My literary week (13), it’s (mostly) all about Aussies

This last week or so we’ve been on the road again, severely cutting into my reading time, but literary things have been happening, nonetheless.

National Bookshop Day, 2018

Readings Kids, Carlton

Readings Kids, Carlton

Yesterday, August 10th, was, as many of you know, National Bookshop Day and I did, in fact, visit a bookshop, Readings in Carlton, Melbourne. I bought Gerald Murnane’s Border districts, which brings me one step closer to reading this Miles Franklin shortlisted book. Daughter Gums and I also visited, next door, the Readings Kids bookshop, where she bought Alison Lester’s Rosie sips Spiders for a baby shower she was attending this weekend.

It was so hard not to buy more, but you all know how behind I am in my reading so you’ll understand my abstemiousness!

I’d love to hear what you did – if you are an Aussie – to support the day?

Alison Lester Gallery

A couple of days before National Bookshop Day we were driving to Melbourne from Canberra via one of the long routes, in this case via Cann River. It was an interesting drive that took us through some quite dramatic landscapes – from the shimmering yellow-white colours of the Monaro in drought to the lush green of south-east Victoria which is not!

Alison Lester GalleryOn Day Two we overnighted at Foster, in order to visit Wilson’s Promontory, before driving on to Melbourne the next day via Fish Creek. Now, Fish Creek is a very pretty little town that also happens to be the home of the Alison Lester Gallery – yes, the Alison Lester who wrote (and illustrated) the book Rosie sips spiders mentioned above. Fish Creek is a lovely little town, and is in the region where Lester was born, grew up and still lives. We bought books here for our new Grandson Gums. The Gallery sells Lester’s books plus numbered prints of her beautiful book illustrations. It also has a little library nook where you can read her books before you decide to buy them. Unfortunately Lester wasn’t there, but you can organise to have your books signed if you want to (and don’t mind waiting for your books!)

BTW Alison Lester was one of Australia’s Inaugural Children’s Laureate from 2011 to 2013, which I wrote about back then.

The Wife and RBG

One of our Melbourne traditions is to have a meal and see a movie with Daughter Gums. We usually go to Cinema Nova (across the road from Readings Bookshop.) It’s a big complex, but not at all like those big impersonal suburban multiplexes. The cinemas are mostly small, and many have rather idiosyncratic layouts, but the movie selection is wonderful. We decided to see The wife, starring Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce, and adapted from Meg Wolitzer’s novel, that I haven’t read. It focuses on the responses and feelings of the wife of an author who is told he has won the Novel Prize for Literature. If you don’t know the story, I don’t want to spoil it, but it is a great film for booklovers, and, particularly, for women booklovers! I enjoyed seeing Glenn Close again in a meaty role. The story is full of issues to chew over about gender, morality, pride, vocation, relationships over the long haul, and about how a door chosen can have unexpected ramifications down the line.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court of the United States (Source 2)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Then, suddenly finding ourselves with some extra free time, Mr Gums and I took the opportunity to also see the documentary RBG about the US Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As documentaries go, this takes a pretty standard form – a combination of archival footage, contemporary footage, interviews with Ginsburg and with friends, family and colleagues. Wikipedia quotes film reviewer Leslie Felperin who says:

…there is something deeply soothing about RBG, a documentary that, like its subject, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is eminently sober, well-mannered, highly intelligent, scrupulous and just a teeny-weeny bit reassuringly dull.

As I said, traditional in form, but the subject is so intelligent and her contributions to thinking about women’s rights so relevant beyond the USA, that the film kept us engaged from beginning to end. She is a fascinating woman with an inspiring capacity for clarifying the complex.

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Dark Emu

Bruce Pasco, Dark emuNow, we didn’t quite see Bangarra Dance Theatre’s performance of Dark Emu this week but we did see it very recently so I’m sneaking it in here. This is Bangarra’s interpretation of Bruce Pascoe’s book Dark emu (my review) in which he argues that indigenous Australians were not hunter-gatherers but had an agricultural practice, a practice that better proves, in legal terms apparently, their sovereignty or ownership of the land.

I wondered how they would balance the abstraction of dance with the literalness of the theory Pascoe presents (a theory that requires evidence of all sorts of agricultural practices) without, somehow, being prosaic. The dance, the props (which helped convey activities such a corralling animals, damming water, storing food), the lighting, and the music (which mixed traditional sounds with more suggestive modern ones) kept the audience on track with the story being told, although I understand Canberra reviewer Michelle Potter’s point that we didn’t always comprehend the “meaning” of what we were seeing in terms of the theoretical argument. For Mr Gums and me, though, these concerns were not strong enough to spoil the spectacle of Bangarra’s dancing. The moves, the shapes, the energy – we can never get enough of them and we did “get” the main threads of the narrative. (And, I suspect a second viewing would make a big difference. It is sometimes tricky to separate out spectacle from meaning first time around.)

Can the Coens be serious?

Of course they can! In fact many of their films are comic with a dark side. This is particularly so of the first film of theirs that I saw, Fargo. It is one of those films you don’t forget. I don’t blog about all the films I see, and when I do blog about them, it’s usually an Australian film. Our industry is so overlooked – in Australia, let alone the world arena – that I like to do my bit. But, it is hard to resist commenting on a Coen Brothers film – and so I’m not going to (resist that is!). The film I’m talking about is their latest, A Serious Man.

A Serious Man chronicles a couple of weeks in the life of physics professor Larry Gopnik at the point that everything starts to unravel for him. It all starts (ostensibly) when a failing Korean student attempts to bribe him and his wife asks for a divorce. It’s all downhill from there as the hapless Larry’s fortitude and attempts to be a good and “serious man” are tested again and again. If you have a biblical background you will see parallels here with the story of Job. As for me, I reckon there’s a bit of the Everyman in him. Before his story starts, however, there is a funny little sepia-tone prologue set in a Polish shetl in which a man invites home another man who had helped him on the road, except that the wife believes that the man had died years ago and that her husband had introduced a dybbuk (evil spirit) into the house. These characters are never referred to again but they set the tone, introducing the idea of bad things happening – and of those things perhaps having some supernatural origin.

Like all Coen Brothers films, this is a stylish movie – it has that sort of heightened naturalism (or is it realism!) that I tend to love (like you also find in Mad Men). The details of its midwestern 1960s setting are beautifully rendered, the characters are both larger and smaller than life (if you know what I mean), the music is apt as ever, and it mocks and it mocks and it mocks our failings as human beings. Interestingly, it does not use a named cast as many of the Coens’ recent movies have. It’s also very Jewish. It’s imbued with that Jewish sense of fatalism (“why is God doing this to us?”) and is presented with typically Jewish self-deprecating humour. Some criticise it for being stereotypical – and it is. But that’s part of its humour. If you don’t get that sort of humour – if you don’t see the humanity behind it – you won’t like the movie.

When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies… (Rabbi Marshak)

We can’t ever really know what’s going on. (Larry)

Now, I have to warn you that my son, a very keen Coen fan, did NOT like this movie. Well-made he said, and he giggled a bit he said, but he found it mean-spirited and oppressive. He’s not the only one. It seems that this movie is splitting critics. Our very own Margaret and David are split: Margaret gave it 2 stars out of 5, while David gave it 4. Margaret, like my son, felt it was mean and unlikeable, whereas David, like me, found it funny with its own sense of warmth. How can the same film have two such opposing points of view? So, if you haven’t seen it, don’t take my word for it – you know what to do!