Tuesday, 30 April 2013

My ten cents worth...

I haven't written about myself on here for a while, and I have to tell you that I don't even really feel comfortable doing it now.  Recently I have decided that book snobbery is a big no-no and I think the same should go for blogs- anyone can blog about whatever they like and screw what Franzen has to say about the spread of amateurism- but I'm just not a huge fan of treating the internet like your personal diary, or posting endless self-portraits (Selfies) and outfits of the day.  That being said, if I manage to take a photo of myself that I actually like, you know that picture is going straight on Instagram.

Recently, I had a read through of some of my old journals from when I was nineteen and I realised that I had treated them the way that a lot of my generation treat their Facebook accounts: I only wrote when I was really sad or when I had something to complain about.  The picture I got of myself was of a sad, lonely, rather unfocussed young person who didn't spend enough time with friends who deserved her attention or working on her goals.  I can see that I'm not that person, and I am really thankful for that.  I'm also thankful for:

* good music



* my job

* my family and friends (old and new)

* books.  All the books ever.


Buddy and I are still trying to make our way through the piles of books that I have impulse bought over the years and particularly over the last year when I started working in a book shop, but their growth appears to be exponential.  One day, perhaps, the piles will collapse and trap us both.  

While I'm not working on any major projects at the moment, I am writing.  Well.  Occasionally.  I think I need to take some good advice and chain the muse to the desk.

And that's my ten cents worth.

Monday, 29 April 2013

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles
Karen Thompson Walker
9780857207241
Simon and Schuster

This book, quite frankly, is amazing.

Reviews have compared it to Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, but it's more horrifying than that in a way because The Age of Miracles deals with the kind of catastrophe that we don't even think to be scared of.



From the blurb

"On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, 11-year-old Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life--the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behaviour of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloguing his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues."

My review

It's hard first of all to classify this book.  It is at the same time adult and young adult, science fiction and realism, a coming of age story and a fable of a not-far-away apocalypse.  At the same time, it's not a complicated story.  The changes of the world are presented in a logical succession, with chapters or new scenes beginning with an explanation of what has changed since we last heard.  Contrasted against this are the scenes of Julia's life.  

Julia is a character who is easy to relate to.  She's a normal girl, and not a Mary-Sue (an easily recognisable idealised version of the author inserted into the text in order for the author to write out their fantasies) who experiences friendship breakdowns, puberty blues, first love, and the astonishing revelation that her parents are not faultless beings.  As she moves from innocence to experience (gosh, that phrase is a flashback to TEE English Literature), the world moves from normal to devastated, thus forever linking the traumas of growing up to a process of a loss of beauty and simplicity.  At the same time, this is a cautionary book about our reliance on modern technology, and what would happen if we exhausted our natural resources.  

A word to the wise- don't go questioning the science behind this book.  It may or may not be accurate, but it's written in a way that is horrifyingly believable.  At times I would emerge from a session reading this book still thinking that I was in it's world- that, yes, the world was slowing and I had to be careful.  

To sum up?

Choosing favourite books is like choosing favourite vital organs- you need them all- but this is definitely going to make it into the top ten books of 2013 for me.

My rating

5 out of 5 

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Schroder by Amity Gaige

Schroder
Amity Gaige
9780571296712
Faber and Faber


It took me a while to work out whether or not I liked Amity Gaige's Schroder or not.

While many reviews have compared this book to Nabokov's Lolita, Erik Schroder/ Eric Kennedy is by far not as interestingly dislikable as Humbert Humbert, nor is he as literate.  Sure, he's literate in his own way, but not in that trippingly on the tongue Lo-li-ta way that makes a reader keep turning the pages of a book even though it's trying to get you on the side of a paedophile.

Let's get one thing straight first out though.  Eric/ Erik is not a paedophile and he does not abduct his daughter Meadow in order to have any sort of sexual relationship with her.  In fact, at one point when young Meadow declares she'd like to marry her father, he gently tells her that this is just not how it's done.

Eric, aside from not being a paedophile, is also still in love with his wife.  (Perhaps it might be a bit more accurate to say that he is in love with the idea of being in love with his wife.)  The divorce has been hard on him, not least because it means that he cannot spend as much time with Meadow.  Every parent thinks their child is special, but Eric seems to believe that Meadow is so uniquely gifted that the sun actually shines because of her, and it is for this reason that he decides he is going to extend his visit with her by as many days as he can.  And so, they take off.

Written as part confession, part love letter to Eric's estranged wife and Meadow's mother, Laura Schroder is a lyrical expose of parental love and heartache, made more complicated by the fact that Eric is actually a downtrodden East German emigre who has invented his own life in order to escape the past.  At times, these two protagonists, Schroder and Kennedy, are difficult to reconcile, and the Schroder plot seems to be secondary to the crisis involving the abducted child- an afterthought, a less well-plotted subplot.  The effect is a questioning of what is real; the legal life, or the invented life that has been lived and loved.  

Because of the choice to write the book as if it were a legal document, Gaige inserts footnotes (this is also because Kennedy is working on a kind of academic manuscript involving an encyclopaedia of pauses), which I found intruded on the poetic flow of the narrative.  This scientific format did not gel with the elegiac tone of the narrator, who had a beautiful way of describing the tender moments he was learning to appreciate as his freedom was drawing to an end.  Observe:

"The sun gives us a day, but who fashioned the hour?  What is supposed to be accomplished within its parameters?  How long is an hour supposed to feel?  That hour- the one in which we lay on the bed afterward, staring at each other in the underwater light particular to roadside motel rooms- that hour seems to be taking place endlessly..."  (Page 148)

In the end it was the beautiful sentiment that the book left me with which won out over its unusual style- the sense that this was a man with a lot of love that he was sending out to nowhere, who was now going to be imprisoned and "trapped in greyness" (just the way I have for phrasing what I felt) as a consequence of his one act of desperate love for his daughter.

I have to give this book five stars.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Australian Literature Month: The Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrower

The Watch Tower
Elizabeth Harrower
Text Classics
9781921922428


I once heard this book described by Ramona Koval at the Perth Writer's Festival as being 'scandalously under-read.'  Considering that a) I had never heard of Elizabeth Harrower before, and b) I enjoyed this book immensely, I would have to agree.

The Watch Tower is about two sisters, Laura and Clare who are abandoned by their selfish, diva of a mother after the death of their beloved father.  Laura resolves herself to a life which will not be how she imagined, sacrificing dreams of singing opera or becoming a doctor in order to help raise Clare, but Clare regards herself as the "Only Russian in Sydney" because of her fondness for Tolstoy and the likes, and stubbornly digs her heels in against the notion that she cannot achieve more than her lot.  Laura is sent to work in a cardboard box factory for a man named Felix Shaw, a  shady business-man with manic depressive tendencies and an alcohol abuse problem (although she will not find these things out until much later).  Felix has a habit of making his businesses profitable and then selling them to his so-called friends, whom he consequently never sees again.  He is fond of Laura because she is efficient and submissive.  When her mother leaves Sydney for England, leaving the girls behind, Laura goes to Mr Shaw with her problems- first and foremost, that she does not want Clare to leave school.  Felix proposes to Laura in a business-like manner, theoretically ending the fairytale, but actually beginning the nightmare.


What makes this book so riveting is the elegance of its simplicity.  Harrower's style is more traditional and influenced by the upright storytelling techniques of English writers in the early twentieth century, but her setting is recognisably Sydney.  In particular Clare is made to make the most astute observations put in bitingly accurate terms.  It is these observations and not the plot itself that seem to be the focal point of the story.  Several times, the narrative jumps ahead in years with only a paragraph break to signify this has happened.  The effect is a magnification of the hopelessness of Laura and Clare's situation, and an occasional bout of confusion for the reader.

This is a charming, horrifying, captivating novel.

Four out of five.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Reading as an Act of Rememberance

Today was ANZAC day here in Australia (and in New Zealand) and I thought I would share with you all what that means to me.  Seeing as the way I make sense of the world is through reading, I'm going to do this by talking a little bit about some of my favourite war stories and poems.

1.  The Tomorrow Series by John Marsden

We're never told who is invading Australia or why, but if it happens for real, I want Ellie and Homer and crew on my side.  Barring that terrible movie, these stories were an important part of my childhood reading experience.  They draw on that same ANZAC spirit that I've been taught about since primary school- mateship, resourcefulness, bravery.  I look forward to the day when I no longer have a to-read pile that takes up more than four shelves, because I'll finally get to revisit books like these.

2. Gallipoli by Jack Bennett

This one has a movie too, but it's a much better movie version.  I can distinctly remember reading this one in a Starbucks in Japan.

3. The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom

The main characters in this book are asked to host some Italian prisoners of war, with interesting consequences.  This is one book I wish I could read for the first time all over again.

4. Straightshooter by TAG Hungerford

A collection of stories- the second section is called Knockabout in a Slouch Hat and recounts in what has become reknowned as typical Aussie fashion the experiences of its main character in wartime Singapore and Malaya.  Hungerford's writing helped translate the war experience for a lot of Australians.


It's not the world's most comprehensive list, considering, and there have been other books which have piqued my interest in the stories of ANZACs.  I can recall the queue to get Soldier Boy out of my school's library being so long that I doubt I ever even got to read it, and there were others that I got from the library and have since forgotten the name but not the themes.  One thing that endures however is a deep understanding and respect for the people who serve this country in international conflict.  Lest we forget.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Book Review: Elsewhere in Success

Elsewhere in Success
Iris Lavell
Fremantle Press

In a suburb called Success, what choice do we have but failure?  This is the central question asked by Iris Lavell's debut novel about two people who are both on their second marriages and trying their hardest not to dig up the past.


Harry and Louisa have had less than satisfactory experiences in life.  Harry married the woman of his dreams and had a baby with her, but maybe he was a little more like his father than he thought. He hasn't seen Yasamine or Bella in years, but as the book takes off he finds himself wondering, wishing, fantasising.  He's tried to be a better husband to Louisa than he was to Yasamine, but the tragedies in her past- the beatings she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband Victor and the guilt she feels over the death of her son Tom- make her difficult to reach.  These are two people who seemed determined to pick at their own scabs and wallow in misery.

Lavell's plot is both clever and rooted in a recognisable here and now by great detail and character development.  Despite this, I occasionally found it difficult to read for a number of reasons.  First, the scenes which were told as flashback appeared to be written with more vitality than those set in the present.  As soon as the scene was set, it was over.  While the focus of the novel was supposed to be on what comes after the trauma, rather than the trauma itself, I did find this a strange approach.  This is in the context of always being told that if the backstory is more interesting than the present, then maybe your story starts in the wrong place.

I had heard and read that the character of Louisa's therapist, Lucy was both unsympathetic and clever, but I read her a way to move the plot forward and incorporate a psychologist's perspective into the plot.  She was perhaps less 3D than the other characters. The use of the third person limited, present tense often made the writing difficult to wade through, as it had a distancing effect, making the action more passive.



What I did love about this book were the supporting characters.  Carole, Louisa's predatory and competitive best friend is a familiar figure in real life.  When she buys the Buddha at the winery, which is like a better version of the one Louisa and Harry got at the markets, I feel the seething sting of her one-upmanship, the way she is trying to prove that she is better than Louisa.  Adam, the young man who Harry rescues towards the end of the book makes only a brief appearance, but it is thanks to him that the novel can be neatly tied up, and the characters can learn about themselves.  And Buster.  Buster deserved a bigger role!  The man in the van served as an excellent motif and I can still imagine those scenes taking place in the street where I grew up.


I gave it three stars.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Book Review: Letters to the End of Love

Letters to the End of Love
by Yvette Walker
University of Queensland Press

I thought I would write this review in the form of a letter to Yvette.  I hope she gets to read it.

Dear Yvette Walker,

You could just as easily have called your beautiful novel Letters to the End of Hate, because that is what it is.  To me, your words have celebrated a place you love, and the things you love about people, and about being in love itself.  I wanted to quote you to yourself here, but the page escapes me- I wanted to reference the remark either Lou or Grace makes about loving receiving emails, but letters singing.  



The very act of letter writing is very intimate, and that you have paired it with this kind of romantic love and longing seems incredibly apt.  Your novel is about three couples- the first live in County Cork in 1969.  Dmitri is a painter.  His wife, Caithleen is a writer.  He is unwell, dying in fact, and the fear that they have of losing each other, leaving one another behind has altered their relationship.  The letters appear to be both an attempt to restore a lost intimacy, and to grant a new level of sharing in their relationship.  By writing to one another, Dmitri and Caithleen can finally share the deepest secrets of their hearts, the things they feel and fear but cannot admit even to themselves.  I think in doing so, they get some comfort, and some closure.  They also get a chance to celebrate the things that have made them special as a couple in words.

Contrast this with Grace and Lou- very much the modern couple.  Grace is a bookseller in Perth.  She loves her family, she loves her home town, and she loves Lou most of all, who seems to be the one person who she feel understands her.  But she also feels abandoned by Lou whose job requires her to travel around the world with a local boy who is suddenly a big shot musician.  The constant transit of her life means that the two have been communicating with text messages, emails.  Lou is lonely but only when she gets a chance to be, and Grace is almost giving up on the idea that this person who makes her happy will ever have to to actually be with her.  Their letters are a slowing down process, a reassuring act that requires quiet reflection on their relationship, and making time to write.  



The Bournemouth letters are only written by one person, by John in 1948.  He writes to his dead lover David, who was a victim of the Nazis.  These letters are difficult to read, because, I imagine, they were difficult to write.  David and John had to love each other in secret.  The way that they loved each other was viewed as being wrong.  I get the impression that John has previously viewed his relationships with men as being to serve a purpose and not necessarily to be enjoyed just for the sake of it, and he seems to be overwhelmed by both his capacity to love David and his capacity to feel incomplete without him.  



I don't think, though, that I need to explain your own book to you.  After all, you wrote it.  You wrote it very well and I hope that you are immensely pleased with it because you should be.  This book is poetic, it has vivid imagery, and while it is realistic, it is also hopeful.  I have already recommended it to a number of people.

Sincerely,

Emily


P.S.  While I don't think that it is necessary for books to be classified as Gay and Lesbian literature, I do think that because your book celebrates love in all its forms that it is appropriate to share this wonderful speech by New Zealand MP Maurice Williamson at the end of this review.


Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Guest Post: Annabel Smith

This is the first in which I hope will be a number of guest posts on this blog.

I asked my wonderful Facebook contacts if anyone would like to write a short piece about their favourite book, and to my delight, one of the responses was from Annabel Smith.  Annabel is the author of two novels, A New Map of the Universe (UWA Press) and Whisky, Charlie, Foxtrot.  She has a great blog which you can read here.  I recently had the pleasure of meeting her and hearing her talk about her writing process.  She is the kind of confident and inspiring writer who, to me, embodies the kind of positive qualities that make the local writing scene so great.  I hope she won't mind me listing her as one of my role models.

So without much further ado, here is what Annabel had to say on the topic of her favourite book!



"It is basically impossible for me to choose an all-time favourite book, because different books have resonated with me at different times in my life. Having said that, there seem to be certain books that continue to move me, or delight me, over a period of many years, and as soon as I read Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer-Prize winner A Visit from the Goon Squad, I was certain it would be one of those books.

It is a novel-in-stories, centring around Bennie, one-time punk rocker and life-time music lover, who, in his forties, finds himself lost at the helm of his own record company (the hilariously-titled Sow’s Ear Records). The stories revolve around a cast of characters whose lives intersect with Bennie’s, and drift backwards and forwards in time, keeping the reader guessing about the connections them.



Egan has a preoccupation with characters’ inner lives which fascinates me: she lays bare their wishes and regrets, their motivations and self-delusions with humour and tenderness. Even as we are embarrassed for them, we relate to them, we feel for them.

The novel seems to be, in some ways, a response to and a means of parsing the impact of 9/11. An ode to New York City, it examines notions of fake and real, gender, power, the media and marketing, neurosis, shame, loss and redemption. But its beating heart is the complex relationships we humans have to the process of ageing. From the teenagers who want to grow up too fast to the middle-aged characters who look back with nostalgia on their youths, the ‘goon squad’ of the title refers to the feeling that time has somehow caught up with you.

A Visit from the Goon Squad is without doubt one of the most perceptive, witty, innovative, poignant novels I have ever read and one I will look forward to-re-reading again and again. "

- Annabel Smith


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Pretending

Winner- Katharine Susannah Prichard Short Fiction Award (Under 20s) 2011
Excerpt Read at Annabel Smith Wine and Words event, April 15 2013


Marnie stood at the edge of the pool, her feet bare and water running out of her hair.  Her toes curled over the top step; her fingers twitched lightly at her side.  She stared at her rippling reflection.

            “Marnie?” Thomas called, pulling himself out of the water.  The sun heated his skin again almost immediately.

Marnie said nothing in reply, and Thomas reached for a towel hanging over the pool fence.  He rubbed his hair and dragged the towel down his face, lengthening his jaw until he looked like the character in The Scream.  Marnie still hadn’t moved.  Thomas opened the pool gate, but paused before passing through it.  He looked at his step-daughter, not knowing whether to leave her there or not.

            “I’m going inside now,” he said, meaning it only if it would get a response.
            “You’re not my father,” Marnie said.

He detected a hint of hopefulness in the way she’d said it, and it made him uncomfortable.
            “Your mother will be home soon,” he said, shutting the pool gate behind him as he walked over to the patio table where he’d left his shoes.  Marnie looked at him over her shoulder, her head moving almost unnaturally.  With her hair wet and slicked back, her eyes seemed so big as to take up most of her face; and she was thin, so thin that Thomas imagined her standing there without her skin on.  A shiver ran through him and he blinked a few times to get the image out of his head.
            “Come on, Marnie.  I have to cook dinner.”
Marnie raised herself onto her toes, held herself there for a moment and then launched into the water.  Her body grazed the bottom of the shallow end of the pool and glided along, an image broken only by the dappled light reflected through the waves.  When she rolled over, her eyes were wide open and a thin stream of bubbles blasted out of her nose and from between her parted lips.  Thomas dropped his towel on a chair and leaned over the pool gate.  She broke the surface and he realised he didn’t know what he should say next.
“Marnie.  Please.  Get out of the pool,” he begged.
            “What are we doing Thomas?” she asked, skulling her hands in front of her.
            “We’re supposed to be starting tea.”
            “I don’t mean now.”
He thought he saw her shiver then.  He took her beach towel from the fence next to him and held it out to her.
            “I don’t know then.”
She shook her head.  He pulled the towel back over the fence and walked around to the gate.  Approaching her, he held it out in front of him.  Her eyelashes had stuck together in the water, and the chlorine had turned the corners of her eyes red.  Thomas thought he saw a tear run down one cheek, or was it just a drip?
            “Pretending,” she said.  “Pretending to be happy.”

He turned away as she climbed the steps out of the pool and didn’t look back until she’d hidden herself in the cocoon of her towel. Thomas expected her to pass him then without acknowledgement, and head to her room to listen to loud music and read magazines, but she stayed.  He felt like she expected him to perform; a bad comic in a low grade comedy show.

She looked at her toenails, painted crimson.
            “Thomas,” she said.  “Are you happy with my mum?”
            “Of course I am,” Thomas said, pulling his shirt on.  “Why?”
Marnie shook her head.  “Forget it.”

He hesitated, wondering what to say.  She looked at him through the curtain of her wet hair.  “It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that I don’t have any friends.”

Thomas stared past her at the creeping bougainvillea which encroached on their property from the house behind theirs.  She waited for a response.  Thomas knew that silence was like assent.
            “You have friends,” he said.
            “Have you ever met any of my friends?” she said, wiping her nose on her towel.  “Name some.”
            “I don’t know any of them.”

Marnie fashioned her towel into a dress and sat on one of the lawn chairs.  “If you weren’t married to my mother,” said Marnie.  “Would you want to know me?”

She looked straight at him; straight through him.  He wanted to shed his own skin, but instead he swallowed and looked back at her.
            “Marnie,” he said.  “It’s not okay for forty one year old men to hang around with teenagers.”

Marnie pushed herself up.  “I know.  You’re right.  That’s stupid.  And you’re not my father, so you don’t have to lie to me like Mum does.”
            “That’s not what I...”
            “Look, Tom, I was just trying to say that I understand what it must be like for you with her.  I was thinking that you don’t have to think of me as your daughter or anything, but if you wanted, I could be your friend sometimes.  I know Mum can be hard to handle.  I’m actually really sorry I brought it up.”

She paused to give him a chance to change his mind, but he was too stunned.  As she ran inside, her bare feet slapped against the tiles.  He heard her door slam, and the muted ‘doof’ of a radio turned up loud enough to drown out the rest of the world.

**

If he had been asked to describe his wife in three words, he would have picked bright, impetuous and independent.  Thomas had fallen in love with the way she spun the world around her into elegant arcs of tragedy because like most men his age, he believed that he could save her. 

At forty he’d still had no idea how the world worked, but at forty-eight, she’d seemed to have it all worked out.  He’d met her in the supermarket, juggling a basketful of groceries in one hand and her wallet in the other.

            “I’ll hold that for you,” he said, watching the curve of her back as she tried to pull her money out of her wallet without dropping everything.  Without even looking, she handed the basket to him.  He was struck by the whiteness of her hands, and the bare finger where a wedding band should have been. 
            “Thank you,” she’d said.  Her first words were like a precursor to the rest of their relationship; her taking, him giving.  She put her wallet into the basket and then took her shopping back from him.

Thomas felt like he should say something.  They’d just shared what felt like a moment of sorts and she’d barely even glanced at him.  He tilted his body inwards; to an outsider, it must have looked like they knew each other.  And they were close.  Maybe people would think he was sleeping with her, Thomas realised. He inched back a little way.  She raised her head to blow her fringe out of her eyes and waited, leaning her weight on one hip.
            “I’m Thomas,” he said.  
            “Jasmine”. 



At their wedding reception they’d danced to “Drops of Jupiter” by Train.  As they spun like the frosted figures in a music box, Thomas couldn’t help but wonder how many other thousands of couples had danced to that same song.  It was her favourite, she’d said, and with a spotlight singling them out, it with like they were the only ones who could possibly have done it.

He smiled at Jasmine; his at last, after months of negotiation.  Her eyes were wide as she took in the crowd.  There was so much lace on her dress that she hardly felt real.  Thomas pulled her closer to him.
            “Are you happy?” he asked her.  She leaned her head on his shoulder.
            “Mmm,” she said.  Her hair tickled his neck.
Thomas smiled again and pressed his lips to the hair-spray hardened curls on the top of her head.  He breathed in her citrus-scent and it made him thirsty.

When the song ended, Thomas closed his eyes and tried to hold onto the last few notes.  The voice of their D.J. grounded him.
            “Alright, ladies and gents, it’s time for a father-daughter dance.”
Jasmine pulled her head off his shoulder and looked around for her father.  Mr Hawthorne limped stiffly out to them from the head table, his face shining with pride and alcohol.  Thomas shook the old man’s papery hand, and then passed Jasmine back to him.  He was suddenly obsolete, and drifted off the dance floor as other pairings drifted on. 

Back at the table he sat next to Marnie, who was picking at her chicken with a fork.  
            “Some party,” she said to her plate.
            “Yeah,” he agreed.  Sitting down, his legs felt heavy.
            “You could have picked a better first dance you know.”
            “It’s a good song!”  He paused.  “It was your mother’s choice.”
            “It’s a nonsense song.  I would have picked “Make the World Safe” by The Whitlams.  That’s love.”

He  looked at her, impressed by her insight.  Her mouth had set into a thin un-made-up line.  She leaned her elbows on the table.  Thomas nodded, and took a sip of champagne.
            “That’s a good song.  Keep it for your own wedding.”
Marnie looked at him sideways, one eyebrow raised.  “Yeah,” she scoffed.  “Right.”

Thomas tried to imagine her older, in a wedding dress.  He wondered if he’d be the one to dance with her on her wedding night when they called for her father.  His heart felt heavy, or drunk, or both.

Looking at Jasmine, spinning under her father’s raised arm, he opened his mouth to ask Marnie to dance with him and then stopped himself. 

**

Thomas sat in front of the television but didn’t turn it on.  He listened to the sounds of Marnie’s music coming through the walls, felt the vibrations from the bass line in his toes.  He wondered if his own parents had ever sat like this, thankful for a closed door to hide their helplessness behind.  He leaned his head in his hands and counted wrinkles with his fingers.  When had he grown so old?  When had he forgotten how desperately he wanted to be liked and accepted?  Was it when he graduated?  When he got his first job?  When he married?  He wanted to pin point the exact moment, and show it to Marnie like a gift; wait, just wait until this moment, and you will be okay.
The sausages lay half-thawed in the sink, forgotten.  Thomas had lost his appetite.
He reached for a vinyl record from one of his yet-to-be-unpacked boxes, and wondered if he would feel any better if the room wasn’t so silent.
Then, a key scratched at the lock in the entry and the front door clattered open.
            “Hello-o!  I’m home,” called Jasmine.  He heard the crinkle of shopping bags as she stacked them on the counter and hung up her bag.  “Marnie?  Tom?”
            “In here,” Thomas said.
He counted Jasmine’s steps as she came down the hall: less than fifteen.  “I think I must be the only person in Perth who actually had to do their job today,” she said, sweeping her hair back behind her ears.  “What’s with the Marnie melt-down?” she whispered.
Thomas wanted to bury his head in the softness of her and have her hold him.  The line between wife and mother blurred endlessly until he felt confused and impotent. 
            “I screwed up with the Dad-talk.”
Jasmine frowned, the creases in her pink lipstick showing as her face stiffened.  “Tom, we talked about this.  I said I’d handle the Marnie stuff.”
            “What was I supposed to do, Jaz?  She asked me a question.”
            “We have an arrangement, Tom.  Marnie is not your daughter to worry about.  All I ask is for you to make sure she’s safe, and fed, and I will deal with the rest.  It’s not brain surgery.”
            “I’m sorry, Jaz.  I panicked.”
            “I don’t get it, Tom.  I thought you liked not having the responsibility.”
Thomas tried to shrug her off.  She slid her sunglasses up onto the top of her head so that he could see the look she was giving him.  He couldn’t stand it.
            “What happened to Marnie’s father?” he asked, his voice softened.  She turned her face away from his, to stare out the open patio door.  Wet footprints decorated the tiles.
            “We don’t talk about that.”
            “Why not?  Don’t I have a right to know?”
            “Tom, I don’t want to talk about it!”
            “Well I do!”
His voice echoed between them, and his heart beat faster in his chest.  Jasmine took a deep breath.  Her voice choked unattractively in her throat, and the lines around her eyes tensed and drew together for support. 
            “He left, Tom.  I said I was pregnant and he said well you keep it if you want but I’m outta here.”
Thomas opened his mouth to speak, his dry lips edging apart slowly and the words forming at the back of his throat.  Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he registered that the music in Marnie’s room had been turned off, and there was only silence around them.
            “I wouldn’t do that to you,” he said, a weak offering like a child trying to share a toy.  “I wouldn’t do that to Marnie.”
            “Oh grow up!  You’re only a kid yourself.  Nobody takes you seriously as my husband,” she snapped.  Thomas took a step back, stunned.
            “Nobody, Jaz?”
The way she said nothing held a note of judgment.  He almost heard the gavel bang down; it was when Marnie appeared in the living room that he realised it had been the sound of her shutting her bedroom door behind her.
            “I knew it,” she said, glaring at Jasmine as she pushed between the two of them and ran out the back door.
**
He found her out there an hour later.  Jaz had locked herself in the bedroom, and Thomas found himself aching for company.  He remembered Marnie’s earlier offer.
            “Hey, Kiddo,” he said.  She was leaning against the pool fence and staring up at the stars.  Her fair head turned, and her lips twitched in a sad smile.
            The two of them moved onto lawn chairs. The air was thick and scented with frangipani. 
            “Why did you marry my Mum?” Marnie asked.  “Really.”
            “Because I love her,” he said, running his bare feet through the grass.  She nodded.
            “But that’s not enough, is it?”
Thomas looked at her sideways.  She was so young; he didn’t quite know how he could make her understand, but she was so willing to listen.  Her eyes were wide and welcoming, like open doors leading him to a safe place to stay.  Finally, he stumbled onto a poor sort of metaphor.
            “It’s like you with your music, I suppose.  You find a song, one you really love, and you listen to it as much as you can.  You listen to it loud.  You use it to drown out everyone else, as if it can fill you up and make you whole.  But songs end.  And when they do, you realise that it’s just a recording.  It’s an illusion.  Like when you said we were all pretending to be happy.”
            “Things which end aren’t any less beautiful.”
            “Mmm,” agreed Thomas, leaning his head back and taking a swig from the beer bottle he held.  He listened to the sound of the river and the sound of cars on the freeway, and the sound of cicadas and crickets in the bougainvillea bush.  Marnie scratched at a mozzie bite on her leg.
            “I didn’t mean to start all of this.  I know it’s my fault.”
Thomas lifted his head and put down the beer bottle.  “It’s not your fault.”
Her little mouth twitched as her mind chewed over her thoughts.  He laid his head back and closed his eyes, wondering what Jasmine was thinking, locked in their bedroom upstairs. 
            “Thomas,” said Marnie, and he opened his eyes to see her standing right behind his chair, her body inverted against a panoply of stars right above his head.  For a moment, she was like an angel. 
            “I want you and my Mum to get through this.”
Her words hung in the air for a moment, alongside those she hadn’t said; please don’t leave. 
And Thomas, acutely aware of his place in the world for a moment thought of the way his identity had come from what he was not; not a real husband, not a real father, not a real man; and knew that he could never leave.  It was the pretending to be happy that allowed him to exist.

© Emily Paull, 2011


                   

Monday, 15 April 2013

Subiaco Library Event with Annabel Smith

Tonight, I had the pleasure of seeing Annabel Smith talk about her novel Whisky, Charlie, Foxtrot for the second time this year.  Last time was at the Perth Writer's Festival.  The event was held at the Subiaco Public library, a beautiful venue which is fortunate enough to be home to not one but TWO Shaun Tan murals.  (Wow...)

This evening was particularly special to me because Annabel very kindly put in a good word for me with the event's organiser, and I was asked to take part in the library's emerging writers program, and to read a short example of my own work before Annabel did her author talk.  As I told all my friends, I was effectively opening for Annabel Smith, which made me feel like a rockstar.

I read from my short story "Pretending" which won the 2011 KSP Short Fiction award for the Under 20's category.  I intend to publish the full version on this blog tomorrow, once I have removed the spelling errors that I found when I was reading aloud.  (Oops.)

I just wanted to issue a huge thank you to Annabel Smith and Alex Sare, as well as the team at the Subiaco Library and all the patrons who came along.  It's lovely to be included in a group which is so clearly active in supporting local writers.



You may also like to check out my reviews of Annabel's two novels, Whisky Charlie Foxtrot  and A New Map of the Universe.  

You can read Annabel's blog here

and check out the upcoming events at the Subiaco Library here.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Book Haul: April

Such an awful lot of books have entered my house this month... I have a little book buying addiction!

This month I have been loving Elizabeth's Second-Hand Bookstore in Fremantle (all branches.)  There is something lovely about adopting a book that someone else has put aside, and something even lovelier about standing in a room that smells sweetly of old books.

In April, I have adopted:

Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre
The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
Making Laws for Clouds by Nick Earls
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Zoo Time by Howard Jacobson
Finding Jasper by Lynne Leonhardt
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
How to be Alone by Jonathan Franzen




At the end of March, I celebrated my 22nd birthday.  Usually I get many many books, but this year I only got one!  My darling boyfriend works in computer science and also studies mathematics, so he picked up a copy of Steven Strogatz's The Joy of X which is one good looking book!


And then there were the books I bought at some of my favourite local bookstores...

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
This Side of Paradise by F Scott Fitzgerald

 


I want to make a special mention of the last three books I bought... Penguin Books Australia have released a set of Pink Popular Penguins to raise money for the McGrath Foundation.  I couldn't think of a better cause, and so I picked up:

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Alphabet Sisters by Monica McInerney
A Spy in the House of Love by Anais Nin




I think in May, I need to concentrate on reading books instead of buying them!

What books entered your collection this April?



Friday, 5 April 2013

Australian Literature Month: A History of the Beanbag and Other Stories

A History of the Beanbag
Susan Midalia
UWA Press


As a writer, but not often a reader of short stories, I never really know what to expect from this form.  Some short stories are self contained examples of the narrative arc, with a beginning, middle and end to the plot, though not necessarily in that order.  There is conflict, denouement and resolution.  In other short stories, there are no answers but many questions.  Some are character studies, others exploration into a facet of the human condition.  A History of the Beanbag is a collection which demonstrates the variety of the short story form and the vastness of the writer's talent.

Highlights in the collection include the eponymous beanbag story which is experimental in style,  using headings as if it were truly a report on the history of the beanbag rather than a story about aging, disappointment and friendship told against the backdrop of beanbags through the ages.   All the Girls Are Doing It is a beautifully written and brave story about young people in love and in lust with each other even though the whole world seems to know that it isn't going to work out for various reasons.  The strengths of this story lie in the skilful use of metaphor and concrete specific details, such as the man's love of bridges.  



A couple of the stories read like sketches, rants or manifestos, such as  A Comedy of Manners which makes fun of the complaints older women in particular seem to have about pretty much everything, and Such a Shame which draws attention to poor relations between Aboriginal Austalians and intolerant white people, but offers no real solutions (but then again, what can it offer other than perspective?)  

All in all, this collection offers a mirror of Perth society and Western Australian life over the latter half of the twentieth century in a truthful and insightful way, bringing together a cast of characters who are varied and well drawn without seeming to be facets of the author herself in most cases.  Tonally, the stories range from funny, to chiding, to mournful, to hopeful, providing a wonderful showcase of the writer's talent.

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, 1 April 2013

Australian Literature Month: April 2013

I don't usually participate in this kind of blogging challenge, but given that I spent all of last year studying Australian Literature, and (you know) writing a big thesis about it, I thought that there was no better challenge to start with than Reading Matters' Australian Literature Challenge.  I heard about this blog and this challenge on Annabel Smith's blog.

All throughout April, you can expect to see reviews of Australian books such as:














It is pure, glorious coincidence that all of these were written by women.  

Will you be taking part?  Which books will you be reading?