The Orchard Thieves, Elizabeth Jolley

AWW Gen 4 Week, 16-23 Jan 2022

As someone whose adopted home is Western Australia I have very fond feelings for Elizabeth Jolley who emigrated from England, made WA her home, and became one of Australia’s most loved authors. I wouldn’t attempt to apply any isms to her writing, but she wrote throughout the Gen 4 period and she wrote beautifully. Kimbofo, who has also made her home in WA, has reviewed one of Jolley’s later novels.


67d05341da6fa91687faea183a380b4b Reading Matters

The orchard thieves of the title of Elizabeth Jolley’s 1997 novella aren’t bad people stealing fruit trees but two little boys who pinch fruit to gobble up when they are staying at their grandmother’s house.

This rather delightfully told story is essentially about inheritance and taking what you think is rightfully yours — perhaps prematurely – Read on …

Orpheus Lost, Janet Turner Hospital

AWW Gen 4 Week, 16-23 Jan 2022

Today seems to be Janet Turner Hospital day. Whispering Gums posted a review of JTH’s short story ‘The Insider Story‘, a discussion ensued about Orpheus Lost which we had both reviewed and lo, Lisa was also working up a review of Orpheus Lost from her reading notes, so here it is,


ANZLitLovers

This was a gripping novel.  Leela, from ‘Paradise Land’ in the US Bible Belt meets Jewish-Lebanese Mishka Bartok from the Daintree Rainforest, and they fall in love.  They are both students in Boston: she’s doing the maths of music and he’s doing the music of the Middle East.  They make a lot of passionate love. Read on …

Monkey Grip, Helen Garner

AWW Gen 4 Week, 16-23 Jan 2022

Monkey Grip (1977) is famously Helen Garner’s first novel. It comes mid-generation, marking a clear point of no return, a clean break with with Australian writing’s past. If any one novel represents AWW Gen 4, then this is it.

When I first read Monkey Grip I saw it in the tradition of the Beats – Kerouac, Burroughs, and as I read more widely and time passed, of Kathy Acker and Irvine Welsh, leading on to Australia’s brief Grunge movement in the 1990s – Ettler, Tsiolkas, McGahan. With this re-reading, I don’t resile from those connections, but I’ve also read a lot more Garner. This is more than just living poor and taking drugs, this is Garner’s deep connection to co-operative living, to co-operation between women, to caring for others, and of course to autofiction.

The book it now reminds me of most closely is her fictionalised account of her friend’s treatment for late-stage cancer, The Spare Room (2008).

In December 1972 Garner, who was then 30, was fired from her job as a teacher for talking dirty to her 11-13 year old pupils: ” …the words some people think of as dirty words are the best words, the right words to use when you are talking about sex. So I’m not going to say “sexual intercourse”, I’m going to say “fuck” and I’m going to say “cock” and “cunt” too, so we’d better get that straight. Is that OK?”

Joseph Steinberg writes in an ALS article that “the terms of Garner’s firing inform the countercultural realism of her first novel Monkey Grip (1977), which is unabashedly fluent in, and indeed narratively yearns for, various forms of the four-letter contraband that got her sacked in the first place.” He quotes Kerryn Goldsworthy: “[male] reviewers were made uneasy ‘by frank, serious, knowledgeable utterances about sexuality made by a woman’ in Garner’s early novels and sought ‘to query her status as a literary author: in a word, to sack her’ (again)”.

In Monkey Grip, Nora – who stands in for Garner – is a single mother, with a five year old daughter, Gracie, living in share houses, old workers’ cottages in nineteenth century terraces around the CBD and Melbourne University (both presences which are felt but hardly ever mentioned); if I’ve got it right, first in Fitzroy, then near the Victoria Markets, and then back in Fitzroy.

It was early summer.
And everything, as it always does, began to heave and change.
It wasn’t as if I didn’t already have somebody to love. There was Martin, teetering as many were that summer on the dizzy edge of smack… But he went up north for a fortnight and idly, at the turning of the year, I fell in love with our friend Javo, the bludger, just back from getting off dope in Hobart.

Or as Steinberg summarises: “Nora needs to fuck Javo, Javo needs dope; Nora needs Javo not to need dope, but Javo needs it to need Nora, and Nora needs to be needed by Javo, ‘must learn not to need him’ though he needs her, for when it is her turn to need him he will ‘he will have nothing to give’. ‘Smack habit, love habit – what’s the difference?’, muses Nora midway through the novel.”

Gracie is an odd presence throughout, bored witless in her first year at school, already able to read, and at home, a Jiminy Cricket, seeing everything, an independent spirit with her own opinions, her own life.

One of the most interesting things about the story telling is the complete absence of back story for any of the characters. You get to know them as they appear on the page, entirely without explanation. Anything that’s not relevant at that moment, you don’t hear about.

Kevin Brophy in another ALS essay writes about Monkey Grip‘s reception over time. Especially early on, male reviewers were unhappy with Garner’s focus on women’s issues; Garner was an author who ‘talks dirty and passes it off as realism’; male and female reviewers, as was always the case with works by women, shrugged it off as a love story; almost no attention was paid to the innovation in both writing and subject matter. Brophy suggests an alternative reading, one which was resisted by nearly every reviewer:

The text proposes that people can throw conventions aside and reinvent themselves and their social relations in a process of change that is self-imposed, liminal, unpredictable and spontaneous. These new possibilities involve the reader in a world where communal living and single parenting can be the norm, where children are relatively independent and have insights to offer on the behaviour of the adults around them, a world where women insist on meeting men as equals. It is a world where a woman can speak and write of sex explicitly, dispassionately, even ‘tastelessly’ in a literary work — an accomplishment long granted to male literary figures. In these and other ways Monkey Grip invites readers to recognise and reassess the conventions by which they take their ‘realist’ fiction and by which they live.

Today, forty something years later, Garner’s autofiction is still controversial. In 1977 it was just plain un-literary.

I haven’t made it clear, but we make our way through a year and a bit of inner Melbourne life; hot summer days at the Fitzroy baths; cycling through Carlton and Fitzroy’s achingly familiar plane tree lined streets; in and out of each others’ share houses; in and out of beds in all the painful permutations of ‘open’ relationships; struggling to a resolution.

One last quote from Brophy:

[T]here is a further, more socially fundamental and political perspective on addiction offered in the novel. The patriarchal value system— the ideology that socialises us from childhood—is here presented as the overwhelming addiction suffered by characters who are wanting to reinvent value systems for social relations.

Garner is a revolutionary, remaking the way we think about living, about bringing up children, about relationships; remaking the way we think about Literature. If you haven’t read Monkey Grip yet, do yourself a favour.

.

Helen Garner, Monkey Grip, Penguin/McPhee Gribble, Melbourne, 1977. 245pp.

References:
Joseph Steinberg, Helen Garner’s Education, Australian Literary Studies, 28 Oct 2021
Kevin Brophy, Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip, The Construction of an Author and her Work, Australian Literary Studies, 1 Oct 1992


Lisa/ANZLitLovers is first off the block for AWW Gen 4 Week with a review of Amy Witting’s, The Visit (here) and Sue/Whispering Gums has promised to be on topic in tomorrow’s Monday Musings, and now (Sunday afternoon) I see she’s reviewed a Janet Turner Hospital short story (here) as well.

Re my North America Project 2022, I’m sorry but it’s weeks since I’ve been in the truck so I have not made a start on Their Eyes Were Watching God audiobook. As I have Octavia Butler’s Kindred on my shelves, I am reading that and will put up a review on 31 Jan. Next month is still The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and March is Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber (BIP, I know you suggested Salt Roads, thank you, but I decided to go with MR because it is earlier.) I’ll advise other months, including Their Eyes, when I get more organized.

AWW Gen 4: Postmodern?

AWW Gen 4 Week, 16-23 Jan 2022

AWW Gen 4 is (Australian women) writers who were first published in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. I have written elsewhere that the changeover from Gen 3 was marked by the end, in Australia, of a white, Anglo monoculture – where our major ‘other’ was the large Irish Catholic, largely working class, minority. Gen 4, then, begins with waves of ‘Mediterranean’ immigration, from Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia and Lebanon; the ‘youth culture’ of the sixties; Womens Lib; Civil Rights; a release from the sexual constraints of the 1950s; much greater access to tertiary education, and indeed to late secondary education; and a widely shared prosperity which, by the end of the eighties had crashed headlong into the neo-liberalism of Regan and Thatcher (and of Keating and Howard), though it was another couple of decades before we began to recognise what we had lost.

I have a problem in that I enjoy reading Lit. Theory but very little of it sticks. There is no doubt though that at the beginning of the period, the majority of writers were still working in the Modernist tradition (see last year’s Late Modernity), and that the ideas of Postmodernism, post-structuralism, post-colonialism being explored overseas, were both poorly understood and only slowly taken up.

Clearly postmodern works like Thomas Keneally’s A Dutiful Daughter and David Ireland’s The Unknown Industrial Prisoner, both 1971, were beacons in a sea of conventionality.

Keneally, (Bethany’s Book) and probably every other author at least once, pissfarted around with the idea of conflating the book being read and the author of the book being read with the book and author being written about (which Miles Franklin did earlier and better in My Career Goes Bung); and my feelings about Peter Carey’s taking up of the fashion of Magic Realism, beginning with Illywhacker (1985) don’t bear repeating.

Putting the author into the work always seemed to me to be a straight riposte to the ‘Death of the Author’, and pointless after it had been done once; MR was a fashion that worked when used sparingly but soon became every aspiring author’s new toy. If you want more, the ALS Journal has an interesting review of Maria Takolander’s Catching Butterflies: Bringing Magical Realism to Ground (2007)*.

Other aspects under the postmodern umbrella are irony, unreliability, commercialism, pop culture. Modernism was a serious project to understand the nature of writing and of the self; without the politics of feminism and post-colonialism, postmodernism is largely a cop out, promoted by the left and taken up joyously by the right as cover for their aversion to truth telling.

The first writer in our Gen 4, in more than one sense, is Thea Astley, whose first work, Girl with a Monkey, came out in 1958. Leigh Dale says that while Astley’s fiction is post-colonial in that much of it is concerned with the consequences of the colonisation of Australia, and particularly of course, Queensland –

Astley’s novels have a tendency to reject the recuperation of resistance that has been the major task of much post-colonial literary and cultural criticism, and to emphasise both the devastation caused by colonialism on indigenous populations, and the lasting refusal of colonial regimes to recognise the causes or effects of that devastation.

This is understandable, both because she is a pioneer in the recognition of the violence done to Indigenous peoples, and because “the recuperation of resistance”, establishing that the Indigenous were more than just victims, is the task, in the first place, of Indigenous writers.

Astley was an innovator in her subject matter, but in her writing she was concerned to write in the Modernist tradition, seeking reassurance from Patrick White, and most similar probably in the denseness and precision of her writing to her contemporary Randolph Stow. Still, I noted in my recent review of Astley’s Reaching Tin River (1990) that Astley had clearly, over time, absorbed some of the tropes of postmodernism, playfulness say, allowing two characters 70 years in time apart, to be in some way aware of each other.

Two other AWW Gen 4 writers I’ve reviewed this year are Sara Dowse and Carmel Bird. Bird was the recipient of the 2016 Patrick White Award. The judges wrote: “Using elements of the Gothic, fantasy and fairy tale as easily as realism, Bird can be surreal, quirky and macabre, but also humorous, humane and warm.” I struggled with the postmodernism of The Bluebird Café (1990) but that might have been just me. I gave Milly Bird’s The Family Skeleton (2016) for xmas. How that will go I cannot say.

Dowse I’ve run into a couple of times in the newspapers. In reviews of work by Australian poet Kate Jennings, and US feminist Shiela Rowbotham, Dowse revisits her own time as an activist in the sixties and seventies. In the period covered by West Block (1975-76) Dowse is already bogged down attempting to get women’s policies past an unfriendly (Fraser/Liberal) government. But there was a time of hope before that.

[Kate Jennings’] Trouble has brought it back: the demos, the passion, the laughs, the daring. Subtitled Evolution of a Radical, the book is a selection of Jennings’s writing from 1970 to 2010. The first entry is the raw, spitting speech Jennings hurled at a 1970 Vietnam moratorium rally on the front lawn of Sydney University – the opening salvo of Women’s Liberation in Australia. Did we actually speak like that?

That day, at that moment, I was 850 kms down the road, with the Melb Uni contingent listening to similar speeches in Treasury Gardens prior to the March – 100,000 people or more, all the length of Bourke St. What a day!

My first review for the Week will be Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip (1977). The women’s movement for Garner’s Nora is already just a hum in the background, women living co-operatively, but still seemingly at the beck and call of men.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this period, the beginning of adulthood for many of us, appears to you. And please, let me know in Comments what you hope to read (and review!).

.

References:
Leigh Dale, Colonial History and Post Colonial Fiction: The Writing of Thea Astley, Australian Literary Studies, 1 May 1999 (here)
Karen Lamb, “Yrs Patrick”, Southerly, Vol 72.1 2012
Sara Dowse, Trouble, Age, Melbourne, 23 April 2010
Sara Dowse, Days of Hope, Inside Story, 17 December 2021 (here)


“Maria Takolander’s ambitious project, Catching Butterlies: Bringing Magical Realism to Ground, seeks to clear up the confusion surrounding the literary term ‘magical realism’, an oxymoron which Takolander says has become ‘a dumping ground for the convenient disposal of any fiction that deviates from or experiments with the rules of realism’ …

Takolander goes on to argue that using MR to represent the spirit lives underlying Indigenous cultures is necessarily inauthentic. The reviewer (and I) disagree:

“However, rather than suggesting that reality itself does not exist, [non-European authors] propose that there are other ways of experiencing it. Such magical realist authors recognise and expose the cultural clashes, merges and changes in postcolonial situations, and express it through magical realism. Such works are not, or not necessarily, ‘inauthentic’ because they present twentieth-century versions of indigenous cultures.

Tanja Schwalm, Review of Maria Takolander, Catching Butterflies: Bringing Magical Realism to Ground (2007) in Australian Literary Studies, 1 June 2009.

An Unfortunate Woman, Richard Brautigan

Richard Brautigan (1935-84) is one of those authors I would automatically pick up if I saw his works second hand – increasingly unlikely as he gets further out of date and all the second hand stores anywhere near me close, leaving only op shops – though this seems to be the only work of his I own at the moment.

In my twenties, I read Watermelon Sugar (1968), Trout Fishing in America (1967), and gave to the Young Bride The Abortion: An Historical Romance (1971). I was aware of his first novel, A Confederate General from Big Sur (1964) but can’t recall now if I ever read it. I loved his work and if I ever wrote, Brautigan would be my model.

Brautigan, an alcoholic and depressive, married and separated a number of times, died by his own hand in 1984. An Unfortunate Woman: A Journey (2000) was published posthumously, first in France, as Cahier d’un Retour de Troie [“Diary of a Return from Troy”] and only later in English.

An Unfortunate Woman is written as the narrator R reflecting on his wanderings over a few months in 1982 – which it would be cliched to see as an odyssey, though the author probably means us to – circling a number of times through the house of a woman in San Francisco, who had hanged herself some time previously, before ending up back home in Montana

maybe part of what I’m trying to say is … I wonder how old the woman was who hanged herself. Have I been working obliquely, almost secretly to this end.
I think she was in her early forties, but I do not know her exact age and probably never will. I guess it wouldn’t make that much difference in the long run. She’s very dead.

With writers like Brautigan (and Helen Garner) their lives and their fiction intersect so closely that it is impossible to know where one ends and the other begins. Brautigan begins this novel with, as a sort of prologue, a letter to a friend, N (Nikki Arai), who has just died, aged thirty eight, of cancer. The letter is dated Pine Creek, Montana, July 13, 1982. The novel chronicles the days from Jan 30 to Jun 28, 1982, so before N’s death, ending with R alone on his Montana ranch, on the hills above a tributary of the Yellowstone River.

R begins his ‘odyssey’ with an empty notebook and the intention of writing every day until it is filled. He doesn’t of course, and is frequently sidetracked.

With this auspicious beginning [a single abandoned shoe], I’ll continue describing one person’s journey, a sort of free-fall calendar map, that starts out what seems like years ago, but has actually been just a few months in physical time.

In those few months prior to Jan 30, 1982 R went from Montana to San Francisco, then to Buffalo, a week in Canada, back to San Francisco for a few weeks, up to Alaska, where he got drunk with a young politician, spent some time in Hawaii, and now, at the beginning of this record, he is back living in Berkley, in the house already mentioned. Having listed where has been, R takes us backwards and forwards between descriptions of ‘now’, accounts of those initial travels, and bouts of pure speculation.

My trip to Canada was wasted. At that time in my life I probably should have gone to any other place in the world but Canada…

Toronto will always be like the flipside of a dream for me. I called heads but Toronto came up tails. [R goes looking for a Chinese movie theatre, but the only one he finds is showing American movies]

What else did I do in Toronto? I had a very bitter affair with a Canadian woman, who was really a nice person. It ended abruptly and badly, which was totally my fault.

The novel, novella really, is not getting written as quickly as it was meant to. R has been to Chicago and is now back in that house again in Berkeley where he is awakened each morning by the sounds of a woman in a neighbouring house making love. He makes another visit to Chicago and …

… suddenly it’s March 1: What happened to the last 14 days of this book, which is now obviously chronologically mischievous and grows more and more to follow the way life works out?

There’s a gap, he’s home, has taught a semester at the local university – presumably Montana State University in Bozeman (which I struggle to believe is a real place) – goes on a blind date which works out better than a previous blind date where he got into an argument about the woman’s masters dissertation on Italian architecture in Henry James; advises a young student to write about herself because when you’re young that’s all you know; does some other stuff; takes a call from his daughter whom he won’t see because he doesn’t like the guy she married; and, finally, thinks a little about his dying friend, sends her a telegram, calls her, talks to her

My friend continues to die of cancer, even as I write now shardlike cells grow inside of her, never stopping until I talk about her only in the past tense.

R has nearly reached the end of his notebook. What about all the things I’ve left out he worries. He goes for a walk across the creek to his neighbours’. Leaves the last line empty.

“Iphigenia, your daddy’s home from Troy”.

.

Richard Brautigan, An Unfortunate Woman, Canongate, Edinburgh, 2000. 110pp.

see also:
Emma/Book Around the Corner’s review of Trout Fishing in America (here)

Best Reads 2021

Storming the Capitol. 6 Jan 2021. Photo Jason Andrew NYT

The best read of 2021 was definitely any report of the failure of Donald Tr#*mp to retain the presidency of the USA. However, I don’t have much doubt Republicans will return to power and once there will begin some years of neo-Facism (see the New York Times editorial of 1 Jan 2021 – “Every day is Jan. 6 now”).

If you want a Best (Australian Political) Read for 2021 try Bernard Keane’s Lies and Falsehoods: The Morrison Government and the New Culture of Deceit (I’ve read excerpts in Crikey).

Now on with books which we might actually read, or you might actually read. As usual, I read very few new releases. The best which accidentally jumped out of me at the bookshop were An I-Novel by Minae Mizumura (USA/Japan), How We Are Translated by Jessica Gaitán Johannesson (Eng/Sweden) and Another Day in the Colony by Chelsea Watego (Australia/Indigenous). I’m sure I’ll come across others eventually.

Fifty years back we are in AWW Gen 4 territory, though I’m afraid the best books are by guys –

1971

There were 20 novels published, 18 the previous year – those are astonishingly small numbers don’t you think – most of them unmemorable; and a couple of interesting non-fiction which I still own.

Kenneth Cook, Piper in the Market Place
Dymphna Cusack, A Bough in Hell
Geoffry Dutton & Max Harris, Sir Henry, Bjelke, Don Baby and Friends (NF)
Frank Hardy, The Outcasts of Foolgarah
Donald Horne, But What if there are no Pelicans
David Ireland, The Unknown Industrial Prisoner (review)
George Johnston, A Cartload of Clay (Memoir)
Thomas Keneally, A Dutiful Daughter (review)
Cynthia Nolan, Paradise, And Yet (Verse)
Elizabeth Salter, Daisy Bates (NF, review)
Kylie Tennant, The Man on the Headland (Memoir)
Barbara Vernon, A Big Day at Bellbird (yes, that Bellbird!)
Judah Waten, So Far No Further

1921

The number of books published is slowly picking up after the War, but at around 40, you could probably have read them all if you had to. I’ll list all the novels plus a few others.

CEW Bean, Vol I,II, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918
Marie Bjelke-Petersen, Dusk (Popular Romance)
Dulcie Deamer, Revelation
CJ Dennis, A Book for Kids (Childrens)
Mary Fullerton, Bark House Days
Agnes Gwynne, The Mistress of Windfells
Ada Holman, Sport of the Gods
Arthur Lynch, O’Rourke the Great
Mary Marlowe, Ghost Girl
Maurice Furnley, Arrows of Longing (Verse)
Bernard O’Dowd, Alma Venus! (Verse)
Ida Outhwaite, The Enchanted Forest (Childrens)
AB Paterson, Collected Verse
KS Prichard, Black Opal
Steele Rudd, We Kaytons (S/Stories)
JM (James) Walsh, Tap-Tap Island (illus. by Percy Lindsay)
Arthur Wright, Fettered by Fate

1871

Six authors for eight books, just one novel (by the author of The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn)

Marcus Clarke, Old Tales for a Young Country (S/Stories)
Henry Kingsley, The Boy in Grey
Richard Rowe, Episodes in a Obscure Life (Memoir, Goodreads)

1821

Nothing

.

Joy Hooton and Harry Heseltine, Annals of Australian Literature, 2nd Ed., OUP, Melbourne, 1992

Tamarisk Row, Gerald Murnane

Tamarisk Row (1974), Gerald Murnane’s first published novel, is a fictionalised account of his boyhood in Bendigo (here called ‘Basset’) in the late 1940s. Murnane was born in 1939, so these are his primary school years. His second novel, covering his high school years in Melbourne, and a year in a Catholic seminary, was A Lifetime on Clouds (1976), which was only recently expanded and republished as A Season on Earth (2019).

In a Foreword dated 2007 Murnane writes that it took him years to get started, that he first had to discard any literary theory he had learned: “Even after I seemed to myself to have grasped something of the literary theory then fashionable, that theory remained wholly unrelated to my experiences as a reader of fiction, let alone a would-be writer of it.”

I complained in my review that A Season on Earth begins quite conventionally. That is not true of Tamarisk Row whose writing is immediately familiar to the reader of his later works, A Million Windows, Border Districts.

I have my own term for the sort of narration that I used in Tamarisk Row. I call it considered narration. It might be said of some works of fiction that they bring to life certain characters. I would hope that the text of Tamarisk Row could be said to have brought to life the fictional personage responsible for it: the narrator through whose mind the text is reflected.

All of Murnane’s familiar themes are right there in the first few pages – his fascination with the plains of central Victoria and the Mallee stretching endlessly to the north and west; his immersion in Roman Catholic doctrine; his endless curiosity (and ignorance) about girls; the way he experiences light through glass; the life his protagonist, Clement Killeaton, lives in his imagination

Clement sees strange creatures in coloured glass

When the sun is low in the sky west of Basset a peculiar light shines in the panel of the greenish/gold glass in the Killeatons’ front door. Creatures neither green nor gold but more richly coloured than any grass or sun try to find their way home through a land where cities of unpredictable shapes and colours rise up on plains of fiery haze …

Of course Murnane’s most famous fascination, in life, is with horse racing, as spectacle I think, though here Clement’s father is both a hopeless gambler, and in a small way, a racehorse owner-trainer. ‘Tamarisk Row’ is in fact the name of an imaginary horse and also of an imaginary farm in the far back corner of Clement’s back yard where the wife waits for her husband to return from the races and will remove all her clothes and lie naked with him if the horse has done well.

There is a narrative arc – Clement progresses through St Bridget’s school, run by nuns, and into the first year of the boys school run by the Brothers; he doesn’t grow out of wanting to see girls’ knickers, though the few times he is successful in persuading a girl to remove them, I am not sure he believes or understand what he sees; Clement’s father travels the state laying bets for a big Melbourne gambler, with the sting that will set him up for life always in the future, and meanwhile falling increasingly in debt; their own horse, obtained cheaply after failing in Melbourne, is slowly trained up to cause a surprise on a distant country racetrack.

Clement’s father teaches him that a real stayer takes up a comfortable position near the rear of the field, waiting until the winning post is in sight before making his run and closing in on the leaders, which strategy Clement applies not just to the imaginary races he runs in the backyard, with marbles for horses, or to his own efforts as a runner at school, but also to his exams, passing up easy marks in the earlier tests to close on the class leader in Geography, his best subject, only to fall agonizingly short.

As his debts grow Clement’s father’s position becomes increasingly untenable. He enters his horse, Sternie, in a maiden handicap in a distant town, over a distance that doesn’t suit it, and without the money to back it anyway, but persuades ‘friends’ to back it for him

He knows that if Sternie is beaten he might never load another horse onto a float in the early morning and travel with him to some town where all the mystery and uncertainty of far northern distances gathers for one afternoon at the far side of a racecourse. [The jockey] will go on riding other men’s horses and men like [his ‘friends’] will cheer home winners that land them bets of hundreds of pounds, but Killeaton might never again send his colours out towards an imprecise horizon and watch them being shifted about by forces he has no control over and wait to see swept back towards him a great jumble of colours and signs and patterns …

I love the flow of Murnane’s writing, could follow it forever irrespective of the presence or absence of meaning, or of my understanding of its meaning, but there is the added attraction that Clement, in Catholic schools, and I a protestant in the state school system, seemingly shared great chunks of our childhood and adolescence, in country Victoria, only occasionally aware of adults, misunderstanding girls, living in books and our imaginations, in that distant time before “the sixties”.

.

Gerald Murnane, Tamarisk Row, first pub. 1974. This edition, Giramondo, 2008. 285pp.


Tamarix are deciduous shrubs or trees imported from Asia, possibly via the US, growing 1–18 m in height and forming dense thickets. They usually grow on saline soils (wiki) and are weeds in Australia, displacing native flora. The largest, Athel Pine (Tamarix aphylla), found throughout the outback, is an evergreen tree that can grow to 18 m tall, but Murnane was more likely referring to Saltcedar (Tamarix ramosissima) – pictured – which is more common in Victoria.

Such is Life (12), 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)
Such is Life (07)
Such is Life (08)
Such is Life (09)
Such is Life (10)
Such is Life (11)

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. And here we are at no. 12. At last!

Tom has left Jack’s (formerly Nosey Alf’s) hut and is making his way to Runymede homestead in the impressive costume with which Jack has supplied him (supplemented by his own glasses and the famous meerschaum pipe).

[previously] I lacked, and knew I lacked, what is known as a ‘presence’. Now however, the high, drab belltopper and long alpaca coat, happily seconded by large, round glasses and a vast and scholarly pipe, seemed to get over [that] difficulty; and, for perhaps the first time in my life, I enjoyed … the consciousness of being well-dressed.

We run into a fellow on a poorly broken horse and Tom discourses, with examples, for a number of pages on the nature of good horsemanship until at last we are able to proceed – to the store, where goods are both kept for the station and sold to travellers. Montgomery, the storekeeper undertook in the last chapter, though I kept it from you, to spread rumours about Tom which Mrs Beaudesert might believe, and so give up her intention of marrying him.

We hear news for the last time of Nosey Alf, headed way north, up the Diamantina Track, into western Queensland.

Montgomery repeats the story Mrs B was intended to overhear (“which is more than I can do”, interpolates Tom). They get into an argument over whether Tom is dishonored or disgraced.

“Poverty, for instance is disgrace without dishonour; Michael-and-George-ship is dishonour without disgrace. In cases like mine, the dishonour lies in the fact, and the disgrace is in the publicity.”

All the men go in to lunch, including two swagman who Tom has previously injured, though neither recognises him, and so he is not called to account. Now he must face Mrs B and enact “the aristocratic man with a past … Such is life, my fellow-mummers – just like a poor player, that bluffs and feints his hour upon the stage, and then cheapens down to mere nonentity.”

THE END

Was I happy to see that ‘THE END’! When this is done, I’m going to go back to reading books, not studying them. But for the nonce, let us go on. We are clear of course that Tom Collins is not Joseph Furphy. John Barnes writes, “In many ways Collins is an exaggerated, ironic self-portrait, in which Furphy regards humorously – and not too severely – the vanity of the “learned bushman. Tom Collins is a role that Furphy assumes, turning his irony against himself.” And further on .. “Furphy planted the clues that enable us to see the truth that Collins misses. As the reader grasps the relationships, the patterns of cause and effect which elude the cock-sure and loquacious narrator, he will come to recognize the cunning of the book’s construction.”

It is clear that in his years in the bush, often alone and reading by the light of his campfire, Furphy read voraciously and widely, though the fact that he carried a pocket Shakespeare wherever he went is evident from his frequent and often obscure quotations. On finally settling down in Shepparton, he began submitting stories to the Bulletin, as did many bushmen/writers. But what he brought to this novel was not just years of reading and bush experience but “also a fascination with the nature of fiction. In his sense of literary tradition and his conscious pursuit of originality, Furphy had no real counterpart …”

Such is Life is a unique work, a landmark in Australian literature, incomprehensible probably to non-Australians, and, outside literary circles at least, still carrying the burden of having originally been lumped in with Bush Realism. It is in fact the first, great work of the Modernist era, and so you will find when you read it.

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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 cover is of the edition I own. A&R Classics is of course an imprint of Angus & Robertson. This edition dates from 1975, reprinted 1978, with a Foreword by John Barnes.


Meerschaum. German for sea foam. A meerschaum pipe is made from the mineral sepiolite sometimes found floating on the Black Sea.

The ideal rider. “… wants  – or rather, needs – a skull of best spring steel; a spinal column of standard Lowmoor; limbs of gutta-percha; a hide of vulcanised india-rubber; and the less brains he has, the better … his thinking facilities should be so placed as to be in direct touch with the only thing that concerns him, namely the saddle.” He goes on …

A spill that perils neck or limb, a simple buster is to him, and it is nothing more, paraphrasing Wordsworth’s Peter Bell
A primrose by a river’s brim
A yellow primrose was to him
And it was nothing more

Michael-and-George-ship. KCMG (knighthood) awarded to colonials for services rendered. “Its possessors were prostituted instruments of British imperialism whose price had been paid in honours and titles.” The Boomerang.

John Barnes (1931- ) Emeritus Professor of English at La Trobe University, author of The Order of Things: A Life of Joseph Furphy (1990)

Irishness. This is a footnote to previous posts really, but in between finishing writing this post and putting it up, I read an essay by Francis Devlin-Glass in the ALS Journal of 30 Sep 2021, ‘Defining the Field of Irish-Australian Literature’:

“Furphy is not only a cornerstone of nineteenth-century Australian literature, but his critique of sectarianism, one of the most urgent cultural issues in the last quarter of the nineteenth century in Australia, has not often been marked. It makes him and his Shandyesque manner of narration, unique in Australian fiction, of both cultural and literary interest to a study of Irish-Australian writers. That he is the only Australian writer … alluded to in detail in Finnegans Wake is another curious index of a transnational flow in the Irish direction.”

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< Previous. Such is Life (11)

This Mournable Body, Tsitsi Dangarembga

Tsitsi Dangarembga (1959- ) is a Shona woman from Zimbabwe, where she has spent most of her life. This Mournable Body (2020) is her third novel, and the third of a series covering the life of Shona woman, Tambu.

These works are in part, fictionalised memoir. Both Tambu and the author boarded at a Catholic convent girls’ high school with mostly white students; both went on to be (for a while) advertising copywriters; and both lived through the illegal white government of Ian Smith, the civil war which brought Robert Mugabe to power, and that government’s slow and inevitable corruption.

The biggest difference between the author’s life and her protagonist’s is that Tambu’s parents are traditional people from a country village, while the author’s were both well educated school teachers; and probably that the author is more together than Tambu, better educated. and more westernized.

I chose to buy this because I like new African writing, and because I remembered a number of you reviewing it. But despite the reviews, I started out with very few preconceptions. Half way through I wasn’t having any problems, Dangarembga had filled in enough of Tambu’s back story to provide a solid base. However, by the end, I was wishing I had read the other two first. It was not as though there were facts missing, but rather there was a feeling I wasn’t properly understanding Tambu’s motivations.

The floor out in the hall is shiny, though it is made of cement and not of cow dung. You wrote tourist brochures at the advertising agency you walked out of many months ago. The tourist brochures you composed said your country’s village women rub their cow pat floors until they shine like the cement floor. The brochure lied. There is no shine in your memory. Your mother’s floors never shone with anything. Nothing ever glittered or sparkled.

Tambu, who is getting ‘old’, is in a hostel for young women, unemployed and seemingly unemployable. We are in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, in the years after the civil war. Dangarembga’s portrayal of middle class poverty is fascinating. She never mentions, let alone criticises the Mugabe government, though she was for a while an Opposition politician. The handover of white owned farms to civil war veterans, which is mentioned obliquely, puts the story in the late 1990s, early 2000s, though some of the references to the civil war (in the 1970s) make it feel earlier than that.

Tambu eventually finds a job, as a teacher; finds somewhere to room – a unit in a suburban backyard; attacks a student; has a breakdown and is admitted to a psychiatric unit; is rescued by rellos, war vets; goes to live with an overseas educated cousin she had once looked up to but who is now basically a hippy; and finally, finds employment, and success, sort of, with Tracey, a white woman with whom she was at school and who was her boss in the advertising agency.

It is possible that in Nyasha, the overseas educated cousin, with her degree in filmmaking from Hamburg, Dangarembga is having a little dig at herself “coming back to Zimbabwe where no one wants her” (p.215).

Tracey’s new business, Green Jacaranda Safaris, sends parties of European tourists to authentic stopovers. First, on the farm which Tracey and her brother have inherited (but which Tracey struggles to get possession of); then in ghetto stays suggested by Tambo’s rival, Pedzi; and finally, to Tambu’s home village up country.

All the time it is clear that Tambu is less competent than she thinks she is, and we share her sense of being constantly on the edge of yet another failure. But, despite our fears, she persuades her mother, persuades the woman of her village, that it is worth their while to welcome white tourists.

How restoring it is, even as you plod towards middle age, to reap a positive outcome from the convent that, while it educated you, rendered you “them”, “they”, “the Africans”. As tour supervisor at Green Jacaranda, you are still Zimbabwean enough, which is to say, African enough, to be interesting to the tourists, but not so strange as to be threatening.

There has been some discussion about whether Tambu’s story is a metaphor for Zimbabwe. Tambu is persuaded by her white boss to betray her mother, to put the village women in the position of having to dance “authentically” bare breasted for the first party of white tourists. This must reflect at least partly what Dangarembga thinks about the dangers of living “up” to white expectations.

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Tsitsi Dangarembga, This Mournable Body, Faber, London, 2020 (first pub. 2018). 363pp

The Inseparables, Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) and Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) were themselves pretty well inseparable but Sartre at least is not who this short work of autofiction is about, but rather de Beauvoir and her childhood friend, Elisabeth ‘Zaza’ Lacoin, given here the names Sylvie and Andrée. I mention Sartre because I became a Sartre fan at university and it is only through him that I have had any interest in de Beauvoir, who was of course a feminist icon and the author of The Second Sex (1949).

The Inseperables was unpublished in de Beauvoir’s lifetime, presumably because she did not wish it to be, but was found later amongst her papers. It is a slight work, 123pp without all the accompanying material – Introduction, translator’s note, Afterword (by de Beauvoir’s adopted daughter and executor of her will), and ‘Archive Material’, threatening to overwhelm the text and which consequently I have not read.

The story begins with Sylvie aged 9 and Paris under threat from the Germans. I think Hitler, Sylvie’s grandfather thinks Bismark (1870-71), but it is of course WWI. She is a good Roman Catholic child, at a Roman Catholic girls school.

The students sat around an oval table covered in black moleskin, which would be presided over by our teacher; our mothers sat behind us and kept watch while knitting balaclavas. I went over to my stool and saw the one next to it was occupied by a hollow-cheeked little girl with brown hair

and so she meets Andrée, who had been “burned alive” and missed a year of school and now wished to catch up by borrowing the notebooks of the best student in the class, Sylvie of course.

This is an account of the two girls’ friendship, far more intense on Sylvie’s side than Andrée’s, over the next fifteen years, in which Roman Catholicism plays an important part – Sylvie contrasting the fading away of her own childhood faith with Andrée’s need to retain hers.

After their first summer apart, near the end of the War, they return to school –

… I suddenly understood, in a joyful stupor, that the empty feeling in my heart, the mournful quality of my days, had but one cause: Andrée’s absence. Life without her would be death.

Sadly for Sylvie, Andrée’s most important relationship is with her mother, who only grudgingly tolerates their friendship. Sylvie is always headed for an academic life. Andrée, though Sylvie’s equal in class as well as a gifted violinist, is headed only for marriage to ai suitable Roman Catholic boy.

When, at 13, Andrée forms a relationship with the boy next door to their country property she is fully aware of the carnality and sinfulness of their “innocent” kisses. The boy’s father is spoken to and he is taken out of harms way. Sylvie is reluctantly invited to spend the holidays, to divert Andrée, but she never fully understands. Even into her twenties Sylvie is largely impervious to sexual attraction.

At the Sorbonne, Sylvie takes philosophy and Andrée literature. Sylvie “continued to respect Christian morality” and is alarmed by the way her fellows talk and act. She becomes friends with a young man in her class, Pascal, an observant Catholic with “with impeccable manners and … beautiful angelic face.” She introduces Pascal to Andrée, and soon they are going out.

With her older sister married off, Andrée is the focus of all her mother’s attention. She wishes to marry Pascal but it becomes clear that Pascal is as locked in obedience to his father as she is to her mother. It all ends in tears.

This reminds me of those Evelyn Waugh novels where motivation may only be understood via the Byzantine ins and outs of Catholic reasoning. So, for instance Pascal agrees with Andrée’s mother that he should be kept apart from Andrée due to the inherently carnal nature of their attraction. But does it remind me of Sartre or indeed, of de Beauvoir?

Sartre is difficult to read, though I remember enjoying his war-time novels. He examines himself constantly, repeatedly, hoping to make a small progress each time. At the heart of his philosophy, and I think of de Beauvoir’s, is the demand that we be responsible for who we are.

On its face, this is a simply written text, an account of the difficulties Andrée’s faith leads her into, and Sylvie’s reaction. Perhaps the best I can say is that Andrée wants to be the person, the woman, God and her mother want her to be, and she finds this impossible to achieve.

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Simone de Beauvoir, The Inseparables, Vintage Classics, 2020. Translated Lauren Elkin. Introduction, Deborah Levy. Afterword, Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir. 145pp

see also: Existentialism, Sartre (here)


From Hazel Rowley’s Foreword to de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (here).

Jean-Paul Sartre was a guiding force and moral support for Beauvoir, just as she was for him. He encouraged her, in the true sense of the word; he brought out her courage. During their long years of literary apprenticeship—years in which they both produced draft after draft that would end up, like their other manuscripts, relegated to a drawer—Sartre saw that Beauvoir was at her best when she portrayed her own experience. “Look,” he told her one day, as they sat in a noisy, smoke-filled Paris café discussing their work, “why don’t you put yourself into your writing?” Beauvoir writes that she felt the blood rush to her cheeks. “I’d never dare to do that,” she said. “Screw up your courage,” Sartre said.*

  That conversation resulted in She Came to Stay (1943). Inspired by the amorous trio Beauvoir and Sartre had formed with a young woman, the novel skated so close to real life that it shocked even their friends …