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.


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 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.

Read novel by Franco-Czech writer Milan Kundera, published in 1998 by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

Identity (French: L’Identité) is a novel by Franco-Czech writer Milan Kundera, published in 1998. Kundera moved to France in 1975. Identity is set primarily in France and was his second novel to be written in French with his earlier novels all in Czech. The novel revolves around the intimate relationship between Chantal and her marginally younger partner Jean-Marc. The intricacies of their relationship and its influences on their sense of identity brings out Kundera’s philosophical musings on identity not as an autonomous entity but something integral shaped by the identities of others and their relations to your own.

The short novel explores the idea of identity and perception through the relationship between Chantel and Jean-Marc. Central to the story is Chantel’s comment “men don’t turn to look at me anymore” and everything that stems from that.
Read novel by Sylvia Plath by Contributors to Wikimedia projects
Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar has sat on my shelf for years. I was always intrigued by the association with The Catcher in the Rye, but for some reason never actually got around to reading it. Bekir Konakovic and Beth Scussel provide a summary of the comparisons:

The Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar, though different in their themes and styles, both  present the coming of age of their characters thoroughly. Though the protagonists of both novels completely contrast each other, they are both put in similar situations through a lack of identity, isolation from society and an absence of purpose in life. The key point of both coming of age tales is expressed through the ultimate idea of growing up and entering the adult world. The central idea of growing up is expressed in both novels through the characters’ struggles in figuring out what they want, understanding and dealing with death, and examining their relationships with their peers, parents and other adults. Both coming of ages are reached once the characters escape their set views and open up to looking at things in a different light from a maturity and sensible aspect of things.

Although both novels are coming of age novels, I feel that Holden Caulfield will never quite seem the same after meeting Esther Greenwood.

Robert McCrum summaries what is essential to the Bell Jar as follows:

Plath’s essential theme, a staccato drumbeat, is Esther’s obsession with the opposite sex. At first, released from her mother’s repressive scrutiny, she decides to lose her virginity (a “millstone around my neck”) to Constantin, a UN Russian translator, but he’s too sensible to fall for her. Then, having failed on another date, in which she is labelled a “slut”, she hurls her clothes off her hotel roof, and returns home for a suicidal summer, a worsening depression which she compares to suffocating under a “bell jar”. Esther’s predicament, more generally, is how to develop a mature identity, as a woman, and to be true to that self rather than conform to societal norms. It’s this quest that makes The Bell Jar a founding text of Anglo-American feminism.

Associated with this, Naomi Elias discusses the myth around Plath and the novel:

Though The Bell Jar traffics in many themes, including classism, sexism, and mental illness, it has become synonymous with depressed and/or moody women. On film and television specifically, it has become a popular visual and textual prop to code an exclusively female experience of sadness.

Let alone Plath as the person.


How could I write about life when I’d never had a love affair or a baby or even seen anybody die? A girl I knew had just won a prize for a short story about her adventures among the pygmies in Africa. How could I compete with that sort of thing? Page 125

My mother smiled. “I knew my baby wasn’t like that.” I looked at her. “Like what?” “Like those awful people. Those awful dead people at that hospital.” She paused. “I knew you’d decide to be all right again.” Page 148

To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream. Page 231

Read 2008 science fiction novel by by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

The Three-Body Problem (Chinese: 三体; lit. ‘Three-Body’; pinyinsān tǐ) is a science fiction novel written by the Chinese writer Liu Cixin. The title refers to the three-body problem in orbital mechanics. It is the first novel of the Remembrance of Earth’s Past (Chinese: 地球往事) trilogy, but the whole series is normally referred to as The Three-Body Problem.[1] The trilogy’s second and third novels are The Dark Forest and Death’s End respectively.

The first volume of The Three-Body Problem was first serialized in Science Fiction World between May and December 2006.[2] It was published as a standalone book in 2008, becoming one of the most successful Chinese science fiction novels of the last two decades.[3] The novel received the Chinese Science Fiction Yinhe (“Galaxy“) Award in 2006[4] along with many more over the years. By 2015, a Chinese film adaptation of the same name was in production.

The English translation by Ken Liu was published by Tor Books in 2014.[5] Thereafter, it became the first Asian novel ever to win a Hugo Award for Best Novel,[6][7] and was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel.[8]

The series portrays a future where, in the first book, Earth encounters an alien civilisation in a nearby star system that consists of three solar-type stars orbiting each other in an unstable three-body system.

The Three-Body Problem is one of those novels that takes on new meaning as each layer is revealed. It has a lot to say about science, culture and progress.

The odd thing is that the less practical your research is, the more they’re afraid of you—like abstract theories, the kind of thing Yang Dong worked on. They are more frightened of such work than you are of the universe winking at you. That’s why they’re so ruthless. If killing you would solve the problem, you’d all be dead by now. But the most effective technique remains disrupting your thoughts. When a scientist dies, another will take his place. But if his thoughts are confused, then science is over.” (Page 125)

In the end I was left feeling incredibly small and rather insignificant.

Read Barracuda

Fourteen-year-old Daniel Kelly is special. Despite his upbringing in working-class Melbourne, he knows that his astonishing ability in the swimming pool has the potential to transform his life. Everything Danny has ever done, every sacrifice his family has ever made, has been in pursuit of this dream–but what happens when the talent that makes you special fails you? When the goal that you’ve been pursuing for as long as you can remember ends in humiliation and loss?

Twenty years later, Dan is in Scotland, terrified to tell his partner about his past, afraid that revealing what he has done will make him unlovable. Haunted by shame, Dan relives the intervening years he spent in prison, where the optimism of his childhood was completely foreign.

Although I had seen and enjoyed the television adaptations of both The Slap and Barracuda, I had never actually read any of Christos Tsiolkas’ novels. I was partly inspired after listening to Tsiolkas in conversation with Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens, also Barracuda was the only novel available on

The novel revolves around Daniel Kelly, the son of working class Scots-Irish and Greek parents who gains a scholarship to a prodigious private school because of his swimming abilities, but fails to make it to the Olympics.

Where The Slap had an ensemble cast and Tolstoy-esque ambitions — it sought to render the whole milieu of the multiethnic, suburban Melbourne that is Tsiolkas’s heartland — Barracuda trains its sights firmly on Danny Kelly. Even so, all the characters are vividly drawn.

Mark Lawson on language:

Tsiolkas’s sometimes startling dialogue is part of his mission – along with explicit descriptions of urination, defecation and ejaculation – to set down the texture of how people really live and speak. His characters have a visceral credibility rare in fiction.

There is something strangely engaging about this novel in the way that the problem is referenced early on, the rest of the time we bounce between a before and after, piecing things together. For me, every choice that Dan Kelly makes comes with its own set of consequences. Although we get some sort of resolution in the end, when Kelly gives a gift back to his family, this does not necessarily remedy all of life’s ills, nor does it break free of the restraints placed on us by society.

Read Emma

Emma is a novel about youthful hubris and romantic misunderstandings, written by Jane Austen. It is set in the fictional country village of Highbury and the surrounding estates of Hartfield, Randalls and Donwell Abbey, and involves the relationships among people from a small number of families.[2] The novel was first published in December 1815, with its title page listing a publication date of 1816. As in her other novels, Austen explores the concerns and difficulties of genteel women living in Georgian–Regency England. Emma is a comedy of manners, and depicts issues of marriage, sex, age, and social status.

Before she began the novel, Austen wrote, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.”[3] In the first sentence, she introduces the title character as “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition… had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”[4] Emma is spoiled, headstrong, and self-satisfied; she greatly overestimates her own matchmaking abilities; she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people’s lives; and her imagination and perceptions often lead her astray.

Emma, written after Austen’s move to Chawton, was her last novel to be published during her lifetime,[5] while Persuasion, the last complete novel Austen wrote, was published posthumously.

I remember reading this is John Wiltshire’s Austen class in university. I remember being humbled at the time in that I thought I knew Jane Austen, without actually reading Jane Austen.

I enjoyed John Mullan’s discussion of why it belongs alongside the works of Flaubert, Joyce and Woolf as one of the great experimental novels. As he explains, we are invited as readers to share Emma’s delusions:

It was revolutionary in its form and technique. Its heroine is a self-deluded young woman with the leisure and power to meddle in the lives of her neighbours. The narrative was radically experimental because it was designed to share her delusions.

Even though we are brought into Emma’s world, the novel is still written in the third-person. This means of placing the reader inside the thoughts of a character has been described as ‘free indirect style’:

It was only in the early 20th century that critics began agreeing on a name for it: free indirect style (a translation from the original French: style indirect libre). It describes the way in which a writer imbues a third-person narration with the habits of thought or expression of a fictional character … Austen miraculously combined the internal and the external.

David Lodge has observed how odd James’s condescension is, given that he came to specialise in the very technique Austen had pioneered: “Telling the story through the consciousness of characters whose understanding of events is partial, mistaken, deceived, or self-deceived.”

Personally, I am fascinated with the idea of taking the idea of ‘dreams’ and ideals in the novel as a thread and reading this alongside psychoanalytic texts, such as Freud’s Ego and the Id. It makes me think about Emma and the whole text being an example of the battle between the ego and the unconsicous. There is a hidden side of the text that is below the surface and can only capture in passing, however the many clues seem strangely obvious after the fact.

I was drawn back to Emma through the Minefield podcast and there investigation of the novel. On Scott Stephens’ recommendation, I actually listened to Juliet Stevenson’s narration of the novel via


Invite him to dinner, Emma, and help him to the best of the fish and the chicken, but leave him to chuse his own wife. Depend upon it, a man of six or seven-and-twenty can take care of himself.”
Page 46

Harriet Smith was the natural daughter of somebody. Somebody had placed her, several years back, at Mrs. Goddard’s school, and somebody had lately raised her from the condition of scholar to that of parlour-boarder. This was all that was generally known of her history.
Page 56

“Never mind, Harriet, I shall not be a poor old maid; and it is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable, old maid! the proper sport of boys and girls; but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else.
Page 118

“I do not know whether it ought to be so, but certainly silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way. Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly.—It depends upon the character of those who handle it. Mr. Knightley, he is not a trifling, silly young man. If he were, he would have done this differently. He would either have gloried in the achievement, or been ashamed of it. There would have been either the ostentation of a coxcomb, or the evasions of a mind too weak to defend its own vanities.—No, I am perfectly sure that he is not trifling or silly.”
Page 245

Mr. Knightley connected it with the dream; but how it could all be, was beyond his comprehension. How the delicacy, the discretion of his favourite could have been so lain asleep! He feared there must be some decided involvement. Disingenuousness and double-dealing seemed to meet him at every turn. These letters were but the vehicle for gallantry and trick. It was a child’s play, chosen to conceal a deeper game on Frank Churchill’s part.
Page 381

It was just what it ought to be, and it looked what it was—and Emma felt an increasing respect for it, as the residence of a family of such true gentility, untainted in blood and understanding.
Page 391

“It is to be a secret, I conclude,” said he. “These matters are always a secret, till it is found out that every body knows them. Only let me be told when I may speak out.—I wonder whether Jane has any suspicion.”
Page 502

Read Maybe Zombies

Maybe this book is about zombies. Maybe it’s not. Either way, it’s an adventure and there’s some odd stuff going on. It’s fiction, thankfully. It’s a thriller that is part cyberpunk, part futurism, part technocratic intrigue with a reluctant feminist anti-heroine.

Maybe Zombies? Maybe mind-control? Or maybe just not real? These are some of the questions grappled with in Laura Hilliger’s novel. It is a meandering journey of Maggie’s inadvertent trail of carnage and excess. It touches on technology, power, perspective, privilege and truth. However, it is all a reminder that it can all be gone in a second.