Tag Archives: Patrick Suskind

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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E L James and Patrick Suskind’s Perfume Fuelled Orgy of Violence

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Just because you think something is badly written is it really? Is the opinion of the literary elite more important than buyers? Can there not be an acceptance that neither gets the finite say and others opinions are okay? Just thinking about myself in there too. What gives me the right to say that a book is crap? Books loved by millions. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to say, “I did not like that book because of X, Y and Z, but that is just my opinion and others are equally entitled to their opinion.” When did we all become so bossy and self entitled? So many feelings.

Recently best selling author celebrated the release of her latest book with a Q&A session on twitter, #AskELJames. This was met with a flurry of excitement from her fans, genuine questions of concern from people who question the message of the book, witty comments from wannabe comedians and disturbingly a barrage of abuse, threats and name calling. And I’m not talking about, “You are a meanie,” I’m talking about, “F you, you F-ing C, I hope you end up in hospital.” All I can say is WTF! How on Earth can people say that they abhor violence against women, and so are protesting the book, do so by threatening another human being? It makes no sense. I think that the discussions around psychological abuse and what constitutes a healthy relationship and the messages we give our daughters, and our sons, about women are vital. I am proud that we as a society have progressed enough to question the way women are treated in the real world and how they are portrayed in fiction. I am, however, disgusted with this social media trend that says it is okay to threaten people we perceive as successful, it is okay to abuse celebrities, and that we have the right to be threatening to another human being and encourage others to be likewise abusive simply  because we don’t like what they wrote. Picking on people you don’t like is bullying, pure and simple. Jumping in and picking on someone because others are doing it and you want in on the fun is even worse, it’s bullying, and being a mindless follower.

You see the interesting thing about Fifty Shades is that a year prior to the movie coming out my newsfeeds were regularly full of friends saying that they were reading Fifty Shades, how exciting it was, how everyone should read it, and that it was just soooooo sexy and romantic. When they directly addressed me to read it I generally politely declined as I had attempted to read it but found it not to my taste and the main character’s desperation for love, and what she was willing to put up with, far too depressing. Hey, I’ve been a single woman in my 20s, I know all too well the stupid things smart women do in the hope of getting love. It’s tragic and we need to teach girls and women to want and expect more out of life. Not once did I say the author was a c or that my friends who liked it were f-ed up. I politely told them my stance. Because disagreement is okay. Discussing important issues is what we need to do. Abusing others does not achieve either of those two things.

Fast forward to the release of the movie and in Australia Lisa Wilkinson saying the movie was abhorrent and glorified domestic violence. What happens next? Suddenly those same friends who had bought Fifty Shades, loved Fifty Shades, updated Fifty Shades, begged me to finish reading Fifty Shades, were all now anti Fifty Shades. The biggest supporter that I knew, with countless updates on how much she was loving it previously,  was actively even putting down people who read it or enjoyed it. She said how she didn’t get past chapter 8 because it was such a snoozer… Again I say WTF! These people had no view of their own. People said it was great so they said it was great. A year later a celebrity said it wasn’t great so they change their mind and say they hate it too. Even more interestingly, not one of them would admit to changing their mind. They all claimed to have always not liked the trilogy. I’d like to make it clear, I felt Lisa Wilkinson giving her contrary opinion was vital. It opened up discussion. It opened up important discussion. However, the flip flop of people and them blindly following popular opinion without any admission or reason for their change was, to say the very least, disappointing.

Then E L James does her #AskELJames and what happens? Some fan questions , some critical questions (again, I’ll say it, important questions), some clowns and then a whole heap of trolls. Why? Because it’s cool to not like Fifty Shades now. If those trolls were trully that passionate about either of the causes they claimed to support, quality literature or women’s rights, they would be petitioning publishing houses and government agencies, with detailed and reasoned responses. Because those are the people who can enact change. They’d be contacting the media for publicity. They’d be raising awareness. Tweeting “F@€£ you C@$¥” isn’t bringing about change… and it certainly isn’t a demonstration of the literary arts they claim to hold so dear. It seems closer to Tall Poppy Syndrome to be frank.

As this vitriol was directed at a writer it got me to thinking about up and coming writers and the workshops I have attended. Yes, the opening questions are inspired by some of the comments on #AskELJames  (not the amusing ones, not the genuine question ones, but the abusive/threatening /name calling ones) but this whole situation got me thinking about the times I have witnessed talented writers in workshops get shredded by fellow students. And that same pack mentality seems to hold true. Once one person says something bad a whole group jump in and start in too. A bit like the end scene of Perfume by Patrick Suskind where people cope a whiff and join in on a frenzy. Generally I will try to add many enthusiastic compliments to counter. But I wonder how many talented individuals have dropped the pen just because some people at a writing workshop didn’t get them. They’ve walked away because someone who doesn’t like the genre or sub genre passed negative judgement. Or someone who didn’t know what to say but wanted to sound smart trotted out every stereotypical thing they could think of regardless of if it applied. Those people don’t have a huge fan base and a giant pile of money to help keep their chin up. I hope they find their way back to writing… because I want to read their stories.

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