Tag Archives: Julian Barnes

Book Review: From the Wreck by Jane Rawson #AWW2017

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Move over Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s Tralfamadorians, there’s a new alien in town.

 

In Jane Rawson’s fourth novel, From the Wreck, she takes her unique approach to historical fiction. Rawson is known for playing with form and function within narrative structures. Her first novel, A wrong turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, blended dystopian fiction with the motifs of a humorous road trip and was shortlisted for an Aurealis award. Her novel Formaldehyde cemented Rawson as an author known for their quirky shifting of narrative points of view and time just like any postmodern master. From the Wreck is true to Rawson’s distinct style.

Rawson’s take on historical fiction is akin to that of postmodern juggernaut, Julian Barnes. In his History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters Barnes takes aim at Noah’s ark in his first chapter and concludes that redheads are the result of an unholy union between unicorns and one of the human members of the ark. Rawson, on the other hand, examines the sinking of the steamship off the South Australian coast in 1859 and concludes that there was possibly alien involvement. And what’s more, it is done in such a subtle and meticulous way that it doesn’t come across as being deliberately controversial or showy as elements of History of the World do.

At the enquiry, months later, he heard that some time on that first evening one of the horses had fallen, knocked from its feet by the rough seas. The racer’s owner had demanded a shift in course and the captain had turned the prow of the ship into the swell to ease its heaving. Had it brought about the wreck, this shift? Perhaps. It did not occur to George to stand and say that it was something other than the swell that had caused the horse to panic. He didn’t even believe it himself.

Rawson has taken on a postmodern master’s approach and won. The refusal to comment on the alien being is the logical reaction of a rational human to an impossible situation that would only lead him to be ridiculed should he dare utter it. The lack of commentary is just as powerful as what is said.

Now of course I can’t reference postmodernism and aliens without discussing how Rawson’s alien compares to Vonnegut’s famous, and much loved, Tralfamadorians. There are similarities, in that these aliens are both distinctly not human. Residents of Tralfamador are quite explicit in teaching humans that there are more than two sexes and there are more than five senses. They are quite active in their contact with people. Rawson’s alien is similarly different from humans. They are fluid, they are shape-shifting, they are confused by their surrounding on Earth because it is utterly alien to them.

I will sit slumping cold and starving here, in this cave, in this wet puddle of an ocean. Who would even mark my death? That crusty-shelled little nobody over there? That slippery piece of meat and teeth? I don’t think so. Weren’t we supposed to be a once-proud race of warriors? I flail at the memory of us and the hurt of it tears strips from me and I decide I can’t remember. Still, I am certain we were not the type whose deaths were marked by becoming passing food for some slippery piece of meat and teeth.

Where Tralfamadorians are willing to take action and do the odd human kidnapping, Rawson’s alien is a refugee on this planet, desperate for their people, wanting a connection, and trying to fit in. It is through this breaking from the butt probing stereotype of aliens that Rawson gives her novel real depth and again sets herself up as one of the greats.

The mood of the novel is intense. From the very first words the reader is sucked into this environment. We can feel the terror, sense the dampness, and recoil at the uncertainty.

He felt it first when the horses shifted and cried. They had been muttering among themselves all day, but this was different, a note of panic in it. The horses aren’t yours to care about, George, he reminded himself. He went from cabin to cabin and collected the crockery and cutlery smeared and encrusted with an early dinner, the passengers getting ready for bed.

The environment created is so vivid that it is hard to believe that this in anything short of real.

Rawson is undoubtedly a master of setting and atmosphere but she is no less a master of character and dialogue. Awkward family conversations crackle off the page.

‘And so cannibalism? What you’re saying is?’ asked George, wondering why William would always use ten words when one would do.

‘That should humans be the most widely available meat, eating the flesh of humans would be the best response to such availability.’

Oh, now he saw. George knew what William was poking at. The bubble solidified into something obsidian-cool, rubbed smooth and sharp-edged in the year after year. George weighed it in his palm, tested the blade, pocketed it. Said, instead, that this would be true, surely, only if you’d nothing else to eat, yes

We may not have been prodded over possible cannibalism but we’ve all been trapped with that family member who thinks that they are so clever and trying to push our buttons. It is through these normal components of life that the premise become completely believable.

Overall From the Wreck is a gorgeous miasma of textures and time. It is quite simply sublime and a must read. It has replaced Patrick Süskind’s Perfume as my favourite book of all time. I suspect that this exceptional novel will not only be a contender for an Aurealis but also a Stella award. Just give Jane Rawson all the awards already. 
But don’t just take my word for it, find out what ANZ LitLovers thought here:

https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/02/06/from-the-wreck-by-jane-rawson/

And find out what Newtown Review of Books thought here:

http://newtownreviewofbooks.com.au/2017/02/28/jane-rawson-wreck-reviewed-linda-godfrey/#more-10520
They have quoted a discount code for Abbey’s Bookshop so make sure you read until the very end.

 

Jane Rawson, From the Wreck Transit Lounge PB 272pp $29.95

Learn more about the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge here.

 

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Be what you wanna be. Do what you wanna do. Read what you wanna read. Yeah!

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You know what I am tired of? The need for articles coming out in defense of Women’s Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Genre Fiction in general. Every day my newsfeed has multiple articles on this phenomenon, and sadly, they are still needed. For some reason people just cannot seem to get the point that we do not live in an English classroom where book titles are dictated by necessity so that knowledge and understanding can be tested in a standardized way that the government requires. In real life people can read and enjoy whatever they want… AND WHO THE HELL ARE YOU TO TELL THEM THAT THEY CANNOT!

Sorry guys, I know I went all caps there. It got scary, I was even a bit scared of my own emotions but this book shaming is really starting to get my goat. And if there is one thing regular followers of this blog know, it’s that I don’t like anyone looking at or touching my goat, let alone taking it. Don’t make me go all Liam Neeson on your arse over my goat. I have a terrible Irish accent and nobody will benefit from this scenario. Now let’s get back to the heavy stuff. You’ve had your levity break!

This morning a picture captioned “A call for respectful discussion of Fifty Shades of Grey – It is okay to and welcome to criticize a book. It is not okay to be a terrible person” was on my newsfeed. Yesterday an insightful article by Marian Keyes entitled, “Please can we stop saying ‘chick-lit'” caught my attention. For the former here’s what I have to say, love it or hate it, you have no right to dictate to someone what they enjoy reading. I love reading James Joyce. People often tell me I am a shameless wanker and that Joyce is likewise a wanker and hence we should just die in wankerhood together. It isn’t going to stop me loving James Joyce. His writing just really sits well with me. As does Julian Barnes. It doesn’t matter what you say, I will continue to love them, and read them and reread them. And although I quite happily debate the merits of Barnes and Joyce with people and am fine with people not loving them, when people resort to name calling and put downs it’s a bit much. Those people are poo poo heads, yes I get the irony. Same thing with Fifty Shades, lovers, if it vibes with them, if they enjoy it, if it gives them a moment’s escape from their lives, go for it. Love it, read it. Get inspired, go read more books, yeah! Go ahead, don’t like Fifty Shades, criticize it, but when you start being nasty to people who like it, well you’ve lost the argument, you’ve lost respect, you’ve lost yourself.

As for Marian Keyes plea – please stop saying Chick Lit, I both agree wholeheartedly yet disagree at the same time. Does Marian Keyes, hate chick lit? No, of course not. Is she saying it sucks? No, of course not. Is she pointing out that the term is used as a put down? Yes. Is it a put down? Yes and no. The term Chick Lit is often used by men and women alike, to put down works that focus on women. Novels in this genre tend to have successful female leads, with professional ambitions and a quirky group of friends, add to this a man often comes along and catches the lead characters eye. Then things of course get complicated, job goes to shit, fall out with friends, love interest goes all skewwhiff, then the strong female leads, pulls herself together, gets her groove back, gets her job back, gets her friends back and then the cherry on the cake, last of all, gets her man. Sounds a lot like real life, professional woman + career goals + crazy friends + a bit of romance. Hardly something that should be put down. I mean people rave about the Bronte sisters. They write about the same stuff. “Oh it is just silly fluff, about love,” you hear people say. Yeah, because love is just so stupid. Having meaningful connections is just ridiculous and would never happen in great literature. Dickens, Shakespeare, Virgil, none of these dudes would ever write about silly love stories. To be honest, typically in Chick Lit the love interest is actually the icing on the cake. Don’t get me wrong, frosting is important, I like me a big chunk of butter cream. If I have the choice between frosted or unfrosted… well let’s just call me Elsa. But the female lead tends to have to sort out her career and friends first. That is the priority, it’s not that the love interest doesn’t get a lot of the word count dedicated to them, but the priority, the first things first, goes to career and bat shit crazy friends. Where would we be without out friends? How could we pay rent without our job? It’s a bit realistic isn’t it? Sure it gets mashed up with wit and humour but there’s a lot of deep stuff in Chick Lit, but there is a lot of truth and tragedy included. So why put it down? The answer is quite simply, because we live in a society that trivializes women and their experiences, and for women to get ahead they almost have to turn on their own kind. The bagging of the term Chick Lit is simply a manifestation of that. So as far as I can see you can call it whatever you like, Commercial Women’s Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Chick Lit, Clit Lit, Vagraphy (okay I made that one up, I just wanted to use vag somewhere for my own amusement), the same issue will arise. People will put it down. People, what a bunch of bastards. Hopefully society progresses, that’s what needs to happen, and we are getting there, but until then, no matter how many terms we throw at stories for and about women, they will get trivialized. They’ll sell, because us bitches be smart and good with the books and the learning and stuff, but it’ll be marginalized.

Whoa. Robin, what just happened? Did you just go all overt feminist on our arses. Yeah, I kind of did. Commercial Women Writers tend to do that. Sorry. We give you plenty of shits and giggles, but we give you a message too. Let’s just take a deep breath and hug it out.

Memoir of a Teacher: Chapter 2, Nothing to be Frightened of

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Memoir of a Teacher: Chapter 2, Nothing to be Frightened of

Continuing on with my inspired memoir from yesterday in honour of #NaNoWriMo and my dear friend Pete. I’d say enjoy but how could you not?

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Memoir of a Teacher: Nothing to be Frightened of

I don’t believe in frogs, but I miss them. That’s what I say when the question is put. I asked my brother, who has waxed philosophical whilst drunk in pubs in Wollongong and Newcastle, what he thought of such a statement, without revealing that it was my own. He replied with a few words: “What a load of Wank.”

The person to begin the second chapter of my illustrious memoir with is my maternal grandmother, Grandma Cindy, although neither her first nor last name is Cindy, that was her dog’s name. She was a secretary in Edinburgh until she married my grandfather, Arthur James. He may have had a snazzy nickname like Arty, King or Jimmy Jim Jim Jaroo but as he died when my mother was fourteen I never met him so can’t really comment. He was an architect with a certain Scottish dash to him: a man without a tartan, which my grandmother often lorded over him, but born and raised there no less. By the time I knew them, my grandfather was ashes under a rose bush and my grandmother was living in Wollongong an hour away from her nearest child. Grandma was an avid church goer; she was in the choir, on the board and working in the op shop. She was petite, outwardly very opinionated, and had the paper thin skin of old age that made me live in constant fear that she might burst open at any given moment. Her wardrobe was full of kilts, not necessarily in her tartan, and beige petticoats of every length. She had regular appointments with God and being Godly and had bern advised she was a top notch sheila. Mainly by me, I thought she was the cat’s pajamas.

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My brother remembers that once, when he was very small, he went into Grandpa’s garden and pulled up all the flowers. Grandma yelled at him until he howled, then turned uncharacteristically white, confessed everything to our mother, and swore she would never again yell at the children. Actually, my brother doesn’t remember any of this — neither the flowers nor the yelling. He was just told the story repeatedly by our mother. And indeed, were he to remember it, he might well be wary. As a soccer player who has suffered from severe concussion, he believes that memories are often false, “so much so that, on the Cartesian principle of the rotten apple, none is to be trusted unless it has some external support.” I am more trusting, or self-deluding, so shall continue as if all my memories are true. Yet also acknowledge that my siblings’ memories are probably nothing more than rotten apples.

Our mother was christened Anne Margaret although my father often spelt it Anne Magarat. She hated the Rat, and complained about it to anybody who would listen, whose explanation were genereall that Dad was a bit of a turd at times. She has followed in her mother’s footsteps and goes to church and tries to run as much as possible.

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In my childhood, the three unmentionable subjects were the traditional ones: periods, politics, and sex. When I got my first period I thought I was dying of cancer, my father still refuses to mention who he votes for and sex I worked out. I’ve got three kids to prove it.

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As for religion, this was discussed at length my father would tell me if I didn’t follow his church exactly I’d not only go to hell but get a belting and my mother would yell us how much better and cooler her church was and put equal amounts of pressure, through guilt rather than fear, to tow the line. Consequently I developed huge social anxieties around going out for public rituals like picnics, dinners and dances.

As my parents are still very much alive I think I’ll leave the “appropriation” there and start thinking of the third chapter of my highly anticipated memoir.

This was of course taken from Nothing to be Frightened of by the brilliant Julian Barnes.  Read the real thing here http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/05/books/chapters/chap-nothing-to-be-frightened-of.html?pagewanted=all

Read the first chapter of my “memoir” here https://riedstrap.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/memoir-of-a-teacher-a-red-hot-tip-for-nanowrimo/