Tuesday, February 28, 2012

That Deadman Dance

Another brilliant Australian novel: That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott. This was the winner of the 2011 Miles Franklin Award. It was shortlisted for the Indie Book Award 2011, and it was a regional winner of the 2011 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.
   This book raises so many issues, but does it in a way that is not obvious - it doesn't stick the issues in your face, it unfolds the issues around the beautiful characters. The story is very touching, but (and this is not necessarily a bad thing) it left me feeling sad and ashamed.

This story is based in Western Australia, in the early white settlements, in the early 1800s on what was known as the 'friendly frontier'.
   The novel is told over periods of time, sometimes looking back on events for the point of view of the old, and sometimes right in the moment with the young. It is told from the point of view of black and white, male and female. The way that Kim Scott has developed a unique voice for each narrator is brilliant - they are subtle and unique and very believable.
   There are traces of understanding and hope, of people rising above their prejudices about skin colour. But then there is a clash of cultures, and inevitably the reader is disappointed (why was I so disappointed, when I know the history of our country? Why did I expect any different?).
   This story has certainly left its mark on me, and I can't articulate the emotion that I'm feeling about it. I just hope that every Australian reads this.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


One part of my final assignment in the creative writing course I was doing with Griffith University, I had to write a blurb for the novel I'm writing. It was inspiring to write, and it has changed the focus of my novel (again).
   Here it is:

Based on an unsolved double murder that happened nearly 100 years ago in Australia’s most remote alpine cattle station, this story explores how country people close off from outsiders to protect their own.
   A wealthy station manager is found murdered and buried in a shallow grave. His one employee is missing, only to be found months later, also dead. Was is the work of cattle thieves, or an angry husband defending his wife over a rumoured love affair? Or neither ... maybe the two murders were not committed by the same hands. One thing all those country folk agree is that it was bush justice.
   Told through the eyes of cattleman Harry Smith, whose life was intricately tied to the station, this is a tale of loyalty and trust.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is a wild ride. I picked it up because as part of my goal to read widely, and to read more classics (as part of my commitment to the Classics Challenge). It was reviewed on the ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club in August 2011, otherwise I would not have known to try it. Having at least heard the reviewers from that program, I knew that this book would not only be a cultural stretch for me, but also very unconventional.

   The devil and his crew of demons descend on Moscow and wreak havoc. They send many crazy, turn people on each other, and particularly target those in the arts and literary culture. There are people turning into pigs, naked women running around, people getting drunk whilst swimming in a pool of champagne, and witches flying on brooms. Margarita is one of the few who recognises the devil for who he is, resists his onslaught and embraces the change that he brings. After selling her soul to the devil, in return she is reunited with her lover, the master. The parallel story is part of the novel written by the master, about the true story of Jesus’ crucifixion from the point of view of Pontius Pilate. 
   This book has an Alice in Wonderland feel about it - the writer’s imagination was wild and crazy whilst he was writing it. There is also a very contemporary feel to the writing, unlike the writing of Boris Pasternak who was also writing in the Soviet Union at about the same time. The sentences are short and crisp, the language is precise, and the description is not over-the-top. This book was first published in the 1960s and became very popular in the mid-1970s, although it was written in the 1930s, and I can see why it had such an effect on the Western culture at that time (during the cold war). It is apparently the inspiration for the Rolling Stones’ song ‘Sympathy for the Devil’.

   I took the book at face value, though I am sure that Bulgakov was having a dig at those in the literary world in Russia that would not publish his work, and also criticising other figures in the Soviet Union at the time. I know that there is a lot that went over my head, due to my lack of knowledge of Russia during that 1930s, but I’m sure there are many subtle references in the book for people living during that period.
   Be patient with this book. There is very little emotional connection with the characters - let it flow around you and take you on an amazing ride that will make you stretch your imagination like a child. Your patience will be rewarded.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Golden Earrings

This is the fifth novel by Belinda Alexandra. I've read them all. It feels like Belinda Alexandra has matured a bit in her writing. The way the lives of the three women in this story are braided together is very well done.
   The other great thing about this novel is that it is a history lesson. Belinda Alexandra definitely does her research. The story is based in Spain. I had never stopped to consider how their economy must have been affected by losing their colonies. I also didn't know that the Spanish Civil War was a predicator to WWII. It just goes to show how little history the public education system taught my generation.

   What I didn't like about Belinda Alexandra's first couple of novels was that her main female characters were perfect, and quite bland. The story occurred around the character - the character certain wasn't the driving force. In Golden Earrings, Belinda Alexandra has been able to distinguish between each of her three women, giving them more definitive traits. However, each time the story is told from the point of view of a different women, the voice is exactly the same. Despite the differences in these women, they all seem to think and feel the same way. I didn't buy that.
   But what I really enjoyed about her first couple of books was the Australian connection. In her last couple of books, Belinda Alexandra hasn't had that Australian connection. I'd really like for her to bring that back.
   This was a 'good read', or an 'easy read'. The pace was pretty good, after the first chapter (the first chapter took a while - the hook is right at the end). I would have given this book four stars in Good Reads a couple of years ago. But since I've been reading so many classics, and really good Australian literature, Golden Earrings is a bit too main-stream. The writing is good, but not charming or great.
   Overall, a good read!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

February Classics Challenge

This month, the prompt for those participating in the 2012 Classics Challenge, is to write about a character you find interesting.
   I read Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence, which was one of the classics I'd chosen. The obvious character for me to focus on for this prompt is Paul Morel, who is the son that Mrs Morel holds most hope for, and is who Lawrence explores his own relationship through with his mother.

Lawrence introduces Paul during his mother's pregnancy. His mother is struggling in his relationship with a drunk husband, and she is struggling to raise her other children in poverty. She is upset to be pregnant again. When Paul is born, he is introduced as an intense baby with a deep frown and brooding silences. Mrs Morel feels very guilty that her regret during the pregnancy has been felt by the baby, and she thinks the baby is either depressed or already carries the worries of the household on him.
   He becomes an intense child, who is shy and insecure. His hate is sudden and fierce, when he feels like someone is making fun of him. There was also a disturbing scene were he burns his sister's doll, because he dropped the doll and broke it.

   Luckily he grows out of this, and becomes a gentle artistic type, although always moody and tending to have a lot of self-doubt. I imagine him to be a slim, delicate, good-looking man - like the model-types today. His brothers were more masculine, big-boned, lots of muscle, and well over 6 feet tall.
   It is his relationship with his mother, and a couple of lovers that he has, that is the focus of the book. He can never love a woman as deeply as his mother. Women 'can't hold him'. He gets deeply passionate, and then it fades and he gets restless and moves on.
   Whilst it is lovely that he loves his mother so much, I blame his mother for making him feel this way, and wrecking him for any other woman. He will end up alone, because no woman can match his mother.
   Paul Morel is an extremely well developed character, and very believable. He is vivid and palpable, but also dissatisfying.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Women in Literature

Most Australians would have heard of the annual Miles Franklin Award for Australian literature. Stella Miles Franklin bequeathed her estate to set up this award - a female!
  Each year a novel ‘of the highest literary merit, and which must present Australian life in any of its phases’ wins a substantial prize, not to mention that this award is one of the most distinguished awards to win. The author does not have to be Australian, but the novel must be about an Australian theme.

 The award is dominated by men - winners, shortlisted authors, and reviewers.
 I don’t want to imply that men aren’t deserving, or that the novels that have been winning don’t deserve the acclaim. But, why aren’t female writers equally represented? What are the factors contributing to the inequality?
  This year, I am participating in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, which was prompted by a gender bias debate that arose last year, spurred by Tranter. To be honest, I had never noticed the lack of female writers before. Looking back over the last 12 months, I have read 6 books written by Australian female authors, out of 15 Australian books in total. Interestingly, though, of the last 40 books I’ve read, exactly half of them were written by females. So is if only Australian authors that aren’t as equally represented by women? According to Vida, women are fewer in all respects.
   Maybe men are over-represented because they are more willing to put themselves forward and make pitches. Maybe men are more likely to finish a book-length document, because they make the time, whereas women have difficulty finding time to write because they feel selfish if they are not doing everything for everyone else. Maybe female writers are less likely to write about ‘Australian life in any of its phases’ excluding them from the Miles Franklin Award, choosing broader topics like Geraldine Brooks does.

   The other thing I’ve noticed, whilst commuting on the train every day, is that women tends to be the readers of books. Men tend to be reading the paper, surfing on their iPad, or playing games on their phones. Those men who are reading books seem to be reading those popular, highly-commercialised publications that would not be considered literary. Are the male reviewers, then, telling females readers what to read?

   The Stella Prize has now been established, again in memory of Stella Miles Franklin; by women, for women. I don’t want to imply that this is a bad thing, but why do women have to be judged separately? Would Ms Franklin be disappointed in modern females? We should be able to compete equally with the men.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sons and Lovers

I just finished reading Sons and Lovers by D.H.Lawrence. This is one of the novels that I said I would read for the 2012 Classics Challenge. I loved it! I loved the old feeling of the book and the smell of the pages (the edition I read was published in 1973); I loved the language and the melancholy feeling that it gave me. I was completely carried away whilst I was reading this book.

This novel is apparently a bit of an autobiography for Lawrence, because it is said that he wrestles with 'a serious and intimate emotional problem - his relationship with his mother'. If the character Paul Morel was based on Lawrence (or at least his feelings for his mother), then the love-hate relationship he had with his mother was extreme.
   The cover of the novel, interestingly, features a phoenix. Is this Lawrence, born again out of the dying flames of his love for his mother?
   The pose was very unique - descriptions were often in the language of love. The characters were very sensual, and sexually repressed, so they seemed to find everything in Nature to be very sexual. It caused vivid images for me, and was very refreshing.
   The character development was fantastic, with descriptions of the characters' violent swings in emotions shocking but realistic. I am getting sick of perfect characters is books, who don't have extremes, and are too two-dimensional. The characters in Sons and Lovers jumped out of the page and danced and gyrated around the room!
   Paul is cruel to himself and the women in his life. He is loyal to his mother only, and the sexual love of a woman does not hold him like the deep love he has for his mother.
   It certainly isn't an uplifting story, but very deep and reflective.