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Is our story still making sense? I toyed with the idea of giving you a sequential story, one with a definitive beginning and ending. Would it be fair to furnish such an account? Or is it more accurate to depict those events and recollections as they clumsily unfolded themselves in my memory, disorganised and random? Perhaps we can agree on a middle ground.

This story is told from the perspective of a grieving lover. The events described are related through a one-sided dialogue with the dead woman, whom we are told overdosed on insulin. Characters are rarely named, as the reader is eavesdropping on recollections of a relationship between two people who have known each other for years. Therefore ‘you’, and ‘I’, are the most common forms of address, with ‘father’, and ‘mother’, following close. Consequently when the narrator introduces Karalynne, or Helen, the names stand out,  feeling like intrusions into this very personal account of tragedy, a closed circuit of memory.

‘I’, describes how she first met ‘you’, when they were both children and how their close friendship slowly evolved into something more intimate over time. The ‘dead girl’, whose story this is came into the world the lone child of wealthy parents, enjoyed every luxury that money could afford and from an early age was evidently extremely intelligent. What really sets her apart from the person now telling her story, the woman who fell in love with her and never stopped despite the endless arguments, heartache and abuse, is the complete lack of affection in her life. It is made clear that the true downfall of this young woman began with the neglect she endured from an absent father, who valued his social prestige above any sincere relationship with his daughter.

As the narrator struggled to keep up academically with her friend, she finds herself left behind, her companion’s intellectual gifts and competitive drive catapulting here into college at an early age. This separation creates the initial sense of lack that will eventually bring the now adolescent girls together as a couple – but also inspire the unhealthy obsession that will dog them over the years. Enter Karalynne, the third party in this callous love triangle, initially referred to dismissively by the narrator as ‘the room-mate’.

It is at this point that we learn the storyteller’s lover has begun using heroin. Karalynn it is implied has introduced this into her life. What’s more her feelings of self-disgust, born out of an inability to please her father, have led her to begin cutting herself. The narrator is torn between wanting to provide support for her lover and trying to help her move on from this self-destructive behaviour. Tragically the woman relating this story explains how she could rarely say no to her friend, at times becoming complicit in her drug addiction. Submissively acquiescing to her childhood friend’s demands, the dynamic between them always rooted in the initial relationship of one being more knowing and demanding than the other, her enabling behaviour reaches its absolute low-point when she wakes to find her friend injecting her with heroin in her sleep: “Maybe I can try redeeming myself by saying I wanted to know what the appeal was and why the drug held you so strongly. I hated myself for allowing it and being so weak.”

Gwen O’Toole’s book is both an erotically charged doomed romance and an unflinching personal account of  a person becoming consumed by addiction. Where it comes to writing I have a simple rule – if I experience the emotion that the author sets out to evoke, then that is a successful piece of fiction. Slow Blind Drive is not an exploitive piece of ‘misery lit’, but a genuinely affecting tragedy. The device of having the spirit of the dead woman be addressed in a persistently conversational manner, with the discussion skipping and jumping through time, makes the experience of reading this book feel intensely intimate. Interestingly a poem by Christina Rossetti, titledGoblin Market figures largely in the book’s latter half. In my ignorance I only knew of the poet from Kiss Me Deadly, although there too Rossetti’s verse is used as a symbol for a doomed woman.

From day to day, as I dive into book after the other, I am often unprepared for what I read. This story left me feeling devastated, but then that is exactly what it should do. Honestly told and heart-breaking.

With thanks to the author for my review copy.


According to Harold Schechter in a New York Times editorial, father snorting is not such a far-fetched notion. It comes from a custom of funerary cannibalism, which “springs from a profound and very human impulse: the desire to incorporate the essence of a loved one into your own body…the belief that when someone close to us dies, the person lives on inside us – that he or she becomes an undying part of our own deepest selves.”

Maybe we should all partake of this form of inhalation. And often.

Breathe in what you love.

I was always a Rolling Stones man. It took me years to discover the Beatles‘ album Revolver, which finally convinced me that they weren’t all that bad, but give me the Stones every time. On a related note I always preferred Pearl Jam to Nirvana, Pulp to Oasis….I never go for the populist choice. At any rate the Stones were to my mind the quintessential rock band when I was growing up. They were so knitted to the grandeur and rock pomp of American music I had no idea they were English! Jagger’s mockney accent probably confused me.

Jessica Pallington West focuses on that other lead persona of the Stones, Keith Richards. Immortal junkie. Modern-day pirate. Self-appointed ambassador for the blues. With this book the author has collected a series of aphorisms from the mouth of ‘Keef’, assembled into a series of themed chapters.

The book begins with a series of Commandments, twenty-six to rival the paltry ten of Moses. West pitches Richards as being an indefatigable performer, street philosopher and practitioner of the Tao of Keith – living according to a hard-won set of moral principles. These Commandments are referred to consistently throughout the rest of the book, supported by selective Keithist quotes. This third chapter is followed up with a series of comparisons between Keith’s philosophy and classical thinkers from the Socratics all the way up to Nietzsche. In the fourth West considers the aesthetics of Keith, his sense of style and fashion. Then there is ‘The Wit and Wisdom of Keith Richards‘, a series of aphorisms on a series of topics, such as the afterlife, the blues and Mick.

Is this a must-read for Stones fans? Honestly, if you’re a fan most of this is familiar fare. Did you know Keith Richards used to be a heroin addict? And a doctor once told him he only had six months to live, only for Keith to find himself attended that same medic’s funeral some time later? Oh and he and Mick do not get along. Maybe this is a decent read for beginners, kids who are wondering what the fuss is about this old bloke in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I don’t really know.

On another level there is something ridiculous about pitching Richards as an urban philosopher, who has Plato as a ‘soul-brother’, and big hair like Schopenhauer. Who would have guessed that a heroin-addled guitar player from the projects would end up as a twenty-first-century philosopher and urban street guru? He is practically the reincarnation of St. Augustine according to West, returning to us from the realms of depravity with wisdom into the mysteries of life.

A series of incongruous comparisons are unleashed, with Keith the working class rock star – none of that embarrassing disguising of accents as with Mick – having survived heroin, women and general falling down, established as a sharp-edged pragmatist.

Keith has lived quite the interesting life, but what has made it so memorable is his refusal to think twice (and surely that is the disease of the philosopher). What this book has made me appreciate is just how funny Keith can be.  I also liked how many of the quotes reveal just how much of a grumpy old man he has become, dismissing MTV, hip hop and the Sex Pistols. “Get off my lawn!” Plus he really doesn’t like Elton John.

However, for yet another ‘unauthorised’, book on a major celebrity, West does not introduce much criticism into the proceedings. At all points he is lauded throughout the book as a rakish man of the world, who simply won’t be tolerated by ‘the Man’. Of course this is a man worth hundreds of millions of dollars. One who can afford to walk away from debacles like the disaster of Altamont “It was just another gig where I had to leave fast.

This book is a trite overview of an entertaining personality, weakened by its comparisons to philosophers.

‘Pacino can play Jewish. Okay. You don’t like Pacino, how about Jack Lemmon? Richard Dreyfuss?

‘Jack Lemmon’s too old…’

‘Dustin Hoffman…’

‘I dunno…I was thinking, I was thinking Michael Douglas. I want somebody who’s more, like sexy.’

There’s something about kitchens. MasterChef is all the rage in Australia at the moment. You have a dozen celebrity chefs per television channel, cooking books are the perfect gift for Christmas and Jamie Oliver is the finest political mind of this generation. Apparently.

Course there’s the other side of kitchens. I used to work with chefs wired on something-or-other at night. I came to understand this was simply an aspect of the culture. Anthony Bourdain is a writer who likes to play with the seamier side of the restaurant scene and Bone In The Throat is a post-Sopranos tale of protection rackets, wire-taps and media-savvy Mafiosi.

Harvey is a man with a dream. A dream of owning and running a fine cuisine restaurant, that specialises in fish dishes. Unfortunately Harvey has a few problems. He’s in debt to the local mob and Sally Wig may look ridiculous with his hairpiece, but he does enjoy bouncing the would-be restaurateur’s head off furnishings when he is late with his payments. Not only that, but Harvey is a stool-pidgeon for the feds, having agreed to take part in a sting to take down Sally and his outfit. In fact there’s nothing real about the restaurant at all – it’s a front for a federal investigation into racketeering. A man can dream though, right?

Harvey’s staff are not doing too good either. The chef has a heroin habit and sous-chef Tommy is embarrassed by his family connection to Sally. In fact the only reason he has his job is due to his uncle putting pressure on Harvey. Now Sally wants a favour and Tommy knows that ‘favours’, can quickly get out of hand. Throw some messy affairs among the floor-staff and you’ve got a whole heap of trouble brewing at the Dreadnought Grill.

Bourdain’s has an amusing central gimmick to this yarn. A character’s moral worth is measured by their interest in food. Tommy and the chef are both frustrated foodie’s trapped by their respective circumstances. They see the local mobsters pouring money into joints that specialise in fried calamari and dishes swamped in red sauce. Restaurants that would not know a fresh tomato if they saw it on a shelf, or how to de-bone a fish!

Unfortunately if you’ve watched any episodes of The Sopranos you probably already know how the story goes. The personal failings and love lives of characters receive more attention than actual crimes, until a sudden explosion of violence occurs every now and then to shock the reader into paying attention. The banter is quick and sometimes funny, but mostly repetitive cursing.

The book opens with a prologue revealing that one of the characters has died, washed up on a shoreline. When the identity of the floater is finally revealed, I had already forgotten about that particularly plot thread.

Passable fare, but nothing especially interesting.

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