Just one round of Meanjin‘s tournament of books to go … after this one, that is.
The Zombie round comprises the winners of Semifinals 1 and 2 being pitted against the books returned to the fray by reader vote in the Zombie poll (on which I reported at the end of the Semifinals post).
Well, hmmm … I don’t have a particular problem with the winner here as they are both very fine books. I love Gilgamesh and would not be sorry to see it win, though I did have a slight preference for Carpentaria because of the “bigness” (to use my best litcrit terminology) of its idea/s and language. It is a larger than life novel that takes you on a very wild ride. And it explores some of the conflicts and challenges faced by contemporary Indigenous Australians, something we need to see more of in our contemporary literature. But, this judging was odd. Firstly, the judge was First Dog on the Moon, the pseudonym of Andrew Marlton, the cartoonist for the independent electronic magazine Crikey. This is fair enough, but he got his facts wrong. He described the two books he was judging as “zombie” books. However, only one is. And then, the judging took the form of a cartoon. It was just a little too light-hearted, a little too minimal … but perhaps, really, he took just the right tack. We’ll get a winner in the end but we all know, don’t we, that all the books are winners!
Ah well, the grand old dame of Australian literature, the bequeather of our (arguably) most important literary prize, has been toppled off her perch by the zombie! Just shows it’s never over till it’s over, eh? Lorelei Vashti, the judge, uses some rather odd criteria to make her decision – she likes the old-fashioned (or, is that, oldfashioned) way Garner’s book used “ear-rings” for “earrings”; she believes (and gives examples) that men called Harry always get the girl but Franklin’s Sybylla rejects her Harry for a career! In the end, being (semi-) serious, she gives it to Garner because, and I’ll quote:
So, in conclusion: near the end of The Children’s Bach, Philip instructs a girl who is trying to write pop song lyrics: ‘Make gaps. Don’t chew on it. Don’t explain everything. Leave holes,’ and that there is a Garner masterclass; it’s precisely what her book does. You never find her doing something so obvious as, for example, rhyming Harry with marry; this book is all about the gaps and holes.
I do think Garner is a very fine writer, so I won’t argue – though I probably wouldn’t have argued with the alternative either. It’s that sort of tournament after all.
The Final. Who will win? Gilgamesh or The children’s Bach? Which would you vote for?