Careful He Might Hear You by Sumner Locke Elliott

Astonishing work, about which many words have already been written. I don’t really want to add to them other than to point out it’s hard to believe that these rivetting 500 pages are all true. More or less, and closer to more than less, that is.

Here is a link to a 1995 PhD by Sharon Clarke which is the most information we have about his life and work.

Sumner Locke Elliott: Writing Life

There is a movie, which is available on Youtube at the moment. Not sure how to see it otherwise.

Mallee Boys by Charlie Archbold

I don’t really know why this is called YA, though I gather the author herself markets her books that way. To me, it’s diminished by this and is worth more. The fact that a female Brit could write a story which feels so quintessentially Australian, rural Australian, and male Australian, suggests a great future for Archbold. If the word ‘authentic’ hadn’t been abused so, one could call it that.

Anyway. It’s the tale of two brothers and their father on a Mallee farm. It’s effectively told with a structure where each chapter alternates between one boy’s voice and the other. It brought tears to my eyes despite myself, but be reassured it isn’t some sort of tearjerker. Probably I had onion in my eye at that point.

I just loved this. Bravo Wakefield Press for publishing it – and I do hope that Archbold has many more works up her sleeve. Highly recommended!

Breath by Tim Winton

If only ‘easy to read’ were not a deprecating statement in the world of the literary canon. I very much doubt that this book was easy to write. It’s a book where surfing looms large and yet it isn’t boring, or trite, or trivial. That in itself seems an achievement.

But it isn’t a book about surfing. Nor is it a book about adolescence. Sorry, The Guardian, but it isn’t a ‘coming of age surfing novel’. It’s a book about a man and how he became what he is. It’s very sad, and despite that I found it impossible to put down.

 

Out of Copley Street A Working-Class Boyhood by Geoff Goodfellow

I’m afraid I’m going to undersell this. It’s a wonderful book, indispensably adding to the theme of growing up in Australia.

It’s my second five star book in a row, the first by Helen Garner and now this, with Garner’s words on the cover: ‘a dry, sparkling clarity, a pure tone that hovers on the edge of laughter: these stories are a revelation’.

It is frequently observed that part of Garner’s attraction is the way she writes about Melbourne. One could say the same of Goodfellow about Adelaide, the difference being that she is looking and he is being. It’s his life, not hers.

For me, ten years younger than Goodfellow, raised in an asbestos Housing Trust house in an area full of them, on the outskirts of the city, this was memory lane, but it doesn’t need to be that. I don’t see why anybody wouldn’t be entranced by this collection of a now-gone way of life written with a poet’s understanding of keeping it simple and focussed. It’s a delight to read for its own sake. But it’s also important that we preserve history this way, if only to give life to research like Adelaide Housing and Planning 1946-1959.

It took a few hours to read this, but I will treasure it for a long time to come. A report on his poetry to come.

The Things She Owned by Katherine Tamiko Arguile

I’m not the right person to read or review this, it’s way out of any of the areas in which I read. Superior chick lit might be the most apt description? I bought it because the author owns a little cafe complete with bookshelves in Adelaide CBD: Booknook and Bean. Isn’t that as good a reason as any to buy a book?!

That said, I read the whole thing in next to no time, so it’s eminently readable and will be a good choice for anybody looking for an easy read and/or something with a lot of interesting background on Japan, particularly at the end of WWII and the subsequent years.

I bought it during lockdown and Imprints bookseller, also in the CBD, was kind enough to deliver it and a Nick Cave book, adding some cheer to those strange days.

 

 

 

Australian short story writers

I am working my way through books of short stories by Australian writers, I will add to this.

John Morrison This Freedom strongly reflects his working class CPA background. The stories evoke a place, a time and a way without quite proselytising…or he is a good enough writer to get away with it if he is. Three stories were enough for me.

Beverley Farmer Home Time strongly reflects her female background. Two stories were enough for me and I thought the second one was awful. Sometimes I feel like women’s business should stay….secret. But she is well regarded, at least insofar as she won the Patrick White award for being under-recognised.

I want to find some great Australian short stories. I’m not even close yet.

Crisscross by Pat Flower

Yikes. Another wonderful book shelved on ‘books you won’t read before you die’. I’d been told that Pat Flower was these days undeservedly unknown and with that in mind I now have half a dozen on my to-read shelf. And what better time than now, imprisoned by Covid-19, to start?

flower pat - AbeBooks

I am not the first person to comment on blogs here that concentrating on reading is a little tricky at the moment. You really want something to lose yourself in and Crisscross definitely fulfills that requirement. Comparing it with Simenon’s non-Maigret books and Patricia Highsmith says it all. Ruth Rendell on a good day. She’s a highly competent writer who captures that falling apart sociopathic anti-hero perfectly. Loved the mid-seventies Sydney backdrop. Ecology, do-gooders, and bad pottery; ah yes, they were the days.

Looking forward to the rest and highly recommend them to those who are not afraid to read books from the period shunned by so many. Don’t think of forty years ago as ‘old-fashioned’. Think of yourself as being ahead of the trend, she will most definitely be thoroughly revived sooner or later.

picture sourced from ABE Books

 

The Scarecrow by Ronald H Morrieson

On the way home from somewhere, I noticed that our local op shop had a bookshelf out on its verandah. I picked up six books for which I still owe $3, the shop being shut then, and for the duration of the Thing. Luckily for me, one of the books was The Scarecrow. The copy is the text classics edition, one of the series inspired by Di Gribble.

New Zealanders will have to forgive me for listing this under Australia. If you want our dole money then quit complainin’. The rural setting and the appalling drinking surely could come from the Australian backblocks. But this has an assurance and a ‘I’ll do this how I darn well please’ attitude that are pure NZ.

The assurance is not polished, it’s the confidence of existing with no natural predators. That’s NZ for you. Only a confident and inexperienced writer could even think of writing this book, let alone bring it into the world. The young teenager’s view is honest, witty, scared, sexual, full of the bravado which shows its true colours fast enough. All this creates a really beautiful small town story and that, despite the ugliness of it. Yes, it stacks up though it’s hard to understand how.

The author’s sad short life explains why he was so able to capture the setting of this and his other books. More on that here. And please, despite being thus referred to on Wiki, it is not a horror story, not even close.

There is a movie, but I have so far no luck in getting hold of it.

Highly recommended for: those who like reading. Those who want to understand a bit more about the rural areas which are so important to the ethos of Australia and New Zealand. That said, I am pessimistic enough to file it under ‘books you won’t read before you die’. Prove me wrong, please.

Text Publishing — The Scarecrow: Text Classics, book by Ronald Hugh

 

Six New Tales by John Clanchy

Nothing like being sick to test a book’s staying power and this 2014 collection from Clanchy easily passes. For me the standout story is #3 Slow Burn. His comedic touch has such perfect pitch and timing that one is almost taken aback that he is capable of a different note altogether, one which is all but bereft of humour. They are all gripping and they all surprise.

It was a bit of a challenge finding this one, but Avenue Bookstore in Albert Park sourced it, and otherwise the publisher would have sent me one. Indeed, this book is a labour of love by Finlay Lloyd, an Australian non-profit publisher. Clanchy ends his book with the acknowledgement ‘May it flourish as it deserves’. They have an interesting selection of books on their list and Clanchy himself has another appearing under their aegis shortly. I’ve put a few on my to-read list.

By the by….I learnt a new word – sool – meaning to worry or attack in the way a dog might. It’s an antipodean word, apparently, but I’m sure I’ve never come across it before.

 

 

 

North of Nowhere, South of Loss by Janette Turner Hospital

I’m afraid this will be going on my rapidly growing shelf ‘Books you won’t read before you die.’ But who am I to be giving lectures, I hadn’t heard of Hospital until I speculatively handed over $1 for this in an op shop.

And wow, what an investment that turned out to be. She’s gone straight to the top of my list of short story writers. She’s good at the lot. Describing trees – usually an eyes-glaze-over time for me, her voice is always true, vivid settings and tight stories. Well, maybe I shouldn’t have said that about her voice. Her Australian voices are absolutely dinkum. I’m not the one to make the judgement about the ones set in the US, but I have an expectation not to be disappointed there either.

Her writing is beautiful without that being a luxury, which is to say, the words are necessary, not an indulgence. The beauty is despite the anguish and angst. She herself would probably call it music rather than beauty. She wants the words to sing and they do. Scattered through are several stories about the same characters, it reminded me of John Clanchy, but they are very different in their writing. Notably there is no humour in Hospital’s work, at least not in this book.

Half way through reading this I went down to East Ave Books to see if they had others by her and came back with three. It will be interesting to see how she fares with the novel. I will report.

For those who know the stories, but not the backstory of Philippa and Brian, Brian is the Peter to whom the book is dedicated. She makes you feel that you, too, have lost him, a matter of considerable regret.

Oh, if only people understood what a perfect form the short story is, and appreciated its great practitioners.