Spring has sprung and the staff at the Centre have been busy reading everything from J. K. Rowling, to historical fiction and interviews with prominent Australian authors. Take a look at the titles that have caught our attention this month.
July ended in a blaze of nostalgia as I lined up before Dymocks opened to buy Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the script of a play set in J.K. Rowling’s universe, which is currently showing on the West End. Many fans weren’t happy with the story, but I actually loved it and sped through it in three hours. It was a bit of a departure from the series, but that was to be expected with the different format. I would have loved to see the play in London!
After a few other quick reads, I’ve ended the month halfway through Jesse Blackadder’s Chasing the Light. It tells the story of the first woman to land on Antarctica – three women are on the voyage, so I don’t yet know which will be the first. I love historical fiction and I’m enjoying learning about an unfamiliar aspect of the 1930s. It’s particularly interesting to see the different opportunities and values of the three women, and how they interact with the world and men around them.
I have had the epic and deep satisfying experience of reading the three volumes of Henry Handel Richardson’s The Fortunes of Richard Mahony. Years ago I read and enjoyed, The Getting of Wisdom, but this is the first time I attempted to read this significant work of our literary heritage.
Although current editions are published as one very big and slightly daunting tome, I would recommend approaching them as three separate novels, as they were originally published. Read one, take a break, digest it, read some other books, and then move on to the next. That way it won’t seem overwhelming. This grand tale of the early days of Australian colonial life follows the rise and ultimate downfall of Richard Mahony. It captures his fraught relationship with Australia, with those around him, and with himself. As the novels progresses, the story broadens to focus more on the character of Mahony’s wife, Mary. As she comes into her power we begin to see Mahony from the outside and witness his failings. One aspect that I think gets overlooked is the powerful retelling from a child’s perspective of their parents’ descent into madness. This is remarkably and movingly captured, all the more so as it mirrors HHR’s own life.
I haven’t decided to come back to the present after my sojourn through revolutionary Russia; I am still in the land of historical fiction and recently finished Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Mantel has such an amazing command of language and a knack for descriptions as she takes you through Tudor England and chronicles the rise of Thomas Cromwell during the reign of Henry VIII. I thought I knew a significant amount when it came to Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and the other significant players, though I could not have been more wrong. Mantel’s focus on Thomas Cromwell’s influence and budding relationship with the King, presented a part of history I was not previously aware of. We learn of his upbringing, his abusive Father, the death of his wife and two daughters, his relationship with Cardinal Wolsey and eventually his favour with Henry VIII. He was a character I had never given much thought to prior to reading Mantel’s book, but I soon became engrossed and fascinated that this man, with no significant noble standing became one of the most powerful men in England during this time. I have started Mantel’s second book in her trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies, and I’m sure the second book will be just as gripping as the first.
I’ve been rereading Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man ahead of a visit to Palm Island this month. The book tells the story of Cameron Doomadgee, an Aboriginal man who died in police custody on the former mission island. Hooper’s meticulous research takes us through the bungled investigation (some might say cover-up), and the violent upheaval and drawn out legal battles that followed. There are no easy conclusions in this book: it’s a riveting, unflinching account of damage and loss, of a dysfunctional community struggling with the legacies of colonialism, of dispossession and families torn apart. Always thought-provoking, and at times heart-breaking, Hooper’s book helped to shift the national conversation around the incarceration of Indigenous Australians. It’s worth reading more than once.
Ashley Kalagian Blunt, Program Officer
Charlotte Wood’s newest book, The Writer’s Room: Conversations about Writing, showcases Wood’s interviews with 12 accomplished Australian authors, including Tegan Bennett Daylight, Malcolm Knox, Margo Lanagan and Christos Tsiolkas. The interviews are presented as transcripts, with the interviewees given the opportunity to review and edit the transcripts before publication. This makes them very readable, and more enjoyable than many transcripts are. In her introduction, Wood writes of her hope that the conversations will stand ‘as a record of how Australian literature is made – honouring the writers, their work and each of their particular creative tracks.’
Throughout, Wood creates a sense of intimacy with her interviewees, as if readers have actually been invited to each author’s private writing space. Each interview gets to the heart of the challenges, concerns and joys that the authors face in their artistic efforts. She considers the span of each author’s career to date, and addresses issues such as shame, risk and self-censorship. In her interview with Joan London, Wood notes that her own ‘best work comes out of a place that scares me in some way.’ London replies that writers need to stop ‘being the one wincing and become the one making others wince.’ Insights like these, and discussions of these authors’ works, make this book a valuable gift to the literary community.