It’s here, it’s really here. Atwood day. I saw this live so there will be secret extras that hit the editing room floor. Ooooo exclusive. The Book Clubbers are discussing The Handmaid’s Tale. Yes I am wetting myself with excitement. Even the great Atwood herself knows that I am wetting myself with excitement. Heck, she retweeted me talking about my leaky bladder of excitement.
So let’s just say I’m stoked. I can tell even JByrne is excited about this. She’s supercharged herself with horse power, wearing a horse print blazer. Giddy up. Of course there is guest CS Pacat who is always dressed as if ready to go for a quick trot and Zoe Norton Lodge, who is a unicorn. The most magical of horse creatures. Unless there are any centaurs or pegasus reading this, then you guys are, fuck the unicorns. And Ace is clearly a stallion. Neeeiiiggghhh. This horsey team, accessorised with Marieke the kitten, are all geared up and ready to canter into action. We could be forgiven for assuming that the modern text being discussed tonight is about horses. It is not. It is Lincoln in the Bardo, which is a heady mix of….
THERE’S A TISSUE ON THE GROUND. A TISSUE!!!!! Stop looking at it. No, I can’t look away. Must look away and concentrate BUT THERE’S AN EFFING TISSUE ON THE GROUND. Is it multiplying and then unmultiplying? Continuity!
Forget the tissue. They’re discussing how Lincoln in the Bardo is George Saunders’ first full length novel and that he is considered to be the master of the short story form. Apparently people are super psyched that he’s put together a novel. Important people are excited.
But first JByrne has to tell us what is going on in the literary landscape at the moment. She says that the latest Harry Hole thriller is out, I can’t get down exactly what she’s saying, but trust me the words aren’t important. What is important is that she sounds like Jimmy Fallon’s imitation of Barry Gibb and it is GLORIOUS.
It has been fifty years since Picnic at Hanging Rock was published. We must obviously all go on a picnic together. Marieke mentions a haunting tale of a young Marieke, roaming the areas where the iconic Picnic at Hanging Rock was filmed, she got her knee stuck in the rock there. That’s it, shut that place down. It tried to eat Marieke. It’s haunted. Case closed. Foxtel is apparently putting out a new version of it. I hope it is not as cursed.
Time for the dramatic recreation of Lincoln in the Bardo. Is that a banjo I hear? An off key banjo? Oh, it’s just an off key guitar. My least favourite kind of guitar. Rhythm, lead, base, whatever, just let it be in key. It outlines that the inspiration for the novel was that when William Lincoln died his father, honest Abe, used to visit his grave and hold his dead body. This historical event combined with the Tibetan concept of the bardo, a place where spirits linger, became this novel.
JBryne warns the viewers that Lincoln in the Bardo is complicated. What? 166 voices is complicated all of a sudden. Who doesn’t like a casual stroll through 166 points of view? Who???? One of my friends described it as book that would be best received by wankers who didn’t get it but wanted to pretend they were smart and did. Let’s see if the panellists are kinder than my friend.
Ace says he loved it. It has a cast of thousands and you are in limbo, what’s not to love. It is explained that there were three main voices:
1) Horny old man that you’re introduced to on the first page
2) A guy who committed suicide and regretted it (they always regret it in literature)
3) A priest who scared himself to death
They’re a lively bunch despite being dead. JByrne says that this book had her streaming with tears. The idea of a grieving father sneaking off to his child’s grave to cradle his little body is heart wrenching. Marieke liked this voxpop style account of people who knew William Lincoln in life and in the afterlife.
JByrne admits that she was confused at around page 25, that she had to go and have a little moment, and then she came back to it, and loved it. Ace says that trusting the author is crucial to enjoying this novel. He says if you have faith that the mist will clear and the truth will be revealed. Amen.
CS says that she did not relax during this novel. She had to keep ducking onto Google to fact check it and see who was real and who was fictional. I leap up and kiss the television and whisper, ‘Me too.’
She said that it clashed with her personality type and that she couldn’t relax. She also points out that people trying to mythologise American history isn’t her favourite thing in the world. That there’s enough “America is the greatest nation on the planet” stuff out there without it having to be made into the stuff of legends.
Marieke points out that it was pretty bold to choose a real person and a real death rather than explore grief in an entirely fictional setting. CS says she read an interview with Saunders about Lincoln and grief that she found fascinating. She’d highly recommend that anyone read it. She did not so much love him stretching out this exploration into a full length novel.
JBryne goes to say something about how she liked the extension but Marieke has had enough of this conversation being devoid of ghost penis and says it is time to talk about it. She says there was too much ghost penis, too often, and she would have liked the book even more with less ghost penis. She said that the novel was a bit busy in some places so she couldn’t quite picture it all but the ghost penis was right there and very noted.
Zoe liked the business. Says she liked it better than the actual plot. The hunter surrounded by all the animals he’d killed was her favourite.
The panellists touch on some of the problematic areas, like Lincoln signing the declaration of independence because he got possessed by a slave but overall they loved it.
They play a segment from the audio book. We’re all meant to be blown away. I can tell by the very moved look the panellists are affecting. Every famous American actor alive is in it. Everyone wants a piece of Saunders. His publishing house is clearly throwing everything at this. If it wasn’t a success with this kind of push we’d all be stunned. Marieke points out with all this backing it is the literary equivalent of Ellen’s selfie at the Oscars. Apt.
Time for a bit of By the Bed.
CS is reading Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. (I love her brain so shall be reading it)
Ace is reading The Visiting Privilege by Joy Williams new and old collected short stories.
Marieke is reading Insomniac City by Bill Hayes. He’ll be at The Sydney Writers’ Festival, and why yes I am a volunteer. How can I help?
Zoe is reading Butcher’s Crossing.
Now it’s the moment that we’ve all been waiting for; HANDMAID TIME!!!!!!! Its central character is a breeding slave in the future who once had a loving home and family. It is essentially the story of exactly where we’re headed with misogynists such as Donald “grab them by the pussy” Trump reigning supreme. Atwood kept saying this wasn’t sci-fi, it’s sci-fact people! I am popping aside my lightly sparkling moscatto and picking up a cup of men’s tears for the rest of this episode.
CS says that she has read this book at three different stages of her life. First as a teen. It was a revelation and the discussion around totalitarianism in the book was amazlips. She then read it in her twenties (wait, is she out of her twenties?) and thought it was 80’s white woman feminism and it was time to come further in the world. She read it again for this and was like OMFG this is amazlips, this is the shit right now.
Ace said he found it frighteningly relevant. He says that it was measured, fierce and not at all hysterical, and that it made him feel uncomfortable as a man. Good. Might explain why he dropped the h word. Marieke suggests that, as a man, Mike Pence gets naked and rubs himself on this book at night. She agrees that it was a cool, calm, clinical fury. The anger was so contained and focused and Marieke loved it.
The magical unicorn Zoe gallops in. Isn’t she sweet and lovely? She says that she found the stakes too low in the book. WTF! Women are kept as baby making slaves and routinely raped and the stakes aren’t high enough. Unicorn life must be pretty rough. She says it was all a bit samsies and kept moving at the same trajectory and she’d like to see more danger…. Because they weren’t already at maximum danger? Cold, Zoe, cold. She says she liked 1984 better. My mind is being blown by this and not in a good way.
CS says that the unfolding horror kept her turning the pages. Zoe is a bit meh. She enjoyed that men could be literally torn apart, but she wanted a bit more of that.
What the fuck happens in the unicorn world? Clearly savage. Ace and JByrne say they both found it terrifying. JByrne also points out that 1984 is a bit irrelevant now, it’s completed its cycle and purpose, whereas this is still so current. The other panellists argue that 1984 is still relevant. JByrne talks about communism and how 1984 was a fearful response to that. Met with more arguments. I want her so desperately to say, it’s called nineteen eighty fuck four. It’s literally past that date. She doesn’t. She’s a better person that I. She does however give the other panellists a big case of WHATEVER and says The Handmaid’s Tale is better than 1984. Agreed! I hi5 my television screen, and pin a vag badge on to JByrne’s image.
Zoe, somehow sensing that JByrne has been awarded a vag badge, and CS has been given a screen pash tries to lift her game. She acknowledges that having to lie down across your mistress’s lap whilst her husband rapes you in order to impregnate you is bad. She says it’s not a good sex sandwich to be in. It’s one of the worst tasting sandwiches ever. Nobody wants to be part of that sandwich. If that’s the only sandwich on offer, she wants no part of it. Subway withdraws any offers of sponsorship to both Zoe and Atwood.
JByrne starts reading a quote from the book spoken by a misogynistic wanker. Steam is coming out of her ears. She’s mad. She’s sick of smug men looking down on women and making condescending remarks, and they’re still doing it in the bloody future. Holy bajeebers! She’s throwing the book. She’s thrown the book! This is not a drill. There has been a book throwing. She’s so angry that she has thrown that book. Smash the patriarchy. Throw some shit. You go! You rage against the machine. The future is female. This is so fucking brilliant I am crying tears of feminist joy. Damn the man.
And that’s a wrap people! Not the sandwich kind of wrap, the finishing up kind. No more sandwich talk. We don’t want any more gross sex sandwiches. I’m excited. You’re excited. Let’s all just sit here in sheer ecstasy for a moment. And I’ll see you all next week. Cannot wait for next week.
Read last week’s recap here.
Catch up on episodes on iView here.
Find the drinking game here.
Find The Handmaid’s Tale television series on SBS on Demand from July.
As an aside, I think I also need to mention that there has been another attack on the arts this week. Fairfax is laying off a quarter of their staff. A quarter. They want to remove all specialised literature and arts staff. Apparently they think that there is just no specialised skill needed there and just any opinion piece writer can do a high quality job. NOPE! Snide, nasty, general reviews are on their way out. People got a laugh for a while but those reviews were far more about the reviewer than they were about any book. Now people have had their laugh and they actually want to get back to getting decent and thoughtful information rather than just personal opinion. You’re well behind the ball Fairfax. Pay your workers and get the quality content up. That’s what people will pay to read, not the click bait same shit as everywhere else. WHY WOULD WE PAY FOR SOMETHING WE CAN GET FOR FREE EVERYWHERE ELSE??? MAKE QUALITY AND INTEGRITY BE YOUR POINT OF DIFFERENCE!
And while I’m at it, don’t think we haven’t noticed that the ABC has cut The Book Club ABC back to eight episodes. Don’t think we haven’t also noticed that the ABC previously cut a whole heap of their science department. This is how people like Trump win. This is how The Handmaid’s Tale gets actualised. Dumb down our media, get rid of people wanting to critique and replace them with people just wanting to prove that they’re terribly clever and get famous. We need to demand integrity. More shows on the arts, more shows on science. More critique. More integrity. More fact checking. More Jason Steger. Less cheap attempts at appearing relevant. Actually be relevant. Deep breath. Rant over.