Monthly Archives: January 2012

Which Writer Wrote

This week’s WWW was written by a Wolf, Woolf or Wolfe…all exceptional writers.

However, the majority of women are neither harlots nor courtesans; nor do they sit clasping pug dogs to dusty velvet all through the summer afternoon.

Answer published on Friday

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The Anatomy of Wings by Karen Foxlee: Book Review

Karen Foxlee’s is a voice of confident originality.  She was named Best Emerging Author  in the 2006 Queensland Premier’s Awards and The Anatomy of Wings shows that the judges spotted a winner.

Despite having enough hooks and lures to make you want to turn pages, the story is essentially character driven and what delightful characters Foxlee coaxes from her pen.

There’s the three sisters:-
Beth is at first an enigmatic mystery who eventually epitomises the small-town girl slipstreaming into the vortex of a troubled few before taking a couple of wrong turns and spiralling into the abyss.
Danielle has a Milwaukee back brace for her curvature of the spine and a desperate wish for a perm.
Jenny is our young narrator who, in retrospect is able to tell us more than her own perspective and who in the ‘here and now’ is a vibrant original voice with a highly sensitive eye.

The best supporting role must go to Nanna who drives a Datsun Sunny and lives in a demountable council flat filled with dusty Virgin Mary statuettes.  Nanna is filled with love and religion and believes in miracles.

The girls’ mother and father are also finely drawn.  But – to continue my theme – there are so many interesting cameos that I can’t resist mentioning some of the support cast:-

Cousin Kylie, with her “brittle bones and bucked teeth and a bad temper” and a “very small amount of retarded-ness”.

Mr and Mrs O’Malley who talk incessantly (Mrs) or sing (Mr) while trying to avoid the pain in each others’ eyes.

Trail-bike-riding mysterious bad-boy Marcus with his thick lustrous black hair and come-to-bed eyes (we all knew one).

The Shelleys, so-called because “two had the first name Michelle and one was Rochelle and the leader, Deidre, had the last name Schelbach” (89)

The structure of The Anatomy of Wings is unusual: there are no chapter names or numbers, apart from those that deal specifically with the inhabitants of the five houses within Dardanelles Court (the sisters live in number 4) but they do not flow chronologically as one might expect.

The prose flows effortlessly (in the way that some writers manage to meticulously craft perfect sentences so that they appear to have come from nowhere).

Consider the way Foxlee handles a storm. 
Here’s the storm’s distant approach:- “It came out of the west, tentatively, like a lady gathering up her skirts before stepping inside a doorway.”  Its imminence is announced thus: “Every flower, every branch, every leaf, every twig opened up its heart and waited.  The classroom filled with this scent of the dry earth waiting.”   Finally, the storm arrives with an explosion of thunder and deafening rain.  “Above us the wind was playing the roof like a wobble board” .  And then “the storm took a deep breath and blew open a row of louvres at the back of the classroom”. (249-252)

 Finally it was over, leaving a different place than what had been there just hours before.

When we walked home the whole world had changed.  Small rain tiptoed on roof-tops.  A hawk hovered surveying the damage. The clouds had drifted away.  Water rushed out of downpipes in fountains.  Everywhere raindrops sparkled. (252)

After I completed my review, I checked out some other perspectives on Goodreads, where I discovered some readers were nonplussed about the references to Beth seeing angels.  I didn’t feel this confusion myself but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I ‘got it’ as the author intended. 

Some people believe that as one gets closer to death, ‘angels’ are visible and I think the girls’ grandmother believed Beth had somehow straddled the boundary of heaven and earth when she fainted.  I took the continued references to be analogous:  family members and friends could see Beth drifting away, could sense and smell and feel the spectre of loss about her.

In life, there are people who seem to carry an aura of early death with them and  when they die, it comes as less of a surprise to friends and loved ones: it’s as though the death has been foreseen and is therefore not unexpected.  Likewise, in the novel, Beth carries this aura of angels and death as some sort of preparation for her end. 

In a subliminal way, the angels fit nicely with Jenny’s love of birds and with the wings she so meticulously draws in art class.

Of all the wings on the wall the wind chose mine to tear free.  For a brief and beautiful moment my yellow wings were released from their pin and floated upwards into the room.  The whole class held its breath.  They flapped three times, gained altitude on the updraught, hovered briefly and then fell to the floor. (252)

When I read that passage, Beth and her angels were at the forefront of my thoughts.

Karen Foxlee featured recently in the ANZLitlovers Meet an Aussie Author series, in which the author confesses to a penchant for therapeutic photocopying.

BOOK DETAIL:
Foxlee, Karen. The Anatomy of Wings, UPQ, 2007.

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Which Writer Wrote ANSWER

This week’s WWW was:-

She gave me her factual tone,
her facial bones, her will,
not her beautiful voice
but her straightness and her clarity.

From his humble beginnings on the North Coast of New South Wales to the University of Sydney and then to poet extraordinaire, Les A Murray is a rare gem.  I love his willingness to wade into controversy, his big happy face and – most of all – his poetry.

The quote above comes from ‘Weights’, one of the poems he wrote in memory of his mother who died in 1951(published in the collection The Vernacular Republic: Poems 1961 – 1983, Harper Collins, 1988). Whenever I read ‘Weights’, it reminds me of my own mother (who is very much alive and kicking) and of good, courageous, beautiful mothers everywhere.

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Which Writer Wrote

This week’s WWW comes from one of Australia’s most outstanding and influential poets (and a particular favourite of mine). See if you can guess who wrote it and check in on Sunday for the answer.

She gave me her factual tone,
her facial bones, her will,
not her beautiful voice
but her straightness and her clarity.

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Ransom by David Malouf: Book Review

The opening pages of David Malouf’s Ransom had me gasping for breath, mesmerised by the poetic language, lulled by the music of the words, wooed by a seductive dance.

Based on one of the earliest poems of Western Literature, Homer’s epic Iliad, it fleshes out the characters of the great warrior Archilles and King Priam.  Priam’s personality in particular is so finely drawn, so recognizable in its regal remoteness that our own reigning Queen Elizabeth occasionally came to mind.

But the character I found most interesting is one realised totally by Malouf.  It is Somax, the carter who is persuaded to transport Priam to Archilles, who stands out. He provides the perfect contrast, in his earthy practicality, to the king’s pomposity.  Poor Somax.  He is “bull-shouldered, shock-headed” and so clearly out of place “in his homespun robe and broken sandals” amongst the dazzling cleanliness and orderliness of the palace courtyard.

Priam, in cavalier fashion, bestows upon Somax the name of Idaeus because that has always been the name of the man at the king’s side (whether or not it had been the same man was inconsequential because, according to Priam, it is “the office and the name that matters, not the person” (97).  While confirming what we know of Priam, it also imparts something of the carter’s sense of self.  He is “silently, sullenly affronted” by the idea that his name should be considered of no import and wonders how the gods will recognize him without it.  Then, when the royal princes start calling him by his new moniker, he smoulders and “in spirit at least, clenches his fist” (100).

Despite their differences, Priam warms to Somax, understanding that the carter is full of good will and that “It was not reverence he lacked, only a knowledge of the forms”. (117) Through Somax, Priam gains some appreciation for the minutiae of life like the feel of cooling water running over his feet, the fish that come to investigate and the wheeling birds, recognizing that these things were always there but there had been no reason previously for him to take notice of them for “They were not in the royal sphere” (122).

Priam and Somax have both lost sons but even that commonality is not fully shared for where Somax knew his children so well, Priam was distanced from his.  “Royal custom – the habit of averting his gaze, always, from the unnecessary and particular – had saved him from all that.” (139)

While noting that it is unnecessary to know anything about the Iliad, Lisa Hill in her review at ANZ LitLovers writes that “for those who read Ransom, Malouf’s imaginative rendering of this episode of The Iliad will forever be an unforgettable part of the original”.

The story ends as we know it will, and yet the end came too soon.

Some other interesting reviews:-
Tom Holland for The Guardian. Holland is ultimately disappointed feeling that “Malouf does not do enough with his source material”, John Clanchy’s  award-winning review for ABR, in which he calls Ransom a “minor miracle of a novel” and Read, Ramble.

Addition 22nd January 2012.
Apologies, book detail not originally posted.

Malouf, David. Ransom. 2009. Random House, North Sydney. ISBN 798 1 74166 965 7

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Which Writer Wrote ANSWER

I weighed up these women in my life and decided that none of them would fill the role of a mother.  But then, what did I know about mothers anyway?

 The quote is from Alva’s Boy: An unsentimental memoir by Alan Collins.  I have been up to my elbows in Collins’ work over recent months. He first came to my attention when I reviewed his collection of short stories,  A Thousand Nights at the Ritz and it has been hard to get him out of my head so one of my long-term projects is a study of his work is in relation to our concept of ‘Home’.  Alva’s Boy was completed just prior to the author’s death in 2008.

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Which Writer Wrote

Most of us will be feeling refreshed and sharp from the holidays so there are no clues for this week’s WWW.

I weighed up these women in my life and decided that none of them would fill the role of a mother.  But then, what did I know about mothers anyway?

Have a guess and check in on Sunday for the answer.

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