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
(1958)
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.

Oversize

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

(Not) Going Places

Journal: 062

It astonishes me just how ignorant public speakers – journalists, politicians, writers – are of spelling, vocabulary, general knowledge, and how infrequently they are called out for it. It’s a long time since I listened to the ABC’s “local” network – except for football of course – but the self-important pronouncements of men and women whose only qualification is that they have mellow voices is constantly off-putting, not to mention the ABC’s official “non-partisan” stance of giving right-wing lies equal billing with proven science.

The following, not ABC, examples came up this morning while I was reading on-line

Trump fans are calling for “succession” when they mean secession, and that’s pretty much how their night is going. It’s also a reminder that we need to invest more in education.

Palmer Report, 11 Dec 2020

The punishment metered (sic) out to both banks resulted in board and senior management changes, massive fines and reputational damage.

Adele Ferguson, The Age, “Casinos Lose”, 12 Dec 2020

Of course my own spelling is not the best and the number of times I have typed slef instead of self … The quotes were unplanned, what really got my goat was Lindsey Davis in The Ides of April who not once but repeatedly used opaque to mean see-through. As in Flavia Albia, the heroine, standing up to address a crowd in an “opaque” dress and everyone could see her legs. Remember back in the day when editors read what they were publishing.

So here I am, home at last, sitting at the computer, bookwork neglected, waffling on. Just reading odd stories mostly, or getting up to make a sandwich. My next post will be a book review. Promise! It has taken all day, 8 hours at least, to get this far. A proper Perth summer day, stinking hot, me sitting in shorts and nothing else sweating in front of an inadequate fan.

I crossed the border Wednesday latish, so, with a whole day up my sleeve (to do 14 days iso and make it to xmas dinner). Unloaded yesterday, Friday. Milly will drop in tomorrow, she has the grandkids tonight, yet another pancake breakfast I have to forego. She’s five years younger than me (yes I know, than I, but who says than I), already retired and now, moving into a retirement village. My mother’s in a retirement village! And way down the coast. Milly’s retirement village I mean. I have a house down that way so I may have to move to stay in touch.

I’ve been writing (and thinking) a lot about place. Perth is a long, narrow city of 1.1 million people, stretching 100 km along endless white Indian Ocean beaches, on a 20 km wide stretch of sandflats between the ocean and the low hills of the Darling Range, bisected by the Swan River, an insignificant stream opening up in front of the CBD to the lovely expanse of Perth Water. Milly’s new home will be at the southern end of the conurbation, on the estuary of another small waterway, the Peel. Why, I wonder, am I the only one who writes like this. Well, not only, Pam is probably even more passionate about Hobart.

Very early in my blogging life I wrote about an idea I called Intertextual Geography, and more recently I posted on a Tony Hughes-d’Aeth essay on Regional Literature. This is where I’m up to so far on the subject of ‘Place’:

  1. Our knowledge of a given place influences how we read fiction set there; and what we read influences how we see/experience that place.
  2. Writers in a place are influenced by each other, hence Regional Literature.
  3. A regional writer is an ambassador, for good or evil!, presenting his/her place to others.
  4. Much more importantly, our regional writers present our place to us, giving us new ways of experiencing and understanding it.

Now do you see why I get so angry when writers get places wrong? No? I thought not, but I’ll keep chewing away at it anyway.

In comments after the Hughes-d’Aeth review, WG raises the interesting question of how we deal with the different relationship of Indigenous writers to places with which we whites also have a relationship. More to think about. Perhaps I should say:

5. There is no place in Australia (or Canada or the USA) which was not for millenia before our arrival significant to the indigenous people of that place.

Which is trite, but then we’re not proving very good at sharing, are we. Which is as good a segue as any to this story from today’s New York Times: “Of the 7,124 books [widely read, major publishers, 1950-2018] for which we identified the author’s race, 95 percent were written by white people.” (NYT, 11 Dec 2020, Why is Publishing so White?)

Playing with the Block Editor/Slideshow: Some images of Perth Water (mine, to forestall copyright issues, and one of Milly’s of South Beach, Freo at sunset)

Recent audiobooks 

Margaret Atwood (F, Can), Cat’s Eye (1988)
Suzanne Enoch (F, USA), Angel’s Devil (1995) – Romance
Michael Connelly (M, USA), The Black Echo (1992) – Crime
Leah Fleming (F, Eng), The Girl under the Olive Tree (2013) – Hist.Fic.
Christopher Spielberg (M, Ger), 101 Nights (2003) – Crime
Emma Hart (F, Eng), The Roommate Agreement (2019) – Romance
Mary Anna Evans (F, USA), Floodgates (2009) – Crime
Lindsey Davis (F, Eng), The Ides of April (2013) – Hist.Fic/Crime
Ruth Downie (F, Eng), Vita Brevis (2016) – Hist.Fic/Crime
Pilip K Dick (M, USA), Our Friends from Frolix 8 (1970) – SF
Donna Milner (F, Can), The Promise of Rain (2010) – Hist.Fic (WWII)
Alain de Botton (M, UK), The Course of Love (2016) – a very long lecture
Lydia Millet (F, USA), Mermaids in Paradise (2014) – Gen.Fic
John Marrs (M, UK), The Good Samaritan (2017) – Crime
Isabel Miller (F, USA), Patience & Sarah (1969)
Paolo Bacigalupi (M, USA), Pump Six & Other Stories (2008) – SF
JD Robb (F, USA), Wonderment in Death (2015) – SF/Crime
Martha Mitchell (F, USA), Gone with the Wind (1936) DNF
Fern Michaels (F, USA), Fancy Dancer (2012) – Romance
Norman Mailer (M, USA), Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1984)– Crime
John Connolly (M, Ire), The Unquiet (2007) – Crime
Adam Mitzner (M, USA), The Girl from Home (2016)– Crime

I also started Dickens’ Dombey & Son, 39 hours!, but the publisher, Brilliance Audio, had made a hash of the first disc, replacing some chapters with unrelated medieval history, so I was forced to give up.

Currently reading, planning to read

Ursula Le Guin (F, USA), The Unreal & the Real
Christina Stead (F, Aust/NSW), The Little Hotel
Kylie Tennant (F, Aust/NSW), Tell Morning This
Ernestine Hill (F, Aust/NSW), The Great Australian Loneliness
Joseph Furphy (M, Aust/Vic), Such is Life

Not Writing, Truckin’

Journal: 061

Last trip was meant to be my last trip for the year. Milly was insisting that I be in WA in time to get my mandatory 14 days isolation out of the way before the family sat down to Xmas dinner. After years of FIFO Xmases in early January, she chose this one to be on the day!

But Homer had freight to move and he knew I was a soft touch. Last Monday we calculated that I could get to Perth, unload, reload, have a 24 hour break, be back in Melbourne early this week, unload, reload and still be back at the WA border by the last possible day, Thu 10 Dec.

So far, I’m on time. But not much time for blogging!

The photo is of me coming in through north west Victoria yesterday evening. I chose it so that Jackie (Death by Tsundoku) could see “My Brilliant (?) Career” above the visor. If she is not otherwise occupied.

Anyway, this is just to let you all know I am still in the land of the living and will resume posting just as soon as I’m home with my feet up. I hope you all have a book ready to read and review for AWW Gen 3 Week Prt II 17-23 Jan, 2021. I hope I do.

Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood

Journal: 059

Cat's Eye Audiobook | Margaret Atwood | Audible.co.uk

After years as a truck driver, half a century! (an exaggeration, I had a 15 year white collar gap in my 30s, 40s) I am a little bit intuitive, not the way natural drivers and mechanics are, but enough to often belatedly realise, feel when things are going wrong – the smells of burning grease, oil, electric wiring, the feel of unbalanced wheels, trailers swaying or sliding, vibrations from the engine or tailshaft, changes in the constant noises of the engine and the wind.

I drive by ear, changing gear with the rise and fall of the revs, choosing the right gear to hold my speed at a given volume of noise through towns or roadworks. Until this week anyway, when books and blogging unexpectedly intervened.

A year or so ago, no doubt enticed by free books, I opened an Audible account which subsequently morphed into one book plus occasional freebies for $16/month. And so I began accumulating a library which I could not access. Ok, which I could not cable and was too incompetent to bluetooth from my phone to my truck radio.

This week, wanting to read Cat’s Eye for MARM (which has co-hosts, so here and here) I downloaded it and went out and bought expensive noise cancelling headphones. Noise cancelling! I can feel the base rumble of the engine but I can’t hear at all the wind around the cabin, the constant woosh of the air over the engine beneath my feet, the high-revving of the motor. I’m deaf to my truck!

I have some excellent books in my Audible library but I’m going to have to space them out. Listening through headphones while remaining conscious of the truck requires far more concentration than just letting all the noise of the truck and the radio speakers wash over me, more concentration than I can manage for any length of time.

I’ve read a few Margaret Atwoods, The Handmaid’s Tale & The Testaments, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin (the cover is totally familiar but I don’t remember one word of the story). She’s a good writer though her SF lacks imagination compared with greats like Doris Lessing and Ursula Le Guin. I didn’t have any expectations of Cat’s Eye – except that it’s long – and I looked nothing up, prepared to allow the story to speak for itself.

The protagonist, Elaine, is 8 or 9 when WWII ends and is in her mid-fifties at the time of writing, so we can say she was born in say, 1936 which I’m guessing is roughly true of Atwood also, and the book is set in about 1990. The novel is framed as Elaine coming from Vancouver where she lives to Toronto where she grew up, for a retrospective of her paintings, but mostly consists of her coming of age, from grade school through to her mid twenties.

Elaine’s father is an entomologist. When she’s young, and later in school holidays the family, father, mother, Elaine and Steven, her older brother, travel the forests in their old Studebaker, collecting bugs, camping or staying in cheap motels. Then when she’s 8 father gets a job at the university and they buy a new, unfinished house in the Toronto suburbs.

Every now and again we duck back to the ‘present day’, to the week or so Elaine is spending in John, her artist ex-husband’s apartment (while he is away). They have a daughter and she has another daughter with her second husband. I get the impression that Atwood makes herself an artist rather than a writer because she likes to philosophize about painting but also because it is easier to talk about movements in painting than in writing.

But mostly we make our way through Elaine’s childhood, year by year, structured around the two or three girls with whom she is friends and around her brother. These children Carol, Grace, Cordelia, Steven, are ciphers – temporary constructs against whom she can contrast herself and her development, abandoned when they are no longer needed. Cleverly, Atwood tells each year in some detail, detail which the Elaine of a year or two later has often forgotten.

As she moves on from being Steven’s sister to Carol’s friend to Cordelia’s friend what we observe is her socialisation from tomboy to young woman. And it is this process of what makes a girl and then a woman that is the core of the book.

Right from the beginning Atwood makes it look as though this is the story of Elaine’s relationship with the darker (I don’t mean skin colour) Cordelia, but it is nothing of the sort. Cordelia is a year older, and one or two years ahead. Elaine is willingly submissive to her, until at last Cordelia forces her to descend from the bridge over the ravine on the way home from school, abandons her when she falls through the ice into the creek and nearly dies of hypothermia. Cordelia goes off to a different school, Elaine starts high school, and then Atwood brings Cordelia back, in the same year as Elaine, makes Elaine the confident one, because that suits her narrative.

Later, Cordelia drops out of sight for years, Steven is sent off to California, Carol and Grace are long gone. Elaine studies Art History, goes from virgin to two days a week lover of her drawing teacher, another relationship involving submission, starts going out with John. The drawing teacher’s other two day a week student/lover gets pregnant and has a messy illegal abortion. Cordelia reappears, briefly, in a mental home. Elaine refuses to help or even visit her after the first time. The story stretches on for a while, but the coming of age is done and the rest is just filler.

I enjoy coming of ages and I enjoyed this one. I enjoyed too ‘living’ in Canada for a while, especially 40s, 50s Toronto, though I expect I would have enjoyed it more if I were familiar with the areas she’s writing about. I find Atwood to be a fine writer but only a so-so story teller and so it was here.

.

Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye, first pub. 1988. Audiobook read by Laurel Lefkow, 2013. 15 hrs 17 min.

Audible Library

Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye
Joan D Vinge, The Snow Queen
Christos Tsialkos, Merciless Gods
Joy Ellis, Their Lost Daughters
Charlotte Bronte, The Professor
Thomas Keneally, The Pact
Trent Dalton, Boy Swallows Universe
Richard Flanagan, Death of a River Guide
HG Wells, The Science Fiction Collection
F Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamzov
Andy Weir, The Martian
William Gibson, Agency
Sarah Krasnostein, The Trauma Cleaner
Charles Dickens, Bleak House
James Joyce, Ulysses
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
GG Marquez, Love in the Time Of Cholera
F Dostoyevsky, Crime & Punishment
George Eliot, Middlemarch
M Lucashenko, Too Much Lip
Walter Scott, Ivanhoe
Samuel Delaney, Dhalgren

Some of these I have read since buying the audiobook, some I own but won’t get the chance to read anytime soon and would like to listen to again, and a couple I wouldn’t have chosen but got for free. And Melanie, The Snow Queen will be next.