To the Islands by Randolph stow

to the islands

To the Islands by Randolph Stow

Australian fiction

Source – personnel copy

aussie lit month

Randolph Stow is one of those writers I feel that time is forgetting I only heard about him a few years ago when this book was considered one of the best Australian novels on the old ABC book show .He won the Miles franklin the year after Patrick white did with Voss in 1958 the second winner of the prize with this book .I looked up and he has been described by one person as the Australian Camus .Anyway he lived in the uk from the mid seventies and died a couple of years ago .This book was revised in 1991 but my copy is the old Australian Penguin version from 1962 .

I am an old man ,an old man .J’ai plus de souvenirs que si j ‘ avais mille ans ,and this cursed .Baudelaire whining in his head like a mosquito ,preaching despair .How does a man grow old who had made no investment in the future ,without wife or child ,without refuge for his heart beyond the work that becomes too much for him ?

Very good bit of existentialist angst here I felt

I read both Kim and Lisa’s review of this book and Knew it was one I would love .SO what is it about well the action is set in worth west western Australia in a Mission that is run by the church (you just know how this is going to go ,don’t you  ) ,this is for the Aboriginals to use (be converted they meant  no matter what the cost  ) anyway the mission is run by Stephen Heriot ,this guy fits you typical missionary view he sees the Aboriginals as people to covert but years in the desolate place has changed him into a twisted man anyway the is a man he has had run in with over the years Rex an aboriginal he has had run in with in the past and he considers evil anyway ,he ends up killing him and Heriot goes on the run  but what happens next ?.

Without bending ,without touching him :”dead” ,said Heriot ,feeling in himself the thickening of blood ,the stiffening and relaxing of fingers . Rex –

The moment the book turns .

Well this book has so many themes it hard to cover them all , Christianity and Aboriginals this isn’t just a Australian thing it can be seen in a wider context of africa and Asia .Heriot a man in crisis is a classic figure of existential fiction a man questioning – What he did ,who he is and why he is ? easy to see why he had been called the Australian Camus .Heriot could easily be a  character from say Camus or Beckett  .then we have ,Culture clash the white folk as they are often called here by the aboriginal as there views on life differ greatly thus cause a build up of tension especially in Heriot  .For me one of the  things I loved was the Language this is something I really loved, Stow’s voice especially the dialogue which to me as an English reader sound very authentic like the “old days  ” Aussie we used to hear in my youth thirty years ago  ,to coin a term ,he used some terms which now seem very out-of-place but were in common usage at the times ,these I believe have been to some extent removed in the revised edition which is shame lisa did not she would like to she what was cut and I will second this myself ,I feel books may date to me this hasn’t te themes at its core are still the same today maybe not in Australia but elsewhere ,the terms are of the time and added for me as a reader .As for him being like Patrick White he is a bit but when he wrote this at just 22 he hadn’t read White’s Voss .

Have you read this ?

The Most Beautiful walk in the world by John Baxter

Source – Review copy

John Baxter is an Ex-pat australian writer that has lived in Paris for a number of years ,he is also well-known for writing Film biographies of people such as Steven  Spielberg and George Lucas to name two .He currently gives guided Literary tours of Paris and has done so for a number of years ,this book is a collection of thoughts memories and information he has gathered in doing this for the past few years .He has also written two earlier books on Paris .

Now the books the most beautiful walk in the world is set up in short chapters each a little tale about the city and the people who have lived there .One main area’s John touches on is the 20’s the swinging paris of Hemingway , Fitzgerald ,Joyce and Gertrude Stein .He evokes the Spirit of these writers books as he describes ,Joyce’s Ulysses being published by Sylvia Beach the owner and publisher that ran Shakespeare and company in the 20’s ,Now that great shop keeps cropping up ,you sense John’s love for it history and how much it has touched writing  and writers in the past .Elsewhere we get the darker side of paris ,opium dens ,Underground attractions that were scary and popular in late 1800’s .He also tells of his and his families connection to the city christmas there ,meeting people and just the everyday ebb and flow he experiences .Another thread of chapters is of course food and cafes ,from how important the right tin of sardines can be to a french man to the great cafes of the twenties and how they have faired through to the present day .

Connetable produces a “vintage” sardine that retails for $14 a can.Buyers are advised to “put down” these like wine for a few years ,turning them occasionally to spread the flavour .

“what really threw me “,tim said later “was the fact you didn’t bat an eyelash .I thought it was some sort of practical Joke.”

He should have realized that the french ,serious at the best of times ,become positively reverent when it comes to food .

John buying sardines ,this made me laugh at how serious the french can be !!

I m so please I picked this from the e-mail I get from time to time from Harper perennial .It was one of the best travel books I ve ever read John’s love for paris just drips of the pages and like a good Bordeaux ,slowly gets you drunk with the city your self ,he breathes life into the figures you know that lived there ,but he makes the spirits still seem part of the fabric of Paris today .The short chapter and constant flow of little nuggets of info make you want to continue turning the pages ,he flies from places to places keeping the reader interested from page one to the end .I wanted to jump on the next flight with My darling wife and spend a week reliving this book Visiting the Various sights and sounds he described ,trying sardines at $14 dollars ,having a coffee in a famous cafe ,seeing Gertrude Stein favourite garden  .I ve had a brief visit to Paris a number of years ago and this has made me want to return more than ever to breathe up more of this wonderful city  ,but also pick up his two earlier books also about Paris .John has a website ,you can e-mail him to maybe try a walk in Paris with him ,if I do get to go there I may well do that and bring this book along !!!

What cities do you love ?

Have you been to Paris what did you enjoy ?

The slap by Christos tsiolakas

This is Tsiolkas fourth novel ,he grew up in Melbourne in a greek family ,the book was longlisted last week for the 2010 man booker and was also shortlisted for the miles franklin ,The book centres on an incident at a family barbeque in the suburbs ,as a group of family and friend gather at Hector’s house for a relaxing evening when there is the incident of the title of the book a young boy Hugo is slapped by Hector’s cousin Harry .

He saw his cousin’s raised arm it spliced the air and then he saw the open palm descend and strike the boy .The slap seemed to echo .it cracked the twilight .The little boy looked up at the man in shock.there was a long silence .

The event view by Harry

The acorn for the idea came from an event Christos observed at a family event of his own and decide to write the book if the event had gone a different way than it had when he saw it .The story the fans out like a stone hitting the water the ripples of the slap are chronicled through the different guest and what happened after and before the event itself .The stories range from what happen to Harry and Hugo and his mother ,to adulterous affairs as we travel around the web of stories from the 8 characters that were at the barbeque  ,My feeling is the male narratives stand up a lot better than the female narratives which at times seem flimsy and one-dimensional ,the strongest being hector and Harry’s stories which are probably nearest to Tsiolkas himself .He is trying out an interesting style using a single event as a catalyst for multiple narratives ,trying to shed a light on the working blue-collar and immigrant community in australia ,which has been overlooked at times in Aussie fiction .If I had to describe the book like I was asked on twitter the other day ,I d say heartbreak high 10 years on made for late night tv .There is a lot of sex in this book and that was my greatest problem with it the females just seem like set dressing at times .The book is what I would call a classic booker shortlist book ,little avant grade ,slightly edgy .A wonderful insight into suburban life in australia .A writer to watch out for when he decides on a style that suits him .

Have you read it ,what did you think ?

breath by tim winton


Is a book set in australia ,following the teenager piklet and his coming of age .a lot of the story surrounds water and surfing trying to catch the next big wave on dangerous breaks ala laird hamilton ,with his older friend loonie the local publician son that his strict paarents disapprove of  and sando a older surfer .as the tale unfolds the story takes a unexpect twist as piklets is left alone with sandos partner eva ,while sando and loonie abandon piklet to roam the world in search of breaks .this novel is fast moving and a true coming of age tale in the tradition of catcher in the rye or the graduate breath

June 2023


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