Sunday, 25 May 2008

Ross Noble and John Steinbeck

Went to see Ross Noble perform on Friday night. Excellent! He's one of those comedians I enjoy watching time and time again. Love the randomness of his humour and the way he improvises, and how this randomness and improvisation is worked into the structure of his performance. There’s always an opening line or two, the beginning of an explanation or an apology, which he tosses into the audience and then runs circles around (and skips Of_mice_and_men_2 in and out of) as he draws on audience comments or behaviour to shape the body of his show. And he always returns eventually to those opening comments, and uses them to tie each act together---to give cohesion to the whole ramble. It’s the sort of symmetry of structure I sometimes like to discover in short stories and novels too.

Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, for instance: how the descriptions of light and sound that begin each chapter also bring them to a conclusion, and how the opening chapter is mirrored (but for a few sinister distinctions) in the final chapter. There’s the sense that the characters have not so much travelled full circle but have completed a full turn on a spiral, so that they’re close to where they started in some respects, but that some things have changed that can never be the same again. In both cases, the audience is left feeling that it too has moved forward. There’s catharsis in both comedy and tragedy.

This excerpt doesn't do justice to his whole show, but gives a flavour of his randomness.

Sunday, 18 May 2008


Whilst I’ll dip into almost any genre of fiction at one time or another, it’s the rather broad genre of Literary fiction that I’m mainly drawn to. The novels I enjoy most tend to have quirky characters and an off-beat storyline set against an ordinary world; they’ll often be stories within stories, and have the capacity to not only hook me from the first page, but to regularly surprise me, and I’ll be so captivated by the lyrical quality of the telling that I won’t want to put the book down, but won’t want to finish it either. Occasionally I’ll discover a book like that.

Consumed Consumed by Caroline Hamilton (ABC Books) has those attributes. That it’s the debut novel of a Melbourne author raises it another notch or two for me, because it’s good to know that a book like this is home-grown.

Subtitled A Sensuous Tale Of Food, Madness And Revenge, the blurb includes this:

'A literary feast for the senses, Consumed is an enthralling story of gluttony, madness, bottled tomatoes and a woman who will stop at nothing in her search for the perfect recipe.'

When this novel was first recommended to me (thanks C.B.), I was put in mind of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water For Chocolate, which used to be a favourite. However, apart from the obvious focus on food, occasional elements of the surreal, and the strength of writing in both, Consumed is fresh and original. It’s gutsy, sensual writing that strides all the way back to genesis at one point, but probably isn’t for the delicate or squeamish (which is possibly another recommendation in itself), and tells the story of the young Amelia, who strikes up a friendship with the mysterious and eccentric Katarina.

Under Katarina’s instruction, Amelia begins an apprenticeship that teaches her as much about living as it does about cooking food to perfection, with many surprises along the way---not least of all Katarina’s murder. (It’s in the blurb, I’m not spoiling anything here.)

Whilst it might be a cliché to say that revenge is a dish best served cold, Consumed is anything but clichéd, and the second half of the novel chronicles Amelia’s development and growth into a woman who belongs to all time and who is determined to avenge Katarina’s death. It’s the reaching back and linking to the story of Lilith, Adam’s first partner in the Garden of Eden, that is the most delicious dish of all in this fine book ... but I won’t say any more. I mustn’t.

It's an enchanting and superbly crafted novel.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

What's read and not there?

No blog this week, ‘cos after three weeks of intending to replace the guttering on the front verandah I’ve really got to get my act together and do it. So, no blog entry until next week ... except, hold on, what’s happened here? The sneaky little blighter is here all the same. It’s a blog post about there being no blog post. Hmm, bit of a paradox, that one. And there’s nothing like a good paradox, is there? Like:

There is no absolute truth.

Love that one.


I only ever tell lies.


Is the answer to this question ‘no’?

Which leads me to my favourite joke of all time.

Q: What’s red and not there?

A: No tomatoes.

And, talking of no tomatoes, I better go before I discover I’m not here either.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Recent reads

I’ve just made the wonderfully deliberate mistake of ordering a new stack of eleven novels and short story anthologies to read, without having finished half the previous stack yet, and before ordering in all the other titles I’m keen to read at the moment. Isn’t this great?! What a terrible pressure to be under, eh? There’s a rubble of ancient paperbacks on the floor, waiting to be dropped in at the second-hand bookshop, and there’ll be a new tower of books reaching towards the ceiling. Can’t wait for the post to arrive.

Note to self: start reading faster.

Finished Thirteen by Sebastian Beaumont (Myrmidon Thirteen_3 Books) a couple of weeks back. Had first come across this on Scott Pack’s blog, where he raved about it, and then Gary Davison gave it a good plug too.

'Stephen Bardot is a taxi driver working the night shift in Brighton. He works such long shifts that he is often driving while exhausted and it is then that he starts to experience major alterations to his perception of reality. People start to take lifts in his cab who know things they shouldn't, and who ultimately may not even be real.'

Although I found it very readable from the start and enjoyed plodding along with it, I felt as though I was plodding for a while and that those outstanding qualities I’d heard about weren’t really grabbing me, though of course this may well have been because of the way I was reading at the time (all those external factors which shape the way we engage with and interpret a book---pressures at work, the weather, interruptions). However, there came a mid-point where it seemed to shift into a higher gear and suddenly I found myself reluctant to put the book down. The dynamics of the story transformed it from being readable and good to compelling and outstanding. Whilst I can more or less track where this happened and why, I don’t want to touch on that here in case I give too much away, and certainly part of the ride with this novel is that there's an incremental unravelling of clues.

At times it reminded me of books I was drawn to as a teenager like Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes or John Fowles’ The Magus, and it felt like I was stepping into a shared element of How_the_light_gets_in_3 those worlds again, which is not to say it felt derivative in any sense. Thirteen comes across as being a very fresh and original piece of writing, and the taxi driver narrator is absolutely convincing. It wasn’t available in Australia when I ordered it a few months back, so I had to order it through Amazon; however, I think it’d be received very warmly here.

Also finished M.J.Hyland’s How The Light Gets In (Canongate).

With this novel, all those external factors which influence the way we read a book seemed to conspire against the two of us getting along. It’s well-written, but it didn’t work for me. It has a sense of direction, but didn’t feel cohesive. Ho hum. Usually I’ll ditch a book after 40 or 80 pages if I’m not connecting with it, but everyone I spoke to who’d read this thought it was a good read and so I stuck it out, but ... well, you can’t win ‘em all, and sometimes, regardless of how hard you try, the connection just doesn't work.