Six degrees of separation, FROM Friendaholic TO …

My posting continues to be irregular and erratic, but things are looking up, and we are coming to the end of the BIG DECLUTTER. I really hope to get back to reading more books, and writing more posts very soon – and, to reading all the other blog posts that I’ve been so neglecting. Meanwhile, let’s move on from, and get onto Six Degrees. If you don’t know how it works, please check host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

The first rule is that Kate sets our starting book. In June, it’s yes another book I haven’t read, Elizabeth Day’s Friendaholic: Confessions of a friendship addict. It sounds like a book I would enjoy because friends have always been a very important part of my life, but do I need to read a 400+ page book about friendship? Probably not right now, but I’d be interested to read some reviews by bloggers who do read it.

It’s a while since I’ve done Six Degrees title poem but Elizabeth Day’s Friendaholic seemed to be asking for it – and, I could do it in the time I had available. Hope you enjoy. (Links on the titles are to my reviews).

Mrs Spring Fragrance,
Warming the core of things
In certain circles,
But now, Summer’s gone,
And we’re Paris dreaming
For A stolen season.

With thanks to the authors of my chosen works – Edith Maude Eaton, Elizabeth Harrower, Norma Krouk, Charles Hall, Anita Heiss and Rodney Hall. All are Australian, I’ve just realised, except for Edith Maude Eaton. She was an English-born Chinese American writer who wrote under various names including Sui Sin Far. The work of hers I’ve linked here is a Library of America published short story, hence no book cover.

Now, the usual: Have you read Friendaholic? And, regardless, what would you link to?

William Trevor, The dressmaker’s child (#Review)

I knew, when Kim (Reading Matters) and Cathy (746 Books) announced their “A year with William Trevor” project, that I had a little book containing some William Trevor short stories but, could I find it? Nope. It was a little book after all. And then, voilà, just the other day while I was doing my book decluttering and packing, I came across it. It’s Pocket Penguin 22 from Penguin’s 70 Years celebration, and is called The dressmaker’s child, but it contains three short stories, so these will be my (very willing) contribution to the project. Two of the stories were chosen by the author from previous collections, but for the titular story this is its first appearance in book form.

Most of you will know of Trevor (1928-2016) but, in a nutshell, he’s an Irish writer of novels and novellas, short stories and plays. He won many literary awards in his life, and was particularly well regarded as a short story writer – making him right up my alley. In fact I have read one of his short stories before, early in this blog.

In her most recent Trevor review (of a novel titled The children of Dynmouth) kimbofo writes that it didn’t take her long to feel that she was in “familiar William Trevor turf in which he takes a seemingly ordinary character with eccentric traits and lets them loose in a confined setting”. This could apply to the short story, “The dressmaker’s child”, as it is about a young nineteen-year-old motor mechanic, Cahal, working for his father in a small town. He’s the only son in a family of girls – all of whom have left – and he is “scrawny” with a “long face usually unsmiling”. The story opens on him applying WD-40 “to the only bolt his spanner wouldn’t shift”, which sets a tone that perhaps other things are, or might be, locked up for our protagonist.

As he continues to work on the car, a young Spanish couple appears, wanting to be driven out to see the Sacred Virgin (Our Lady of Tears) who they believed – that is, they had been told so by a barman – would bless their marriage. Now Cahal knows the statue’s special spiritual status had been disproved and thus rejected by the church, but with a 50-euros job in the offing, he doesn’t actively dissuade them from their mission.

Trevor describes the trip, complete with hints of self-delusions, until on the way home Cahal’s car hits a child – the dressmaker’s child – who is known to run at cars and who, up till then at least, had never been hurt. With the Spanish couple kissing in the back of the car, and choosing avoidance over action, Cahal continues driving despite being aware of “something white lying” on the road behind him. Back in town, nothing is said about the dressmaker’s daughter for a few days, but Cahal remains uncertain. It affects his relationship with his young woman, and when the dressmaker herself starts to appear in town at his side, hinting that she knows what had happened, but is not reporting him, his fears and uncertainty increase.

This is not a thriller, but there is a plot and an ending (of course) so I will leave the story here. It’s nightmarish stuff, but very real too.

Trevor’s writing, his unfolding of story and character, is a pleasure to read. Take Cahal’s character, for example. From the stuck bolt (albeit does start to loosen, hinting at possibilities), he is depicted as rather gormless, bowling along, taking opportunities as they come without a lot of consideration – and somewhat different to his father who, during a conversation about the Swedish couple, shakes his head “as if he doubted his son, which he often did and usually with reason.”

This brings me to the point of the story which, as we are slowly brought to see, is the impact on Cahal of what he did or didn’t do – and the almost catatonic fear it engenders:

Continuing his familiar daily routine of repairs and servicing and answering the petrol bell, Cahal found himself unable to dismiss the connection between them that the dressmaker had made him aware of when she’d walked behind him in the night, and knew that the roots it came from spread and gathered strength and were nurtured, in himself, by fear. Cahal was afraid without knowing what he was afraid of, and when he tried to work this out he was bewildered. 

It changes his life – not in the way we might expect but in a way that shows with absolute clarity how avoidance and inaction can be as potent as anything else. Trevor, like my favourite short story writers, is less about drama and more about the complex realities of human interaction in which accommodations rather than simple resolutions are more often the go. I look forward to the next story.

William Trevor
“The dressmaker’s child”
in William Trevor, The dressmaker’s child
London: Penguin Books, 2005
pp. 1-20
ISBN: 9780141022536
(First published in The New Yorker magazine, October 4, 2004: available online)

Six degrees of separation, FROM Hydra TO …

Oh my, oh my, I have not written a post since Monday. I am so focused on downsizing and packing, and everything else involved in selling a home, that I’m not getting much time for anything else – and when I do finally get time, all I want to do is fall asleep on my nice, new sunny bed (if it’s still the afternoon that is.) So, let’s just move on from all this, and get onto Six Degrees. If you don’t know how it works, please check host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

The first rule is that Kate sets our starting book. In May – to sound like a broken record, it’s another book I haven’t read – Adriane Howell’s debut novel, Hydra. I like the sound of the setting – the protagonist works in antiques (where the current focus, as many of you will know, is mid-century furniture, the sort my parents bought!) However, my first link will not relate to this, but to …

… something pretty obscure but that gives a little air to a different sort of work. Adriane Howell, besides being a novelist, established a literary journal a few years ago. It’s called Gargouille, is published in printed form, and was created with Sarah Wreford. Another literary journal was established by two women a few years ago, albeit an online one, Cicerone. Its focus is emerging writers and the founders are Nancy Jin and Rosalind Moran. Jin and Moran also published an anthology under the Cicerone banner, These strange outcrops: Writing and art from Canberra (my review), and that’s my first link.

I met Rosalind Moran in 2019 when she successfully applied for the New Territory Blogger program. The other successful applicant that year was Shelley Burr whose debut novel Wake (my review) was published last year, to significant acclaim in the crime writing world (and beyond.)

Wake is a debut crime novel in a rural setting – rural noir is one name for its genre. Another debut rural noir crime novel is Delia Owens’ Where the crawdads sing (my review). I could have chosen an Australian one, but felt it was time we sailed to other shores, so was pleased to find a relevant link that we could travel to.

I’m afraid, however, that my next post brings us back to Australia – at least as far as the author is concerned, but not in setting. My link is on titles starting with “Where the”, and the book is a children’s picture book written by Irma Gold and illustrated by Susannah Crispe, Where the heart is (my review). It is set in South America, and concerns a penguin.

Penguins, of course, have a special attraction for readers! And so it is to the publisher Penguin, and their Popular Penguins series of cheaper classics that I’m linking to next. The book I’ve chosen from the many possibilities is Randolph Stow’s Merry-go-round in the sea (my review).

Gabrielle Carey, Moving among strangers

At this point I had planned to take us over the seas again, but things can change quickly … and instead, my final link is by way of a little tribute to a lovely Australian writer whom we lost this week, Gabrielle Carey. Carey made her name with the autobiographical novel Puberty blues which she co-wrote with Kathy Lette, but she then went on to write very different works, nine in fact. One of these was a sort of literary memoir about Randolph Stow, that was inspired by her family’s connection with Stow. The book was Moving among strangers: Randolph Stow and my family (my review). Carey also wrote a thoughtful, enjoyable bibliomemoir about Elizabeth von Arnim which I’ve reviewed, and was apparently working on a book about James Joyce when she died. It’s all very sad, and I pass my condolences onto her family, friends and the wider literary establishment which appreciated what she had to offer.

So, let me just close there. Vale Gabrielle Carey.

Now, the usual: Have you read Hydra? And, regardless, what would you link to?

Myra Morris, The inspiration (#Review, #1940 Club)

As I have done for some previous “year” reading weeks*, I decided for 1940 to read a short story by an Australian author. After a bit of searching I settled on Myra Morris, and her story “Inspiration”, because … let me explain.

My last two Australian contributions for these reading weeks were works by men – Bernard Cronin and Frederic Manning – so this time I wanted to choose one of our women writers. I found a few in Trove, but the one that caught my eye was by Myra Morris, because she was already known to me: in my Monday Musings for the 1929 year, and back in 2012 in another Monday Musings where she was listed by Colin Roderick in his Twenty Australian novelists. She also has an entry in the ADB. Clearly she had some sort of career at least, even if she is not well remembered now.

Who was Myra Morris?

ADB‘s article, written by D.J. Jordan in 1986, gives her dates as 1893 to 1966. She was born in the Mallee town of Boort, in western Victoria, to an English father and Australian mother. Her literary abilities were encouraged by her mother and an English teacher at Rochester Brigidine Convent, and she had verse published in the Bulletin. From 1930 she was part of Melbourne’s literary, journalistic and artistic circles, and “was active in founding and organising the Melbourne branch of P.E.N. International”. Her circle of friends, it appears, included Katharine Susannah Prichard.

While she wrote book reviews, novels and essays, her favourite form was, apparently, short stories. She was published in newspapers, and her short stories have been anthologised, but there is only one published collection of her stories, The township (1947). Translations of her work were published in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Jordan writes that she:

has been acclaimed as one of Australia’s best short-story writers. Her clear pictures of life in country and town contain a wide range of characters and reveal her tolerance and understanding of humanity in its struggles. Like her novels, her stories combine earthy realism, poetic imagery and a broad humour. Sometimes her plots are marred by the demands of the popular market, but her often beaten-down and defeated people always contrast with her lyrical evocation of landscapes. 

“The inspiration”

I picked “The inspiration” primarily because it was by Myra Morris, but I was also attracted to it because it’s set in Melbourne and its protagonist is a musician. Both of these interest me. The plot centres on violinist, Toni Pellagrini, who, as you can tell by his name, is of Italian background. Every afternoon, he plays in a 5-piece ensemble in the cafe at “Howie’s emporium”. It’s when he is happiest, we are told. When he is playing, he is “a different creature entirely from the little dark, harassed person who at other times sorted out vegetables in his father’s fruit shop”. You sense the immigrant life. Indeed, at one point Toni realises that without his music he could be seen as “a fat, oily little Dago”.

Toni is ambitious. He wants to play somewhere better than the cafe, in Kirchner’s Orchestra for example. At the cafe, however, the customers are “indifferent”, and offer only “inconsequential applause”. They are more interested in their chatter, in being seen, than in the music. You know the scene. Toni’s distress starts to affect his playing, so much that the other players notice, until one day a young girl appears. She provides him with the needed inspiration (hence the title). She listens with an “absorbed gaze” and breaks into “furious clapping” when the music ends. Toni has his mojo back. Then, they hear that the famous Kirchner is looking for players and is at the cafe. But, as they begin to play, the girl is not there, and Toni is unable play well anymore without her, his inspiration …

What happens next is largely predictable – except that Morris adds a delightful little twist that doesn’t spoil the expected ending but adds an unexpected layer.

Like Jordan, the Oxford companion to Australian literature particularly praises Morris’ short stories, saying that “her talent for domestic realism and naturalistic description, especially of rural environments, is best suited to the short story”. “The inspiration” is not one of these stories – it is urban set, and is not domestic – but its immigrant milieu (both in Toni’s family and the gypsy-inspired ensemble in which he plays) and its resolution suggest a writer interested in capturing the breadth of Australian life as she saw it.

* Read for the 1940 reading week run by Karen (Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambling) and Simon (Stuck in a Book). This week’s Monday Musings was devoted to the year.

Myra Morris
Published in Weekly Times (2 March 1940)
Available online via Trove

Monday musings on Australian literature: 1940 in fiction

As many of you know by now, Karen (Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambling) and Simon (Stuck in a Book) run “reading weeks” in which they nominate a year from which “everyone reads, enjoys, posts and shares wonderful books and discoveries from the year in question”. The current year is 1940, and it runs from today, 10-16 April. As has become my practice, I am devoting a Monday Musings to the week.

1940 is a bit of a landmark year in Australian literature because it was the year that our significant literary journal, Meanjin, was first published – in Brisbane, by Clem Christesen. Its name comes from the Turrbal word for the spike of land where the city of Brisbane is located.

My research located books published across all forms, but my focus is fiction, so here is a selection of 1940-published novels:

  • E.C. Allen, Old Eugowra
  • Martin Boyd, Nuns in jeopardy
  • Roy Connolly, Southern saga
  • Frank Dalby Davison, The woman at the mill (short stories)
  • Dulcie Deamer, Holiday
  • Arthur Gask, The house on the fens and The tragedy of the silver moon
  • Beatrice Grimshaw, South Sea Sarah; Murder in paradise: Two complete novels
  • Michael Innes, The secret vanguard; There came both mist and snow; and The comedy of errors
  • Bertha A. Johnstone, Stream of years
  • Josephine Knowles, Leaves in the wind
  • Will Lawson, Red Morgan rides
  • Eric Lowe, Framed in hardwood
  • Nevil Shute, Landfall: A channel story and An old captivity (both of which I read in my teens)
  • Helen Simpson, Maid no more (see my post on Helen Simpson)
  • Christina Stead, The man who loved children (Lisa’s review)
  • F.J. Thwaites, Whispers in Tahiti
  • Arthur W. Upfield, Bushranger of the skies
  • Franks Walford, The indiscretions of Iole
  • Rix Weaver, Behold, New Holland (A Darned Good Read’s review)

Children’s literature was going strongly at the time, with books published by four authors still remembered as writers of our children’s classics, Mary Grant Bruce, May Gibbs, P.L. Travers, and Dorothy Wall.

I wasn’t going to focus on poetry and drama, but Bill, who checked my list against the Annals for me (as my copy is in Canberra, thanks Bill) added that Katharine Susannah Prichard’s play Brumby Innes also appeared in 1940.

There were very few literary awards at the time. The ALS Gold Medal went to William Baylebridge’s poetry collection, This vital flesh, though it was announced in 1941. The award actually announced in 1940 was for the 1939 winner, Xavier Herbert’s Capricornia, so I think I can also mention it here.

Writers born this year include some favourites, whom I’ve reviewed here, Carmel Bird, Marion Halligan and Geoff Page. J.M. Coetzee who migrated to Australia partway through his literary career was also born in 1940.

The state of the art

Of course, I checked Trove to see what newspapers were saying about Australian literature, and fiction in particular. In the last “year” I did, 1929, I found great enthusiasm to support and promote Australian literature, and this was still evident to some degree in 1940. It was war-time, but interestingly that didn’t feature heavily in the book-related articles I found.

“Fictional magazines” banned

One news item that did reference the war was reported by many papers in April. It concerned the Federal government’s decision to ban the importation of “fiction magazines from non-sterling countries”. The stated aim was “to conserve our overseas’ credit” (Queanbeyan Age, 23/4/1940), with The Forbes Advocate (16/4/1940) reporting that “it is estimated that this will save £100,000 a year in dollar exchange”. Exceptions to this ban were, as Adelaide’s The Advertiser (2/4/1940) reported, “magazines dealing with current news topics or technical and instructional publications”. Many newspapers added brief commentary to their reporting. The Advertiser, for example, commented that these banned recreational magazines had “little or no literary value” and that some had already been banned “because of their false accentuation of sex, horror and crime”. But, the point made by many, and I’ll quote The Advertiser again, was the benefit to Australian writers and illustrators:

Besides its wartime value in conserving dollar exchange, the restriction of imported fiction will, it is hoped, create a wider home market for Australian writers and illustrators.

And thus Australian stories for Australians! The Forbes Advocate took the argument further, arguing that ‘”Made in Australia” on nearly everything required in the Commonwealth would bring abounding prosperity’ – and make this continent, “mighty”.


Some reviewers commented on the “Australianness” of Australian novels they reviewed. Tasmanian Bertha A. Johnstone’s immigrant story, Stream of years, was described by her home state’s Mercury (6/4/1940) as “truly Australian and truly good” while Adelaide’s The Advertiser (28/5/1940) says of one of its denizen’s debuts, Josephine Knowles’ Leaves in the wind:

A FIRST novel by an Australian writer, apart from its intrinsic value, is of importance because of the proof that it furnishes that literary talent in this country is not stagnant.

The Argus (28/10/1940), on the other hand, reviewing Rix Weaver’s pioneer fiction, Behold New Holland, concludes that “Miss Weaver has wisely avoided any aggressive Australianism. She makes it a romance of pioneering adventure, vividly told, that would appeal to an English or an American reader”.

Many of these 1940-published novels were set in the bush, or in exotic locations further afield. Indeed, Echuca’s The Riverine Herald (24/6/1940), writes that one of Australia’s “most prolific” writers, Will Lawson, had ‘”gone bush” at Tahmoor (N.S.W.)’ in order to “complete his newest novel without any city distractions”. The novel was Red Morgan rides, a bushranging story.

What about the city?

I did find, however, one reference to the city-versus-bush issue. The article, in Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph (7/4/1940), written by one Sam Walpole, was pointedly headed “Let’s buy a yearbook for our authors”, and commences:

IT is remarkable how little impression seems to have been made on Australian authors by a curious fact recorded in the Commonwealth Year Book —that nearly two-thirds of the population of Australia live in towns. A foreigner would hardly suspect this fact from some stories, a collection short stories by ten Australian writers, mostly of the elder school.

The collection was “Some stories, by ten Australian writers”, and includes some writers we’ve come across before like J. H. M. Abbott and G. B. Lancaster. Walpole continues:

There are some lively pieces in the book — and some, less lively — but only one story (by Ethel Turner, about a hot day in Sydney) makes any serious attempt to describe the urban life which millions of Australians lead. It is odd that so many of our writers either escape into fantasy, or cling in spirit to the days when a steer ripped up Macpherson at the Cooraminta Yard. These days it is more likely that a taxi ripped up Macpherson in Pitt Street. It is time we had an O. Henry to chronicle the pangs and pleasures of Marrickvllle or Balmain, a W. Burnett to write about the Sydney underworld, a Sinclair Lewis to show our more smugly prosperous citizens how ludicrous they really are.

So, we go from those supporting the banning of “fictional magazines” (which primarily came from America) to a yearning for more relevant writing like that being produced in America! A good place to end, I think, this little survey of 1940.

Additional sources:

  • 1940 in Australian Literature (Wikipedia)
  • Joy Hooton and Harry Heseltine, Annals of Australian literature, 2nd ed. OUP, 1992 (with Bill’s help)

Previous Monday Musings for the “years”: 1929, 1936 and 1954.

Meanwhile, do you plan to take part in the 1940 Club – and if so how?

Six degrees of separation, FROM Born to run TO …

April already, and I am back in Melbourne to spend Easter with the family (and feed grandchildren too much chocolate probably!) But that’s a week away. Today is Six Degrees time. If you don’t know how the meme works, please check meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

The first rule is that Kate sets our starting book. In April, yep, it’s a book I haven’t read – again – Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, Kate calls it, Born to run. I make that point about “autobiography” because so often these days the books people write about their own lives tend to be “memoirs” but I presume Springsteen’s book covers more than a memoir typically does?

Book cover

For my first link I’ve gone with something pretty obvious, a memoir with “running” in the title, Haruki Murakami’s What I talk about when I talk about running (my review). This is definitely not autobiography because it really does focus on his running. I had hoped – despite the title – for a bit more about his writing!

Book cover

As I recollect, Murakami’s book takes a bit of a log-cum-diary form, so I’m going to another memoir that really is diary form, Helen Garner’s Yellow notebook: Diaries, Volume 1, 1978-1987 (my review). She is a mistress of the form and I hope to get to volume 3 next year – if life would just slow down a bit.

Book cover

In her book, Garner mentions many authors whom she admires. One of these is Christina Stead, whom she calls “a visionary”. I’m linking to her novel For love alone (my review).

The women in black, Madeleine St John, book cover

Christina Stead left Australia in her 20s, and made her name as a writer after she left our shores. Another Australian writer who made her name as a writer after leaving Australia is Madeleine St John, but it’s to her Australian-set novel, The women in black (my review), that I’m linking.

Jane Austen, Emma, Penguin

The women in black was adapted to film, but its title was slightly changed to The ladies in black. My next link is a bit cheeky, but not, I think, as cheeky as my last link will be. Jane Austen’s Emma (one of my posts) has been adapted several times to film and TV, but one of my favourites is the one Wikipedia describes as a ““reworking and updating”, Clueless. (Now, that’s a big change in title!)

Book cover

And now for, perhaps, my cheekiest link yet! Alicia Silverstone, who starred in Clueless as Cher (the updated Emma) left the movie world and became interested in animal activism and organic eating/veganism. Australian poet/novelist/essayist/academic David Brooks wrote a memoir-cum-reflection about his journey to vegetarianism and then veganism, The grass library (my review), in which he also talks at length about his relationship with some farm animals.

So, I could argue that I’ve achieved a bit of a circle this month, taking us from Springsteen’s autobiography to Brooks’ sort-of memoir? A circle is not required for the meme, so let’s not argue the point and just move on! We have covered a lot of ground from running, to diary-writing, to Aussie expats, before taking Jane Austen over to the US and ending up on a small farm in Australia’s Blue Mountains.

Now, the usual: Have you read Born to run? And, regardless, what would you link to?

    Six degrees of separation, FROM Passages TO …

    I may as well continue my practice of talking about the weather! Here down under, autumn has started, and we in the nation’s capital at least have had a beautiful start with the warm, mild days we love autumn for. May it continue for some weeks given our non-summer. Now, to this month’s Six Degrees. If you don’t know how the meme works, please check meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

    The first rule is that Kate sets our starting book. In March it is YET another book I haven’t read, though I remember it well, Gail Sheehy’s best-selling self-help book, Passages. GoodReads describes it as “a brilliant road map of adult life” so, what to link?

    Alex Miller, Lovesong

    Well, reader, I was challenged. The closest to self-help I’ve read is Julia Baird’s Phosphorescence but I’ve linked to that before. Perhaps, then, a book that spans adult life? Well, yes, I s’pose. That would certainly be doable, but, I’ve decided to go with author birth-date. Gail Sheehy was born in 1936, and so was the Australian author, Alex Miller, so it’s to his Lovesong (my review) that I’m linking.

    Elizabeth Jolley, The orchard thieves

    Now, another Australian author has also written a book titled Lovesong, Elizabeth Jolley. However, I read that before blogging, so I’m going to link to one of her books I have read since and reviewed here, The orchard thieves (my review). It’s a glorious book about a grandmother thinking about her children and grandchildren, about “little rogues and thieves” who “would, during their lives, do something perfect and noble and wonderful and something absolutely appalling”.

    Karen Viggers, The orchardist's daughter

    Somehow, I’ve read a few books about orchards, and one of them is local author Karen Viggers’ The orchardist’s daughter (my review), which is set in northwest Tasmania and deals with two siblings who had grown up on an orchard, though they leave it at the beginning. It’s a strong story about life and tensions in a logging-based town.

    For anyone who is up-to-date on Australian writing, the next link is so obvious I’m almost too embarrassed to make it, Robbie Arnott’s Limberlost (my review). This novel is set in a northeast Tasmanian orchard, and while it is not specifically about siblings, siblings do play a significant role. It also encompasses the issue of logging, though not as centrally as Viggers’ book does.

    Book cover

    Now, we really need to leave Australia, because, much as I love to promote Aussie Lit, I mustn’t be too ethnocentric about all this. So, my next link is on third novels. Limberlost is Robbie Arnott’s third novel. Singaporean author Balli Kaur Jaswal’s Erotic stories for Punjabi widows (my review) is her third novel, so, short and sweet, that’s my next link.

    Hanif Kureishi, The buddha of suburbia

    My final link is on subject matter, as both Jaswal’s novel and Hanif Kureishi’s The buddha of suburbia (my review) deal in some way with subcontinent culture in London. Jaswal’s protagonist, Nikki, is born in England to Punjabi immigrant parents, while Kureishi’s Karim is the English-born son of a Pakistani father from Bombay and an English mother. Both characters, in different ways, have to make their way through the intersection of anglo and immigrant cultures.

    So, we haven’t travelled a lot this month as we started in America with Passages, spent some time in Australia and then went to England! My author gender-split though has been 50-50 which I rarely achieve.

    Now, the usual: Have you read Passages? And, regardless, what would you link to?

    Six degrees of separation, FROM Trust TO …

    A month already into the new year, and of course I can’t believe it! Nor can I believe that I didn’t edit out last month’s opening paragraph when I published this month’s this morning, so this paragraph is different to the one that first went live! Silly me! We have just arrived in Melbourne for three birthdays, so my mind was elsewhere. Anyhow, I’ll put my red-face aside and get on with it. If you don’t know how Six Degrees works, please check meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

    The first rule is that Kate sets our starting book. In February it is another book I haven’t read, Hernan Diaz’s Trust. She chose it because it topped her 2022 “best of” book lists. It is about wealth and power in New York so my first thought was Tom Wolfe’s The bonfire of the vanities though I think this is a long bow in terms of the story. However, I haven’t reviewed that on my blog which is my rule-of-thumb for my links, so …

    I’m going the easy route and choosing one of the two books that topped my smaller 2022 list of favourite Aussie books. Of the two, I’ve read one (the other being on my February TBR) so that read one will be my link, Jessica Au’s Cold enough for snow (my review). I’m thrilled to hear that it has just been announced the winner of the 2023 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award Prize for Literature and the Fiction Prize.

    Cold enough for snow concerns a mother and daughter trip to Japan, though what it is about is something a bit different. Another daughter-mother story set in Asia, this time Korea, and told from the daughter’s point-of view, is Elisa Shua Dusapin’s Winter in Sokcho (my review), so that’s my next link.

    Book cover

    Dusapin’s narrator comes across as a bit of a misfit, as one who seems unwilling to follow the expectations of her community. She reminded me, in this sense, of the protagonist of Sayaka Murata’s Convenience store woman (my review). In fact, I’m not the only one who felt this connection because the GoodReads intro to Winter in Sokcho describes it “as if Marguerite Duras wrote Convenience Store Woman“.

    My next link is a bit cheeky, but Murato’s protagonist, Keiko, works, obviously, in a convenience store. Nardi Simpson, in her Song of the crocodile (my review), writes of one of her protagonists that “with guts and confidence, Celie turns her mother’s laundry skills into a business called the Blue Shed, providing work for herself and the other women”. Now, while a laundry isn’t technically a convenience store, I reckon it is a very convenient service, so that’s good enough for me.

    Book cover

    In Song of the crocodile, the crocodile is a totemic being who becomes angry when things in the town go far too awry for it to be tolerated any more. Peter Godwin’s memoir, When a crocodile eats the sun (my review) also invokes a crocodile being. As I wrote in my post, ‘The title comes from an old Zulu and Venda belief that a solar eclipse occurs when a crocodile eats the sun. They see it as the worst of omens, “as a warning that he [the celestial crocodile] is much displeased with the behaviour of man below”‘. (Of course, I could have just said that I was linking on the word in the title but that would be too obvious.)

    Peter Godwin is a Zimbabwean author, and as is Tsitsi Dangarembga. Indeed, they were born two years apart in what was then Southern Rhodesia, but of course to very different families. Anyhow, it’s to her, and her powerful novel This mournable body (my review) that I’m linking for my last book.

    So, a bit of an unusual chain this month, because most of my links draw from the content of the stories, rather than from my usual variety of link options. But this is all I had time to do this month. Five of my six authors are women, which is not very diverse, but we did travel to Japan, Korea, and Zimbabwe, as well as Australia – never once setting foot in the usual places like England and the USA. I’m sort of proud of that!

    Now, the usual: Have you read Trust? And, regardless, what would you link to?

      Claire G. Coleman, Night bird (#Review)

      Wirlomin-Noongar woman Claire G. Coleman’s short story “Night bird” is the second First Nations Australia story in Ellen van Neerven and Rafeif Ismail’s anthology Unlimited futures: Speculative, visionary Blak+Black fiction, the book I chose for Bill’s (The Australian Legend) Australian Women Writers Gen 5 Week. The week finished officially a week ago, but I’m hoping Bill won’t mind my still referencing it. Coleman is not new to my blog. I reviewed her debut novel, Terra nullius, the year after it came out. She has written more fiction and some non-fiction since then, with a clear focus on the devastating impact of colonisation on First Nations culture and people.

      “Night bird” continues this focus. It follows Ambelin Kwaymullina’s story in the anthology, “Fifteen days on Mars” (my review), which works well, because both draw on the importance and role of Ancestors in First Nations culture. Coleman’s story is told first person by an artist who is “too afraid to sleep, too tired to be awake”, who drinks to drown her sorrows, who fears she may be “going mad again [my emph]”. She tells us

      I am haunted by the ghost of my Ancestors’ Country like a phantom limb …


      I have been cut off from my Country, my ancestors cut up, the land drilled and dug and eaten by machines … my wounded homeland won’t let me rest.

      This is not a subtle story. The narrator (whom I think is female, so I’ll go with that) grieves for a life she “could never have” because Country has been “severed”. She has “returned to Country” but, finding it “dead”, “could feel nothing and none” of her Ancestors. She feels haunted, but by what or whom?

      I can hear a voice but I can’t make it out. I can hear a song but I can’t catch the words. I can hear the wind and it’s stealing my breath. I can hear nothing and it is screaming.

      Country is part of her, but she wants to be free of the haunting, the “wordless voice”, the “phantom presence” that won’t go away. There is a wind, but it is “coming from the wrong direction – away from Country”. Then,

      The wind changes, it caresses my back, and suddenly it’s coming from Country.

      However, at the same time, a man appears and threatens her. There are now two voices – his and the Ancestors. This is a story about a battle between disempowerment (represented by the man) and empowerment (represented by the Ancestors). Is she, and are they, strong enough to prevail?

      I suspect this story was inspired by an experience Coleman describes in her article in Writing the Country (The Griffith Review 63). She describes the life-changing experience of going to Country in 2015, her family’s Country that had been taboo due to a massacre that had occurred there in the nineteenth century. She writes:

      I didn’t go there until 2015, that place changed my life forever, my world, my life, even the way I breathed. I took the taboo air into my lungs and I did not die or maybe I did. The bones of my feet landed on the sand and returned to life, I was born again on Country. The story of that place made me a storyteller; story is in my veins.

      She says an old man told her that “no matter where we go Country calls out to us” and she writes of the bird, the Wirlo (or curlew), that “to me and mine are family”. Its cry, its scream, “calls me home” – as does the night bird in this story. She describes how Country cares for people as they care for Country. She writes:

      I wept when I realised Country had not forgotten me even when I did not know Country. My old-people, my ancestors, would care for me.

      All of this is seems embedded in “Night bird”, so now, back to it. It is another example of “Indigenous futurism”. It is ground very much in the real world. The voices that our narrator hears are mysterious, sometimes coming from her phone, sometimes from the air around her, but they are not magical, not fantastical, they are the Ancestors – and the story envisions a healthy relationship with them and thus Country.

      On her website, Coleman includes a link to an interview she did with VerityLa after Terra Nullius came out. Among the questions was that one we readers love, which is whether any authors or novels influenced her. The first one she named was HG Wells’ War of the worlds, because it “is great in giving an understanding of how to show an overwhelming powerful enemy destroying a less well-armed defender”.  “In fact,” she says, “War of the Worlds is a powerful text for the examination of invasion and colonisation”. You can certainly see its influence in Terra Nullius, and it is evident here too.

      Claire G. Coleman
      “Night bird”
      in Ellen van Neerven and Rafeif Ismail (ed.), Unlimited futures: Speculative, visionary Blak+Black fiction
      North Fremantle: Fremantle Press in association with Djed Press, 2022
      pp. 66-73
      ISBN: 9781760991463 (eBook)

      Ambelin Kwaymullina, Fifteen days on Mars (#Review)

      In 2014, Ambelin Kwaymullina, whose people are the Palyku of the Pilbara region of Western Australia, described herself in a Kill Your Darlings essay as writing “speculative fiction for young adults”. Three years later, in the 2017 Twelfth Planet Press anthology, Mother of invention, she said that she was “a Palyku author of Indigenous Futurisms”, citing Grace Dillon (as did I in this week’s Monday Musings) as the term’s originator. I share this progression in her thinking because it’s indicative of the energy and intellectual engagement among First Nations people with literature and the politics of what they are doing. Kwaymullina is an example of a First Nations Australian writer who is actively engaged in First Nations culture and thinking, as well as in the craft of writing.

      I first came across Kwaymullina early in my volunteer work for the original Australian Women Writers Challenge, because many reviews for her young adult novels were posted to our database. But, I had not read her because YA literature is not my thing. However, I decided to read Ellen van Neerven and Rafeif Ismail’s anthology Unlimited futures: Speculative, visionary Blak+Black fiction for Bill’s (The Australian Legend) Australian Women Writers Gen 5 Week 15-22 January, and the first work in the anthology by an Australian woman was “Fifteen days on Mars” by Kwaymullina. Woo hoo… here was my chance to finally read her. I will post on more in this fascinating book, which I’ve not yet finished, later.

      “Fifteen days on Mars” is an accessible short story, told chronologically from Day One to Day Fifteen. The politics is made clear in the opening paragraph, by beautifully skewering colonial settler behaviour concerning the naming of places:

      It had been almost a year since we came to Mars. That was what I called this place although it had another name. It was Kensington Park or Windsor Estate or something like that but I couldn’t have said what because I could never remember it.

      Our first person narrator Billie and her mum have come to Settler suburbia, where they are “the only Aboriginal people”, for some reason that is not immediately clear though we sense there’s a specific purpose. Billie hadn’t wanted to come but, as her mother’s only offspring without children, she’d drawn the short straw. The story starts with her pulling weeds from their garden, the very plants that the rest of the neighbourhood love, plants (I mean “weeds”) like roses. In this metaphorical way the colonial setting is established. This is a world we know. Very soon a new couple moves in across the road. Billie, at her Mum’s insistence, does the neighbourly thing, and makes contact. She quickly realises that their new neighbour, Sarah, is being abused by her husband, whom Billie calls The Suit. What to do?

      To this point, notwithstanding the hint at the start that there’s something unusual about the situation, the story reads like a typical piece of contemporary fiction – that is, set in the known present world. But slowly, we become aware that something else is going on. Billie refers to “the rules”. Does she just mean the normal “rules” of social behaviour? Nope, our suspicion is right, there is something else. There’s reference to Sarah needing to “ask”, and to whether what or how she asks is “good enough for them upstairs”, aka “the Blue”, as Billie’s mum calls them. Billie says:

      the truth was we knew very little about them, except they were some kind of intergalactic healers. But we knew why they’d come. It was because of the Fracture.

      So now it’s clear we are in speculative fiction/Indigenous Futurism/Visionary Fiction/SFF territory. This is the sort of speculative fiction I can enjoy, something that doesn’t require me to learn a whole new world but that injects something new into the world I know, something that upends it a little.

      The Fracture is not fully explained, but “something had smashed into the relationships that were space-time and cracks had spread out from the point of impact” resulting in, says Billie, “bubbles of the past floating across my reality”. The Blue, we are told, are trying to repair this Fracture, leaving humans “to do something about the bubbles” – but to the Blue’s rules. Billie’s mum had signed up “for the job of changing the bubble-world, or at least, of changing some of the people enough so they could exist in our reality”. Hmm, this makes them sound a bit like missionaries. An ironic twist?

      Anyhow, the story continues, with a strong reference to the Stolen Generations, as Billie and her Mum, recognising these are “strange times”, try a different tack to save Sarah, and call on the ancestors. They hope the Blue won’t mind.

      I will leave it there. I enjoyed the story – because it tells a First Nations story truthfully but generously; because the characters of Mum and Billie, while being somewhat stereotypical (the wise Mum and the reluctant Billie), are warm and engaging; and because the ideas and the story itself are intriguing to watch being played out.

      In her 2017 piece cited above, Kwaymullina describes Indigenous Futurisms as “a form of storytelling whereby Indigenous peoples use the speculative fiction genre to challenge colonialism and imagine Indigenous futures”. This is exactly what she does in “Fifteen days on Mars”. The colonial legacy is unmistakeable, with most inhabitants of Settler suburbia remaining “unbelievably ignorant”, but she also offers glimmers of hope. I don’t eschew bleakness, but as an optimist I also appreciate it when writers can see paths to a better future. It’s energising.

      Ambelin Kwaymullina
      “Fifteen days on Mars”
      in Ellen van Neerven and Rafeif Ismail (ed.), Unlimited futures: Speculative, visionary Blak+Black fiction
      North Fremantle: Fremantle Press in association with Djed Press, 2022
      pp. 42-64
      ISBN: 9781760991463 (eBook)