EOY 2021

Journal: 080

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.

Year2020-212010-192000-91960-991900-59pre-1900
202127571523129
20206612736268

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.

Now, reminder time …

AWW Gen 4 Week 16-23 Jan, 2022

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!

Recent audiobooks 

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)

Currently Reading:

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)

Tarella down a Rabbit Hole

Journal: 079

When Katharine Susannah Prichard (1883-1969) went up to Tarella Station – north of Wilcannia in the deserts of far western NSW – in 1905 to be governess for a year, she was to find herself not the only writer sitting down to dinner each night. Tarella was owned by E. Quin, and his oldest daughter, Tarella, but universally called Ella, six years older than KSP, was already a published author.

This came up when I was reading KSP’s autobiography Child of the Hurricane but I was reminded of it more recently during a few drinks with KSP biographer Nathan Hobby, and decided to follow it up.

Searching on Trove for ‘Tarella’ brings up some references to the station (for instance, here) but searching on Ella’s pen name ‘James Adare’ brings up a number of stories published in the two or three years before KSP’s year on the station. So , for instance ‘How the Mighty are Fallen’, a funny story about a Bishop on an outback station who goes missing each evening (Queenslander, 30 Apr 1904).

KSP herself wrote a fictionalized and highly romantic account of her journey to and stay on Tarella, in the form of letters to her mother, ‘A City Girl in Central Australia’, serialized over six issues of New Idea the following year (1906). Sadly, Trove doesn’t seem to have New Idea, and the extensive AWWC story archive has no Prichard at all (She’s under copyright until 2039).

In her only mention of Ella’s writing, KSP is pretty dismissive, and there is no hint they ever compared notes. Tarella Quin subsequently had some children’s stories published plus two adult novels, A Desert Rose (1912) and Kerno: A Stone (1914),.

There was another ‘connection’ between Ella and KSP. Ella’s younger sister, Hazel was in the same year at PLC* Melbourne as Hilda Bull (and Nettie Palmer), and Hilda was KSP’s next door neighbour, best friend, and former primary school classmate. The Quin family had a second property on the edge of the Dandenongs, on the outskirts of Melbourne where they would often spend the summer – and in fact KSP returned home with them after the summer of 1904/5 – but it is not recorded that KSP knew the Quins prior to being employed.

Also in that PLC year was Ida Rentoul, the ‘fairy’ illustrator who went on to illustrate at least one of Tarella’s children’s books, Gum Tree Brownie and Other Faerie Folk of the Never-Never (1907). Years ago when I wrote about Ida’s older sister Annie, I gave her the writing credit for Gum Tree Brownie. Of course I no longer have the source for that. Annie Rattray Rentoul went on to Melbourne University and then returned to PLC as a teacher. A reader of that post gives this sad postscript to Rentoul’s life

Back in 1978, [unnamed] worked at Mont Park Psychiatric Hospital. There was a patient there named Annie Rentoul. Annie was mocked by the patients and some of the staff when she said that she was an author. She went everywhere with a huge handbag. The handbag was often hidden by other patients and uncaring staff, causing her great distress.

I spent weeks researching Annie’s claim of being an author. Ida Rentoul-Outhwaite was easier to find; she was a formerly well known children’s book illustrator. Eventually I found the information; Annie wrote the words; Ida painted the illustrations.

I remember being so excited and couldn’t wait to let Annie know what I had found, but … Annie had died a few days earlier.

I wept for this poor woman who was treated so unkindly in a huge mental health institution.

Madeline Keil, 8 Oct 2018

The last rabbit hole brought up by searching ‘Tarella’ that I want to mention is a quest by the Age (Melbourne) in 1933 to name The Fifty Best Australian Novels. This story was written up by Vivian Smith, in the Australian Literary Studies Journal, 1 Oct 1989.

Following a piece in the Age in Feb, 1933 on the Fifty Best Modern English Novels, readers were asked to write in with their 50 best Australians. Such is the sad state of our knowledge of our own literature, that the staff writer (editor?) begins with:

At first sight it would appear to be a difficult task to choose the fifty best Australian novels published since 1900. Memories of For the Term of His Natural Life, The Recollections of Geoffrey Hamlyn, Robbery Under Arms and a few others float before the mind: one is tempted to conclude that fifty genuinely Australian novels have not been published. Such, however, is far from the truth. Here is a list of over forty novelists whose work, produced since 1900, may legitimately claim consideration on its merits as being more or less permanent contributions to English literature [my underlines].

Unexpectedly, the women appear to make the more impressive showing. Pride of place may perhaps be given to Katharine Susannah Prichard, who has claims to be considered our greatest present-day novelist.

No.s 1 and 2 on his list are KSP’s Working Bullocks and Coonardo; then, 3. M Barnard Eldershaw, A House is Built; 4,5,6 the three books of Henry Handel Richardson’s, The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney; followed by 7. either Maurice Guest or The Getting of Wisdom; 8. Helen de Guerry Simpson “with her gigantic novel” Boomerang; 9,10. Dorothy Cottrell’s Singing Gold and Earth Battle; 11, 12. Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career and Old Blastus of Bandicoot; and 13. Mrs Aeneas Gunn, We of the Never Never; before we get to any guys.

I’ll list the first 15 (authors) of the first letter writer, because they are interesting (ie. I largely agree with them): 1. Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career; 2. Tom Collins [Joseph Furphy], Such is Life; 3. Louis Stone, Jonah; 4. Barbara Baynton, Human Toll; 5. AB Paterson, An Outback Marriage; 6. KS Prichard, The Pioneers; 7. HH Richardson, Maurice Guest; 8. Arthur Adams, The Australians; 9. Brent of Bin Bin, Up the Country; 10. Bernard Cronin, Bracken; 11. Ion Idriess, Madman’s Island; 12. Velia Ercole, No Escape; 13. FD Davidson, Man Shy; 14. DH Lawrence, Kangaroo; 15. DH Lawrence and Molly Skinner, The Boy in the Bush.

Yes, Vance Palmer does get a run, but well back in the field; and also Martin Mills [Martin Boyd] for The Montforts; Henry Lawson, Joe Wilson and his Mates; and Dulcie Deamer, As It Was in the Beginning; along with quite a few others now long forgotten. The two most prominent women to miss out were Rosa Praed, Lady Bridget in the Never Never Land (1915), and Ada Cambridge, Sisters (1904). Eleanor Dark, Christina Stead, Dymphna Cusack, Kylie Tennant were still a year or two away from sweeping all before them.

To end, one discursive correspondent who wins me with “a single book, a masterpiece in its way, Such is Life, by Tom Collins”, has the sentence which captured my search: “Prominent Australian novels of more recent years have been Deadman’s, by Mary Gaunt, Kerno, a Stone, by Tarella Quin, Boomerang, by Helen Simpson, Black Opal and Working Bullocks, by perhaps the ‘livest’ of our novelists, Katharine Prichard …”


You are no doubt wondering, where’s Dragan? He hasn’t rung me again, and perhaps really only had me in mind for covering the serious shortfall in drivers willing to put up with crossing the Nullarbor and the constant commitment to Covid testing and isolation that requires. We’ll see.

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Nathan Hobby, The Red Witch: A Biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard, due out from Melbourne University Press, 3 May 2022.

PLC. Presbyterian Ladies College, Melbourne. See also: The Getting of Wisdom, Henry Handel Richardson

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The Yield, Tara June Winch

Journal: 076

Since moving back to running up north I have settled into an easy routine – load Thurs/Fri, unload Sun/Mon, back in Perth Tues/Wed, for a round trip of about 3,000 km. Running over east I would do one round trip Perth-Melbourne, 8,000 km, every 3 weeks. So now, over 3 weeks, I’m running a little further and getting a bit less time off – though it doesn’t feel like it – and earning about the same money (but as I’m not always running as a road train, I am using a fair bit less fuel).

Over the course of a weekend I listen to about 20 hours of audiobooks, say three books a week. This trip just past (actually the trip before last by the time this goes up) I listened to The Yield, Max Barry’s wild Jennifer Government (thank you Emma), and Nelson Mandela’s Conversations with Myself.

I originally wrote this post as a review, but as it’s mostly just me bitching about stuff, I’ll keep it between us and won’t put it up on the Australian Women Writers Challenge site.

Tara June Winch (1983- ) was born in and grew up around Wollongong, a steel manufacturing and port city 50 kms south of Sydney. She now lives between Sydney and France. So not a bush person then.

Winch’s father is a Wiradjuri man. Wiradjuri country is roughly contiguous with the Riverina region of NSW, which is to say the country we are looking at in Such is Life, the open grassland and semi desert country of the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan Rivers, north of the Murray, and the southern reaches of the Bogan and Macquarie Rivers (such as they are).

“The Wiradjuri language is effectively extinct, but attempts are underway to revive it, with a reconstructed grammar, based on earlier ethnographic materials and wordlists and the memories of Wiradjuri families” (Wiki). Winch acknowledges the actual people working on this grammar, but in her novel ascribes it to the fictional Albert Goondiwindi. (I don’t have a problem with that).

The Yield (2019), which won the 2020 Miles Franklin, is an exploration of Wiradjuri heritage and language through the eyes of a young woman protagonist, August, returned from London for the funeral of her grandfather, Albert Goondiwindi. August, now thirtyish, had been brought up by her grandparents, following the arrest and imprisonment of her parents on drugs charges, on the family property, a 500 acre wheat sheep farm on the banks of the (fictional) Murrimby River outside the town, and shire centre, Massacre Plains (also fictional).

The problem I had with the novel, which others clearly did not, is that it is based on learned rather than lived experience and the history is, as the author says, a composite of the average experiences of this sort of community. Still, it is well written, indeed innovative in the way Albert Goondiwindi’s Wiradjuri dictionary is woven into the text.

There are three stories, with different voices: a foundation story, set in the 1880s – ie. at exactly the same time as Tom Collin’s stories in SIL – told by the Lutheran missionary who gathered the Goondiwindi community onto one property; Albert Goondiwindi’s story of his childhood in the 1940s; and August’s story of her return to be with her grandmother and to attempt to save the family property from (tin) miners who are about to commence mining their land. There is also a further story running in the background, the disappearance of August’s sister, Jedda, as a child, which we hear of first from August then from Albert.

The one definite location we are given is that Massacre Plains is on the Broken Highway, which runs from Dubbo to Broken Hill (more or less horizontally across the centre of the map), shading from cotton farming, to scrub, to open desert capable of supporting only feral goats and pigs, and with, beyond Nyngan, and the cotton country on the Bogan, just two towns – the mining community of Cobar, and the run down rural community of Wilcannia on what is left of the Darling River.

My guess is that Winch was thinking of Nyngan for Massacre Plains, though there would be little chance of making a living off 500 acres there, and the nearest wheat farm would be further east or south. Maybe Nyngan has a modern, three storey shire office, it’s two or three years since I was last through there, but it’s a long way to the Darling, where Albert takes the local kids camping.

The names too, are puzzling. The family name Goondiwindi is from southern Queensland, and Jedda comes from the story of an Aboriginal girl in the Northern Territory (and Australia’s first colour movie).

I could go on but you get sick of my pedantry. And luckily for you, books that I listen to rather than read, I can only make notes in my head, and most of them I forget. Anyway, it’s only fiction you say. But that’s the point, it’s not. We are meant to read The Yield as representative of Aboriginal experience. I’m sure that it is, but compared with, for example, Marie Munkara’s visceral lived experience of colonial racism, Winch’s telling feels second hand.

A better comparison might be with Benang, Kim Scott’s exploration of his Wirlomin/Noongar heritage and his family’s experience of the actual, not invented (or “composite”), Cocanarup Massacre. Even leaving aside the magnificence of Scott’s language compared with Winch’s, the way he incorporates his search for identity into the text is clearly superior to Winch’s regurgitation/reconstruction of stuff she has read.

I’ll admit that as the story went on, August’s and Jedda’s stories in particular, I became more engaged. But did I like it, Melanie? No, not a lot. The problem (for my point of view) of course is that the Wiradjuri’s story needs to be told, and if not by Winch then who? But firstly, I think it could have been told better, and without the inconsistencies; and secondly, from memory, there were actual massacres, the Bathurst/Wiradjuri Wars for instance, which might better have illustrated her telling.

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Tara June Winch, The Yield, Harper Collins, Sydney, 2019. Harper Audio, read by Tony Briggs. 9 hours.


The map is of the rivers of New South Wales (I forget where I got it now). For scale, it is about 1,000 kms from left to right. Sydney is under the ‘River’ of Nepean River. The Great Dividing Range runs parallel to the coast and about 100 kms in, forming the eastern boundary of Wiradjuri country. The western/northern boundary would seem to be some distance east and south of the Darling.

1976

Journal: 075

1976 is in the air right now as those of you who read for #19xx Club put up your reviews. The three years centred on 1976 are not years I remember in any detail, but on 17 December 1977 I met Milly and things took a turn for the better (and for the more lucid).

I was living, sort of, in Stawell, 140 miles west of Melbourne. It must be about the year we switched to kilometres. The young bride had left me and was either living with her aunt in Melbourne or we’d scraped up the money to send her to join her mum and dad in Holland. The caravan we’d lived in was sold and I was sleeping in the car, camping at a mate’s place, spending odd nights at the Bricks Hotel. Or working. I had two old trucks but for much of the year neither of them was on the road.

For a while I had a job doing changeovers at Nhill, up the road a bit from Stawell, halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide. The company had a flat above a shop in the main street, a nice old Federation building, I still go past it from time to time, or did before Covid. I would watch Days of Our Lives until the truck got in from Adelaide after lunch, run down to Melbourne, swap trailers, be back before midnight, handing over to Terry who did the Adelaide half. It was a cruisy job and paid all right, but the police in Horsham, the next major town, knew me, knew when to expect me. I started to accumulate points and soon I didn’t have a Victorian licence.

Of course drivers then always had a second licence, in my case from South Australia, so I took one of my old trucks to Murray Bridge, outside Adelaide, and began running Adelaide – Sydney. If that involved crossing the top left hand corner of Victoria I would just hold my breath, or go the other way, through Broken Hill, and anyway, after three months I had my Vic licence back.

Mostly I remember being young and stupid and single and broke. My hands perpetually black from pulling apart and putting back together one old engine or another. Or changing tyres. Old rag tyres, overloaded and run for too long, would blow at the drop of a hat. I don’t think I bought my first set of tubeless steel radials until the following year.

What I don’t remember is reading, I don’t even remember where my books were. They’d followed me round in boxes for years, weighing down one side of the caravan, perhaps I left them for a while at mum and dad’s, anyway I’ve still got them.

What would I have read if I could afford new books? Le Guin’s most recent was The Dispossessed (1974) and before that The Word for World is Forest (1972) which I think I read for the first time a few years later with Milly. John Sladek was writing mostly short stories. His most recent novel was The Muller-Fokker Effect (1970). Robert Sheckley, my third equal favourite writer, hits the jackpot with The Status Civilization, brought out by Gollancz in 1976.

What about Australians? I didn’t really make a start on them until the 1980s. Any purchases I made in those days, and for many years after except for a few special exceptions, David Ireland and Peter Carey mostly, were necessarily second hand.

I’ve since read most of the best of 1976 I think. Here’s a list (hopefully you’ll have forgotten by the time I re-use it for my 2026 end of year) –

Kenneth Cook, Eliza Fraser
Robert Drewe, The Savage Crows (review)
David Ireland, The Glass Canoe (review)
Elizabeth Jolley, Five Acre Virgin (short stories)
Thomas Keneally, Season in Purgatory
Frank Moorhouse, Conferenceville
Gerald Murane, A Lifetime on Clouds
Christina Stead, Miss Herbert (The Suburban Wife) (review)
Patrick White, A Fringe of Leaves

So, I’ve reviewed three, definitely read the White and probably the Moorhouse. I own Five Acre Virgin, so that’s a start. I’d like to own the Murnane. A Lifetime on Clouds is his second and I don’t think I’ve ever heard the name before, ditto Season in Purgatory, but then Keneally writes so many (it was his twelfth in twelve years). Interesting that Cook and White wrote about the same historical figure in the same year.

That was my 1976, a year of desperate poverty and youthful optimism. I was never going to be a successful owner driver on zero capital, but it was fun trying. I lasted four years, and four years (mostly) without a boss is worth working at.

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Recent audiobooks 

Anne Tyler (F, USA), The Beginner’s Goodbye (2012)
Christina Dodd (F, USA), Wrong Alibi (2020) – Crime
Kim Kelly (F, Aust/NSW), Her Last Words (2020)
Dervla McTiernan (F, Ire), The Scholar (2019) – Crime

Currently reading

Mudrooroo (M, Aus/WA), Tripping with Jenny
Sheri S Tepper, The Gate to Women’s Country

The Road to Turee Creek

Journal: 074

Turee Creek is where Katharine Susannah Prichard wrote Coonardoo in 1927. We won’t really take the road 130 kms of dirt track there, but I had to check my load anyway so thought I would pull up and take the photo just to give you an idea of what this country’s like. That signpost on the Great Northern Hwy is itself nearly 100 kms from the nearest town (Newman), which didn’t exist in KSP’s time, and 300 north of the next, Meekatharra, so Turee Creek is pretty remote.

This is all Martu country, the northern and western-most of the Western Desert peoples whose country extends east and south from here all the way to Ceduna on the south coast, on the other side of the Nullarbor in South Australia

If you remember back a couple more posts before the KSP autobiography, Daisy Bates‘ station at Ethel Creek (100 km NE of Newman) was in the heart of Martu country. She must have begun her studies of Aboriginal languages there, as when she arrived, a decade later, at Ooldea, west of Ceduna and 3,000 km from Ethel Creek, she found the people speaking a similar language. She (and husband Jack) came this way by buggy, 500 kms or so, in 1900, to get to the coast at Carnarvon, so she could catch a boat to Perth.

As did the Martu children, Mollie and Daisy, walking north thirty years later, 1,200 kms, to get home after being kidnapped by police working for the ‘Chief Protector’ (They probably hitched a lift with a camel train around here, but they’d already walked through hundreds of kilometres of this country, making about 20 km a day.)

I wrote more about the confluence of notable women in this remote area, years ago, in Ventured North by Train and Truck, and mentioned another, my favourite trekker/writer Robyn Davidson who, in crossing half the country by camel, from Alice Springs to Shark Bay in the 1970s, passed through just two communities, Docker River on the WA/NT border and Wiluna, crossing the Great Northern Hwy somewhere between this turnoff and Meekatharra.

As it happens, my next trip after taking the Turee Ck photo, last weekend, was up the coast to Karratha (see map below). And I had on my CD player Randolph Stow’s The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea (1965) which is a fictionalisation of his childhood on family properties in and around Geraldton. I’m sure I have a copy somewhere, so I’ll review it later (“soon”), but it is a stunning evocation of place and time (roughly 1935-55) and of course I passed through a lot of the places he describes, from the river flats at Greenough, south of Geraldton, with its horizontal trees to the Murchison River crossing 100 km north where the family picnicked waiting for the flooded river to carry away the old timber bridge (it’s higher now, and concrete).

This is Yamaji country (see ‘We were not here first‘), home to poet Charmaine Papertalk Green, John Kinsella, the location of Nene Gare’s The Fringe Dwellers), and where Alice Nannup whose biography I reviewed ended up, in state housing controlled by Gare’s husband. Stow, at the squattocracy end of Geraldton society, grows up not quite oblivious of the Comeaways and Nannups, but warned by his mother to stay clear of them, and his language is clearly reflective of how the adults around him spoke. Right at the end, he refers for the first time to ‘the Yamaji’, indicative maybe of a growing awareness.

The last book on this literary tour is Ernestine Hill‘s The Great Australian Loneliness (1940) which I still haven’t reviewed, and must. The journey which Hill chronicles begins at Shark Bay, and heads north. At Cossack (a port town since replaced by Karratha and Dampier) she discusses Aboriginal slavery in the pearling industry – a claim studiously ignored, despite the popularity of the book – then moves on up the coast, cadging a lift with Mary and Elizabeth Durack’s father up near the NT border. At one stage, hearing of the Rabbitproof Fence girls, maybe at the Marble Bar pub, she comes south to Jigalong to speak to them before resuming her journey.

My delivery was to the Burrup Peninsula (Murujuga) which contains 40,000 years of art history and which we, of course, use as an industrial site for the natural gas industry. I took a great photo at dawn with the methane flaming off in the background, but I pressed video and it’s beyond me to extract one frame. I was still unloading when a load came up, roadworking machinery from a few hundred kms south, on the road into Exmouth. I had that on in the afternoon and the following evening, Tues., I was home (and up to chapter 61 of Roots which I’m reading with Liz Dexter and Buried in Print).

I should mention one other book which I listened to somewhere in there, if only to see if Melanie/GTL will add it to her recommended bys. That is Faking It by Jennifer Crusie (sic). It’s a fun Rom-Com about an artist, Tilda, who has been brought up in a family of art forgers (and is plump and attractive). She teams up with Davy, a reformed con man, to steal back paintings her late father had her paint under an assumed name. There’s lots of complications as you might expect, but the most interesting is that she likes Davy but doesn’t like sex. Davy’s sense of entitlement is a bit wearing, but how she works through that provides a bit of meat to what is otherwise the usual substanceless nonsense.

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Recent audiobooks 

Nikki Gemmell (F, Aus/NSW), The Book of Rapture (2009)
Erica Jong (F, USA), Fear of Flying (1973)
Alex Haley (M, USA), Roots (1976)
Jennifer Crusie (F, USA), Faking It (2002) – Rom.Com.
Randolph Stow (M, Aust/WA), The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea (1965)
Olivia Campbell (F, USA), Women in White Coats (2021) – NF
Jo Nesbo (M, Nor), The Snowman (2007) – Crime
Jennifer Crusie (F, USA), Faking It (2002) – Rom.Com.
Peter Temple (M, Aust/Vic), The Broken Shore (2005)
Philip K Dick (M, USA), Counter-Clock World (1967) – SF
Kate Grenville (F, Aust/NSW), The Idea of Perfection (2002)

Currently reading

Mudrooroo (M, Aus/WA), Tripping with Jenny

On a new (old) road

Journal: 073

Bron, if you’re planning on settling down to read this with a glass of wine you’d better make it a small one. I was working on a different post when I got a phone call 8am Thurs to offer me a load from Perth to Pt Hedland [Ok, they’ve emailed pick up instructions. Must dash.] So this is going to be a short one just to let you know where I’m at.

[Now it’s 7.00 pm. I’ve spent all day loading in the rain. One more pick up first thing tomorrow and then I’m off. Actually then I might come home, put some stuff together, do some shopping, and then I’ll be off.]

The thing is, I’ve given up crossing the Nullarbor, given up being in permanent isolation, and I’m chasing work up north. You can probably tell by the number of books I’ve read/reviewed recently that ‘chasing work’ involves a lot of sitting round waiting for the phone to ring, but things are slowly coming together.

Ten days ago I did a one off job to a new iron ore mine north of Newman (Koodiatery). You can see in the photo above that I pulled up at the Tropic of Capricorn sign outside Newman to take a celebratory snap. But this current load is from people who have ‘promised’ me regular work. Fingers crossed!

Some history: One hundred and twenty years ago Daisy Bates was in Western Australia, having returned from a five year visit to England, to be reunited with her husband Jack, who was then working at Roy Hill station, and her son Arnold, whom she had dumped in a Catholic boarding school. Daisy had what was left of her father’s money after the bank crash of the previous decade and Jack had been offered the lease of a station (all outback properties are grazing leases), Ethel Creek, between Roy Hill and Jigalong (of Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence fame, though this was around 30 years earlier).

Daisy caught a coastal steamer from Perth to Cossack (1,500 km north) where Jack met her in a buggy, and they spent the next few months together, first making the trip up the course of the Fortescue River to Roy Hill, then inspecting and purchasing Ethel Creek and finally back across country, probably following the course of the Gascoyne River, to Carnarvon.

These days Roy Hill is an iron ore mine, 120 km north of Newman on the Nullagine road which runs through to Marble Bar (but which is too rough for trucks, which must take a roundabout route via Pt Hedland).

When I first started running north, say 15 years ago, Roy Hill was still a cattle station. If you came out of Newman on the highway to Port Hedland, when you crossed the Karajini Range to Auski Roadhouse/Munjina there was a dirt track heading east out to Roy Hill (map), which was more or less the path taken by Daisy and Jack coming from Cossack. A few years ago 160 tonne trucks laden with iron ore started using that track as a short cut between Roy Hill and Pt Hedland, and just recently 40 km from Munjina was bitumised to service a new mine, Koodiatery. To which I went for the first time, last week (I was probably the only person on it thinking about Daisy Bates).

[Fri night, getting on for 9.00. Stopped at Paynes Find, a speck on the map in the endless desert north of Perth, 150 kms from the nearest town, an old pub/roadhouse and a gold mine operated by a couple of old men with pickaxes.]

Last trip Maya Angelou, 4 hours, and Salman Rushdie, 18 hours, took up all my driving/listening time. Mom & Me & Mom was Angelou’s last, an overview of her life concentrating on her relationship with her mother, and I think it will give me some insight as I (eventually) listen to the rest of her life.

The Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, however hasn’t stuck, for all its fame. I remember thinking it was more straightforward than I expected – my previous Rushdie was Midnight’s Children – but I’m going to have to check with Wiki before I can write any more.

[Sat. night. Got to Auski/Munjina and the Koodiatery turnoff around 5.00pm. Helped a guy out and he bought me a beer. Had to persuade him one was enough! Dark now, and I’d better finish this post. Tomorrow, after my Koodiatery delivery. I should be in Port Hedland around lunchtime for one delivery in the afternoon – mines don’t take Sunday off – and one delivery Monday morning. Another contact has offered me some freight home which should pay the (very expensive) fuel bill].

Ok. I looked up The Satanic Verses in Wiki which reminds me it’s the story of two Indian actors in England plus three mystical stories interwoven in a way which makes a lot of sense. I enjoyed it (particularly the brothel where the prostitutes adopted the personas of the women of the prophet’s harem).

Today I was listening to another Nikki Gemmell, Rapture, a YA fable about the descent of an unnamed country into male-dominated authoritarianism. Tomorrow evening I should have time to finish writing up KSP’s autobiography, Child of the Hurricane.

I’m sorry that all you guys are in lockdown and that I am able to sidestep it by remaining in Western Australia, but having been in isolation for nearly eleven of the past twelve months I just couldn’t do it any more.

Already I am being called on to resume my role as the family’s driver – I’ve got out of bed to drive an hour to ‘rescue’ teenage granddaughter from her boyfriend (she was back with him last time I asked); I’ve driven Milly to and from her drumming class (she is unable to drive after dark); and I’ve been booked by one of my many sisters in law to help with an upcoming move. At some stage NSW’s failure to control the virus will result in its spread Australia-wide, but until it takes hold in WA, I’m taking the chance to live a ‘normal’ life.

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Recent audiobooks 

Maya Angelou (F, USA), Mom & Me & Mom (2013) – Memoir
Salman Rushdie (M, Eng), The Satanic Verses (1988)

Currently reading

Katharine Susannah Prichard (F, Aus/WA), Child of the Hurricane
Georgette Heyer (F, Eng), The Talisman Ring
Elizabeth Jolley (F, Aus/WA), Lovesong
CJ Dennis (M, Aus/Vic), The Sentimental Bloke
Nikki Gemmell (F, Aus/NSW), The Ripping Tree
Minae Mizumura (F, Jap), An I-Novel
Belinda Castles ed. (F, Aus), Reading Like an Australian Writer

You Make Me (do it)

Journal: 072

You make me read/listen to books I might not otherwise have considered or even heard of. Cats Eye for MARM, Aboriginal short stories (Born into This), Liz Dexter’s favourite author who, sadly, turned out not to be mine. This of course is a good thing. I wonder what I would be reading had I not been introduced to blogging. More SciFi? More TV? As an aside, Milly says blogging has been the making of me – a bit late, I was in my sixties when I started. I can’t get her to say more than that. There is no doubt that writing about and discussing books has reconnected me to my academic side, but I think she means that for the first time in my life I am actually connecting with other people.

Most of the side streets I venture down are of my own choosing, pre-Jane Austen English Lit for instance. Others are a consequence of beginning projects – most notably the AWW Gens – whose internal logic carries me in unexpected directions. And some, and maybe even the most interesting, are from your enthusiasms rubbing off on me.

Brona/This Reading Life has designated August as Poetry Month, following up an initiative by Red Room Poetry whose anthology, Guwayu – For All Times, I reviewed recently. I had thought that might do it for me but looking round my shelves I see I have far more (Australian) poetry than I expected, mostly because of my father, from Kendall, through Paterson and Lawson to CJ Dennis, some older Australian anthologies, and of course, his own compilation of WWI poetry, Quiet Flows the Somme Dark Somme Flowing (write in haste, repent at leisure!), and on to my own interests in Alan Wearne and recent Indigenous collections.

This has set me off on a Poetry Month post of my own which I have 27 days to complete. That makes four posts I have on the go – ok, in contemplation – right now, plus my quarterly accounts, which all I hope to get done, having just got home from Melbourne, and back into Iso, before anyone offers me any more work.

For the remainder of this post I want to review/briefly mention books I have listened to, via Audible and Borrowbox, following recommendations from you, my fellows. I said above that left to myself I would probably be reading more SF, and as it happens, Melanie/GTL in particular has been pointing me recently towards US women’s non-violent SF.

First up was The Snow Queen (1980) which you might have thought I had heard of before, but I hadn’t (Son, Lou will probably tell me we read it back in Melbourne in the 1990s. But if we did it didn’t make an impression). I bought it on Audible when Melanie first made the suggestion but didn’t listen to it until last month. I thought it good average SF but I appreciate the different perspective, and better characterization, that women writers bring to SF. To summarize very briefly, The Summer Queen and the Winter Queen each rule for 150 years. The book follows Moon, a young Summer woman who turns out to be a clone of the Winter Queen. Will she become the Summer Queen? There are of course lots of interesting twists and turns (see Wiki).

More interesting, and also recommended by Melanie, is Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series which commences with The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (2014). My feeling is that it is more interesting because it is more modern, but can I explain that? The Snow Queen is your standard adventure epic, though with no or very little shooting, which I appreciate. Chambers’ books are more character studies which happen to have inter-planetary settings.

We follow the multi-species crew of a typical “owner-driver” space craft (there’s a word for this in shipping, but I can’t bring it to the surface). One of the most interesting situations is that the AI, the mind to use Iain M Banks’ term, Lovey, which runs the ship is in love with the ship’s engineer, and he with her. They decide that the next step is to find Lovey a body.

This leads us to the next book in the series, A Closed and Common Orbit (2016) which I feel like I am going to have to listen to again because the summaries I’m reading don’t gel with what little I remember. There are two stories running in parallel. Pepper, who lives in a community in the interior of a planet, has the care of an android which contains the mind of a ship’s AI, not Lovey’s because that transfer failed, but with some of Lovey’s memories. And a girl, Jennifer 23, is one of a roomful of Jennifers all aged 10, working in a factory salvaging parts from scrapped spaceships. She escapes to the ‘outside’ and is cared for for years by a the AI of a stranded spaceship. We slowly become aware that Pepper is Jennifer 23, grown up and escaped to another planet.

As you are no doubt aware Liz Dexter/Adventures in Reading, Running etc. has this year been making her way through the works of Anne Tyler. I never seem to be able to borrow a book at the same time as she is reading it, but I do have one in mind, for September I think. Meanwhile I listened to Morgan’s Passing (1980) which Liz reviewed awhile ago. The eponymous Morgan is a fantasist who lives off his wife’s emotional and her family’s financial support. He begins stalking a couple, whom he met by pretending to be a doctor and actually delivering their child, and slowly worms his way into their lives. The young woman of the couple, Emily, is a maths major when we meet her and I expected a lot of her, but she wastes her life/fails to assert her independence, first with her ‘actor’ husband and then, inexplicably, with Morgan. Tyler writes good characters and puts them into interesting situations, but I found Morgan barely believable and totally unlikeable. Only Bonnie, Morgan’s wife, with her self-awareness and common sense, redeems this book.

I like photographing my truck at sunrise, as you may have noticed. I get plenty of opportunities starting work at 5.00 am! The pic below was taken at Nullarbor Station last trip (no Bingo sorry Melanie). It might be my last trip that way for a while, if things turn out. I’ve had one year of isolation and I don’t think I can face a second. I have a tentative offer of work up north which I hope will keep me in WA for a while. But the best laid schemes etc…

I see in compiling the lists below, Regeneration and Station Eleven, both of which you recommended. Sorry, you know, space, time. I of course have reservations about Regeneration, but I enjoyed reading them both.

Recent audiobooks 

Mike Bockoven (M, USA), Pack (2018) – Fantasy
Lee Child (M, Eng), Blue Moon (2019) – Crime
Joan Vinge (F, USA), The Snow Queen (1980) – SF
Ellen Alpsten (F, Eng), Tsarina (2020) – Hist.Fic
Jim Lehrer (M, USA), Top Down (2013) – Hist.Fic
Elizabeth Woodcraft (F, Eng), The Saturday Girls (2018) – Coming of Age
Archie Roach (M, Aus/Vic), Tell Me Why (2019) – Memoir
Pat Barker (F, Eng), Regeneration (1991) – Hist.Fic
Anne Tyler (F, USA), Morgan’s Passing (1980)
Emily St John Mandel (F, Can), Station Eleven (2014) – SF (post-apocalyptic)
Becky Chambers (F, USA), A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (2014) – SF
Becky Chambers (F, USA), A Closed and Common Orbit (2016) – SF
Isabelle Allende (F, USA), In the Midst of Winter (2017)
Nikki Gemmell (F, Aus/NSW), The Ripping Tree (2021) – Hist.Fic
Kerry Greenwood (F, Aus/Vic), Murder and Mendelssohn (2013) – Hist.Fic/Crime
Andrea Camilleri (M, Ita), The Age of Doubt (2008) – Crime
Margaret Atwood (F, Can), Angel Catbird (2017) – SF

Currently reading

Carmel Bird (F, Aus/Tas), The Bluebird Cafe
Bruce Pascoe (M, Aus/Vic), Dark Emu
Jacqueline Kent (F, Aus/Vic), Vida
Adam Thompson (M, Aus/Tas), Born in to This
George Sand (F, Fra), Laura: A Journey into the Crystal
Norman Lindsay (M, Aus/NSW), Age of Consent
Jeanine Leane ed. (F, Aus/NSW), Guwayu – For All Times

Old People

Journal: 071

Same as last time. I’m in Melbourne, finished unloading and Homer hasn’t yet put together a load home for me, so I’ve time on my hands. Same too Covid-wise, restrictions in Victoria mean I can’t visit mum, though it turns out WA, my home state, aren’t being so hardline as last year about iso for us “essential workers”, I had dinner at Milly’s – and spare a thought for her, this week she’s on a 7 day ‘refugee’ diet/fundraiser (I’ll see if I can provide a link).

I should really have posted Such is Life (06) in this space but I didn’t get it fully written up before I left home and may or may not get it done today/tomorrow. SIL is one of those projects we discuss from time to time under the heading of for whom are we writing. I’m happy to be making my case in the way that I am; sometimes when there’s only a few comments you think “well that post failed” but I’m not greedy enough to expect even my most loyal readers to comment 12 times about one book (which they may not have read); I’m taking my cue from Brona’s Moby Dick and Lisa’s Finnegan’s Wake which both I think worked very well – I hope they don’t mind the comparison!

The Old People of the heading, and I suppose you can take as read that’s “old people like me”, is from two books I listened to on the way over, Thomas Keneally’s The Pact (2020) and Joanna Trollope’s An Unsuitable Match (2017). Not that I feel old, even now. Old men wear baggy brown trousers and tweed coats; old men are bent, have trouble walking, have whispy white hair. I see them in the street, reassure myself I’m not them.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late … That’s me!

Poor old Thomas Keneally (1935- ) too refuses to face reality and continues churning out stories with no hint of his early promise as a writer of quality. The Pact in this case is ostensibly an agreement between long-married Australians Paddy and Jenny to end their lives at the time of their own choosing on the Thames Embankment where they first met. Ostensibly because their financial support for their younger son during his long struggle with gambling addiction has driven Jenny to despair. It is she who is determined to die and Paddy must convince her over and over that he is genuine about going with her.

The Pact reads like a checklist of subjects Keneally is interested in – I won’t accuse him of writing for book groups – lapsed Catholicism, getting old and prosperous in Sydney, adult children, continence, the obligatory year in London after uni (which Boris and Scotty from Marketing may have just revived).

There is a very funny scene about something Keneally is clearly worried about, and which I am not, not yet. Paddy out and about in London needs to piss, can’t find anywhere before it’s running down his leg, desperately seeks a new pair of trousers to buy from a sales person who is pretending not to have noticed.

Trollope’s novel is also about an old (ok, in their 60s) couple in love. In her case Rose, a divorcee runs into Tyler, a widower who was keen on her when they were at school half a century earlier. Both have late twentiesh children and Trollope makes points by putting the children into relationships in ways which mirror what Rose and Tyler are doing.

On both sides the children are largely resentful of and feel threatened by their parents’ proposed marriage. I’ve been Tyler a couple of times, and in both cases – my third marriage and a relationship afterwards – my children were largely unconcerned (or were concerned for me rather than for themselves) and the woman’s children were pleased for her and got on well with me. In both cases discussions occurred naturally about the disposition of assets, about what the children would inherit. Rose and Tyler don’t have that discussion and it gradually becomes obvious that Rose is unrealistic in dismissing the fears of her children. Tyler in fact is a pushy bastard and each time he says to Rose, ‘I love you, I only suggest what is best for you’, the reader squirms.

I don’t remember the last Trollope I read except I didn’t like it much. I see on searching she has written one called Sense & Sensibility, which she mentions briefly in this, commenting that one grows from sensibility to sense which accords with my opinion that the original S&S is YA.

Unlike The Pact, An Unsuitable Match is worth reading, not literature but definitely a good beach read.

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Thomas Keneally, The Pact (2020) Audible, narrated by Keith Scott, Taylor Owynns, Afterword by Thomas Keneally. 7 hours
Joanna Trollope, An Unsuitable Match (2018). Bolinda, read by Samantha Bond. 9 hrs

Top photo, An excursion into the Victorian Alps

Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night, 1937

Milly: See Ration Challenge Australia 2021

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Recent audiobooks

Jacqeline Kent (F, Aust), Vida (2020) – Biog.
Kerry Greenwood (F, Aust), Dead Man’s Chest (2010) – Hist.Fic./Crime
Garth Nix (M, Eng), The Left-Handed Booksellers of London (2020) – YA/Fantasy (1980s alternative timeline)
Marc Levy (M, Fra), All Those Things We Never Said (2008) DNF Ridiculous premise
Kerry Fisher (F, Eng), The Mother I could have Been (2020)
Lee Child (F, Eng), Persuader (2003) – Crime
Herman Koch (M, NL), The Ditch (2016) – disappointing
Lawrence Block (M, USA), Out on the Cutting Edge (1989) – Crime
Sophie Kinsella (F, Eng), Sleeping Arrangements (2001)
Patricia Cornwell (F, NL), Quantum (2019) – SF-ish thriller
Joanna Trollope (F, Eng), An Unsuitable Match (2017)
Thomas Keneally (M, Aust/NSW), The Pact (2020)

Iso again

Journal: 070

Iso again reminds me of Alone again, naturally. It’s certainly how I feel. Our incompetent federal government, with its incompetent international traveller quarantine and incompetent vaccination rollout and incompetent stewardship of the aged and disabled has allowed the latest, almost instantly transmissable strain of Covid-19 out into the general populace and so Victoria is locked down, heading into its second week as I write, WA has reinstated its ‘hard border’ and I in Melbourne loading, am heading back into mandatory isolation.

At least as an essential worker I can keep moving. And I will. I should be in Perth on Monday, unloaded Tues, second vaccination Weds, loaded Thurs, Fri and on my way back east over the weekend. Customers have not only contacted me with freight but one has organised to pay me in advance. How good is trucking!

Interestingly, it’s been a while since I had my brain probed with a nasal swab. The seven day test rule for truckies seems to have fallen into abeyance. Last year South Australia maintained testing stations at truck stops. But the one I used, at Port Augusta, has been closed these past two or three trips. I wonder if they’ll open it again with so much Covid on their border. Otherwise, I expect I’ll be tested within 48 hours of crossing into WA – Sun night if I’m making good time, more likely Monday.

Can you tell I have time on my hands and an itch to write? Posting just once a week seems wrong somehow, though it seems to be enough to keep my readership up. But as it turns out I’ve had nearly two days off in Melbourne since finishing unloading. Yesterday I wrote up Vida which I listened to on the way over (to be posted Sunday). Today’s Weds and I’ll post this, such as it is, while the ink’s hot.

I thought about writing up an episode in my life – I still owe Melanie an ‘I ran way to the circus’ story – but that seems to be something I would rather not just dash off. I’ve been thinking for a while about writing my autobiography, not as a book but as a series of posts over a number of years. How would I start? Brian Matthews writes that he thought about (and rejected) a conventional opening for Louisa – “she was born on such and such a date at …, add incidental detail for colour”. I could say “I was born in the bush hospital at Daylesford [70 years ago], weighing 8lb 10oz, after a farmer took mum in in his car from the little one teacher school at Leonard’s Hill, dad following later on his motorbike.” A few more sentences to dispose of my childhood and we could get on to the interesting stuff. I’ve no intention of competing with Sartre’s Words. I’m more Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, or Catcher in the Rye if I was good enough.

No one will ever be Joyce but if I were a writer I wouldn’t mind being Salinger or maybe DH Lawrence – yes I know, I’m Tiny Tim to their Placido Domingo.

The clock on the right of the screen says 10:58. That’s WA time, so it’s really 1pm and I’m due at the steel warehouse to load at 3.00. I have this constant backwards and forwards in my head between local and WA time because, by law, we have to keep our logbooks in home state time to stop us cheating when we cross the border. I normally drive from 5am to 10pm. The other day I leapt out of bed at 5.45 (on my phone) only to realise, after I started the engine, that I was in South Australia and so couldn’t move on for another 45 minutes.

I haven’t had time to list my audiobooks. But I’m currently listening to Herman Koch’s The Ditch (so-so) and reading Carmel Bird’s The Bluebird Cafe (whimsical).

Looking for a photo to illustrate this post I saw I had a sequence from my last trip – loading steel; tarped; some cars on top; hooked up as road train (on the cliffs overlooking the Bight).

I don’t usually have anything else under my tarps, but that trip I was carrying a drill press, ‘protected’ by shrink-wrap which quickly goes all Priscilla Queen of the Desert if you don’t cover it up.

As I said, Vida next, then, if I get them written, another installment of Such is Life, and a review of Butter Honey Pig Bread. Where will I find the time? And more books being if not read then listened to all the time. Maybe, by the end of next trip, a spell of iso will be looking more attractive.

I’ve been Cheating

Journal: 069

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.

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Recent audiobooks 

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

Currently reading

Iain M Banks (M, Scot), The Hydrogen Sonata
Ann Radcliffe (F, Eng), The Italian