TROUBLE ON THE TENTH FLOOR

Book Review: EYRIE by TIM WINTON This is a splendid novel. The story is focussed on the life of a burnt-out, incapacitated, environmentalist, Keely. He has fallen into political disgrace, untrustworthy, cast aside, defiled, and divorced. He feels old and defeated, living on the tenth floor of a run-down high-rise building near the Fremantle wharves. He is existing from day to day, drinking his life away, swallowing an assortment of prescription drugs, just waiting for the end. One day he meets a woman, Gemma, who lives on the same 10th floor with a six-year-old boy. She recognises him from an earlier time, when they were both children living in Blackboy Crescent, neighbours in another life. Gemma, now in her early forties, is brash, street-hard, tough-talking, and busy minding her six-year-old grandson — while her daughter is in prison for drug crimes. The child is strange, intelligent, and knowing far beyond his years, but takes a shine to Keely. The child troubles Keely when he sees him carelessly playing on the 10th floor balcony, climbing onto the railing, the grandmother unperturbed. The three of them make a barely-functioning alliance. Keely thinks the boy might have autism or Asperger’s syndrome. There’s something… Continue reading

Rabbit, Run by John Updike

Fiction It is more than 30 years since I first read this book, yet I still remember the feelings, the location of where and when I read it. Rabbit, Run was quite a revelation to readers in those days. One of the first non-pornographic books to use the F-word, the C-word, and to give detailed descriptions of sex; not just the details, but brought it down to earth, into practical realms. It was not the “swearing” that made Rabbit, Run popular, it was the descriptive passages, the conflict, the foolish actions of the characters that caught our attention. It is not a story of people from Wall St, the FBI, or Harvard. It is a story of ordinary people — just like those who live in your street. You might not like them, but they are real people. The story is set in 1959 in Pennsylvania. The protagonist, “Rabbit” Harry Angstrom, is not particularly likeable, nor is his wife Janice. This is not a story about heroes, but about defective humans. In the first few pages we find Janice, pregnant, sitting at home watching The Mickey Mouse Club, drinking, smoking, with the house in a state of disorder. Their toddler,… Continue reading

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelo

BOOK, I know why the caged bird sings

                Book review, Marcus Clark This is an autobiographical account of a young black girl growing up in the American South during the 1930s and 40s. Maya lived with her grandmother for some years. During this time the grandmother owned a grocery shop for blacks. Not only ran it, but made it profitable even during the depression. They were not rich by white standards, but were close to it by black standards. During the depression the grandmother lent money to a white dentist, which allowed him to keep his practice. But ten years later he refused to treat Maya, saying, “. . . I’d rather stick my hand in a dog’s mouth than in a nigger’s.” Maya, who relates the events in a style like a novel, was highly intelligent, reading classics before she was ten years old. When she transferred to a school in San Francisco she jumped a whole academic year. She frequently uses descriptive expressions: “He was choosing words the way people hunt for shells.” Her story is one of hardship, poverty, violence. Maya was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend when eight years old. When the abuse… Continue reading

Do not read these famous books

book cover

I know this is going to open a can of worms, or perhaps a barrel of rattle-snakes, but it needs to be said: do not read these famous books. One thing all these books have in common is that they are too long. If they were excellent, fascinating, educational, absorbing on every page they would not have a problem. But most readers find they are not any of those things. I have read all but one of these books, and while they are talked about in literary circles, and are on lists of Must Read Books, few people ever finish reading them. Some people would hint that you are “artistically impoverished” if you have not read these books. Do not believe them. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy This is one of the longest novels ever written. The version I read contained 1500 pages of tiny print. The story: Napoleon Invades Russia, Napoleon retreats in disarray. It is not a difficult book to read, and it is mildly interesting. But it is going to take months of reading, and probably you will feel it was not worth the journey. If it was a shorter book, it might be worth the time… Continue reading