You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2011.

‘She’ll be right. No worries.’ It was an amazing phrase. It was practically magical all by itself. It just…made things better. A shark’s got your leg? No worries. You’ve been stung by a jellyfish? No worries! You’re dead? She’ll be right! No worries! Oddly enough, it seemed to work.

Wow folks. What a fantastic afternoon. We are just back in the door from seeing Terry Pratchett be interviewed by Garth Nix at the Bugarup Opera House. We even sang him Happy Birthday, but first, we were talking about The Last Continent

In attempting to rescue the Librarian from his morphic dissonance, Archchancellor Ridcully and his motley crew of academic wizards find themselves transported to a far-off land through a mysterious portal. The island presents certain mysterious phenomena, such as plants that produce pre-rolled cigarettes, which seems to be an example of a very literal form of evolution.

Meanwhile Rincewind finds himself corralled by a talking kangaroo into saving the land of EcksEcksEcksEcks from the oppressive heat, where the people living there (who all claim to be descended from folk who were washed up ashore on a piece of driftwood) believe that rainfall is a myth. Talking Gator bar-men, trampolining spiders and magic sheep-shears are just some of the strange things Rincewind has to get used to, while desperately attempting to run from his destiny, which as usual only serves to land him straight right back in the middle of it.

Yes there are a lot of jokes at the expense of Australian culture, including town names such as ‘Dijabringabeeralong’, or ‘Bugarup’. There’s even a supercharged vehicle driven by someone who self-applies the term ‘Mad‘. Pratchett does not poke fun in a condescending manner, however. The tone is affectionate throughout.

I also love the notion of Rincewind being the ‘eternal coward. The hero with a thousand retreating backs‘, a nice reversal of the Hero with a Thousand Faces.  Ridcully’s complete refusal to be confused by the vagaries of time travel, due to pure ego, as well as the notion of an ‘atheist god’, attempting to study evolution is just pure Pratchett.

This is a fantastic piece of comedic satire, an absolute laugh riot.

Right, let’s talk about the Sydney Opera House gig.

Firstly I think Stephanie and my mother-in-law were converted into genuine Pratchett fans by the experience. Garth Nix and Pratchett came out on stage, greeted by a huge applause. After introductions, the audience was treated to a reading from the next Discworld novel – Snuff. Pratchett described the book as a pastiche of Agatha Christie, with Duke Vimes going on a trip to the countryside and in typical Poirot-fashion discovering a murder mystery. The crowd were falling about laughing during the reading.

Nix had a series of questions from members of the audience, but Pratchett, ever the digressive raconteur, only managed to get around to two of them. A question relating to the satirical content of the Discworld novels resulted in a discussion of religion. Amusingly Pratchett argued that all of Christianity could be boiled down to Bill & Ted‘s catchphrase ‘be excellent to each other‘. He also questioned whether a religion should choose as its symbol ‘a torture device‘. On the other hand, he criticised atheism as evidencing ‘too much certainty‘, a form of extremism equal in intensity to religious fundamentalism. As a humanist he even campaigned to rescue an old church in his community, for the sake of ‘hedging his bets‘.

Nix as the author’s interviewer seemed at once awed at the opportunity to speak to Pratchett, referrring to him as a literary master, although he in response insisted that he is only a journey-man writer. A status he claims he only graduated to with the publication of I Shall Wear Midnight. Nix was also visibly affected by the toll of the author’s early onset Alzheimer‘s. The Australian media pounced on the opportunity to run a story about Pratchett vis-a-vis his status as a spokesperson for assisted dying, which he ruefully stated was an odd position to be placed  in by reporters. He’s busy enough arguing with his own government, so getting into it with the Australian government too seems absurd.

For me though the most emotionally resonant portion of the evening was Pratchett talking about his early days as a local journalist. His bio often refers to how he saw a dead body on his first day on the job, but here he elaborated on how having to report from the scenes of gruesome suicides and deaths left him devastated. He remains haunted by the image of a woman who smoked six cigarettes before jumping in front of an express train, which he managed to piece together when he discovered the discarded butts near the scene of her death.

Sir Terry Pratchett proved to be a wonderful soul. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to finally see him in person.

My friend Carol just let me know the link to the video is up – enjoy!

Advertisements

Discworld is a world and a mirror of worlds. This is not a book about Australia. No, it’s about somewhere entirely different which just happens to be, here and there, a bit…Australian. Still…no worries, right?

Tonight is a very exciting night. Stephanie and I are travelling down to Sydney to see Terry Pratchett speak at the Sydney Opera House. In fact we are about to leave in the next twenty minutes. So here’s the deal. This is going to be an abridged review. I am posting my initial impressions of the book and then this evening, when we eventually arrive home, I will throw up some more of a review, as well as some thoughts on the talk itself.

With added Garth Nix (that fellow gets around…which reminds me, I also need to write up something on Zombies Vs Unicorns.)

First off, this is a Rincewind book. My very first Pratchett novel featured Rincewind and each title has continued that initial Fritz Leiber-esque fantasy pastiche of The Colour of Magic. These Pratchett novels are vaguer than the Ankh-Morpork novels, filled with the exciting stuff of pure Pratchettian imagination (is that a word?….it is now).

The book opens with the wizards of the Unseen University concerned over the state of the Librarian. Originally an ordinary wizard transformed by a random magical event into an orangutan (one that happened to involve Rincewind) and who has since come quite to like being a hairy biped, thank you very much. Unfortunately the magical morphic field of the Librarian is in flux and he is being transformed into sundry other shapes and objects. The wizards decide the best solution is to find Rincewind, who might be able to help them stabilise the Librarian by providing them with his original name – unfortunately he is far away on the land of Ecks-Ecks-Ecks-Ecks.

Rincewind himself has somehow managed to survive the typical (and oddly Australianish) flora and fauna. In fact he continuously finds water and something seems to be protecting him from any harm.

Could he be destined to save the land of Ecks-Ecks-Ecks-Ecks? And what does a god who believes in Evolution have to do with this?

Later folks – ride is here!

‘We put our children in the hands of your people because we think we can trust you. If we can’t trust the university, who can we trust? We never thought we were sending our daughter into a nest of vipers. No, Professor Lurie, you may be high and mighty and have all kinds of degrees, but if I was you I’d be very ashamed of myself, so help me God. If I’ve got hold of the wrong end of the stick, now is your chance to say, but I don’t think so, I can see it from your face.’

Now is his chance indeed: let him who would speak, speak. But he stands tongue-tied, the blood thudding in his ears. A viper: how can he deny it?

‘Excuse me,’ he whispers, ‘I have business to attend to.’ Like a thing of wood, he turns and leaves.

Well folks, I am back. Yesterday was a fantastic day, spent with friends, family and my beautiful bride on a stunning headland by Austinmer beach overlooking the Pacific ocean. It could not have gone better. Stephanie and I had the opportunity to renew our vows in the company of people we wished could have come to our first wedding in Ireland – so instead we brought the wedding to them.

I was free to enjoy the day and its festivities thanks to the sterling work of my fellow bloggers who agreed to lend a hand with ‘A book a day’, this week. Take a bow you folks. I am extremely grateful to you all.

So back to the business of book blogging.

David Lurie is a Cape Town college academic more suited to expounding on his theories about Romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Byron through his writing, than actually teaching students. However, his published books have failed to attract any acclaim and his frustrations with his classes aside, it does provide him with an income. With two failed marriages behind him Lurie instead indulges in affairs with college staff, or spending his time with prostitutes, for sexual relief. Inevitably his overly analytical mind ruins whatever pleasure he may gain from these encounters.

Then Lurie embarks on an affair with an eighteen-year old student, which leads to an official complaint from her family and a disciplinary hearing. Refusing to engage with the process, as he sees it as a forced confessional, the professor instead agrees to leave the university.

He travels to his daughter Lucy’s home, an isolated farm in the wilds of the Eastern Cape. Lurie remarks upon her vulnerability to attack living in such a lonely place, but she insists that she has found meaning her. She cares for a number of dogs and introduces her father to Bev, a local woman who euthanises those pets that have been too badly wounded, or are too sick to survive. Lurie dismisses their concerns for animals as inflated sentiment. His daughter in return rejects his emphasis on abstract thinking and academic concerns.

However, when the farm is attacked, both father and daughter are confronted with their own powerlessness and react in very different ways.

Nominally the title of this book refers to the professional misconduct of Lurie. J.M. Coetzee narrates his protagonist’s increasing disenchantment with his life that has led him to the disciplinary impasse with the college board, his refusal to ‘confess’, a product of his own confused feelings on the affair. In his mind his encounter with the student came as a result of passion, something his own ex-wife dismisses by pointing out that no young woman wants to see a man of his age in the throes of sexual climax. Indeed Lurie seems to lust after the student’s youth more than anything. When he later sleeps with someone closer in age to himself he is initially disgusted by her body, but then continues the relationship. It is not like anyone else wants him.

However, Lurie also later feels disgraced by his inability to protect his daughter. Coetzee draws an odd parallel between his refusal to engage the board and Lucy’s to speak to her father about what happened.

In effect, the author tells us the woman who had embraced life in the countryside has been beaten by it. It takes the rarefied academic longer to realize the same.

This book left me angry. Its characters are defeated by life and Lurie’s sub-Yeatsian carping about noble minds tied to aging bodies I could not take seriously.

Dispiriting and defeated.

This is one of the greatest books ever written. To say that Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BCE- 17 CE) known as Ovid, was possessed of a monumental genius, is to somewhat understate his influence on writing, painting, sculpture, music and poetry for the last two millennia. There are few if any artists of worth, certainly of the western tradition (indeed other traditions have such geniuses from whom we could all learn), who have not been enthralled by his brilliant imagery, his insight into the human condition, the sweep of his epic narrative, his capacity to depict the depths of human depravity and the heights of love.

The cover of this Penguin edition, with its very clear and lyrical translation by David Raeburn, has a picture of Bernini’s incredibly beautiful sculpture of Apollo’s pursuit of Daphne (1622), a scene from the dozens of stories in the Metamorphoses that are all threaded together by the theme of change, as life is indeed change, capturing the touching moment of Apollo and Daphne’s agonized frustrated lovemaking as she is transformed into a tree. The Metamorphoses weaves a difficult path brilliantly through Ovid’s vast knowledge of history and mythology, borrowing and rewriting Virgil, Lucretius and Homer to suit his own ends. This makes a great deal of sense, for in the life of an artist there comes a point of re-evaluation – an assessment and acknowledgement that she or he has arrived at the point they have through the influence and insights of others.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses, reacting somewhat to the Roman idolized image of the gods, depicts them as deeply ambivalent beings. Some of the stories show them as monsters, vicious cruel murderers and rapists. Jove or Jupiter, is a dreadful being. As the king of the Gods with weighty responsibilities on him, he is also a psychopath, a serial rapist who uses his power to tryst with females of his fancy, fathering countless offspring to his wife’s horror and vengeful rage. This is hardly a sterling example of a moral life, an example of the kinds of godly behaviour in the Metamorphoses that leaves much to be desired.

So we are left with a dilemma. The world order, the nature of existence, is terribly out of joint. How does one live? What constitutes a moral existence? What hope is there for humanity when the gods are mad or corrupt or all too human? Ovid describes the world and leads us to the doorway of moral choice. He describes these beings, these gods, largely products of a complex evolutionary cultural anthropomorphosis, as being as capable of horrible acts as they are equally capable of heartbreaking tenderness. When the sun god, (Helios to the Greeks, also Apollo to the Romans, but Phoebus to Ovid) allows his all too overconfident ambitious son Phaeton to take the reins of his sun chariot on its daily journey round the Earth, things go terribly wrong. This is when Phaeton, filled with cock-sure ignorance, loses control of the sun-chariot and sets the world on fire, almost burning the earth, is killed by a bolt from Jupiter to stop the destruction of everything. Thus the Earth is shrouded in darkness as the heartbroken Phoebus covers his radiant being with his cloak in inconsolable sorrow at the loss of his beloved son. It is a terrible time, a tragic moment, handled with incredible tenderness by Ovid.

Pain, joy, ambition, jealousy, longing, loneliness, the burden of giftedness, overwhelming infatuation, the loss of love, lies, deceit, moments of hilarity, power politics and horrific acts of revenge – in other words the full sweep of the human condition – mark his subject matter, and in the Metamorphoses, Ovid deals more than anything else with what it means to be a human being, trapped in time, a mere plaything of the fickle and vengeful gods. He deals with this subject with a level of emotional and psychological accuracy that leaves an unforgettable mark on the reader. It’s not without significance that Shakespeare was a lifelong reader of Ovid, and returned to him over and over to seek new themes for his plays and poetry.

Rome remains the cultural centre of Ovid’s personal universe, and the glory of Rome is his joy and love. Despite all its horrors and imperial cruelties it remains his personal point of reference. It is a mark of the poet Ovid’s truly extraordinary self-assurance that at the end of this very large and very readable book, filled as it is with super heroes and gods, monsters and victims, saints and mystics, he modestly asks Emperor Augustus to immortalize him. After all, he argues, he has written the Metamorphoses. This same emperor, disdaining Ovid’s tendency to write rather explicit poems about sex and seduction and taking lovers and, moreover, how to keep ones lover, as in the Amores and the Ars Amatoria, had exiled the heartbroken poet (a banishment celebrated by Turner in a painting in 1838). Ovid, who found the world of Rome his inspiration, never got over his exile and he never stopped wanting to go home. The cliché of an artist never being fully understood in his own time is very true of Ovid, who died in what is now Romania, where he is celebrated as one of their own.

BIO ORAN RYAN

Oran Ryan

Oran Ryan is a novelist, poet and playwright from Dublin.  His poetry, short stories and literary criticism have appeared in magazines worldwide.  His novels The Death of Finn and Ten Short Novels by Arthur Kruger, both published in 2006, and One Inch Punch, his third is to be published in 2011.  His work has also appeared in the anthologies Census 1 (2008), Census 2 (2009), Living Streets, Anthology of the Ranelagh Arts Festival (2009), Dublin 10 Journeys, One Destination (2010).  His play Don Quixote Has Been Promoted was performed at the Ranelagh Arts Festival 2009; his has been shortlisted for the P J O’Connor Award; his words were performed on stage at the Stone Theatre in Manhattan, New York in 2008 and in 2010 his Radio Play Christmas 1947 was performed live as part of KRCB FM 91.1 Twisted Christmas 8 Live performance in California, as well as broadcast on KRCB over Christmas 2010.

Some preamble: I was fairly daunted when I was asked to jump in and cover A Book A Day… for a post. As a habitual reader of his site, I was intent on ensuring that I got the full Emmet O’Cuana experience by following the house rules and reviewing a book that I had completed over the course of a twenty-four hour period (this was despite Emmet giving me close to a month’s notice to put this post together). With that, I diligently set about settling down to enjoy Fred Hoyle’s science-fiction standard The Black Cloud; before abandoning it in a fit of disinterest as I moaned to my wife about ‘diagrams having no place in a novel’. I’m being harsh – The Black Cloud is undoubtedly a good book, but I was struggling to keep focussed on it enough to finish it in a day.

With this realisation, things were looking grim for my contribution to ABADTICS (which is a great acronym), and I soared dangerously and embarrassingly close to turning in a review of Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man, knowing that I could at least cover it in one afternoon, possibly fifteen minutes if I didn’t stop for tea and biscuits. Scanning my book shelves, I was drawn to John Colapinto‘s About the Author – a book I picked up in my teens, read once and then recommended to everyone else for the next eleven years. For all the books that have come and gone in my personal library over the years I’ve never considered parting with it, based on one memorable reading of it in what seems an age ago. With that in mind, I was interested to see how an older, wiser and infinitely more cynical version of my young self would find it.

For reasons that will become obvious, I find it difficult to write about Stewart. Well, I find it difficult to write about anything, God knows. But Stewart presents special problems. Do I speak of him as I later came to know him, or as he appeared to me before I learned the truth, before I stripped away the mask of normalcy he hid behind? For so long he seemed nothing but a footnote to my life, a passing reference in what I had imagined would be the story of my swift rise to literary stardom. Today he not only haunts every line of this statement, but is, in a sense, its animating spirit, its reason for being.

About the Author tells the story of lothario bookstore clerk Cal Cunningham. Cal prides himself on his aspirations of bestsellerdom but lacks the literary inspiration to achieve it, so when the opportunity to pass his dead roommate’s manuscript off as his own work of genius, he does so with little hesitation and to wild success. In true ‘…but the  past ain’t through with you‘ fashion however, the decision haunts the rest of this story. Wielding themes of identity, envy and ambition, in hindsight it shares much in common with Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley, but differs in that this thriller expands to more psychological Hitchcockian proportions. As our hero spirals further out of control in his quest to keep his misdeeds secret, he finds himself living a proxy of the life of the man whose work he stole, and refreshingly things escalate in a way that never seems forced or trite. Most of the supporting characters are lightly sketched to varying degrees of effect – a rambunctious literary agent comes across just right in his one-note shallowness, but he’s the only character that truly works in spite of not being fleshed out. That said, there’s enough conflict in our main character’’s actions and thoughts – the story is told from Cunningham’s viewpoint – for Colapinto to sink his teeth into, and it makes for a compelling read overall.

The envious and ambitious traits of the lead character certainly struck a chord with me in my latter-day blogger guise. One thing that surprised me as I reviewed this retrospectively was how I interpreted the protagonist’s actions when I was younger – Cal Cunningham is no longer some enfant terrible anti-hero as I once saw him, in fact now he just strikes me as a pretentious jerk. Whether this is a concious choice by Colapinto or not, I’m not sure, but the fact that the book works despite my dislike of its hero is testament to the author’s plotting and ability to ratchet the tension from zero to panic in a stroke. Hollywood agreed to an extent – a film adaptation has been languishing in development limbo since publication despite a script from the reliable Patrick Marber.

About the Author remains to this date John Colapinto’s sole fictional novel, and that in itself is a shame. A substantial cut above your beach holiday thriller fare, it’s well worth seeking out and heartily recommended. However, heroically reading a book in a one day and then blogging about it I’ll leave to the professionals.

Colin Bell writes over at It’s Bloggerin Time – go pay him a visit.

The Place of Dead Roads’ is a picaresque novel, the centrepiece of the ‘Cities of Red Night’ trilogy, and stands as an excellent introduction to William Burroughs’ thematic and stylistic concerns.

The novelist Peter Ackroyd characterised ‘Cities of Red Night’ – and by extension, its sequels – as “an obsessional landscape” and the choice of adjective is telling. Burroughs’ concerns are broad, cosmic, fundamental but the tent-pegs of the whole circus are, by necessity, ground-level: addiction, power, alienation, beauty and attraction, ugliness and repulsion. He is an existential writer and thinker, like Camus and hence the ‘naked lunch’ of his most infamous work: the moment when one sees “exactly what is at the end of one’s fork” without evasion or denial.

The Place of Dead Roads’ details the lot of one Kim Carsons; child of the Old West, outlaw gun-fighter, rogue shaman and Man with a Plan. His life charts the transition from a landscape dominated by the often savage realities of the Frontier to a 20th Century reality, tacitly preoccupied with the science fiction concerns of the Modern era and ruled over by “evil old men who play poker” and “are constitutionally immune to the effects of bourbon”.

Obstensibly a western, ‘Place of Dead Roads’ is one of Burroughs’ most conventionally novelistic works. It’s the book of his that I always recommend to people new to him,  along with ‘Junkie’ his first book, a fictionalised memoir of heroin addiction. Both books have an overt through-line running from beginning to end that functions in lieu of a ‘plotline’, both expand subjective vision into something world-encompassing, bizarre and bordering- often tipping over- into alien dreamscapes.

A word of supposed issues of ‘difficulty’: Burrough’s prose has a bristling, tense quality that he often allows to disintegrate into seemingly disjointed and agrammatical poetry. This doesn’t happen “without warning” but is a feature of style, used to convey the impressionistic agrammatical nature of Thought, Dream and Character. This shift from style to a deliberate sort of ‘anti-style’ is based the ‘Cut-Up Method’, the random rearrangement of words in a  text to create a collage without the thought-conditioning influence of ordinary grammar.

Dream was important to William Burroughs. He dispenses with the conventions of traditional narrative often as abruptly as one’s dreaming mind will and with similar purpose- to communicate an urgent sense of a particular place, mentality or counter-intuitive connection, without the distancing affect of descriptive prose.

This aside, the writing is curt, concise and indeed precise. Burroughs picks his moment to go “experimental”,aiming to urgently communicate his concerns, concerns about the present, the forgotten past, concerns about an post-human future and above all the realities of CONTROL. You’ll also learn a lot about guns, shamanism and the occult and you’ll read about a lot of fine young men having sex with each other. Highly recommended for heads.

Review by Ruairi Conneely, Seven Towers Books.

Folks I have some exciting news. Author Joe Reich, whose book I Know Precious Little I reviewed for the blog, has invited me to speak at the book’s official launch at Readings Hawthorn in Melbourne.

As you can imagine I am ridiculously excited about this and eager to try out my Irish brogue on a live audience.

The event is set to commence at 6.30 at Readings, 701 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, East Melbourne. So if you’re in town, do come along for chat.

Right I am going to start practicing my vocal projection exercises…

 

Join me at The Momus Report

Vote For Me!

Share this blog

Bookmark and Share
Advertisements