The Children’s Bach (1984) is a novella by Australian writer Helen Garner. It was her third published book and her second novel. It was well received critically both in Australia and abroad.

I recently read Murray Bail’s Eucalypt and discovered he was married to Helen Garner. I had never actually read any of Garner’s work, so found The Children’s Bach on the local library’s audiobook app.

Like Raymond Carver, Frank Moorhouse, David Williamson, it feels like Helen Garner’s writing captures a zeitgeist through everyday ordinariness of small moments or ‘eventlets’ that are often caught in glimpses. This might be an overheard conversation, a passing comment or a chance observation. Take for example the comment about concerts:

‘Dexter!’ she said. ‘Nobody dances with anybody any more!’

Interestingly, I think that Garner’s writing style is best summarised by Philip, one of the characters in the book, who provides some feedback to a fellow artist, just replace ‘song’ with book:

Listen. I like your song. Look, I’ll give you a tip. Go home and write it again. Take out the clichés. Everybody knows ‘‘It always happens this way’’ or ‘‘I went in with my eyes wide open’’. Cut that stuff out. Just leave in the images. Know what I mean? You have to steer a line between what you understand and what you don’t. Between cliché and the other thing. Make gaps. Don’t chew on it. Don’t explain everything. Leave holes. The music will do the rest.’

Ben Lerner describes this as a mixture of ‘intimacy and distance’.

What a summary of the plot can’t capture is how the point of view moves rapidly but somehow seamlessly among various characters, focussing on and through them, before it alights on someone else. But this ability to depict multiple perspectives is cut with a sense of how little access we really have to other minds and motivations; Garner’s prose is a singular mixture of intimacy and distance.

Source: Unheard Melodies: On Helen Garner’s “The Children’s Bach” by Ben Lerner

The world is presented in a non-judgemental way, with Garner both celebrating and critiquing the world of responsibility and commitment.

Peter Hayes has highlighted how this can sometimes be confusing or inconsistent.

There’s a hollowness to The Children’s Bach that is ultimately what makes it so tiresome to read: it isn’t really about anything, nor does it tell the entertaining story that would redeem it to that extent.

Source: The Children’s Bach Reconsidered by Peter Hayes

I wonder though if this is maybe how life is? Is the reality produced through the reading, rather than the book itself?

I vaguely remember my grandmother talking about Garner’s non-fiction writing, but really cannot imagine her reading this. Maybe I just did not really know my grandmother that well.


The Truce (Italian: La tregua), titled The Reawakening in the US,[1] is a book by the Italian author Primo Levi. It is the sequel to If This Is a Man and describes the author’s experiences from the liberation of Auschwitz (Monowitz), which was a concentration camp, until he reaches home in Turin, Italy, after a long journey. He describes the situation in different displaced persons camps after the Second World War.

The Truce recounts Primo Levi’s journey after being liberated from Auschwitz. It follows on from If This Is a Man. I have read and watched a lot about World War II, but I had never really thought about what happens afterwards, especially with the divide between the Russians and the Americans. I wonder if one of the differences with something like Erich Maria Remarque’s The Road Back is that there was possibly more movement in World War II? It also made me wonder if Waiting for Godot and Rainbow’s Gravity are not as absurd as they seem?


 So for us even the hour of liberty rang out grave and muffled, and filled our souls with joy and yet with a painful sense of pudency, so that we should have liked to wash our consciences and our memories clean from the foulness that lay upon them; and also with anguish, because we felt that this should never happen, that now nothing could ever happen good and pure enough to rub out our past, and that the scars of the outrage would remain within us for ever, and in the memories of those who saw it, and in the places where it occurred and in the stories that we should tell of it. Because, and this is the awful privilege of our generation and of my people, no one better than us has ever been able to grasp the incurable nature of the offence, that spreads like a contagion. It is foolish to think that human justice can eradicate it. It is an inexhaustible fount of evil; it breaks the body and the spirit of the submerged, it stifles them and renders them abject; it returns as ignominy upon the oppressors, it perpetuates itself as hatred among the survivors, and swarms around in a thousand ways, against the very will of all, as a thirst for revenge, as a moral capitulation, as denial, as weariness, as renunciation.

The market of Cracow had blossomed out spontaneously, as soon as the front had passed by, and in a few days it had invaded an entire suburb. Everything was bought and sold there, and the whole city centred on it; townsfolk were selling furniture, books, paintings, clothes and silver; peasant women, padded

He explained to me that to be without shoes is a very serious fault. When war is waging, one has to think of two things before all others : in the first place of one’s shoes, in the second place of food to eat; and not vice versa, as the common herd believes, because he who has shoes can search for food, but the inverse is not true. ‘But the war is over,’ I objected : and I thought it was over, as did many in those months of truce, in a much more universal sense than one dares to think today. ‘There is always war,’ replied Mordo Nahum memorably.

I felt my sense of freedom, my sense of being a man among men, of being alive, like a warm tide ebb from me. I found myself suddenly old, lifeless, tired beyond human measure; the war was not over, there was always war. My listeners began to steal away; they must have understood. I had dreamed, we had always dreamed, of something like this, in the nights at Auschwitz: of speaking and not being listened to, of finding liberty and remaining alone.

They were months of idleness and relative comfort, and full, therefore, of penetrating nostalgia. Nostalgia is a fragile and tender anguish, basically different, more intimate, more human than the other pains we had endured till then – beatings, cold, hunger, terror, destitution, disease. Nostalgia is a limpid and lean pain, but demanding; it permeates every minute of the day, permits no other thoughts and induces a need for escape. 


Inga Clendinnan’s Reading the Holocaust is what the name suggests, a reading of the various texts produced about the Holocaust. This reading is divided into sections, including a discussion of impediments, accounts from witnesses, what it meant to resist, the grey zone of those Jewish people who helped, the leaders, the police and the SS. It involves explorations of various texts, including memoirs, photographs, documentaries, poems, novels and historical accounts. This is something akin to a literature review.

Throughout, Clendinnan addresses the dangers of treating the Holocaust as unique just because it stands so near in time.

Our sense of Holocaust uniqueness (and we do have that sense) resides in the fact that these ferocious, largely secret killings were perpetrated within ‘twentieth-century Western society’, and that both our sense of portent and of the peculiar intransigence of these actions before puny human interpretation find their ground in the knowledge that they were conceived, executed and endured by people very like ourselves.
It is not that this material stands too far from us. It stands too near.

The limits to compelling the silence to speak and giving voice to the voiceless.

While we can never be sure what lies behind silence, I will begin to map the silences behind the words we have by exploring the circumstances under which people might feel the compulsion to speak, but find themselves unable to do so: situations, that is, when words fail.

Writing to find peace, to mend, to resist.

Levi was to find both personal peace and a way back to society not through the social activity of talking but the private one of writing: ‘By writing I found peace for a while and felt myself become a man again, a person like everyone else, neither debased nor a saint: one of those people who form a family and look to the future rather than the past.’

The difficulty with making sense of motives of leaders.

Explaining is not excusing; understanding is not forgiving. The notion that one must simply reject the actions of the perpetrators and not try to understand them would make impossible not only my history but any perpetrator history that tried to go beyond one-dimensional caricature … I must recognise that in such a situation I could have been either a killer or an evader – both were human – if I want to understand and explain the behaviour of both the best I can.

The theatre of the camps, like Auschwitz.

The theatrical perspective helps expose understandings otherwise left implicit, and flush into light some of the sadistic impulses which lurk along the boundaries of consciousness. It can expose the determined ‘othering’ by the SS of their ‘enemies behind the wire’. It can take us a certain distance into even this action sequence – into what Olga Lengyel, who saw it, diagnosed as one of the ‘fits of destructive insanity’ she thought occasionally possessed the SS. But I do not believe it can take us to the heart of the scene described, or into the hearts of similar scenes scattered through the record.

The problems with trying to provide thick description of thin material.

Despite the most diligent research, the material remains too thin to allow a sufficiently detailed retrieval of actions to achieve ‘thick description’, save in one singular instance: the Hamburg Reserve Police Battalion’s first day of mass murder at the little Polish town of Jozefow. More damagingly, Goldhagen tends to confuse detailed external descriptions of actions (‘They did this, they did that’) with the ‘thick description’ which Geertz would have us aspire to, where the actors’ meanings are the quarry (‘She’d gone too far, so I hit her’).

The challenges in attempting to represent the Holocaust.

The most effective imagined evocations of the Holocaust seem to proceed either by invocation, the glancing reference to an existing bank of ideas, images and sentiments (‘Auschwitz’), or, perhaps more effectively, by indirection.

In the end, she ends with the claim as to why history writing, with its balance between telling and interpreting, provides the best means of telling the past.

Historians are the foot soldiers in the slow business of understanding our species better, and thereby extending the role of reason and humanity in human af¬ fairs. Humankind saw the face of the Gorgon in the concentration camps, petrifying the human by its denial of the human both in itself and in its prey. The shadow of the Holocaust has lengthened with the years. In that shadow, none of us is at home in the world, because now we know the fragility of our content. If we are to see the Gorgon sufficiently steadily to destroy it, we cannot afford to be blinded by reverence or abashed into silence or deflected into a search for reassur¬ ing myths. We must do more than register guilt, or grief, or anger, or disgust, because neither reverence for those who suffer nor revulsion from those who inflict the suffering will help us overcome its power to paralyse, and to see it clearly.


If This Is a Man (Italian: Se questo è un uomo [se kˈkwesto ˌɛ un ˈwɔːmo]; United States title: Survival in Auschwitz) is a memoir by Italian Jewish writer Primo Levi, first published in 1947. It describes his arrest as a member of the Italian anti-fascist resistance during the Second World War, and his incarceration in the Auschwitz concentration camp (Monowitz) from February 1944 until the camp was liberated on 27 January 1945.

If This Is a Man is Primo Levi’s memoir of how he survived the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. A trained chemist, Levi approaches the recount in a very factual manner. This methodical nature reads something like an absurd Choose Your Own Adventure novel. Whether it be only being transported later in the war, having the right skills required for work in the laboratory or falling sick at the right time, as Primo states at the beginning, chance played a significant part in Levi’s survival.

One of the strange things about the text is the trick of language that makes you feel that you could actually imagine what it was actually like. It has me wanting to go back to Inga Clendinnen’s Reading the Holocaust.


It is man who kills, man who creates or suffers injustice; it is no longer man who, having lost all restraint, shares his bed with a corpse. Whoever waits for his neighbour to die in order to take his piece of bread is, albeit guiltless, further from the model of thinking man than the most primitive pigmy or the most vicious sadist.

I wrote a review of Sonya Hartnett’s The Ghost’s Child here.


She would have the memory of him, but the truth is that a memory is hardly ever good enough to console a heart.

But she longed for him to be happy, to be hers: so she would not open the prison of her heart to let him go. “I love you,” she told him, and this was true, and she knew that he believed her; but when she said it she saw the chain around his ankle, a length of links that let him wander, but not far. She did not see the chain around her own ankle, because love is blind.

Since the day by the pond Feather was always saying pretty things that were like bubbles of air, things she doubted and brushed away. His face darkened, however, and he said, “I should not have stayed. When I first met you, you had no cares. You shone with all the fabulous things you had seen, your world was wide and full of colours. Now there are shadows under your eyes, and you live in a lonely forest.”
“But I wanted you to stay.” She was willing to take the blame. “I trapped you into being with me, and threw away the key.”
Feather shook his fair head. “That’s silly, Maddy. There never was a trap, there never was a key. I stayed because I wanted to. How else could I have shown you that I loved you?”

Matilda sat back, tapping her heel. “I didn’t know much in those days,” she said. “I was just a girl. I’d always imagined that love was something which couldn’t be destroyed. I thought that, once conjured, love was towering and eternal. But wandering around the cottage alone, I began to suspect I was wrong. Maybe love was really a feeble, spineless thing, which easily forgets the thing it once adored. If that was true of ordinary love, then my love was different. My love was something colossal, my love was great. I wanted to stop loving Feather, but I simply could not. He had hurt me, he had deserted me, he had never tried – and he’d never wanted the fay. If Feather had ever loved me, it was only with that faulty, insipid love. And yet, despite all this, I missed him, and I longed for him to return. I was shackled with love, I was blighted by it; I was its victim, plagued to despair. But Feather, I imagined, was carefree somewhere, never giving me a thought. He’d got everything he wished for, and nothing he didn’t want. Me, though – I had nothing! A broken heart, that was all! And it wasn’t fair – it made me angry – eventually, it made me kick and punch and smash my way out of that awful white box.”

The islands used to float about, following the summer, until somebody realized that the islands should stand still. Because that’s what endless fulfilment is, isn’t it? That’s what forgetfulness is. Just stopping still. So the islands stopped floating, and now, on an Island of Stillness, everything is still.”
“How awful that sounds,” mused Maddy.
Zephyrus shrugged breezily. “You’d be surprised. Some people like things that way.”

Maddy drew a breath, rehearsed the words in her head, and asked, “How can you know love, and lose it, and go on living without it, and not feel the loss forever?”
“You can’t,” Feather answered. “You feel the loss forever. But you put it in a safe corner of yourself, and bit by bit some of your sorrow changes into joy. And that’s how you go on living.”

In the beginning, the blind ex-soldiers were reluctant to be treated by her. There was still something barbarous and odd about Maddy; and she was youthful, and not stern, and she wasn’t a man – in short, she was nothing a doctor should be.

Read The New York Trilogy

The New York Trilogy is a series of novels by American writer Paul Auster. Originally published sequentially as City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986) and The Locked Room (1986), it has since been collected into a single volume. The Trilogy is a postmodern interpretation of detective and mystery fiction, exploring various philosophical themes.

I wrote some extended thoughts on The New York Trilogy here.


It was like watching a marionette trying to walk without strings.

For the most part his entries from this period consisted of marginal questions concerning the Stillman case. Quinn wondered, for example, why he had not bothered to look up the newspaper reports of Stillman’s arrest in 1969. He examined the problem of whether the moon landing of that same year had been connected in any way with what had happened. He asked himself why he had taken Auster’s word for it that Stillman was dead. He tried to think about eggs and wrote out such phrases as “a good egg,” “egg on his face,” “to lay an egg,” “to be as like as two eggs.” He wondered what would have happened if he had followed the second Stillman instead of the first. He asked himself why Christopher, the patron saint of travel, had been decanonized by the Pope in 1969, just at the time of the trip to the moon. He thought through the question of why Don Quixote had not simply wanted to write books like the ones he loved— instead of living out their adventures. He wondered why he had the same initials as Don Quixote. He considered whether the girl who had moved into his apartment was the same girl he had seen in Grand Central Station reading his book. He wondered if Virginia Stillman had hired another detective after he failed to get in touch with her. He asked himself why he had taken Auster’s word for it that the check had bounced. He thought about Peter Stillman and wondered if he had ever slept in the room he was in now. He wondered if the case was really over or if he was not somehow still working on it. He wondered what the map would look like of all the steps he had taken in his life and what word it would spell.

As for Quinn, it is impossible for me to say where he is now. I have followed the red notebook as closely as I could, and any inaccuracies in the story should be blamed on me. There were moments when the text was difficult to decipher, but I have done my best with it and have refrained from any interpretation.

◆ Ghosts

Two days later, when Blue receives his check in the mail, there is finally a word from White. No more funny business, it says, and though it’s not much of a word, for all that Blue is glad to have received it, happy to have cracked White’s wall of silence at last. It’s not clear to him, however, whether the message refers to the last report or to the incident in the post office. After thinking it over for a while, he decides that it makes no difference. One way or another, the key to the case is action. He must go on disrupting things wherever he can, a little here, a little there, chipping away at each conundrum until the whole structure begins to weaken, until one day the whole rotten business comes toppling to the ground.

◆ 1

I hauled the two suitcases slowly down the stairs and onto the street. Together, they were as heavy as a man.

◆ 2

In the end, each life is no more than the sum of contingent facts, a chronicle of chance intersections, of flukes, of random events that divulge nothing but their own lack of purpose.

Stories happen only to those who are able to tell them, someone once said. In the same way, perhaps, experiences present themselves only to those who are able to have them.

◆ 3

No one wants to be part of a fiction, and even less so if that fiction is real.

This was the tiny hole between self and not-self, and for the first time in my life I saw this nowhere as the exact center of the world.

◆ 5

I wandered in my mind for several weeks, looking for a way to begin. Every life is inexplicable, I kept telling myself. No matter how many facts are told, no matter how many details are given, the essential thing resists telling. To say that so and so was born here and went there, that he did this and did that, that he married this woman and had these children, that he lived, that he died, that he left behind these books or this battle or that bridge—none of that tells us very much. We all want to be told stories, and we listen to them in the same way we did when we were young. We imagine the real story inside the words, and to do this we substitute ourselves for the person in the story, pretending that we can understand him because we understand ourselves. This is a deception. We exist for ourselves, perhaps, and at times we even have a glimmer of who we are, but in the end we can never be sure, and as our lives go on, we become more and more opaque to ourselves, more and more aware of our own incoherence. No one can cross the boundary into another—for the simple reason that no one can gain access to himself.

There is also M. M. Bakhtin, the Russian critic and literary philosopher. During the German invasion of Russia in World War II, he smoked the only copy of one of his manuscripts, a book-length study of German fiction that had taken him years to write. One by one, he took the pages of his manuscript and used the paper to roll his cigarettes, each day smoking a little more of the book until it was gone. These are true stories. They are also parables, perhaps, but they mean what they mean only because they are true.

◆ 8

After all these months of trying to find him, I felt as though I was the one who had been found. Instead of looking for Fanshawe, I had actually been running away from him. The work I had contrived for myself—the false book, the endless detours—had been no more than an attempt to ward him off, a ruse to keep him as far away from me as possible. For if I could convince myself that I was looking for him, then it necessarily followed that he was somewhere else— somewhere beyond me, beyond the limits of my life. But I had been wrong. Fanshawe was exactly where I was, and he had been there since the beginning. From the moment his letter arrived, I had been struggling to imagine him, to see him as he might have been—but my mind had always conjured a blank. At best, there was one impoverished image: the door of a locked room. That was the extent of it: Fanshawe alone in that room, condemned to a mythical solitude—living perhaps, breathing perhaps, dreaming God knows what. This room, I now discovered, was located inside my skull.

The story is not in the words; it’s in the struggle.


“One,” in other words, is entirely the wrong number for a book, which is always simultaneously more than one (a multiplicity) and less than one (a part). The attempt to identify the book as one-whether it be through the attribution of an interiority, an ontology, an origin, or a destination-is a habit, an anchoring of “arborescent” thought, which for Deleuze and Guattari can be uprooted. All that’s needed, they argue, is a practice of thought that follows the model not of the tree but of the “rhizome”

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

A book is not a container, but is rather full of holes through which connections can be made to others. A book is thus both an assemblage of multiple components and a part within other assemblages.

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

Nevertheless, a few points of correspondence can be found between the three stories, which could define Auster’s collection as not so much a nonidentical or uncertain trilogy as rather a trilogy about the nonidentical and the uncertain. So, although there is little continuity between genre and character, there is a certain persistence of duplicitous identities.

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

In other words, that Auster’s The New York Trilogy is a trilogy is a fiction. But if that is the case, then The Red Notebook is no less a fiction, despite its claim to proffer “true stories” and despite the implication that the interviews within it present the real Paul Auster, author of The New York Trilogy and Mr Vertigo.

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

Consequently, or according to Auster at least, City of Glass (and perhaps the entire Trilogy) is not the work of detective fiction that it always seems to be taken for, but rather is a work of autobiography, albeit a fictitious one.

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

It becomes possible therefore that the Trilogy is not the fiction that the fictitious Paul Auster in The Red Notebook claims it to be, which is as much as to say that the story that the Trilogy is a fiction-even a fiction about the problem of identity-is yet another fiction in the endless fiction of Paul Auster. Ultimately, then, the arborescent reading of the Trilogy as a trilogy-its organization according to a system that reduces it to a work of fiction with an identifiable beginning and end, to a set of themes and intentions with an identifiable author-such a reading may well be just as fictitious as a reading that would seek to produce it as a multiplicity.

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

Even though you might start off reading fiction, you can’t expect, in the end, not to find yourself writing the story of your life.

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

The New York Trilogy treats authorship in such a way that conflates the planes of phenomenology and fiction into one rhizomatic plane. Deleuze and Guattari argue that the nature of books is to form a rhizome with the world; books are simultaneously part of world of which they “remain the image” (6).

Source: Paul Auster’s rhizomatic fictions by Gary Matthew Varner

The inclusion and fracture of Auster’s biography in City of Glass deterritorializes Auster, and overthrows the ontology of biography, by erasing the division between phenomenology and fiction.

Source: Paul Auster’s rhizomatic fictions by Gary Matthew Varner

What makes Auster’s Trilogy endless, and rhizomatic, is that it “nullif[ies] endings” (Deleuze and Guattari 25) … Readers may not want to begin reading Auster’s book at any point in any volume, but the Trilogy nevertheless nullifies its own “endings.”

Source: Paul Auster’s rhizomatic fictions by Gary Matthew Varner

The confining within the walls of New York is very similar to the solitude of the forest found in Henry Thoreau’s Waiden, recollections of which dominate the Trilogy. In both these works, the authors achieve perfect isolation within the spaces delineated by the city or the forest that endows them with a transcending ability to observe and reflec

Source: Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”: The Linguistic Construction of an Imaginary Universe by Clara Sarmento

One must understand how the universe functions before one confronts it with the force of creativity; this is the writer’s task. In citing Samuel Beckett, Auster defines his own ideological and literary bent, thereby depicting his profound critical acumen and his feeling for the mission of the artist: “To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.”

Source: Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”: The Linguistic Construction of an Imaginary Universe by Clara Sarmento

The re-working of the detective story as a search for the ultimate language shows that it is not the final and speculative textualization that is most appropriate for the postmodern world, but instead, the text that is written about the text. Stories about stories and books of questions, as opposed to books of answers, are the forms that best typify the difficult reality of our times. The New York Trilogy participates in the deconstruction of the legendary tower of the ancestral city and its language, as it describes the Babel-like shattering of the contemporary metropolis at the same time that it expresses the crisis surrounding linguistic representation. Its ideological structure of a wandering through and a detachment from pre-existing principles forces the postmodern subject to question the basis of all legendary archetypes.

Source: Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”: The Linguistic Construction of an Imaginary Universe by Clara Sarmento

Read Antarctica

Antarctica (1997) is a science fiction novel by American writer Kim Stanley Robinson. It deals with a variety of characters living at or visiting an Antarctic research station. It incorporates many of Robinson’s common themes, including scientific process and the importance of environmental protection.

In The Return of the Native, Thomas Hardy talks about heath to set the scene, however Antarctica for Kim Stanley Robinson feels like more than just a setting, it is both a physical place, but also political one too. With this, the book can be appreciated as an investigation into Antarctica, while being about Antarctica. Whether it be the geography, history, science, Robinson explores Antarctica in all its detail. In particular, the book attempts to go beyond the surface level of opinions on past expedition:

Everyone who joined a Footsteps expedition was an expert; it only took a half-dozen books to fill you in on the entire history of Antarctica, and after that everyone had an opinion.

Source: Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson

In some ways Robinson’s intertextual approach reminded of James Mitchener and the way in which different narratives are tied together to capture a particular subject. In Robinson’s case, this includes X, an idealistic young man working as a field assistant at McMurdo; Val, a trek guide helping people to trace the steps of past explorers; Wade Norton, an aide for a Californian senator; and the ferals, the ‘native’ people of Antarctica.

(Alternatively, I was also reminded of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. This made me think about whether Melville should be considered as a science fiction author?)

With each of the competing narratives, It is Norton who ties all these stories together. He has been sent down to Antarctica to get a picture of what is happening by Senator Phil Chase. As the novel unfolds, he relays everything back to Chase.

In some ways, this relationship is a proxy for Robinson’s relationship with us as the reader. Like Chase, we depend upon Robinson to provide an insight into all things Antarctica. One such insight relates to science.

It was not a matter of evil-doing either way; the simple truth was that science was a matter of making alliances to help you to show what you wanted to show, and to make clear also that what you were showing was important. And your own graduate students and post-docs were necessarily your closest allies in that struggle to pull together all the strings of an argument. All this became even more true when there was a controversy ongoing, when there were people on the other side publishing articles with titles like “Unstable Ice or Unstable Ideas?” and so on, so that the animus had grown a bit higher than normal.

Science was not a matter of automatons seeking Truth, but of people struggling to black-box some facts.

Source: Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson

As a medium, fiction allows a means of capturing various perspectives.

There are so many aspects that reminded me of The Ministry for the Future, ranging from blimps, science, politics and terrorism. I am left wondering if these are usual aspects to all of Robinson’s work.

Read science fiction novels by Kim Stanley Robinson by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

The Mars trilogy is a series of science fiction novels by Kim Stanley Robinson that chronicles the settlement and terraforming of the planet Mars through the personal and detailed viewpoints of a wide variety of characters spanning almost two centuries. Ultimately more utopian than dystopian, the story focuses on egalitarian, sociological, and scientific advances made on Mars, while Earth suffers from overpopulation and ecological disaster.

The three novels are Red Mars (1992), Green Mars (1993), and Blue Mars (1996). The Martians (1999) is a collection of short stories set in the same fictional universe. Red Mars won the BSFA Award in 1992 and Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1993. Green Mars won the Hugo Award for Best Novel and Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1994. Blue Mars also won the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1997.

I continued my exploration of Kim Stanley Robinson with Red Mars, the first book in the Mars trilogy. It was included as a part of the Audible membership.

Red Mars explores the colonisation of Mars. This journey begins with the First Hundred, who set up the initial settlement. (This reminded me of The 100.) One of the biggest challenges faced is that of radiation and atmosphere. This leads to significant debate around terraforming. Eventually, the debate is decided for them after someone sneaks in some algae into windmills. From there the novel explores the arrival of those coming to Mars not just to live and survive, but to exploit the environment. With this comes a change in culture, politics and conditions.

In the end, this is not The Martian. I wonder if that is because The Martian is somehow more authentic? Maybe, things have changed in the 30 years since Red Mars was published? However, I feel that sometimes Robinson’s narratives are as much about people and their consequences, as they are about the literal plausibility of everything discussed, from the burning up of ice asteroids to building a space elevator. It is interesting to consider this alongside as Antarctica, a foreign space on earth.

Read The Road Back

The Road Back, also translated as The Way Back,[1] (German: Der Weg zurück) is a novel by German author Erich Maria Remarque, commonly regarded as a sequel to his 1929 novel All Quiet on the Western Front.[1][2] It was first serialized in the German newspaper Vossische Zeitung between December 1930 and January 1931, and published in book form in April 1931.

Erich Maria Remarque’s The Road Back details the experience of a group of young German men, including Ernst Birkholz, returning from the trenches at the end of World War I. It unpacks the many challenges they face in integrating back into everyday life and the way in which so many are left both physically and mentally broken.

Beginning with the hope of peace, the novel begins with death even as things seem to be coming to an end. It then details the journey of the soldiers back to their towns. This includes a meeting with some Americans who are willing to barter for any relic that they can barter for.

Eventually, once home, Remarque unpacks various facets of life, including seeing families again, reconnecting with past relationships, trying to concentrate enough to read a book, continuing the habit of foraging for food, going back to school, attending dances, and getting a job.

There are always challenges with fitting in with other people’s reality of the experience of the front:

“Green grasses!—green grasses!” he stutters, “long sleep? In the mud of shell-holes they are lying, knocked rotten, ripped in pieces, gone down into the bog Green grasses! This is not a singing lesson!” His arms are whirling like a windmill in a gale. “Hero’s death! And what sort of a thing do you suppose that was, I wonder?——Would you like to know how young Hoyer died? All day long he lay out in the wire screaming, and his guts hanging out of his belly like macaroni. Then a bit of shell took off his fingers and a couple of hours later another chunk off his leg; and still he lived; and with his other hand he would keep trying to pack back his intestines, and when night fell at last he was done. And when it was dark we went out to get him and he was full of holes as a nutmeg grater—Now, yoti go and tell his mother how he died—if you have so much courage.”

Or everyday life:

Here I stand and must now be your teacher and guide. What should I teach you? Should I tell you that in twenty years you will be dried-up and crippled, maimed in your freest impulses, all pressed mercilessly into the selfsame mould? Should I tell you that all learning, all culture, all science is nothing but hideous mockery, so long as mankind makes war in the name of God and humanity with gas, iron, explosive and fire? What should I teach you then, you little creatures who alone have remained unspotted by the terrible years?

What am I able to teach you then? Should I tell you how to pull the string of a hand-grenade, how best to throw it at a human being? Should I show you how to stab a man with a bayonet, how to fell him with a club, how to slaughter him with a spade? Should I demonstrate how best to aim a rifle at such an incomprehensible miracle as a breathing breast, a living heart? Should I explain to you what tetanus is, what a broken spine is, and what a shattered skull? Should I describe to you how brains look when they spatter about, what crushed bones are like, and intestines when they pour out? Should I mimic how a man with a stomach-wound will groan, how one with a lung-wound gurgles and one with a head-wound whistles? More I do not know. More I have not learned.

Should I take you to the green-and-grey map there, move my finger across it and tell you that here love was murdered? Should I explain to you that the books you hold in your hands are but nets with which men design to snare your simple souls, to entangle you in the undergrowth of fine phrases, and in the barbed wire of falsified ideas?

I stand here before you, a polluted, a guilty man and can only implore you ever to remain as you are, never to suffer the bright light of your childhood to be misused as a blow-flame of hate. About your brows still blows the breath of innocence. How then should I presume to teach you? Behind me, still pursuing, are the bloody years. How then can I venture among you? Must I not first become a man again myself?

I feel a cramp begin to spread through me, as if I were turning to stone, as if I were crumbling away. I lower myself slowly into the chair, and realise that I cannot stay here any longer. I try to take hold of something but cannot. Then after a time that has seemed to me endless, the catalepsy relaxes. I stand up. “Children,” I say with difficulty, “you may go now. There will be no school today.”

Thoughts of war are always rising to the surface.

We are like those abandoned fields full of shell-holes in France, no less peaceful than the other ploughed lands about them, but in them are lying still the buried explosives—and until these shall have been dug out and cleared away, to plough will be a danger both to plougher and ploughed.

It is interesting to consider Remarque’s approach alongside other novels, such as Mrs Dalloway and Wise Blood, which touch on the difficulties of life after fighting in war.

Read The Idea of Perfection

The Idea of Perfection (1999) is about two people who seem the least likely in the world to fall in love. Douglas Cheeseman is an awkward engineer, the sort of divorced man you’d never look at twice. Harley Savage is a big, plain, abrasive woman who’s been through three husbands and doesn’t want another. Both of them bring all kinds of unhappy baggage to their meeting in the little town of Karakarook, New South Wales, population 1,374.

Being in Karakarook is something of a voyage of discovery for both of them. Unlike Felicity Porcelline, a woman dangerously haunted by the idea of perfection, they come to understand that what looks like weakness can be the best kind of strength.

The Idea of Perfection was a surprise winner of the Orange Prize, Britain’s richest literary prize, in 2001.

Although I read The Secret River a few years ago, I had never read anything else from Kate Grenville. While doing my usual trawling the Audible Plus Catalogue, I came upon The Idea of Perfection.

The novel is set in Karakarook, a fictional town in New South Wales no longer on the main road. It focuses on two visitors with contrary intentions. Harley Savage, a part-time museum curator come to help the town maintain their heritage, and Douglas Cheeseman, an engineer involved in rebuilding an old bridge that has seen better days.

The novel seems to always battle with a desire for a perfection that is never really present. On the one hand, this plays out as something of a comedy.  Kate Grenville has described the book as ‘a heart-warming old-fashioned love story’. Although this might be the case, I think what makes this novel is that there is also always something beneath the surface.

After enough years, the look you put on your face to hide behind became the shape of the person you were

For me, this is epitomised by the discussion of failed relationships, to the point of Harley Savage’s last husband committing suicide.

I think that this contrast between the comedic and the serious is what allows for these investigations.

She never thought about being Asian when he took his clothes off.

I like how Ron Charles captures it:

Readers who are particularly successful and good-looking, please skip to the next page. Kate Grenville has written a book for the rest of us. Everyone who’s ever returned from a great date to discover toilet paper trailing from their shoes will cling to “The Idea of Perfection” like an old friend.

“The Idea of Perfection” is perfectly conceived, an irresistible comedy of manners that catches the agony of chronic awkwardness with great tenderness.

Source: The awkward bridge from loneliness to romance by Ron Charles

Read The Violent Bear It Away

The Violent Bear It Away is a 1960 novel by American author Flannery O’Connor. It is the second and final novel that she published. The first chapter was originally published as the story “You Can’t Be Any Poorer Than Dead” in the journal New World Writing.[1] The novel tells the story of Francis Marion Tarwater, a fourteen-year-old boy who is trying to escape the destiny his uncle has prescribed for him: the life of a prophet. Like most of O’Connor’s stories, the novel is filled with Catholic themes and dark images, making it a classic example of Southern Gothic literature.

There was something haunting about The Violent Bears It Away. Whether it be the characters or their fractured experiences, things always feel incomplete, both sad and unresolved.

What exactly does it mean to say that human beings are made “in the image and likeness of God”? Three answers have dominated Western theological ethics—imago Dei as reason, as will, and as love—and Flannery O’Connor’s second novel explores each of these from the inside, as it were, through its portrayal of the distinctive lifeworlds inhabited by three of the novel’s major characters: George Rayber, Francis Marion Tarwater, and the boy Bishop.

Source: Only Love Overcomes Violence: “The Violent Bear It Away” as Case Studies in Theological Ethics by Scott Huelin

In some respect, I was reminded of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Yes, both novels end in some sort of resolution, but it never quite satisfies all that is wrong in the world.

I feel that this is probably one of those books that I could come back to as something of a meditation. I did try diving into some of the commentary, but realised there was a whole different layer that would be a study in itself. It does make me want to read more from Thomas Aquinas.

Read Wise Blood

Wise Blood is the first novel by American author Flannery O’Connor, published in 1952. The novel was assembled from disparate stories first published in Mademoiselle, Sewanee Review and Partisan Review. The first chapter is an expanded version of her Master’s thesis, “The Train”, and other chapters are reworked versions of “The Peeler,” “The Heart of the Park” and “Enoch and the Gorilla”. The novel concerns a returning World War II veteran who, haunted by a life-long crisis of faith, resolves to form an anti-religious ministry in an eccentric, fictionalized Southern city after finding his family homestead abandoned without a trace.

Nick Cave mentioned Flannery O’Connor in Faith, Hope and Carnage:

I did go back and re-read Flannery O’Connor recently to remember why we must value her, but that was only because her books had been taken out of a college library in America, due to some skewed and overly harsh charges of racism.

I had never read anything by Flannery O’Connor before, so I was intrigued.

Wise Blood is a story about Hazel Motes, a returning World War II veteran who, haunted by a life-long crisis of faith, resolves to form an anti-religious ministry. It is an example of “low comedy and high seriousness”.

O’Connor states that the book is about freedom, free will, life and death, and the inevitability of belief.[5] Themes of redemption, racism, sexism, and isolation also run through the novel.

Source: Wise Blood by Wikipedia

Some have made associations with other post-war texts, such as Waiting for Godot, and the existential response:

In the process of waiting for a sign that Jesus exists and that people can be saved, he digs himself deeper into the existential hole, which can only end with tragedy. He fails to be saved, because in an existential world, there is no one to do the saving. In existentialism, it is always a matter of waiting, of “walking and of meeting—the hope that drives all of O’Connor’s seekers through all the mazes of their existence” (Kennelly 40).

Source: Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood as an Unintentional Existential Novel When Compared to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot by Samantha F Gebel

The connection with the ‘God is Dead’ movement of the 60’s:

The historical “death-of-God” theological movement may help to better understand Hazel Motes as a Christian malgré lui. Nevertheless, Hazel’s Church Without Christ is far from a success, and the historical “death-of-God” movement likewise never attracts many followers. These two similar radical theological movement and institution share the same problems. Thomas Merton indicates, one crucial problem in the “death-of-God” theology is that “it implies a marriage of quietism and revolt which is a little hard to understand. It accepts everything ‘with passivity’ yet waits for some inexplicable breakthrough” (247). Hazel’s preaching shares this same problem; he preaches the truth without Jesus in anticipation for Jesus’s revelation. It is radical in a way, yet it is peculiarly passive at the same time. It achieves nothing. Merton further argues that “[t]he trouble is that isolated insights like those, taken out of their context, transferred from the realm of subjective experience into that of dogma or theodicy, easily form misleading systems of thought” (271). In Wise Blood, Hazel’s preaching similarly misfires and sends the wrong message to his followers. The Church Without Christ has very few members: aside from Hoover Shoats who soon starts his own preaching career and Enoch Emery who follows Hazel in secret, there is only one other follower, “a boy about sixteen years old who had wanted someone to go to a whorehouse with him” (WB 146). Of course, this follower is only a mistake and confesses to be a “Lapsed Catholic” himself (WB 147). In this regard, instead of attracting believers in his “truth,” Hazel only succeeds in alluring the half-believers whose faith has already gone awry.

Source: “The Church Without Christ”: Radical Theology, Secularism, and Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood by Yen-Chi Wu

The postmodern mismatch between signifier and signified:

O’Connor derived this notion of alienation from a panoply of modernists including Hemingway, Steinbeck, Joyce, Kafka, Gide, and Camus, but the high modernists she engaged most studiously in writing Wise Blood were Faulkner and T. S. Eliot. Her early short story “The Train,” which introduces the prototype of Hazel Motes, is redolent in style and theme of As I Lay Dying (1930) (Asals 18). Wise Blood is also a Southern rendition of The Waste Land (1922), its museum mummy, “once as tall as you or me” (O’Connor Wise 98), standing in for Eliot’s drowned Phoenician sailor, “once handsome and tall as you” (1161).4 However, O’Connor revises these modernist sources: Wise Blood shifts the focus of “The Train” from consciousness to visual images (Asals 19), and it uses the mummy image to mock Haze’s “Church Without Christ”–declining the mythic pattern of death and rebirth linked to Eliot’s sailor and exacting a redemption that is more spectacular, grotesque, and personally demanding. She achieves this end by exposing modernist ideology to postmodern surroundings, that is, to a community of “common tastes and interests” (“Catholic” 856).

Source: Learning from Atlanta: Prophecy and Postmodernism in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood) by Joseph C. Murphy

The use of gothic characterists to elicit introspection.

Whereas traditional Gothic literature emphasizes the exterior, either structural or behavioral, to reveal a wicked secret within, O’Connor uses violence and sin as a filter from which God’s grace may be revealed anywhere, and at any time. Supernatural mysteries, in the form of divine influences, are revealed not only inside the individual or edifice, but outside the Gothic “container,” within the natural world. When violent intervention finally occurs, signs of God’s grace are exposed ubiquitously. The dual purpose of the Gothic mode, as an exemplifier of both internal and external supernatural elements, makes O’Connor’s works truly unique. Her stories do more than entertain, they edify through elicitation of introspection.

Source: To Be or Not to Be Gothic: Focus and Form of Literary Devices in Flannery O’Connor’s Stories by Andrew Schenck

Personally, the thing that stuck with me was the mismatch between signs and situations, and the act of misreading. Whether it be the advertising signs, Asa Hawks’ blindness or Hoover Shoats’ Holy Church of Christ Without Christ. In the end, Motes’ death is misread. In some ways I was reminded as much of Don DeLillo as I was of William Faulkner, but then again, maybe that is my own misreading.

Read Bartleby, the Scrivener by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

“Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” is a short story by the American writer Herman Melville, first serialized anonymously in two parts in the November and December 1853 issues of Putnam’s Magazine and reprinted with minor textual alterations in his The Piazza Tales in 1856. In the story, a Wall Street lawyer hires a new clerk who, after an initial bout of hard work, refuses to make copies or do any other task required of him, refusing with the words “I would prefer not to.”

Bartleby, the Scrivener one of the first text I read at university. There is something strange and frustrating about Bartleby. I think ironically about the way in which he lingers long after the novel finishes, especially the phrase, “I would prefer not to.”

One of the interesting things in re-reading such texts is how memory holds up. I remember the refusal to work, even though there was no practical reason not to. This is summed up in the quote from the story:

Nothing so aggravates an earnest person as a passive resistance.

However, what I had forgotten was that there was more to Bartleby than we can ever quite know.

He never spoke, but to answer

In particular, the death due to starvation, highlighting that there might have been more going on.

Read Moby Dick

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale is an 1851 novel by American writer Herman Melville. The book is the sailor Ishmael’s narrative of the maniacal quest of Ahab, captain of the whaling ship Pequod, for vengeance against Moby Dick, the giant white sperm whale that bit off his leg on the ship’s previous voyage. A contribution to the literature of the American Renaissance, Moby-Dick was published to mixed reviews, was a commercial failure, and was out of print at the time of the author’s death in 1891. Its reputation as a Great American Novel was established only in the 20th century, after the 1919 centennial of its author’s birth. William Faulkner said he wished he had written the book himself,[1] and D. H. Lawrence called it “one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world” and “the greatest book of the sea ever written”.[2] Its opening sentence, “Call me Ishmael”, is among world literature’s most famous.[3]

I remember reading Michael Gerard Bauer’s Don’t Call Me Ishmael when I was still in the classroom. I therefore thought it might be interesting to dive into the novel where the title came from, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

Other than being about a whale, Moby Dick, and including a same-sex marriage, I did not really have much of an idea of what the book was about.

One of the things that was really interesting was the way in which Melville ties together so many differing styles and literary devices ranging from songs, poetry, and catalogs to Shakespearean stage directions, soliloquies, and asides. I can imagine some readers may skip some of the dalliances into all things whaling to instead focus on the chase for the white whale. However, these lengthy descriptions both add context and also add a real fever to the text. I would be intrigued to see Melville’s notebooks collecting together all this research.

Captain Ahab and his manic obsession had me thinking of both The Judge in Blood Meridian and Kurtz in Heart of Darkness. I watched a video where Harold Bloom argued that he liked Captain Ahab, because without him, we would never have had Moby Dick. This is an interesting way of looking at it.

The reference to different countries (Australia, Peru) and the way in which whaling traverses everything had me thinking about how the novel exists outside of society. Interestingly, it predicts its own interpretations throughout. I was left thinking about Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of desire without bodies.

Moby Dick is definitely a writerly text that I can imagine easily rereading.

Read Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary (/ˈboʊvəri/;[1] French: [madam bɔvaʁi]), originally published as Madame Bovary: Provincial Manners (French: Madame Bovary: Mœurs de province [madam bɔvaʁi mœʁ(s) də pʁɔvɛ̃s]), is a novel by French writer Gustave Flaubert, published in 1856. The eponymous character lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life.

Madame Bovary is a novel about the life of Emma Bovary. It revolves around her marriage to Charles Bovary. He is a good-hearted but dull officier de santé, a health worker not qualified enough to be called a doctor. After the death of Charles’ first wife, Emma and Charles marry. With her diet of romantic literature and fantasties of luxury, she soon gets bored. She instead has an insatiable thirst for something more, behaving more and more like an addict. This leads to a life of affairs with Rodolphe Boulanger and Léon Dupuis, as well as taste for the high-life. However, this all falls apart when the local merchant, Monsieur Lheureux, calls in his debt. Unable to accept the situation, Emma instead commits suicide.

One thing that needs to be said about Madame Bovary and Flaubert is that very little was made up.

Flaubert made up very little. Beginning with Madame Bovary , he became a prodigious appropriationist and researcher, a habit that would metastasize with time.

Source: Introduction to Madame Bovary by Chris Kraus

In particular, the main narrative was based on a local scandal involving Eugene and Delphine Delamare, suggested to Flaubert by his friend Louis Bouilhet. He would also spend endless time research various aspects of the book, such as the countryside or arsenic.

The novel ended up in court due to offenses against public morals and religion. The government of Napoléon III had begun to enforce laws of political censorship. The defense argued that it was a moral tale where Emma gets her just deserts.

Attorney for the defense Jules Senard argued persuasively that this very “realism,” and Emma’s meticulously described and horrible death, served as caution against the dangers awaiting young women like Emma, when they are educated and exposed to certain ideas beyond their comprehension and station.

Source: Introduction to Madame Bovary by Chris Kraus

In Our Time podcast suggested that the argument used in defense would these days be used against it, especially the sadistic description of Emma’s death.

What is interesting about the court case is how it stands in contrast to the world in which it was written into where adultery was a norm.

While “adultery” (or a multiplicity of sexual friendships and relationships) may be the source of shame and scandal in the provincial world of Charles and Emma Bovary, in the intellectual and society worlds of Paris it was very much the norm.

Source: Introduction to Madame Bovary by Chris Kraus

It could then be construed as a critique of the social inconsistencies between men and women, or as a critique of bourgeoisie.

Madame Bovary has been seen as a commentary on the bourgeoisie, the folly of aspirations that can never be realized or a belief in the validity of a self-satisfied, deluded personal culture, associated with Flaubert’s period, especially during the reign of Louis Philippe, when the middle class grew to become more identifiable in contrast to the working class and the nobility. Flaubert despised the bourgeoisie. In his Dictionary of Received Ideas, the bourgeoisie is characterized by intellectual and spiritual superficiality, raw ambition, shallow culture, a love of material things, greed, and above all a mindless parroting of sentiments and beliefs.

Source: Madame Bovary – Wikipedia

As a novel, Madame Bovary is often described as a seminal work of literary realism. This is based on Flaubert’s depiction of flawed and deluded characters and trite subject matter. However, it could also be argued to be a novel about style. As Flaubert suggested:

“What I would like to do is write a book about nothing,” Flaubert wrote to Colet, four months into Madame Bovary. “A book with no external attachment, one which would hold together by the internal strength of its style, as the earth floats in the air unsupported, a book that would have no subject at all, or at least one in which the subject would be almost invisible.”

Source: Introduction to Madame Bovary by Chris Kraus

Chris Kraus suggests that this “detached, descriptive style” is as “luminous and presciently modern as the paintings of Vermeer.” Interestingly, like a painter with a sketchbook, Flaubert developed a practice while abroad of trying to capture what he saw without judgement.

Throughout the trip, when he was not brooding about his future as a writer, Flaubert took stark descriptive notes about what he saw. Determined not to editorialize, not to embroider, he did his best to keep an accurate record of the landscape, people, and customs he knew he would not see again. “Return to Wadi Halfa in the dinghy, with Maxime. Little Mohammed is as he was this morning. Rocked by the wind and the waves; night falls; the waves slap the bow of our dinghy, and it pitches; the moon rises. In the position in which I am sitting, it was shining on my right leg and the portion of my white sock that was between my trouser and my shoe” (Flaubert in Egypt , p. 136).

Source: Introduction to Madame Bovary by Chris Kraus

In his essay, The Reality Effect, Roland Barthes described the way in which Flaubert captures the everyday ordinary.

The very absence of the signified, to the advantage of the referent alone, becomes the very signifier of realism: the reality effect is produced, the basis of that unavowed verisimilitude which forms the aesthetic of all the standard works of modernity.

This new verisimilitude is very different from the old one, for it is neither a respect for the “laws of the genre“ nor even their mask, but proceeds from the intention to degrade the sign’s tripartite nature in order to make notation the pure encounter of an object and its expression. The disintegration of the sign— which seems indeed to be modernity’s grand affair—is of course present in the realistic enterprise, but in a somewhat regressive manner, since it occurs in the name of a referential plenitude.

Source: ‘The Reality Effect’ by Roland Barthes

In addition to the storyline, Flaubert’s third-person narration blurs the difference between the speaker and the author. This can be described as ‘free indirect speech’:

Free indirect speech has been described as a “technique of presenting a character’s voice partly mediated by the voice of the author” (or, reversing the emphasis, “that the character speaks through the voice of the narrator”) with the voices effectively merged. It has also been described as “the illusion by which third-person narrative comes to express…the intimate subjectivity of fictional characters.” The word “free” in the phrase is used to capture the fact that with this technique, the author can “roam from viewpoint to viewpoint” instead of being fixed with one character or with the narrator.

Source: Free Indirect Speech – Wikipedia

Chris Kraus discusses this in his introduction:

“Omniscent narrator” of the classic story-driven novel moves so close to his characters that the reader can no longer be sure who is speaking.

The narrator was a wit, a raconteur, a knowing friend, a moralist. But in Madame Bovary , the narrator virtually disappears.

“An artist,” wrote Flaubert to Mlle. Chantepie, “must be in his work like God in creation . . . he should be everywhere felt, but nowhere seen”(Vargas Llosa, pp. 124-125).

Source: Introduction to Madame Bovary by Chris Kraus

The other aspect at play in the novel is the psychological nature of the novel, where reality always undershoots.

The social condition of women at the time was undoubtedly linked to considerable psychological suffering, but it cannot be said that this was the main cause of the development of hysteria. Freud and other analysts took into consideration several factors to explain this form of neurosis: trauma, personal dissatisfaction, life events and even a disposition to manifest mental problems. In chapter three of the second part of the novel, Flaubert compares Emma’s behavior with two other women: the nanny Mme Rollet and Mme Homais, the pharmacist’s wife. The former plays the social role of a mother who feeds and takes care of children while the latter “… she was the best wife in Normandy, gentle as a sheep …”. Emma, on the contrary, is not able to conform to social demands because she does not love her husband, she does not become attached to her daughter since she would have preferred a son (“A man, at least, is free … a woman is always hampered”). Moreover, she is bored in the new house in Yvonville. From a psychoanalytical viewpoint, the Superego, represented by social standards and moral conduct, is struggling with an Ego which is dissatisfied with the present and real situation while the Id, home to unconscious desires, takes the control and leads Emma to commit adultery.

Source: Madame Bovary and Hysteria: A Freudian Perspective by Giuseppe Giordano

For Flaubert, it can be argued that all this helped him give voice to how women think and feel.

It is interesting reading a novel like this, thinking about it now, but also thinking about it in the context when it was written. For me, I am left wonder how much it is still precient, even though the world has completely changed.


The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley is a majestic novel about an innocent young boy who gets caught in the middle of an illicit and ultimately tragic love affair. The story is told by a now-aging Leo Colston, who recalls the events of the summer of 1900, more than fifty years ago, when he was twelve years old and visiting a school friend on a lavish English country estate. Young Leo is a dreamy, romantic child, highly sensitive to the way others perceive him and still painfully ignorant of the workings of the adult world. He falls under the spell of Marian Maudsley, the older sister of his school friend, who takes a special interest in him. Marian is being forced into a socially advantageous marriage to Lord Trimingham, who has been grossly disfigured in the Boer War. But even as the momentum toward her marriage builds, Marian is carrying on a forbidden affair with Ted Burgess, a hottempered tenant farmer of a lower class. Tricked into acting as a messenger for Marian and Ted during that oppressively hot summer, Leo’s youthful naiveté is destroyed as he becomes ensnared in a devastating scandal that will kill one man and scar Leo for the rest of his life. Described by Ian McEwan as “a strange and beautiful book,” Hartley’s enduring masterpiece about class and sexuality and innocence, set in a vanished golden era, is a hauntingly beautiful, unforgettable work.

The Go-Between by LP Harley is a story about of innocence betrayed and corrupted. Leo Coulston, a thirteen year old holidaying with a friend in Norfolk, is somewhat unknowingly entangled within an affair that does not end well for either he or those involved.

Written in 1952, Hartley set the book in 1900 to capture a world before where everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, a time before the two world wars changed everything. As Hartley explains:

“I wanted to evoke the feeling of that summer, the long stretch of fine weather, and also the confidence in life, the belief that all’s well with the world, which everyone enjoyed or seemed to enjoy before the First World War . . . The Boer War was a local affair, and so I was able to set my little private tragedy against a general background of security and happiness.”

Source: Introduction to The Go-Between by Colm Tóibín

In an introduction for the New York Review of Books, Colm Tóibín captures some of the autobiographical aspects of the book:

The Go-Between has obvious autobiographical origins. In August 1909, for example, Hartley, who was staying with his school friend Moxey at Bradenham Hall in Norfolk, wrote to his mother, “I sleep with Moxey . . . and also with a dog, which at first reposed on the bed . . . On Saturday we had a ball, very grand indeed, at least, not very. We always have late dinner here. There is going to be a cricket-match today, the Hall against the village. I am going to score.” A year later, he wrote to his mother from Hastings, where he was visiting a Mrs. Wallis, who wanted him to stay an extra day “as she wants me to go to a party . . . You know I am not very fond of parties and I do want to come home on Tuesday. However, they have asked me to write to you and ask if you would mind my staying. I am enjoying myself here but I am sure we should both prefer me to be at home. Of course if you think it would be better for me to stay, write to me and say so; it is only for a day. But still, I do want to be at home again.” It is also clear from letters that the young Hartley, like Leo in The Go-Between, was not a good swimmer, though he was, like Leo, a good singer. Also, Hartley had worked as an army postman in the Great War and knew the thrill of delivering sought-after messages.

… In his book The Novelist’s Responsibility (1967), Hartley mused on the relationship between fiction and autobiography. He wrote that the novelist’s world “must, in some degree, be an extension of his own life; its fundamental problems must be his problems, its preoccupations his preoccupations—or something allied to them.” He also warned that while it is “unsafe to assume that a novelist’s work is autobiographical in any direct sense,” it is nonetheless “plausible to assume that his work is a transcription, an anagram of his own experience, reflecting its shape and tone and tempo.”

Source: Introduction to The Go-Between by Colm Tóibín

Going beyond innocence, the book also touches on ideas of class, culture, memory and sexuality. As Ali Smith has touched upon, it is a book where there is always something beneath the surface.

It is a masterpiece of double-speak and secrecy, somehow both ambiguous and direct. It works a magic on obviousness, so that it becomes a novel about British embarrassment and embarrassing Britishness. It’s a book which subtly, almost mischievously, rejects subtlety: “the facts of life were a mystery to me, though several of my schoolfellows claimed to have penetrated it.” But couched and quiet at its centre is a whole other novel at a further level of knowing, innocence and unsaidness.

Source: Rereading: The Go-Between by LP Hartley by Ali Smith

On finishing the book, I was left with so many questions. For example, what exactly happened to Mrs Maudsley and how long had she had her suspicions? However, these are questions that we cannot and in someway should not actually know. In this way, there are things we must know that we cannot truly know.

Reading it, the seemingly naive innocence reminded me of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, and Macel Proust’s Swann’s Way. Here I am touched by something that Ali Smith wrote while reflecting on The Go-Between:

Books are, in essence, go-betweens, works which conjure rhythm and release across time and history, across places of familiarity and those foreign to us; and personally and individually, too, it’s all a going-between, for every person who picks up a book for a first, then a second, then a third time.

Source: Rereading: The Go-Between by LP Hartley by Ali Smith

I think that this ‘go-between’ relates as much to text-to-self, as it does to the idea of ‘text-to-text’. For example, The Go-Between had me rethinking and remembering Atonement, but I also wonder what it might be like to re-read Atonement while thinking about the influence of The Go-Between.


It is a masterpiece of double-speak and secrecy, somehow both ambiguous and direct. It works a magic on obviousness, so that it becomes a novel about British embarrassment and embarrassing Britishness. It’s a book which subtly, almost mischievously, rejects subtlety: “the facts of life were a mystery to me, though several of my schoolfellows claimed to have penetrated it.” But couched and quiet at its centre is a whole other novel at a further level of knowing, innocence and unsaidness.

Source: Rereading: The Go-Between by LP Hartley by Ali Smith

The Go-Between is about books as much as it’s about memory. It’s a model of the importance of rereading (and God knows we treat books lightly – we wouldn’t, after all, expect to know a piece of music properly on just one listen), knowledge and innocence so much part of its structure as to make it a knowingly different book on revisiting. Above all, though, it is a text which works like a charm: books are, in essence, go-betweens, works which conjure rhythm and release across time and history, across places of familiarity and those foreign to us; and personally and individually, too, it’s all a going-between, for every person who picks up a book for a first, then a second, then a third time.

Source: Rereading: The Go-Between by LP Hartley by Ali Smith


If my twelve-year-old self, of whom I had grown rather fond, thinking about him, were to reproach me: “Why have you grown up such a dull dog, when I gave you such a good start? Why have you spent your time in dusty libraries, cataloguing other people’s books instead of writing your own? What has become of the Ram, the Bull, and the Lion, the example I gave you to emulate? Where above all is the Virgin, with her shining face and long curling tresses, whom I entrusted to you”—what should I say?

I should have an answer ready. “Well, it was you who let me down, and I will tell you how. You flew too near to the sun, and you were scorched. This cindery creature is what you made me.

To my mind’s eye, my buried memories of Brandham Hall are like the effects of chiaroscuro, patches of light and dark: it is only with an effort that I can see them in terms of colour. There are things I know, though I don’t know how I know them, and things that I can remember. Certain things are established in my mind as facts, but no picture attaches to them; on the other hand there are pictures unverified by any fact which recur obsessively, like the landscape of a dream. (pg. 28)

I was in love with the heat, I felt for it what the convert feels for his new religion…And without my being aware of it, the climate of my emotions had undergone a change. I was no longer satisfied with the small change of experience which had hitherto contented me. I wanted to deal in larger sums. I wanted to enjoy continuously the afflatus of spirit that I had when I was walking to Lord Trimingham and he admitted to being a Viscount. To be in tune with all that Brandham Hall meant, I must increase my stature, I must act on a grander scale. Perhaps all these desires had been dormant in me for years, and the Zodiac had been their latest manifestation.

Dimly I felt that the contrast represented something more than the conflict between Hall and village. It was that, but it was also the struggle between order and lawlessness, between obedience to tradition and defiance of it, between social stability and revolution, between one attitude to life and another. I knew which side I was on, yet the traitor in my gates felt the issue differently, he backed the individual against the side, even my own side, and wanted to see Ted Burgess pull it off. (pg. 124)

Nothing is ever a lady’s fault; you’ll learn that.

Lady-killer: what did that mean? I didn’t like to ask too many questions. I did not think, however, Ted would kill Marian: Man-killer, that was what I had been afraid of. Now the fear had passed away, lost its reality with the rest of my life at Brandham Hall. I could scarcely believe that I had once felt I ought to warn Lord Trimingham of his peril. The ninth Viscount would never know that I had saved him from the fate of the fifth. By removing myself I had removed the danger: it was my master-stroke.

Red Team Blues by Cory Doctorow is the first novel in the Marty Hench series. It revolves around Hench, a forensic accountant doing one last job. However, things do not necessarily go to plan.

One of the things that I find interesting about Doctorow’s work is the balance between observing the world and explaining how things work. With Red Team Blues, more than say the Little Brother series, I felt myself enthralled in the story, rather than being endlessly distracted by the technology. Paul Di Filippo talks about a ‘maturing’, but I also think that this series has a different feel, providing a different perspective. Rather than youth, we are given an older perspective, with Marty Hench 67 and ready for retirement.

My only gripe with the novel was that Hench really did not seem like a 67 year old, but then again, his life is clearly a bit different.

I got the Wil Wheaton read audiobook as a part of a pledged associated with the Kickstarter campaign.

Read The Australian Dream by Stan Grant

In a landmark essay, Stan Grant writes Indigenous people back into the economic and multicultural history of Australia. This is the fascinating story of how fringe dwellers fought not just to survive, but to prosper. Their legacy is the extraordinary flowering of Indigenous success – cultural, sporting, intellectual and social – that we see today.

Yet this flourishing co-exists with the boys of Don Dale, and the many others like them who live in the shadows of the nation. Grant examines how such Australians have been denied the possibilities of life, and argues eloquently that history is not destiny; that culture is not static. In doing so, he makes the case for a more capacious Australian Dream.

‘The idea that I am Australian hits me with a thud. It is a blinding self-realisation that collides with the comfortable notion of who I am. To be honest, for an Indigenous person, it can feel like a betrayal somehow – at the very least, a capitulation. We are so used to telling ourselves that Australia is a white country: am I now white? The reality is more ambiguous … To borrow from Franz Kafka, identity is a cage in search of a bird.’ —Stan Grant, The Australian Dream

Stan Grant’s Quartarly Essay extends on his speech on racism in Australia at the IQ2 stage in 2015.

Now, you will hear things tonight. You will hear people say, “But you’ve done well.” Yes, I have and I’m proud of it and why have I done well? I’ve done well because of who has come before me. My father who lost the tips of three fingers working in saw mills to put food on our table because he was denied an education. My grandfather who served to fight wars for this country when he was not yet a citizen and came back to a segregated land where he couldn’t even share a drink with his digger mates in the pub because he was black.

My great grandfather, who was jailed for speaking his language to his grandson (my father). Jailed for it! My grandfather on my mother’s side who married a white woman who reached out to Australia, lived on the fringes of town until the police came, put a gun to his head, bulldozed his tin humpy and ran over the graves of the three children he buried there.

That’s the Australian Dream. I have succeeded in spite of the Australian Dream, not because of it, and I’ve succeeded because of those people.

Grant elaborates on the challenges associated with his personal history, the idea of indigenous people as ‘migrants’, and the layered nature of identity. I found it a fascinating book to read, especially in light of discussion around the referendum for a voice in parliament. For me, it highlights that there are no quick answers, instead it is always complicated.


The story revolves around a portrait of Dorian Gray painted by Basil Hallward, a friend of Dorian’s and an artist infatuated with Dorian’s beauty. Through Basil, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton and is soon enthralled by the aristocrat’s hedonistic worldview: that beauty and sensual fulfillment are the only things worth pursuing in life. Newly understanding that his beauty will fade, Dorian expresses the desire to sell his soul, to ensure that the picture, rather than he, will age and fade. The wish is granted, and Dorian pursues a libertine life of varied amoral experiences while staying young and beautiful; all the while, his portrait ages and visually records every one of Dorian’s sins.[3]

Wilde’s only novel, it was subject to much controversy and criticism in its time but has come to be recognized as a classic of gothic literature.

Although I had always had a copy of Oscar Wilde’s collect works, I had never actually read any of it. I really enjoyed The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is interesting to consider how the book, with its opium dens, hedonism and homosexual desire, would have been received when it was first the release. The dialogue reminded me of Marcel Proust, but with a gothic twist.  I think that I could easily re-read it just for the quotes.

The gay strain in Wilde’s work is part of a larger war on convention. In the 1889 story “The Portrait of Mr. W. H.,” a pseudo-scholarly, metafictional investigation of Shakespeare’s sonnets to a boy, Wilde slyly suggests that the pillar of British literature was something other than an ordinary family man. In the 1891 play “Salomé,” Wilde expands a Biblical anecdote into a sumptuous panorama of decadence. Anarchists of the fin de siècle, especially in Germany, considered Wilde one of their own: Gustav Landauer hailed Wilde as the English Nietzsche. Thomas Mann expanded on the analogy, observing that various lines of Wilde might have come from Nietzsche (“There is no reality in things apart from their experiences”) and that various lines of Nietzsche might have come from Wilde (“We are basically inclined to maintain that the falsest judgments are the most indispensable to us”). Nietzsche and Wilde were, in Mann’s view, “rebels in the name of beauty.”

Read Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Truman Capote)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a novella by Truman Capote published in 1958. In it, a contemporary writer recalls his early days in New York City, when he makes the acquaintance of his remarkable neighbor, Holly Golightly, who is one of Capote’s best-known creations.

I stumbled upon Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s on Audible. I have never seen the film and actually had little knowledge what the book was about. The narrative style of trying to capture, Holly Golightly, this larger than life figure in a world of extremes reminded me of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. As WB Gooderham captures:

To start with, let’s take a look at the similarities between Jay Gatsby and Holly Golightly. Attractive, charismatic and enigmatic? Check. Connection with organised crime? Check. Penchant for hosting parties and affected speech inflections (old sport/darling)? Check/check. Cessation of said parties once romance blossoms? Check. Humble origins, changes of identity, driven by dreams and ideals leading ultimately to death and exile? Check, check, check, check.