On Reading, Part Two

I suppose I should continue on from the first post; it’s no use having a part one without a part two or three. While I may be writing my Honours thesis, reading is like my keep-sane, my distraction, my sleep-inducer at days’ end; I can’t recall the number of times I’ve fallen asleep with a book open on my face or woken to find it splayed open on the floor beside my bed like the carcass of some wond’rous beast.

The first book of note this time around is The Children’s Bach, by Helen Garner. I’d heard things about her earlier book Monkey Grip, in that it was meant to be a classic and all that (Penguin recently republished it as one of their modern classics in their iconic orange-and-white covers), but compared to her later book, Monkey Grip was empty, a constant cycling of same-old same-old. The Children’s Bach is entrancing from the outset – using the idea of a book of music as the loosest of frameworks, what you end up with is a series of linked vignettes, rhapsodies on a theme of life if you will, and they are as elegant, as mundane, as heart-warmingly extraordinary in their ordinariness as they are in their rhythm and essence of human behaviour. The way Garner captures her characters’ eccentricities and mannerisms, the way you feel a part of their household sucks you into the story so seamlessly, is just magical. It's like a more intimate Cloudstreet – in that its scope isn't as rambling, but it's just as eccentric and acutely captured – as good as it in its own way, on its own strengths, on its own terms. Their conversations have an otherness to them, that they could be happening anywhere at any moment but they still seem extraordinary in their construction and phrasing; the images they conjure of the books’ inhabitants are just beautiful.
‘But I like the mother,’ said Poppy. ‘Athena’s perfect, isn’t she.’
‘Perfect - you reckon?’ said Philip.
Elizabeth looked at him. ‘She’d have to be, to live up to the name.’
‘The goddess of war,’ said Philip.
‘I didn't mean that perfect,’ said Poppy.
‘Of war and needlecraft,’ said Elizabeth. [p66]


Every Breath wasted

I'm still asking myself ‘why?’ Juvenile, immature, ludicrous, preposterous, silly, self-indulgent, are all words I’d use to describe this production. It was a case of nudity-because-I-can-get-away-with-it, and I don't think I can begin to expound upon how completely pathetic a waste of 80mins of my life it was.
Benedict Andrews, Every Breath’s writer and director, has a lot to answer for in the current Sydney theatrical scene. Perhaps the man who single-handedly bought pretentious wanking back onto our mainstages (literally, intellectually, metaphorically), Andrews is famous for the continuous stream of gold confetti in STC’s War Of The Roses (as well as continuous streams of ash and rain, not to mention Prince Hal performing fellatio on Falstaff), as well as the seagulling of Chekhov’s Seagull, and the ‘sexy’ power-fuck of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.


Mirrors, or The Play Chooses You

O, is all forgot?
All school-days’ friendship, childhood innocence?
A Midsummer Night’s Dream [III.2]

Preamble: People often talk about having a favourite Shakespeare play, the one play that they love and admire above all the others, for any number of reasons. While it’s a fantastic thing, I also think it’s not possible to have just one favourite Shakespeare play for ever, for the simple reason that as we go through life, so too do our tastes change; we keep looking in the mirror and seeing new things reflected back at us.

By my own admission, while I am a Shakespeare tragic, a bardolater if you will (I used to joke I had Bard flu), and have been for a number of years (since Year Twelve, if it matters), but it’s only quite a recent thing for me, if we talk about the passion and drive, the underlying connection to his oeuvre. Before that time, like a lot of people, Shakespeare was just this guy, you know, who wrote some plays about four-hundred years ago, and people think he’s pretty okay still… I never really ‘got’ why Shakespeare was Shakespeare, why he held such a godlike position in the literary canon. Okay, yes, Mum and Dad took me to see ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)’ when I was twelve, and I ‘got’ enough of it to thoroughly enjoy myself. (I particularly remember the ‘balcony scene’ in Romeo and Juliet. One actor knelt in front of a chair with three tiny flowerpots strapped to his head, while another actor stood on the chair with a small watering can. ‘The balcony scene,’ the waterer said, deadpan, and the audience roared and applauded.) You could say that was the beginning, if you really wanted to.

But if you think about it, this idea of having a sequence of favourite Shakespeare plays, whether we like it or not, is actually a part of our education. Consequently, I have a theory happening, and I’m beginning to think it’s more purposeful and subtle, more conscious, than we’d ever assumed at first.

number one cloud street

Tim Winton. Where do I start?

I think cloudstreet is unarguably his best piece of (serious) work. But… To be forthright, as much as I love his style of writing, I have a problem with his books, as whole pieces of work. They are sparsely written with hauntingly simple yet achingly eloquent language and subtly vivid descriptions. Once you step back and look at them again, however, you realise how hollow and empty they are, like waves; there’s all the build up (and promise) in the world, but once it breaks and another book has been read, you wonder what all the fuss was about. Throughout everything Winton wrote pre-cloudstreet, you find traces and fragments of the themes that would come to define his masterpiece, as if they were all experiments before he found the right recipe. Post-cloudstreet, everything he writes is trying to be cloudstreet, as if he’s trying to recapture the seemingly effortless wonder and economy of storytelling he employed so magically in his sprawling story, trying to recapture the epic lovefest that surrounds Australia’s favourite book about itself. I think part of the problem is that because of cloudstreet, and the way it’s loved by everyone (I may be exaggerating, but it seems not too far off the truth from my experience), people are willing to overlook or turn a blind eye to the lack present in his other books. (Critics don’t help much here, either; they seem afraid to point out the inadequacies of the emperor’s new clothes, and instead fall over themselves in their emphatic and borderline sycophantic praise for everything Wintonian.)

Magic Lantern: Dickens200

Everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon with the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens this year, (and, alarmingly, it started in the last quarter of 2011, when the occasion wasn’t until 7th February 2012), so I’m adding my bit to the blacking pot.
To start with, I’m going to put this right out there, in big shiny glowing letters. I find it very hard to read Dickens, all and any of his books. I struggled through Oliver Twist because I was reading it for a school assignment, and while I enjoyed it to a degree, I just wanted to cut through all the verbosity and get through it. Actually, so far as I can recall, that’s the only one I’ve read all the way through, the whole thing. If anything, I find it easier to watch the television adaptations of Dickens’ books than to read them, and it’s not as strange as it sounds. Dickens’ books, by their nature and the way they were written and published, are rather complicated, convoluted and meandering: characters come and go as they please, disappearing for some good many parts, only to reappear at the end (when you’ve forgotten who they are, so you have to scramble madly back through the book to find them again) to get their comeuppance or reward and be sent on their merry way again; three or more plot lines run simultaneously so you have a hard time of remembering who every one of his exquisitely drawn characters are… Because of their length, and the way they were serialized with parts appearing in monthly installments, the television series format suits them perfectly, more so than film, and it comes without the forgetting of characters and the convoluted simultaneous plotlines.

Tiny Apocalypse: Belvoir's Babyteeth

                                   “Lean back. I've got you. Find a bit of sky.” 
                                    – Part One

For the past two years (this being my third), I’ve held a season subscription with Belvoir St Theatre. Initially it was so I could get tickets to see the inimitable Geoffrey Rush in Diary of a Madman in December 2010, but it’s grown to be more than just that. There’s something magical about that corner stage of Belvoir’s, a rare magic, where the audience and actors play to each other, where the energy is never lost in the gaping chasm between the proscenium arch and auditorium, where everything is highly focused, cornered even; where you feel like something special is happening.

In 2010, the highlights for me were Love Me Tender by Tom Holloway, Gwen In Purgatory by Tommy Murphy, and Diary of a Madman with Geoffrey Rush and Yael Stone. In 2011, with the rebranding of Belvoir and Ralph Myers’ first season as Artistic Director, the standouts for me were Neighbourhood Watch by Lally Katz, and As You Like It, directed by Eamon Flack. (Never before have I had so much fun in a theatre than with As You Like It, and never before have I actually wanted to see a show more than once. Also, I have never seen such brilliant sheep as that cast created during interval.) This year, I think the biggest promise was Babyteeth, a new play by Rita Kalnejais, directed by Eamon Flack, and billed as “a mad, gorgeous, bittersweet comedy about how good it is not to be dead yet.”

On Reading, Part One

Some years, I make a list of books I'd like to read that year. Some years I give up halfway through, some years I barely scratch the surface of the list before giving up entirely, other years I get a fair whack of the way through it before I find other books to distract me and I never finish it. So this year, I thought I'd stick to a small list of books that I'd like to read, have been meaning to read, have never got around to reading, that I should've read before now but haven't, and see how far I get through it. As a loose kind of rule, there has to be a modicum of classics balanced by a similar quantity of newer books. Books that make awards lists are generally avoided, as I have found that more often than not, they’re not exactly wholesome and rewarding books. Bear in mind, though, that I will not elaborate upon every book I read, just some that I feel deserve it.

The name is Sherlock Holmes, and the address is 221B Baker Street

I wrote this article for a project a friend and I are collaborating on. We hope, however naively or misguidedly, to write our own episode of the BBC series Sherlock, fitting in between episodes two and three of Series Two as broadcast.

As far as silhouettes go, I think Sherlock Holmes’ is one of the most recognisable, even if it is entirely and utterly wrong. In the original stories, Doyle never described Holmes as wearing an Inverness cape or a deerstalker; instead, what we know today is a late-Victorian perpetuation of a stereotype and icon which has been compounded by the cinema and popular culture to the point of ludicrousness.


In this world, not dissimilar to our own, there is magic and pain and death and bank statements; people dance on rooftops, and sing songs to stones; skies are like Turner watercolours, and the light a Debussy nocturne. People meander, their paths crisscrossing like spiderwebs, shared events collecting like dew on their strands. Everything is anything and something is never nothing.

Here, on these pages, anything is possible, if only you’d stop for a moment to see…

canvas of life

We start our lives as a blank canvas. We start with the childish scribble, the first grasp of self-expression and shape, then the careful-colouring-within-the-lines; then the whimsy of endless daydreams of ‘what if…?’ and the formation of life-ambitions; in high-school, we learn about light and shading and nuance, perspective and empathy and style. As an adult, we try to cling to the person we once were, the person we want to be. And in the end, our canvas resembles a Pollack, with lines and squiggles (and lost car keys) and notes and meaning everywhere, phrases and quotes and portraits, letters of love and rejection; bloodsweatandtears.
- 28/09/2011