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.


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


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.


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

Marking Time

Journal: 068

Ok, I’ve been away. After six years I still haven’t got a handle on this blog while you work thing. In fact, each iteration of my employment over that time has seen me doing more driving/fussing around with my truck and paperwork and less time reading and writing. And then there’s not being in iso, and having a social life, which is where last weekend went.

Milly made it clear why she keeps me hanging around by sending me out for a ute load (about a tonne) of soil for her vegie garden, which has grown since the picture above. Of course she was cunning enough to say ‘just dump it here and I’ll spread it out with a bucket’ and so I spent an hour shovelling premium vegie mix from the ute into her various garden beds. At least I didn’t have to put it in a barrow and wheel it out the back. And then I didn’t get fed! It was Saturday, I had already asked her out.

We went to our local Italian, Bravo’s in Vic Park. There had been a mini-Covid outbreak in the morning, the big football match of the week was being played in front of a crowd of zero, no need to worry about our booking, we were the only ones there until later in the evening (seafood risotto for me, walnut and cream gnocchi for her, and a bottle of Italian pinot grigio if you were wondering).

Sunday it was a week since my last post but Gee and the kids were at Milly’s for the afternoon and so was I. Monday I had three trailers to unload – I got in from Melbourne late Friday – so here we are at Tuesday.

My other problem is Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian which I am determined to finish. That’s not to say I’m not enjoying it, but the writing is so ornate, so dense, that I am proceeding very slowly. The story itself is good, a genuine action thriller. So we will have to make do for another week with some audiobooks. First a couple of Australians.

The Women in Black (1993), Madelaine St John. The story of a young woman coming to a major Sydney department store in the 1950s to work in women’s cocktail frocks and gowns. The story was made into the movie Ladies in Black by Australian director Bruce Beresford in 2018. Beresford provides an Introduction to the Bolinda audiobook version (which of course, in complete disrepect of the author, is named after the movie). He knew St John at Sydney Uni, in the drama club, in the late 50s and describes seeing her, mouse-like in the wings while her more illustrious fellows – himself and Clive James – held centre stage. He holds her up to ridicule for using the pronunciation Sinj’n for her name when all her family use Saint John (yet I remember her father, Edward St John insisting on Sinj’n in Parliament in 1969). He catches up with her before her death in 2006, when she was poor and in ill health, and mocks her not once but twice for dying her hair to its original colour, and praises himself for taking her out to dinner. I’m still angry at having to listen to this nonsense. The book itself is pleasant enough. Like Beresford, I’m surprised to learn that St John claims not to have had any work experience in one of those old fashioned department stores like David Jones or Grace Bros. Read Whispering Gums (here) for a proper review.

The Year of the Farmer (2018), Rosalie Ham. I had it in my mind to dislike this, I don’t like farm stories much, don’t trust city writers to tell them, but here I am, nearly at the end, and enjoying it. The big, big problem is Caroline Lee’s reading. Her Australian screech suits YA but is totally destroying this, which requires more nuance.

It took me a while to catch on but I think Ham is attempting something unique, attempting to capture a whole small country community in a just slightly over the top romp and taking at the same time the opportunity to skewer Australia’s corrupt water trading industry. With a couple of chapters to go (I hope I get some work soon so I can listen to the end), will the (married) leading man end up with his childhood sweetheart? Will the wicked witch of the waterworks end up in jail? Will (I forget her name), the third in a threesome end up with a guy of her own? Has one of you already reviewed this, I’m sure you have. First up in DuckDuckGo is Theresa Smith (here). The comparison I spring to, of course I do, is Miles Franklin’s Old Blastus of Bandicoot. A similar country setting, the same over the top ness.

Clock Dance (2018), Anne Tyler. Liz Dexter’s #AnneTyler2021 project led me to pick up this one. As Liz is working through Tyler’s oeuvre (there’s a word I hate having to use) it’ll be a while before she gets to it, so I won’t say much. Liz wrote recently (about Earthly Possessions, 2004), “I’m definitely starting to see patterns in Tyler’s preoccupations and themes as I work my way through them – a very pleasing aspect of reading all of an author’s works in order. Here we have the tropes of multiple siblings, each with their oddity, the woman alone with her odd family, photographers, the runaway wife, the young and seemingly attractive but pretty useless drifter guy, and the small town (not Baltimore again), as well as the house full of STUFF.”

Do these patterns persist up to Clock Dance? [insert: the following sentence is actually a summary of Sarah Cornwell’s What I had before I had You. How embarrassing! I really should stop the truck and take notes.]

There’s certainly a “woman alone with her odd family” whom we see over two timelines, one as an awkward adolescent living alone with an often absent mother, and ‘today’, after leaving her husband with two adolescent children of her own and returning to the town where she grew up.

I look forward to Liz’s review later in the year. Next up in #AnneTyler2021 I think is Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, which I’m sure we have all read (though do I retain even the slightest memory?).

[Another insert: I’d better listen to Clock Dance again and remind myself what it actually was about]

This Perfect Day (1970), Ira Levin. If you check the list below, starting from Jasper Fforde, you’ll see I had a very SF-ish last trip. All just alternate or slightly futuristic versions of our own world, nothing to frighten the horses. Levin’s was very much in the strain of Brave New World, people being engineered to be all the same colour and size, and all their choices made for them by a central computer. They are drugged monthly to keep them compliant and are made to inform on each other for any variations from norm. The protagonist is admitted into a small society of malcontents who are able to reduce their drug intake.

One effect of the drugs is to reduce their sex drive to one casual encounter per week. The malcontents have very active sex lives but the protagonist becomes fixated on the leader’s girlfriend who has bigger breasts and paler skin. Eventually he kidnaps her and begins forcing himself on her. I thought, this is going to end soon, and Levin will draw a moral. He doesn’t, the rape is described in some detail and I’m sure Levin’s intention is to have the woman swoon in admiration at our protagonist’s forcefulness. I did not, could not, read on to find out.

Marking Time? No, I’m not become a teacher like my son, I’m waiting to get The Italian out of the way and to start reading again.


Recent audiobooks 

Rivers Solomon (x, USA), An Unkindness of Ghosts (2017) – SF [Solomon identifies as non-binary]
Amor Towles (M, USA), A Gentleman in Moscow (2016) – Hist.Fic.
Lilja Sigurdardottir (F, Ice), Snare (2015) – Crime
Natacha Appanah (F, Fra), Waiting for Tomorrow (2015)
Gillian Flynn (F, USA), Gone Girl (2012) – Crime
Madeline St John (F, Aust/NSW), The Women in Black (1994)
Christos Tsialkos (M, Aust/Vic), Merciless Gods (2014)
Jasper Fforde (M, Eng), Early Riser (2018) – SF
Anne Tyler (F, USA), Clock Dance (2018)
Sarah Cornwell (F, USA), What I had before I had You (2014)
Alex Scarrow (M, Eng), Reborn (2017) – SF (no ending – you’re expected to buy #3)
Sarah Fine (F, USA), Uncanny (2017) – YA/SF
Charles Lambert (M, Eng), The Children’s Home (2017) – Fable?, SF-Dystopian
Ira Levin (M, USA), This Perfect Day (1970) – SF (DNF, attempts to justify rape)

Currently reading

The Australian Military Forces (M, Aust), Stand Easy
Jessica Gaitán Johannesson (F, Eng), How We Are Translated
Ann Radcliffe (F, Eng), The Italian

3 Audiobooks

Journal: 067

Coming over this Easter, from Perth to Melbourne with detours to a mine in Western Australia, a station in western NSW and a farm on Wilsons Prom., I listened to the three novels the old fashioned way, on CD. Why? Because it’s still easy to get them like that from the local library. But I will start my next Audible book ‘soon’. I did try a couple of Borrowbox e-audiobooks but there was a problem with the download.

I wouldn’t have written up these books at all, probably, but there is a problem with my load and I’m held over till tomorrow (Thurs) morning, so I’ve a few hours to kill.

Waiting for Tomorrow (2015) is a novella by Mauritian/French author Natacha Appanah, original title: En attendant demain, translator: Geoffrey Strachan.

This is the first of the three I listened to, so some of my memory cells have been overwritten by subsequent events. Briefly, I enjoyed it. And the author expresses some anger at the treatment of POC, including the use of the term ‘people of colour’, by, in particular, progressive Parisians.

The story moves around a lot, and is told from the POV of all the main characters. Today, Adam is to be released after 5 years and x days in jail. Anita, his wife of Mauritian descent, is waiting for him. Their daughter might be in a coma. Adele is dead. We go back to Adam and Anita meeting, marrying, moving back to Adam’s home town in the provinces (on the Atlantic coast). Adam an architect and mediocre painter; Anita, with a novel in her bottom drawer, getting piecework on the local newspaper. Adam’s annoyance at her ‘wasting her talents’.

Laura is born. Adele enters the story. Another Mauritian, undocumented, working in a bar and as a nanny. She meets Anita, begins living with Anita and Adam. There’s some drama. Adele dies. The ending is suspenseful and satisfying.

Snare (2015) is apparently #1 in the Reykjavik noir trilogy. I’m not sure what its title is in Icelandic but the translator was Quentin Bates. In an Afterword author Lilja Sigurdardottir says that Icelandic is spoken by only 400,000 people and it is important that the language be preserved, but also that it is a privilege to have her work translated into English.

The protagonist of Snare, Sonia, is a mule for drug smugglers, bringing cocaine into Iceland from Denmark and England. The plot is a little fanciful and the action sequences annoying (I’m sure they’re done well, but I don’t like action).

The charm of the novel is in the characterisation. Sonia has left her husband, but has inexplicably put her divorce into the hands of a lawyer friend of her husband’s who puts her into a settlement that gives her no income, no family home, and only one weekend a fortnight access to their son. Sonia is in an on again off again lesbian relationship with Agla, a senior manager in a failing bank, and a workmate of Sonia’s husband.

The quantity of drugs Sonia is expected to transport increases exponentially, a customs officer begins to notice her frequent, short international trips. the son is kidnapped when it looks like Sonia is refusing to continue smuggling. It all comes to a very exciting head. But the personal situations would have been just as interesting without the ‘noir’.

After two similarly aged female protagonists – similar enough that I began to confuse Sonia’s backstory with Anita’s – A Gentleman in Moscow (2016) was a complete change.

A G in M is Russian historical fiction written by an American, Amor Towles, apparently a literary author of some reputation. It is well researched with very many allusions to the great Russian authors. But. Towles is an American and his biases show. Not least in his choice of an ending which of course involves a complete repudiation of the Revolution and of communist society.

Count Alexander Rostov, and aren’t Americans fascinated by titles, is about 20 at the time of the October Revolution (1917). His lands are lost and he narrowly avoids execution only to be condemned to indefinite house arrest in the attics of Moscow’s principal hotel, the Metropol.

Over the course of 40 or 50 years he becomes head waiter in the hotel’s main restaurant and gains a foster daughter, who shares his 10 ft by 10 ft bedroom throughout all her teenage years despite all the other rooms in the attic being unoccupied.

It’s an interesting, if overlong story, but it’s Hist.Fic. and it’s not by a Russian, so I don’t see any point for anyone not a long distance truck driver with endless hours to fill, reading it.

Thank you Melanie

Journal: 066

I have lots of bloggers to thank for lots of things. Friendship and communication mostly, which I’ve always done better by writing than f2f. But I want to thank Melanie (Grab the Lapels) particularly for MAKING MY TRUCK RADIO WORK.

I’ve complained for years that I have had trouble playing audiobooks on my phone through the speakers of my truck radio. At least over Xmas I got off my bum and tried Bluetooth headphones – which worked but a) cancelled all the noise from the truck to which I listen, mostly unconsciously, to determine how I’m going; and b) captured incoming phone calls, nearly always straight after I’d taken the headphones off to do something else.

Recently, Melanie replied that she just hopped in her car, plugged an audio cable from phone to radio, and away she went. Ok. I’d been trying for the cable option for ever. My high end Oppo phone doesn’t have an audio out port. Did my previous Samsung? I don’t remember. My real problem was that I mostly deal with the local JB HiFi which is staffed by young sales people. A couple of weeks ago I tried Milly’s JB HiFi which I know is staffed by geeks, and hey presto – take this USB to audio converter, plug in this audio cable, give me twenty something bucks, and away you go. Doing a short country run yesterday to pick up some freight, I connected the cables, fired up another story from Chris Tsiolkas’ Merciless Gods, and away we were!

My next, short, step will be to borrow audiobooks from the library virtually. While he stayed with me these past couple of weeks, I tried out my brother’s BorrowBox account, and that worked fine too. No more whingeing!

So, you know I had to take the month off – two weeks iso and two weeks partying. The photo above is me and Psyche at my birthday. That’s my happy face, can you tell? I had a great time. And the photo below is Gee and Psyche and baby Dingo on Rottnest. Had a great time there too!

Rottnest is an island 20 kms off the coast of Perth. The upper classes, when they’re not down at their winery/weekenders in Margaret River, come across in their yachts to moor opposite the pub where they can be seen. But the rest of us take the ferries; stay in the 1950s cottages; walk and swim and ride our bikes and sit in the sun and drink and eat. Ok, this time Milly and I and our party had a couple of glam tents (no aircon but, they’ll be hot in summer). Gee and Oak and their six kids were about a kilometre away in a cottage, and every time you looked up, and well into the evening, one or more of the six would be whizzing by, dropping in. Bikes, a world to explore, endless days – that’s how childhood should be.

Of course, the other side of Rottnest – Wadjemup to the local Noongars – is that almost from the first days of white settlement, that is from the 1830s, it was used as a prison for Aboriginal men, not just for Noongars but for men from throughout Western Australia. The old Tentland, was on top of “the unmarked graves of at least 373 Aboriginal men – the largest deaths in custody site in Australia and the largest known burial ground of Aboriginal people” (ABC RN).

We fight constantly, mostly successfully, to prevent the wealthy from turning Rottnest into an exclusive resort, but the happy, sunny days mask a dark past, as is so often the case in Australia.

One day on. I was writing Wednesday, now it’s Thurs 1 April, my month of iso/holiday is over and I’d better put my head down, nose to the grindstone, pedal to the metal and all those other cliches for the 36 weeks or so till Christmas. The trailers are (lightly) loaded. I was hoping for a bit more but Homer in Melbourne’s been on the phone every day making sure I’ll be there to load back on Tuesday. Bloody public holidays, they always get in the way but a couple of easy-going farmers have agreed to accept deliveries Sunday, Monday so that’s ok.

And did I say? I got my first Covid vaccination last week.

Currently reading

Louisa Hall (F, USA), Speak
Susan Allott (F, Eng), The Silence
Ann Radcliffe (F, Eng), The Italian
Peter Corris (M, Aust/NSW), The January Zone
Joseph Furphy (M, Aust/Vic), Such is Life
ETA Hoffman (M, Ger), Mr Flea

More Gen 4 Stuff

Journal: 065

Just three trips so far this year and here I am in iso again – my 14 days will be up on the 13th – Milly’s come round a couple of times to sit on the balcony, luckily for me she had stuff she wanted to talk about. Milly rarely makes her point directly but it’s clear she wants me to spend more time in Western Australia, and she doesn’t mean in iso where I’m no good to anybody. I’m the senior gut in our family – that’s probably the most Freudian typo I’ve ever made – and I’m needed. I’ve written this before. Long distance truck driving as escapism – there’s a thought two of my ex-wives would heartily endorse and now it seems a third (the second actually) is joining them.

I’m not going any further down that line. My excuses for running east-west are that I have regular, good-paying work and I see Mum (sometimes) who has exactly zero family left living in Melbourne. No doubt it will be discussed more in these next three weeks with two of my brothers coming over, and Gee’s wedding, and me being FREE to go out! My birthday lifts me up a category and I should get my first vaccine shot in the last week of the month. I was tested yesterday, negative again, I suppose there’ll be a few more before this is finally over.

And to go back one Journal, I’m walking (a bit) more and I’m feeling better for it, though not any lighter.

On to more AWW Gen 4 stuff. The picture above is from Sue Rhodes’ Now You’ll Think I’m Awful, from the days when young men went out with ‘nice’ girls but only married good girls. I was going to ask you if you could identify the illustrator, whose style looks familiar. I eventually found it but I’ll put it down the bottom in case you want to guess.

I think I have Melanie/GTL persuaded to do a review for next year which led me to think about what are the most important authors/works during the first part of the period. Numero uno would have to be Thea Astley whose early works are –
Girl with a Monkey
A Descant for Gossips (1960)
The Well Dressed Explorer (1962)
The Slow Natives (1965)
A Boat Load of Home Folk (1968)
The Acolyte (1972)
A Kindness Cup (1974)
We have two reviews of A Kindness Cup just on this blog, but I hope I can get reviews of all the others as well.

Astley is important for her writing and for her willingness to deal with the big issues in Queensland – corruption and racism. Bobbi Sykes and Faith Bandler who both grew up Black in Queensland, are important because they deal with those issues first hand. I have Sykes’ Snake Cradle and I think I’ll make that one of my reviews for AWW Gen 4 Week, though I would also like to get hold of Bandler’s Wacvie, for Lisa/ANZLL’s Indigenous Lit.Week in July.

Of the other novelists, Mena Calthorpe, The Dyehouse, and Nene Gare, The Fringe Dwellers, are interesting but look back to the Social Realism of the previous generation; Nancy Cato, Elizabeth Kata and others are popular (no reason not to review them!); which leaves Jessica Anderson and Shirley Hazzard; poets Bobbi Sykes and Oodgeroo Noonuccal; and of course the seminal non-fiction works of Germaine Greer and Anne Summers (and the less seminal Sue Rhodes).

Please don’t feel I’m being prescriptive. If the books on your shelves, or which catch your fancy, are from authors I haven’t named, or from the latter half of the period, then go for it, especially the late 70s which includes Monkey Grip and Puberty Blues. And more poetry, the only poetry review I can think of so far was from Brona: Dorothy Hewett’s In Midland When the Trains Go By. Apart from the two above, my list has Glen Tommasetti and Lee Cataldi, and I am sure there are others.

Hopefully, at some stage before we begin writing for Gen 4 Part II, we will have a handle on the principal themes and underlying literary theory for this generation. Lots of homework needed!

Heading for home. Sunrise, Yalata SA, Feb. 2021

Recent audiobooks 

Peter Turnbull (M, Eng), A Dreadful Past (2016) – Crime
Laura Marshall (F, Eng), Friend Request (2017) – Crime
Rob Hart (M, USA), South Village (2016) – Crime
Eric Barnes (M, USA), The City Where We Once Lived (2018) – SF/Dystopian
Elizabeth Gilbert (F, USA), City of Girls (2019) – 1940s Hist.Fic. and good despite that
Sebastian Barry (M, Ire), The Secret Scripture (2008)– DNF. Shortlisted for the Booker, but the reader, Wanda McCaddon’s strong accent as an old Irishwoman was unlisten-to-able

Currently reading

Charlotte Bronte (F, Eng), The Professor
Charlotte Bronte (F, Eng), Jane Eyre
Catherine Helen Spence (F, Aust/SA), Clara Morison
Helen Garner (F, Aust/Vic), Cosmo Cosmolino
Bill Green (M, Aust/Vic), Small Town Rising
Fergus Hume (M, Aust/Vic), Madame Midas
Joseph Furphy (M, Aust/Vic), Such is Life
ETA Hoffman (M, Ger), Mr Flea
Carmen Laforet (F, Esp), Nada

Ans. Illustrator: John Endean. (The chapter heading is “Cheez, Love, Yer a grouse-lookin’ shiela”, a line I may or may not have used myself)

Unstoppable AWW Gen 3

Journal: 064

I’m working, in Melbourne loading to go home. The photo above is me getting loaded last week in Perth. Apparently the wreck – it appears to have blown a steer tyre and dived off the road into a culvert – was worth buying and bringing over for parts. And I’m organised, I have/had reviews ready for Monday and Thursday posting through to next week. But, you my friends keep posting AWW Gen 3 relevant reviews, so I’ll put this up on Saturday (at the moment I’m typing on Tuesday) with the appropriate links.

That brings up the question Why? Nearly everyone who comments here will have seen them already. Well, firstly just to reference them all in one place. But also, because the few people who comment – and I think that is about 15 here, 20 max. – are only a tiny proportion of the people who read blogs. It constantly astonishes me how tight, and how relatively small, the community of people who read and comment on each other’s blogs is.

The three posts are:

Whispering Gums: Elizabeth Harrower, The Long Prospect (1958)

Harrower, it seems to me writes in a similar vein, and similar settings, to Eleanor Dark. Modernist, Sydney, Middle-class life.

“Oppression and tyranny, power and manipulation in human relationships are the stuff of Elizabeth Harrower’s writing, at least in my experience of it, and so I found it again in her second novel The long prospect.” Read on …

Reading Matters: Dorothy Hewett, Bobbin’ Up (1959)

Hewett is an interesting author, very mainstream Gen 3, a Communist brought up middle class (on a Western Australian wheat farm) writing about the working class, and I’m glad Kim chose to review her.

“.. not really a novel; it’s more a collection of short stories focused on a bunch of diverse characters, all female, who work together at a woollen mill in Sydney during the 1950s.” Read on …

ANZLitLovers: Modernism, a Very Short Introduction, by Christopher Butler … and Christina Stead

Now, this post is dated Nov. 2016 so don’t ask me why it was in my head to include it in this spot. But having got this far, and given all our discussions of Modernism in relation to Gen 3, I commend it to you.

“So, to Modernism, A Very Short Introduction first of all, because Christina Stead is a great modernist and most of us could use a little help in understanding her work.  Alas, she does not get a mention in this little book of only 102 pages, so you will have to make do with my interpretations and extrapolations…” Read on …

And because I can, one more truck photo

It’s Saturday now, or near enough, and I’m on the way home, pulled up for the night 300 km from the WA border. I’ll be home Sunday, touch wood, and once I’m unloaded will take a month’s holiday, or at least, 2 weeks iso then two weeks with whichever of my family make it over to celebrate my daughter’s wedding.


Journal: 063

As I reported, I did one trip Perth-Melbourne in January, getting home in time to summarize another successful AWW ‘Gen’ Week. Victoria had had one case of Covid in December so it was back to iso for me, then Perth had a case too, and iso became a city-wide 5 day lockdown. The main effect as far as I was concerned was no library, no new audiobooks.

Rather than head straight back out, I waited for a road train load of hay up north but a cyclone put the kybosh on that – and now it seems the North West Coastal Hwy has been cut near Carnarvon – so I ended up accepting a load to Melbourne which turned out to be marginally overwidth. And that in turn meant I could only take one trailer (so less money coming home!).

It’s a while since I’ve done an Oversize – maybe one for Sam & Dragan a few years ago, and two or three others 20 years before that, also for Sam & Dragan. I had the right permits but had to check on nighttime travel which surprisingly turned out to be legal in all states (well anyway, I didn’t get pulled over, which is much the same thing). This morning I unloaded in Geelong (75 km SW of Melbourne) and now I sit at my usual western suburban BP truckstop waiting for Homer to come up with a load home. He asked me a couple of hours ago how much weight I could carry and the answer can’t have been satisfactory as I haven’t heard back from him [I’m loading steel, 7.30 tonight [When I rolled up it wasn’t ready so now I’m loading 9.00 AM tomorrow. That’s trucking.]].

The other half of ‘oversize’ is my bloody weight. Melanie/GTL is doing her best to educate me about fat-shaming and owning my body, and yes I’m old and sedentary, but another eight kgs over Xmas really is too much. The Age says I don’t need to walk 10,000 steps a day, that was just an advertising slogan for some device or other, but I do need to walk 7,500.

With all 3 trailers my truck is 35 m long, say 40 paces, and 3 paces wide: 100 paces total if I circulate staying 2 or 3 paces out. I walk around the truck every two hours, 7 or 8 times a day, to check the load and the tyres (and to get some of the stiffness out of my legs): 750 paces a day. To get to 7,500 I can either stop every 12 minutes or I can do 10 tours per stop. I wonder if it will make a difference.

My time home this time was just under 2 weeks. I normally review any hard copy books that I read, in fact I’m usually desperate to finish them so I have something to review. But having nothing but time on my hands in this last round of iso/lockdown I read a couple of books that I let go through to the keeper.

First up (and not finished yet) was Hoffman’s Mr Flea following Johnathon’s posting of an excerpt but still not knowing really what to expect. E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776 – 1822) was “a German Romantic author of fantasy and Gothic horror” (wiki) and one of the early fathers of science fiction, not to mention the Hoffman of Tales of Hoffman and author of the stories on which Coppélia, my favourite ballet – if I may have a favourite after not going for 40 years – is based. These are all thing I didn’t know. Johnathon, you may have inspired me to a whole Hoffman post, though not of Mr Flea, that’s your job.

That was my early morning read; researching and writing up the next episode of Such is Life (scheduled for Thurs), and a couple of posts before it, occupied my days; and that left evenings. I have an endless supply to choose from but decided on Angela Thirkell’s August Folly (1936) which I had told Liz Dexter I would read “soon”. And now I have. Thirkell of course is thoroughly English, as English as Evie Wyld for instance, and August Folly is a very gentle village romance. I thought it a bit laboured at the beginning but soon sank pleasurably into the criss-crossing web of relationships between the Tebbens with two marriagable children, the Palmers with none and the Deans with too many to count, a college Dean down from Oxford (on whom Mrs Tebben had once been keen) and a curate and the rector and his daughters and all the quaint villagers who ran the local train and the shops and supplied the servants and the farm hands. And don’t forget the snarky conversations between the donkey and the cat at the end of each day.

Recent audiobooks 

Lee Child (M, Eng), Persuader (2003) – Crime
Becky Chambers (F, USA), The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (2014) – SF
Sarah Fine (F, USA), Uncanny (2017) – YA/SF
Stuart Palmer (M, USA), Murder on the Blackboard (1932) – Crime
Caeli Wolfson Widger (F, USA), Mother of Invention (2018) – SF
Graeme Macrae Burnet (M, Sco), The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau (2014) – Crime
Alexander McCall Smith (M, Sco), The Department of Sensitive Crimes (2019) – pseudo Swedish Crime (Yes, I’m embarrassed I picked it up. DNF)
Julia Thomas (F, Eng), Penhale Wood (2017) – Crime (Detective fiction set in Truro, Wales. The female lead leaves her Australian husband and children behind in Sydney to persuade the police to investigate the death a year previously of her daughter, and the disappearance of the children’s nanny. Sorry Karen, I should have reviewed it but I had too much else on.)

Currently reading

Trent Dalton (M, Aust/Qld), Boy Swallows Universe
Elizabeth Tan (F, Aust/WA), Smart Ovens for Lonely People
Joseph Furphy (M, Aust/Vic), Such is Life
Sayaka Murata (F, Jap), Earthlings
Octavia Butler (F, USA), Parable of the Talents
Angela Thirkell (F, Eng), August Folly
ETA Hoffman (M, Ger), Mr Flea
Helen Garner (F, Aust/Vic), Cosmo Cosmolino

EOY 2020

Journal: 063

Last year I wrote “I ate very well at Ludmilla Agnes’ festivities and by the time I got to the pavlova, cheesecake and cheese platter I was struggling”. This year, I was struggling well before then and I spent most of the evening asleep in my armchair like an old fat grandpa. And three or four days later when I felt like eating again, the pavlova was all gone! If you look closely at the back of my plate, that is a really excellent beetroot (and fetta) terrine. Thankyou Milly!

I’ve seen everywhere people glad to see the back of 2020, but except for the possibility of vaccination 2021 won’t be much different I don’t think. Gladys is paddling furiously beneath the surface to keep those numbers down in NSW, but if she doesn’t mandate masks and ban large gatherings it’s going to get away from her and close the country down again. Lou was planning to spend the next fortnight in Victoria, but will he then be allowed back into the NT? I’m coming over mid-month, so it’s definitely back into iso for me, and I’ve just about had enough. With regular work and running with the extra capacity of a road train I’ve been making good money. But to what end, if for another year I can only work, or sit at home alone.

Ok, here are my reading stats (late because the paperwork for owner-driving is non-stop. Currently I’m doing my annual maintenance records audit for WA – I do a separate one for the other states). 2019 in brackets.

Books read: 164 (159)

Gender balance: Male authors 67, Female 97 (84/75)

Author from: Australia  29 (47), USA  79 (51), UK 35 (36), Europe 10 (19), Asia 5 (4), Africa 1 (0) Other 5 (2) The ‘Other’ were Canada 3, Palestine 1, Russia 1

Genre: Non-fiction 12 (14),  Literature  43 (44), General 39 (43), SF  18 (21), Crime 48 (37), Short Stories 4 (0)

Year: 2020-19 6 (n/a), 2010-18 61 (67),  2000-9 27 (25), 1960-99 36 (37),  1900-59 26 (17), pre-1900  8 (13)

That’s made up of 118 audiobooks and 46 ‘real’ books (including maybe 5 from Project Gutenberg (Willa Cather, Miles Franklin)).

I’m glad to see my gender balance has tilted female again. Scanning down the list of books I read rather than listened to, I see the male/female author balance there is 7/39.

Posts for year: 90 (85)

Made up of: Reviews 63 (60), Journals 21 (25), Other – Biogs, Excerpts, Theory 6 (n/a). Though some of the Journals were also largely Reviews. Eight reviews were supplied by guests – 6 for AWW Gen 3 Week (and I provided links to 5 others) – plus Bloodfather (Ireland), A Kindness Cup (Astley). Nine counting Melanie’s ‘Letter from America‘ on The Slap. Reviews seem to have split 13/50 male/female by author (31/29).

‘Others’ also includes posts I’ve done on Indigenous Massacres. The reading up takes a bit of time, which is why I’ve done only a couple this past year. But they generate a lot of traffic, probably as they are mentioned off and on on Indigenous Facebook sites. Chris Owen, the author of Every Mother’s Son is Guilty about policing and massacres in the Kimberley (WA) also has a Facebook page, where he will sometimes put up newspaper reports of the day.

Working through my scratchy notes, I would say I put up 20 reviews to the Australian Women Writers Challenge. Theirs is a great site, I thank them, and hope they keep going for many more years (Even if I didn’t make the final General Fiction Roundup with The Place on Dalhousie).

I’m quite clear which is the worst book I read this year, Miles Franklin’s Bring the Monkey. The best is a bit harder, but let’s go with The Song of the Lark, Willa Cather. I hope 2021 brings another Benang, Swan Book or A Million Windows, and that I actually read it, rather than just hear about it.

Now, reminder time …

AWW Gen 3 Week Part II 17-23 Jan, 2021

Part II because we are going to take a second look at this period, 1919-1960, and while hopefully some of you will review some of the classics we missed first time round, we will also take the chance to look at writers who carried the period forward during and after the War (WWII). The problem of the cusp is always interesting. Somewhere, Sue (WG) and I agreed that Elizabeth Harrower wrote mostly within Gen 3, and Thea Astley, who is the same age, wrote mostly within Gen 4. The transition in my mind is from a white (British) mono-culture, though with serious class problems which the upper class pretended didn’t exist, to a vibrant multi-culture (during which there was a lot of class fluidity).

All the best for a Prosperous and Healthy New Year!

Currently Reading:

In the past few days I have read and not elsewhere listed –

Christina Stead, The Little Hotel
Murray Bail, The Pages
Sayaka Murata, Earthlings This is a truly horrifying book of a women driven mad by a bad mother, a badder sister and a molesting teacher.

What I really must get stuck into reading are –

Kylie Tennant, Tell Morning This
Ernestine Hill, The Great Australian Loneliness
Joseph Furphy, Such is Life