Posts Tagged ‘australian’

I have a short review of Patrick Holland’s short story collection The Source of the Sound in this month’s Australian Book Review, which magazine is now available in an online edition – you can buy individual issues or subscribe for a year. (Of course, the paper version is still available.) Go forth and modernise.

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I was shocked and saddened to learn a couple of weeks ago that Hazel Rowley had passed away. As many of you know, Rowley was scheduled to do an Australian tour to talk about her latest book, Franklin and Eleanor.

My acquaintance with Rowley’s work began when I heard her interviewed on The Book Show about Richard Wright on the centenary of his death. Not a reader of biographies, I was surprised to find myself totally absorbed in Rowley’s details of the American writer, whose protest novel Native Son sold hundreds of thousands of copies when it was published in 1940. Rowley was a delightful interviewee, so obviously entranced with her subject, so humble:

How can I be so stupid? Who’s going to talk to me? What the hell do I think I’m doing?…Writing about a man, a black man, an American man? What do I know about this? Zero!

I planned to seek out Rowley’s biography of Wright – I’d never heard anything about him before, and his story was electrifying (an angry black writer, read widely by white readers and deeply influential upon later black writers, who became a communist, joined the John Reed Club, then moved to France).

But I came across Tête-à-tête first, which I couldn’t resist – being as I am conditioned to treasure great love stories. As Rowley writes in the preface, the book ‘is not a biography of Sartre and Beauvoir … This is the story of a relationship.’ Which for me was a sort of relief – I’m not well acquainted with the work of either, and haven’t particularly enjoyed Sartre’s fiction (which I suppose is akin to saying ‘I don’t think Shakespeare was so great at making paper planes’). Nevertheless, it was good to approach this book not burdened by my lack of philosophical knowhow – which was more than supplemented by Rowley’s familiarity with these existentialists’ oeuvres.

It’s a pleasure to track how Sartre’s and Beauvoir’s work developed and changed, and equally wonderful to discover how they supported and encouraged one another. Named after the type of communication the pair found most satisfying, the book is a tender portrait of how, among emotional and political upheaval, Sartre and Beauvoir continually returned to their particular brand of intimacy until Sartre’s death in 1980.

For a biographer to gain this reader’s trust, they must prove their depth and breadth of knowledge, and present themselves as a balanced teller of the particular story. Having interviewed Beauvoir in 1976, as well as many of Sartre and Beauvoir’s friends and family members, Rowley certainly does the former, also providing endnotes, a selected bibliography and a ‘note on sources’ that briefly describes the location and status of the various diaries, letters and other materials she studied. As to the latter – on the one hand, it’s clear how close to Rowley’s heart the two writers are, particularly Beauvoir:

When I read Beauvoir’s memoirs in the late sixties, I was exhilarated – intoxicated, one might say. She made the impossible seem possible. Didn’t we all want an intellectual partner with whom we could share our work, ideas, and slightest thoughts? Didn’t everyone want to write in Paris cafes amid the clatter of coffee cups and the hubbub of voices, and spend their summers in Rome in complicated but apparently harmonious foursomes? Who wanted monogamy when one could have freedom and stability, love affairs and commitment?

This is the kind of passion a biographer needs to stay the course with a subject, but a reader also wants a biographer who can be even-minded with the material, not a hagiographer. At once admiring and tongue-in-cheek, Rowley tempers her obvious interest in the two – as writers and as partners – with a clear-eyed view of the tangled family they eventually wrought. Small details help deconsecrate Sartre (‘He had been keen to get himself a German girlfriend but found he lacked the language skills’) and humanise him – at one point there’s a great image of the ambitious, workaholic academic carrying lunch to an ill Beauvoir, ‘taking great care not to spill it on the way’. Seen through the eyes of later lovers, though, the man is not so appealing. In particular, Sartre’s pursuit of the Kosakiewicz sisters wears its facts sordidly. Wanda, the younger ‘Kos’, was ‘appalled’ when the fifty-six year old Sartre kissed her – then twenty years old – in the back of a taxi. It wasn’t just Sartre who had grand appetites, though: both Sartre and Beauvoir pursued younger lovers, often sharing them. When she was a teacher, Beauvoir seduced a couple of her baccalaureate students.

From the beginning, Sartre and Beauvoir’s relationship was a singular one, with few precedents even in the pair’s social circle. Sartre was non-monogamous, and to counter jealousy, he suggested to ‘the Beaver’ that they tell each other everything, which he called ‘transparency’. Sartre wanted her ‘to share … all her thoughts with him’, and Beauvoir found this ‘as frightening as it was exhilarating’. This was to be a central tenet of their relationship, which Sartre called ‘primary’ and ‘essential’, but they did not extend the courtesy of transparency to their other, ‘contingent’ lovers; indeed, they often lied to them. The tension between the pair’s devotion to the ideal of transparency and the emotional consequences of their manipulations held for the rest of their lives, with many of their other lovers constantly requiring assurance, time, continued falsehoods and even funds. Sartre, particularly, continued to accumulate dependants, until he and Beauvoir were supporting several young women. Complicated affairs like these provided ample material for the pair’s creative endeavours, such as Beauvoir’s She Came to Stay and The Mandarins (though her memoirs arguably caused more commotion; one-time lover Nelson Algren reviewed one of the volumes, ending with ‘Will she ever quit talking?’).

Beauvoir was often worse off in these taxing situations. Only once did Sartre admit to having felt jealousy, and being attached to so many young women was eminently satisfactory for him; towards the end, he even said he lied to Beauvoir more than to anyone else – despite their pledge to be honest with one another. On the other hand, Beauvoir struggled with jealousy and was often tortured by worry – she was a woman; society found ‘freedom’ just that much more condemnable in her – and suffered no small anxiety about the edifice of lies the couple constructed in claiming the transparent life for themselves, and leaving the contingent life for others. After Sartre broke off his relationship with Bianca Bienenfeld, a former student and lover of Beauvoir’s, Beauvoir wrote: ‘I blamed us – myself as much as you, actually – in the past, in the future, in the absolute: the way we treat people. I felt it was unacceptable that we’d managed to make her suffer so much.’ It makes for uncomfortable reading, the The Second Sex‘s author bearing weary witness to her partner’s etiolated women. The bitter taste of Beauvoir’s reassessment is echoed in an affecting part of Rowley’s Book Show interview:

The disappointment came really when Simone de Beauvoir’s letters were published after her death and we did find out that she had lied to people and that they had both lied to people, and that she, to some extent, had lied to us readers as well as her lovers, and that was the disappointment.

Yet there is something incredibly salutary about reading this non-judgmental account, in respect of a story that could easily have been rendered merely as farce or muck. Rowley’s inquiring and fair mind has laid out what she discovered, for all to read, as if to regale us with ceaseless tales of her most treasured, high-functioning and flawed friends. This book is a wonderful, naturalistic feat of reverse engineering – from letters, books and interviews to lives.

Sartre and Beauvoir’s philosophical project – resolving to create their own lives’ meaning without recourse to any traditional rubric – was a difficult one. As Rowley puts it, ‘It is not easy, freedom. It brings with it the anguish of choice. It comes with the burden of responsibility.’ And though they did not always discharge that burden creditably, Sartre and Beauvoir forged memorable paths as readers, thinkers, writers, lovers. Tête-à-tête gives those of us intrigued by their work a chance to be caught up in the excitement and newness of the legend as if it were happening now, rather than forty, fifty, sixty years ago.

November 30, 2010

Just a little peep from me: a review of Kirsty Murray’s India Dark on Radio National’s The Book Show.

Also, something a bit novel. If you’d like to read a book with me, and hear me discuss it with some special guests (very special guests!), get cracking on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned. I’ll be reading it for the Kill Your Darlings Culture Club podcast. Believe me, you want to read this book. It was Fitzgerald’s sophomore book, and it actually features a scene in which one of the characters refers to his first, extremely successful, novel, This Side of Paradise. It’s just like staring into a tortured soul. Seriously. The podcast airs on Tuesday December 14. Get thee ready!

In Aida Edemariam’s Guardian profile of Christos Tsiolkas that ran over the weekend, she enumerated the numerous garlands laid at Booker-longlisted The Slap‘s door. Among them is Colm Toíbín’s favourable descriptor: ‘reminiscent of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and Don DeLillo’s Underworld‘. As Edemariam notes, this is rather naughty, ‘as it is produced [in the UK] by an imprint he co-runs and [he] has been friends with Tsiolkas for years’.

As much as I’d like to be someone who regularly smashes a few cans with Cormac McCarthy while trading fusillades in a competitive round of ‘Imagine the Worst Apocalyptic Future Possible’, or the possessor of a personal epistolary trove that will be raided after my death for examples of Daniyal Mueenuddin’s handwriting, the truth is that I haven’t really had to deal with having that many people who have written books.

The recent publication of young Melbourne (via Byron Bay and Adelaide) writer Daniel Ducrou’s novel The Byron Journals has propped a stick in those works, however, because I’ve read the book, and I know him.

What to do? Even having disclosed this, I know that when I read something complimentary about an author’s work that has been said/written by someone who knows them, there’s always a small part of my brain that goes, ‘Yeah right, you goddamned BFFs’. Needless to say, I’m therefore on the alert not to produce anything like Nicole Krauss’s over-the-top blurb of David Grossman’s To the End of the Land (not that, to my knowledge, those two writers know each other). Here’s a quote from Krauss’s blurb, ganked from Alison Flood’s Guardian piece about it:

“Very rarely, a few times in a lifetime, you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same. Walls have been pulled down, barriers broken, a dimension of feeling, of existence itself, has opened in you that was not there before. To the End of the Land is a book of this magnitude,” [Krauss] writes. … “And she doesn’t stop there. To read the book, she says, “is to have yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence; it is to be turned back, as if after a long absence, into a human being”.

I hope to steer clear of anything approaching that level of praise – about anything, actually, not just Dan’s book. But knowing you are unlikely to be moved by anything positive I say (‘goddamned BFFs’), I’m just going to have to forge ahead regardless, because I’ve laid it like I’ll play it.


‘I think I was born into the wrong city,’ says Andrew, as he buckles up. ‘Definitely the wrong family.’ He’s on a plane with his mate Benny, and they’re escaping Adelaide for Byron Bay. As comments go, it’s casual, but the sentiment is warranted. Andrew’s got plenty of cash from his dad, whom he caught having sex with one of his young students. As well as being cashed up, he’s recently been beaten up – a legacy from someone who wanted to convey a message about his mother’s work as a criminal defence lawyer.

Anxious but attracted to the sound of music at a house party, he joins in on a drummers’ jam, translating what he knows of classical music to the spontaneity of the gathering. His gaze falls easily on Heidi, a girl with a lazy but confident manner, and a drummer named Tim compliments him on his drum solo. But back at his digs, Richie, who lives next door to Benny in Adelaide, Richie prods Andrew about his mother: ‘it seems to take a special breed of person to do that kind of work.’ Andrew returns fire, and the two are soon brawling; and Andrew is soon without a place to stay.

Andrew takes his necessaries – phone, wallet, pot – and scouts out the house from the party the previous night. Tim lives there; as does Jade, pouting and scantily clad; and Heidi. With his new housemates, Andrew falls into street drumming for money. And with Heidi, he quickly falls into lust, consummated early in the warm Byron water. But Heidi is unpredictable: she explodes when he tells her he’s from Adelaide, too, not Melbourne, which he’d lied about to avoid a topic that clearly caused her pain. And music isn’t the only way of life here; once Tim finds out that Andrew’s mother is a lawyer, he cuts Andrew into the household’s marijuana operation in exchange for her legal assistance.

Byron Bay is a byword for escapism, sunshine and renewal. In The Byron Journals, people take phone calls by frangipani trees; they watch surfers from low dunes made of powdery sand. On his first plunge into the ocean, Andrew feels ‘baptised by the silence and the purity of the water [,] cleansed of his past and his future’. The drugs he takes for the first time in Byron give him new dimensions of feeling, and the excitement of sex binds him to Heidi. But the place is Janus-faced: it also breeds dissolution and stagnation. The Byron Journals isn’t winkingly ironic about this duality, but genuine in its affection and unflinching in depicting the limbo-like existence led by many of Byron’s inhabitants.

Good intentions and mistakes go hand in hand, and Andrew, who wants to be nothing like his parents, gets to grips with both. Andrew is gently ablaze with difficult feeling and eager youth. What we see as an unconsidered rush headlong into a relationship with the troubled Heidi and the drug-drenched activities of his new friends, he sees as preferable to the hell of home. So much, in fact, that he’s willing to go along with a dangerous plan – a plot turn that I didn’t really buy. However, the avalanche of complications teaches Andrew that the hell other people have made for you is often nowhere near as bad as the hell you can make for yourself.

The Byron Journals has been a few years in the making, having been shortlisted for the 2007 Australian/Vogel Literary Prize and the 2008 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards for an Unpublished Manuscript, and it shows. The prose is relaxed and effective: beautiful yet matter-of-fact. The dialogue in particular is lifelike: character-apt and unfussy.

The Byron Journals is a love letter to Byron: the surf, the love, the freedom. It’s also a witness to the irrevocable passage of carefree youth, which bestows, sometimes violently, gifts that resist understanding. At the end of the book, Ducrou gives us a fitting coda: an urgent, impressionistic swell of music that seems to come both from within Andrew and from without, accompanied by fragments of his time in Byron – the crazy ones and the perfect ones side by side. All these things being, for the moment, irreconcilable, but nevertheless lingering in the air.

April 19, 2010

Let’s talk about my Too Early Introduction To Tim Winton. When I was a wee tacker with no friends and a constant seat at the library, my parents and teachers often encouraged me to expand my readerly repertoire. As a result, I had a lot of incoming recommendations – one teacher recommended that I read Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, though I must have felt that the rural lives of Gabriel Oak and Bathsheba Everdene (really??) weren’t quite up to my standards, as I’ve never read it.

Whether I took to the recommended book or not was pretty unpredictable. My favourite read was Jane Eyre, and it remains so to this day, despite its being an exemplar of the Possibly Crazy White Oppressor’s Simultaneous Despoliation of the Dignity Of Females From Conquered Races And The Lower Classes genre. But when I tried reading Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet on the shelves at home, I was so displeased with what it offered that I didn’t finish it.

So, however unfair it may be to Mr Winton, I’ve kind of nursed ill feeling towards him since then – more than half my life. Perhaps I wasn’t ready for Cloudstreet then, and I’m certainly not opposed to trying again in future. Occasionally, I have considered a dip into the Winton oeuvre, but every time I thought about it, I’d think of reasons not to go ahead. For example, not so long ago, a couple of my friends attempted to read Cloudstreet, and found it incredibly hard to get through. Nevertheless, I’m not one to ever say never, so I read Breath when I was on holiday in Sri Lanka.

Although it seems that I am gratuitously mentioning my tropical sojourn every time I draw digital breath, I feel like the setting of the ‘I Finally Give Tim Winton Another Go’ melodrama was important. It’s not that I’m so literal as to think a beachside location is integral to appreciating Breath. But interspersing my reading stints with the occasional surrender to tiny but powerful waves, on a shoreline tremendous with whiteness, lent another dimension to my experience of Breath’s grace and power.

Breath opens with Bruce Pike roaring up the road with another paramedic to a house where a seventeen-year-old kid has died of asphyxiation. Jodie, Bruce’s colleague, assumes that the teenager has committed suicide. Bruce knows better; he may be ‘arrogant, aloof, sexist, bad communicator, gung-ho’, but he knows what young Aaron’s motivations were, just like they his own. Once, Bruce – Pikelet – was a kid from Sawyer, ‘a town of millers and loggers and dairy farmers’. But then he chanced to follow his mate, Loonie, clinging gamely one day to the tie-rail of a flatbed truck, and he saw the ocean.

Pikelet’s first glimpse of the surf and its inhabitants haunts him: ‘How strange it was to see men do something beautiful. Something pointless and elegant’. Pursuing the surf swallows up his time, and his fledgling adult identity: to follow the surf is to defy his father, who is petrified of the open water. Pikelet and Loonie get their start with a motley group of surfers, before they succeed to the mentorship of Sando, a ‘huge, bearded, coiled-up presence’, whose ability in the surf is unparalleled in their small acquaintance. Before long Pikelet and Loonie are striving to the heights that Sando sets them, and competing against each other for his regard and the wildest wave.

What blew me away was the sheer physicality of Winton’s ocean. I’ve never felt more terrified and awed and seduced by a description as I have when reading Winton’s Old Smoky, the wave that baptises the boys as local surfing mavericks, and the Nautilus, a notorious wave that taunts Pikelet and Loonie with its unpredictability and danger. Breath parses the surf in straightforward poetry, from Old Smoky’s immense ’sound of sheetmetal shearing itself to pieces’ to the gentler water’s ‘cauls of fizz and light’, which accompany the surfer who’s taken on the impossible and won. I’ve never seen surf like that, but I’m pretty sure I will always be able to call to my mind’s eye the spectacle of thousands of cubic metres’ worth of spine-snapping water curving in a wall towards a person, tiny on a board of fibreglass and foam.

In some ways, the novel’s structure is but a viable vehicle for the absolute, unbiddable presence of the water. Something that I read about Tim Winton and Breath, long before I ever read the book, is James Ley’s comment that ‘Winton is a high symbolist working in a realist mode’. I came across this quote at Kerryn Goldsworthy’s blog, and it stayed with me for two years. Ley’s comment deeply affected the way I read the book. Aspects of the novel feel like they are in service of the novel’s focal symbol, the breath, including Pikelet’s sexual relationship with Sando’s wife, Eva, who herself seems merely perfunctory at times.

Nevertheless, what a way to shirk any indifference I felt about a writer many consider Australia’s finest. Good to meet you again, Tim.

February 23, 2010

In popular TV show Thank God You’re Here, Australian actors and comedians are thrown into a situation they know nothing about and attempt to make it out alive, as well as angle for a few laughs along the way. Even as only an occasional television watcher, I’m familiar with the dark edges of Bob Franklin’s deadpanning; in this skit, he tells his ‘employee’, a tea lady, that she is not going to be ‘sacked’, but ‘put down’. That famously head-cocked view of the world paired with its being the first in Affirm Press‘s Long Story Shorts series made Franklin’s début publication, Under Stones, an immediately compelling proposition when Affirm’s Associate Publisher, Rebecca Starford, told me about it late last year. (Note: Bec and I are now colleagues at Kill Your Darlings.)

Franklin’s comedic experience tells in this collection of short stories, but not in the expected tally of belly laughs. (In fact, it’s the most self-consciously quirky story, ‘Thesis Examining a Student’s Path to Crime’, that strikes the one false note for me.) Rather, he’s a deft technician of story and its elements – tension, denouement, character, voice. These competencies serve him well in drawing the reader down through a suburban landscape that is at once familiar and much stranger than we know it. In ‘Ironman’, the first story, Ironman is a high-functioning Australian middle-class hero who ‘pounds the roads’ past the ‘abo’ perched on the beach. ‘Get used to me, I’m part of the landscape now,’ is Ironman’s catchcry, which rebounds between other racially charged insults and his wife’s tired half-silence. The bleakness that Ironman associates with native Australians, however, is visited upon him in a mocking, symbolic and haunting fashion when he arrives home one evening to discover his wife and children have disappeared.

It is clear from this, and many of its companions, that in Under Stones, Franklin has assembled myriad tales of unexpected disturbance and horror that scratch at the wales and wounds we bear. While the situations he describes are unexceptional, the conclusions his characters draw often are. In ‘Soldier On’, Phil, an itinerant but considerate son visits his parents in Paignton, Devon. Phil carps about illicit substances and the painful but necessary observances required of a filial visitor, but he also witnesses an unsettling longing in the elderly he sees around him. At first, it’s reasonable to suspect that his sensitivity is purely a correlate of his discomfort at being a distant son – one visit to the frozen waterside ends in Phil sighting aging faces under the ice. But illicit substances aren’t only for the young and disaffected among us.

Other stories in the collection possess an even more heightened sense of unease. ‘Take the Free Tour’ is a capacious psychological tale that toes the real/unreal divide most chillingly. Its eerie depths are accentuated by the sheer commonness of its protagonist, one Duncan Shaw – ‘unremarkable local reporter by day’ and ‘Dale Thorn, narrator of some of the toughest, most sarcastic private eye adventures that ever failed to impress an editor’ at night. The ‘tour’ of the title is a complimentary gander at a pornographic website, which speedily turns into a fixation. That in itself is no big juice, but the ‘voyeuristic orgy of depravity’ coincides with a number of inexplicable, vile acts at Duncan’s workplace: ‘marks … the colour of pale flesh, and phallic in shape’ turn up on photographs that are supposed to accompany a piece he is writing, and his autumnal desktop background is supplanted by a graphic image of a blonde woman. Endlessly worse manifestations disport themselves, implicating Duncan to his workmates. Frighteningly for Duncan – and the reader – he cannot fathom how these degenerate episodes materialised.

The conjunction of the ordinary and the weird has long been an inspiration to writers, and Franklin is no different. Far from being merely spooky or bizarre tales, the stories in Under Stones effect their rumour of unease on the winds of what we’re already hiding from: fear, the inexplicable and what’s hiding under stones.

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There’s a reason I avert my eyes from multi-author short story collections, and it’s this: you have favourites among the throng, and nothing can stop you from loving those bright-eyed scamps more than the others. I’m an egalitarian reader, and love to love everything the same. But it’s difficult to shy away in the case of a book like Readings and Writings: Forty Years in Books, a collection no doubt published because independent Melbourne bookshop Readings has a clientele able to discern their Carver from their Chekhov, their Kennedy from their Lahiri. An editorial team headed by Jason Cotter and Michael Williams has brought together the shining lights of the short fiction form in Australia, including Alex Miller, Peter Goldsworthy, Cate Kennedy, Paddy O’Reilly and Tony Birch. The book not only brings good literary will to its readers; in addition, proceeds from the book go to The Readings Foundation, which supports local community and arts projects.

So, a book full of treasures. But the heart is wilful, and it goes where it pleases. Can I say how surprised I was by where it took me, and how grateful I was to discover the final destination? For example, I know who Mark Seymour is – he’s indirectly responsible for the longstanding but one-sided love affair I had with Paul McDermott when I was but an impressionable teen. But I had no idea Seymour was such a master of voice, of getting into a fictional skin. ‘The Scragger’ is a masterpiece showcasing the laconic Australian sporting male. Shawsie is a footballer, the ‘new dog in the kennel’. His anxieties are necessarily more hidden than others’, but his desires are plain for everyone to see. It’s the last game of the season, and he wants a run, badly. But he’s new in from the state league and the opposition players are huge, vicious, scraggin’. Coded in expletives, Shawsie’s verbiage is a wonderful couch for the ‘first run’ dream and the ‘couldn’t give a shit’ attitude expected of the sportsperson:

As if I don’t care about people’s feelings. Course I care. I mean, if I look at your face and you’re upset about something I’m going to notice that, right? And I’ll probably ask you what the matter is. On the other hand, I’m not soft either. I don’t suck up to anybody. I mean, there are bullshitters everywhere, don’t you reckon? Some people really know how to get the sympathy vote. ‘Squeaky wheels’ Dad calls ‘em … Mum too for that matter. ‘Watch out for the squeaky wheels,’ she used to say. That was a long time ago though.

Seymour’s writing is immediate and physical; it feels like it feeds straight into the part of the brain that perceives three-dimensional movement.

Like sentiment and football, youth and small town boredom are uncomfortable bedfellows, and Jenny Sinclair’s ‘Postcards’ is a bang-on sketch of what a kid with an adventurous bent might do: ‘Technically speaking it was a motorbike.’ In four skilful pages, Sinclair wraps the teenaged Owen in well-meaning relatives and benign promises and also the promising dust of the road. It’s a great little piece, with a focus on loving escape.

Now that I look again at Robbie Egan’s ‘Snake’, I’m starting to see a theme in the stories in Readings and Writings that have so enthralled me. ‘Snake’ begins with some kids playing around a river on a day Melburnians won’t need to try too hard to imagine, a day of blazing heat and lazy languor. Fans oscillate and boys smoke while their friends on the riverbank mangle their turn jumping into the water. But every action has its reverse and a single event has the day in tragic rewind.

Plenty of the other stories are great companions. David Cohen’s ‘Woodcutter’ is whimsical and fatalistic in the way of George Saunders, and Alex Miller’s ‘The End’ is a seemingly gentle story that groans terrifically at its end with a brutal kind of respite. In ‘Icarus’, Leanne Hall figures the remembrance of an installation artist in a way that foregrounds the allure of both the work and the strange unknowable person behind tangible flights of fancy. The foreword by Shane Maloney laughingly captures the character of the Readings enterprise, a place where ‘Helen Garner freewheeled past with a gasfitter’s apprentice over her shoulder’ and ‘The proprietor, a ruffian named Rubbo, stood behind an oak-laden counter, idly slitting the pages of uncut hardbacks with a switchblade stiletto.’ Rubbo’s introduction is a great read too, telling the story behind the big blue R.

Such were my bright-eyed scamps. Perhaps yours are different?

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