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Delicious descriptions from Down Under: Thea Astley on oddballs

April 13, 2011

Thea Astley is one of my favourite writers and so I thought my next Delicious descriptions should be from her. It won’t be the last because her writing is truly delicious. Up till now, my Delicious Descriptions have been of landscape/environment. This one  is about people. It’s from Drylands (1999), her last novel (or, really, a set of connected stories) and fourth Miles Franklin Award win. Its subtitle is “a book for the world’s last reader” and it’s based on protagonist Janet’s belief that “no-one’s reading anymore”,  that “smartarse technology” was invading people’s lives and resulting in alienation and disengagement. (What would she say about the rise of e-books?) Astley exaggerates, of course, but her belief in the social disintegration that inspired the book is palpable.

It is full of evocative quotable writing, but for this post I’ve chosen one that describes the characters of the town, Drylands, that Janet lives in:

What’s great about these godforsaken holes, Janet decided next morning, leaning over her small balcony and watching the place rub its eyes and start to wake up, are the oddballs. They stand out. You meet them. They enrich. No. More. They furbish the day.

Furbish the day! Thea Astley may have passed on to the big library in the sky, but she left behind an astonishing body of work that can’t help but furbish the days I choose to dip into them.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. April 13, 2011 15:16

    And one day, you’ll truly live up to the “delicious” aspect of this series’ name and incorporate some Aussie food writing, correct? 😀

    • April 14, 2011 00:16

      Hmmm…perhaps. I don’t read a lot of Aussie foodwriting, though perhaps Marion Halligan would be the shot. You’ve got me thinking…

  2. April 13, 2011 17:36

    This may be true of small towns but it’s very true of University Departments as well. Next time one of those oddballs makes life seriously interesting I will endeavour to remember that he is simply furbishing my day.

    • April 14, 2011 00:17

      I think that would be a good idea. It’s a great word isn’t it? Astely is wonderful.

  3. April 14, 2011 01:04

    “furbish the day” almost made me squeal with pleasure. What an unexpected and wonderful descritption. Now I would really like to read Drylands but I will have to get it through ILL so I need to make sure I have time to read it when I request it. Perhaps this summer.

    • April 14, 2011 08:40

      It’s a great book … she’s not a cheery writer but her language is wonderful. Some people find it a little over the top at times but in Drylands, her last novel, it’s evocative but tight I think.

  4. April 14, 2011 01:20

    The word ‘refurbish’ is in common usage such as ‘I want to refurbish that desk’, but never before have I seen the word ‘furbish’ used.

    • April 14, 2011 08:42

      No, I’m not sure I have which of course is why I loved this. Astley has a wonderful vocabulary and way with words.

  5. April 14, 2011 13:43

    I’m off to the Wheeler Centre on Tuesday of next week to hear all about Thea Astley, in their Late Greats series – can’t wait!

    • April 14, 2011 14:33

      Oh bother, serves me right for bragging – I’ve just had an email from the Wheeler Centre cancelling the event because two of the panellists have cancelled. Hmpf.

      • April 15, 2011 01:33

        Oh, I hadn’t seen this comment when I logged in to say I envy you! What a shame … I presume they’ll reschedule? If they do, I’ll look forward to hearing what they say.

        • April 15, 2011 14:48

          I had a follow-up from them, and yes, they are going to reschedule.
          I wonder who else they will do in the series: We’ve had Patrick White, and Ruth Park is next…

  6. April 15, 2011 17:32

    A name that keeps cropping up but who’s writing I have yet to investigate so thanks for the review!

    • April 18, 2011 08:59

      I’m sure she’ll be tricky to get over your way but she’s well worth giving a go.

  7. April 18, 2011 09:00

    Lisa, Elizabeth Jolley, surely (or did you also say they’d done her?). Randolph Stow perhaps? How far back will the go I wonder.

  8. April 19, 2011 12:55

    Giving up work is an increasingly attractive option…

    • April 19, 2011 14:24

      Yep, though I must say that life is so busy I scarcely read any more. It is nice being flexible though. (Oops trigger finger submitted this too quickly). Somehow I keep picking up work, taking on coordination responsibilities for various groups etc…and bang, there go a few more hours!

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