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‘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!

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!

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.

Suppression is the road to harmony, the true way to us all getting along – myth-making the past, forgiving and loving and carrying on, sublimating the truth behind truth. Truth makes a soap opera of relations, manufacturing a hazy warm feeling of womb-like safety. It’s crucial. Truth is what we do to reality. We kill it. Truth is death. It is a prison from which there is no escape. Truth is the most addictive of narcotics. There is no cure from it. Once you are hooked, you die, with it or without it. Try fiction instead.

I remember once reading a, probably aprocryphal, quote attributed to James Joyce stating that all Irishmen secretly want to be the Messiah. I do not care if he never actually said that (he may have done – my google-fu is weak), I just love the notion of the Irish seeing Christ not as a moral example  to follow, but a position to aspire to. Catholicism is a large part of the Irish culture, its trickle-down effect one that Joyce in particular set about investigating and exposing in his work. Perhaps my recollection of this supposed quotation is a confusion of the scene from Ulysses when a group of drunken Irish ignore Bloom, who is of course a Jew, all the while loudly proclaiming that they are looking for the Messiah and would follow him anywhere.

Oran Ryan touches on Joyce in this novel, but thankfully does not feel beholden to him. There are aspects of Finnegans Wake to the proceedings, but cut with hints of Kafka as well.

We meet our principal narrator, Arthur Kruger, after his suicide in Heuston Station. This nonlife is a confusion of memories and identity, his past overlapping with alternate worlds. The ‘ten short novels’, of the title represent different levels of this existence. Arthur and his lover Aron reappear again and again throughout the novel, sometimes as ghosts haunting the other, sometimes never having lived at all. Arthur typically appears to be a frustrated writer, with Aron his muse, a free-spirited woman with a far greater degree of confidence. When Arthur discovers her sleeping in an abandoned hospital and insists that she is on top of a bomb he had previously left hidden there, she is more bemused than frightened by this evidently disturbed individual.

Each of the ten sections of the novel bear an individual title, either showing us events from a new perspective, or rewriting the lives of these two characters (think Jerry Cornelius running around inner-city Dublin). In Teaching Religion as a Foreign Language a still notdead Arthur engages in jesuitical debate about the existence of god. Policing the Dead Zone has Aron discover a rotting corpse – Arthur again – in her home that no one else can see. Genuinely Interesting People is a genuinely entertaining satire on the pompousness of the Dublin literary scene. Here Arthur in frustrated writer mode is left unimpressed by the success and pedigree of a vampiric academic.

It feels like a collection of short stories, but there is an overarching plot at work here, the theme of how fiction can sometimes be more real than life itself reoccuring again and again. Perhaps author Ryan is arguing that the Irish are haunted by a literary past difficult to live up to. The neologism ‘endbeginning’, that is used occasionally hints at the suspicion that life for authors begins after death. Much like in Alan Warner‘s Morvern Callar, Arthur’s novel is successful following his suicide. References to literature abound throughout, such as an insurance firm named Kafka & Kafka, or Arthur’s train station suicide blithely being described as an unfortunate Anna Karenin moment.

What emerges is a novel that is not afraid to adopt a quizzical tone, but also has a sense of humour about itself. Whimsy is intertwined with philosophical musings on life and death. Above all the author has pulled off the impressive feat of throwing Palahniuk, Joyce and Will Self into a blender and nevertheless producing something with a voice of its own. The prose carries the onrushing quality of free verse, which once again ties into the thoughtful style of the writing.

Intelligent, whimsically literate and definitively Irish, a fine novel.

With thanks to Seven Towers Publishing for my review copy.

‘It’s not for us to provide the cement for unworkable relationships, Marjorie,’ cautioned Richard Adler, the director of the Wellbeck Centre where she worked, once casually with smiles and apologetic nods, and once more formally when a brief note had been scribbled to her on one of the Centre’s pistachio-green correspondence cards. Marjorie had shrugged all this off, of course. Beside, she liked cement – its dark, powdery ooze, its scent. And you had to remember, all marriages were bizarre places, rife with signs and codes and unimaginable sharp practice where the more insane aspects human nature flourished, were endured, tolerated, overlooked, sought out and sometimes even admired. You did not need to be a genius to see that people were more unhinged in their behaviour with the very person to whom they were closest. It was the most natural thing in the world.

Very excited about this evening. Once I post this I am running out the door to attend this evening’s Zombies vs. Unicorns event at Kinkuniya Sydney. Margo Lanagan and Garth Nix are representing Team Unicorn, so my loyalties are assured.

Today’s book was a present from Stephanie. She literally judged the book by its cover. Strangely her method has proved the old maxim somewhat inaccurate – so far her choices have proven quite good.

Marjorie is a volunteer marriage counsellor who enjoys her role. She sees it as defending the institution of marriage itself. The couples who come to her find a patient listener and advisor, but the subject of separation is simply not tolerated. Marjorie’s devotion to marriage is spurred on by the early death of her own husband Hugh. Her seventeen year old daughter May has recently left home and the downstairs lodger Frank is nursing a curious infatuation with her, which only serves to increase her anxiety. Adding to her confusion a popular soap star happens to be her doppelganger, causing people to stop her in the street and ask her for her autograph.

As it happens, her clients are increasingly coming to resent her steadfast belief in the sanctity of marriage, cruelly speculating as to the nature of her own ‘missing’, husband. Marjorie’s calm increasingly unravels with every obstacle, forcing her to question everything she has come to believe in.

What I really enjoyed about the book was the richness of the language. It reads in a naturally descriptive manner, the small details of people’s clothing, or appearance lovingly polished. Marjorie’s mental digressions are also winningly captured. The overall tone of the novel is thoughtful and questioning, a honest reflection on the personal insecurities that people must endure.

The endless cavalcade of clients with their casual cruelty and barbed comments are also well described. The Braintrees in particular are trapped in an endless loop of passive aggression and finely tuned marital discord (is that a mixed metaphor?….meh, train’s in twenty minutes).

Susie Boyt‘s writing is full of winning observations, studied humour and captures the incessant fretting of an emotionally strained character.

Warm, lively in its perspective on personal reflections and rich. Sweetly enjoyable.

My journal is filled with illustrations and photographs – and yes, even postcards – of places I have been. But let me make one thing clear. I never traveled back in time for fun. I never meant to anything bad. All I ever wanted to do was learn from the past and share what I learned with everyone I could. But most of all, the main reasons I continue with time travel is to find my parents who disappeared so long ago.

Lori over at The Next Best Book Club has proposed a very interesting initiative. She is gathering together book bloggers to create a network dedicated to indie books and self-published writers. It is a very good project, so go and have a look.  Shortly afterwards I got an email from today’s author Scott Cardinal, along with a pdf of the novel, which he co-wrote with his cousin Marc Newman, who apparently teaches history in period costume!

This is quite a telling statement, as The Adventures of Justin Tyme (subtitle Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America Volume 1) features a village dedicated to maintaining the lifestyle and conduct of late nineteenth century peasant life in America. It is evident that Cardinal and Newman truly believe that greater attention should be paid to the historical past and they make a good case for such an imaginative project for a community (despite this being a work of fiction….with Native American mysticism and time travel, but I’m getting to that).

Justin Tyme parents have been planning to move to family to work with relatives in the experimental commune of Asheville, North Carolina. Before their final departure from New York, exchanging all the modern amenities of city life for hemp clothing and horse-travel, Justin’s mother and father vanish. Left distraught, the teenage boy has no idea where they might have disappeared to. Knowing that his parents were involved in doing secret work for the government, there is a good chance that they could be anywhere in the world.

Justin’s aunt and uncle bring him with them to Asheville as originally planned. The novelty of the small town serves to distract him from his recent loss and shortly after arriving he makes two new friends, Jett and Catrin, who explain to him what the purpose of the township is:

Basically, they felt most schools at the time – and even today – made no effort whatsoever to prepare students for the real world, but merely taught them basic information and made sure they could read and write. That just was not enough. That has never been enough. So our curriculum herehas always been, and always will be, quite different from your normal everyday school. In other words, we really learn great stuff here!

However, one resident of the community seems not to approve of its benevolent intent – Professor Woolkins, who has been entertaining corporate types looking to buy the land and convert it into a tourist attraction. His history lessons on the use of child labour in America during the industrial revolution are also disturbingly critical of the notion of protection laws for minors and he has an unusual collection of artifacts in surprisingly good condition.

This is where the time travel comes in. I do not want to give away too much, but given the title, yes our young hero does discover a method of journeying back through American history and even meets Mother Jones. There is also references to alien visitations, the aforementioned Native American mysticism – the tribe in question here is the Cherokee – but what grabbed my attention here was something far more interesting.

This is ostensibly a work of educational fiction, but it also represents a stout defence of trade unionism and a critique of how society exploits children. Unfortunately while child labour laws were passed in the United States, the depravity and miserable conditions witnessed by young Justin in 1903 persist today. In countries like India and China, and many other places too for that matter, companies in pursuit of high profits continue to use children to do tiring and dangerous work.

For this aspect of Cardinal and Newman’s novel I feel I must applaud them. This is not only an enlightening piece of children’s fiction – and how often do we hear that – but it is also a welcome critical voice against rampant profiteering, at a time when such methods are once again seen as the norm.

Fun, informative and surprisingly impassioned.

With thanks to the author for my review copy.

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