HomeLifestyleWhat to read: The adventures of Miriam Margolyes and a literary satire
What to read: The adventures of Miriam Margolyes and a literary satire
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FICTION PICK OF THE WEEK The Bannerman Shortlist Colin Batrouney, Clouds of Magellan, $34.95
Jorge Luis Borges wrote somewhere that Argentines allow for the possibility a novel might be great despite winning a prestigious award. It’s a cynicism Australians tend to share, and in The Bannerman Shortlist, Colin Batrouney delves into a wide-ranging satire (with a mystery thrown in) that swirls around a new literary prize. Funded by the wealthy Bannerman family as a form of arts-washing, the prize announces its shortlist on the same day its administrator, middle-aged Gideon Bannerman, goes missing. As his old friend Tash searches for him, the shortlisted authors, who embody a hilarious and familiar range of literary types, foibles, and fashions, react to the publicity, and the judges wrangle over the winner. Batrouney mingles empathy with irreverent burlesque and insiders will find delight (and possibly schadenfreude) in the way he skewers the egos and politics that shape Australian literary culture.
The Vaster Wilds Lauren Groff, Hutchinson Heinemann, $34.99
A servant girl makes her escape into the untamed wilderness of North America, fleeing a colonial settlement visited by plague, and rich masters who treated her with contempt.
The girl has nothing but the blood on her hands, a burning righteousness of heart, and a mouth full of scripture. Pitted against danger and privation in the unknown woods, she draws upon almost preternatural skills to stay alive. The perils of the natural world pale compared with the devil she knows: that a terrible fate awaits her should the men sent to hunt her down and drag her back to civilisation ever catch their quarry. Lauren Groff has written an allegorical survival novel that combines elements of dark fairytale, existential ordeal, and a dark critique of religion and the rapacity of a nascent empire. There’s a Bible-haunted quality to the prose, and if the bleak inexorability of history that can’t be outrun stalks this novel like the ghost of Cormac McCarthy, it is transfigured, too, by the protagonist’s grim will to survive.
New Australian Fiction Ed., Suzy Garcia, Kill Your Darlings, $27.95
Kill Your Darlings has published a collection of new Australian fiction each year since 2019. The annual anthology has straddled the pandemic, and the latest offers less a “new normal” – whatever that might mean – than a sense of continuity, community, literary evolution. Readers looking for experimentation will encounter a cat’s eye perspective on the war in Ukraine, autofiction that shimmers across sands of culture and memory, and a tale of exploitation that invokes empathy and complicity through second-person narration. There’s also much uneasy symbolism. An opera singer loses her voice in Eleanor Kirk’s The Next Dame Joan, Probably. Kalem Murray’s A Return To Form features a dirty great hole in an alleyway that lures inhabitants to destruction. Memories are lost and assimilated by sexual partners in Hope Loveday’s Souvenirs, and Julie Koh’s scathing lampoon, On the Road, takes no prisoners in its 21st-century update of Kerouac.
Open Day Leslie Kilmartin, Wakefield Press, $34.95
Universities have rapidly evolved into big businesses. As a senior academic, Dr Leslie Kilmartin is well-placed to write about the collision between corporatisation and academic culture.
Open Day is a ludicrous and surreal farce set at Batman University, a struggling institute of higher education that courts publicity disaster when it tries to impress an incoming president – a British professor with a dodgy past – by staging open-day festivities. Nauseating characters abound. Many prefer marketing slogans to intellectual endeavour, and they get the comeuppance they richly deserve.
Through a series of increasingly bizarre episodes, including arson, sexual scandal, an attack on the North Korean consul, and prominent bodies on the ground after a regimental parade, the day turns into a career-ending shemozzle. It isn’t a brilliantly crafted yarn, but the vicious comedy of this campus satire may seduce those burned by the corruption of university life.
NON-FICTION PICK OF THE WEEK Oh Miriam! Miriam Margolyes, John Murray, $34.99
At 13 Miriam Margolyes already had large breasts, which she liked. She also discovered, at an early age, that they could be put to good use, especially on the hockey field, where, after flashing them, she was able to score goals easily in the mayhem that followed.
It’s one example of what might be called the disarmingly candid eccentricity of her memoir. One of her favourite opening lines on meeting someone for the first time being “When did you have your first f—?”
Whether it be her Jewish upbringing, her anti-Zionism, her love of grammar, the delights of acting on stage and in film, her family’s genealogy, reading Proust or being taught by F.R. Leavis, there is clearly a very sharp mind at work here informing all the tit and fart jokes. A warm, wry look at the human comedy, in which she is both observer and participant.
I Am Tim Peter Rees, MUP, $40
Most politicians have to be dragged kicking and screaming from office, which is what makes the case of the late Tim Fischer so interesting.
Peter Rees’ in-depth biography charts Fischer’s story from well-off conservative country life, the shock and homesickness of boarding school at Melbourne’s catholic Xavier College (where he was a bit of a leftie and critic of the DLP), joining the Country Party in 1965, serving as an officer in Vietnam, where he sustained shrapnel wounds, and entering politics when he returned, eventually becoming deputy PM.
Along the way his son was diagnosed with autism. This is where the public and private life converged, and Fischer walked away from power, choosing family over politics. It’s this sense of his essential human decency that pervades Rees’ very readable portrait.
The Floating University Tamson Pietsch, University of Chicago Press, $65.95
In September 1926, 500 students and staff from all over America boarded a liner in New York for an eight-month trip around the world.
Known as the floating university, it was a bold educational experiment, designed to take learning out of the tutorial room and be taught by the world’s diversity.
Travel and study … what could go wrong? By the time they returned it was deemed a failure, especially by the press, which often reported students as going on drinking binges and bringing the country into disrepute. But what Tamson Pietsch is most interested in is the way it represented a clash between traditional text-based learning and the university of lived experience, and the implications of this in the way we view education and knowledge. An academic examination of a colourful experiment that was never repeated.
The Devil You Knew Ian Hickie, Penguin, $34.99
Depression, and its more severe form of clinical depression, is referred to by Ian Hickie, who has worked in the field for 35 years as a psychiatrist, as a black hole that sufferers often feel they cannot climb out of. But he remains optimistic and this distillation of his experience and knowledge is a no-nonsense, plain-speaking attempt to assist sufferers in a highly practical way, incorporating illustrative case studies. He also explodes common myths about depression, such as the misconception that it results from acute trauma, or childhood trauma, that anti-depressants are over-prescribed or the “nonsense” that depression is a Western condition that doesn’t appear in poorer, rural communities. Addressing sufferers directly, this study is designed to be read in whichever order the reader sees fit. Informed and accessible.
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