Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 5, 2022

Six Degrees of Separation: from Sorrow and Bliss, to….

This month’s #6Degrees starts with Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss… which offers an easy segue to Peter Carey’s Bliss.

Bliss was Peter Carey’s first novel.  It won the Miles Franklin Award for 1981, and that’s the year I read it. I was completely baffled by it, but I loved the quirkiness.  I know, I know, I should read it again and write a proper review of it for this blog. But now that I have recovered from my not-really-keen-on-Peter-Carey phase (1997-2010) I should also read other titles that are languishing on the TBR.  They are probably highly enjoyable, like his more recent titles that I’ve reviewed here. This blog is littered with proclamations of #GoodIntentions, so best not to make another one…

Anyway, Carey went on to become a repeat winner of the MF: like David Ireland, who won in 1971, 1976, and 1979, Carey won it three times, in 1981, (Bliss) 1989, (Oscar and Lucinda) and 1998 (Jack Maggs).  He needs one more win to catch up with Thea Astley and Tim Winton, who both won four times.  (You can read more about her and her novels on my Thea Astley page).

Thea Astley’s first win,  for The Well-dressed Explorer in 1962, however, was shared with George Turner’s The Cupboard Under the Stairs.* In my review I lament the fact that this novel…

…hit the bookstands in the same year as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.  I think they were both ground-breaking novels in their day: both novels explore how society fears mental illness and institutionalises people who are not ‘normal’.  Both novels redefine what ‘normal’ might be.

But only one of them went on to be internationally famous. It’s ironic that I raise this in the context of an Australian starter book which is internationally famous, because it was shortlisted for the 2022 Women’s Prize for Fiction. (We’ll find out who the winner is in ten days time on June 15th).  But whatever happens, it’s certainly an achievement to get a spot on the international podium for these major prizes…

Richard Flanagan won the Booker for The Narrow Road to the Deep North in 2014, a book that still overwhelms me when I think of it.  (See my review). But although he’s won multiple Premier’s awards over the years and the PM’s Prize for fiction for The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan has never won the MF.  Considering his oeuvre, this is quite a remarkable failure by multiple judges to acknowledge one of our finest writers.

I am still cross with the MF judges for failing to longlist The Price of Two Sparrows by Christy Collins.  As you can see from my review, it’s a wise and thoughtful book about how humanity is tested by competing claims on the environment, and though I can’t comment on nominations I haven’t read, it could and should easily displace more than one of the longlisted titles.  You only need to browse my unenthusiastic reviews to see which ones they are.

I could say the same thing about the omission of Sincerely, Ethel Malley by Stephen Orr which as you can see in my review is a clever and funny riff on the Ern Malley hoax. I’ve enjoyed all but one of his ten novels and I always drop everything to read his latest when it comes my way.

Which offers another easy segue, to another author who compelled me to drop everything so that I could read his book straight away — and didn’t disappoint.  The Red Witch, Nathan Hobby’s biography of literary giant Katharine Susannah Prichard is excellent reading, easily passing the tests I set in my review:

… for an ordinary reader, the test of any literary biography is: is it good to read even if you’re not familiar with the author who’s the subject of the bio? And, while it’s always a pleasure to see a biographer’s coverage of books we know, does the bio work just as well when discussing the ones we haven’t read?  Does it inspire us to want to read more of the author’s work?

From an internationally famous contemporary Australian author to a bio of one who was internationally famous a century ago, that’s my #6Degrees for this month!

Next month’s starter book is Wintering by Katherine May. Update 7/6/22: Thanks to HopeWell’sLibraryOfLife (see comments below), I’ve found an encouraging review of Wintering.

Thanks to Kate at Books are my Favourite and Best for hosting:)

* The Cupboard Under the Stairs is now available through the Untapped Australian Literary Heritage Project.  It can be borrowed electronically through libraries and can be purchased in digital form from eBook sellers.  For details visit the Untapped website. 


Responses

  1. Along with a couple of other MF winners, a physical copy of George Turner’s The Cupboard Under the Stairs has been very hard for me to find unless I want to pay far too much. I will eventually get it via the link you have provided when I am ready to read it.

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    • Yes, you’re right, it was expensive to buy and that was a while ago, it’s probably more expensive now.
      As for a copy of A Horse of Air, that was the most difficult of all to source. In the end I hunted down a very battered paperback copy from a library in rural Victoria via interlibrary loan. There must be copies somewhere but whoever has them is wisely hoarding them.

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      • Yes, A Horse for Air is another. I never see The Ancestor Game, The Impersonators or The Shallows around either. Not saying they are not readily available, but I try and grab 2nd hand copies etc as in the end I just want to eventually read them as apposed to collect.

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        • The thing about A Horse for Air is that it doesn’t seem to have made its way into the Text Classics collection, or A House of Books or the Untapped Project. Which suggests copyright issues.
          I just looked up my own review, it says (as you know, because you read my review) it was published by Penguin, 1986, first published by Angus and Robertson, 1970. PRH publish their classics in a variety of imprints including those distinctive orange and white paperbacks, (see https://www.penguin.com.au/browse/classics) but a search for Stivens goes nowhere.
          But *gasp* I just did a pessimistic Google search and up came a copy of the paperback at Amazon for $12.02! Out went my scruples about Amazon and I’ve ordered it, now we wait to see if it will actually arrive because it wouldn’t be the first time that an order for a 2ndhand book at Amazon never arrived. If it ever turns up I will lend it to you:)

          Liked by 1 person

          • Lets hope it happens :-)

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the link to the Turner novel. One hopes that awards and lists keep getting more representative, since one is seeing some positive action in that direction

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  3. Good on you for linking to Bliss! I love all your links on prizes won and not won. Sorry, but I know nothing about Christy Collins and have never really heard people talk about it (Did I read your post? Will check!)

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  4. My #GoodIntentions include a re-read of the Flanagan, a book I loved at the time but on reflection I think I missed a lot of the subtleties

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    • That’s true of so many books that we read. I think it’s a measure of the richness of a text that we discover more every time we read it:)

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      • It’s happened to me too with books that I really didn’t care for on first reading like Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. I can’t say I like the book but it did go up in my estimation second time around

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Nicely done for the circle here!

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  6. I think it is interesting that you have reviewed every other book on your list except “Sorrow and Bliss” by Meg Mason. I remember you had some resistance to doing this. It’s a shame because it is such a wonderful book that more people should be encouraged to read. Oh well, at least it got a mention.

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    • I’m sorry to disappoint you, Bernie, but I can’t read everything, and I make choices just like everyone else does.
      One of my choices is not to prioritise books that have been widely reviewed everywhere else. There are reviews of S&B at Theresa Smith Writes, at Kim’s Reading Matters, and Kate’s Books are my Favourite and Best, to name just a few.
      Of course if what you really mean is that I need educating about mental illness, I think you’ll find that if you check the Disability category on my blog, you’ll find that I’ve been educating myself about it through books (and other means) for a long time. See https://anzlitlovers.com/category/category/issues-themes/disability-representation-issues/

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  7. What an interesting chain. I loved the way you linked the different books.

    My Six Degrees of Separation was just linked by the words in the titles and ended with The Birds Have Also Gone by Yaşar Kemal.

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    • Ha ha, Marianne, what you see in my #6Degrees is the erratic way my mind jumps from one thing to another!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Erratic? Can’t see that. LOL

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        • Like a butterfly. Purposeful, but there’s no pattern to it.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Who says butterflies have no pattern? We just don’t understand it. LOL

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  8. Oohhh, George Turner’s The Cupboard Under the Stairs sounds right up my alley.

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    • It’s a superb book. It’s amazing to think that Turner was tackling the issue of mental illness over half a century ago in 1962.
      #AnotherProclamationofGoodIntentions I must get round to reading his bio to see what prompted his interest in the issue.

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  9. Very well done. To think now that “Cupboard under the stairs” brings Harry Potter to mind instantly today. I read Oscar and Lucinda in 1989 or 90. I don’t think it was the time in my life to read it.

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    • LOL you’ll have to explain, I am hopeless at popular culture… what do cupboards under the stairs have to do with Harry Potter?
      BTW I have linked to your review of Winter at the end of this post because its title makes it sound like a self-help book, but I gather from your positive review that it’s not, not really.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Harry had to stay in the cupboard under the stairs at his uncles–that was his “room.” Wintering is more individual accounts of how winter, cold, seasons, etc impact the subject of each story,

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