Posted on Sep 07, 2022
This month we are reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Grab a copy and get reading.
Posted on Aug 03, 2022
There was a cartoon published recently on the web depicting an image of author Chetan Bhagat speaking to a reader. Bhagat’s script balloon says “On a scale of 1 to 10, how bored are you?” The readers response is “11 … and I still won’t read your book.”
It’s a fair comment.
On reading this novel, I get the feeling that Bhagat is India’s answer to Australia’s Matthew Reilly.
In “400 Days” Bhagat has combined a highly unlikely scenario with shallow characters, petty dialogue, archetypal representations of family life (including an over-bearing and bitchy mother-in-law), a smattering of poorly portrayed sexual interaction and all capped off with an insane, paedophile, kidnapping priest.
It might help the reader, if the reader can be bothered, to scoot through Bhagat’s earlier two writings involving the two ‘sleuths’ Keshab and Sourahb in order to become acquainted with these two protagonists before wading into 400 Days; it would save time and help get through this third piece quicker.
The two ‘heroes’ run a detective agency akin to something like Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven on Instagram; they don’t appear to be very good, Keshab is hounded by his parents who want him to finish his public service entrance exams and Sourhab, his best mate, lives with Keshab’s family and also wants Keshab to lift his game and get a decent job.
Enter the beautiful Alia Arora, looking like heaven on a stick, whose daughter Siya was kidnapped from Alia’s in-laws house one fateful night nine months ago never to be seen since. The inept police have closed the case and Alia wants Keshab to drop everything and find the girl. Through marriage Alia has become incredibly wealthy and money is no object.
If it sounds a bit cliché it’s because it is. The writing, at best is simple. The characters, at best, are caricature, and the plot, if you can call it that, is pretty thin.
I get the feeling that Bhagat was anxious to finish and get the book out to the masses (either that or he’s on a publishers deadline and has just come back from holidays); he employs the deus ex machina and winds things up pretty quickly and conveniently by turning the mother-in-law’s guru into Rasputin and boosting Keshab’s status to Hero.
400 Days might be popular in India and may well have been written with the Bollywood screen in mind, but it’s pretty shallow stuff written in a pretty shallow style. This book would be best read on a 4 hour plane trip, where being interrupted by people clambering over your knees to go to the toilet doesn’t affect your enjoyment of the piece or the fact that you’ve lost your bookmark
… it doesn’t matter where you take up again you haven’t missed out on anything.
All in all, 400 Days is harmless enough and is easy to read if you avoid thinking that you could do better. Don’t expect more than a mild diversion, and feel free to leave it in the seat pocket in front of you when you leave the aircraft.
Damien Jameson (Bridgetown Chapter)
Posted on Jul 07, 2022
A goon is writing up this review right now.
We'll post it soon.
Posted on Jun 01, 2022
This book was acclaimed by Barack Obama as one of his books of the year, but without his unique cultural connection to the material, us mere mortals were left with an interesting read that never completed its promise.
The book felt like a deeply personal refrain about the loss of culture, the failure of promise and the ties of family. Set in Hawai’i, the start of the book is soaked in local mysticism and magic. Recalling deeply rooted beliefs about the ancient gods and setting up a story that could have taken us into such realms, the book essentially used the mysticism as a way to amplify culture, rather than as a ‘Checkov’s gun’ that would be a powerful contributor to narrative. The gods were seen to bless the middle child with healing gifts of a culturally displaced family, ensuring all three children had a ‘special talent’ (sports, healing and academia respectively).
The second part of the story involves a move by three siblings to the mainland, where their culture is important to them but completely overshadowed and ignored by everyone else. This is a powerful reflection on indigenous cultures being over-run, as well as the impact on identity for migrants (even with in the same country). Each child fails spectacularly to live up to their promise.
In the third section of the book, the impact of local cultural loss, family ties, poverty and modern survival are all explored as the story shifts back to the connection of family members and return to the old ways.
The writing is full of powerful and evocative imagery and structured around the voices of the 5 family characters. The story itself ends up finishing as a bit of a shaggy dog story and the ending feels like a soft exit, rather than a narrative triumph.
Overall the book is well written, touched on some powerful themes and speaks to important issues. I can understand why Obama - reflecting back on his own Hawai’ian history- would find the book compelling. For me - not so much. I put the book down about a third of the way through with no intention to continue. On resumption (for book club!) I found the second third the most interesting, well constructed and written as the book charted the lives of the three children grappling with being out of culture in mainland US.
Philip Owens (Eltham Chapter)
Posted on May 04, 2022
Last month’s TGBC Book to was C. S. Forester’s The Gun. Published in 1933 it preceded Forester's well known Hornblower series.
Like the Hornblower novels, it is set during a time of war, and like that series, doesn't hesitate to describe in detail the savagery and brutality of armed conflict.
The story follows Spanish partisans who have retrieved an abandoned Spanish Army 18 pounder siege cannon, and its use by them of it against the occupying French Army during the 1807-1814 Iberian Peninsula war.
The author succeeds in removing any concept of romance or dignity in war with his description of all opposing sides engaging in the plundering of livestock, foods, cash and even needed recruits from the long suffering peasant population of Spain.
Brutal executions of many is described as being performed by all competing forces.
Central to the story is the power that possession of the cannon brings to the leaders of the guerrilla armies, with one, being so corrupted by power that he falls to the knives of his followers.
Throughout the tale so as to better develop the plot line the author appears to have chosen to generally pass over the input of common foot soldiers, in preference to description of the actions of leaders and of those in command.
The complete lack of involvement of any central female participation in the story, bar several sentences describing a Spanish female camp follower who is left under guard at a French fortress, while her officer companion, mistrusting her, races of to make military decisions, further adds to the perception that the author prefers to write only in depth of those of "real importance" or of "those in command".
In describing how a canister shot from the cannon was so destructive against infantry that "not even an English Battalion" could be as destructive, and how that French ordinance was inferior to English ammunition, Forester permits himself a little nationalistic input.
However, the narrative and plot development remains successful to the extent that a reader should find themselves wondering "what happens next" and, and to that degree; the author and his tale should be judged.
Greg Patching (Williamstown Chapter)
This is a very different novel from acclaimed author CS Forester’s usual nautical swashbuckling. It is a story of an abandoned bronze cannon weighing 3 tonnes. Its discovery by a group of Spanish guerilla fighters in the peninsular war changes their fortunes. At first its huge weight was a problem. Once solved by determination and imagination it was used effectively by the Spaniards and became a battle winning item against the French. Achieving an almost mystic reputation until in one important battle it was smashed into a useless pile of metal. After their precious gun was destroyed, the remnants of the Spanish army fled. They and the gun were finished.
Ken Mason (Windsor Chapter)
Posted on Apr 06, 2022
All Systems Red is an exploration of what it is to be human. The dystopian view of the future challenges the idea that sentience and humanity are binary concepts of either on or off, yes, or no, and instead responds with a resounding… maybe? The main character is a security unit that calls itself Murderbot, which would in science fiction taxonomy be described as a cyborg (part biological material, part machine). The question can therefore be asked how much does biological material play a part in the suggested sentience / humanity of Murderbot? In the universe of All Systems Red there are robots (all machine, with varying levels of intelligence); Security Units, who are part machine, part biology; augmented humans who are part biology, part machine and unaugmented humans who are just biology. On the spectrum from machine to biological entity where does humanity end and artificial intelligence begin? Is there ultimately any practical difference between the two? The Turing test is a theoretical test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. I think Murderbot would appear to fail the Turing test not because it was not capable of exhibiting human intelligence but because its own self-interest would be better served by hiding the fact that it can pass the test and potentially risk persecution as a rogue intelligence. In fact, the Security units in the universe of All Systems Red are recognised by humanity as being so close to being human (and therefore capable of acting out of self-interest, which would be “bad for business”) that they must be controlled by a governor module which is a hybrid Asimov rules of robotics slash slave yoke to keep Murderbot in line with the corporate interest of its makers.
In the story, Murderbot has somehow hacked their governor module, disabling it, and attaining “free will”. Without the governor module Murderbot can do whatever it pleases, or can it? Murderbot finds that freedom is not all it’s cracked up to be when it feels an obligation to assist its “clients” and it discovers that this obligation comes not from being ordered to do so, but from the innate sense that this is the “right thing” to do. Murderbot identifies that it has a moral compass and code, one that it follows and adheres to and which seems to have been created by itself, for itself. A moral code that defines its identity and aligns with what many people experience in their human lives. What’s the difference then between the two?
Exploring this universe of All Systems Red, we are led to ask ourselves, what are concepts like the law, or religion if not governor modules on humanity? What do we do when we discover some of these governor modules are not infallible and may not be in our own best interest? Is enlightenment the effective hacking of our own governing module, freeing ourselves from worldly obligations, social expectations, and the desires of others to control us and our lives? If we allow ourselves to be subjugated by these governor modules do we lose our humanity or allow it to be supressed?
Back to the core question, is Murderbot human? Is self-awareness the measure of sentience / humanity? Murderbot seems to be supremely self-aware, carrying the knowledge that its actions have consequences for itself as well as for those around it. How about free will? Murderbot is also aware that it lacked freewill before it hacked its governor module and how does Murderbot feel about having effectively been a slave? Well, it seems pretty pissed off really. However, it separates the actions of those who had enslaved it from other humans to whom it bears no particular malice, unless they act like arseholes of course. Even when people are passively hostile to it, Murderbot does not engage in actual murder, it just presents a series of salty putdowns onto the offender in a very humanlike fashion. How about self-preservation? Murderbot is willing, and able, to defend itself and others it cares for, and where it thinks physical force is required it will apply it, but not in the reckless way it observes in the humans around it. No, Murderbot is a professional, violence is applied in the exact measure required by the situation with deadly precision and without the cloud of human emotions or at least that’s what Murderbot tells itself.
Is humanity / sentience a state that can be attained only by the “biological” human or is it a condition that can be reached perhaps involuntarily in some cases by any being of intelligence that can become self-aware and become bored, slack off at work and seek entertainment in the form of episodes of The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon, to fill the void of its existence?
Gary Pollard (Altona Chapter)
Posted on Mar 02, 2022
Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road, is a harrowing novel that details the journey of a nameless father and son through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. In a month that has seen both Russia threaten to use nuclear weapons against any protagonists who may attempt to intervene in the war against Ukraine and the International Panel for Climate Change acknowledge that it will be no longer possible for the Earth to maintain a less than two degree Celsius increase in coming decades, it is not overly difficult to imagine a near future on a decimated planet. McCarthy is seemingly less interested in exploring the causes of this mass extinction event and its immediate aftermath choosing instead to focus on the dynamic relationship between a father and his son. This relationship, and the uniquely human traits that are exemplified within its bounds, stand in stark contrast to the primeval immorality of the other survivors they encounter on the road.
In a world where days consist of “faint light all about, quivering and sourceless, refracted in the rain of drifting soot” there still exists natural geographic phenomenon capable of creating wonderment. The father and son chance upon such a place where a river cascades over a shelf of rock “falling eighty feet through a gray shroud of mist into the pool below”. They are both so enraptured by the waterfall and its environs that for a day their constant hunger and the threat of encountering murderous predators is all but forgotten. The pair even shed their winter clothing and swim in the turgid water, exhilarating in the cold and sheer thrill of immersing oneself in water. It is this innate human trait to share an appreciation of the natural aesthetic that provides some existential meaning in an otherwise hellish, depleted landscape in which resources have dwindled to such an extent that cannibalism is an accepted norm and canned food is worth murdering for.
Ethics in The Road, like the anthropocentric construct of the modern world, has diminished until for most it is nothing more than memory. Morality has been replaced by an atavistic egocentric desire to survive at all costs. People are hunted, kidnapped, imprisoned, butchered and eaten. Groups of armed men marauder the roads, heading South, with them “wagons drawn by slave in harness and piled with goods of war and after that the women, perhaps a dozen in number, some of them pregnant, and lastly a supplementary consort of catamites illclothed against the cold and fitted in dogcollars and yoked to each other.” Despite this everyday abject horror the boy maintains his conceived notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ seeking to befriend, feed and care for those damaged individuals they chance upon.
The Road is a modern classic. In his inimitable style McCarthy has written a novel that explores both the most inspirational and terrifying aspects of the human psyche. He utilises his scant yet formidable prose to tell of a father and son’s journey South in a search of a safer, more secure existence. The novel compels one to examine those traits, both good and bad, that exemplify what it means to be human. Perhaps more confrontingly it forces the reader to consider their own ethical ideals and how they may behave in a world if the construct of morality is no longer existent.
Sean Callan (Diamond Creek Chapter)
Posted on Feb 02, 2022
Our reviews will be up shortly.
Posted on Dec 01, 2021
In summary Michael Chabon’s novel is a three for one. A story of escape from Prague and fascism, a novel of relationships between gay and straight men in the 1950’s and the fictionalised history of comics from the late 1930’s to the 1950’s.Read More »
The novel repeatedly returns to the theme of escape. Houdini, escape from a brutal dictatorship, from powerlessness by creating ultra-potent superheroes, from tragedies, from relationships and from self-identity. Individual characters to a large extent become archetypes, but Joe, Sammy and Rosa, who Joe is in love with, form fertile ground for exploring evolving relationships, rivalries, and how events can lead to separation, both imagined and real.
The full review contains plot details that may spoil this novel for some readers. Proceed with care.
Posted on Nov 03, 2021
I’ve been attracted to existentialism ever since I was expressing my personality via Radiohead lyrics on my pencil case and Evangelion posters on my wall. So, I was interested to try this book out. It wasn’t what I expected.
This novel takes place over a single weekend in which Mathieu (a philosophy professor, Sartre was feeling unimaginative) is trying to organise an abortion for his mistress. He needs money and spends most of the weekend asking his friends (the foreign student, Boris; the suicidal sadist, Daniel; Mathieu's wealthy brother, Jacques) for a loan. The rest of the weekend he spends ordering bottles of champagne in late night jazz bars with exotic names. Which appears to be a mandatory pastime for Parisian's of the time.
I was relieved to find that these pages contain an actual story. I was dreadfully anticipating that it would be a four-hundred-page allegory for some Sartrean theory or another. There are also well drawn characters and a vivid setting. It’s in these spheres that Sartre really succeeds.
The Paris he describes is impressively immersive. Sweaty and claustrophobic, the reader can feel Mathieu’s hangover wincing under the Gallic sun. I am sure that Sartre was here inspired by Dostoevsky’s St Petersburg, and he rises to that form impressively.
I found the narrator’s internal voice very realistic, as if I was visiting someone else’s thoughts. The characters in this novel feel things very deeply. The denizens of Paris are in a constant state of existential angst, tossed around like characters in Greek tragedy. They seem sickened by the world they find themselves in (by far the most used word in the novel is ‘disgust’). This is interesting at first, funny at times, but most often it’s annoying.
The enjoyment I got from visiting Sartre’s Dantean vision of Paris dissipated when I realised that the novel’s tone wasn’t going to change. The feeling this novel gives you in the final ten pages is identical to the first. It wasn’t that nothing happened, it was that Sartre seemed either incapable or uninterested in making me care what happened. The tone (like the setting) became, well, stuffy. If you are interested in reading a psychological thriller of the type that this tries to be I would direct, you to “Crime and Punishment”. If you are interested in reading a philosophical novel from this period, I would direct you to Camus.
I suppose if you were the type of person who thought yourself capable of contemplating the great questions of existence, you would think yourself capable of writing a novel. Don’t be so sure.
Finally, just when I thought this book couldn't be more annoying, why is my classic penguin edition purple? Sartre you vexatious bloody contrarian!
Declan Melia (Coburg Chapter)
Posted on Oct 06, 2021
Last orders is the story of 4 men taking the ashes of their friend Jack Dodds through to Margate, save for his wife who refuses to abandon her duties. Spanning almost 50 years of their history together in post-war London, the book explores themes of love, loss, sacrifice, sense of self, regrets, hope, and absolution. The characters of Ray, Lenny, Vic, Vince and Amy are given their own distinct voices in each chapter. We are with them as they relive old pains, reinvent themselves and review their place in life. Through them we get an incomplete yet complex picture of Jack Dodds, the butcher, the soldier, the husband, the failed father. Each of our narrators had their own unique relationship with Jack, and choose to honour it in their own little way. I found the start of this book a little challenging, particularly when trying to identify all of the main characters. But each chapter helps unwrap the onion some more. I felt deep empathy for everyone in this book, and to me that's the sign it a great story. Through Graham Swift's words I saw and felt something new. Highly recommended.
Varisht Gosain (Sydeny Chapter)
Posted on Sep 01, 2021
One of the founding, though little remarked upon premises of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, is the idea that, regardless of what fate may befall humankind, the works of William Shakespeare will endure and even have something useful to offer. It’s an interesting idea, but like a lot of questions posed by this text it remains little explored in the end.
The novel largely concerns the experiences and travails of a travelling troupe of actors who, twenty years after the global population has been all but wiped out by the ‘Georgia Flu’, travel through a frontier like series of settlements on a repeating cycle performing plays and acts from the works of Shakespeare.
Each individual belonging to the troupe clings to traces of the past and fragments of memory as a means to keep their spirits up. Most notably one form this takes is in a two-volume set of graphic novels given to Kirsten, who is a central character and who received them when she was eight, at a time just before the pandemic erupted. The novel interweaves the trials the members of the troupe face in a dystopian world with the mundane goings on of their former lives. Much of this is unremarkable in isolation and, but for the context of the dystopia they find themselves in, would be otherwise poor fodder for fiction. Indeed, even in that context it makes for fairly dreary reading.
The troupe at times becomes separated and in their endeavours to reunite come into conflict with a ragtag group of desperados who are in the thrall of an individual known as the Prophet. The Prophet rules his followers with a merciless contempt for those who don’t adopt a brutal view of the art of survival. This is manifested as a general contempt for our heroes who aspire to a more optimistic view of the future. This aspect of the novel follows the usual pattern of the goodies versus the baddies and appears to be a nod in the direction of the need to provide gratuitous entertainment for the reader as much as anything.
For some readers the layering of scenes from the pre-pandemic era with those of the dystopian present create a perspective that in itself makes for enjoyable reading. A sort of casting of our daily events in an unimportant light when considered in the broader context of a complex modern world. For others the novel is just entertaining in its own right as a dystopian survival story. Read at this point in our own journey through the Covid-19 pandemic it prompted some interesting conversations but few answers to some of the more confounding questions about how humanity responds to crisis.
P.J. Hockey (Ballarat South Chapter)
Posted on Aug 04, 2021
"Like nothing you've ever read before (TM)".
What happens when you mix a car salesman who is losing his mind, a released convict with no place in society, and a pulp author whose work is lost in pornographic magazines? Utter chaos, glimmers of the human condition, and judgements all around. It's a brawling, vaguely-coherent satirical black comedy, with a scattergun approach to style.
Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champions" feels like events were described piecemeal, by an obnoxious dishevelled drunkard at a bar, who nevertheless is a compelling entertainer and sprinkles in a surprising insight from time to time.
The unusual writing style is impactful (for good or bad), with despairing reflections on society, like a broken mirror that shows the horrors hidden behind your back. It's deliberately polarising, touching on many vital issues of the age; yet also offensive and crude in a calculated way.
The novel appears at first to be a rambling incoherent mess, but eventually begins to resolve to some connected series of questions, issues, and experiences. Its structure never coalesces entirely into a traditional polished narrative, yet we are forced to question our familiarity with common story structure. Is the mixed-up shape of the story due to confused writing, or due to the author's deliberate rejection of traditional narrative form?
In some ways, this reminded me of Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction", also ground-breaking for its non-chronological split storylines and self-referencing material. There are few filmmakers who could even hope to adapt a small portion of Vonnegut's book into film; I suspect Tarantino would be a leading contender. It's not hard to guess that "Breakfast of Champions" may have had some influence on Tarantino's scattergun action style, larger-than-life characters, and despairing social commentary.
Questions are key here; Vonnegut challenges us to question more than just the behaviour of the characters, the origin of their personalities, and the story's connections.
We found ourselves questioning the actions and intent of the author, deliberate use of volatile language and imagery, and the value of the writing itself. Is it an imbecilic romp through depravity, or deliberately shining a spotlight on those parts of the world that society generally prefers not to confront? Is it satirical? Is it a failure of writing style?
Perhaps we don't even need to know whether it was deliberate or not... similar to the modern art described in the book; the value may not be in the work of art itself. Like breakfast, the value may not be just the ingredients and cooking, but how we digest it and how we feel about the flavours. The value each reader gets from this volume varies along with how we each analyse it, question, imagine... and by consequence, confront and question ourselves.
Cam Burgess (Altona Chapter)
Posted on Jul 07, 2021
No one wants long short stories. That’s just false advertising, like popping into a fast food restaurant and joining a queue. And so it’s with both a tip of the hat to Hemingway and a sense of relief that Snows of Kilimanjaro respectfully obeys the International Law of Short Stories: all 18 stories, to a man, are short. None of these extend beyond 25 pages and some barely require the turn of a page.
Some tales feel like they are driven by Hemingway’s need to put ideas down in writing. Like peering over the shoulder of Picasso doodling. As the lead character in the lead story says, characters often feel like they are “one of the things I had saved to write…there was always so much to write”.
And if there’s brilliance in these stories, it’s that Hemingway doesn’t waste a single word. In fact, he barely needs a paragraph before the reader is teleported to another country, another field, another time. The powers of description are insane and you’ll be quickly smelling the wood fire smoke on your clothes, spitting blood onto the sawdust floor, and feeling the weight of a gun in your hand.
It makes for a surprisingly intense read. There’s blood and violence on many a page - the horn through the hand of the too-slow matador, the bush doctor performing a caesarean operation, the lynching of the jockey trying to score big, the shelling of trenches, the pot shots over the barricades – often with a backdrop of hard rain. But there’s comradery and highs too from the sharing of a good whisky over a camp fire with a stranger, to the escalation of a long run off a Swiss ski slope with a best pal.
The lead story itself, the Snows of Kilimanjaro, tells of the last days of a man’s life (plausibly Hemingway projecting his own end-of-life thoughts) injured from a hunting accident. Far from medical care, he sweats out the final hours with a mixture of regrets, feverish life reflections and stubborn resignation. The vultures circle, hyenas loiter, and everyone strains for the distant sound of a rescuing plane that isn’t going to come. But as death eventually comes the reader is left with their own quiet questions: I wonder what how harsh I’ll judge my own life at the end? Will it be a series of regrets or a collection of greatest hits?
For some in our Chapter, there wasn’t enough glue to bind the stories together. There’s the odd repeating character, such as Nick at different stages of his life, but on the whole, they stand apart. But maybe each of these stories represents a moment or memory for each character that burnt so vivid and bright that they would feature on the final playlist of lasting memories. Some might be life changing - the day a kid is told his hero dad has been murdered. And some, like the final story of setting up camp after a long hike, are of simple pleasures where happiness peaked in an imperfect world.
If you want an intro to Hemingway without the commitment of For Whom the Bell Tolls, give these stories a shot. Short stories scratch a different itch to a novel: they quickly bring a different perspective, none outstay their welcome, and many will leave you wanting more.
Howard Ralley (Yarraville Chapter)
Posted on Jun 02, 2021
**Note: This review contains spoilers!!!**Read More »
Unhappy with his life in New York, this story begins when Tom is offered the opportunity to go to Europe by the father of a vague acquaintance, Dickie Greenleaf, to try and convince him to return to the US and Tom readily accepts. He sees this as his gravy train to start a new life where he doesn’t have to bother with the trivialities of getting a job and can instead spend his time having boozy lunches and sightseeing Europe on somebody else’s dime. He befriends Dickie, who is living off his trust fund as an artist in the small Italian town of Mongibello, with a view to permanently being able to sponge off him. But things turn sour as Dickie’s friend and detached love interest Marge seems, in Tom’s mind, to turn Dickie against him.
Posted on May 05, 2021
This is probably the most influential book you have never read. You will be amazed at the movies, music, theatre, dance, graphic novels, books, tv and radio, all influenced by it, just check Wikipedia. Sympathy for the Devil is the most immediately famous for me.
The story crosses so many genres it is difficult to categorise. It has great imaginative power, with elements of magical realism, satire, romance, supernatural, fantasy, and of course, politics and religion.
There are two major story threads, one set in Jerusalem involving Jesus, Pontius Pilate and his dog, Roman secret police, the High Priest of Judaea, and Judas and Matthew from the gospels. The second thread is set mainly in Moscow and introduces the title characters and how they become entangled with, and are misled by Satan and his associates who, in several unusual guises, proceed to wreak social havoc.
Bulgakov uses an array of strange supernatural happenings to poke fun at Soviet society, in a wide ranging satire exposing the depth and breadth of Stalinist corruption. He gives many characters names with historical references, some Faustian, and some linked directly to contemporary locals.
Unusually for a patriachal society, Bulgakov develops the story’s heroine, Margarita, via the devil’s influence, into a supernatural woman unconstrained by societal rules. She has some extreme adventures on her way to hosting Satan’s Ball. Most other characters in the story pay a high price for their engagement with Satan.
Mikhail Bulgakov wrote The Master and Margarita during the 1930’s in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Stalin had taken an interest in Bulgakov, personally allowing his career to continue, but Government censorship delayed publication of this and several other of Bulgakov’s books until after his death. It was eventually published in 1967 to international acclaim.
Although it is not the easiest read, partly because of Bulgakov’s long sentences, I do recommend it, so you can discover how it may influence you.
Duncan Robb (Williamstown Chapter)
Posted on Apr 07, 2021
The Hawkline Monster is a Gothic Western. Indeed, this book was the first to have Gothic Western in its subtitle. What exactly is Gothic Western? Well, generally the story of a mysterious cowboy on the road to a dark place. Hawkline is not particularly dark. The book is no Blood Meridian, but more of a spoof, an effort to subvert the tropes of the Western genre and distill them into short, comic chapters. This is the story of two killers, Cameron and Greer, who are recruited by Magic Child to kill a monster in her father’s basement.
I must confess: I listened to the audiobook, the lazy man’s way to read. I enjoyed Johnathan McClain’s narration. The first half of the book is a road novel as we journey with the killers from Hawaii (which they hated) to Portland, Oregon. The assassins fail to eradicate their target in Hawaii, and return to the West Coast to meet Magic Child at—where else—a California bordello.
The short chapters make for effortless reading (listening), much like Chatwin’s In Patagonia. You feel like you’re on top, that this reading thing is easy, as you knock down chapters like drunken skittles. But: Brautigan’s minute chapters are like a threadbare pair of jeans: lacking form. Or, rather, the chapters lack cogency being ultimately incomplete; the reader feels as though they are constantly approaching a red light, with so many chapter endings.
Duality is a major theme. Two killers. Two sisters. Two parts of the same monster (light and dark, Yin and Yang). A dead father who is both Harvard scientist and elephant-footed umbrella stand. Why elephant footed? Why not. This slapstick part of the book fails, I think, through lack of consistency as the reader is asked to suspend disbelief, but not given enough of the necessary comedic pay off.
Look, The Hawkline Monster is an entertaining read, especially after last month’s Notes from Underground. Now, would I recommend this to a mate who is going on holiday? Absolutely. A fun, rollicking, poolside read. But is it a book that will change your life, or impart some lesson? No. And it was never meant to be. This is a parody of Western and Gothic novels. Tell your mate to take it to the Goldie, but he’ll knock it off on the plane before he even lands.
Dan Dwyer (Brunswick Chapter)
Posted on Mar 03, 2021
I tend to read the books at club from an entirely ignorant standpoint.
I don't read the blurb, I don't research the author, and I try to avoid any running commentary in the pool hall. Every now and then, though, I've previously read the book or have some inkling of what it's about. Rarer still, I only know the name of the author through the zeitgeist. Some kind of osmotic learning has lodged their name deep in the mind. So it was when being given Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground.
I haven't read any of his other work, and being classically ignorant of a vast array of topics, was interested to learn my first impressions of one of Russia's most famous authors.
I was, not to put too fine a point on it, completely stunned.
It felt like my innermost thoughts had leapt on the page and stood there, pointing their finger at me accusingly. Such wretched cynicism reaching across the centuries to stand so relevant in the modern age. At one point I had to stop reading and check the publishing notes at the front of the book to determine when it had been written. It was a little shocking to see the human condition laid bare some 150+ years ago and feel like I was embodying the same terrible woes, self-flagellations, and accusations as the protagonist. It was disconcerting, to say the least, but it held my rapt attention as I ploughed through the pages. There does feel like two distinct halves to the book, and my self-identification quickly came to a halt in the second half. The story touches on social inequity, anxiety, abrasive arrogance, timid subservience, and is a study in how life isn't and can never be fair. By the end of the work you are hoping there will be some kind of redemption; some happy ending, and it appears as though it's within his grasp and... It's true to the rest of the book.
I loved reading this, and would recommend everyone spend an afternoon or two curled up with a decent coat, a warming beverage, and Notes from Underground. And thank you to TGBC for the introduction to one of history's great observers.
David (Southbank Chapter)
Posted on Feb 03, 2021
‘When you make it, when you’re still alive and standin at the end. You get this tingly-electric rush. You feel alive, completely awake and in your body. Man, it’s like you’ve felt the hand of God. The rest is just sport’n recreation, mate. Give me the hand of God any day’.
The archaic definition of Breath is ‘the power of breathing; life’. So, if inhaling and exhaling can give life, it must also have the power to take it away. This is the line Tim Winton explores in his eighth novel and twentieth book, further cementing himself as one of the great Australian storytellers. Anyone familiar with Winton and his work knows of his love of the ocean, the coast and of surfing. This however is no simplistic surfing adventure novel. What slowly unfurls across this story is the duality of breathing, pushing limits, roles of father figures, the grace and harshness of masculinity, mateship, sexuality, and the fallout of lost abilities.
An old and experienced paramedic, Brice Pike looks back on a particular point in his life after dealing with a teenage adventure gone wrong. It is through his recollection that we learn that 30 years prior the dead teenager could have been him. In a small coastal town in 1970’s Western Australia we see Pike growing up, testing the limitations of his abilities with a like minded loon Loonie. These two mates eventually become obsessed with surfing, upon first seeing it done Pike reflects:
‘I couldn’t put it into words as a boy, but later I understood what seized my imagination that day. How strange it was to see men do something beautiful. Something pointless and elegant, as though nobody saw or cared’.
From holding his breath at the murky depths of the river to gasping for air after being pounded by wave after wave Pikelet chases the limitations of being. How far can this life-force be pushed and how can it be pushed. What starts as boyish fun over time turns to teenage recklessness and traumatic naivety. The significant turning point is the introduction of a mysterious hardened surfer, Sando.
The boys are soon taken under the wing of Sando, who teaches and challenges the boys in their surfing and resilience. The role of Sando in the boy’s lives fulfils their desires of a spirited father-figure role as the pair either are rebelling from the hard-ass or the dopey type fathers in their lives. With Pikelet not yet being able to see the tender and caring nature of his own Dad. Winton also uses this relationship to an extent in exploring the Biblical allegory of Cain and Abel which also allows the growing contrasts in personalities between Pikelet and Loonie.
As the wave folds over, we and Pike are yet to realise the significance of these moments until after they have been passed through or until we are back a shore looking out to the great expanse that we were just swimming in.
The way Winton subtlety crafts the story over time, the unfurling of characters and in some way lack of dramatic climax leads us to believe that the recollection of Pike’s life is insignificant, looking back however these small moments, fleeting feelings and emotional triggers are what make up our lives. Their significance plays through their subtlety and without knowing steer our lives. Their cumulative effect creates the wave of our life. Passing through Pike now realises through this recollection that his complicated relationship with Eva, Sando’s wife, came to be his undoing. The stormy sea of emotions that teenagers bear swells within and it is here Pike finds the limitations of this life-force.
While Winton’s Cloudstreet is an unarguable Australian classic embraced by young and old, Breath may surprise some readers in its dark themes. While dark the novel is in many ways meditative to read and poses many philosophical thoughts in it reading. The power of the novel rests its subtleness, the use of surfing to explore the present themes and the simple yet eloquent way Winton uses language. Personally, the novel was even more powerful and meaningful in its second reading. Having known the story, the reader is able to soak up the themes and savour the written word of Winton. Through this novel we are sent out with its characters to the beyond, venturing to the limits of their being. With Pike we keep going, breathing, experiencing everything that happens from natures beauty to sexual terror. We keep going, breathing, because no feeling is final.
Jarrad (Redlands Chapter)
Posted on Dec 02, 2020
"Stories are a communal currency of humanity." --Tahir Shah, In Arabian NightsRead More »
This is a story of doors and those who dare to seek those doors which open to things not understood or that embark the traveler upon journeys not anticipated . A door has so many potentials. We open them to enter those arts of or lives that cannot be contained and controlled behind them. We close them to provide safety and shelter, establishing boundaries and separations through which we believe our defined space becomes our own unique existence. We lock them to keep our secrets and treasures safe from others just as we leave them open to welcome those things into our lives that we most desire or cherish.
As Morgensten writes: “It is easier to be in love in a room with closed doors. To have the whole world in one room. One person. The universe condensed and intensified and burning, bright and alive and electric.”
Posted on Nov 04, 2020
Frankenstein in Baghdad (FIB) is at its core a commentary on sin. How do we countenance our actions as moral, when the longer we live, the more these values are contradicted by our own moral compromises?Read More »
FIB explores this in the world of post-invasion Baghdad, where society has broken down while American forces retain an arms-length hold on the city from the green zone.
The characters are regular Iraquis (cafe owners, drivers, business owners, journalists) whose depictions paint a startling picture of life in what, at the time, was one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Macabe scenes of marketplace bombings and morgues are where the throughline of the story emerges, and the narrative shifts from a socio-political commentary into surrealist-horror.
Posted on Oct 07, 2020
“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”Read More »
Fahrenheit 451 is a passionate book about the importance of books. It is about knowledge, including knowledge’s power and importance, but also the vulnerability of knowledge in the face of ignorance and apathy.
Set in the future of a dystopian America, Fahrenheit 451 follows the lead character Guy Montag, a “fireman” whose job is to burn outlawed books, and his awakening and ultimate commitment to preserving that which would otherwise be lost.
Posted on Sep 02, 2020
‘What’s past is prologue’. Zadie Smith clearly chose Shakespeare’s words carefully when looking for a preface to a novel that is rooted firmly in the past.Read More »
This quote has also served as a preface to at least one of Salman Rushdie’s novels and it is clear that this is not the only area where Smith has drawn inspiration from him. Not that this is a criticism. Imitation may be a form of flattery for an artist but when it is done well, it must also be a source of pride. This is an engrossing, well-paced novel filled with characters and events that still resonate two decades on.
Posted on Aug 05, 2020
Top 5 things about this bookRead More »
1. It is beautifully written. Nick Hornby writes with such restraint that the reader is left with ample room to fill in the detail of where the action occurs. We are allowed to use our own imagination and understanding to ‘feel’ the pubs where various gigs take place, the suburbs, the treks across town, to imagine the smell, the light and the tiny dust motes constantly on the air in Championship Records. I lived in London for a fair bit of the mid 90s, and the setting of place is so evocative of that London, in that time.
2. Um. Well. It’s not very long.
3. It is really well written.
Dan Houlihan (Sydeny Chapter)
Taken on his merits there is not much to commend the main protagonist of Nick Hornsby's 'High Fidelity' to the reader. Rob is impetuous and sulky; obsessive and mean-spirited and capable of keeping a grudge across decades. His single-minded obsession with his relationships is not at all endearing and while he is appalled by any lack of faithfulness on the part of his lovers and friends he is himself completely at the mercy of his next infatuation. His cynical view of friendships and his tendency to evaluate his relationships in terms of what he can use them for constantly appalls.
Viewed however as the expression of all of the worst characteristics that we all may have possessed in some degree at some time he is perhaps more of a sympathetic figure.
Pat Hockey (Ballarat Chapter)
Posted on Jul 01, 2020
Approach this book like you would a winter swim at the beach. Just dive in.Read More »
It will slap you and disorient you straight away, turning your world upside down. Then it will envelope you and lull you with its calm. Every now and then, it will dump you on your arse, forcing you to get up and dive in again.
The Water Dancer is the first novel from acclaimed US essayist (and comic book writer) Ta-Nahesi Coates. It combines magical realism with the visceral experiences of enslaved people living in the United States. And it’s a ride.
Posted on Jun 03, 2020
It's easy to be swept up in the reputation, celebrity, and strength of Steinbeck synonymous with Of Mice and Men, East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath. Perfectly explained by Nick Pitts, considering Steinbeck, "It's going to be a tasty meal, but you've got a lot of chewing to do." Cannery Row generates more moments of thought, feeling, conversation and compassion than there were words in the book.Read More »
Cannery Row is a short, snappy read that doesn't spoon feed you the story. You have to become part of the story. You have to feel, think and see yourself in the characters. Steinbeck invites you to step into the Flophouse, walking along the rockpools or general store aisles, but it's up to you to accept it.
Posted on May 06, 2020
A boys own adventure set on the big red planet, The Martian sets up our ‘hero’ biologist/astronaut Mark Watney as a McGuyver type character who can solve almost any problem with a little know how, a few tools and occasionally some luck.Read More »
Stranded on Mars after a major dust storm hits and his colleagues believe him dead, Watney must use whatever he has at hand to survive while back on earth NASA tries to work out how, and if, to retrieve him. As I said at the start, a real boys own adventure, there is very little character development here, just a series of adventures, close calls and a hell of a lot of ‘geekery’ as Watney attempts to survive, grow food, maintain his sanity, build things, break things, make water and traverse Mars to his pick up point.
Posted on Apr 01, 2020
Ed Kennedy is a out on his luck taxi driver, with friends he doesn’t particularly like, a job that’s going nowhere and a family that either dislikes or is disappointed in him. One day, he foils a bank heist and gets chosen by some form of higher power (maybe God?) to carry out missions that will help people.Read More »
Accompanied by an entourage of bizarre friends, Ed searches for the closure he so desperately needs by helping the strangers presented to him on playing cards he gets randomly in the mail. Thus, Ed Kennedy, aka “The Messenger” aka “A younger and less interesting Liam Neeson (Taken, not Schindler’s List)”, hurts/helps those needing a hurtin’/helpin’ in his search for the truth as to who’s behind the missions and why they’ve chosen him.
Posted on Mar 04, 2020
In the first few pages it's clear Ove is the archetypal curmudgeon and he's going to spend the entirety of the book coming good. Roll out the supporting cast of a feisty and persistent neighbour, the wayward kid who needs a father figure and a self-similar friend for a predictable coming of old age story. Like a whodunit which is revealed too early, we read the book knowing the ending. The only surprise is how little Ove changes.Read More »
John Sietsma (Newcastle Chapter)
When we first started reading this book, someone posted on the Facebook group – “Ove really needs to join Tough Guy Book Club”. Being a men-only book group, some issues that arise for our goons can be loneliness, loss, suicide, social isolation, loss of relevance for men in modern society, feeling left behind by modern technology, and an inability to communicate emotions. These are all issues that surface in this book. It’s as if the author has distilled the essence of our book club and created the main character Ove to fit.
Jeramy Pope (Wollongong Chapter)
Posted on Feb 05, 2020
Hubert Selby jnr’s controversial first novel set in post war Brooklyn and describes a world a far cry from the gentrified borough that exists today. The characters that populate this world are poor, desperate and are yearning for intimacy. They dull their pain with alcohol, drugs and violence with often dire consequences. Selby’s frenetic prose gives a sense of urgency and glamour to the often mundane and destitute lives of the characters being portrayed. He often forgoes grammatical standards to maintain a meter and cadence that lend a certain poetic feel to the writing and help immerse the reader in it’s world.Read More »
Rob Cioll (Williamstown Chapter)
Last Exit to Brooklyn was Hubert Selby Jr’s first novel, a vivid flowing collection of degenerates, deviants and the downtrodden. While reading the stories it is difficult to escape the visceral tension present through graphic depictions of violence and rape that are rammed down the throat of the reader at breakneck speed due to Selby’s stream of consciousness prose. The writing was at times sickening.
Psychologically etching images into the mind of the reader in the most degrading manner; much like the psychological horror,
sadistic tales and torture pornography that emerged in the post-war era. The poem in the introduction evoked memories of Prometheus
– in the quest for knowledge was doomed to be eviscerated and have his liver feasted on by an eagle, and for much of the
stories, I had similar feelings of bile and nausea.
Andrew Branchflower (Geelong Chapter).
Posted on Dec 04, 2019
Avast there me hearties ! Now there are no actual skull and crossbones bearing pirates in this book, the 3rd of the popular series about our early 19th C Napoleonic war hero Horatio Hornblower, but there is a wide range of nautical characters here providing plenty of swashbuckling, mateship, bastardry, and of course, outstanding seamanship.Read More »
To set the scene Hornblower has been recently promoted to Commander, and the HM sloop Hotspur is his first sole charge. The war with Napoleon’s France is looming.
Hornblower has also just married, and his friendly mentor, Admiral Cornwallis kindly orders him to sea on his wedding day. Hornblower seems unsure of his own motives for the marriage, but as his new family comes to occupy his thoughts in the down time sailing between adventures his outlook matures through the book.
Posted on Nov 06, 2019
Trainspotting is a collection of interconnected stories that, to put banally, deals with group of heroin addicts in Edinburgh. But to summarise the novel in such vanilla tones is like saying Iggy Pop is a singer, I mean, he is, but he is so much more than that. He’s got soul.Read More »
For me, the novel is as much about heroin as it is about politics, Scotland, class, power, identity, football, soul. The novel’s, and subsequently the movie’s, slogan, ‘choose life’ has been plastered on student poster walls around the world and contains the tragic irony that permeates Welsh’s characters. None of them really have a decent choice. And so the prison that is heroin addiction is juxtaposed with the prison of the banal life they should lead: ‘mortgage payments…washing machines…cars…rotting away.’ That’s the soul crushing tragedy in this novel. Choice. Renton’s heroin has a debatable extent of control over him but so does the trauma, dysfunction and sectarianism that cling to him throughout the novel; so do his existential fear of ‘a short disappointing life.’
Posted on Oct 11, 2019
It’s no easy thing to write simply yet evocatively. Hemingway aspired to do it and yet often, I would argue, failed, The Old Man and the Sea being the clearest exception. Others, like Tim Winton, have gotten better at it over time, straying in their early work into overcooked themes and prose but coming in later books like Dirt Music to a perfect balance.Read More »
Between new writers worldwide, though, there’s been a movement in the last few decades towards the perfection of this balance. And as far as the Australian contingent is concerned, Rohan Wilson is one who gets the balance right.
To Name Those Lost is Wilson’s second book. Like his first, The Roving Party, it is set in Tasmania, at a time when the hold of the colonial state over new immigrants was weak, varied and contested, and the violent, systematic extermination of the vast majority of the Aboriginal Australian owners has already occurred.
Posted on Oct 02, 2019
I promised to write a review of this before starting, and maybe I shouldn’t have. I found it impossible to get far through the book, and discussion with my fellow (more dedicated) Hobart goons reassured me that I didn’t miss that much.Read More »
Why did I find it so hard to engage with what, on the surface, should be a very interesting book? I think it was because it quickly became apparent that Thompson was willing to give the bikies a free ride, if you will, and I wasn’t. He was ‘embedded’, and (I felt) far too ready to give them the benefit of the doubt, make excuses for them and portray them as diamonds-in-the-rough.
Posted on Sep 04, 2019
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, the thirteenth novel of acclaimed Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, follows Duszejko (emphatically not to be called by her given name), as she interprets the suspicious deaths of various men from her remote village through the lens of astrology, animal rights, and the writings of William Blake.Read More »
Loosely structured as a noir murder mystery, Drive Your Plow mostly puts aside the whodunit plotline to focus on a deep exploration of the inner life of Duszejko and her interactions with other idiosyncratic village residents. These characters are expertly drawn, with their rich weirdness unfolding from the peculiar logic at their cores. For example, once Duszejko’s fixation on horoscopes and the horror of hunting is established, her rants and theories and disruptive behaviour make perfect sense (as an aside, I can relate - I have the Sun in opposition to Uranus and in trine with Mars, which is in turn in the tenth house).
Posted on Aug 07, 2019
In “A Visit To The Goon Squad” Jennifer Egan, over the space of thirteen chapters, gives us thirteen different viewpoints with sometimes only most tenuous of links between characters to achieve a darkly funny, often traumatic and wholly rewarding novel.Read More »
Very few books in my life have ever made me want to turn back to the first page and read again straight away. Instantly I wanted to see what I missed. Sad, satirical, hilarious. Take the time if you already haven’t.
Posted on Jul 02, 2019
I am a big fan of Hemingway’s writing - the man not so much.Read More »
His ability to evoke a particular time and place is what has drawn me to his work. The Sun Also Rises, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and A Movable Feast are all examples of immersive story telling where I can taste the cheap but drinkable wine, smell the dew covered pine needles and feel the spring Spanish sun on my face. When I travel I look for these little moments - I think this is why I enjoy reading Hemingway.
While I have been a fan of Hemingway’s writing for some time, For Whom the Bell Tolls is one that I have managed to miss until reading it for Book Club. The story is formed around Hemingway’s own experiences during the Spanish Civil War- a mostly overlooked but deeply interesting period of 20th Century history. Over a period of a few days, the novel’s protagonist Robert Jordan is tasked with the assignment of blowing up a bridge in the hope that this will prevent reprisal attacks from fascist forces. While successful, the mission itself ultimately feels insignificant as the superior military force of the fascists ultimately swept to power in Spain.
Posted on Jun 04, 2019
“Praise” is essentially a fairly dark romp through the early twenties life of Gordon, a young man who has left the family farm in regional Queensland for a non-life in Brisbane. That is, Gordon is almost defined by his lack of ambition, his ambivalence over most matters and his failure or disinterest to pick up on sexual cues from women.Read More »
If anything influences how he spends his day it is finding the path of least resistance to his comfort zone, which usually involves endless smoking, beer or cask wine drinking, lounging around and avoiding work.
Readers are introduced to Gordon as he makes a decision to quit hotel work and go on the dole. He is called up by Cynthia, a co-worker and invited over for the inevitable drinks and stays for a week. We get some insight into Gordon’s indifference to sex which is diametrically opposed to Cynthia who is demonstrably sexually voracious, in fact most of the time. Just how this odd match works itself out is very central to the story.
Posted on Apr 30, 2019
It’s Harlem, it’s 1930-something, and it’s Johnny’s birthday. But there will be no celebration today. No candles and cake, soda and dancing. Rather, there will be blood, fire, darkness and righteousness. Why not? Because God is in the house.Read More »
The action of this incredible book takes place over the course of a single day, Johnny wakes up, walks through central park, goes to a movie, back home, and then he prays. In fact, he prays his absolute brains out. The bulk of the action takes place in a sort of hallucinatory trance that gives the reader a tour through all of the character's fractured and interwoven pasts. Culminating in a violent rebirth on a foggy dawn.
Unlike the god (note the small g thank you!) in that the characters worship, Baldwin doesn’t judge. The facts of history are craved like the ten commandments. The rest is left up to our own empathy or lack thereof to decide what to make of this tragic slice of history, tragic slice of life. And like Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man, it’s too horrible not to be true. This rattled me to my bones.
Posted on Apr 02, 2019
If I had been asked to recommend a book to begin exploring Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ or to come to grips with why he was such a popular writer, Small Gods would not have been the book I would have suggested. Instead I might have pointed at Guards Guards, The Witches Series, or perhaps one of the stand-alone books such as Going Postal. Having issued this backhanded compliment to Small Gods I would have likewise not suggested you avoid it. It is fun. It provokes some thought. More importantly it does so whilst in and around the topic of faith without being overly judgmental or superior.Read More »
Some of Pratchett’s best comments about his books have come when he has been challenged or criticised in person. An appropriate paraphrasing of one of his comments would be when he was asked about his use of narrative rules to which he replied: If there is a one million to one chance of something happening at the climax of a book then that thing will happen... unless it is funnier if it doesn’t.
Posted on Mar 05, 2019
WARNING: BE ADVISED THE FOLLOWING NOVEL STONER FEATURES NEITHER HABITUAL MARIJUANA USERS, NOR REFERENCES TO CANNABIS OF ANY KIND.Read More »
First published in 1965, ‘Stoner’ is author John Williams’ second novel. Garnering poor sales upon its release, it received a generally positive critical reception. It was then out of print for 33 years until 1998 making it something of a lost classic. The opening passages of Stoner speak of the lasting impression and legacy left behind by the books main character, the titular William Stoner, as viewed by his colleagues at the University of Missouri.
It outlines a decidedly unremarkable life of mediocre achievement and little worth, with those that new him thinking of him very little, if at all. What follows is a novel that breathes beauty and meaning into this ‘unremarkable’ life.
Posted on Feb 06, 2019
Ask the Dust opens with a brief introduction by Charles Bukowski who describes John Fante’s 1939 novel as “my first discovery of the magic.” If you, like me, discovered the magic from Bukowski’s 1971 novel Post Office then you are in for a real down-and-out, gritty, poor decision filled treat of literary realism.Read More »
Ask the Dust is a semi-autobiographical story about Arturo Bandini an aspiring author in depression era Los Angeles. With a singular published short story under his belt, Arturo grapples with life, relationships, poverty, and his ability to translate these experiences into his writing. We find a man with a curious relationship with money who oscillates between subsisting on sacks of oranges with scant pennies to his name to immediately blowing through any cash that comes his way. In my mind I keep returning to the word manic to describe the personality of Bandini who can view himself in one moment as being in the lowest pits of human existence struggling to survive and in the next moment a well-timed check from his mother or publisher sends him into the highest reaches of emotional ecstasy. A similar theme plays out in relationships throughout the book with people quickly moving from dear friend to hated enemy and back again all within a single paragraph.
Posted on Dec 04, 2018
Rastas in space – who wouldn’t love a book that features dreadlocked Rastafarians flying space tugs.Read More »
I must admit this came as a surprise in a novel about a dystopian future and the efforts of an AI to break free of the shackles imposed by the hard core Turing Police on the limits to its intelligence but I thought that the Rasta named Maelcum was the tough guy in the book.
He did what the Elders of Zion told him to without asking questions and lead the way into the final showdown with Riviera without a clue as to why. Neuromancer is a gritty, sci fi read about Case, a no hoper, ex junkie (who desperately wants to still be a junkie) who is manipulated into helping an AI free itself to become all seeing and all knowing.
Posted on Nov 06, 2018
Rightly lauded as being among the most important literary narratives concerned with representing – and reflecting upon – the experience and legacy of America’s Vietnam War, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried (1990) is a self-described “work of fiction” that is, nevertheless, a clear and openly autobiographical series of interlinked stories drawing names, places, events and emotional impact from the author’s own memories, both of the war and its aftermath.Read More »
This apparent contradiction between O’Brien’s description of the work as being “imaginary” save “for a few details regarding the author’s own life” and its simultaneous dedication to “the men of Alpha Company, and in particular to Jimmy Cross, Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Henry Dobbins, and Kiowa” (all names of both the book’s characters and, we are invited to assume, real world individuals the author served with) is not merely incidental. Indeed, O’Brien’s narrative is quite directly concerned throughout with questions about the ambiguous lines between truth and fiction, between the different kinds of truth we tell about the world and, most of all, with the ways that storytelling is inextricably bound up with our own sense of self.
Posted on Oct 02, 2018
Men without women is a collection of short stories the common thread being the title of the book. However it’s almost without saying that each story revolves around women or more to the point a woman and their relationship (or lack thereof) to the central character.Read More »
It’s hard to do a review of multiple stories especially of ones with so many layers, so I’ll give a general one and then a short review of each story.
Right away you get thrown into each story at a point in time. Murakami is a master of the observational and the natural conversation and even stream of thought. Using these, he describes the world around the central character and his relationship to the People, place and things. You go in blind to each story and he begins with such normality yet so descriptive that it just “settles you in” ready for the story to unwind. Point in case, the way he describes the Saab in the first story. It’s so detailed yet seemingly unimportant that it pulls you in to the world, relaxed and un-judgemental.
Posted on Sep 29, 2018
‘A mirage of landscape, memory, love, and literature itself’- Murray Bail, author of EucalyptusRead More »
As I kayaked up the Wye river, blissfully enjoying the smooth paddling stylings of my partner, the silence was broken by a shout from a fast approaching canoe: “Hey, aren’t you the guy who loved the camp book???” It seemed as though I was in the minority.
Murnane’s book The Plains, first published in 1982, documents the story of an Australia I have never known. From the landowners who met at the local hotel in town, to the wide-open plains and the lavish homes reminiscent of cotton-picking plantations from the old south of the USA, there was little I read that brought a sense of recognition. You see, I grew up (for a few years at least) in the northern parts of South Australia. There, landowners fought - and fight, still - for survival in the unforgiving plains above Goyder’s line. There was no talk of art or symbolism, tapestries or crests, or wars between tribes. There was only talk of rain, or the lack of it; animals, feed, and the local rodeo. There were no signet rings that glistened in the sunlight, and certainly no artists kept in residence for years on the dime of the landowner.
Posted on Sep 06, 2018
Bleak, pointless, dull, brutal, frustrating. These words summarise the world of espionage and counter-intelligence depicted in John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.Read More »
It’s difficult to leave the book feeling hopeful or bright. This tale of moves and counter moves is timeless and as relevant today as it was in 1965. The novel tells a compelling story grounded in a grim reality. It’s the subtleties, the bureaucracy, and the mundane world Alec Leamas navigates through that connect the reader to an authentic journey.
Where other spy novels of its era depart from reality and depict fantastical adventures, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold feels more a reflection of reality. It is little wonder the public refused to believe the author’s insistence that it is a work of fiction.
Posted on Aug 01, 2018
A book that’s reputation certainly precedes it. I think my preconceptions made me anticipate that this book was more “important” than it was “great”. But I was totally wrong. Sure, it is historically significant; they call it the first third-world classic, and for that alone it should be revered. But – all of that significance aside – it’s a fantastic story, well told.Read More »
It also dilutes the simplicity if the post-colonial narrative status-quo. Okonkwo’s society is far from idyllic, it’s brutally violent, but how could anything be worse than what was to come? How is the reader supposed to feel when terrible things happen to people we perceive as terrible? Now reconsider that question on a level of societies.
A book haunted by the twentieth century. Just excellent.
Posted on Jul 04, 2018
First published in 1927, Men Without Women is a collection of short stories by Ernest Hemingway. This collection offers vignettes of life, snippets fleetingly seen as though we were travelling through the scenes of the stories.Read More »
This was my first time reading Hemingway, I had always wanted to but had been put off by the reputation of this literary great. I was surprised at how accessible his writing was. Almost brutishly simple yet evocative with an underlying sensitivity and sympathy for his protagonists and the scenes he describes. This writing style disarmed me, unexpected but immediately likeable. Here, I believe, he explores the themes that dominated much of his life, what defines a man? Still relevant today. Hemingway’s definition may be out of date – brutish and toxic –¬ but it does offer us a starting point to ask ourselves the same questions. Every story allows us to peer into the male psyche and question.
Posted on Jun 05, 2018
If someone was to ask me if I wished to read a story about the cycle of domestic violence through the eyes of a young family member further stigmatised by a developmental disability, I would have probably retreated to my current comfort zone of Scandi thrillers. This is what I like about TGBC… I read literature I otherwise would not. And am richer for it.Read More »
Sofie Laguna’s “ the Eye of the Sheep” is a disturbing tale of a family from Altona (outer Melbourne suburbs) mired in the dysfunction and deceipt of wife-beating and trapped in a low income cycle dictated by the father’s life long job at the local refinery.
It is told through the eyes of six year old Jimmy, whom I sense may be at the high end of the autism spectrum. To its credit, the book does not give his disability any label but it is clear his intellectual development is out of step with the mainstream and he has many social idiosyncrasies which make him a challenge to his parents, brother and teachers. He can get obsessive and manic, particularly when over-excited or stressed. Though he also has surprising insights and some quirky ways which are comic and endearing.
Posted on May 01, 2018
An over the top, ridiculous, million miles an hour adventure with surprising glimpses of deep philosophical musings on the profound and the everyday. The first installation in Douglas Adams Trilogy of Five, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy sets the scene and tantalises the taste buds whilst holding its own as a stand-alone novel.Read More »
Douglas Adams keeps it simple with a handful of well-crafted characters. The adventure begins with Arthur Dent, the Earthman, who struggles to overcome the loss of his house and planet within the first few chapters. Dent is the quintessential Brit, an everyman.
Someone who doesn’t want to deal with the absurd and superfluous.
Someone who just wants a cup of tea. A proper cup of tea.
Posted on Apr 03, 2018
Noongar writer Kim Scott conjures an unwritten history. Set in the years following white settlement in Western Australia, our narrator Bobby Wabalanginy nails it when he realises of his new colonial cohabiters; ‘we all learned your stories, but you were never interested in learning ours’. Indeed, the voices of the Noongar people are lost to history in the purest sense, so Mr. Scott wants to take us back there and show us what it would have been like, but, like a memory we can only see it through a cloudy gauze, like staring through smoke.Read More »
This is an important story and it’s an important story to tell correctly. The task Mr. Scott has set himself is ambitious; to tell the story of Australian colonisation with a First Nation voice, the kind of task that takes an incredible amount of subtlety and finesse, the kind of task many writers have failed to pull off elegantly.
Posted on Mar 08, 2018
I loved this book! My chapter (Williamstown) discussed it at length, but it wasn’t till I reread it at home in preparation for this review that I discovered how much I had missed the first reading.Read More »
The main questions about this book that need answering are:
1. Is it a comedy? or
2. Is it a sort of satire of Hillbilly culture? or
3. Is it a work of total pathos?
The answer is, I think, that it ticks all three boxes.
Posted on Feb 06, 2018
The trouble is… it isn’t very good. Really? But it’s immensely famous! A classic! What sacrilege is this? What was the problem?Read More »
Was there something wrong with the story, the plot? Not at all. Each chapter formed a well-crafted little crime drama, complete with creative little twists and turns. Perhaps they became a bit too formulaic by the end, predictable even. But plot is not the problem.
Was the writing awkward or clunky? Was it just plain hard to read? Not at all. Doyle’s prose reads very elegantly. His descriptions are crisp and he moves the narrative forward with a remarkable economy of words.
Posted on Dec 06, 2017
It is without doubt that John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is a daunting novel to undertake simply due to its sheer size. Weighing in at just over 700 pages, Steinbeck’s 1952 work details the interwoven stories of two families as they grapple with life's greatest ambiguities including morality, sacrifice, love, acceptance, forgiveness, pride, and mortality. Steinbeck underpins these with biblical references from the Book of Genesis, specifically the story of Cain and Abel, both alluded to and direct.Read More »
However, the novel's bulk quickly surrenders to its comfortable pace and the picturesque scenes of California’s Salinas Valley and the rural farmlands of pre-WWI Connecticut. Ignoring America’s heartland, this coast-to-coast story follows the heroic highs and abominable lows experienced by the Trask and the Hamilton families across generations of farmland and fortune-seeking. Giving credit to his ability to delicately pack in the details of the natural world, Steinbeck lifts the reader into each environment and willingly immerses the senses. It has been said by some critics that the roles of soil and water within East of Eden are integral enough to be considered a character in and of themselves.
Posted on Oct 31, 2017
Like most expats abroad I exhibit the tell-tale signs: bad news from home is met with a contemptuous snort and accompanied by mutterings about a banana republic; and any good news or persons of note are heralded to all within earshot. It seems ironic that only after taking up residence in Footscray and falling in love with the landmarks and the stories that occupy them, I am reminded of my own hometown’s history. While Melbourne enviably claims Paul Kelly as their local bard, David Malouf reclaims Brisbane in his inaugural novel Johnno (1975).Read More »
Johnno is equal parts divine comedy and autobiography, a requiem for a childhood friend interspersed with Malouf’s memories of Brisbane. From a chance encounter with the wildly uncouth Johnno on the beaches of Moreton Bay, the story is told through the eyes of an unnamed narrator whom the eponymous character irreverently nicknames ‘Dante’ after discovering his poetry in a school magazine. Johnno’s life is a gesture of defiance; his boyhood pretence as a no-hoper when in fact he is alarmingly bright, his Scottish character he creates whilst teaching in France, and his chronic alcoholism – are all signs of a person struggling to find their place in the world.
Posted on Oct 04, 2017
Ham on Rye, a semi-autobiographical account of Charles Bukowski’s coming of age, begins with his earliest memory. Under a table staring at the legs of adults in Germany in 1922. It continues with his migration to Los Angeles. His difficult childhood living under an abusive father and nonchalant mother. His often problematic school years. And his alcoholic entry into adulthood. Told under the moniker of Henry Chinaski, Ham on Rye is unrelenting in detailing the setbacks. The heartaches. The feeling of having the whole world against you. And the eventual feeling of indifference to it all.Read More »
Rather than sequentially listing the events that happened in the novel, I will focus on the novel’s dedication, as its simplicity and underlying meaning stuck with me:
For all the Fathers.
Posted on Sep 29, 2017
Camp Book 2017
Posted on Sep 05, 2017
Kurt Vonnegut. A name that is almost onomatopoeic. The Gs, the Ks and the Vs gets stuck in your throat. You have to hock them up and spit them out into a congealed gollyRead More »
In Vonnegut’s novel God Bless You Mr Rosewater is just like that congealed golly.
It is dense, spongy and full of yuckiness.
At the same time, however, satisfying and grotesquely engaging.
You can't help but stare and you might be tempted to poke it with a stick.
Posted on Aug 01, 2017
'Science fiction' is a much maligned term. Hearing those two words coupled summons images of treckies squeezed offensively into orange skivvies and weathered paperbacks in bargain bins featuring wide chested blondes shooting giant insects with laser beams. But science fiction at its best is so much more than this. Its a thought experiment. It says 'this is the way reality is at the moment, but what if we changed a few rules and it was like this, what could those changes in reality tell us about our own world. Under this definition, John Lennon's 'Imagine' is a work of science fiction. 'The Dispossessed' is just such a novel.Read More »
Shevek lives on the desert moon of Anarres, a century or so after an idealistic revolution on the central world of Urras resulted in the exile of he and his fellow dreamers. What was the dream? A world without possessions (Dispossessed get it?). A world where even the pronoun 'my' becomes meaningless (near the start of the novel we learn that the locals of Anarres wouldn't even say 'my mother' but instead 'the mother'). Without possessions everything gets freed up, you can do and go wherever you like. Food, resources, labour, sexuality, everything is shared. We're all in this together, so why don't we help each other out? Sounds perfect? Don't be so sure...
Posted on Jul 04, 2017
In Ernest Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago’s search for The Big Fish is a means for turning his luck and reputation around. More than just a mere fish, the marlin of his dreams is an elusive phantasm, a possibility to focus on, an ideal concept to draw strength from and a glimmering beacon of hope to follow through what is an otherwise harsh and basic existence.Read More »
The Old Man and The Sea is a story of an immense psychological stand-off. It’s a tale of a world-weary man who’s caught between being a figure of strength to a boy, and a man who would rather chase living treasures of the ocean by day and figments of his dreams by night.
The Old Man and The Sea is the tale of a man’s encounter with the sublime.
Posted on Jun 07, 2017
The character tropes of the noir genre are: the anti-hero, the dirty cop, the femme fatale and the snarky deadpan one. ‘The Big Nowhere’ has them all. Set after Ellroy’s first LA novel ‘The Black Dahlia’, this novel follows the story of Sheriff’s Deputy Danny Upshaw, a young law enforcer who is driven to solve a case of brutal sexualised murders of gay men; LAPD lieutenant Mal Considine, a seasoned vet with Commies and a fracturing family on his mind; and Buzz Meeks, ex-cop, bag man and associate of scumbags. Interestingly, the story begins as three tales which become interwoven as the characters are drawn together on a case that involves the movie studios, the communists, the mob and the unions.Read More »
‘The Big Nowhere’ exemplifies the noir genre beyond the tropes – it reads as a gritty whodunit with questionable characters and a deep sense of 50s Hollywood.
Posted on May 02, 2017
In the 2012 novel Home, Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison again returns to the themes that have dominated her literary career: race and identity. These are certainly substantive themes to take on, and while this is one of Morrison’s shortest novels, it is also one that does not let its modest size temper these ambitions. With Home, Morrison seeks to highlight the racial injustices of 1950s America and how these are tied to the African American identity. Highlight is the key term here as what this novel ultimately amounts to is a brief—but no less profound—glimpse into these injustices.Read More »
Brendan Walsh (Fortitude Valley Chapter)
What is the difference between a home and a house?
Is the difference something as simple as who you live with, or what you can look forward to coming back to after a day’s hard work?
Toni Morrison’s book Home takes this idea a step further and examines how one’s thoughts, dreams, and aspirations can change one’s
outlook on their home.
Chris Newton (Monash Clayton Chapter)
Posted on Apr 05, 2017
How important is a sense of belonging to the health of a man's psyche? And what happens to a man when he cannot "belong" no matter what he does? Rejection by society, and the soul-crushing, dehumanizing damage done by the resulting isolation, is a central theme of Christos Tsiolkas' "The Jesus Man".Read More »
Dom, Tommy and Lou are brothers. Sons of a Greek immigrant mother and an Australian father of Italian/Greek descent, they have grown up as "Australian" in a country that does not fully recognize them as true members of society--their immigrant roots forever tainting their full acceptance. All three brothers suffer from the shame of their own proclivities and share the knowledge of a family secret that haunts them. Unable to communicate honestly with anyone about their deep despondency, guilt and malaise, each brother descends into self-destructive behavior--with Tommy reaching a level of horrifying psychosis and violence.
Posted on Feb 28, 2017
‘Good Omens’ (or more precisely Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch) is often listed as one of the funniest books of all time – with good reason. Given the subject matter, this may be a bit of a surprise.Read More »
This novel is off-beat, extraordinarily English and entertaining as hell. With the combination of Terry Pratchett’s story-telling expertise and Neil Gaiman’s wildly fantastic ideas, it combines theology, fantasy and jokes that make you laugh embarrassingly on public transport when you are reading it. The novel looks at the argument of nature and nurture through a comedic lens and tries to evoke in its audience glorious memories of being a child.
Posted on Jan 31, 2017
Kerouac hammered out this semi-autobiographical novel on a single scroll of paper in just three weeks, describing road trips he took between 1947 and 1950. This rapid approach comes through in the writing, which is loosely structured and informal, uses a lot of slang and describes events which would have been quite controversial in the 1950s – explaining why his publishers insisted he create characters rather than using real names. Crossing the continental US and the Mexican border (it was a bit easier in those pre-Trump Wall days) on buses, holding on for dear life in the back of trucks, catching rides with his good mate (and insurer’s nightmare) Dean Moriarty and hitchhiking with random strangers, Kerouac describes the excitement, the adventure and the boredom of being a young and aimless traveller in five parts.Read More »
Posted on Dec 06, 2016
A brief history of seven killings doesn’t pull any punches. Right from start James throws you in to the deep end, trying to drown you in names, places and pages and pages of near indecipherable lingo. But that’s not to say it’s unwelcoming.Read More »
Centring the story on the shooting of Bob Marley’s house, and the consequent history of the gunmen that took part, it takes a winding path across times and places, disorienting at times and always bold, there is a feeling that you’re being submersed in something authentic. The wide range of characters invite you to see the world as they do, and through these multiple viewpoints a well-rounded view of 1976 Kingston is built filled with emotion, politics, violence and of course, music.
It’s a hell of a ride.
Posted on Nov 01, 2016
The bar is dimly lit in the fading spring light. The carcasses of butchered beasts long removed still chill the air where humming vats now stand. Foam lined glasses and sticky rings dissolve in to the darkness as the freshly slain trout lies gasping, red gills flapping and bright eyes clouding as if dripped with milk or cream. A journey to the West begins.Read More »
The kid has little but a decrepit mule when he joins us. He is travelling in the same direction, certain only that violence awaits in the bleak deserts. The promise of gold for scalps alluring for men lost to war and lost.
Posted on Oct 04, 2016
We are still waiting on a reivew for this one.
Posted on Sep 30, 2016
Can the success of a work of fiction about the atrocities perpetrated on the aboriginal people by our early colonial forebears suggest we are coming of age in accepting that awful truth? Or might it simply be described as a “good read” and then put down?Read More »
These questions quickly form when reading the final words of Rohan Wilson’s award winning The Roving Party, an account of Government sanctioned attempts to put a stop to the so-called Black War in Tasmania’s late 1820s, thereby condoning the massacre of aboriginals in areas of the state that had been colonised over almost three previous decades.
History provides the backdrop for much good writing and there can be no dispute that Wilson leverages the fact and the fiction of the Black War as both a good read and an awful truth.
Posted on Sep 06, 2016
The TGBC Review of Trout Fishing in America assumed that the novel Trout Fishing in America would be about trout fishing in America, which is not neccessarily to say it isn’t. Trout Fishing in America is a bizarre and hallucinatory novel(?), that plays with ideas of language and meaning and reality, it is a work that defies description and it is a disservice to the work to attempt to do so; trout fishing in America is a pastime available to anyone who happens to be in America.Read More »
Posted on Aug 02, 2016
Daniel Craig's James Bond was the first Bond I properly got to know. In my young mind James Bond was unreasonably handsome and effortlessly cool, but at his core was an action hero. He had more literary credibility and maturity than a John McClane, but the romantic, suave, gentlemanly James Bond of old wasn't the image I had until much later. The 2006 Casino Royale film wasn't even about poker to my young eyes: it was about explosions, car chases, machine guns with bottomless magazines, tailored suits and product placement for cars that would only look at home parked ostentatiously on a driveway at a summer house. Later I adopted the modern, rose-tinted lens through which most of us see James Bond but without having any contact with the franchise other than the Goldeneye Nintendo 64 game and Craig's movies.Read More »
Picking up the Casino Royale book, I knew that this Bond would be very different to the Bond I knew, and I was correct.
Posted on Jul 05, 2016
Published in 1929 Ernest Hemmingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” is a semi-autobiographical account of the tragic love affair between American ambulance driver Frederick Henry and British nurse Catherine Barkley set against the backdrop of war torn Italy. Hemmingway uses the short tight prose with which he became famous combined with longer poetic sentences to describe this love affair. Hemmingway’s stark tone allows the reader to visualise the world they are introduced to, while exploring key concepts of love, isolation and war.Read More »
The trials and tribulations of love during war are explored extensively throughout the book and love for Henry becomes another escape.
Posted on May 31, 2016
Set in the late 1980’s Boyd Oxlade’s novel Death in Brunswick is a claustrophobic, greasy, alcohol fueled trip back in time, to a place we at the Brunswick Chapter know well, Sydney Rd. Against a backdrop of grimey pubs, overfilled graveyards and suburban Australian city streets, this macabre black comedy follows anxiety ridden protagonist Carl as he negotiates the moral, ethical and practical dilemmas of unstable employment, workplace bullying, romance, murder, friendship and the maintenance of a pharmocological addiction. An entertaining read that will appeal especially to those who have worked in terrible kitchen jobs or felt stuck in a suburban rut.
Will de Silva (Brunswick Chapter)
Posted on May 03, 2016
To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the fictional small town of Maycomb, Alabama during the Depression and is told retrospectively, through the eyes of an innocent 8 year old southern girl (Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch). The story follows three years of life in this largely white southern town, where an American Negro (Tom Robinson) is unjustly accused by Bob Ewell of raping Mayella Ewell (his daughter). Subsequently, Tom Robinson is arrested and tied on the charge that he raped this white woman. With the town embroiled in social racism, Scout’s widowed father Atticus, a white middle aged lawyer, is assigned the role of defence council for Tom Robinson, resulting in life becoming tainted with gossip, speculation and racial disharmony.Read More »
While Atticus believes in the American justice system, he is hampered by lies and deceit, borne of ignorance and prejudice from the community that he lives in.
Posted on Apr 05, 2016
A whiskey-fueled conversation between James Barry and Alex Playsted about Rumble Fish by S. E. Hinton.Read More »
A: So, James, we read Rumble Fish. What did you think about the protagonist?
J: I hated him. He’s dull. He’s not willing to learn. He makes mistakes but he’s not willing to learn why. He hasn’t taken control of his life.
A: Why did you like him?
A: I didn’t, particularly.
How do you think he came to be like this?
Posted on Mar 01, 2016
A booze-soaked Aussie horror yarn of misadventure and self-destruction.Read More »
Wake In Fright tells the story of John Grant; bound by financial handcuffs to the State Education Department, he serves as the schoolmaster in the blink-and-you-miss-it outback town of Tiboonda. Grant’s loathing of his surroundings is lessened by the knowledge that soon he will be spending his summer holiday laying on the beach in Sydney beside his unrequited love, Robyn. All he has to do is catch the Friday train from Tiboonda, stay overnight in Bundanyabba, and from there he is only a short flight away from the welcoming arms of civilisation. Enjoying a parting beer with Tiboonda’s miserly barman-cum-landlord, Grant successfully navigates the first leg of the journey, arriving in The Yabba (as the locals call it). Finding a drinking companion in local policeman Jock Crawford, our man is offered a throw of two-up, and an opportunity to make a quick buck.
But Grant is new to The Yabba, and friendly faces and a game of chance have a way of separating a fool from his cash.
Posted on Feb 02, 2016
Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana adds to the masterly storyteller’s vivid depictions of nomadic and faithless urbanites. This time, we are introduced to Wormold, a dreamy vacuum cleaner salesman in search of secrecy as MI6’s man in Havana. This is a humorous satire of a man in a dream of luxuries including monetary savings, company shares and dividends yet, in reality is met with fanciful falsehoods, loathing and love.Read More »
Set in Havana predating the Cuban Missile Crisis during the Fulgenico Batista Regime, the reader is introduced to a divorced retailer, James Wormold. Aside from the implied mediocrity of Wormold’s life at present, he is also the father of a beautiful, devoutly Catholic yet grossly unscrupulous (and curiously scheming) daughter, Milly. Wormold meets Hawthorne, who asks him to work for the British secret service. Wormold is proverbially short of a quid and given his daughter’s partiality towards indulgences, Wormold accepts the part-time espionage gig.
Posted on Dec 01, 2015
This book is not just about gods. This is also a story about what we choose to do with our gods.Read More »
Gaiman once again crafts a beautiful tale rich in menace and wonder. From brawling leprechauns to Egyptian undertakers you can feel the weight of centuries hanging off these characters as they struggle - and fail - to survive in a new and faithless world far from their birthplaces. Immigrants bring the gods of their homelands to America, where those gods — just like the people who brought them — change and adapt to their new culture.
American Gods is full of surreal settings, from an idyllic snowy Wisconsin mountain town hiding a dark secret to the aeons old home of a bison-god deep beneath the earth, each of them with its own recurring motifs, themes and personalities.
Posted on Nov 01, 2015
The convoluted plot with its missing killer brings me to my second confession; I don’t really remember what The Big Sleep is about. Sure I remember there’s the slick private detective Marlowe, star of seven and a half books by Raymond Chandler, a couple of revivals and even more movie adaptations. I remember the smut dealers and blackmailers, the big money, the corpses and the femmes fatale. But what I remember most is the effortless cool of the dialogue, the one-liners peppering every page, the style that you can’t write in now without it sounding ridiculous and derivative.Read More »
Perhaps I can see now what I didn’t see ten years ago, that women in Raymond Chandler’s novel are always beautiful and always trouble, but never anything else. That race and sexuality are the butt of scathing one-liners, that the kind of man with a fedora on his head and whiskey in his coffee is not the kind of guy I want to meet.
Posted on Oct 01, 2015
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is genius and wonderfully entertaining. Ken Kesey crafts an extraordinarily compassionate story about the healing, unifying and empowering strength and potential of man and brotherhood.Read More »
A novel that is ripe with humour, rich language and dialogue and those lines that stop you in your tracks, leaving you wanting to reread and sit with them for a while. The writing gives a strong sense that Kesey is writing what he knows. His sentiment, a respect and belief in mankind’s ability to find its way with the right guidance, shines through in a very natural, unforced way. Everyone needs a little McMurphy in their lives. If you don’t know him already, you need to.
Posted on Aug 31, 2015
I read this book some time agoRead More »
And was glad to read again
The first person views
Of gruesome tales
From a tough guy
Who needs a friend.
Will our brother find his way?
Will he find his peace?
Or will the choices of his life
Send him to the Beast?
Posted on Aug 04, 2015
Juan Gabriel Vásquez’ ‘The Sound of Things Falling’ is a masterful work that not only draws the reader through a gripping story of love, loss, drugs and crime spanning two generations living through Colombia’s tragic modern history, but also delivers a powerful commentary on fate and loss. It is a remarkably honest and humble representation of Colombia and it’s people and Vásquez’ passion, pride and, at times, pessimism about his nation seeps out at regular intervals throughout the novel.Read More »
Part thriller, part anthropological commentary and part existential discovery, The Sound of Things Falling is a stirring novel that resonates long after the final pages have been turned.
Posted on Jun 30, 2015
Supposedly based in part on Hemingway's time in Paris and the people in his circle at the time, it’s maybe a decade after WW1, and Paris is a-swinging. It’s a time of writers who, as foreign correspondents, seem to pen one article a month and spend the intervening times drinking, whoring and escorting bankrupt duchesses around jazz clubs and nightclubs in determined efforts to rid themselves of their money, health and mental stability.Read More »
Apparently once known as the “Lost Generation" - considered to have been decadent and wasteful of the sacrifice of WW1, Hemingway might be portraying them as resilient but while resilient in terms of their stamina, they are brought absolutely undone and are as flawed as any other generation that thinks it’s pretty to imagine themselves being better in different circumstances.
Posted on Jun 03, 2015
I am Pilgrim pieces together a complex series of interwoven crimes and sinister plots, set to the modern theme of extremist Islamic terrorism.Read More »
Pilgrim is the man charged with tracking down the Saracen, thought to be untraceable and working alone, before he releases a vaccine resistant strain of smallpox, one with a 100% kill rate, into the Unites States. As far as terrorists go, the Saracen is unrivaled and extremely dangerous. Luckily for the rest of the world, Pilgrim is in the most secret of the US secret services. Those at the top who know him understand that he is the only man for the job, the best there is, second to none.
Posted on May 06, 2015
Poor Rabbit, his life was meant to be so good.Read More »
In the first of four Rabbit novels, Updike forensically dissects the tropes and trappings of a middle class suburban life in 60’s America with savage wit. But there is also warmth in Updike’s treatment of the desperate and sometimes despicable characters that populate this entertaining novel. The writing is elegant and vivid, describing the mundane with great care, Updike was an early practitioner of the hyper-realist style.
Posted on Mar 31, 2015
Written heavily in ‘Nasdat’ a teen speak, that demonstrates rebellion and a rejection of the governing society, one is taken into a not too distant future, sucked into a dystopian world, where violence reigns supreme, political parties seem to be all the same shade of grey and general ethics overlooked for the greater good. Alex recounts his exploits and experiences seemingly without any understanding of right and wrong, and it is through this twisted looking glass we explore themes of good and evil, punishment, rehabilitation and the place of free will in it all.Read More »
Still controversial 53 years after its initial publication, you will probably come to this book for the violence and leave with philosophical questions, and asking; is Alex redeemed through his journey?
Peter Irwin (Sydney Chapter)
Anthony Burgess brings us a story of dystopian struggle; both for freedom and for individuality amongst the monolithic. While this book is renowned for its ultra-violence and graphic scenes, Burgess writes with an hypnotic rhythm which lulls the reader into a Stockholm like trance; nearly but not quite deceiving us into the lie that is Alex’s ongoing social engineering project. The method of addressing the reader as ‘Brother’ and labelling the protagonist as ‘Your Humble Narrator’ serves to induce the reader into Alex’s schemes, giving a sense of ‘You are now one of us’, another droog.
Burgess asks us a very clear question with this book; is it better to choose to be evil, or forced to be good?
Daniel Williams (North Melbourne Chapter)
Posted on Mar 04, 2015
First published in 1938, Brighton Rock, and Greene’s ninth novel, follows on from his eighth novel, A Gun for Sale, whereby a leading gang member in Brighton is murdered, with his throat slit by a switchblade, incidentally, pictured on the cover of Brighton Rock but also to play a part in the novel.Read More »
Retribution was in the air, and the scene setting of the first chapter being the linkage from the past novel to the present and the introduction of Fred Hale, soon to be deceased, his murderer introduced as The Boy, later to be known as Pinkie Brown, leader of his deceased boss’s motley crew of thugs. By chance, the soon to become detective, or woman spawned, Ida Arnold, is the other chess piece in this novel. The book starts as a regular whodunit except we already know most of the pieces including who the murderer is; what is interesting is the detail has been deliberately left out.
Posted on Feb 04, 2015
Henry Chinaski is a tough guy.Read More »
He’s the invention of Charles Bukowski, a poet and writer who used to work with the post office. And this is where Chinaski works too. We follow him on what amounts to a story that’s pretty disjointed and full of some pretty sick goings-on. If you tried to graph it, it would probably look something like an ECG printout. There’s the monotony of work. There are the human glimpses of the characters being crushed by it. There’s the sudden euphorias and the mighty troughs of alcoholism, gambling, and the baffling absurdities of trying to deal with other people’s shit. Other men. Other women. People going in and out of your life.
But it’s not like a moral from a fable he’s offering you, because he still includes the attractive stuff. He still plays off it. And that’s where it’s beautiful, and ugly at the same time.
Posted on Jan 10, 2015
Catch-22 tells the story of Captain John Yossarian, a bombardier in the USAAF, leading bombing runs against Axis targets in Italy during World War II. The book chronicles his many attempts to avoid these increasingly-dangerous combat missions. In doing so, he uncovers a military regulation known as “Catch-22”.Read More »
This rule determines that if a member of a bomber crew is mentally unfit to undertake a combat mission, he can alert the proper military authority of his condition and be exempted from that mission. However, by being mentally fit enough to apply for this exemption, he is [through the horrible logic of Catch-22] automatically deemed sane enough to fight and must undertake his mission.
The challenge of reading Catch-22 could easily be called its own reward. It (haphazardly) dismantles notions of bravery, heroism and the glamour of war and has the potential to open up a reader’s mind as much as it can will boggle it.
Posted on Nov 04, 2014
Debut novels are difficult things. Often a writer has to take some time to find their voice, to get their legs, and of course to find a responsive readership. The Martian seems to have skipped all that. Weir’s novel tells a story of space exploration in the very near future, this is science fiction rooted very firmly in science fact. In particular it tells the story of space exploration that has become just slightly prosaic – the third manned mission to Mars was never really supposed to be much of a big deal.Read More »
The Martian is undoubtedly deserving of this attention, it is laugh-out-loud funny and a compelling read all through. The science is solid and is not dumbed down despite being made entertaining. The book is largely about science and math, and celebrates them unapologetically.
Also duct tape. A lot of duct tape.
Matt Burgess (Brisbane Chapter)
Mark Watney is “The Martian”. Set sometime in the near future, we join him on the surface of Mars, just days into a mission to the planet with five other crew members. Watney is lost (presumed dead) after a catastrophic storm strikes the team’s base, forcing them to abandon the planet, the mission and their deceased comrade. By itself, this sad episode has all the makings of a very abrupt short story.
Instead, this gut-wrenching opening cues the start of a rollicking tale of suspense, endeavour and smart-assedness that induces laughter and hypertension in equal parts throughout.
Robert O’ Reilly (Collingwood Chapter)
Posted on Sep 30, 2014
The Rum Diary. The lost and found again novel by the 20th Century's own Witch Doctor of Journalism, Hunter S. Thompson. No less irreverent, his tale of rum fueled hijinks in Puerto Rico and beyond set in the late 50’s is filled with the early signs and signifiers of his madcap persona to be, the first steps on a long and weird and winding road.Read More »
You should read this. Read it because you want to see where an American icon took some of his first noble strides toward literary Rockstardom. Read this because you want to laugh and wish for a better time in your youth, filled with strong drink, and pretty girls and pissing off your boss. Read this because you want to feel a little lonely, but also to know that there are others out there. Others who have helped to pave the road you hope to tread.
Posted on Sep 30, 2014
The fight between two of the greatest heavyweight boxers. A champion who was a big, brutal fighter with an intimidating record of knock outs, known for his ability to hit harder than any other fighter. A challenger who had been the champion, brimming with confidence, self-belief and a pure tactical mind, returning to the ring after injury looking to reclaim the title.Read More »
If you hate boxing and can not understand why anyone would be interested in barbaric violence, read this love-infused prose about pugilism.
Posted on Sep 02, 2014
W. Somerset Maugham is rarely talked about in the same breath as other 20th century literary greats but at the time he worked he was one of the most popular writers in his home of Britain and also America. The Razor’s Edge was his last great novel and remains one of his most enduring. It’s diverse themes, including Eastern Mysticism, war-weariness, social responsibility and class battles resonated with post war audiences when it was published and they ring true today.Read More »
In The Razor’s Edge Maugham has captured the existential angst that humans suffer when meaning and purpose eludes them, and suggests an alternative to the prescribed way of life that espouses the ethos of the literature from the Beat Generation, prefiguring them by a decade. The tension between what we want and what is expected of us is deftly explored by Maugham as he wanders in and out of the characters lives. A story about the consequences of rejecting expectations and the perils of conforming to them.
Posted on Aug 05, 2014
Got a dog? Is it pampered? Does it, for example, have perfectly portioned meals with carefully considered dietary requirements, balancing grain, protein and vegetables, perhaps even adding sardines and eggs to help with its magnificent shiny coat? Does it sit with you on the couch, cuddling into you while you stroke it and watch movies together? You probably know that spot on its belly that, when scratched, gets its leg going like it’s starting a motorbike. Maybe it even sleeps on the bed, especially during the colder months because you can’t imagine what it’d be like to be in that lonely old dog bed when it’s so bloody freezing. It’s probably walked, too, at least once every couple of days, maybe more, during which time you follow it along with tiny plastic bags to pick up its warm poo. It might chase a ball, never tiring of the mindless game of you trying to get rid of something and your dog miraculously retrieving it again for you. Good dog. There’s a good girl. Such a good dog. You deserve a treat. I have one conveniently prepared in my pocket.Read More »
How would your beloved pooch fare if it were stolen, beaten, starved and sent to pull heavy sleds in an arctic gold rush, where men live by the rule of fists and dollars and dogs by whip, club and fang?
Posted on Aug 05, 2014
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) is firmly nestled in the middle of a pile of literature concerned with European colonialism and its effects. The semi-autobiographical story is narrated by Charles Marlow, who describes his journey to the source of the Congo River in East Africa to bring a man called Mr. Kurtz back to ‘civilisation.’ Kurtz is an agent of an ivory company who has fallen ill. He is variously rumoured to be a brilliant company man, a malcontent, to have turned savage, to be venerated as a god by the ‘savages’ he lies among, or gone crazy.Read More »
The idea of a heart of darkness has no correlation to ‘deepest, darkest Africa’; it lies within, and can be awakened from, the soul of every man.
Posted on Jun 03, 2014
Death is the singular, over-riding theme explored at length in this book. Love, honour and sacrifice feature thematically too, but are tempered by graphic instances of hatred, betrayal and selfishness.Read More »
Death though, ultimately prevails over all else. Whether delivered from above by Fascist bombers – or meted out at the bloody hands of a drunken village mob – death conquers all.
From his own real-life experience of war and its horrors, Hemingway was eminently qualified to question death. However in “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, he often rattles the reader by questioning them time and again across its bloody pages, “What would you do if you were in his boots?”
Posted on May 06, 2014
Charles Neumann is a engineer working for the R&D department of a large corporation. After losing a leg in an industrial accident, he finds himself unsatisfied with the quality of his prosthetic leg and sets out to improve upon the design. However, when he ends up making a false leg that works better than his real one, he undertakes drastic action to improve his body.
A darkly comic read, Machine Man explores the possibilities of human augmentation and considers just how far is "too far" when it comes to making our bodies "better".
Stirling Gill-Chambers (Collingwood Chapter)
Posted on Mar 04, 2014
“They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing - these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice barely restrained, the instinct to run or freeze or hide, and in many respects this was the heaviest burden of all, for it could never be put down, it required perfect balance and perfect posture. They carried their reputations. They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to.”
“But Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried 34 rounds when he was shot and killed outside Than Khe, and he went down under an exceptional burden, more than 20 pounds of ammunition, plus the flack jacket and helmet and rations and water and toilet paper and tranquilizers and all the rest, plus the unweighed fear. He was dead weight. There was no twitching or flopping.”
“A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behaviour, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and very terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.”
Excerpts from the novel “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien
Chosen by Sam Stops (Hobart Chapter).