding of its meaning, but there is the added attraction that Clement, in Catholic schools, and I a protestant in the state school system, seemingly shared great chunks of our childhood and adolescence, in country Victoria, only occasionally aware of adults, misunderstanding girls, living in books and our imaginations, in that distant time before “the sixties”.
Gerald Murnane, Tamarisk Row, first pub. 1974. This edition, Giramondo, 2008. 285pp.
Tamarix are deciduous shrubs or trees imported from Asia, possibly via the US, growing 1–18 m in height and forming dense thickets. They usually grow on saline soils (wiki) and are weeds in Australia, displacing native flora. The largest, Athel Pine (Tamarix aphylla), found throughout the outback, is an evergreen tree that can grow to 18 m tall, but Murnane was more likely referring to Saltcedar (Tamarix ramosissima) – pictured – which is more common in Victoria.