Greville St Bookstore

November 16, 2009, 4:18 am
Filed under: Art, Design, Fashion, Film, Literature, Music, Photography

More-things-like-this More Things Like This
Editors of McSweeney’s
Chronicle Books, $45

Curated by the editors of McSweeney’s, this unconventional book explores the intersection of text, humor, and illustration in art by cartoonists, writers, musicians, and fine artists in a hilarious and liberating mixture of high, low, and sideways. The eye-opening selection features nearly 200 images by more than 50 artists, including Raymond Pettibon, David Shrigley, Kurt Vonnegut, Maira Kalman, Shel Silverstein, Leonard Cohen, Chris Johanson, Andy Warhol, David Mamet, Tucker Nichols, Banksy, and dozens of others. Rounding out this beautifully designed package are insightful interviews with many of the artists illuminating the shared and diverget approaches they take to making this smart, funny, and immediately engaging work.

James Ellroy’s Underworld Trilogy
October 24, 2009, 6:27 am
Filed under: Literature

bloods-a-roverBLOOD’S A ROVER
James Ellroy
pb $32.95

An alternative history of the USA exponentially more bitter and twisted than Don DeLillo’s Underworld; an underworld more monstrous and demented than Dante’s Inferno, James Ellroy’s Underworld USA trilogy is a wild ride!

Beginning in 1958 with American Tabloid, on to The Cold Six Thousand with America reeling in the aftermath of the JFK assassination, and culminating with Ellroy’s current volume Blood’s a Rover, those very BAAAAD BROTHERS we hate to love make their swan song appearance. It’s 1968. J Edgar Hoover, Howard “Drac” Hughes and The Mob are the unholy trinity. Nixon is their pawn. Those who work for them, with them and against them would be hard pressed to disentangle their bewitching mess of loyalties. They are stone cold killers, heroin smugglers, right wing, racist, damaged, self-destructive, window peepers, guilt consumed, lovers of women (or men clandestinely). The 1970s are upon them; the world is changing; the tide is turning; their days are numbered…

In his signature staccato style, and interspersed with spurious document and diary entries, Ellroy has written an apochryphal history of the mid-twentieth century. This is seriously crazy shee-it!!

also available:
american-tabloidAMERICAN TABLOID
pb $24.95

pb $24.95





—reviewed by Rata

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2009
October 14, 2009, 4:51 am
Filed under: Literature

mullerHerta Müller

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2009 is awarded to the German author Herta Müller, “who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed“.

Unfortunately none of her books are currently available in translation, though the distributor in Australia seems to be expecting stock of The Passort and The Land of Green Plums by mid-November.

The Tokyo Trilogy Part II
October 11, 2009, 6:01 am
Filed under: Literature

by David Peace
pb $32.99

I have been a huge David Peace fan since crucifying myself on The Red Riding Quartet (now filmed for British Channel 4 as The Red Riding Trilogy and available on DVD) at a rate of one per week. Peace’s high octane exposure of police corruption, collusion, conspiracy and cover-ups in the four novels based around the Yorkshire Ripper murders in the 1970s and 80s reads like a British James Ellroy. Dark, savage and brutal; experimental, repetitive and rhythmic; Peace’s style would not appeal to everyone, especially not if you’re after an easily apprehensible, simple narrative in the thriller genre. In fact, I have wondered whether Peace would get published if his themes were not so unremittingly violent.

With a move to Tokyo in 1994, Peace has proceeded to do for Japan under US military occupation what The Red Riding Quartet did for Yorkshire in the prelude to Thatcher’s government. The first in the projected Tokyo Trilogy, his formidable Tokyo Year Zero, is based around the true story of serial killer Yoshio Kodaira, and follows the gradual breakdown of the central investigating detective. Part two, Occupied City, is again inspired by a true incident, the horrifying mass murder by cyanide poisoning of staff at the Teigin Bank in Tokyo in 1948. Peace acknowledges his dept to Rashomon and In a Grove by Akutagawa Ryunosuke, for the structure of Occupied City. Like these two stories his novel examines the nature of ‘truth’ from the viewpoint of all witnesses and invested parties: the victims’, investigator’s, suvivor’s, an American scientist’s, a medium’s, journalist’s, business man’s, a Russian soldier’s, the honest detective’s, the condemned man’s, the real killer’s, the mourner’s. In a circle of twelve candles, a seance is conducted summoning each ‘ghost’, who tells his version of events — by documents, diaries or rants — until a synchronicity of views reveals more of the case and circumstances.

Once again Peace has created false heroes and vulnerable anti-heroes, excruciating deaths and even worse lives, an environment of suspicion and self-interest, all predicated on the horrors that men inflict on each other and then attempt to deny.

—reviewed by Rata

“Wolf Hall” wins the 2009 Man Booker Prize for Fiction
October 9, 2009, 1:50 am
Filed under: Literature



by Hilary Mantel

pb $32.99


On Tuesday 6 October Hilary Mantel was named the winner of the £50,000 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for Wolf Hall, published by Fourth Estate. Wolf Hall has been the bookies’ favourite since the longlist was announced in July 2009.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel was picked from a shortlist of six titles. A.S. Byatt, J.M. Coetzee, Adam Foulds, Simon Mawer and Sarah Waters were all shortlisted for this year’s prize.

Wolf Hall is set in the 1520s and tells the story of Thomas Cromwell’s rise to prominence in the Tudor court.  Hilary Mantel has been praised by critics for writing ‘a rich, absorbingly readable historical novel; she has made a significant shift in the way any of her readers interested in English history will henceforward think about Thomas Cromwell.’

James Naughtie, comments ‘Hilary Mantel has given us a thoroughly modern novel set in the 16th century.  Wolf Hall has a vast narrative sweep that gleams on every page with luminous and mesmerising detail. It probes the mysteries of power by examining and describing the meticulous dealings in Henry VIII’s court, revealing in thrilling prose how politics and history is made by men and women. In the words of Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell, whose story this is, “the fate of peoples is made like this, two men in small rooms. Forget the coronations, the conclaves of cardinals, the pomp and processions.  This is how the world changes.” ‘

This is the first time the publisher Fourth Estate has had a Man Booker Prize winner. They have previously published three shortlisted books — Nicola Barker’s Darkmans (2007) and Carol Shields’ novels Unless (2002) and The Stone Diaries (1993).

Hilary Mantel spent five years writing Wolf Hall and she is currently working on a sequel.

Contemporary Classic
September 26, 2009, 7:45 am
Filed under: Literature



Shirley Hazzard

pb $22.99

First published in 1980, but covering a period of enormous social change from pre-war Australia to post-war Britain, Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus remains a classic of contemporary literature, on a par with the work of great stylists like James Salter and William Maxwell. She has an extraordinary ‘short-hand’ way of conveying thoughts and dialogue, the literary equivalent of “blah, blah, blah”.

Hazzard follows the lives of orphaned Australian sisters Caro and Grace who come to England to seek their fortunes. They can hardly even lay claim to middle-class benefits, but the young women find themselves in a privileged milieu. Though far removed from the glamour of Mad Men’s Fifth Avenue, women are sidelined in exactly the same way; the same strictures apply, and the same unstated disenfranchisement is felt, in the more staid world of the Bell sisters. Their naive expectations are thwarted in an oppressive marriage for Grace and in an equally dissatisfactory affair and work place for Caro.


Caro had been three months in Spain for the language. To do this
she had gone as a nursemaid to an English family, who had
afterwards taken her to France and to Italy. Caro was now working—
serving was what she said—in a bookshop while studying for a
government examination.

It was even worse with Grace, who was in the Complaints Department at Harrods.

There could be no outcome to such activities but marriage. He knew
all about Caro’s examination and she would never pass it [she does,
of course, well ahead of all comers]
. It had only recently been
opened to women, and he had never heard of a woman passing it. “It
is stiff,” he said. It did not even lead to prospects, you came in
at the lower level, it was a way of having people with languages
without giving them career service.

“An exploitation, if you like,” he concluded.


Caro said, “I don’t like'” and took another cream wafer. “Peek
Frean’s,” she read before biting the lettering in half.

Speaking of “unstated”, what a genius way of putting “him”, Grace’s fiance Christian Thrale, in his place! From this you may gather that all is not doom and gloom, and perhaps there is room for love to flower even in this unlikely soil.

The Anthologist
September 26, 2009, 5:00 am
Filed under: Literature


Nicholson Baker
pb $32.99

Nicholson Baker’s narrator, Paul Chowder (what a great name! but best said with a real American drawl), is a some-time poet in a relationship crisis. He’s supposed to be writing the introduction to a new anthology of poetry in praise of “the rhyme” but things are not going well for him. For the reader, however, it’s fantastic: Chowder’s meandering, procrastinating riffs on poets from Auden to Yeats and his own contemporaries are humorous, affecting and ultimately make you want to read the stuff! Have to love a book that inspires new interests and new reading, and Baker’s The Anthologist seems particularly apposite as faber & faber have recently released a superb selection of poetry classics to mark their eightieth anniversary.

audenbetjemant-s-eliotted-hughesplath yeats

ff Poetry Classics — HB @ $24.99
Six beautiful poetry classics by Auden, Eliot, Hughes, Plath, Betjeman and Yeats. The selections have been made by great writers, each one with a stunning cover and matching endpapers by a contemporary printmaker.

Literature August
August 5, 2009, 1:23 am
Filed under: Literature

David Malouf
Hb $29.95

It’s hard to believe that Ransom is the product of a contemporary consciousness, David Malouf’s language is so perfect and refined it seems to come intact from a far more classical age. He is, of course, reinventing a particular espisode from Homer’s Iliad and the long years of stalled action during the Trojan wars, but his themes are universal and timeless: honour, loyalty, pride, love, loss, grief, men and their infinite capacity for formalising action and emotion. We can easily draw comparison here with any of our modern conflicts; descriptions of the tediousness of endless waiting and the pointlessness of ridiculous protocols.

Malouf’s classical world teeters on the edge of secularity; the gods are still apt to appear as men on earth but belief in their power is waning. Heroic Achilles, in frenzied mourning over the death of his best friend, repeatedly defiles the body of his enemy, Hector, thereby breaking the first law of war, to honour every warrior fallen in battle. The grief of Hector’s father, King Priam of Troy, also unleashes a radical change in thinking, as he comes to realise that his only hope of saving his son’s body from further desecration is an unprecedented action. So Priam sets off, with neither royal retinue nor royal accoutremonts, in the company of Somax, a humble carter, to ransom Hector’s body, and in the process learns something of ‘experienced reality’ and has time to examine the paucity of his actual relationship with his son.

So much sadness and so much beauty. Malouf’s talent and capacity to move us is prodigious.

Steven Carroll
pb $29.99

I was not inspired to read any of the books that form Steven Carroll’s award winning Glenroy trilogy, perhaps because the suburban milieu they celebrate seemed too prosaic, but if The Lost Life is anything to go by I’ll have to reconsider.

How to describe my conversion? Often with literature, as with art, music or film, I will like something because it reminds me of another favourite work. Thus The Lost Life, while retaining it’s own unique voice and position, reminds me of Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach. Though that is set in 1962 and The Lost Life in 1934, both have a similar ambiance — both are stories of tentative young lovers, both have a ‘country’ setting, both convey that severely correct British sensibility, and both are set during periods when social interactions, particularly courtship, sex and marriage, were highly ritualised and regulated.

We meet Carroll’s two young lovers, Catherine and Jonathan, on their way to a tryst in the garden of stately mansion, which they imagine to be uninhabited. Afraid of being caught trespassing, they hide when they hear voices and happen to observe a private ceremony performed by two middle-aged people, who turn out to be the celebrated poet, T.S. (‘Tom’) Eliot, and the love of his youth, Emily Hale. What transpires from that fateful conjunction are parallel stories of nostalgic love, thwarted desire, betrayal, moral obligation, memory and meaning.

By incorporating imagery and ideas from Eliot’s poem Burnt Norton, Carroll’s language takes on a poetic rhythm and repetition that allows for a kind of sinking into the intimacies of a slower world and musings on the nature of experience. None could express the overriding theme of The Lost Life better than Eliot himself:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.