Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 20, 2017

Autumn, by Ali Smith

Longlisted for the 2017 Booker, Autumn (2016) is first of what will apparently be a series of four.  (Winter is due for publication in November).  I hesitate to call it a novel because although this Hamish Hamilton edition is 259 pages long, it is printed in such a large font that it feels like reading a Large Print edition. It takes only an hour or two to read and if it were printed in a normal font it would be more of a novella.  I looked up the rules of eligibility for the Booker Prize – and found that entries appear to be limited to novels, but presumably they’ve had that argument and resolved it in Smith’s favour.

Perhaps because of the importance of both the author and the book.  According to Wikipedia, Sebastian Barry says that Ali Smith is Scotland’s Nobel Laureate-in-waiting, and her books have won multiple awards and prize nominations, earning her an honorary doctorate and a CBE.  She hasn’t won the Booker yet, but she was nominated for Hotel World (2001, which I read ages ago); The Accidental (2005); and How to Be Both (2014, which I tried and failed to read).  So maybe Autumn will be the one.  It has a currency that makes it important in its own right.

It’s a melancholy book.  It begins with an allusion to the opening lines of The Tale of Two Cities (1859) by Charles Dickens, an historical novel set in London and Paris about the chaos and violence of the French Revolution.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

In the opening lines of Autumn, these words distort:

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.  Again.  That’s the thing about things.  They fall apart, always have, always will, it’s in their nature.

Written in the aftermath of Brexit, Autumn documents the dismay that many Britons feel.   There is a three-page lament about the divisions rising up…

All across the country there was misery and rejoicing.

All across the country, what had happened whipped about by itself as if a live electric wire had snapped off a pylon in a storm and was whipping about in the air above the trees, the roofs, the traffic.

All across the country,  people thought it was the wrong thing.  All across the country,  people thought it was the right thing.  All across the country,  people felt they’d really lost. All across the country,  people felt they’d really won.  All across the country,  people felt they’d done the right thing and other people had done the wrong thing. All across the country,  people looked up Google: what is EU? All across the country,  people looked up Google: move to Scotland.  All across the country,  people looked up Google: Irish passport applications. 


All across the country, people waved flags in the rain.  All across the country, people drew swastika graffiti.  All across the country, people threatened other people.  All across the country, people told people to leave. All across the country, the media was insane.  All across the country, politicians lied.


All across the country, things got nasty.


All across the country, the country split in pieces.  All across the country, the countries cut adrift.  (p.59-61)

Still, there is the power of love.  Through the main characters of a very old man called Daniel Gluck and the art historian Elisabeth Demand whom he befriended as a child, the book weaves within both the private and the public present and past.  Mr Gluck sleeps through the entire trajectory of the book, which begins with his dream of being young again.  He is very old indeed, frail and dependent in an aged care home where Elisabeth visits and reads to him every day.  Ironically, considering that staff have wrongly identified her as his granddaughter, she has to get a new passport to identify herself as a visitor, allowing for comic scenes in the post office that isn’t a post office any more.

Time shifts back and forth as if flicking backwards and forwards through an old photo album.  In fragmentary very short chapters filled with powerful scraps of words, Mr Gluck  takes the place of Elisabeth’s absent parents.  Her father is literally absent – not dead, but in Leeds – and her mother is emotionally absent throughout her childhood, only late in life becoming the person she wants to be and that Elisabeth can be fond of in an amused and tolerant kind of way.  On long walks Mr Gluck teaches Elisabeth to think, to imagine, to dream and to be playful.  He takes her to a performance of The Tempest.  He describes paintings to her.  He teaches her to make up stories.  He is insistent about the power of reading.

Hello, he said, what are you reading?

Elizabeth showed him her empty hands.

Does it look like I’m reading anything, she said.

Always be reading something, he said.  Even when we’re not physically reading.  How else will we read the world?  Think of it as a constant.

A constant what? Elisabeth said.

A constant constancy. (p. 68)

Is there something autobiographical from Smith’s life in this characterisation?

Mr Gluck, whose sister stood up against fascism in Nazi Europe, is a moral touchstone.  Elisabeth as a child wants him to embroider his past to fool her mother:

Which would you choose, Daniel had said once.  Should I please her and tell her she guessed right, and that I’m a recently retired Rambert? Or should I tell her the more mundane truth?

Definitely tell her the lie, Elisabeth said.

But what will happen if I do? Daniel said.

It’ll be brilliant, Elisabeth said.  It’ll be really funny.

I’ll tell you what will happen, Daniel said.  This.  You and I will know I’ve lied, but your mother won’t.  You and I will know something that your mother doesn’t.  That will make us feel different towards not just your mother, but each other.  A wedge will come between us all.  You will stop trusting me, and quite right, because I’d be a liar.  We’ll all be lessened by the lie.  So.  Do you still choose the ballet?  Or will I tell the sorrier truth?

I want the lie, Elisabeth said.  She knows loads of things I don’t. I want to know some things she doesn’t.

The power of the lie, Daniel said. Always seductive to the powerless.  (p.113-4)

In Autumn, the seduction of the lie at a personal level, also targets the lies in the public sphere.

The corruption of politicians is nothing new: through Elisabeth’s interest in the pop artist Pauline Boty, Smith revisits the Christine Keeler scandal, an allusion that seems to say that governments could be brought down in a more innocent age by a sex scandal, but no scandal is big enough to bring down modern governments.  Elisabeth marches to no avail in the Not in My Name protests against the Iraq War, and her mother has had enough:

I’m tired of the news. I’m tired of the way it makes things spectacular that aren’t, and deals so simplistically with what’s truly appalling. I’m tired of the vitriol. I’m tired of the anger. I’m tired of the meanness. I’m tired of the selfishness. I’m tired of how we’re doing nothing to stop it. I’m tired of how we’re encouraging it. I’m tired of the violence there is and I’m tired of the violence that’s on its way, that’s coming, that hasn’t happened yet. I’m tired of liars. I’m tired of sanctified liars. I’m tired of how those liars have let this happen. I’m tired of having to wonder whether they did it out of stupidity or did it on purpose. I’m tired of lying governments. I’m tired of people not caring whether they’re being lied to any more. I’m tired of being made to feel this fearful. I’m tired of animosity. I’m tired of pusillanimosity.

I don’t think that’s actually a word, Elisabeth says.

I’m tired of not knowing the right words, her mother says. (p.56)

Actually, it’s a brilliant word, isn’t it? Fear that is expressed in animosity.  A word for our times…

Author: Ali Smith
Title: Autumn
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton (Penguin Random House UK), 2016
ISBN: 9780241207017
Source: Kingston Library

Available from Fishpond: Autumn (Seasonal)

20170817_194003Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Melbourne launch of The Historian’s Daughter, by Rashida Murphy.  I’m not often tempted to attend launches, I would mostly rather stay home and read a book, but this one was linked to celebrations for the 70th anniversary of India’s Independence, and there were scrumptious Indian nibbles on offer as well as the chance to meet an author whose work I really admired.  (See my review of The Historian’s Daughter if you need any convincing).

Alas, it was way across town at the Eltham bookshop, but thanks to a very kind offer from my son’s in-laws, I enjoyed the hospitality of a bed for the night so I didn’t have to drive home afterwards, and thank goodness for that because Melbourne dished out some of the worst weather we’ve had in a while and the traffic was foul, thanks to all the impatient fools who caused accidents and traffic chaos.  A journey that normally takes an hour took two, and a very stressful two at that.  I made it to the event with one minute to spare!

The thing about indie bookshops is that they are just that: they do their own thing, and as owner Meera Govil explained, this bookshop has a focus on Asian titles so they have a distinctive range of books.  I could easily have spent a small fortune there, but (on account of two extravagant #NationalBookshopDay spending sprees at Benn’s Bookshop in Bentleigh) I contented myself with just three books, two by Elif Shafak and Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms by Anita Heiss – who is of course not Asian at all, but Indigenous, and one of Australia’s most engaging public intellectuals.  She writes serious books, but also what she calls ‘choc-lit’, and this one looks interesting because it features a Japanese POW who escapes from the Cowra POW camp and is given refuge by a local Aboriginal.

Anyway, proceedings were introduced by the Indian Consul in Melbourne, Ms Manika Jainan and then there was a short intro by Meera Govil.  The notable thing about this was that both ladies had read the book they were launching, and as we all know, this is not always the case, so I was impressed.  Then it was over to Iranian-Australian Sanaz Fotouhi, from Asia Pacific Writers and Translators, to ask the questions…

Sanaz (whose field of study at Monash University is the Iranian diaspora) noted that the book is rich in themes: identity, memory, migration, mother-daughter relationships, and truth and lies.  When asked about the inspiration for the book, Rashida said that it was partly autobiographical, and that she was fascinated by the way siblings remember the same events differently.  (And we can all relate to that, eh?)

She said she was also interested in writing about taboos, because silence suppresses the truth about some things which need to be dealt with.  She felt that that there were silenced women in her own family, women who were hidden away or discarded – sometimes just because they were feisty women who didn’t conform to Indian traditions about womenhood.  But her novel is also about loss: about her grief that – although she loves Australia and cherishes its freedoms – in raising her own daughter here in Australia she did not have the support of strong matriarchal women that she would have had in India.

She also spoke about the sense of displacement and alienation that comes with migration.  She said (and I personally know this to be true) that there is an assumption that it’s easy if the migrant speaks English.  It’s still not easy because there is still a sense of isolation, of having no roots, and of missing the elders who would normally be available for advice and support.

Most poignant of all was the revelation that Sobrah, an Iranian character in The Historian’s Daughter who inexplicably goes missing, is based on a real student who lived with Rashida’s family for a decade until the Iranian Revolution, and then disappeared.  Despite efforts to trace him, she still doesn’t know where he is, or even if he is alive.  So in a way the novel is a kind of closure: she doesn’t know what happened to him, so she has ‘made it up’.

I was very pleased to hear that Rashida is already hard at work on a new novel which sounds rather intriguing.  It’s about old churches and Indian bandits called dacoits, who were occasionally a sinister presence in her family’s garden in India.  ‘Don’t worry about them’, her father would say, ‘I’m defending them in court!’

A most enjoyable night, and then a delicious meal at Nongkhai Thai Eltham. Thanks to Lyn for being great company and such a thoughtful host:)

Rashida’s novel is available from Fishpond: The Historian’s Daughter and all good bookstores.

PS Bad weather or no, I am delighted to report a harbinger of Spring: the very first flower has bloomed on the jasmine outside my library window!

In Diamond SquareI owe my discovery of this fine novel to my previous reading of The Selected Stories of Mercè Rodoreda which came my way via Open Letter Books as part of their First 25 discount offer.  I had never heard of Mercè Rodoreda when I opened up the parcel and began cataloguing the 25 translations at Goodreads, and it was not until I read The Selected Stories for Spanish Lit Month at Winston’s Dad and #WITMonth (i.e. Women in Translation) that I realised what treasure I had, because Open Letter Books had also sent me Death in Spring (which I started reading last night).

But Open Letter had not sent me In Diamond Square, otherwise known in the 1986 translation by David H. Rosenthal as The Time of the Doves, and the recommendation from Grant at 1st Reading was all the persuasion I needed to get a copy of that too. It is very powerful writing.

In the history of modern warfare, civilians have suffered terribly.  Civilian deaths of those caught up in the conflict or suffering from malnutrition and disease sometimes outnumber military casualties by the thousands.  In Diamond Square begins by telling a love story but when the Spanish Civil War erupts it becomes a chronicle of the impact of war on ordinary people.

Narrated by a shop girl in Barcelona, the story begins when Natalia falls for the charming Joe, and they build a life together. He is more forceful than a modern woman would find acceptable, but Natalia loves him and she acquiesces in his obsessive hobby of pigeon-breeding, even when the pigeon lofts expand from the apartment roof to inside the house.

Joe is a carpenter, but as civil unrest increases, contracts dry up.

And work was going badly.  Joe said it was playing hard to get but it would come right in the end, people were agitated, and not thinking about restoring furniture or having new items made.  The rich were angry with the Republic.


And there was no work around and we were all very hungry and I saw very little of Joe because he and Ernie were up to something.  (p.72)

To help make ends meet, Natalia cleans the house of a wealthy couple whose decrepit house symbolises the decay of the aristocracy in Spain.  She has no one to care for the children, so little Anthony* and Rita have to be locked up in the dining-room while she is away at work.

(*Antonio, surely?  Why translate it??)

As the war encroaches she does her best to dissuade Joe from joining up, but Joe is not a man who takes much notice of a woman.  In this excerpt the text emphasises Natalia’s repeated attempts to keep him at home, with repetitions of I told him:

Both Ernie and Joe kept talking about the patrols and how they should go back to being soldiers, and do their duty. I told them it was all very well joining up but they’d been soldiers once and I told Ernie to leave Joe in peace and not to tempt him into joining up because we had enough headaches as it was. Ernie didn’t look me in the eye for a week.  And one day he came to see me, so what’s so wrong with joining up?

I told him to let other people do it, the ones who weren’t married like he was, and I wasn’t going to stop him but Joe had too much work on his hands at home and was too old.  And he said Joe would soon be in fine fettle because they were going to the mountains on manoeuvres… and I told him I didn’t want Joe joining up.

I was exhausted.  I was killing myself with work and everything  was piling up.  Joe didn’t see I needed a bit of help, rather than spending my whole life helping others, but nobody took any notice of me and they all wanted more from me as I too wasn’t a person with needs.  (p.102.)

With Joe away at the war, her employers decline to employ her any longer because Joe is fighting for the Republican cause.  Then there is real hardship, vividly portrayed in forceful images…

Things get so bad that Natalia has to send Anthony away to a camp for refugee boys, but it’s a terrible place.

When his time to stay there was over, Julie fetched him.  He was a changed boy.  They had changed him.  He was puffy, with a swollen pot belly, round cheeks, and two sunburnt, bony legs, a scabby, shaved head and a big boil on his neck.  He didn’t even look at me.  He went straight to the corner where his toys were and touched them with his fingertips […] and Rita said she’d not broken any.  […] And for supper, between the three of us, we ate a sardine and a mouldy tomato. And if we’d owned a cat, it would have found a single bone left over.

And we slept together.  Me sandwiched between my two kids.  That’s how we’d die if we died. (p.139)

She is reduced to selling everything, even the imposing chair that no one but Joe could use.

I had no work and nothing on the horizon.  I’d just sold all I had left: the bed I’d had as a young girl, the mattress from the bed with the columns, Joe’s watch that I’d wanted to give his son when he grew up.  Every scrap of clothing.  Wine glasses, hot chocolate cups, sideboard… and when nothing else remained I swallowed my pride and went back to back to the house of my old bosses.  (p. 141)

What small pity they have is swamped by their fear that a person like her could get them into trouble because she is a ‘red’ and in her despair she decides to kill her children rather than see them suffer any more.  But she doesn’t even have the money to buy the acid…

Natalia is a survivor, however, and there is a recovery of sorts, a melancholy accommodation that reflects the compromises that had to be made in Franco’s Spain.

Death in Spring is a very different sort of book. I’ll have to see how I get on with that one…

Author: Mercè Rodoreda
Title: In Diamond Square (La plaça del diamant)
Translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush
Publisher: Virago Modern Classics, 2014
ISBN: 9781844087372
Source: Personal library, purchased from Fishpond $14.88

Available from Fishpond: In Diamond Square: A Virago Modern Classic

Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 16, 2017

The Wish Child, by Catherine Chidgey

Rarely has historical fiction been so well done as in this award-winning novel from New Zealand Author Catherine Chidgey.  The Wish Child won the Ockham New Zealand Award for Fiction this year, and unusually for a work of literary fiction, it has become an international bestseller as well.  When I tell you that the novel employs #MyLeastFavouriteNarrativeDevice – a dead child narrator –  my admiration may seem even more remarkable…

But there is more to this narrator than is immediately obvious, though many will not realise this unless #NotRecommended they sneak a look at the Historical Note at back of the book.  I worked it out about half way through the book but that was only because I had read something very recently that set my antennae on alert.  No, I’m not going to tell you which book that was – suffice to say that the omniscient narrator of The Wish Child tells the story of two children in Germany during WW2.

The device works because there is no attempt to render a childlike voice of innocence.  This narrator knows from the beginning about the evil that lies at the heart of Nazi ambitions, and The Wish Child grapples with the culpability of ordinary Germans under the Nazis by exploring the propaganda that surrounded them. As the narrative traces the years from 1939 to 1945 – from when Germany expects to win the war and to reap the economic benefits of its policies, to when the privations of war affect Berliners and they realise that a crushing defeat is imminent – this narrator, looking back on events, alerts the reader to his stance very early in the novel:

…this is where I’ll start: some weeks later, when the absurd man with the absurd moustache calls off the Peace Rally so he can send his troops into Poland. (p.24)

But that is not the stance of the characters whose lives he observes.  Like the admirers of That Grotesque Man in America, they are captivated by their Führer and the ideas he espouses.  The Berlin housewives queue to hear him…

At the theatre there is standing room only for the Führer’s speech.  The women hand over their furs to the coat-check girl, who cannot, it seems, trouble herself to smile, and may not even be German.  They find their seats, which are ten rows back from the stage and afford an acceptable view of the lectern, until a vast individual with blond braids piled high on her head takes her place in front of them.  It is difficult to see past the bulging hair, which the women agree must be false.  Such persons need to acquaint themselves with mirrors, they remark, but they refuse to let her ruin their evening.  Through their opera glasses they take in the one-man show, the feverish aria tumbling from the stage: swords and blood, blood and earth, betrayal and sacrifice, disguise, salvation: all the traditional and tragic themes.  And how the women applaud!  How they cheer.  (p.41)

(Note the small touches of authorial cunning here: the exclamation mark after ‘applaud’ followed by the deflating full stop after ‘cheer’.)

This narrative voice is also complemented by other narrative devices such as the scripted dialogues between the two Berlin housewives Frau Miller and Frau Müller, and also a schoolteacher indoctrinating her class.  At first The Wish Child subverts the usual compassion that people would feel for the suffering of children in war because the narrator so often sardonically parrots the propaganda: life mostly goes on very comfortably for the German children and their families.  But although nothing specific is said of it in the narration, we who know our history know that about the suffering of other children.  We know that in the early years of the war children were being bombed in Britain and Poland and that unspeakable things were happening to Jewish children and their parents.  So the reader’s sympathies lie elsewhere while the narrator parrots that the war is far away and will be won because the Germans are inherently superior.  No one seems innocent at all, and where there are chillingly vague references to what is really going on, the perfidy nevertheless seems so obvious that – with the reader’s benefit of hindsight – we wonder how Germans could not have known.  And yet because we cannot understand the unfathomable – how, if they knew, a whole nation could have been complicit in such evil – we try to resist believing that they were.

Over and over again this novel asks the questions the world has asked ever since: did they know?  how much did they know? could/should they have known?  how much did a culture of suppressing doubt or criticism contribute? And for us, today, aghast at the current crop of demagogues and their loathsome supporters, and shamed by the inhumane treatment of refugees on Manus Island, we have to ask ourselves, what do we know and what should we be doing?

It is not a spoiler to tell you that Seiglind survives the war to take a job in 1995 reassembling shredded surveillance documents from East Berlin after reunification, because the first chapter tells us so.  And as you know if you’ve read Anna Funder’s Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, this project is actually real.  It is an attempt to find out what happened to people who disappeared under the Soviet regime, by reassembling what’s left of the records.

She has developed her own system, as all the puzzlers have.  She lifts the scraps from the bags as gently as possible to preserve the original strata, sorting them according to size, paper colour, texture, weight, as well as type face or handwriting, before fitting ragged edge to ragged edge to restore the destroyed file.  It can take days to complete a single page, and always there are pieces she cannot home, holes she cannot fill.  Sixteen thousand sacks, six million scraps of paper – it will take centuries to finish – but she trains herself to focus only on the snippets in front of her, to find the patterns, the matches.  (p.15)

The story then reverts to 1939, the link to events in 1995 not explained until late in the novel.  Siggi lives in affluence in middle-class Berlin, where her parents absorb all the propaganda and willingly cooperate with everything the Nazis ask them to do.   Siggi’s father works in the censorship office, removing from books and documents words like ‘promise’,. ‘love’ and ‘mercy’ with his scissors.  (Scraps of poetry are woven through the narrative, with increasing numbers of words excised, eventually rendering the poems incomprehensible). Siggi’s mother gets the samovar she has long yearned for when she attends an auction of ‘abandoned’ goods and is proud to be raising good German children to please the Führer.  Her children are perfectly safe, she believes (despite her nerves), so there is no need to evacuate them to the countryside.  She looks forward to a great future when Germany is unified and all the impure people who are unfit to live have been disposed of.

Siggi is pleased to wear the uniform of the Hitler Youth, and her class visits all kinds of factories which support the war effort.  Through the harangues of her teacher, we learn that the factories make:

  • radios that will pick up only German stations, unlike English and American radios […] that do not discriminate and will blurt out all kinds of dangerous and disgusting stories that have no place in a decent home (p.56);
  • fabric in a cheerful yellow, the colour of buttercups with a pattern of stars to be made into items so Germans will be safe and not overrun by poison (p.142); and
  • icons of the Führer for reverential display in the house, along with a warning that those few […] who really do not have the Führer can go home and tell [their] Mutti and Vati that they need to fix this, and the sooner the better (p.86).

As time goes by her teacher enthusiastically praises the chilling inventiveness of the Germans who have found ways to recycle the products of their genocidal policies, such as human hair. The housewives’ enthusiasm becomes muted when one tentatively bemoans the rationing and quality of the  soap.  Her friend’s response is both a warning and a threat: she should not listen to the rumours about the soap and she should take care with her remarks because any criticism is perilous.

Erich, meanwhile, is living in the countryside near Leipzig.  There is something not-quite-right about Erich’s early life, but the narrative moves on, pausing only to note snippets like this one:

I watch Erich with his new book, each page cut into three.  He makes a bear with a lion’s body and the legs of a dog; he joins an elephant’s head to a duck with goat’s hooves.  It seems there are endless combinations, a whole menagerie of the fake, all those turned away from the ark and left to face the flood.  It is troubling to me, all this severing and grafting. I do not blame the boy because he does not understand that the creatures are impossible, and that even if such a specimen were produced it could not survive; it would be too deformed, too far from normal.  The adults, though, watch him turning the pages with his little fingers, and they watch him smiling because they smile, and laughing because they laugh, and nobody finds the book – nor even the idea of the book – in the least bit troublesome.  (p.40)

(I find myself wondering how I would interpret this passage if I didn’t know about Mengele.)

Erich’s father is on the Russian front, and as the foreign workers and the helpful Hitler Youth disappear from the farm there is hunger, but his mother censors his letters for any signs of sadness.  She labours long and hard over a birthday gift for the Führer after the abortive assassination attempt, to show him we love him. 

The reader’s sympathies shift dramatically when Erich – still only a boy – abandons his home to fight in the defence of Berlin as the Russians advance.  The narrator’s dispassionate tone alters:

But this cannot be right.  This cannot be Berlin.  The buildings are crumbling and collapsed, sliced open, insides hanging out, windows missing, chimneys toppled, roofs gone; here and there Erich can see right into abandoned rooms where mirrors and clocks hang crooked on waterstained walls.  S-Bahn cars barricade streets littered with baths and couches and tables and radiators and beds, and boys on bicycles wind their way through the mounds of rubble with Panzerfausts clipped to their handlebars.  Ashes are falling like dead leaves, like dirty snow, catching in Erich’s hair, settling on his shoulders.  In the ruins mothers squat before campfires stoked with books, cooking for their children, and crosses made from chair legs mark hasty graves in front yards.  The trees are charred, the lamp posts bent double, and a great yellow haze hangs over it all, blocking out the sky, stinking of sulphur and gas and things that need burying deep.  No, this cannot be right.  (p.278)

Siggi, aged just twelve, rescues him and they take refuge in a damaged theatre but there is worse to come…

The Wish Child is a remarkable book, tackling one of the darkest issues in human history in a new way that -particularly in its concluding episodes – resists easy judgements.

Author: Catherine Chidgey
Title: The Wish Child
Publisher: Chatto & Windus, 2017
ISBN: 9781784741112
Source: Personal library, purchased from Benn’s Books $29.99

Available from Fishpond: The Wish Child

Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 14, 2017

The Black Opal, by Katharine Susannah Prichard

Black Opal, by Katharine Susannah Prichard (1883-1969), has been on my radar since I read Haxby’s Circus (see my review), so I was pleased to stumble on it at my local library.  Prichard’s third novel, Black Opal was written shortly after she had spent some time at Lightning Ridge in outback New South Wales, the black opal capital of the world, (or so they say).   The library copy was not the 1921 1946 hardback copy with its striking dustjacket, (see Nathan’s comment below) it was the 2012 A&U (Allen & Unwin) House of Books edition, which apart from having a boring cover and an unnecessary tweak to the title, also had a number of irritating uncorrected typos, but still, all credit to A&U for reissuing it because copies of the first edition are as rare as the black opals that feature in the story.

Bookended by two poignant funerals, Black Opal tells the story of a mining community at ‘Fallen Star Ridge’.  While the novel revolves around Sophie Rouminof and the men who love her, it also celebrates the communal life of the miners and how they support one another through the good times and the bad.  When the novel opens, Sophie’s mother has just died, and – since her father Paul is a wastrel, it is Michael Brady who takes on the care of both of them:

It was natural enough that Michael should have taken charge of Sophie and Rouminof, and that he should have made all the arrangements for Mrs Rouminof’s funeral.  If it had been left to Paul to bury his wife, people agreed, she would not have been buried at all; or, at least, not until the community insisted.  And Michael would have done as much for any shiftless man.  He was next-of-kin to all lonely and helpless men and women on the Ridge, Michael Brady.

Michael is a kind of moral barometer for the town, so he has a crisis of conscience when he takes possession of Paul’s opals from a thief, because he has reason not to return them to their rightful owner straight away.  This action has repercussions when the time comes for Michael to exercise moral authority on behalf of the town.

On Fallen Star Ridge everyone trusts everyone else, and security for these valuable gems is lax.

The unwritten law of the Ridge was that mates pooled all the opal they found and shared equally, so that all Jun held was Rouminof’s, and all that he held was Jun’s.  Ordinarily one man kept the lot; and as Jun was the better dealer and master spirit, it was natural enough that he should hold the stones, or, at any rate, the best of them.

The men of the Ridge, however, feel that it’s necessary to remind Jun about the rules of a fair go because they’re not confident that he’s going to treat Paul fairly.  He’s a newcomer to the community, which is why he’s been fool enough to work with an idler like Paul.  In the bar, the men insist that Paul be given some of the good stones, and with hundreds of pounds worth of opal in his pocket, he goes off home making plans to take Sophie to Sydney where she can start her singing career.

But Michael had promised Sophie’s dying mother that he’d see to it that Sophie stayed at the Ridge under his care, until she was old enough to take care of herself.  Uneasy about proceedings at the bar, he follows Paul home to his hut to remonstrate with him, and arrives in time to see Charley Heathfield steal the opals from a drunken Paul.  Michael knows that without his opals Paul can’t take Sophie anywhere, but he is so outraged by Charley’s breach of trust that he waits until Charley is asleep and then retrieves the stolen opals.  Michael then has to wrestle with his conscience as to when the opals should be returned to their rightful owner.

Sophie, meanwhile, is becoming attracted to one of the young men of the town, and when he treats her badly, she takes advantage of an American opal buyer’s offer to take her overseas to start her career as a singer.  She leaves three broken hearts behind her: Arthur Henty who regrets letting class consciousness rule his heart; ‘Potch’ Heathfield who hasn’t dared declare himself because of his father’s treachery; and Michael, who has failed to protect Sophie from harm.

All this comes to a head when the mines seem to be failing, and the American opal buyer returns with a plan to buy up the mines and employ the previously self-employed miners.  Prichard was a committed communist, so there is some spirited debate about the pros and cons of such a proposal, and the men look to Michael to help them decide.

The novel is captivating reading, rich in authentic detail and dialogue.

A year or two ago, a score or so or bark and bag huts were ranged on either side of the wide, unmade road space overgrown with herbage; and a smithy, a weatherboard hotel with roof of corrugated iron, a billiard parlour, and a couple of stores, comprised the New Town.  A wild cherry tree, gnarled and ancient, which had been left in the middle of the road near the hotel, bore the news of the district and public notices, nailed to it on sheets of paper.  A little below the hotel, on the same side, Chassy Robb’s store served as post-office, and the nearest approach to a medicine store in the township.  Opposite was the Afghan’s emporium.  And behind the stores and the miners’ huts, everywhere, were the dumps thrown up from mines and old rushes. (p.57)

Reading Black Opal now, almost a century after its first publication, brings the reader into a different world where mateship, community, and pride in independence were paramount.

There was no police station nearer than fifty miles, and although telegraph now links the New Town with Budda, the railway town, communication with it for a long time was only by coach once or twice a week; and even now, all the fetching and carrying is done by a four or six-horse coach and bullock wagons. The community to all intents and purposes governs itself according to popular custom and opinion: the seat of government being Newton’s big, earthen-floored bar, or the brushwood shelters near the mines where the men sit at midday to eat their lunches and noodle – go over, snip, and examine – the opal they have taken out of the mines during the morning.

They hold their blocks of land by miner’s right, and their houses are their own.  They formally recognise that they are citizens of the Commonwealth and of the State of New South Wales, by voting in elections and by accepting the Federal postal service.  Some few of them, as well as Newton and the storekeepers, pay income tax as compensation for those privileges, but beyond that the Ridge lives its own life, and the enactments of authority are respected, or disregarded, as best pleases it. (p.57-8)

The characterisation of the miners is excellent.  Michael and Sophie are a bit idealised, but the blokes who work in the mines seem real, just like bush blokes are, while the women who gather together to dress Sophie for her first ball – lending her their gloves, jewellery and a fan – are like good-hearted country women everywhere.  As a slice of Australian life at the turn of the century, this novel is very satisfying reading.

Author: Katharine Susannah Prichard
Title: (The) Black Opal
Publisher Allen &b Unwin (A&U House of Books series), 2012
ISBN: 9781743313145
Source: Kingston Library

Available from Fishpond: The Black Opal

Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 14, 2017

2017 Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Prize longlists

The Tasmanian Book Prize longlists were released today, and I regret to say that I’ve read only two of the nominated titles.

There are two prizes, encompassing literary fiction, writing about politics and society, travel writing, poetry, histories and graphic novels.  It is interesting to see that so many of the nominations are from small publishers (that I’ve never heard of). I’ll hunt around to see if I can find any reviews of the ones I haven’t read, so bear with me while I do it.  There are still a couple for which I can’t find any reviews…

Tasmania Book Prize – 2017 longlist

This is for the best book with Tasmanian content in any genre, and it’s worth $25 000 to the winner.

Margaret Scott Prize – 2017 longlist

This is for the best book by a Tasmanian writer, and it’s worth $5 000 to the winner.

  • The Shape of Water by Anne Blythe-Cooper, published by Forty South Publishing, see Blue Wolf reviews
  • In Brazil by Fran Bryson, published by Scribe Publications, a travel book, see the SMH review
  • Woven Landscape: Connections in the Tasmanian Midlands, written and published by Peter E Davies
  • A History of Port Davey, South West Tasmania, Volume One: Fleeting Hopes by Tony Fenton, published by Forty South Publishing, see the audio interview at Across the Coast
  • The White Room Poems by Anne Kellas, published by Walleah Press, see Rochford Street Reviews
  • South Pole: Nature and Culture by Elizabeth Leane, published by Realktion Books, see the review at the SMH
  • Shadows in Suriname by Margaretta Pos, published by Forty South Publishing
  • The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose, published by Allen & Unwin – I’ve read this one too, see my review.
  • Down the Dirt Roads by Rachael Treasure, published by Penguin Random House, this is rural romance, see the review at The Weekly Times
  • Crocoite by Margaret Woodward, published by A Published Event, see here.

The shortlists will be announced on Thursday, 14 September 2017 as part of the Tasmanian Writers and Readers Festival, where there will be two further awards: the $5 000 University of Tasmania Prize for the best new unpublished literary work by an emerging Tasmanian writer and the $5 000 Tasmanian Young Writer’s Fellowship.  The winners will be announced later this year.

Previous winners of these Tassie prizes include books I’ve read and reviewed:

  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, see my review
  • 1835: The Founding of Melbourne & the Conquest of Australia by James Boyce, see my review
  • The Roving Party by Rohan Wilson, see my review
  • Wanting by Richard Flanagan, see my review
  • Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev by Robert Dessaix (on my TBR)


Click here to read more about the prizes and past winners.

PS #Confession Most of the content of this post was pillaged from the Tasmanian Arts Guide, but I’m sure they don’t mind.

Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 14, 2017

2017 Bendigo Writers Festival

Apologies for being offline this last weekend when we were at the Bendigo Writers Festival – but the internet was playing up at the hotel we stayed at.  I read books instead of blogging, of course! (More about that later, reviews are on the way).

We started Saturday with David Marr in conversation with Sian Gard in a session called Mood Swings. It was about That Dreadful Woman who was the subject of the most recent Quarterly Essay called The White Queen. I’m a subscriber to QE, so I have a copy of it but I’m afraid it went to the Op Shop unread, because I find That Woman and the politics she is associated with, so very depressing.  Marr, however, made an entertaining session of this, though I have to say he had an easy target…

After that The Spouse went to something called Make Mind Music, and that made for entertaining reading on his Facebook page because it turned out to be more about meditation than music and #PuttingItMildly he was not best pleased with his choice.  OTOH I went to Steven Amsterdam and a session called Walking the Line, which was about the topical issue of euthanasia and his book The Easy Way Out. (See my review).  It was interesting to learn that he was in favour of euthanasia because I had not got that impression from the novel.

I had a gap after that so I hit the festival bookshop.  And what a disappointment it was.  In previous years there have been shelves and shelves of temptation, but this year, National Bookshop Day notwithstanding, I could not find anything I wanted to buy.    I walked round and round the offerings, which didn’t take long because they’d more than halved the number of shelves, filled up one of them with children’s books and the rest were either books I’d already read or ones I’d decided not to.   I was not the only would-be buyer who was unhappy either.

I was told the next day that they’d split the festival bookshop between two venues… which was even more puzzling because we went, on Sunday morning, to ‘Good from the Start’ at the Ulumbarra Theatre where this second pop-up bookshop allegedly was and I  never saw it.  I should explain: most of the festival venues are clustered together in the arts precinct on View Street, starting with the old Capital Bank building (with the bookshop in the festival hub and the box office), and including the old fire station, the Trades Hall building and the Visual Arts Institute.  The Ulumbarra Theatre is five minutes walk away, in a re-purposed prison which has been jazzed up with stunning architecture to become a theatre, with lots of other spaces including a bar and a café.  We went in through the main entrance, hung around a bit on the ground floor, and then went upstairs to the book launch and never set eyes on any bookshop.  Maybe they set it up later…

‘Good Life Sunday’ is a whole day series of events at the Ulumbarra, devoted to lifestyle.  At ‘Good from the Start’ there were tastings from local producers of cheese. herbs, charcuterie and wine, and then Sonia Anthony from Mason’s of Bendigo restaurant launched her book, A Sense of Place, food wine and recipes in Central Victoria.  And to say that I was surprised by the contrast between the ethos she was espousing and the experience of eating at Masons, is an understatement.

I am not in the habit of critiquing restaurants: they have their good days and bad days, staff let them down, and the market generally takes care of the bad ones because people just don’t go there.   Mason’s, however, is the most popular restaurant in Bendigo and Trip Adviser recommends it.  But I do not understand how a restaurant can be rated with one ‘hat’ when staff want to know what you’d like to drink before you’ve seen the menu, and they react with surprise when you say you like to choose your wines after you’ve decided what to eat.  When we were told that the menu was on the reverse side of the paper place mat (something we were not told when we were seated), we reluctantly  chose the ‘roaming menu’ without having any idea what dishes it comprised other that that it was three entrees, one main, two side dishes and a tasting plate of desserts (so choosing which wine was still pot luck).  I won’t comment on the food at Mason’s except to say that I am an adventurous diner but The Spouse liked some of it better than I did, and that we sent back shared plate after shared plate with much of it uneaten.  (Which brooked no comment from the waitstaff: you’d think they’d want to know why, but as they churn the diners through in a frantic atmosphere more like a large Chinese restaurant, I don’t suppose that staff have time to care).  And I don’t care how fashionable it is, I dislike the concept of a shared meal: when we dine out The Spouse likes to choose dishes that are more complex than the ones he confidently cooks at home, and I like to choose spicy dishes that he doesn’t like.  I also don’t like it when waitstaff consistently interrupt conversation because they are in a hurry.  I am not rude: I always turn to face them as soon as I see they are there, but hey, I don’t want to be rude to my fellow diner either and I would like him or me to get to finish a sentence before the waitstaff barge in. Finally, I find the whole idea of a double shift an insult to good food. We had to be in by six and out by eight which is not my idea of congenial dining out.  We had nostalgic thoughts about Bouchon’s Restaurant where we always used to go, but alas, Chef Travis has moved on elsewhere *sigh*.

Anyway, The Spouse bought A Sense of Place and at his next Good Life Sunday session which was called ‘Ultimate Seafood’, he also bought the Australian Fish and Seafood Cookbook: The Ultimate Kitchen Companion which is fabulous if you like seafood and fish which we do.  Every Australian fish you can think of has its own page, with a description and how to cook and store it, and then there are delicious recipes from an amazing team of authors (this blurb is from the Fishpond website, via the link above:

John Susman is Australia’s preeminent providore of seafood, supplying the country’s best restaurants. Anthony Huckstep is a restaurant reviewer, former chef and cookbook author. Stephen Hodges is regarded by many in the food industry as Australia’s best seafood chef. Sarah Swan is a chef and recipe developer who worked for Neil Perry’s Rockpool Group for 14 years.

Meanwhile, I was at a session called The Real May Gibbs and it was the highlight of the festival for me.  Vivien Newton was an excellent interviewer, with just the right blend of asking probing questions and letting the author Robert Hughes speak for himself. They had restocked the festival bookshop (though they still didn’t have copies of Robert Dessaix’s latest book) so I bought a copy: it’s called May Gibbs: More Than a Fairy Tale: An Artistic Life and it is exactly what the title promises.  Lavishly illustrated on quality papers, it traces May Gibbs’ early career including her activities as a supporter of the suffragette movement and as a propagandist for WW1, and it celebrates her place as the first professional full-time children’s book illustrator.  Hughes made the point that the media trivialised her, calling her ‘the mother of the gumnuts’ and labelling her ‘reclusive’ but that she was not like that at all, and this biography sets the record straight.  I have added it to my collection of literary biographies and will read and review it soon.

But while The Spouse had a good time at ‘The Moral Tightrope’ which was about the history of ethics, I was disappointed by Robert Dessaix’s session.  It was called ‘It’s Got to Stop’ and it was billed like this:

An orgy of kissing and hugging has broken out across the Western world. And while the words ‘I love you’ are rarely heard anymore, people you’ve barely met end their emails with ‘Love’.

Why have all the rules gone out the window? How can order be restored?

Can Pushkin or Elizabeth Strout be of any use here?

Acclaimed writer of fiction, autobiography and the occasional essay, Robert Dessaix, takes a stand.

I had always thought that Robert Dessaix could make any topic intellectually stimulating, but I was wrong.  After fifteen minutes,  I was bored brainless by inane examples of contemporary kissing habits and the audience politely tittering.  I wondered where Pushkin was, but wasn’t prepared to stay any longer to find out.  I sat outside in the sunshine instead and read more of Chinese Literature, a Very Short Introduction, and when Tim joined me afterwards, we drove home.

Thanks to Aunty Gloreea for looking after our little scamp, Amber!

Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 12, 2017

National Bookshop Day

I am just off to Bendigo for the writing festival, so I won’t be visiting my favourite indie bookshops today, but this is National Bookshop Day so I hope that wherever you are, whatever you do, visit a bricks-and-mortar bookshop and buy a book today!

Persons following self-imposed book buying bans because of their bulging TBRs can either consider this a Dispensation for the Day, or buy a book for someone else.

(But lest you think I should practise what I preach – I went to Benns Bookstore in Bentleigh last week and bought a stack of new books – and yes, of course, I will buy books at the festival from the festival bookshop.)

Must go, the traffic will be building and we have a long drive ahead of us!


Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 11, 2017

Breaking the Days – Jill Jones PLUS bonus poet interview

From the series of poetry reviews with interviews, at Messenger’s Booker

Messenger's Booker (and more)

BreakingTheDaysToday’s post is longer than usual; however I urge you to read the interview, you will not be disappointed,

Adelaide based Australian poet Jill Jones has just released a new collection of poems titled “Brink”, however as part of my reading of the 2017 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry I read her 2015 collection “Breaking The Days”. As I have been featuring recently interviews with Australian poets, I approached Jill Jones about her earlier book and she was extremely generous giving her time and an extensive in-depth interview follows my few short thoughts on her book.

A collection that contains forty-five single page poems, closing with a fifteen sectioned sequence “The plover in the poem and what meaning does not mean”. The book opens with “Lose Your Grip” where the unreliability of memory, “if you forget what you forgot”, and ageing shimmer throughout, with…

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Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 11, 2017

False Nostalgia – Aden Rolfe PLUS bonus poet interview

From the series of poetry reviews with interviews, at Messenger’s Booker

Messenger's Booker (and more)


Today I complete the full suite of shortlisted and highly commended books from the 2017 Mary Gilmore Award, an award for the best first book of poetry published in the previous calendar year. As all of the poets shortlisted and commended for this year’s award, Aden Rolfe has participated in an interview about his collection “False Nostalgia”.

The interviews, and my thoughts on each book, can be found by clicking the links in the list below:

 “Glasshouses” – Stuart Barnes (UQP)

“Sydney Road Poems” – Carmine Frascarelli (rabbit)

“Lemons in the Chicken Wire” – Alison Whittaker (Magabala)

“Lake” – Claire Nashar (Cordite)

Aden Rolfe’s book commences with quotes, epigraphs, by Drake and Georges Perec and before you’ve read a single poem you know you are in for an interesting ride.

I’m looking forward to the
memories of right now


the picture is cut up not only into inert, formless…

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From the series of poetry reviews with interviews, at Messenger’s Booker

Messenger's Booker (and more)


Carmine Frascarelli’s collection “Sydney Road Poems” would have to be one of the most visually arresting, multi-layered collection of poems that I have encountered in the last few years. Shortlisted for the Mary Gilmore Award, along with Stuart Barnes’ “Glasshouses”, Aden Rolfe’s “False Nostalgia” and Alison Whittaker’s “Lemons in the Chicken Wire”, I have been fortunate enough to have the poets answer my questions about their works, and today I bring you another amazing interview with an Australian poet, as always the responses follow my short views on the book and appear unedited below.

For non-Melbourne based people, Sydney Road is a busy stretch, that runs from the north of the city, towards Sydney, past the old gaol and has traditionally been an area for migrants, recently becoming “gentrified” and hipster.

Carmine Frascarelli has captured the history and make up of this interesting part of Melbourne through concrete poetry, visual…

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From the series of poetry reviews with interviews, at Messenger’s Booker

Messenger's Booker (and more)


A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Alison Whittaker about her Mary Gilmore shortlisted collection “Lemons in the Chicken Wire”, whilst we were communicating back and forth and finalising the interview the Judith Wright Poetry Prize winner was announced. Alison Whittaker’s poem “Many Girls White Linen” shared first place in that Prize with Holly Isemonger and her poem “OK cupid”.

The judges of the Judith Wright Poetry Prize, Jill Jones and Toby Fitch (stay tuned here I have a Jill Jones interview in the pipeline), said of Holly Isemonger’s poem;

‘OK cupid”…is a dark, post-digital love poem in which the words of three stanzas are recombined to tell a warper tale about the split-second decisions one makes in the world of online dating. The poem could be seen as a nocturne: the words rotate almost musically, but the recombinations also deconstruct the events within the poem. ‘OK cupid’ shows…

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From the series of poetry reviews with interviews, at Messenger’s Booker

Messenger's Booker (and more)


Today another collection from the 2017 Mary Gilmore Award shortlist and a bonus poet interview. Indigenous pet Alison Whittaker’s debut collection, “Lemons in the Chicken Wire”, has already been lauded as the winner of the State Library of Queensland Black & Write Prize and the plaudits are well deserved, this is a complex, multi-layered collection of poems.

Opening with a dedication “To the land, and those who grow from it.”, the Aboriginal connection to country is placed foremost in your mind, the opening poem, “Land-ed”, continuing the theme;

takes dead skin from my feet
and slips
from under me
while the city
puts dead shoes on my feet
and slips
right into me

this train, the wind, ploughs on
through suburbs I barely glimpse
but there is
land and land and
I am landing

There are many laments and hints of tragic nostalgia, as the subjects move through domestic…

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Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 11, 2017

Glasshouses – Stuart Barnes PLUS bonus poet interview

From the series of poetry reviews with interviews, at Messenger’s Booker

Messenger's Booker (and more)


Next month the Mary Gilmore Award will be presented by the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, it is for the best first book of poetry published in the past two calendar years, it was awarded annually until 1998, reverted to bi-annually and now appears to have reverted back to an annual prize. The shortlist was announced recently;

Stuart Barnes – Glasshouses (UQP)

Carmine Frascarelli – Sydney Road Poems (rabbit)

Aden Rolfe – False Nostalgia (Giramondo)

Alison Whittaker – Lemons in the Chicken Wire (Magabala)

Claire Nashar’s “Lake” (Cordite) was highly commended by the chair Michael Farrell and judges Ann Vickery and Justin Clemens.

I am hoping to interview each of the poets on the shortlist over the coming weeks and today start with Stuart Barnes, again I thank him for his time, the effort he put into answering my questions and his honesty and poetic instruction. His interview…

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Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 11, 2017

Bone Ink – Rico Craig PLUS bonus poet interview

From the series of poetry reviews with interviews, at Messenger’s Booker

Messenger's Booker (and more)


I am back from my adventures in central Australia, another successful trip organised where thirty-two people walked the Larapinta Trail to raise awareness and funds for the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council (‘NPYWC’), this year raising over $107,000 for the retention of indigenous women’s culture in the region. However, my return means a backlog of blog updates for you, numerous books to review and several interviews to publish.

Today I look at a recent new release, Rico Craig’s “Bone Ink” and through his generosity and speedy replies I have another wonderful interview to present to you after my thoughts on his book.

Rico Craig’s debut collection is split into two sections, “Bone Ink” and “The Upper Room”, opening with the Western Suburb’s homage “Angelo”, a tale of young men from the west, stolen cars, graffiti, cigarettes and hanging around car parks, a lament for a lost mate;

Soon we’ll give…

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Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 11, 2017

Flute of Milk – Susan Fealy PLUS bonus poet interview

From the series of poetry reviews with interviews, at Messenger’s Booker

Messenger's Booker (and more)


Another massive thank you is in order, with poet Susan Fealy being very generous in her replies to my questions, I am slowly building up a nice little reference site of Australian poet interviews with the following poets all having recent works reviewed and being interviewed here (links on names are the links to the interviews):

Bruce Dawe 

David McCooey 

Alan Loney 

J. H. Crone

Maxine Beneba Clarke

Tina Giannoukos

Eileen Chong

Michael Farrell

If I can figure out a little more of the WordPress details I would like to set up a separate section on the blog featuring only the interviews with poets, bear with me whilst I learn to overcome my luddite tendencies.

To date the interviews have been with four male poets and four female poets and today I am now adding another female to the list, with more in the wings, and am very conscious of…

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Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 11, 2017

Border Security – Bruce Dawe PLUS bonus poet interview

From the series of poetry reviews with interviews, at Messenger’s Booker

Messenger's Booker (and more)

BorderSecurityIt takes many types to make up the poetic landscape in Australia, and Bruce Dawe is one of the unique characters in that landscape.

His latest collection forms part of the University of Western Australia Publishing’s (‘UWAP’), Poetry Club, their first release being four books and all of them have been reviewed here. As per most of my recent Australian poetry reviews I have contacted the poet to conduct and interview and in Bruce Dawe’s case I was hoping to get an understanding from an ageing man about the progression of poetry in Australia over the last 60 or so years (Dawe was born in 1930) but my attempts at depth were in vain.

To start off with Bruce Dawe is, in his own words, “a PCP (pre-computer-person), so these answers will come courtesy of my wife, Liz” not the same person who receives a credit for typing in his…

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Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 11, 2017

Star Struck – David McCooey PLUS bonus poet interview

From the series of poetry reviews with interviews, at Messenger’s Booker

Messenger's Booker (and more)


The University of Western Australia Publishing (“UWAP”) has this week released six new poetry titles, the second release from their new “Poetry Club” imprint. Before I get to these titles I still have two from their October releases to look at, Bruce Dawe’s “Border Security” and David McCooey’s “Star Struck”.

A few months ago I looked at J.H. Crone’s “Our Lady of the Fence Post” and Alan Loney’s “Melbourne Journal: Notebooks 1998-2003”, both reviews also including interviews with the poets.

Today I have a wonderful extensive interview with David McCooey and thank him for the amazing effort he put into answering my questions, the full interview is at the end of this short review of his collection.

“Star Struck” opens, and closes, with “This Voice”, not forming part of the four sections of poems, these 2nd person poems act as parenthesies for the whole collection, the sounds of “phantom…

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From the series of poetry reviews with interviews, at Messenger’s Booker

Messenger's Booker (and more)


Earlier in the week I reviewed the debut poetry collection “Our Lady of the Fence Post” by J.H. Crone, a publication which forms part of a new initiative by UWAP (“University of Western Australia Publishing”), the “Poetry Club”. The Club was established last year “in response to the reductions in poetry publishing nationally”, with eight collections published each year, released as a set of four. Today I look at another book from that collection and feature another interview, this time with Alan Loney and his “Melbourne Journal : Notebooks 1998-2003”.

Last year Loney won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for his book “Crankhandle: Notebooks November 2010 – June 2012” (which I reviewed here), the third part in his notebook series, at that stage the second part was yet to be published, this work is that missing piece (Note I will review “Sidetracks: Notebooks 1976-1991” the first of the…

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From the series of poetry reviews with interviews, at Messenger’s Booker

Messenger's Booker (and more)


This may sound like something from “The Twilight Zone”, the image of the Virgin Mary appearing in a fence post at Coogee Beach in Sydney, at a monument to the terrorist attacks in Bali, one year after the 9/11 attacks in New York, killing 202 people including 88 Australians. Yes we do things a little differently here in Australia – if you’re interested in the newsworthy event here is a link to a commercial news report of the time.

J.H. Crone’s “Our Lady of the Fence Post” debut poetry book is a “response” to the news reports. Taking the Marian apparition report, the documentary maker and poet, has created a collection of poems using part fact, part poetic licence to reflect on a range of political issues, the “war on terror”, the ingrained and ignored domestic violence, ISIS suicide bombings, terror cells in Australia, and a whole lot more.


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