Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Events in Hobart Bookland

Some events for you Oh! Hobartians or those visiting Hobartside - and don't forget, there's a well known poet in town - Chris Wallace-Crabbe. Considered one of Australia's best poets, a literary critic and an educator, he is in town for the month of August. The Tasmanian Writers' Centre have organised that.

Tomorrow night (Wednesday 18 August) at the Lark Distillery Chris Wallace-Crabbe will be in conversation with another poet, Sarah Day.

- oh! - and a festival celebrating a dead playwright who was known as um ah what's his name? Shakespeare. Yes: the Australian Shakespeare Festival is happening NOW

The Hobart Bookshop and Ginninderra Press invite you to the launch of three books:
Robert Cox's Agony and Variations. This collection of short stories will be launched by Geoffrey Dean.
Steve Tolbert's young adult novel O'Leary: JI Terrorist Hunter will be launched by Dr Pam Allen (the world can never have too many young adult terrorist stories) and Stephen Matthews will launch Ian Kennedy Williams' Fugitive Places. Stories From A Suite Of Hotels.
5.30pm Thursday 19th August - all at Hobart Bookshop, which you will find perfectly nestled on the good side of Salamanca Square. Support small press. (subliminal messaging).
Fullers Bookshop, Tasmania's leading indie, will be hosting activist and human shield, Donna Mulhearn talking about her book Ordinary Courage next Tuesday, 24th of August at 6pm and on Saturday 28th at 3.30 Anjum Hasan, author of Lunatic in my Head and Big Girl Now will be visiting Fullers on behalf of Brass Monkey Press - an exciting new initiative in Australian publishing that will bring new books from the Indian sub continent.
And - round one of the Ulyssean Battle will be happening tonight (August 17), 6pm in the Afterword Cafe at Fullers - the first discussion of the Big Bad Book sessions - informally talking about Ulysses.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rocks In the Belly by Jon Bauer

Rocks In The Belly
Jon Bauer
Scribe 2010

This is an unpleasant book. It is a harrowing read that may result in a feeling of despondency for the reader.
It is the story of a boy and a man, the same person at age eight and at age 28. It is told in intersecting chapters in the first person. He is an only child in a family who cares for foster children and when the family fosters a child called Robert his jealousy becomes unmanageable. The story of the eight year old's psychological decline as a child is echoed in his behavior, when, as a 28 year old he returns home to care for his mother.
The reader is acquainted with the mother only through her son's voice. When we meet her she is already suffering from a cancerous tumor that is expanding in her brain. She is fading in and out of lucidity and the reader, like her son, is sometimes left wondering exactly how compos mentis she is - or isn't. She experiences moments of clarity which are a shock to her son.
There are echoes of MJ Hyland in this book - her most recent novel This Is How is the story of a young man struggling with his guilt. There was an effective banality in her writing - a young man skirting his emotions, just as Bauer's unnamed protagonist does.
The childish voice of the eight year old is engaging and resonant. The childish justifications, interpretations ring true.
"I cry a lot in bed now and I’ve been thinking about it and decided I cry for two reasons 1. I don’t know why we’re here. Humans. Which makes me really sad."
The 28 year old seeks to escape his situation with drink, drugs and sex. His barely suppressed anger arises in a horrific and violent incident later in the book.
As the story progresses it becomes clear there is no happy ending. The damage has been done and as it draws to a close the tragedy is heightened.
Even as I write this review I can feel the book in my guts, slightly queasy with the horrible recognition that Jon Bauer has written extremely well about human nature, suffering, thwarted childhood and fear of death. Pain and suffering - a couple of givens in our lives.
Many of us read to reinforce strange notions of a world of joy, light and irreverence. I like a book that slams the wind out of me, leaves me doubled over and gasping. This is what I find life affirming and Bauer, who is in Australia on a Distinguished Talent visa, has done this effectively.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

'The Crime of Huey Dunstan' by James McNeish

The Crime of Huey Dunstan
by James McNeish
Text Publishing

The eponymous crime of Huey Dunstan is the vehicle through which the story of the life of Ches, an 80 year old pyschologist specialising in trauma, is told.
Huey is a young man convicted of a violent murder which, from all accounts, is out of character. Ches is called to provide expert witness for the defense and he starts to believe there must be a deeper psychological motive for the murder.
Huey's crime, subsequent trial and Ches's strangely driven investigation allow the psychologist to recall and relate times in his life that give the reader a greater sense of the man - and a profound understanding of the crime. This layering of the story reveal his younger self, growing up in postwar UK, joining the navy, his decision to become a psychologist. It also a love story, a gentle love story of a decades old marriage, all the familiarity and affection that go with a successful marriage.
Ches begins to lose his sight soon after his marriage and McNeish's reflective, insightful descriptions of the experience of blindness showcase the writer's sparsely poetic style;
"You know the that lovely creaking sound of the thwarts you get when you're at sea? The sound you get lying in your bunk below the waterline when the ship rolls? That's what a blind man feels when he enters into the windiness of the day with his pores pricked."
The novel is progressed by such descriptions, which allowed this reader to really engage with the descriptive yet tight writing.
This is a book that straddles the genre/literature divide. It could be termed a literary thriller and sit as easily in a general fiction section as the crime section of a bookshop - it is narrative driven and involves a crime.
It raises some of the same questions as the awarding of the Miles Franklin award to Peter Temple's 'Truth' did - Can a genre novel be adequately considered literature? - and it answers with a resounding yes.
McNeish has crafted a novel that not only tells a curious story of an intelligent and seeking man reflecting on a long life, he has hung it from the suspenseful scaffolding of the story of the eponymous crime.

"I stumble out to study the miseries of the world as best I can" says Ches - and in letting him do so, McNeish has given the reader opportunity to also study these miseries.

Paige Turner November

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