Age of Consent, Norman Lindsay

Norman Lindsay (1879-1969) was a notable artist especially with pen and ink and a competent author. He first came to prominence as an illustrator for the Bulletin (here) in the early years of the C20th; he became and remains famous for his nudes; spent 18 frustrating months in London where he tried to sell “four hundred drawings for a proposed deluxe edition of The Memoirs of Casanova“; before returning to Sydney and purchasing a home in the Blue Mountains where he wrote and painted for the next fifty years (see the 1994 movie, Sirens).

I’ve a corner of my TBR devoted to Lindsay and have had in mind for some time, years probably, a project around the Sydney Push and his son, Jack Lindsay’s book The Roaring Twenties. This is not it, I just wanted something to read on a very wet afternoon last time I was home.

The Push were a group of hard drinking, womanizing (male) writers in Sydney in the 1920s about whom I have written before in connection with the post WWI generation of women writers (AWW Gen 3), especially Zora Cross who made a valiant attempt to join in, Christina Stead who thought about it but concentrated on getting to London instead, and Anne Brennan, daughter of drunken poet Christopher Brennan, who tried too but was mostly just used.

I am a fan of Lindsay’s childrens’ book, The Magic Pudding, which I, and my father before me, give to newborns at every opportunity. I have read his fictionalised memoir trilogy, of his years growing up in Creswick in the Victorian goldfields, starting with Redheap in which he plays fast and loose with the servant girls, and then Saturdee in which he gets the vicar’s daughter pregnant, if I remember correctly (it’s been twenty years). And yet I cited his The Cousin from Fiji – the story of a young woman staying with family in Ballarat at the turn of the last century – in my dissertation for its sympathetic treatment of its female protagonist.

Age of Consent (1938) is the sixth of Lindsay’s ten novels, and like a number of the others it attracted the attention of the censors, though I am not sure if it was banned outright, as so many books were at that time. It’s the story of a 40 year old confirmed bachelor painter and a 17 or 18 year old naive girl living in beach shacks on a lonely stretch of NSW South Coast, so I was worried about how it might turn out.

Not too bad, is my verdict. Lindsay gets off on the girl’s legs and the fact that she wears nothing under her rag of a dress, and draws (and discusses) her, as above, lifting the hem a little higher, waving her legs around as she plays with the painter’s dog and eventually being persuaded to pose nude. But she, Cora, is portrayed as a child of nature, carer since age eight of her demented alcoholic grandmother, her mother long gone to the bright lights of Sydney, as shy as a gazelle, and as innocent.

The story is located in the coastal town of ‘Wantabadgeree’. Now, as it happens, I know Wantabadgery, it’s a farming hamlet near Wagga, so well inland, and years ago (45-50!) I would take a short cut that way from Western Victoria, fording the Murrumbidgee there, and going on to Gundagai and thence to Sydney. Why Lindsay uses it as the name of a town on the coast I don’t know. Ignorance probably.

The basis of the plot is that Bradly Mudgett is a mediocre landscape painter, with enough money from his last sales to keep him going for a couple of months in a shack on a remote beach while he tries his hand at seascapes for a change. He has his dog for company, and needs solitude to concentrate. Not the least interesting part of the novel is Bradly’s prevarication, his working himself up to concentrate, his intense focus once fired up, and the way he visualises what is in front of him in terms of how he is going to paint: tones, colour, light and shade and so on.

Cora, out looking for shellfish, intrudes on one of Bradly’s compositions and he discovers the painting works better with her in it

At that little estuary from the lagoon Bradly set up his easel, dodging about to find the best viewpoint under the dove-coloured stems of the tea-trees, dripping feathery white blossoms over the water. When that was selected, he had her wade into the water, which came no higher than her calves. Against the blaze of light beyond her, she made a lovely pattern, warm with reflected light, cooled by the shadows, and flecked with minted gold from the foliage above her.
‘Pull up your skirt a bit; hook it up with both hands, like you was wading,’ commanded Bradly.
With one of her strenuous wriggles, which either confessed embarrassment, or rejected it, she pulled the skirt up, but it was so short that being pulled up, it came above her thighs, and revealed their warm mystery golden with light reflected from the water.

Into this idyll, comes Podson, a young bank teller from the last town Bradly was painting in, on the run from the police after being chased out the bank manager’s wife’s bedroom window while still owing the bank fifty quid invested in slow horses. Bradly is unable to make himself throw Podson out and is stuck with him, literally eating up his savings, until he, Podson, chances on a lonely spinster.

Cora has her own problems with her grandmother, who threatens Bradly with all sorts of retribution, mostly to do with Cora being underage and naked, when she discovers Bradly has been paying Cora for posing, and that money has not been going towards her gin.

The town policeman, who in passing has his own way of denying sustenance to the unemployed (this is during the Great Depression), especially those who like a drink, becomes involved.

But of course it all works out in the end. I liked it well enough, though Lindsay makes me nervous when it comes to young women and their states of undress.


Norman Lindsay, Age of Consent, illustrated by the author. First pub. 1938 (in New York), First pub. Australia 1962. My edition (not the one pictured) Angus & Robertson, 1991, Introduction by Barry Oakley.

Such is Life (07), Joseph Furphy

Such is Life (01)
Such is Life (02)
Such is Life (03)
Such is Life (04)
Such is Life (05)
Such is Life (06)

The fictitious memoir of Tom Collins, a NSW Government official, “of the ninth class” and former bullocky. Being reviewed in 12 parts over the course of 2021.

Chapter IV, and Tom’s diary has moved us on to “SUN. Dec. 9. [1883] Dead Man’s Bend. Warrigal Alf down. Rescue twice. Enlisted Terrible Tommy.”

Dead Man’s Bend on the Lachlan River, marks the junction of three properties, Mondunbarra and Avondale on one side, and on the other Yoongoolee. Last Chapter we were down on the Murray and now we are back in the general region of Chapter III (Wilandra) though probably a little to the south.

How easy it is to recall the scene! The Lachlan river, filled by summer rains far away among the mountans, to a width of something like thirty yards, flowing silently past, and going to waste. Irregular areas of lignum, hundreds of acres in extent, and eight or ten feet in height, representing swamps; and long, serpentine reaches of the same, but higher in growth, indicating billabongs of the river. The river itself fringed, and the adjacent low ground dotted, with swamp box, river coolibah, and red gum ..

To complete the picture … you will imagine Cleopatra and Bunyip standing under a coolibah – standing heads and points, after the manner of equine mates; each switching the flies and mosquitos off his comrade’s face, and shivering them off such parts of his own body as possessed the requisite faculty. And in the centre of a clear place, a couple of hundred yards away, you may notice a bullock wagon, apparently deserted; the heavy wool-tarpaulin, dark with dust and grease, thrown across the arched jigger, forming a tent …

In the foreground of this picture, you may fancy the present annalist lying – or as lying is an ill phrase, and peculiarly inapplicable just here – we’ll say reclining, pipe in mouth, on a patch of pennyroyal, trying to re-peruse one of Ouida’s novels, and thinking … what a sweet, spicy, piquant thing it must be to be lured to destruction by a tawny-haired tigress with slumbrous dark eyes.

Tom is loafing, his next appointment a day or two ahead, reading a romance as we have just seen, and thinking of Jim (Jemima) when he is accosted from the far side of the river, a repeated call of “Ha-a-a-a-ay” which he ignores over the space of two or three pages, until finally he pays attention and a mate – the Riverina is full of Tom’s mates – tells him that the seemingly abandoned wagon is Warrigal Alf’s and that Warrigal Alf’s carrion [bullocks and horse] are on the road to Yoongoolee yards and no doubt from thence to Booligal pound.

Tom goes up to the wagon to discover Alf ill and in his own mind anyway, dying. He had tried to keep his bullocks in this remote corner but, as it turns out later, a stockman from one station had herded them onto the neighbouring station and the stockman there had herded them across the river.

Tom gives Alf some water then goes off after the bullocks. Divesting his outer clothes (again!) to cross the river, his “undergarment which I cannot bring myself to name” is ripped by a low branch and he discards that too. He catches the Yoongoolee stockman, a northern Englander whose conversation, in dialect, is incomprehensible (to me anyway), persaudes him to return Alf’s cattle and also the stockman’s wife to let him have some ‘Pain-Killer” patent medcine for Alf. For modesty and to temporarily cover his sunburn he has borrowed the stockman’s coat but for some reason I don’t follow he returns it to the stockman’s wife and rides off near-naked again.

Back on his own side of the river he persuades a Chinese stockman – the ‘Terrible Tommy’ of the heading – to let the bullocks stay a while (more dialect) and then encounters on the road a station-owner, a Scot (yes, even more dialect), who eventually volunteers to employ Alf and safeguard his bullocks.

This was a difficult chapter, both to read, and because nothing much happens. Though Warrigal Alf tells Tom four versions of one story about a wife’s adultery which I think will later prove significant. Also the annotaters point out that the text over those three pages where his mate is calling “Ha-a-a-a-ay” and Tom is lost in reverie represents one of the earliest instances of stream of consciousness – an important (though not necessary) characteristic of modernist writing, which I said earlier we should look out for.

AG Mitchell writes that we should accept such chapters: From one day to the next there can, on the face of it, be no connection except the reappearance, in fact or by report, of familiar persons and places. But as we read we discover connections … We find a thread of narrative, dropped earlier, being taken up again, puzzling events and characters explained after a long interval … Ragged ends are taken up and woven into the fabric of the book. And such is life.

Ouida. Pen-name of Marie Louise de la Ramée (1839-1908).

Tawny-haired tigress. Probably refers to the villainess, Marion Vavasour in Ouida’s novel Strathmore who “takes delight in destroying the men who are helplessly attracted by her beauty.” We must see if Tom feels ‘lured to destruction’ by Jim.

Warrigal Alf ill. Alf’s symptoms are congruent with Ross River fever, prevalent in NSW in the C19th [and more recently]

Dialect. The English stockman replies to an implied threat with “Foak bea n’t gwean ter walk on hutheh foak” which apparently means he is not a walkover.

Stream of consciousness. “Rather earlier than historians of literature usually look for it (though Randolph Quirk has found it fully developed in Dickens; see The Linguist and the English Language).”

AG Mitchell. Such is Life: The Title and the Structure of the Book. In Clement Semmler ed., 20th Century Australian Literary Criticism, OUP, Melbourne, 1967

Buckley. The quintessentially English squatter protagonist of Henry Kingsley’s The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn (1859) [which I really must write up one day]. I skipped over him in my summary above but he gets a couple of scornful mentions during this chapter and later on. Kingsley only spent two or three years in Australia and Furphy is intensely critical of his representations of outback life and of the regard in which his book was held in city circles.


Joseph Furphy, Such is Life, Bulletin, Sydney, 1903

FD Glass, R Eaden, GW Turner, L Hoffman eds, The Annotated Such is Life, by Joseph Furphy, Halstead Classics, Sydney, 1999. 297pp (plus 170pp notes and annotations).

This month’s cover is from the Dodo Press (here) “a Moscow-based micro-publisher, established in 2009. We all work almost entirely as volunteers, most of our publications are financed by crowdfunding. We tend to publish non-mainstream weirdly brilliant books, mainly in translation from English. The Dodo Press team consists of three people, with about 300 books translated, about 500 edited, and about 50 years in publishing, between us.”

The cover image is from the painting The Peasants of Flagey Returning from the Fair by French realist Gustave Courbet (1819-1877).

The Bluebird Café, Carmel Bird

I see Carmel Bird around from time to time, commenting on Whispering Gums or ANZLitLovers. I imagine her as Tasmanian, which is where she was born and, I think, grew up. According to her bio in the short story collection The Babe is Wise (1987) “Carmel Bird was born in Tasmania in 1940 … [she] now lives in Melbourne and is working on a novel The Bluebird Café.” And here we are.

The copy I have, which of course I picked up second hand somewhere unrecorded, for $2, was published in New York. The copyright material mentions a Canadian edition (Penguin) but no prior publication in Australia or England. I hope it was at least distributed here.

Being cautious, I check Bird’s bio on-line (she’s still with us) and see she received The Patrick White Award in 2016. A mixed blessing. No one minds $25,000, but the award of course is for writers who have been insufficiently recognised over the course of their careers. And she’s still working. The Bluebird Café was her second novel and her eleventh, Field of Poppies, was published just two years ago.

The Bluebird Café is set in Tasmania, probably in some sort of whimsical alternative reality, I haven’t been there. There are two locations – Copperfield Historic Museum Village, a hugely successful theme park, owned by the Best family, which has replaced the suburb of Trevallyn on the cliffs above Cataract Gorge …

Copperfield is on top of Cataract Hill which overlooks the Gorge where the South Esk meets the North Esk to form the Tamar River at the city of Launceston in northern Tasmania…

The Historic Museum Village of Copperfield was inspired by the original town of Copperfield on the Welcome River in the far north-west of Tasmania at Cape Grim [map].

… and the original Copperfield, which by 1985 “had become a ghost town where only one person lived. This was a woman called Bedrock Mean”. Bedrock Mean lives in the Bluebird Café started by her grandfather, Philosopher Mean. She waits there for her daughter Lovelygod who disappeared 20 years earlier at age ten, “one of those mysterious and tragic Australian children who vanish, leaving no trace”, while her (Bedrock’s) twin brother Carillo travels the world, searching.

Among the wax figures of miners and Aborigines in the Historic Museum Village is one of Lovelygod, just two feet tall, with the sign “Lovelygod Mean, midget, born 1960, disappeared 1970. The mystery of her disappearance remains unsolved.” Visitors are invited to write down their theories.

The next character introduced is Virginia O’Day, who in the 1980s is commissioned to write a play celebrating Launceston’s new tourist mecca. Virginia grew up in Launceston and at age 18 had holidayed in Copperfield where she wrote the play The Bluebird Café Murders which “enjoyed considerable success in the West End and on Broadway”. The previous year, 1950, Bedrock and Carillo then aged 10 had holidayed at the O’Days. Virginia would not eat. She had got her weight down from 8 stone to 6 1/2 and was aiming at 6. When Bedrock and Carillo went home to Copperfield, Virginia went with them, her parents hoping a change of scenery might help. They travel by train. Of course I have to check. Current maps show rail lines along the north coast, and Bedrock remembers “the little railway in from the coast that has not run for many years”.

Copperfield – there is a minor Charles Dickens theme running through the novel – and its little railway are, I assume, made up. I’m not aware of any mining up there in the north west corner. Queenstown is further south.

The Best family, who own everything in northern Tasmania, and in particular Nancy Best, are mentioned more often than I have indicated here and may be a satirical reference to Edmund Rouse, who was for decades Tasmania’s leading businessman and owner of the Launceston Examiner, until in 1989 he was sentenced to three years gaol for attempting to bribe a politician (instead of following the more usual path of Australian businesses of offering him a high-paying sinecure).

Virginia is writing both a novel and a journal. Part two of the book, consists of her journals for that year in Copperfield; part three is the transcripts of interviews she does in the ‘present’;

Virginia: [speaking of her novel] … giving away the plot won’t stop people reading it. Everybody knows all the plots, don’t they?
Interviewer: If everybody knows all the plots, why do you think people keep reading books?
Virginia: Perhaps it’s very reassuring to keep being told the same things in different ways. And every storyteller puts the story together in a different way. It’s nice to see how it’s done each time. You can arrange plenty of surprises for the reader.

.. part four is a short interview with Virginia’s sister Rosie; part five, an even shorter piece from the Los Angeles Times of Dec. 1989 under the heading ‘Waiting for Lovelygod’; and part six is an essay by a Japanese student speculating on the causes of Lovelygod’s disapperance. These are followed by a 22 page Readers’ Guide with an alphabetic listing of terms and names used and their meanings.

I can only imagine Bird got lost in post-modern theory and somehow found a publisher who was willing to inflict it on us.


Carmel Bird, The Bluebird Café, New Directions, New York, 1990. 180 pp

Butter Honey Pig Bread, Francesca Ekwuyasi

First things first. Butter Honey Pig Bread, ie. the title not the book, is a list and not as I still say it to myself, 3 adjectives and a noun. It’s a list of section headings and apparently of Nigerian cooking’s four main food groups. You could read this novel just for the cooking and the recipes. Though, as a vegetarian, the emphasis on pig meat was not really to my taste.

Francesca Ekwuyasi is a young Nigerian/Canadian artist, writer, filmmaker and Butter Honey Pig Bread (2020) is her debut novel. I see it is now available in Australia from publishers Angus & Robertson, though the copy I have from the library for this review is Canadian

Interestingly, the back cover says “Francesca Ekwuyasi is a writer and multidisciplinary artist from Lagos, Nigeria ..”. Nevertheless, in the various locations in which this book is set – Lagos, London, the south of France, Halifax and Montreal – it is Halifax, which I understand is where the author lives, which is described in far more detail than the others.

The reader of the Audible audiobook I listened to was Amakah Umeh. She was ok, but her accent was, I guess, educated east coast American and her reading relatively flat, which on my checking, accords with the way the book is written. There is very little of the poetry I expect from Nigerian writing. BHPB is the story of twin sisters, Taiye and Kehinde, priveleged, educated, middle class women, an ordinary women’s issues novel, made exotic only by its grounding in Lagos and the strangeness of their mother, Kambirinachi.

The three women narrate in turn; Kambirinachi in third person, Taiye in third and second person, and Kehinde in first person. Kambirinachi’s narrative begins with her parents, who live in the provinces, depositing her with an aunt so that she may attend an elite girls school in Lagos. Kambirinachi is a spirit who is forcing herself to remain in this current body

Kambirinachi hadn’t visited Lagos in her present incarnation, but she remembered it vividly. She had seen it many times. One time before before, she borrowed the body of a taut and agile dancer at Fela’s Shrine in Ikeja.

Her strangeness, sometimes dosed with lithium, and her grief after the sudden death of her husband – which leaves her with a substantial house and the money to maintain it – means her mothering is often distant to non-existent.

Taiye’s and Kehinde’s narratives begin in the present. Taiye is back in the family home in Lagos preparing a meal for her sister from whom she has been estranged, emotionally since the ‘bad thing’ happened when they were 10 or 11, and physically since they finished high school and began university, Taiye in London and Kehinde in Montreal. Kehinde is flying in with her French Moroccan husband, Farouq. They will stay a few weeks then go on to Morocco.

The girl’s stories, and particularly Taiye’s, begin again in their university years, and all the subsequent years apart. We proceed then not so much in parallel as in concentric spirals, circling back to the present within the outer circle of their mother’s life.

Taiye studies chemistry, sleeps with girls, moves on to restaurants, sleeps with more girls, studies cooking in the south of France, ends up in Halifax making bread (and sleeping with girls) from whence she does not visit her sister in Montreal, goes home to Lagos, sleeps with an old school ‘friend’ and neighbour (also a girl). Lots of excuses for cooking and recipes

This is how you make a salted caramel chocolate cake for your twin sister whom you haven’t seen in …
For the batter, you will need as much butter as you can manage without leaving your cake too dense and greasy.. You should use a little over two cups of all-purpose flour, three quarters of a cup of unsweetened cocoa powder – preferably free trade.. a teaspoon and a half of baking powder, a quarter teaspoon of baking soda, a half teaspoon of salt, and three large eggs. You may add a cup of sugar, but Taiye used a cup of honey instead. And finally some vanilla extract.
In place of buttercream frosting, Taiye made honey caramel to pour over the top.
She lit the gas oven and turned the dial to 325 degrees.

Kehinde’s story is more restrained. She begins to draw, meets her husband. Works towards unveiling to us the ‘bad thing’, towards what she sees as Taiye’s betrayal, which set them apart. All three of the narratives provide their different perspectives of the ‘bad thing’.

Joining the sisters’ two stories is a series of letters written by Taiye to Kehinde when Kehinde stopped replying to her phone calls and emails, letters written and not sent, written with no intention of sending, until a girlfriend boxes them up and sends them anyway, so that Kehinde is still reading and dealing with them when she arrives back in Lagos.

Taiye has gone into the house and Kehinde will not look at me …
How can I fix this?
The thing that my child experienced is unbearable. And yet she bore it.
‘How can I fix this?’ I ask her.
But she only shakes her head and starts to walk away from away from me.

There are a few more dramas. We reach a resolution. It’s an interesting novel. The writing is a bit try-hard as you might expect from a debut, though if Ekwuyasi has an MFA she doesn’t say so. If you like stories about women’s lives then you’ll like this.


Francesca Ekwuyasi, Butter Honey Pig Bread, Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, 2020. 314pp.

see also reviews by:
Buried in Print (here)
Consumed by Ink (here)

Lard, Taiye discovered, was much less challenging to make than she’d anticipated. It was in fact a simple matter of using the leaf fat from around the pig’s kidneys, as this particular kind of fat produces a versatile white and mildly flavoured lard …

Did I ever say that it was pig fat, its smell, its taste its essential greasiness permeating all the other food on the plate, that made me a vegetarian.

Project 2022

My project for next year is to read twelve US/Canadian Black and First Nations fiction or memoir, with a review in the last week of each month. I’m starting planning now because a) it’s on my mind; and b) I need time to assemble a list of books which I can access and which I will need to be mostly audiobooks. This is your cue to start making suggestions.

Towards the end of this year I will publish the finalized list for anyone who might feel like joining in. In the meanwhile I might keep updating this post with your (and my) suggestions.

Off the top of my head, I think I would like to read another Toni Morrison (after Beloved), maybe another Zora Neale Thurston (after Jonah’s Gourd Vine) and if I can access it, the autobiography of Malcolm X, highly recommended by Melanie/GTL. Then there’s Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin which I failed to read during my matriculation year. I may even still have a copy. That would no doubt please Emma/Book Around the Corner who has written some terrific Baldwin reviews (here).

Canadians Naomi/Consumed by Ink and BIP/BIP have written and recommended too many Canadian First Nations writers to list (ie. I have failed to note them) but, for example, see Naomi’s two most recent posts (here and here).

I did follow up BIP’s review of Butter Honey Pig Bread by Nigerian Canadian Francesca Ekwuyasi – which inter alia contains some interesting stuff about Black history in Canada – and a review is in the works. May even be my next post if I can get away with not working this weekend. And then there’s her recent post on Black slavery in the Americas (here).

I look at my shelves. I think I may deal with Octavia Butler separately (see Parable of the Talents, Parable of the Sower). I have Kindred waiting which I will get to ‘soon’ like the many other, though mostly Australian, new books I have purchased and am yet to read. In the more formal shelves of my lounge room I see quite a few boys own type books of my own, my father’s and my grandfathers’ – ES Ellis’s Lost Among the Redskins for instance – for the reading of which this project may gave me some context. This is important to me, although to no one else probably, as the noble frontiersman of the US and Canada was the precursor of Australia’s ‘Lone Hand’ bushman (How many years is it now? and I still haven’t reviewed Russell Ward’s The Australian Legend).

It occurred to me at this point in this post that I had read many years ago the memoir of a Black New York science fiction writer, a guy, a gay, not Butler. It was someone well known to me (as an author) and whom I normally did not think of as Black. Searches… Turns out it was Samuel R Delaney of Stars in my Pocket like Grains of Sand fame, and the memoir was The Motion of Light in Water (1988) which name I do not remember at all, and which I must have read quite soon after publication, not realising because it deals with events a couple of decades earlier – including meeting a young Bob Dylan.

Ok, the next little bit is up to you

Reminder: Lisa/ANZLL’s Indigenous Lit. Week, 4-11 July 2021. Her Indigenous Lit. Reading List includes a section for Canada and the Americas (here).

Suggestions for Project 2022

Sherman AlexieThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian2007USTPe
Andre AlexisFifteen Dogs (2 of 5)2015CanCBI
Maya AngelouI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings1969USLiz
James BaldwinGo Tell it on the Mountain 1953US
If Beale Street Could Talk1974USGTL
Joseph BoydenThe Orenda2013CanRM
Octavia ButlerKindred1979USBB
David ChariandySoucouyant2007CanCBI
Samuel R Delaney Stars in my Pocket like Grains of Sand 1984US
The Motion of Light in Water 1988US
Cherie DimalineRed Rooms2011USCBI
Esi EdugyanHalf-Blood Blues2011CanCBI
Louise ErdrichThe Bingo Palace (4 of 8)1994USWG
The Plague of Doves (1 of 3)2008US
La Rose (3 of 3)2016USBB
The Night Watchman2020USTPe
Mini Aodla FreemanLife Among the Qallunaat1978CanBIP
Lawrence HillThe Book of Negroes2007CanCBI
Nalo HopkinsonSF!CanCBI
Thomas KingThe Inconvenient Indian2012CanCBI
Nella LarsenPassing1929USBIP
Audre LordeZami: A New Spelling of my Name1982USWG
Terese Marie MailhotHeart Berries2018CanKW
N Scott MomadayHouse Made of Dawn1968USBB
Toni MorrisonSula1973USBB
Eden RobinsonSon of a Trickster (1of 3)2017CanRM
Tanya TalgaSeven Fallen Feathers2017CanBIP
Zora Neale Thurston Their Eyes Were Watching God1937USTPi
Richard WagameseIndian Horse2012CanCBI
Alice WalkerThe Color Purple1982USGTL
Elissa WashutaWhite Magic2021USBIP
Jacqueline WoodsonIf You come Softly1998USLL
Richard WrightNative Son1940USTPe
Malcolm X (and Alex Haley)Autobiography of Malcolm X1965USGTL

Such is Life (06), Joseph Furphy

Such is Life (01)
Such is Life (02)
Such is Life (03)
Such is Life (04)
Such is Life (05)

The fictitious memoir of Tom Collins, a NSW Government official, “of the ninth class” and former bullocky. Being reviewed in 12 parts over the course of 2021.

06, we should be half way. Of course we’re not, but I’ll get a move on. Though not straight away, let’s go back to the beginning. This month’s cover, and I hope I manage to come up with 12, is of the latest edition, from Text who are doing us all a favour and simultaneously, I hope making money, publishing old, out of copyright, Australian classics. The photo of course is of Furphy and the text around his head is the book’s opening line. His meaning is that he will now have time to write.

… my enforced furlough tacitly conveys the responsibility of extending a ray of information, however narrow and feeble, across the path of such fellow-pilgrims as have led lives more sedentary than my own – particularly as I have enough money to frank myself in a frugal way for some weeks, as well as to purchase the few requisites of authorship.

“[A] ray of information, however narrow and feeble, across the path of such fellow-pilgrims as have led lives more sedentary than my own” sounds a bit like me and Journals, but neither I nor Furphy had enough money to frank ourselves, and are/were obliged to keep on working, the task taking not “weeks” but years.

The authority I have chosen to consult this month is HM Green’s A History of Australian Literature. Green’s History, if you don’t know it, is 1500 pages of almost continuous text, broken into a few sections and only occasionally into paragraphs. One man giving his opinions on every book and writer from 1788 to the 1950s. Luckily Vol II contains an Index, so not completely unmanageable. A good deal of the 20pp he devotes to Such is Life is based on Miles Franklin’s biog., Josephy Furphy, and on critics like the American Hartley Grattan “who knows more about Australian literature than most Australians”, who considered Furphy a great writer and Such is Life “a superb book”.

Green’s opinion is that “Furphy is the most original writer that Australia has yet produced, and one of the most vital and unrestrained”, though he ranks him second in talent behind Henry Handel Richardson. Such is Life, says Green, “may be described as a novel only in a very extended sense of the term”; Furphy, writing to a friend, referred to it as “one long, involved lie.”

Such is Life may be compared to a great smooth boulder composed of a number of strata: the principal strata consist of masses of outback experience and fireside yarns; but interspersed with these are other strata which consist of moral, philosophic, and scientific observations … on subjects as different as Religion and Irish History, Freewill and Destiny, Buckjumping, English fairplay, Music and Mathematics, The Larger Morality and Man ‘o War Hawks. Through these diverse strata, fastening them together, run not only the personality of the narrator, but a number of stories and sketches, broken but quite traceable, like veins or filaments of metal injected into the stone.

Green, p661

Last month we left Tom naked and on the wrong side of the Murray River. He becomes increasing forceful in accosting men and attempting to steal a pair of ______ to cover his modesty. Interestingly the theme of the night becomes his extreme courtesy towards women. When one young man reacts to being forcefully undressed by screaming, “the thought flashed through my mind he was one of those De Lacy Evanses we often read of in novels; and in two seconds I was fifty yards away …” because of course only women react to outrage by screaming.

After falling over his dog into more thistles and standing on a snake, he accosts a woman in her home, presumably alone, and she of course replies that if he doesn’t go away she will wake her husband, which is what he wants, as he couldn’t ask a woman for _____.

Luckily he finds an abandoned camp fire, which he covers with green branches to keep off the mosquitoes, and sleeps away the rest of the night. In the early morning he sees that he is opposite a farmhouse with (male) clothes on the line and an approaching horseman. The farce continues – he approaches the horseman, Jim; Jim turns out to be Jemima, riding astride “like a clothes peg”; throwing himself behind an inadequate log he lets her pass; she calls her father who rushes out with a shotgun; Tom sets fire to an old haystack to create a diversion and steals the clothes off the line.

Tom is free but the farmer has his dog. He returns to his camp, dresses in his own spare clothes, and returns to the farm where he has a friendly meeting with Jemima – who tells him that the neighbour’s white pig had broken through the fence but her father had failed to shoot it in the excitement of the haystack catching fire; a less friendly meeting with the farmer; and recovers Pup.

Text Classics (here). I know, I can’t really say what proportion of Text Classics’ list is not covered by copyright, which persists until 70 years after the death of the author, if named, otherwise until 70 years after initial publication. The Text Such is Life, with an introduction by David Malouf (which I have not read) was published in 2013 and is available as an ebook.

a pair of ______. Mock delicacy, and as HM Green points out, a bit of fun at the expense of Victorian sensibilities. In case you’re still wondering – trousers.

De Lacy Evans. A (not fictional) woman in Victoria living as a man. Or possibly a man living as a woman. See Edward De Lacy Evans (1835?-1901) (wiki).

Frankenstein. Tom mentions Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein a few times: in the context of looking into windows (to learn how to behave as a man); stealing his maker’s clothes, and the difficulty of an 8 ft monster finding breeches to fit; and cleverly looping back to the first man to befriend him – De Lacey.


Joseph Furphy, Such is Life, Bulletin, Sydney, 1903

FD Glass, R Eaden, GW Turner, L Hoffman eds, The Annotated Such is Life, by Joseph Furphy, Halstead Classics, Sydney, 1999. 297pp (plus 170pp notes and annotations).

The Italian, Ann Radcliffe

Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823) was most famously the author of The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and she was if not the founder then the popularizer of the sensationalist school of writing known as Gothic Fiction. Udolpho was the fourth of her six novels and The Italian (1797) was her fifth. It is notable that as a teenager Jane Austen was making fun of Gothic Fiction as early as 1794 (Love and Freindship) and more particularly in Northanger Abbey (1818) which was first sold (as ‘Susan‘), though not published, in 1796. This may have been directed at Radcliffe, though I suspect there was a body of Gothic fiction out there before Radcliffe began writing at the end of the 1780s.

Walter Scott, in his first Introduction to Waverley (1814) was more specific, stating that the reader would find in his work neither Udolpho, nor “mysterious associations of Rosycrucians and Illuminati”.

My Oxford University Press World’s Classics edition (1968) has an Introduction by Frederick Garber in which he states –

[With] the sensationally successful Mysteries of Udolpho Mrs Radcliffe established for herself a position which few other novelists, Gothic or otherwise, could seriously challenge until the appearance of the Waverley novels..

Some of her popularity, and certainly much of her genius, rested in her ability to blend various themes and modes of eighteenth century literature into a distinctive style. It would be a mistake to think of her books primarily as terror fiction, though they have a good deal of the potentially ghastly in them. More accurately, they are basically novels of sensibility with heroes and heroines straight out of the tradition of Richardson, Prévost, and especially Rousseau… Mrs Radcliffe’s novels demonstrate her wide reading in the popular literature of the eighteenth century, not only in sentimental fiction but in the novels of terror like Walpole’s, the poetry of landscape like Thomson’s, and a wide variety of melancholics like Young and the elegaic Gray. Most of all though, she read Shakespeare.

Some notes following on from Garber:
Walpole. Horace Walpole (1717-1797) wrote what is generally accepted as the first gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764)
Richardson. Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) wrote three epistolary novels including Jane Austen’s favourite, The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753).
Prévost. Antoine Francois Prévost d’Exiles (1697-1763) was a French monk and writer who spent some time in England and wrote a number of works, including translations into French of Richardson’s three novels.
Rousseau. Presumably Jean-Jaques Rousseau (1712-1778) French philosopher and inventor of the autobiography. He wrote at least one novel, the sentimental/romantic Julie, or the New Heloise (1761).

I am really, really trying to get a handle on the novel pre-Austen and Scott. The more I look the more I see the C18th stuffed with significant, and not so significant, writers and now I’m being directed towards French fiction as well!

The Italian is set in Naples and in the heavily wooded mountains behind Naples and to the south. I see no evidence that Radcliffe was ever there, or ever left England, but I’m sure she had plenty of accounts of grand tours to draw on. The story is that a young man, Vivaldi while wandering above Naples hears a young woman singing from her balcony (of course!) and falls in love with her. The young woman, Ellena is poor but of gentle birth and lives with her aged aunt. Vivaldi and his faithful servant Paulo (I think here of Don Quixote, first published in English in 1612-1620) in making their way up the road to hear Elena, are stopped in a darkened doorway by a shadowy figure and warned not to proceed. They pursue the figure, who continually eludes them, and one night lures them into a dungeon where they are seemingly trapped.

Vivaldi’s parents, the Marchese and Marchesa, are opposed to Vivaldi marrying a woman without a fortune. Vivaldi however, wins over Ellena’s aunt and she persuades her niece to follow her heart and accept Vivaldi’s suit.

Vincentio di Vilvaldi was the only son of the Marchese di Vivaldi, a nobleman of one of the most ancient families of the kingdom of Naples, a favourite possessing an uncommon share of influence at Court, and a man still higher in power than in rank. His pride in birth was equal to either, but it was mingled with the justifiable pride of a principled mind …

The mother of Vivaldi, descended from a family as ancient as that of his father, was equally jealous of her importance; but her pride was that of birth and distinction, without extending to morals. She was of violent passions, haughty, vindictive, yet crafty and deceitful …

The villain of the piece, and by some accounts the central character, is Schedoni, the Marchesa’s confessor, with whom she conspires to prevent the young couple marrying.

We then go on with all the heartstopping ups and downs for which Gothic is famous. The aunt dies mysteriously. Ellena is kidnapped by monks and carried off to a nunnery before Vivaldi can rescue her. He spends weeks in torment until he receives accounts of a mysterious carriage leaving town that night. Ellena is offered the choice of becoming a nun or perpetual imprisonment. Vivaldi and Paulo insinuate themselves into a group of pilgrims, make their way to the nunnery, and with inside assistance and miles of gloomy underground passages spirit Ellena to safety.

Without a chaperone to be seen, Ellena is taken down the mountains and through the woods to a lakeside convent where she should be safe. Vivaldi resides nearby and attempts to break down her resistance to marrying him when his parents are so violently opposed.

Ellena immediately admitted the sacredness of the promise which she had formerly given, and assured Vivaldi that she considered herself as indissolubly bound to wed him as if it had been given at the altar; but she objected to confirmation of it, till his family should seem willing to receive her for their daughter; when, forgetting the injuries she had received from them, she would no longer refuse their alliance.

Nevertheless, Vivaldi wears her down. But, at the very altar, the young couple are arrested by the Inquisition …

And so it goes on. You can see, the obscurity of the language is impossible, but the sense of adventure is palpable. Radcliffe builds the tension very well and it is clear why she was so popular. The animus towards the Catholic church is harder to explain. England had been officially Protestant for more than a century but Catholics, I think, still made a convenient ‘other’ and racism towards Catholics was prevalent in the Anglosphere until the 1950s (partly of course as something to beat the Irish with).

Should you read it? No! Did I enjoy it? The story was fun but the language was too much work, so no. Does it have a happy ending? I’m not letting on.


Ann Radcliffe, The Italian: Or the Confessional of the Black Penitents, A Romance, first pub. 1797. My edition Oxford University Press World’s Classics, 1968, with Introduction by Frederick Garber, Professor of English at the State University of New York, Binghampton

Guwayu – For All Times

Magabala is the Broome, WA based publisher of Indigenous books, so when I picked this up at my local indie bookshop it was in expectation that this was Indigenous Western Australian poetry, but of course Magabala is Australian not just Western Australian and so Guwayu – For All Times (2020) is a compilation from all around. In fact the commissioning body, Red Room Poetry is located “on Gadigal country of the Eora Nation” which I guess makes it in or near Sydney.

Editor, Dr Jeanine Leane, begins her Foreword with:

Guwayu – a Wiradjuri word – means still and yet and for all times. Guwayu means all times are inseparable; no time is ever over; and all times are unfinished.

[Wiradjuri – central southern NSW (here)]

Red Room Poetry is a national not-for-profit which “has commissioned, published and provided platforms for First Nations poets, artists, students, Elders and communities to celebrate, strengthen and share our culture.”

The Australian literary landscape needs this bold, brave intervention to wake it up from the 232-year slumber and the dream of the settler mythscape. Guwayu breaks the silence-feel the beauty-hear our words. Feel the texture of the sublime vessels woven within this living, breathing archive of us crafted from the living literature of our words.

Dr Jeanine Leane

Let me start from the middle of the collection with a favourite author, Western Australian Wirlomin/Noongar woman Clair G Coleman who has an Aboriginal flag tattoo to make up she says for her skin being ‘you could pass’ pale

I wear a flag
I have it needle-stuck and inked
Up in my skin
My skin is a flag
Without the ink
Not flagged enough

Forever, Flag

Not all the poets are famous or even poets, Red Room have writing programmes for ordinary Indigenous people and for (ordinary Indigenous people who are) prisoners. There are no bios (there are bios, they’re up the back), so I don’t mean to imply the writers who follow are either ordinary or in prison. Many of the poems are written in Language with interpretations to English included or following.

Dyarrbabangunbuni ngimay
We will never grow weary or let our fire burn out
Burawangunla, naminmawawingun dara
Let’s move upward and show our teeth

The Wounded Brave, Joel Davidson, writing in Gadigal

The next piece, Bigger than School Stuff, is longish, six or seven pages plus three pages of “Author’s note” which begins: “I’m still not 100% sure if this is the proper way to publish this. It is not really a poem. It is a piece of oral history. And right now it is incomplete… I first told this story at Mparntwe (Alice Springs) in 2018. I told it sitting beneath a very old and sacred tree in what is known as Todd Mall.” Near the end the author says disarmingly: “I am pretty sure the spelling of some of these Central Arrente words are wrong; and the translation needs editing with my Aunty Ali Furber and perhaps others, but it feels like a good start.”

Everyone’s sitting on the carpet
except Latoiya, who’s sitting under a desk
holding her hair over her face

Ampe mape arle-le aneme
Latoiya anyinte
aneme desk-le akwene
ingerre artelemele artele

The story is that Latoiya speaks Arrente in class and Tyrone, a town kid, speaks gibberish back at her, shaming her, and ends with the author giving Tyrone a ticking off

Bruss, you not in trouble. Not like school trouble
This is bigger than school stuff
You got … we got responsibilities here
We gotta look after that language. Best we can. Ok?

Declan Furber Gillick

Australian singers Stiff Gins are in there, one short poem which wasn’t my favourite but here’s a sample

Long, Wanting
My edge, a blade
Slice through air, slice through air
No breath, no rain
Stay in wait and wait to fade away

Longing, Wanting

Another ‘famous’ author is Ellen van Neerven, who is I think the current Red Room Fellow. They have a couple of poems in this collection. I’ll skip over them but Brona has reviewed their poetry (here and here). Ok, there’s also Bruce Pascoe.

Let me finish with some (non-contiguous) excerpts from an anti-government rant, because that was always going to grab my attention

Big house, big lies, gubbna, white gubbament
Contorted melaleuca
Conveniently furnished with second-hand decadence

I have retained my identity, of that I am sure
Inheritance; dispossession, pain and poverty
Against the calls of a mixed-race progeny
While you were left to inherit the bounty of the colony

Architects of this great nation, nothing but glorified thieves
Terra nullius – no one here so we can do what we please
Genocide, massacre, they all hide behind the wall

Your monument to a foreign power and foreign queen
Built on land that was never yours and never will be
Peaceful settlement an even bigger lie to hide their crimes
How many dead, how many more sacrificed?

Dripping with Decadence (Big House, Big White Lies), Lorna Munro


Jeanine Leane ed., Guwayu – For All Times, Magabala, Broome, 2020. 166pp.

see also:
Alison Whittaker, BlakWork (here)
Charmaine Papertalk Green & John Kinsella, False Claims of Colonial Thieves (here)
my Aboriginal Australia page (here). Book reviews are down the bottom
Lisa’s ANZLL Indigenous Literature Reading List (here)
Sue/Whispering Gums, Red Room Poetry Object competition 2014 (here)
Sue/Whispering Gums, Recovering Australia’s Indigenous Languages (here)

Such is Life (05), Joseph Furphy

Such is Life (01)
Such is Life (02)
Such is Life (03)
Such is Life (04)

The fictitious memoir of Tom Collins, a NSW Government official, “of the ninth class” and former bullocky. Being reviewed in 12 parts over the course of 2021.

Have I persuaded you yet that Such is Life is a major work of Modernist fiction, and probably the only reason Joseph Furphy is not up there with Woolf, Joyce, Lawrence is, you know, cultural cringe.

Such Is Life … “was instantly seen as a major example of the “radical nationalism” of the time and praised for its realistic representation of life on the frontier in the 1880s. But it was forty years before many readers realized that the novel was also a subtle comment on fiction itself and that within it were hidden stories that revealed a world of “romance” within its “realist” representation of life. Such Is Life can be read as the first experimental novel in Australian literature and the first Australian literary expression of a twentieth-century sensibility of the provisionality of life and reality.”

Julian Croft, ‘Joseph Furphy.’ in Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 230

On with the show, to Chapter III, another month on, in which Tom goes for a swim and causes a minor sensation.

The pages of the —— Express, the journal of record of a town on the Murray River, between Echuca and Albury, report two apparently unrelated stories from the night of 9th of November, 1883. In one a naked man, a “Lunatic at Large”, was sighted in various locations along the river. An ‘Inspector Collins of the NSW Public Service’ told the paper that he believed the man was an escapee from Beechworth Asylum who must subsequently have drowned. And in the other, Mr Q____ , a farmer lost a valuable stack of hay by fire.

Tom, as is his wont, takes his time relating his part in these stories, but on the afternoon of the 9th he was camped near a mate’s place on a bend in the river, on the NSW side. It is germane to this story that the Murray takes such a convoluted course that there are places along the river where Victoria is north of NSW, and this was near one such place. After several pages of smoking his pipe and philosophizing, and several more having a cup of tea with a swagman, he is accosted from the other side of the river by a farmer, B____ he knows and is persuaded to cross to the Victorian side using an improvised ferry – a bark canoe and a wire across the river between two trees.

Once again, he chooses between seemingly inconsequential alternatives and fate has him in its grip.

Halfway across the river a huge log is bearing down on him; he stands in the canoe and lifts the wire above it; Pup, his kangaroo dog chooses that moment to join him in the canoe, overturning it, and leaving both of them stranded on the log; no worries, he’ll strip off his clothes, tie the bundle to his head and swim for it; once more Pup intervenes, leaping from the log to his head and the clothes are lost; Tom swims to the northern shore thinking to walk back to his campsite; and finds himself on the Victorian side, after nightfall, stark naked.

His adventures as he accosts each passing traveller in the dark, most of them spooning couples from a Sunday School reunion picnic, is constantly attacked by mosquitos and walks through nettles and into unseen fences, are of course farcical.

Such is Life has seven chapters so for a couple of months I’ll have to cover a whole chapter, but not this month. I’ll leave you hanging with Tom naked by the roadside, or as he puts it, “into which, according to immemorial usage, I had been born without a rag of clothes”.

B____ – named later as Binney. The owner of the burned haystack, Q____ is likewise later named (though instead of giving the name the annotations point to 131:49 (page:line) where I find Jim Quarterman who no doubt turns up again later).

Victoria to the north. This puts the location of Tom’s adventure in the vicinity of Barmah (map). As does his mention of the locality ‘Moira’. I probably shouldn’t point out that heading downstream NSW is always on your right, why spoil a good story. Let’s say Tom was momentarily confused and swam with the setting sun on his left.

Quotations. Every third or fourth line seemingly, Furphy uses a phrase alluding to some other literary work. For example Tom looks in a cottage window seeking a man to help him out but sees only a woman and her children. “Like Enoch Arden (in my own little tin-pot way) I turned silently and sadly from the window, for I wasn’t wanted in that company.” In Tennyson’s ‘Enoch Arden’, Arden, believed lost at sea, returns to see through the window his wife re-married.
As Tom turns away he treads on a cactus (of course) and falls to the ground “comforting myself with the thought that a brave man battling with the storms of fate is a sight worthy of the admiration of gods”. From “Pope’s Prologue to Addison’s Cato“.

according to immemorial usage. cf. Job 1:21 – “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither.”


Joseph Furphy, Such is Life, Bulletin, Sydney, 1903

FD Glass, R Eaden, GW Turner, L Hoffman eds, The Annotated Such is Life, by Joseph Furphy, Halstead Classics, Sydney, 1999. 297pp (plus 170pp notes and annotations).

The book cover at the top is the 2nd Ed., published by Furphy’s literary executor Kate Baker in 1917 using pages printed for the Bulletin’s 1st Ed., but not used, and with the addition of an Introduction by Vance Palmer. See the UNSW Digital Collections Library (here).

How We Are Translated, Jessica Gaitán Johannesson

Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian (1797) is hard work! Each infintessimal advance in the plot takes soo many words. I needed a break. Grandson Dingo needed books for his first birthday. And once inside the bookshop I couldn’t really not check out new releases. So now I own How We Are Translated and John Kinsella’s short story collection, Pushing Back.

Johannesson “grew up speaking Spanish and Swedish and currently lives primarily in English”. She lives in Bath and the book is set in Edinburgh, about which she writes as though she had lived there too.

I was attracted to the book because it seemed to be in the first place a book about words, about language, about languages, about playing with the way words and meanings change as they slip from one language to another. It is turning out to be a very difficult work to write about, so I will start by answering Melanie’s question up front. Did I like it? Yes I did, Very much.

My question, Is it Literature? is more difficult to answer. At one level, How We Are Translated is ‘just’ a whimsical novel about a bi-lingual young woman dealing with her boyfriend/partner (no one says de facto anymore, though that is the relationship they are in. Is that maybe because ‘living together’ is no longer intended/expected to be permanent?) and with her (odd) job. But at another level the author clearly expects us to look at her writing as well as at her story. In particular the way she counterposes Swedish and English. So, yes, Literature.

After reading the whole book I find I don’t know the protagonists’ names. The author/narrator refers to them as I and you. She I think is Kirsten or Kristin, a Swede five years in Edinburgh, who found her odd employment to see her through uni, but is now two years graduated and still in the same job. He is Brazillian, brown, adopted young by a Scotswoman, who in the last couple of years has trained as a nurse and works for the council as a carer, visiting old people. They live in a flat, on the second or third floor. I see much/all of this in the text, but it bothers me that I look out for it because of the blurb I necessarily read to make the purchase. I hate blurbs. They spoil the reading experience. But how else can you choose?

As the book begins, they have not so much stopped talking, as stopped communicating. It is a difficult time, The Project has commenced, and ‘he’ has responded by insisting on communicating only in Swedish, which he has only just begun to learn. The Project? An unplanned and as yet unconfirmed pregnancy which they may or may not terminate, and about which, the pregnancy and the termination, they both speak obliquely, fearing to bring it out into the open.

I’m looking for quotes. The word Ciarin pops up from time to time. I’ve been ignoring it but perhaps it’s ‘his’ name. I wonder if I’d thought that earlier, some passages would have made more/different sense.

You said you wanted to ‘immerse’ yourself in ‘my language’ to ‘prepare’. ‘For both our sakes,’ you said, which is NOT an answer to why you’re JUST NOT HERE ANYMORE…

By the way, Swedish isn’t going to help you much if your future is within the NHS. And anyway, didn’t you say there was no future?

‘Jag är ledsen,’ you said.

This means ‘I am sad’, though he means it as ‘I am sorry’ which, as we Australians already know from (former Prime Minister) John Howard’s refusal to say ‘I am sorry’ to Aboriginal Australians, can express both sorrow and an acceptance of guilt.

Her ‘odd’ employment is as a Norse woman, Solveig, in an ongoing historical diorama about immigrants to Scotland, in the grounds of Edinburgh Castle. There are 3 or 4 ‘Norse’ – Ida, Solveig’s mother in law played by an Icelandic woman, and Sigurd/Niklas, a Norweigan. At work, they may only speak their ‘home’ language, so Solveig and Ida must communicate via Sigurd who luckily understands both Swedish and Icelandic. Their supervisor, and each ethnic group has a bureaucrat to enforce the rules and advance their interests over the others, Joanne Tarbuck, speaks only English (and schoolgirl French it later transpires) so must communicate with them by gestures, or hold them back for meetings after work.

The other ethnic groups are Lithuanian coal miners, farmers waylaid on their way to America, and Irish dock workers. Towards the end I may have noticed some emigrés from the French Revolution.

The elements of the plot are that the Lithuanians are plotting a rebellion and K won’t go to the doctor to confirm her pregnancy, but increasingly stays up all night worrying and walking the streets. ‘She’ ignores ‘his’ texts, in increasingly good Swedish, but wallows in the emails from their early days.

Mitt nya favoritord:



My new favourite word:



K does this quite often, As he tries out a new word she looks at its literal meaning. [I’ve used ‘columns’ for the first time – Emma, how do you do it? – but the Swedish and English won’t line up and I’ve had to switch to Classic block to trick the columns into ending].

The truth of the matter is that you haven’t told me what you think is the right thing to do either, and you think I haven’t noticed that you’re as far from knowing what you want as I am.

From that point of view it’s a touching story, and it comes to a head, sort of, as the Lithuanians mount their rebellion. There are other elements, the use of language of course, K’s relationship with Joanne Tarbuck is a mild satire on bureaucratism, and there’s ‘his’ status as an overseas adoptee which she is more interested than he is, or than he is willing to talk about.

Give it a try. It’s an innovative work, not quite but nearly up to the standard of Normal People, and I hope it features in next year’s awards.


Jessica Gaitán Johannesson, How We Are Translated, Scribe, London/Melbourne, 2021. 229pp