Posted on Jun 08, 2017
This month's books is The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy. It is being written about by Redlands Chapter.
Grab a copy and get reading.
Posted on May 03, 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.
The America presented in Home is undoubtedly a white America. The narrative may be conveyed entirely through an African American perspective (be it Frank Money or his sister Cee), but it is largely set in a world in which this population has little agency. This America, while being on the cusp on the civil rights movement, is still one in which the black identity is marginalised. The novel is constantly beset by episodes of racial injustice that emphasise this point, from Frank constantly coming into conflict with the authorities to Cee being the subject of exploitation by the figures who wield this authority. These authority figures (naturally being white) are seldom given faces or even names, they simply exist as personifications of this state system and the deep-seated prejudice that permeated all throughout American culture in this period. It is fitting that many of the characters of Home are less individual personalities than invocative caricatures. This is not the product of weak prose, but the intention to have these characters encapsulate broader historical identities. Frank Money, a Korean War veteran, is cast as the protagonist of this novel and it is largely through his eyes that the plot unfolds. His personal journey, from a disenfranchised Southern black, to traumatised veteran and finally, to a figure seeking answers, is a journey that was made by thousands of other black men in this period. The Vietnam conflict is usually associated with the emergence of the ‘black consciousness’ in mainstream American culture but Morrison correctly implicates the role of African Americans in the earlier Korean War. This was a war fought by black men for a country that refused to acknowledge them, and this theme is at the very heart of this novel.
To the immense credit of this novel, Morrison is an author who does not need to spell things out for the reader. Her prose is sparse yet economic, having an almost fable-like quality to it. Events unfold throughout the novel in relative quick succession, interspaced with short intimate passages drawn from Frank’s traumatic experiences in Korea, or vignettes from his childhood. This is a narrative that keeps its characters constantly in motion. Furthermore, meaning is not usually supplied directly in Home, rather, it is there for those prepared to read a little deeper. For instance, rarely is the race of any character specified, yet it is all too apparent who these characters are and, more significantly, what the colour of their skin is. We do not need to be explicitly told this as—through the perspective of the characters—we experience the realities of this prejudice. Morrison’s ability to place us in this reality, to bring us down to the level of her characters, is certainly one of the most powerful elements of this novel.
It is the notion of home, both metaphorical and literal, that anchors all the central themes of this novel. Lotus, a desolate township in the deep South and the childhood home of Frank and Cee, emerges as a type of temporal space throughout Home. At times, it is a symbol of the injustices committed against the African American community in this period, while also existing as the destination in which the characters of Home return to when searching for meaning. The town of Lotus is indeed bleak, and carries its own traumatic history, but it is also an accurate reflection of what the African American population experienced. Through the depiction of Lotus, Morrison asserts that ones’ identity is inherently tied to their personal conception of home, and that answers can be found in even the direst of situations. Home is a novel that does not shirk away from the horrors experienced and committed against the African American population in this period. Indeed, Morrison clearly illustrates that these injustices are very much part of the black experience, having shaped the individual identities of men and women for generations. As seen primarily through the eyes of Frank Money, Home depicts an America that the black population struggles to reconcile with, an America which still does not accept them. Home may well be a novel too ambitious for its own good, but if there was any author up to this challenge, it would be Toni Morrison.
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. The dichotomy of Frank’s narrative of a past filled with regrets is weaved in between Cees aspirations and where her big dreams take her, as they both reflect upon the places they have stayed. The common thread between them was growing up in Lotus, where the freedom from leaving their childhood house was both liberating and regretful, as an endless cycle of questioning follows them throughout the whole book. Similarly, while this book is great as it is a short read, the questioning it leaves to the reader will last long after the final page has been reached.
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".
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.
Raw descriptions of sexual acts and violence are juxtaposed against the backdrop of political upheaval in 1990's Australia. The boys' mother is fully engrossed in politics and displays an unwavering devotion to social justice. She has expectations of her sons' behavior that have little or nothing to do with the reality of their situation, character or humanity. She sets herself apart as innately superior, which helps create an irrevocable state of isolation for Dom, Tommy and Lou. The boys' father projects the kind of stoic manliness that limits communication about feelings, which adds to the perfect storm of disaffection and disconnection.
After losing his job (a life-changing event that has proven to be destructive to a man's psyche more than any other), Tommy's life spins out of control. He rejects his already fragile ties to reality--girlfriend, family, friends--and descends into a nightmare fantasy world of his own making; a lonely world filled with pornography, violence and television. Constantly reminded that he doesn't really belong, that he is irretrievably flawed, that he is worthless to society, Tommy finds a way to ultimately redeem himself. In one brutal, misguided, tragic act, Tommy's redemption devastates his entire family.
A murder of crows periodically appears to remind the family of an ancient curse. Whether a literal curse in the true Old World fashion, or simply the generational, psychic scars that are passed on from parent to child makes little difference in this narrative. Men continue to repeat the mistakes of the past, mainly because it is taboo to communicate about them in any kind of deep, meaningful, healing way. Religion provides no solace. Indeed, the constraints of judgemental Christian convention only provide a conduit to more isolation and shame. Tommy's association with Neil, a religious fanatic, leads directly to the horrifying climax and his pitiful ruin.
Grim, violent and unapologetically gritty, "The Jesus Man" still offers some hope that destructive patterns can be broken. As young Lou forges ahead (What else can one do, except take Tommy's way out?) and strives to make a connection between his family's past, present and future, he manages to find some small bits of consolation and hope. The fact that the forgotten and forsaken Greek God Hephaestus was flawed, shunned and isolated from the Pantheon is a reminder that no one is perfect and no one should have that expectation--for themselves or anyone else.
Wolf Linderman (Portland Chapter)
Posted on Mar 01, 2017
We are currently waiting for this book overview to be completed by Paddington Chapter.
Posted on Feb 01, 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:
Part One: It’s 1947 and our protagonist Sal is bored with life, so he heads out west in 1947 with $50 in his pocket. He gets to Denver where he meets Dean and drinks too much. Then San Francisco where he steals too much. Back on the road again, Sal meets a Mexican beauty and falls in love. But life off the road is hard work, so he leaves her and goes back to New York.
Part Two: Sal is celebrating Christmas 1948 when Dean rolls back into his life, and as usual, he’s full of piss and vinegar. As always with Dean, there are women, and stories about other women, and trouble brewing. There are trips up and down the country. New York, New Orleans, San Francisco. There is jazz. Did we mention it was the 1940s?
Part Three: Its 1949 and Sal’s depressed again so he decides to get back on the road. Denver, San Francisco. Dean’s trouble with women continues, which may be one reason he drives like a maniac. (Another other reason being speed cameras haven’t been invented yet). Detroit, New York, and a pregnancy.
Part Four: Up to 1950 now. It’s been a few months and the weather is warming up so Sal decides to get back on the road. Denver again, this time via Washington DC and St Louis. Dean comes back in the picture and it’s off to Mexico for fun and frolics the Mexican way. Sal feels the full brunt of Montezuma’s revenge and Dean decides to abandon him. Even Sal realises Dean’s “a rat” but what the hell – he’s a mate.
Part Five: Dean’s way with women continues, and he has so many options it’s hard to choose. How about Inez… on second thought, let’s stick with Camille – for now, anyway. Sal gets better, returns to New York and meets that special someone. But where would they be without third-wheel Dean? And Sal ends the book thinking of Dean, the ultimate bromance.
John Halligan (Melbourne City Chapter)
Posted on Dec 07, 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.
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.
This story has a flow to it, a rhythm that pushes it forward to its inevitable conclusion. The way that the language worms its way into your head, and makes you feel like one of the locals is intoxicating and left me wanting to be there.
But this book certainly has its drawbacks. It is long by most standards and I, for one, faltered around the 1/3rd mark (I jumped across to read a short novel before coming back to wrap it up). The cast of characters serves to provide a multifaceted view of what’s happening, but I felt myself (especially at the beginning), spending a lot more time than I would like in the front of the book reading the cast page to try and figure out who the hell I was reading about, who they were allied to and what their deal was.
All in all I definitely liked the book, but it is not one I would recommend willy-nilly. It’s certainly not for everyone. I know that plenty of blokes didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I did, and some liked it a whole lot more but if you haven’t, think about giving it a go.
It’s a hell of a ride.
Pod Picking (Launceston Chapter)
Posted on Nov 02, 2016
Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West
An abattoir - Dying trout – A journey – The kid – Language barriers – Whisky and whores – Liquid prose - A blood bath – The vanquished – Chaos lurking
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.
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.
The villages we approach are barricaded with language foreign and familiar. No hablo español helps little to dissuade the people of their fate. Despite the opulence shown by the visitors, coin spent on whisky and whores has little value to the dead and scalpless.
We kill and die on the waves of sand and prose that stretch before us. Blood cascades onto the pages in torrents, the flood drenches those that push forward through the rusty, salty stench. Men, women, children, beasts are drowned beneath the cruel red sea, while the Judge bathes in the shallows.
At journeys end the days are long and sun still lights the bar. Many sit vanquished over dark glasses, defeated by gore or style. Those that set out were rewarded with vivid memories of harsh and beautiful settings, companions found and lost and chaos lurking behind the eyes of every man.
Sam Stops (Hobart Chapter)
Posted on Oct 05, 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.
A recipe for trout:
Ingredients 2 x 300 g whole trout , from sustainable sources, ask your fishmonger, scaled, cleaned and gutted olive oil sea salt freshly ground black pepper 1 large bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley , leaves picked and chopped 2 lemons , 1 zested and sliced, 1 halved a few knobs butter
Method 1. Preheat your grill to full whack. Slash each trout with a knife, about ten times on each side. Each slash should be about 0.5cm/¼ inch deep. Rub the trout with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Stuff the cavities with plenty of chopped parsley and the lemon slices. Place the fish side by side on a baking rack over a roasting tray. 2. Put the lemon zest on top of the fish and place the lemon halves on the tray too. Dot the trout with the butter and place it 15cm/6 inches from the grill. Cook for around 6 minutes on each side until crispy and golden. 3. Squeeze the roasted lemon over the top of the fish and serve with a simple crunchy side salad.
It was just recently that the TGBC Review of Trout Fishing in America was taken by the urge to finish itself with the word mayonaise.
Patrick Jovaras (Collingwod Chapter)
Posted on Sep 07, 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. Picking up the Casino Royale book, I knew that this Bond would be very different to the Bond I knew, and I was correct.
The very first paragraph set a promising precedent for Fleming's first entry in what would become the James Bond juggernaut:
The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling - a compost and greed and fear and nervous tension - becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.
This immediately told me that Fleming could write well if he chose to. The word "soul-erosion" so perfectly described the feeling of hope fading and the imminent consequences of one's questionable actions. It gave the reader something they could relate to by reminding them of the feeling when they've gambled and lost - not just a memory, but a feeling. I was immediately emotionally invested in the book and wanted to go along for the ride.
Fleming went on to describe a familiar James Bond who noticed tiny details, including about people, security holes and exactly how they could be exploited. These descriptions would be familiar to anyone who has ever picked up a book or watched a movie influenced by the series. At the end of the first chapter I got the first clue that the book would not continue in the familiar vein of its modern adaptations:
Then he slept, and with the warmth and humour of his eyes extinguished, his features relapsed into a taciturn mask, ironical, brutal, and cold.
The description of the casino contrasts noticeably with the description of Bond as he falls asleep. In the former, Fleming used the word "and" in his lists to create a sense of movement so the reader feels a part of the scene. "Scent and smoke and sweat.... compost and greed and fear". When describing an emotional Bond revealing an ugly, empty side of himself, the lists used commas to slow down the reader and create a chilling atmosphere: "ironical, brutal, and cold."
This emotional Bond continued to rear his head and, until after the climax of the book, he continued to stifle it for the good of the job. This showed he was deeply conflicted but unfortunately he did not become as satisfyingly complex as even Craig's Bond. The Craig films add extra dimensions to Bond to mould a rich character and even something of an ageing hero. Just this level of depth outclasses Fleming's Bond, whose relationship with women is distasteful to modern palettes (a necessary evil in books of this time) and who harboured a fondness for cars and guns. This isn't to say that Fleming's Bond left a bad taste in my mouth after comparing him to Craig's Bond, but that I was expecting something more from a classic British novel like this.
To digress slightly, it was also interesting to me as an unapologetic car person that Fleming's Bond didn't drive an Aston Martin DB5 as he did in the old films. Bond's car was a Bentley, in which he participated in a car chase that is is more aptly referred to as a night drive: he drove along a country highway at slightly above modern highway speeds for a long time without seeing anyone, until he did, where the car chase ended without any Hollywood stunts.
Fleming's Bond was terrifically calm at all times, horribly antisocial, lucky, confident with himself and with others, and as was noted before, deeply conflicted. His internal conflict was properly explored in a good chapter, albeit one without subtlety or tact, towards the end of the book where the moral ambiguity of his position caused him to nearly end his career as a spy. This conflict would have been so much more satisfying to the reader if there was just one other human trait to find, but even his sexuality was hard to relate to. He finally did show a personal side, shortly after he decided he'd like to quit killing people, where he planned to marry his female companion Vesper Lynd. Even this accidental slip into normal, relatable humanity was tainted when, after learning of her heartbreaking position which led to her betrayal, he coldly reported to MI6: "The bitch is dead now."
When describing this book to your friends later, there are three things you're going to tell them. Number one is that the book is fantastically well written. The scene at the casino is terrifically tense and the prose is unique and full of character. I sometimes like to write in books to remember my thoughts for club meetings and my notes at the end of this chapter read:
One of the best written, thrilling, suspenseful pieces of prose I've ever read. Fantastic.
The second thing you're going to tell them is you didn't expect to be given a full introduction to the game of Baccarat. I had expected the casino section to be about poker and to be relatively short and irrelevant. I was wrong. About 20% or more of the book was dedicated to explaining the rules of Baccarat and to playing it. I actually liked that Fleming decided to do this: it gave the book so much more character than it would have otherwise had and set it strongly apart from the movies.
The third thing you're going to tell them is about the rape. Bond doesn't rape anyone - he's no less virtuous than the movie Bond - but a romantic passage about Lynd includes an eyebrow-raising comment that generated plenty of discussion at our club meeting:
... she was profoundly, excitingly sensual, but that the conquest of her body, because of the central privacy in her, would each time have the sweet tang of rape.
I like Craig's Bond. Craig's Bond is just relatable enough, just conflicted enough and just cool enough to seal his place among the great heroes of modern cinema. Fleming's Bond is awkward and crass like a teenager who doesn't realise his Facebook posts will pop up again in ten years for everyone to see and for that he can be forgiven. Casino Royale was always meant to be a book that was for entertainment rather than enlightenment and it should be read as such. I've been fairly harsh on Fleming's portrayal of Bond as a character, and that's partly because the modern Bond is such an important figure. Fleming's real strength, though, comes from his descriptions and prose, in creating suspense in scenes that are difficult to create suspense in, and in making the reader feel as though they are right there experiencing the story along with Bond. The icing is Fleming's own personal quirks which lend some character to a novel that the films will never be able to match. As the first in a series it should be enjoyed without looking through the lens of its future success. It's a fun book, entertaining and interesting in its own right, with some fantastically written scenes that it would be unfair not to include among those found in great classic literature. I just wish it didn't have James Bond.
Dylan Williamson (Fortitude Valley Chapter)
Posted on Jul 06, 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.
While starting as a simple relationship the partnership between Henry and Catherine seems to develop as the two become more reliant on each other. Henry uses the love affair to isolate himself from the horrors of war, previously drowned out through military discipline and alcoholism; while Catherine uses the relationship to find strength following the death of her fiancé and to combat her situation. Both Henry and Catherine appear to be more in love with the idea of love as their relationship is quite a selfish one, where ultimately they both use love to escape and a sense of belonging.
The trials and tribulations of love during war are explored extensively throughout the book and love for Henry becomes another escape. “A Farewell to Arms” aptly explores the effects of war on the lives of the people affected by it in a unique way – humanising instead of glorifying war; a refreshing perspective and one that enables the concepts of love and isolation to be explored effectively.
“I love you darling”
“I love you too”
“Fix me brandy will you”
“I will darling but only if you tell me you love me, do you love me darling?”
“Do you really love me?”
“I love you”
Michael Lawless (Traralgon Chapter)
Posted on Jun 01, 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 04, 2016
“Remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father's right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . ”
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. 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.
Interwoven within this masterpiece, are the childhood exploits of Scout, her brother Jem and their visiting neighbourhood friend Dill. Their days are filled with innocent childhood intrigue, made even more mysterious by Arthur ‘Boo Radley’, a misunderstood neighbourhood recluse, who rarely leaves his house due to emotional and psychological trauma suffered as a child.
Boo Radley leaves small gifts for the children in a hollowed out tree which heightens the intrigue and the children become obsessed with their quest to lure Boo out into the open. At the same time, Scout and Jem become targets at school and within the neighbourhood, from children and adults alike, who slander and verbally attack them due to their father’s defence of Tom Robinson. In particular, Jem reacts and finds himself punished by Atticus for reacting and protecting his younger sister. In the last Summer of the three year period, Tom Robinson is tried and ultimately convicted of a crime that he did not commit. Atticus proves that Tom is innocent, yet the jury finds against him. The three children are bewildered by the jury’s decision and Atticus is forced into explaining that the jury’s decision was a foregone conclusion.
Shortly after the trial it is discovered that Tom Robinson has been killed, attempting to escape. Incensed and offended by Atticus’s accusations in court, Bob Ewell vows to get revenge on Atticus and starts making good on his threats. While walking home from a school Halloween pageant, the children are attacked in the dark and Jem has his arm broken in the melee. Scout just manages to see a stranger carrying Jem away in the dark.
In the conclusion of the book we see that Jem and Scout were attacked by Bob Ewell and that Boo Radley had saved them. In fact it is Boo Radley who takes Jem to safety. The Sheriff arrives shortly after and announces that Bob Ewell has been found dead under the tree where the children were attacked, having ‘fallen on his own knife’. Scout realises that Boo Radley saved them and killed Bob Ewell, however the Sheriff refuses to press charges. The book is full of wonderful observations seen through the eyes of Scout and draws the reader into the realm of her understanding. It is a poignant example of racism and prejudice and judgement of character.
"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it" – Harper Lee
Steve Bruce (Footscray Chapter)
Posted on Apr 06, 2016
A whiskey fueled conversation between James Barry and Alex Playsted about Rumble Fish by S. E. Hinton.
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?
J: Losing his mother. He has no femininity. He was raised by his father and hero worships his his brother. He doesn’t understand women. He really doesn’t.
Did you find any redeeming characters in the book?
A: Steve. He took a beating to protect his mate.
J: Was Steve the best of them?
J: Why was Steve the best?
He knew that him going out would result in him getting a beating, but he did it. Yet he did it. He did it for Rusty James (RJ). Rusty James is a train wreck. Steve really grew up. You remember Steve at the start and you just don’t know what he’s been through, yet it’s horrific.
What did you think of RJ as the leader of his gang?
A: I think it was entirely circumstantial. He fell into it but wasn’t prepared for it. He is not a leader in any capacity. He’s only perceived as tough. Perception is fucked. That’s why Trump has followers.
J: But like Trump, he’s adopting an aggressive approach under the impression that he’s living up to others’ expectations.
Do you think Motor Cycle Boy (MCB) can be held accountable for how RJ turned out?
A: No. MCB will always form a part pf RJ’s formative years as his elder brother, but if anyone can be more accountable for RJ’s life than himself, it’s his parents, and they weren’t present or in any way loving.
J: I tend to agree with that. He obviously had strong parents but they were by no means prepared to raise children like MCB and RJ.
A: What chance did RJ have if his parents had already spent their parental capabilities on MCB?
J: Yeah. It’s like they had their first son and they gave up on their first son completely.
Do you find RJ has learnt any lessons by the end?
A: No. He’s been given ample opportunities but has not developed mentally in such a way that he can recognise the opportunities and utilise them. Just like a kid in any classroom who has not met the developmental standards for his or her year level, RJ has likewise missed out on what he needs to know. He is essentially spinning his wheels rather than absorbing new skills and information and advancing forward.
J: There’s no meaning to MCB’s death. Is that a fair statement?
A: I don’t know. Maybe there’s a lot of meaning in it, but perhaps more for others than for MCB. I think MCB ran out of meaning, hence checking out, but we can all draw meaning from his story. I hope so anyway.
James Barry and Alex "Wash" Playsted (Footscray Chapter)
Posted on Mar 02, 2016
A booze-soaked Aussie horror yarn of misadventure and self-destruction.
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.
Waking the next morning hungover and destitute, Grant is unable to leave The Yabba and finds himself relying on the kindness of the locals to help him get by. First it’s Tim Hynes, one of the regulars at the bar, offering beer to drink and a place to stay awhile. Then there’s Dick and Joe, work mates of Hynes, offering more beer to drink and a seat in their car for a kangaroo hunt. Also joining Grant on his descent to the bottom of each glass is Doc Tydon, “a doctor of medicine, a tramp by temperament, and an alcoholic”. The Doc is another mate of Hynes, who resides in a shack and has an uncanny tendency to appear when the beer begins to flow. He peddles prescription medication and dubious counsel, advising Grant that as long as he fits in and is a good bloke he could sponge all his food and drink in The Yabba. Deciding that “fitting in” would be in his best interest, Grant spends another beer-fuelled night with the locals. He awakens with a feeling of dread to the sight of Doc Tydon asleep in his bed, leaving an indelible mark upon Grant and his psyche forever.
Authors who romanticise the outback often have not grown up there, and it is the exact inverse that inspired Wake In Fright. Drawing upon his experiences working for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in the remote town of Broken Hill, Cook offers a sinister view of outback towns within our sunburnt country. Issues left unspoken in towns like The Yabba: alcoholism, homelessness, depression and suicide; they linger in the amber, beneath the foamy head of mateship in “the lucky country”.
Wake In Fright is probably best read sober as it might leave you having second thoughts about that next beer.
James Barry (Footscray Chapter)
Posted on Feb 03, 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.
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. Perhaps due to excessive drinking, the secrecy of General Batista’s murders or, most likely, the fact that Wormold is an untrained agent, Wormold has no correspondence to send to London. By putting his imagination to work, he instead falsifies his reports using information gathered in media and creates a network of sources that are mostly falsehoods. His imagination reaches its apex when, at one point, he maniacally decides to send a report to London which depicts vacuum cleaner parts as a secret military apparatus.
Soon after London sends Wormold a secretary, Beatrice Severn, Wormold’s creations begin to blend with reality when Beatrice is ordered to contact Raúl, a pilot. Despite Wormold’s ostentatious plan, coincidentally a man whom shares the name as the elusive pilot dies in a car crash. An attempt to murder Wormold at a trade association gathering, followed by the death of the headwaiter’s sausage dog and the subsequent retaliation killing of Wormold’s friend, World War 1 veteran and confidant of sorts, Dr. Hasselbacher, Wormold confesses his confusions and creations to Beatrice, and is sent back to London.
This book is an amusing commentary on Greene’s views of intelligence services and their willingness to believe information passed on by local sources. I think some consideration of the book’s socio-historical context in important, especially given the proximity between the book’s publication date (1958) and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The unsuccessful poisoning of Wormold at the trade union meeting is also a reasonably unsubtle characterization of a Russian assailant during a period of simmering Cold War tensions. With this in mind, two questions surface: was Greene writing an anticipatory essay for the events of 1962; and who out of Ian Fleming and Graham Greene writes a better Cold War spy novel? This question needn’t demand an immediate answer. But if you find yourselves festering on this during TGBC meet at the pub, do it with a daiquiri and not a martini.
Ashley Starford (Footscray Chapter).
Posted on Dec 02, 2015
No one has written this overview yet.
Posted on Nov 02, 2015
No one has written a overview of this book yet.
Posted on Oct 02, 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.
McMurphy, the ultimate lovable larrikin and quick-witted gambler, is transferred from a prison work farm to an insane asylum, seemingly because the perks in the loony bin suit him better. His booming laughter rattles the disinfected hallways like never before, attracting the intrigue, admiration and respect of his fellow patients whilst earning the keen attention of the ex-army Head Nurse, Miss Ratched, and her submissive staff. The book presents McMurphy and Miss Ratched’s slow motion and calculated locking of horns as they fight over freedom - on many levels.
Although written in the early 60’s, Kesey’s insights into our approach towards the mentally ill is still relevant and frightening. He deals with it in such a way that the mentally ill are elevated to the level of vulnerable human while those in charge are deflated to the same, showing that all men possess strengths and weaknesses but are separated by agendas, external expectations, ideals or, sometimes, simply by the way their cards happened to be dealt. Regardless, McMurphy has the energy and constitution needed to wake everyone up and start to question their lot in life, something that is seldom possible through the fog of medication, shock therapy, fear and mind-numbing boredom.
In a story where the dominant characters are generally women, McMurphy goes on to also represent a return of men to their foundational masculine traits and strengths as they stand up to be counted. Ultimately, it’s not entirely clear whether Kesey is suggesting that femaleness or institutionalisation is the more overwhelming force responsible for reducing men to ‘rabbits’, but both are certainly explored and challenged. It can be an awkward dynamic to grasp at times, particularly at the story’s affecting conclusion. Considering Kesey’s concept of power and where he thinks it comes from is definitely food for thought.
One Flew Over 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.
Alex "Wash" Playsted (Castelmaine Chapter)
Posted on Sep 01, 2015
The Sisters Brothers
I read this book some time ago
And was glad to read again
The first person views
Of gruesome tales
From a tough guy
Who needs a friend.
The Journey these brothers take
Is violence filled and cruel
With alcohol and jealousy
Our friend’s moral rift
The life he found
Takes its toll
His questioning in vain
The domineering Sisters
Bleeding every vein
Will our brother find his way?
Will he find his peace?
Or will the choices of his life
Send him to the Beast?
Sam Stops (Hobart Chapter)
Posted on Aug 05, 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.
The story begins in Bogotá, where apathetic professor Antonio Yammara witnesses a violent assassination of an acquaintance. The seemingly senseless murder haunts him and he embarks on journey of discovery that will lead him him to discover the stories, desires and struggles of those who lived through the tumultuous times that shaped modern Colombia.
As a work of prose, including the English translation which is excellent, Vásquez’ aptitude for penning vivid, and at times thrilling, descriptive passage are evident and thankfully applied with mature restraint. An ambitiously structured story that darts back and forth from the past to present day and deals with shifting protagonists could have easily fallen flat, yet Vásquez has managed to craft a seamless timeline, that leaves the reader engaged and involved at every turn.
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.
Alex Dobson (Sydney Chapter)
Posted on Jul 01, 2015
Waiting on someone to write this one up.
Posted on Jun 04, 2015
I am Pilgrim pieces together a complex series of interwoven crimes and sinister plots, set to the modern theme of extremist Islamic terrorism.
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.
The strange thing is that our hero seems to know it as well, better than anyone. I tried to like him, really, and I read every page (I’m a patient person), but a lot of his self-congratulatory thoughts and lack of any endearing humour turned me off his character. What’s more, at every turn, either Pilgrim seemed to have the right answer for yet another impossible situation or he received yet more serendipitous assistance from the universe. Naturally, a spy/action thriller will contain its fair share of fortunate twists and turns, but the medium I expect this many in is the comic book or graphic novel, which this book would probably have been better suited to. It would be one, though, in which the hero is an odd combination of a cocky Superman and a smug Macgyver dressed in khaki chinos and a floral shirt.
To his credit, Hayes has created a pretty intriguing and elaborate plot. The fundamental story lines offer insights into multiple countries, murders, techniques and characters. There were solid chunks of book that had me turning pages. Hayes had obviously invested huge amounts of time into his research as he strove to bring as much authentic detail to a challenging diversity of topic areas as possible. This, however, is at the expense of the plot credibility and flow. Hayes establishes a few plates spinning and things feel good. A few more plates and things are getting interesting. Eventually, though, there are just too many damn plates spinning and it detracts from the quality of the narrative. Hayes doesn’t control them well enough. Some very tenuous and cliched ideas seem shoehorned in to help stitch the whole thing together.
Just when I thought I’d read the underwhelming ending and could close the book, Hayes made me read about how Pilgrim would now singlehandedly helm an America’s Cup class yacht for pleasure as he made a life for himself outside of the services. I wondered, why not just sail an aircraft carrier, if you’re so bloody amazing?
Alex "Wash" Playsted (Footscray Chapter)
Posted on May 07, 2015
Poor Rabbit, his life was meant to be so good. Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrum was young, popular and the high school basketball star. But now, only a few years later, nothing has worked out the way he was so sure it would. With a young wife, a little boy and another child on the way Rabbit is trapped in a life of seeming mediocrity, the blame for which he lays squarely at the feet of the world, and he decides to get away, to run. But it turns out that it’s not so easy for Rabbit to get escape the only life he knows and we watch on in dismay as his own failure of imagination leads him in circles until he is forced to make a choice. Will he return to his family? Or will he run off again?
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.
An intense study of family life and how the decisions we make affect those around us, the responsibilities of growing older, the lost dreams of youth and the learned pleasures of adult life. This is an engrossing novel.
Patrick Jovaras (Collingwood Chapter)
Posted on Apr 01, 2015
Our humble narrator in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is Alex, Alex is 15, living with his not so strict, caring and hard working parents, he goes to school and has a passion for Beethoven’s 9th. Evenings he enjoys drinking Milk Plus, ‘milk with daggers in it’, to sharpen you up for a bit of ‘dirty twenty-to-one’, the ‘ultra-violence’ (bashings) and ‘the old in and out’ (rape) with his ‘Droogs’ (gang) of which he is the leader.
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.
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)
A Clockwork Orange. 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.
A Clockwork Orange forces us to consider the structures around us. The massif that Burgess creates to demonstrate the State (inflexible, absolute) can be reflected onto our own lives, our own beings. Alex’s misadventures are the expression of a struggle against this monolith, his anger and apathy merely instruments to be utilised ultimately by the State.
Burgess asks us a very clear question with this book; is it better to choose to be evil, or forced to be good? And he answers just as clearly; it is better to choose. It is choice which brings the humanity back into the absolute structures we live in.
Daniel Williams (North Melbourne Chapter)
Posted on Mar 05, 2015
We are still looking for some Goon to do a write up about this book.
Posted on Feb 05, 2015
Henry Chinaski is a tough guy. 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.
And while there’s much to dislike and even despise Chinaski for, there’s a vein of tenderness that punches you in the guts. And it lives in how he responds to moments of genuine human gravity. The dying ex-girlfriend. The crushed life of an aging colleague.
And the kind of toughness Bukowski is offering us through Chinaski is of a fractured variety, sure. But he understands that too. He says, here, let’s take your complaints and your desires and your death-wishes, your worship of the rock-star, self-destruction model that you’re all kind of addicted to, in a way, and let’s give you a real glimpse of it. If you gave in, if you didn’t try—as his grave famously states—how could it end up? 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.
Jeremy Davies (North Melbourne Chapter)
Posted on Jan 11, 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”.
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.
Yossarian’s own overarching objective to survive the war can probably be summed up by his desire to “live forever or die in the attempt”. His fellow-airmen take a similarly confusing/confused approach to how best outlive the war too, often with consequences for Yossarian himself that range from the tragic to the ludicrous.
Catch-22 – the rule and the story – bonds the rational and the irrational into a horrifying double-helix of twisted logic. This desperate, deformed “DNA” not only shapes characters and their experiences, but even mutates the ordering of events throughout the book – randomly describing a scenario, before overtaking it or doubling back for a second look.
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.
Rob O'Reilly (Collingwood Chapter)
Posted on Nov 05, 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.
So when Mark Watney wakes up abandoned and left for dead on the surface of Mars he uses his quick wits and training to work out exactly how and when he's going to die. He quickly realises he has no communication equipment and nowhere near enough food. What follows is mostly written as a series of logs detailing his adventures and derailing into discussion of The Dukes of Hazzard, Pirate Ninjas, a box of radiation and some poop, as he struggles to survive and stay sane as long as humanly possible, in the desperate hope that someone will help him.
Hilariously written and yet surprisingly scientifically minded, The Martian is an exceptional debut novel. It was originally self-published, storming Amazon’s ebook market and getting snapped up by a publisher. Its release was timed well, the same year as the fascinating Curiosity mission. It is now is in the process of being adapted for a motion picture, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon. This is an unheard-of impact for a first novel.
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. Science and math are the most valuable tools for Watney’s survival. He is alone, hundreds of thousands of miles from any threats human or animal, no need for spears or guns. The only way he can get out of trouble is with imagination, wit, and careful calculation.
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. We soon discover Watney is in fact very much alive – and rather than succumb to the many, many odds stacked against him – he chooses to try and hold out for rescue in his cold, dusty, red home.
In parallel with the story of his (very resourceful) efforts to remain warm, fed, breathing and hopeful of not dying is the plot being hatched back on Earth to save Watney, after his official status as “deceased” is upgraded by NASA. These two strands are woven into a witty, enlightening story of hope, potatoes and seventies music that will appeal to science-fiction fans and general readers alike.
Robert O’ Reilly (Collingwood Chapter)
Posted on Oct 01, 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.
But that is not enough. There is more here. A kind of bewilderment that only exists in young men who know what they want but are not quite sure how to get it. A sadness that catches in the back of your throat , the kind that only happens when you find out you might not change the world in the way you originally thought. And that clear, bright, shining kind of rage that crackles around you like an invisible mantle of armor.
All these things are here, delivered in a familiar tone used for chatting with the locals at your favorite watering hole. 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.
Dane Botfeild (Portland Chapter)
Posted on Oct 01, 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.
For these facts alone, this fight would go down in history as one of the greatest sporting events in history, but there was more intrigue. Mohammed Ali challenged George Foreman in a bout that was billed as 'The Rumble In The Jungle'. The fight was moved from the States to Congo after Foreman sustained a cut over his eye and the anticipation of the battle brewed as the preparations took place.
Mailer portrays both athletes with their strengths and flaws in exquisite detail with beautiful prose but his love of Ali and his arrogance, athleticism and altruism is the centrepiece. If you hate boxing and can not understand why anyone would be interested in barbaric violence, read this love-infused prose about pugilism.
-Gavin Baumber (North Brisbane Chapter)
Posted on Sep 03, 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.
Larry Darrell is a young American pilot just returned from Word War I, the experience has left him injured and traumatized by the death of a close friend. When he returns Larry is expected marry his beautiful fiancée Isobel and take up a job in business as befits a man of his position in Chicago’s upper class.
Larry surprises everybody when he announces he has no intention of following the prescribed path, breaks up his engagement and begins a decade long journey that takes him from Paris’ underbelly to the Indian mountains looking for some kind of meaning in a world he struggles to understand after the trauma he endured during the war.
Maugham puts himself in the novel, claiming the story of Larry Darrell is a thinly veiled account of true happenings; as such the writer passes wry judgments on his characters throughout.
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.
-Patrick Jovaras (Collingwood Chapter)
Posted on Aug 06, 2014
London tells us a yarn in the good ol’ fashioned Boys Own style with The Call of the Wild. We follow the interior life of a dog named Buck, from an unduly civilized Lord of his Domain dog, into a near-mythical creature of the wild, a kind of spirit animal. And there’s more to it if we want to listen.
‘Deep in the forest a call was sounding.’
He’s a plucky, very human hound to begin. He has a sense of morality, the narrator tells us, and he can be ‘taken aback’. He learns the difference between his previous life and the life of club and fang slowly, at first. London is coy (also, at first) in whether or not this is actually development or regression.
‘And his cadences were their cadences, the cadences which voiced their woe and what to them was the meaning of the stillness, and the cold, and dark.’
But the survival is always a subject-survival in relation to how Buck is related to the human beings around him that are the functional point of his universe. From the Eden-esque life with ‘the Judge’ (God?) he is cast out into the functional service to competent but demanding masters, and he learns the pleasure of doing good work, good service, and pride. But he soon discovers the dependence upon the human other when faced with Charles and Hal and Mercedez: two incompetent men entrapped by a woman through sexual and filial bondage. Is this the metaphor for the direction our over-stuffed social-political sled is headed? Straight into Death?
‘...this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.’
Even once Buck finds true love in John Thornton, it’s pushed to a dangerous level through pride and greed; and it’s this pride and greed then that allows Buck to eventually answer the Call to becoming his true nature, a trinity of wolf and saint (Bernard) and shepherd. The Way the Truth and the Life? The creature the Yeehats will deify as the Ghost Dog.
Jeremy Davies (North Melbourne Chapter)
Posted on Aug 06, 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. It’s no spoiler to say that the search opens a massive can of worms for which those looking for him aren’t prepared. They find Kurtz, but also face their implication in “the horror! The horror!” Marlow, spat out of the continent and back to the London, which, we’re led to wonder, is perhaps the real ‘heart of darkness,’ needs to explain to Kurtz’s waiting beloved that Kurtz did not make it back. In this sense, it’s an alternative odyssey: Ulysses does not return to Penelope. The epic is not complete.
Conrad, a multi-lingual literary genius, depicts some remarkable scenes: the opening one, of sailors on the Thames, is famous; the subjugation of African people by the British is cast in tortured tones, and contrasted with the fluid, ecstatic, and elusive energy of a free tribe peppering Marlow’s rust-bucket boat with arrows. It’s a short and intense book, dazzlingly ambiguous, and poetic in its ideology. That is to say, it asks more questions than it answers and exposes the myth of colonialism being some kind of sanctifying endgame. Conrad suggests it is, rather, a gross, monolithic, and dually ongoing and unsustainable process of power and domination. 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.
“Droll thing life is -- that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself -- that comes too late -- a crop of inextinguishable regrets.”
Simon Eales (North Melbourne Chapter)
Posted on Jun 04, 2014
“For Whom the Bell Tolls” is the story of Robert Jordan, a college tutor from America, who has travelled to Spain to fight on the side of the Republicans in the civil war against Franco’s fascist forces. His speciality is demolition and he is charged with blowing a bridge that is critical to the success of a major military offensive about to be launched by the Republican side. Supporting Jordan’s efforts are a motley crew of peasant guerrillas that are at once loyal and treacherous, brave and cowardly, surviving and dying in this small, sad episode of the Spanish Civil War.
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. 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.
Arguably however, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” neither vaunts death and dying (especially violent death) nor trivialises it either. It is quite apparent though to have been written by someone who has himself witnessed death in abundance and who has spent much time questioning it. 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?”
Facing up to this demand is a task any reader ultimately has the luxury of time to contemplate. It is sadly not so for a young college tutor, battling enemies, allies and conscience in the foothills of northern Spain.
-Rob O'Reilly (Collingwood Chapter)
Posted on May 07, 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 05, 2014
Shay is meant to be wrting a report on this one.