And I’ve been reading…

…quite a few books.

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I did finish My Dog Gave Me The Clap (2011) yesterday. And I do recommend it. The author doesn’t look quite as one might expect: that’s him top left. But we are warned:

The author swears this isn’t one of those semi-autobiographical first novels. Although we once heard him say it was, he’s adamant that was a joke. Maybe it’s just as well he clarified that point for us. Adam’s dog has already said he ‘resents the implication’ and we can only speculate as to what the chickens will say if, and when, they read chapter nine.

That said, this is a wonderfully grungy novel about Saul, a part-time muso and part-time teacher. Saul is the kind of guy who hangs out in his mate’s backyard planning the best way to acquit his unemployment benefit on booze. He’s trying to resolve the big questions in life – like what thoughts he should put in his negative thought diary, how to avoid the compulsory office teabreak and what the hell happened at last night’s drunken Akubra photoshoot.

One thing Saul knows already is that there are some gigs you simply don’t want to get. My Dog Gave Me The Clap is a discomforting, in your face, compelling and funny book about masculine identity and missed epiphanies.

It really is very funny and very sharp in portraying some of our societal foibles and blind spots.

Adam Morris is also in this band.

Here are the other reads:

smiley-happy005smiley-happy005[3]smiley-happy005[5]smiley-happy005[8] Kate Grenville, The Lieutenant (2008) – a very satisfying imaginative reworking of First Fleeter William Dawes (Rooke) and his relations with the Cadigal.

smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[14]smiley-happy005[16] Jessica Au, Cargo (2011).

Fiona Hardy chats to Melbourne writer, and former Deputy Editor for Meanjin Jessica Au about her debut novel Cargo.

In Cargo, we follow Frankie, Gillian and Jacob as they navigate their way through first loves, the dissolving of family lines, and the loss of youthful naïveté. Despite the characters being teenagers, this is very much a book for adults. Do you think the appeal lies in the fact that adults today are still presented with similar issues to those in your novel?

Well I wonder: do we ever really ‘grow up’ in a way? Of course we learn and shift and change, but somehow I think a lot of the things we go through in adolescence continue to reverberate throughout later life. When you’re growing up, adulthood can seem like a bit of a holy grail – a place of knowing and certainty and control – when of course that’s not the case (at least not for me anyway). There’s always going to be a bit of rawness, of wanting… that old ‘if only’ vein.

Also, even though Cargo is set very much in the ‘now’ (the voice is all present tense, for example, and the story spans over one summer), I feel that the writing itself has a strong inflection of nostalgia. There’s a real difference I think between living those years and looking back on them with new self-awareness or regret. It was the latter that I was trying to hone in on here. The ‘cargo’ of the title is a small nod to this – idea that these characters will carry the weight of what happens to them in the book for a long while after…

See also Jessica Au’s Cargo reviewed by Bel Woods.

smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12] John Tesarsch, The Philanthropist (2010).  This was a complete unknown. I found myself really enjoying the writing and admiring the wisdom.

John Tesarsch’s accomplished first novel The Philanthropist is a book about parents and children. It is about what we pass on, and what we inherit in turn. ‘The best thing a father can do, of course, is be there for his children. I wasn’t, because I was following false gods’ declares Charles Bradshaw, protagonist. He is speaking uninvited at the wedding of his mortified daughter, in the penultimate scenes of both the novel and his life. Here, Charles addresses the book’s underpinning theme, for The Philanthropist is also about money – the most imposing and controlling of the false gods Charles refers to.  Money inherited and endowed, the novel tells us, corrupts, controls, defiles, destroys – for generations. What Charles receives from his father he gives in turn to his son, with ever more cancerous consequences; each generation in the Bradshaw family more reliant on – and more deformed by – what their money can buy. We are exposed to other examples of this genealogical decay, for almost all of Tesarsch’s finely drawn characters bare the scars of their parental relationships – or lack thereof. Perhaps this is the way of the world, as Philip Larkin would surely agree.  In any case, The Philanthropist presents a deep and quietly sad exploration of the inevitably disastrous ways in which one’s parents might, without meaning to, ‘fuck you up’. It is a compelling read. – Alice Robinson in review linked at the title.

smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12] Michele Giuttari, Death in Tuscany.

I don’t know of another crime series written by as senior a detective as Michele Guittari, former head of the "squadra mobile" in Florence. His novels are based in part on his experience as a detective, and give insights into investigative procedure, but he also has a tendency to gravitate toward big conspiracies and standard plot devices. I have to mention as well that he evidently persecuted a pair of journalists with an alternate view of a real case that is part of his plot in his first novel, A Florentine Death, jailing one and kicking the other out of the country for the crime of contradicting the cop’s theory of the Monster of Florence case in both his police work and his own book on the case. In A Florentine Death, Giuttari offers a serial killer (an unavoidable cliche, it seems, in crime fiction) as well as an overarching conspiracy that’s not (quite) as grandiose as that of the Da Vinci Code. In the newly translated A Death in Tuscany, the crime is more ordinary, the murder of a young girl who is possibly an illegal immigrant, and the conspiracies that are offered are less grand (one involving the Mafia, naturally, and the other a group of Freemasons…

I found this an interesting read, though the Masonic bit is weird: they turn out not to be quite what one might expect and do seem rather unlikely. The mafia-style corruption, on the other hand, is very well presented.

Also reading Peter Firstbrook, The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family, which I am finding quite fascinating on colonial and precolonial East African history, but not all that relevant really to understanding Barack Obama.

… Firstbrook traveled to the African nation of Kenya, where he visited the towns and countryside around the shore of Lake Victoria still dominated by the Obama clan and other families that constitute the Luo tribe.

The Luo tribe originally resided in what today is the Sudan. Tribal members gradually migrated south and east through about 600 miles of swamp and jungle and desert before settling in what today is Kenya, a territory colonized by the British until a grant of independence during 1963.

The Luo people believe that blood is thicker than water. So they are proud of Obama, although he knows little about their culture. “The Luo will never consider Obama to be a white man,” Firstbrook comments. “Regardless of where he was raised or what he might say or do, they will always see him as an African – a true Luo with an ancestry that can be traced back two dozen generations.”

The genealogical aspect of Firstbrook’s book is important, given Obama’s world prominence. Yet for me and possibly many other readers, the book is more fulfilling when read as a contemporary family detective story, with Firstbrook as the guide and eventually the answer man to questions directly related to the Obama family.

In fact, Firstbrook may now know more about Obama’s roots than does the president himself. In the book’s prologue, Firstbrook says Obama has never heard from his Kenyan family tales such as “the extraordinary story of how his grandfather fell in love with his grandmother, nor the tragic circumstances of their separation.” Neither has Obama heard suspicions about how his father really died in 1982. Firstbrook’s research has yielded plausible narratives. I will not become the spoiler in this review…

I am now on a biggie in both Ozlit and Indigenous Lit: Alexis Wright, Carpentaria (2006). It won the Miles Franklin on 2007. I know Nicholas Jose is a great admirer, and I am so far most impressed. See what this left-wing blogger said in 2007: Review: Alexis Wright, Carpentaria:

I have this strange feeling when I drive through Port Augusta. I feel like I’m about to finally leave the bland, suburban world in which I live (Adelaide) behind, and enter Australia.

It had never occurred to me that if I drove far enough north east of Port Augusta I might finally reach a place where Australia stopped and some strange, surreal other world began – the mud flats of the coastal Gulf of Carpentaria.

Actually, I didn’t find that out by driving there at all.

Instead, comfortably ensconced in my Adelaide house, I’ve just read Alexis Wright’s superb new novel Carpentaria.

It is another world about which she writes, a world where highways of the sea are as familiar to those who know them as roads on dry land, and where an Aboriginal activist can emerge from communities of despair to challenge the murderous might of a big mining company…

Capricornia is set in a fictional Gulf township called Desperance. “Desperance is Australia really at the moment,” Wright explained to ABC radio journalist Phillip Adams on July 3, “a really desperate place at the moment. We see it every day as indigenous Australians.”

Desperance is divided into its white Uptown community and two mobs of pricklebush dwellers, Norm Phantom’s Westside mob and Joseph Midnight’s Eastside mob. The pricklebush communities are at war with each other, and Uptown wants to put the bulldozers through the lot of them. Outside of town is the mine, inflaming and dividing the community so as to pursue its commercial venture without opposition.

Wright has dedicated Capricornia to two indigenous men, Doomadgee’s recently sacked Mayor Clarence Walden and Gulf country activist Murrandoo Yanner…

Wright told the ABC’s Kerry O’Brien recently that Yanner is a “hero, he’s our hero in the Gulf of Carpentaria. He’s one of the strongest young men I’ve come across. He’s fighting for land rights, for people’s rights every single day…he’s just growing stronger every day.”

Yanner inspired the character Will Phantom in Capricornia.

This is a great novel and a major addition to the storehouse of progressive Australian literature.

It is clearly an extraordinary novel. A top read of 2012. smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]