Monthly Archives: September 2013

THE DOUBLE by Maria Takolander: Book Review

Despite completing my first read-through of The Double a few weeks back, it has taken me considerable time to bring my thoughts together and I suspect I’ve subconsciously put off tackling this review because of the sheer complexity and cleverness of the themes.

the double

Melbourne born Maria Takolander is a senior lecturer in literary studies and creative writing so it comes as no surprise that she uses allusion to great effect. The stories in this collection carry titles from earlier narratives such as ‘The Obscene Bird of Night’ (a novel by the Chilean writer Jose Donoso), ‘Paradise Lost’ (John Milton’s epic blank verse poem), ‘The War of the Worlds’ (H.G. Wells’ popular sci-fi novel) and those titles provide the link to Takolander’s themes.

I don’t mean to suggest that you can’t enjoy these perfectly crafted stories if you don’t have an intimate knowledge of the earlier literary figures.  In fact, Takolander’s tales carry a momentum and thoughtful contemplation on their own merit.  To do justice to them in a critical review though…well, that’s something else again.  Nevertheless, here I am giving it my best shot.

The doppelgänger motif of the title story comes from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1846 novella ‘The Double’ and the schizophrenia and portentousness of Dostoyevsky’s tale is portrayed brilliantly here from the opening mystery of a woman waking confused and dishevelled, on wet grass with her lower half submerged in water to the puddle she returns to seeing “a stranger there in the mirrored surface, her pale face muddied, her body bound in white sheeting.” (78)

The morning after witnessing his parents’ drunken violence, the narrator in ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ heads off to a “nine o’clock tutorial on William Carlos Williams”, (12) the modernist poet who penned the poem commonly referred to as ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’.  Takolander seems to be saying something about the search for meaning in life (and perhaps the meaninglessness of it) through the analysis of poetry:

I found the question sheet and sat at my desk.  ‘In poems such as “The Red Wheelbarrow”’, I read, ‘William Carlos Williams strips the world bare of meaning. Discuss.’  I looked out of the window above my desk and into the backyard.  The sky was cloudless, and the air was still. (27-28)

Takolander’s imagery and simile unfurl with seductive ease:

“The midnight sun was glowering on the horizon, and mosquitoes bumped against her bedroom window like tiny ghosts.” (64) [The Double]

“The room would become black, and the silence in the receiver would thicken until I felt I was connected to some dark place underground.” (133) [The Interpretation of Dreams]

“There is firmer land somewhere.  Land where cattle stamp the soil with cloven hooves.  Where horse hair is torn against barbed fences.  Where colossal windmills slice the air. But that is not here.” (30) Tatiana has skin that may be beautiful behind her veil or may be “pocked like the creek mud” (32) and Svetlana has “the hems of her black pants hectic around her ankles.” (41)[Three Sisters]

Where Part One of this collection consists of eight distinct short stories, Part Two meanders along a different path.  Takolander won the 2010 ABR short story competition with ‘A Roankin Philosophy of Poetry’ a kind of absurdist look at academia (I think) and she extends the theme here with ‘Roankin and the Judge of the Poetry Competition’, ‘Roankin and the Research Assistant’ and ‘Roankin and the Librarian’. I’m not sure that I fully appreciated this second Part (at least not to the extent of part one) but Takolander does give her humour full rein:

The garden shed abutted a homely chicken coop, and I had been living there comfortably, beneath a picturesque series of power lines, ever since. (203)

—————-

Roankin’s last words outlining the Roankins’ philosophy of poetry sung on the page like a plague of locusts granted only twenty-four hours to copulate before they die. (203-204)

The intriguing cover design by WH Chong perfectly mirrors [pun intended] the book’s contents and, as it sits beside my keyboard now, it seems to be daring me to hunt down a copy of Dostoyevsky’s ‘The Double’ and then revisit Takolander’s take on the theme.

BOOK DETAIL
Takolander, Maria. The Double, The Text Publishing Company, Melbourne, 2013.
ISBN: 9781922079763

This review is cross posted at ANZ LitLovers.

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THE WHOLE OF MY WORLD by Nicole Hayes: Book Review

I am no expert when it comes to young adult fiction but, as I can own to being young at heart and having a healthy respect for the game of Australian Rules Football (around which much of the action in The Whole of My World revolves), I claim enough confidence to review this entertaining novel by Nicole Hayes.  It’s also no secret that I am a huge fan of Australian voices in fiction and The Whole of my World is distinctly Australian.

the whole of my world

Hayes admits in a Hypable interview with Marama Whyte to mining her own childhood for the background for this novel (and you can detect the similarities between Hayes and the central character, Shelley, who allows herself to be almost swallowed up by the fans and the players and the hype that make up the world of Aussie Rules).

Despite some minor insecurity, Shelly knows herself pretty well:

Somewhere deep down I’m ashamed of my gloating, but it’s pretty deep and easy to ignore. (83)

The game of football and the people surrounding it fill the void left by tragedy on the home front.  As Shelley immerses herself in this other world, she comes close to losing her innocence but is ultimately saved by her own competence and common sense, as much as by the knowledge that, despite circumstances sometimes indicating otherwise, she is loved by her family and friends.

Hayes’ clever way with words is never more evident than when she talks about the game of football and its resonance to the city of Melbourne:

The moment you’re born in this city, or even if you move here, you have to choose a team to barrack for… [sometimes] it’s handed down to you like property or, if you barrack for Carringbush, a hereditary disease. (73)

Sections and chapters are named in true footballing parlance: ‘Pre-season’, ‘One day in September’, ‘Best on Ground’ and the like and Hayes is clearly knowledgeable about the game, its players, and Melbourne – the city that is still the capital as far as AFL is concerned.

But it’s not all about the Sherrin and the big white posts.  Hayes has a knack for painting her characters uniquely. Of her new friend, Shelly thinks:-

Individually, her features could be pretty but, somehow, in the process of constructing a face, the bits don’t quite seem to match. (21)

The story is set in the eighties and so some of the references might prove baffling for the book’s intended audience.  No doubt, there will be a few teenagers asking their parents “Who is Kim Wilde?” or “is The Waltons a television show?”  and “who or what is the Brady Bunch?”

I’m pleased that Hayes provided a fictional cloak for her characters and football teams as it allowed her the freedom to explore motivation more easily and I’m sure she would have felt shackled if Shelley’s team and the named players were real.

One of my favourite aspects of this novel is the innocence (but growing awareness) with which Shelley embroils herself in a friendship with an older, married man. Mick ‘Eddie’ Edwards is clearly a handsome and charismatic guy.  We are never quite sure of his exact motives which I think in a YA book is just as it should be and could provide for some great educational discussion points for teenagers.

Thanks Lisa at ANZ Litlovers for sending this book to me.  Lisa would be part of a minority group  in Victoria – someone who I don’t think has ever been to a game of Australian Rules Football – but she knew I would appreciate the backstory and enjoy reading The Whole of My World for review.

BOOK DETAIL:
Hayes, Nicole.  The Whole of my World, Woolshed Press, Random House, Sydney, 2013.
ISBN: 978 74275 860 2

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