Sunday, October 10, 2010

Easy As

Teen films are well placed for making the most withering social commentary. The Breakfast Club sliced into American class structures. Juno was the mirror in which America could see its own puritanical self-righteousness reflected back. And Easy A, a new film starring the delightfully husky Emma Stone, does some of the best work on the dealing with the modern technological reality I've seen.
From the opening scene where our girl Olive uses Google Earth as a metaphor for her social status to the live webcast which frames the film, this a movie which unshrinkingly explores the text/sext-riddled quotidian mess that is 2010.
In the tradition of Clueless and Ten Things I Hate About You, Easy A draws on a classic; Nathaniel Hawthorn's The Scarlet Letter. But in another nod to these post-post-modern times, rather than mimicking the plot of the canonical heavyweight (Emma in the case of Clueless, The Taming of the Shrew for Ten Things I Hate About You), this film engages critically with its precursor. Our sassy heroine self-consciously decides to use the scarlet letter to her advantage.
Sure some of the actors are on the wrong side of 25 and Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson make impossibly fantastic and endlessly punny parents, but nevertheless this an eminently enjoyable movie; a movie for teachers, teens and their parents as well as pop-culture fangirls like me. Or in the words of an ersatz Mr Robert Martin, 'Two thumbs up; fine holiday fun'.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Death and Doughnuts

Having recently finished a 600-pager for my book club which I hated (no naming of names here), I was a little timid going into Skippy Dies; a similarly extensive novel, also peopled by adolescents. But Paul Murray’s novel is the kind which you don’t quite want to end. Set in a prestigious Catholic boys’ school just outside Dublin, we follow the lives of an outsider clique featuring Skippy who, as the title notes, dies within the first twenty pages. We then skip back in time to before the tragic doughnut shop incident.
I was thoroughly charmed by the boys who felt like they’d stepped directly out from my fourteen-year-old life. There’s Mario, the sex obsessed, self-proclaimed lothario whose three-year-old ‘lucky’ condom languishes in his wallet unused. Or Ruprecht, the frighteningly intelligent fat-boy who dreams of Stanford and a life proving string theory.
Murray’s meld of the tragic and comic enchanted me. I was completely sucked into this world and was excited to read a contemporary novel which so accurately invokes the pulls the modern world; the teenage boys receive instruction from anachronistic priests only to head back to their centuries old dorms and watch bizarre porn online. In that way, straddling frighteningly banal everday living and the worst realities of modern life, Skippy Dies is reminiscent of The Corrections and like Franzen, I forsee a thoroughly bright future for him.   

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hot shoe shuffle

So in the day-to-day of office life - snowed in by manuscripts and swept away in tsunamis of those little corn packing thingos - how do publishing types stay sane? Why with shoes of course. Here's a sample (with thanks to KB).

Vintage Dancing Shoes, Sydney
Ankle boots from dco, Copenhagen

21st birthday shoes, still going strong

Suede loafers from Office, London

Friday, August 20, 2010


Lorrie Moore has edged her way into my top authors. She is funny, clever and emotionally sophisticated (as icky as that phrase sounds) and Gate at the Stairs was one of my favourite books last year. Consequently I've been working my way through her back catalogue starting with Short Stories, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital and most recently finished Anagrams.
What's fascinating about Anagrams is the way Moore uses the characters the way someone like Nabokov rearranges letters to form new words, in this way she makes new scenarios. A few central characters - Gerard, Benna and Eleanor - appear in different versions of themselves through discrete parts of the book. Expect, as always, Moore's signature slices of truth served cold, her supreme smarts and her mastery of the pun.

Friday, July 30, 2010

What's left

I finished Remainder several months ago and have been wondering how to write about it ever since. I've been thrusting it wild-eyed in the hands of my friends, wanting fellow readers to talk with. It’s the story of man who receives an eight million pound payout for an accident which is never fully explained. With all that money, he decides to try to recreate one of his few memories which survived the accident; of walking down a staircase, looking out a window at cats on a roof, smelling liver frying and hearing a pianist practising. By re-enacting this authentic moment, our protagonist, who is never named, creates a laser-like focus and feels like he is both genuinely living and transcendent. The awkwardness of that last sentence is testament to the subtlety and brilliance of the book – there is not one statement of this fact, McCarthy is the king of what creative writing teachers call ‘showing, not telling’.  The success of this one re-enactment leads to further recreations and leads inexorably to a dizzying climax.

What makes this such a fascinating, stimulating read is the way McCarthy tickles the synapses into wakefulness through what is, in effect, a prolonged thought experiment in narrative form. The narrator’s first person voice is entirely convincing – it’s like reading a transliterated version of method acting –  and the characters all seem to behave not only autonomously but, dare I say it, authentically. And while this might sound like a purely cerebral book, through his pared-back writing, McCarthy generates some of the most evocative and visceral vignettes I’ve read lately.

I’m so excited to see he’s on the Booker Longlist. Apparently it took eight years of searching for a publisher for McCarthy to get Remainder into the mainstream but once published it enjoyed relatively good sales, as well as rights sales to France and Germany among others. This is a book for our age, one which speaks to the experience of the contemporary world.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

And the longlist is....

This morning the Man Booker Longlist was announced and Australia's own Christos Tsiolkas was nominated for The Slap. Oh, and Peter Carey too. In other news, Tom McCarthy's C made the list and not surprisingly, David Mitchell is there too for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. 
While I'd love for The Slap to win because Christos is fabulous and C to win because I think McCarthy is utterly fascinating, I wouldn't put money on it. Apparently, British bookmakers William Hill rate Andrea Levy's The Lost Song as the favourite.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hold on to your hats!

Farrar Strauss Giroux, quite possibly my favourite publishing company (despite being part of Macmillan now), has recently lauched an online magazine: Work in Progress. If ever there was a reason to get an iPad, this would be it. You can read about book jacket design, the new Eugenides or survey some of the treasures from the Susan Sontag archive. It's a whole lot of great content, and it's free.

I do wonder though, with this sort of material increasingly available, how does a magazine like the New Yorker maintain subscription levels?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Apparently inspired by a trip to Japan, and 10 years in the writing, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a highly atmospheric and enchantingly transporting book. The first third (and the least dynamic) introduces us to 'Dazuto', as he is named by the locals. A clerk for the Dutch East India Company, sent to Deijima to check the accounting in the company's outpost. This is a book concerned with honour, the limits of loyalty and misuses of religious faith. 
     As with Cloud Atlas, I enjoyed reading David Mitchell's latest offering. The reader is able to thoroughly lose themselves in the world Mitchell creates. He does have a lovely way with words but ultimately, this was not a moving book for me, either intellectually or emotionally.  It's not Mitchell's fault he is described on the cover of my proof copy as 'a man who may yet prove to be the greatest British writer of his age' but, for me, he hasn't yet reached up into greatness.
     On a side note, I was lucky enough to score a proof copy which is a dazzling gold mirror foil all over. While the finished version is rather pretty, with blue glitter embellishments highlighting the text and some of the undulations of the waves, I wonder whether booksellers were disappointed after the Midas-gold of the reading copy.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


I had extremely low expectations for Sex and the City 2. I thought it would be difficult to expect less of anything. But still, I was disappointed. And somehow, those clever movie people, managed to slip an errant apostrophe into the film. At one point Carrie is printing off a story for Vogue entitled (cue shot of the printer) ‘Terrible Two’s’. Did we ever see Carrie printing out stories in the series? Surely she would deliver electronically. So not only was the shot pointless and time-wasting, like most of the film, but committed that most frightful of sins, the misplaced apostrophe.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


In preparation for Sir Ian this evening, I've returned to my bilingual edition of Waiting for Godot. Becket has taken on a whole new persona since I read the Nora biography by Brenda Maddox. Apparently James Joyce and Nora's daughter fell madly in love in Beckett when she met him at her parents' apartment in Paris.
Anyway, this one lean, economical and thoroughly fascinating play and I can't wait to see it performed for the first time.It was almost enough to distract me on the bus this morning from the foul-odoured person who sat next to me, full body contact for most of the trip.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Lights Out!

Lights Out in Wonderland
DBC Pierre
It’s just what postmodernism should be: ironic, fun, footnoted and dripping with disestablishmentarianism. Drawing from David Foster Wallace, Don Delillo and Hunter S. Thompson style hijinks for the 21st century, Lights Out in Wonderland is a drug-soaked and fatalistic bacchanal. Our hero, Gabriel Brockwell, is planning one last bender before committing suicide and he pulls his best buddy, a chef called Smuts, along down with him. From fornicating in a fish tank to koala confit, this is one helluva ride. 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I can see my house from here

Well here's an exciting production. UTS bravely charges a bunch of students each year with producing an anthology. And this year's is a cracker (and not just because yours truly was one of the editors). Everything you ever wanted in an anthology is packed in here: flash fiction; screen-writing; poetry and short stories. Crikey sure liked it. Where can you get your copy? Right here.


People ask whenever I'm wearing these, and in this order: 'Where are they from?' and 'Are they as comfortable as they look?'
a) Alfie's Friend Rolfe. It's a local brand called The horse and these shoes are called Dorothy. No, they don't come in black.
b) Yes. Absolutely. They cuddle my arches and caress my toes.
Who says comfort and style are mutually exclusive. And yes, friends, publishing types can manage colours other than black under the right circumstances.