Tallullah Rising. Glen Duncan

Finally the holidays have kicked in enough for me to want to read something non-work related and completely indulgent. Which is, after all, what reading should be about. I chose to renew my acquaintance with the werewolves and vampires in Glen Duncan's follow up to the wonderful 'Last Werewolf'. The story begins with Tallulah in one hell of a predicament, Jake is dead and she is due to have her baby any day now. She has taken herself off, with her familiar, Cloquet, to the Alaskan wilds. The full moon is on its way just to complicate things and then, it all happens. She gives birth to two babies/werewolves but the vampires have arrived to take the child they believe she is carrying ( the whole twin thing was as new to Tallulah as to them, thank goodness). They steal away with her boy and then she gives birth to a girl. There are several moments of chase, capture, escape and capture again but they do not become too predictable despite the pattern in retrospect. Duncan does not give the twi-hard vampire fans anything to see here. This is an adult novel that is as comfortable with its philosophical musings on life, death and otherness as it is dropping gouts of viscera and sex on its readers. That said, it certainly takes you on an adventure filled ride around the globe and there are enough plot twists to keep you not only interested, but highly involved.

It is not labelled horror/literature by reviewers without good reason. The writing is tight and controlled with many a literary reference and an intelligent backstory. It moves easily from modern London and America to a sort of James Bond with supernaturals but resists being trite for all that.

I will await the next one, it has been left with enough of a cliffhanger to be certain that one is forthcoming.

Fans of Justin Cronin's work would do well to read Duncan's writing too.



Past The Shallows

Miles and Harry live with their father, an abalone fisherman, in a small settlement in Tasmania. Their lives are rudimentary and Miles lives for getting out on his surfboard. Harry has found a new friend, an old man scarred by fire who lives with his puppy Jake. Harry and Miles’ father is a tormented and brutal man who is also scarred, this time, by love. Their lives take a sharp turn as the swell of the sea is not listened to.
This novel is beautifully written. I read it in two hours flat because I could not put it down. The story is heartbreaking and sadly beautiful too. It tells the tale of two sensitive boys in a bleak environment living lives that are controlled by the past and old wounds.
The characters are carefully sketched and the reader slowly inhabits their world.
Highly recommended.



Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Penguin Edition

I have just finished re-reading Mary Shelley’s masterpiece.It’s always a daunting experience to reread one of the ‘greats’ of English literature. You tend to worry that it won’t live up to your high expectations or that you are too concerned about making ‘readings’ of it that you forget to enjoy it. When reading it in the 21st century you tend to come to it with a lot of cultural baggage and at first I wondered whether or not it would distract me from the experience. It didn’t, although in retrospect you do end up pondering the effects of science on modern society. Sometimesthey’re amazingly beneficient, sometimes (Frankensfoods etc.) less so.

The story is carefullyand neatly structured with a chinese box type of narrative where we first listen to the story through Robert Walton,erstwhile polar explorer, thenVictor Frankenstein and then the monster and then back again through the layers. This has the effect of containing the monster’s story within the two ‘men of science’. The men of this novel (excluding the monster) have remarkable similarities, however Walton is more sympathetic due to the influence of his ‘sister’ who we never meet, we just read his letters to her and she acts as a brake on his more reckless impulses. The similarities between characters do not end there either. Victor shares a lot in common with his ‘hideous progeny’. Their reactions to the sublime in nature, their debilitating fear of solitude and their need to be loved and admired.

When Walton first meets Frankenstein sledding past his icebound ship and in very poor physical shape he is instantly sympathetic and identifies with him strongly. They are of the same social class and share the same homosocial values. Luckily for Walton, this relationship is brief as Frankenstein has rather a bad influence on the impressionable would be hero. When Walton’s crew want to return to civilisation as soon as their ice-locked ship is freed, Frankenstein berates them and tells them that they are cowardly if they do this. He also asks Walton to pursue and kill the monster for him which of course, is foolhardy given that it is eight feet tall and of superhuman strength!

Frankenstein tellsWalton  the story of the birth and subsequent abandonment of his creature outlining the horror he felt when he realised what his hubris had led him to. He does not, however, feel that he is to blame, he merely followed the logical consequences of modern science and after reading the early alchemists and thenthe  modern physical scientists, he sees this as a progression.He then worries that someone else will followin his footsteps. In fact he will not tell Walton exactly how and what he has done in case he repeats it. Victor’s tale follows his journey back home after fleeing from the monster and then the horror he feels when he realises that the monster has not only pursued him, but has actively worked towards vengeance on his creator by killing his family members. (Or so he believes at the time – we later find out that the creature did not at first know that William was related to Frankenstein, however, he was so brutalised by human society by this time, that when he did find out, he killed him). Frankenstein’s story is then interrupted by the creature’s own story.

We learn of his shock upon discovering that he was alive and we follow his journey through experience and knowledge from his ‘tabula rasa’ state. Locke and Rousseau’s ideas about knowledge overlap in the monster. He is born a blank slate and gradually, through sensation, learns about the world. The theory being that if the monster had had positive experiences of life he would have learnt good things, but unfortunately, the opposite can, and does occur. The abused child, becomes an abuser. He hides himself in a shack off a house of the DeLacey family, exiled French natives, who teach him inadvertently about the modern world. Through them he learns to read ( the plot device here is a Turkish woman, Safie, who the family are teaching French) he has access to the modern Romantic library in ‘The Sorrows of Werther‘, Paradise Lost, and history of the Roman leaders. There has been some criticism of the likelihood of the creature finding this family and learning from these books, but if that is a problem for the reader so is the actual creation of the monster.

The creature tells his story to Frankenstein in order that he will understand what he has created and in order to plead for a mate.He tells his ‘father’ of his plans to meet and converse with the DeLacey’s and of his overpowering need for human contact. He relates their horror at his appearance and the abject loneliness and then rage that he subsequently felt. Frankenstein agrees to create a mate for him eventually as he understands that he has an obligation to the creature.The monster’s argument is that if he is loved, even by such a creature as himself, he can only do good in the world. This again, highlights the central philosophy of the novel that humans need human compassion.

The narrative then returns to Victor’s story and here he tells of his betrayal of the creature as he justifies his destruction of the female monster that he began to create. He reasoned that they could breed a ‘race of monsters’ ( a la Caliban)  and the monster then vows to destroy him utterly for giving him such a miserable lifeand his gross betrayal. Henry Clerval, Victor’s best friend and the man he ‘loved above all others’ as they were childhood friends, is murdered and for a time Victor is imprisoned. When he is eventually freed and returns to wed Elizabeth, his ‘cousin’ (yes, the novel is rather incestuous) he remembers that the creature has vowed to see him ‘on his wedding night’. Victor assumes that this means they will fight to the death. Of course the dramatic irony here is very strong.

Eventually the narrative returns full circle to the beginning and we view the demise of Frankenstein and the last visit of the creature to his creator. Victor Frankenstein leaves Walton with the horrible lesson of man’s excessive pride and the dangers of science dabbling in the creation of human life. The monster comes to see him at the end and then swears to commit suicide, thus ending his miserable existence.

The novel deals with the ideas of beauty and the sublime, ideas of science and creation, ideas of masculinity and femininity and ideas of parenthood. It is a powerful piece of fiction that crosses many genres and is difficult to pigeonhole in just one. Shelley’s genius was even more amazing considering she was 17 when she wrote it and some critics have read into the story her own struggles with motherhood and her criticism of her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and his friend Byron. Read Anne K Mellor‘s Mary Shelly: Her LIfe, Her Fiction, Her Monsters or Esther Shor’s wonderful Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley for more.

ffun with fforde- ffirst among sequels

Fforde ffans will not be at all disappointed. This is (to borrow welloflostplots’ phrase) Fforde at his best. We see Thursday as a married woman with a hypertypical teenage son (ok that’s not really a word – but so what). Friday grunts, refuses to wash , sleeps as if it were an Olympic sport and he were in training and refuses to take his proper place in society and get a job. The problem is, his job is to be the head of the chronoguard, and if he doesn’t take it up, then he could be replaced with an alternate him from a parallel universe. If you’re confused at this stage read the first four books and it will make a whole lot more sense. I absolutely love Fforde’s linguistic tricksiness and his sense of the absurd and his ability to create a perfectly coherent world out of something so completely unbelievable and insane. Thursday manages to have the most wonderful adventures with the characters in the Literatec world and I always find myself wishing I could join her, except maybe for the danger. She’s just on this side of believable but thoroughly entertaining. This whole series is brilliant, unlike the Nursery Crime series, which were not as good. Well, luckily for me, I’ve managed to read some fantastic books in the last few months.

Shakespeare – Bill Bryson

Ok, another book about Shakespeare, what could I possibly want that for? Well, firstly, because it is another book about Shakespeare, and let’s face it, we can’t have enough of them. Secondly, because it’s written by Bill Bryson who just knows how to tell a story in an amusing and eclectic way that keeps his readers with him. One more thing is that although there are lots of books about Shakespeare, from lots of different perspectives, lots of them are not made for a general readership. They’re often written for academics or literature students or conspiracy theorists or something of that nature. Bryson knows his reader pool and we dive in. He gives us nothing new here. He goes through the whole background and touches on the authorship debate and then discusses the plays. He openly acknowledges that it is impossible to really ‘know’ anything for a fact about Shakespeare, but he is a believer and he writes about his love for Shakespeare’s writing. This is well worth the money. Buy it and curl up, then pick up another play or some sonnets and immerse yourself in the bard.

History Boys

I’m a bit behind the times. I actually saw this play last week and I’ve not yet blogged about it even though I did rave about it a bit through the week. It was a funny and thought provoking play about a group of sixth form boys at a Sheffield school. We were introduced to them through their General Studies class with Hector and old iconoclastic teacher who loves the classics, particularly another old bugger, Auden. He gives the boys lifts home on his motorbike and feels them up on the way home. The boys aren’t traumatised by this, in fact they vie for his attention and are very fond of him. Hector teaches the boys to love poetry and classic literature and even teaches them French, much to the disgust of the Head teacher who is unable to quantify Hector’s teaching and so brings in a much more educationally acceptable teacher Irwin (Matthew Newton) who knows how to get the boys to pass their final exams and get into the much coveted Oxford University.
Alan Bennett shows his scorn for this character by giving him a job on BBC2 after having him fall of Hector’s bike because he ‘leant the wrong way’.
The boys are the wittiest bunch and wryly observe the goings on at the school. They are resilient survivors who show us that teachers don’t really understand them (with the possible exception of Hector). They are confident and accepting of one another.
The educational debate threaded through the play is particularly apt at the moment given the governmental concern for quantifying everything that teachers do and the possibility of performance pay for teachers who ‘value add’. Irwin would get paid under this system as he could be percieved to have taught them how to pass the exams and get into Oxford; Hector would not get paid even though his is the spine that exists in the body of their knowledge and his teaching will continue to support their love of learning. Get that Julie Bishop!
This is a must see play if you are at all interested in education, learning (yes, they are separate things) and like a good laugh. The funniest scene was the French scene where the boys were using the subjunctive to wish for what all 18 year old boys wish for. The head teacher enters the room and the boys become wounded soldiers crying ‘Aidez moi!’ . They clearly do not need help as they frolic around the room, one trouserless. At several times the audience was convulsed by the wit threaded through the play and it is one that will stay with you for quite some time, much like Hector’s teaching I suspect.

Melbourne’s Macdaddy of Murder Brutalises the Bard

If you think that this title is overdone – see the film.
Went to see the new Melbourne production of Macbeth on Monday night. I thought it might be interesting to see a Melbourne version. All I knew was that it was set in Melbourne’s gangland and kept the Shakespearean dialogue. I thought that it started out ok. A bit brutal, but nothing outrageous. However… it did get worse.
The Cawdor pub in a Melbourne lane was amusing, The Cumberland Hotel, a bit try hard, but Dunsinane as a Melbourne home in a leafy suburb? Then I wasn’t prepared for Gary Sweet as the king, or Mick Molloy as one of the body guards, but the best piece of miscasting was Kim Gyngell as Lady Macbeth’s physician. Unfortunately, by that stage the audience howled.
Highlight of the film – Macduff and Cumberland come barging through the gates of Dunsinane in a logging truck – with Birnam Timber written on the side!
A close second – Lady Macbeth dying in a bath of blood with designer cuts on her wrists artfully exposing one nipple.
Eugh! moment – Macbeth has an orgy with the three nubile witches, one of whom keeps hissing, in his living room, after drinking their potion, which they’ve cooked up on his dining table. He licks his lips after the drink and says something like ‘yum’ and then proceeds to have sex with all three of them. When we first meet the witches they’re in a cemetary hacking apart statues and spraying red paint into their eyes (and hissing). They’re dressed in school uniforms!
Macbeth and his lovely wife are also heavy drug users. Our first memorable moment with her is a shot of her lying in a bath (she takes a lot of baths!) stoned out of her skull and nearly dead.
Well, it was interesting and original, though not necessarily in a useful way. some of the violence is too much, and yes, I do know that Macbeth is a violent play, but watching Mick Molloy garrotte Macduff’s wife while groaning sexually was a bit too much.
Avoid this if you like the play, watch it if you like violent films with drugs and sex thrown in for good measure.