Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November Reading in Review

Sydney Bridge Upside Down by David Ballantyne (novel, NZ)

Sydney Bridge Upside DownHarry’s cousin Caroline has come to stay in Calliope Bay, while his mother is away in the city for an ever-expanding reprieve from life at the edge of the world. Sinister things start to happen, all centring on the abandoned slaughterhouse. There’s a definite Ronald Hugh Morrieson vibe here, but I also found myself (strangely) thinking of Jim Morrison/The Doors more than one (Weird scenes inside the coal mine, etc.). A serious reviewer would refrain from such comments, but this isn’t a serious review, so there!

Patrick Evans once claimed Sydney Bridge Upside Down was, ‘The great unread New Zealand novel’. Well, after Text publishers (Australia) reprinted the book earlier this year and reignited interest in it, I’m not sure how unread it still is. And great? It was good, but I’m not going to claim it changed my life (Bernard Beckett) or that I'll re-read numerous times (Kate De Goldi).


The Resurrectionist by Jack O’Connell (novel, audiobook)

The ResurrectionistA couple of years ago I read O’Connell’s Word Made Flesh. I mentioned in my blog post at the time the blurb from James Ellroy about O’Connell being “the future of the literary suspense novel”; how this spoke of the promise and the shortcomings of that particular novel. O’Connell’s next effort, The Resurrectionist, is a step further down the path of literary machismo; it still exhibits its grimy genre chops without be ‘crime’ or ‘suspense’. O’Connell reminds me of NZ’s own Chad Taylor in a lot of ways.

The story has two main plots which rub against each other and sort of combine but sort of diverge at the end. The first is told in flat-but-punchy Ellroy-esque prose. Sweeney transfers his comatose son to the Peck Clinic because they have a track record of ‘arousals’... The other storyline is ostensibly a comic called Limbo, though it’s short on dialogue and long on narrative (and the occasionally overwritten passage): a bunch of circus freaks that go through a series of travails (hermaphrodite about to be sodomised by a sounding pole, strongman gets his arm hacked off by a tomahawk, the entire troop getting buried alive) and yet we’re supposed to believe Sweeney read these comics aloud to his six year old son? Okay, there are some problems with this novel. There’s a ton of loose threads and wasted build up just as there was in Word Made Flesh, but this was ultimately satisfying and I’ll definitely read whatever O’Connell produces next.

The moral: literary machismo can get you everywhere.


Brief Lives by Chris Price (multiple forms, NZ)

Brief LivesFun fact: the first book launch I ever went to was Chris Price’s Brief Lives. I was an MA student up at Vic and Chris had led some of our workshops while Bill Manhire was overseas, and I remember having an awkward conversation with her in the kitchen the day after the launch. I tried to say that her book sounded really interesting but I basically outed myself for not having bought a copy at the launch and would probably wait until someone who had bought a copy lent it to me. Shame.

Etiquette for a book launch #1: Buy the book. The wine will taste fuller-bodied for it.

Anyway, I eventually got around to buying a copy of Brief Lives this year and really, really enjoyed it. Halfway through I was certain it would rocket into my top ten books I read in 2010 (a phantom list I may just get around to compiling in December). It may still make it, but I didn’t enjoy the big biographical/literary essay at the end of the book, ‘Variable Stars’, as much as I enjoyed the chunks of alphabetically arranged sui generis joy that preceded it. Some read like prose poems, others flash fiction, others short stories. One piece (‘Notebook’) is pure ideas as one may find in a...  notebook. Favourites included ‘Harry Partch: A composer’s life, found at irregular intervals’ and ‘Singapore’.


Selected Poems, Pablo Neruda (poetry)

Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems/Bilingual EditionI know, I know. Last month I said (with reference to Selected Poems: Octavio Paz – Edited by Eliot Weinberger): “Again, I come to the conclusion that reading anthologies, Best Ofs and Selected Works misses the point.” Well, I actually enjoyed dipping in and out of this hefty anthology. Unlike the Paz book, this one had the original Spanish versions on the left leaf and the English translations of the right. I read most of the Spanish versions first without cheating. I often had moments of personal poetic frisson in the false friends I failed to translate (when I read ‘lava’ I thought 'molten rock' instead of ‘to wash’ etc). And there’s the fact I spent a lot more time in Chile than in Mexico, and did the tourist thing in Valparaiso, visited one of Neruda’s houses and shook his (statue's) hand. But all these things aside, I’m probably just more of a Neruda guy than a Paz guy.


Landfall #220 Open House (literary journal, NZ)

I haven’t always noted down the litmags I’ve read this year, and that’s naughty of me. It’s probably because I rarely read everything. I read most pieces eventually, but I’m a dipper when it comes to these sorts of things. This Landfall was extra special (as I’ve already noted here) because it featured a review of A Man Melting. Maybe that casts everything else in a favourable light, but I enjoyed lots in this issue, including Pip Adam’s quirky short story ‘Jesus Already Has’, Latika Vasil’s pleasing ‘The Sand Mandala’ and Lynn Davidson’s non-fiction piece about her mother with Alzheimer’s ‘Leaving the Is-land’.


Rich said...

Hi Craig

Long time listener first time caller.

Actually first time caller.

I am interested in reading some more of your work - do you have a link to anything you have published online more substantial/representative than your blogging activity?

As am located in Australia access to NZ text material is highly rationalised.


Craig Cliff said...

Kia ora Rich

You can find links to all my writing that is available online here: http://www.craigcliff.com/p/other-writing.html

You can also buy my short story collection from Australian online vendors such as Mighty Ape (http://www.mightyape.com.au/product/A-Man-Melting/6283027/) and Emporium Books (http://www.emporiumbooks.com.au/book/a-man-melting.do).