Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Mistakes Were Made by Liam Pieper, review

Mistakes Were Made is a short collection of essays by Liam Pieper. It is a small paperback, a gorgeously designed Penguin Special, teal and cream, featuring the death card of the tarot on the cover. It is a collection of essays on diverse subjects –the perfect paperback to roll into your pocket.
Liam Pieper, whose first book was a memoir Feel-Good Hit of the Year. This was deeply personal, raw, and mildly scandalous recount of his young life, which included the overdose of his brother and his own, extensive experiences with many aspects of his life with drugs.
Mistakes Were Made and the essays included are life after the Feel-Good Hit, they make both light and dark of some of the ensuing ‘adventures’ of the author experiencing himself as “…famous, for a week and a half, in the middle of my thirtieth winter,” as he describes himself in one of the essays.
He interrogates his own racism in a strangely cohesive yet rambling essay called ‘The Unbearable Whiteness of Being.’ A self proclaimed “white, lefty Australian, who’s fit to burst with his own sense of egalitarianism,” he recounts the experience though describing a promotional tour he is on for his book, in the United States. In the concise dissection of racism, this essay takes you, the reader, from the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, to a school camp at Uluru, to the rough, ready racism in Australia and the visible and entrenched one Pieper observes in the States.
In David Niven’s 1974 autobiography The Moon’s A Balloon there is a scene, where Niven and his army mate, Trubshawe, are drunk and dressed as a goat at a regiment party, where the others are mainly Bo Peep or Mini Mouses. It is WW2. The formal dance is moving in a circle, Trubshawe and Niven wheel off into the centre of the large circle and drop some small olives behind them and move off. Re-reading this scene makes me laugh and laugh. The out loud laughter that can arise from silent reading is a true pleasure to experience – and Pieper made me do it. In the essay and there is a scene in the essay ‘Fame! (I’m gonna live forever)’ where he describes a ludicrous and true moment in his local bookshop, which he visits on the advice of “another friend, this one a media personality turned bestselling author” who urged him visit bookshops and sign copies of his own book. “They love it, the shiny, popular celebrity assured me.”
What follows at his local bookshop, while possibly mortifying for him at the time, makes for an extremely funny – and perfectly retold vignette which made me laugh. I laughed and laughed, then I read it out loud to friends and laughed more.  

Do yourselves a favour – essays are a wonderful invitation to consider our world in a different manner, with a different voice. They can bring short, sharp insight into our world, generally less than 5000 words (a bus trip into town) Pieper has a sharp wit, perspicacious mind and he brings clarity to varied subjects.

I interviewed Liam for The Book Show on Edge Radio. You can listen to the interview here.

A version of this review was first published in Warp.

Mistakes Were Made
by Liam Pieper

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Van Diemen's Land, an Aboriginal History by Murray Johnson and Ian McFarlane

Van Diemen's Land, an Aboriginal History, is actually another white man's history of Aboriginal Tasmania, but in this case it is written by two men, who are extremely knowledgeable in the area of Aboriginal Tasmania, both of them having lectured in the area for many years.
 The book would make a wonderful text book, covering history as well as the current situation for aboriginal groups in the state, offering some new research on historically contentious opinions such as the consumption of fish, the making of fire and the use of fish traps for example.
  While discussion and criticism are crucial for healthy debate, it is unfortunate that, some of the criticisms of the authors' peers are strident and a bit petty,
  I interviewed Ian McFarlane when the book was released, for The Book Show on Edge Radio. You can hear the full interview here.

Van Diemen's Land, an Aboriginal Historyby Murray Johnson and Ian McFarlane9781742234212 .
UNSW Press

The Black War, fear, sex and resistance in Tasmania by Nicholas Clements

The Black War, fear, sex and resistance in Tasmania is one of the rich and growing library of books on Tasmanian aboriginal history, following colonisation. It is more fascinating, confronting reading about Tasmania's recent past. Nicholas Clements has adapted his PhD on the broad subject of war, to create a strongly considered case on many aspects of warfare in Tasmania.
 Each chapter. covering subjects such as The Black Line, the sea-frontier and the north-west frontier, contains separate accounts of the experiences of both black and white.
  I interviewed Nick for The Book Show on Edge Radio, when the book was released - and I had a terrible cold, so I sounds a little strange.
   Please be aware that the interview, like the book, discusses some subjects such as murder and genocide, subjects which are as troubling to discuss and to listen to, as they should be.
You can hear the full interview here.

The Black War, fear, sex and resistance in Tasmania<
by Nicholas Clements,
978 0 7022 5006 4


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Review of A Short History of Richard Kline by Amanda Lohrey

Richard Kline is a seemingly mundane, rational, white man who pursues what  one would expect a mundane, white man to enjoy; a career, a wife, a family, material comforts, some vague intellectual challenges. Through the short period of his life that Lohrey reveals to us with subtlety, warmth and an incisive eye for the human condition, we know that what he appears to yearn for will never be enough for the eponymous Richard.
  The reader is briefly taken back to the childhood of Rick, as he is referred to. A suburban Sydney childhood, late 20th century, middle class, educated. This highlights how he differs from his siblings, how his parents experience him and of his alienation, which is almost a disdain for the world. It is often through the juxtaposition of characters that Richard is further revealed. This is a technique that Lohrey uses in a lot of her work, it is the minor or supporting characters who bring the main protagonists into sharper relief.
  The adult life of Rick, also traverses a terrain of normalcy; study, love, job, ambition, travel yet, it is all suffused with a yearning, an emptiness that he is at first not aware of, and then he does not know how to have an emotional or spiritual vocabulary to describe, let alone shift.
  A significant change occurs when he is on a team building exercise in the Blue Mountains,  abseiling in a place that ‘should’ imbue him with fear, that, ‘should’ allow him to increase his trust in his colleagues and ‘should’ allow them to return to the office as a tighter, more productive, more profitable unit. Instead, as he hangs off a cliff, on a skinny rope, his life in the hands of those he works in an office with, he is overwhelmed by boredom.
“But no, here I was, a young man, reasonably fit, with a mild hangover and a shocking indifference.”
  This is a pivotal moment and Richard’s life, subtly at first, begins a profound change. He then warily enrols in a corporate meditation practice, very much designed and pitched to improve productivity, concentration and reduce stress, this is done with a great deal of rationalising; his inner scepticism provides the perfect foil to the reader’s bewilderment about the spiritual progression he then begins to experience. This is enhanced by Lohrey’s decision to have a chaper in his voice, then a chapter from an unknown narrator throughout the book.
  The second pivotal point in the novel, is when he follows a colleague into the Chatswood Community Centre and, following a gentle fracas with the person on the door about whether he has to leave his pair of “almost new Italian leather slip-ons in a place where they could easily be stolen,” he is confronted with a crowd of devotees of a diminutive, dark skinned woman “draped in the gentle folds of a white cotton sari”.
  He is overcome by something he does not recognise and  with darshan, a beautiful Sanskrit word that denotes a spiritual recognition, a homecoming to an unknown home.
And, Richard, the heretofore rational, achieving, prosaic white male, is metaphorically touched by god in this suburban hall, he weeps and weeps and weeps. He cries for the first time he can remember and he doesn’t know why.
  One of the central premises of this finely crafted novel is the question of how a man who has had no time for spriritual ‘claptrap’ his entire life resolves to live with a deeply touching experience - and what happens to the relationships around him as this resolution sets in.
  Amanda Lohrey is an author of exquisite sublety and wry humour. Her ability to draw out the quieter nuances of the human condition is evidenced again in A Short History of Richard Kline. Again, she has crafted a male character of great depth, bought into high relief by the characters around him.
Lohrey was awarded the Patrick White prize in , 2012. This prize, a legacy of one of Australia’s greatest writers is given to authors who the judges consider to deserve more attention. While Lohrey felt that she was receiving enough attention to her work, it is a deserving accolade and one that should serve to highlight her solid, yet singing and pulsating oeuvre.
  A Short History of Richard Kline is a story split in two, of a man almost split in two – but who manages to reconcile this division ultimately for his greater fulfilment.

Variations of this review first appeared in Warp and The Mercury.
Amanda Lohrey will be in conversation with James Boyce about this book at Fullers Bookshop in June

A Short History of Richard Kline
Amanda Lohrey
Black Inc Books 


Paige Turner November

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