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Archive for 2010|Yearly archive page

decorated books

In Literature on June 22, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Online literary magazine, The Millions, have released their annual Prizewinners 2009/2010 list. A sort of “hall of fame” of literary award winners, the list is an aggregation of shortlisted and winning books from six major awards since 1995. The rankings are established by awarding three points for a winner, and two points for a finalist, from the following awards: Booker Prize (B), National Book Critics Circle Award (C), International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (I), National Book Award (N), Pulitzer Prize (P), Costa Book Award (W, formerly the Whitbread).

Rank Year Title Author Awards
11 2003 The Known World Edward P. Jones C, I, N, P
9 2001 The Corrections Jonathan Franzen C, I, N, P
8 2009 Wolf Hall Hilary Mantel B, C, W
8 2007 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Junot Díaz C, P, I
8 1997 Underworld Don DeLillo C, I, N, P
7 2005 The March E.L. Doctorow C, N, P
7 2004 Line of Beauty Alan Hollinghurst B, C, W
7 2002 Middlesex Jeffrey Eugenides I, N, P
7 2001 Atonement Ian McEwan B, C, W
7 1998 The Hours Michael Cunningham C, I, P
7 1997 Last Orders Graham Swift B, I, W
7 1997 Quarantine Jim Crace B, I, W
6 2009 Home Marilynn Robinson C, N, I
6 2005 The Inheritance of Loss Kiran Desai B, C
6 2004 Gilead Marilynn Robinson C, P
5 2008 The Secret Scripture Sebastian Barry B, W
5 2008 Olive Kitteridge Elizabeth Strout C, P
5 2007 Tree of Smoke Denis Johnson N, P
5 2006 The Road Cormac McCarthy C, P
5 2006 The Echo Maker Richard Powers N, P
5 2005 Europe Central William T. Vollmann C, N
5 2005 The Accidental Ali Smith B, W
5 2004 The Master Colm Toibin B, I
5 2003 The Great Fire Shirley Hazzard I, N
5 2001 True History of the Kelly Gang Peter Carey B, I
5 2000 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay Michael Chabon C, P
5 2000 The Blind Assassin Margaret Atwood B, I
5 1999 Waiting Ha Jin N, P
5 1999 Disgrace J.M. Coetzee B, C
5 1999 Being Dead Jim Crace C, W
5 1998 Charming Billy Alice McDermott I, N
5 1997 American Pastoral Philip Roth C, P
5 1996 Every Man for Himself Beryl Bainbridge B, W
5 1996 Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer Steven Millhauser N, P
5 1995 The Moor’s Last Sigh Salman Rushdie B, W
5 1995 The Ghost Road Pat Barker B, W
5 1995 Independence Day Richard Ford C, P
5 1995 Sabbath’s Theater Philip Roth N, P

a “tray, tray, tray bong” production

In Theatre on June 21, 2010 at 2:50 pm

WAITING FOR GODOT by Samuel Beckett
A Theatre Royal Haymarket Company Production
Directed by Sean Mathias
Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, 20 June 2010

Estragon: Ian McKellen
Vladimir: Roger Rees
Pozzo: Matthew Kelly
Lucky: Michael Burrell
A Boy

The wait is over to see Sir Ian McKellen on Australian shores, in a highly anticipated production of Waiting For Godot.

Sean Mathias’s production is on international tour, with Roger Rees (Vladimir), Matthew Kelly (Pozzo) and Michael Burrell (Lucky) joining the only original cast member, McKellen, as Estragon.

In a crumbling theatre, designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis, where the famous tree pokes up through fractured floorboards, Estragon and Vladimir wait for Godot every day. As they wait, they meet Pozzo and his frail slave, Lucky, who limps along at the end of a rope, laden with luggage and abuse. To pass the time, they argue, they sing, they play games, they exercise, they contemplate hanging themselves. They always find something, notes Gogo, “to give the impression [they] exist”.

McKellen’s performance is superb. His Estragon is vulnerable and maudlin, addled with pain and struggling to survive, yet with a wry smile and vaudevillian swagger, he is undoubtedly the comic hero of the play. Rees’ Vladimir is stoic and rational, with moments of tenderness. McKellen and Rees resemble a scruffy double-act, clowning and bantering in perfect synchronicity.

What does the play mean? Among readers intent on arriving at a concrete conclusion, Godot does not sit comfortably. Beckett said that “the early success of Waiting for Godot was based on a fundamental misunderstanding, that critics and public alike insisted on interpreting in allegorical or symbolic terms a play which was striving all the time to avoid definition”. When people sought clear-cut explanations of Godot in Beckett, he invariably side-stepped their questions. To director Alan’s Schneider’s question, “Who or what does Godot mean?”, he replied, “If I knew, I would have said so in the play”.

The first words of the play, “Nothing to be done”, reveal its focus: inaction. Beckett rejects the idea that drama tells a story, by making his audience wait for something to happen – the arrival of the elusive Godot, who never comes. Vivian Mercier famously said that Beckett “has achieved a theoretical impossibility – a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What’s more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.” (Irish Times, 18 February 1956, p. 6.)

To celebrate this “tray, tray, tray bong” production of Godot, I have collected some of my favourite lines.

Estragon: What about hanging ourselves?
Vladimir: Hmm. It’d give us an erection.
Estragon: (highly excited). An erection!
Vladimir: With all that follows. Where it falls mandrakes grow. That’s why they shriek when you pull them up. Did you not know that?
Estragon: Let’s hang ourselves immediately!

Pozzo: The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh.

Vladimir: That passed the time.
Estragon: It would have passed in any case.
Vladimir: Yes, but not so rapidly.

Estragon: We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression that we exist?

Pozzo: They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.

Vladimir: But you can’t go barefoot!
Estragon: Christ did.
Vladimir: Christ! What has Christ got to do with it. You’re not going to compare yourself to Christ!
Estragon: All my life I’ve compared myself to him.

Estragon: I can’t go on like this.
Vladimir: That’s what you think.

childish churl

In Literature on May 26, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Literary snobs are all het up after Jennifer Byrne invited four “bestselling authors” (quelle horreur!) to take part in a special edition of her monthly book show on ABC1, Jennifer Byrne Presents: Bestsellers & Blockbusters (aired 11/05/10). Lee Child, a British thriller writer (who no one worth their literary salt will admit to having heard of), has apparently reignited the popular-versus-literary debate.

After scorning the phenomenal success of Swedish writer, Stieg Larsson, Child swiftly shot down ‘the critics’, then moved on to that most malevolent force, ‘literary authors’. Essentially, bestselling authors write books that readers enjoy; literary writers don’t. Bestselling authors could easily write literary fiction if they chose to, but literary writers couldn’t write bestsellers if they wanted. And they do want to. But they can’t.

Mr. Child was quick to point out that animosity between the two camps is entirely one-sided: “the rivalry does not come from us. Why would I care about Ian McEwan? The rivalry comes from them”. They’re jealous, you see!

Now, before you rush out and burn down the Crime/Thriller section of your local bookshop, take a moment to indulge in this conceited claptrap:

LEE CHILD: Yeah, Matthew’s point is another difference between literary and what we do, which is that in popular fiction we do the work and the reader enjoys the ride.

MATTHEW REILLY: That’s right.

LEE CHILD: And literary people seem to think the reader should do an awful lot of the work to try and puzzle it out and figure it out. And we don’t believe that. And actually, in my books, every word is polished, the reader doesn’t have to puzzle over it. The reader gets in the car, I’m driving the car. And the reader doesn’t have to do the work.

MATTHEW REILLY: I agree completely.

JENNIFER BYRNE: Yeah, so that’s a complete distinction, isn’t it? So it’s not your fault as a reader if you don’t enjoy the book.

LEE CHILD: No, and I think that’s something that we have to come out and say. You can’t blame the reader if they’re not enjoying the book. That’s our fault. And maybe popular writers are the only ones that admit that.

LEE CHILD: And it is not necessarily about the sales, it is not necessarily about the sales, it’s about something else. It’s about this. They know, in their heart, that we could write their books but they cannot write our books. That’s what it’s about.

JENNIFER BYRNE: And all nodding.

DI MORRISSEY: And they try.

LEE CHILD: And they have tried.

DI MORRISSEY: Under other names.

LEE CHILD: And they sometimes say “Oh well, I don’t want to,” and I say, “Well, why wouldn’t you? You could set yourself up for life.” You know, in the paper in Britain last week I deliberately said, I was trying to start a fight about it, I said “Oh, I could write a Martin Amis book. It would take me about three weeks, it would sell 3,000 copies like he sells.” And only because I’m with the same publisher as Ian McEwan, so I didn’t really want to pick on him particularly. That’s what it is, they know they can’t do what we do. And they are jealous of that skill.

JENNIFER BYRNE: But that absolutely assumes that they do want to do what you do.

LEE CHILD: Well, who wouldn’t? I mean, come on. If you were a literary author starving in a garret and you had the choice to turn out a Bryce Courtenay and make yourself a multi-millionaire so your family was looked after forever, why wouldn’t you do that? If you could do that. Of course you would.

JENNIFER BYRNE: Because I think some people feel so powerfully about their art that they wouldn’t, but maybe I’m wrong.

LEE CHILD: I think you are wrong.

BRYCE COURTENAY: OK, you’re 2% right.

MATTHEW REILLY: I was at a writers’ festival once on a panel for thriller writers and there was a poet who’d written a thriller. And they asked him “Why did you write a thriller?” and he said, “Well, I saw these thriller writers were making money, so I thought I’d, you know, develop an international intrigue story, put some sex, put a car chase in it, have someone get killed.” The book disappeared without a trace. And that goes all the way back to what we were talking about at the start.

troubles lost and found

In Literature on May 25, 2010 at 11:36 pm

The late J.G. Farrell has been awarded the Lost Man Booker Prize for his novel Troubles. The prize honours books published in 1970, when elibigibilty rules changed, and has been decided by public vote. The book took 38% of the votes to beat the five other shortlisted books, including two Australian works – Patrick White’s The Vivisector and Shirley Hazzard’s The Bay Of Noon. Troubles was the first book in Farrell’s Empire Trilogy and was followed by The Siege of Krishnapur, which won the Booker Prize in 1973.

put the well in houellebecq

In Literature on May 25, 2010 at 11:02 pm

If you want to sound worldly when discussing literature, getting a grasp on pronunciation is a must. McSweeney’s Issue 33, The San Franscisco Panorama, came with a nifty little guide to pronouncing authors’ surnames. It was quite a blow to the self-esteem to discover how many crimes of mispronunciation I have committed over the years! I’ve written a few examples below, but for an exhaustive list with links to audio clips, see this article from The Millions.

Anais Nin ah-NAYH-us NIN
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie en-GO-Zeh ad-DEE-chay
Chinua Achebe CHIN-wah a-CHEY-be
Chuck Palahniuk PAHL-a-nik
Colm Tóibín COL-um toe-BEEN
J.M. Coetzee kut-SEE-uh
John Le Carré luh kahr-AY
Kazuo Ishiguro ka-ZOO-o ish-i-GU-ro
Michael Chabon SHAY-bahn
Michel Houellebecq WELL-beck
Paulo Coelho PAW-lu co-AY-u
Salman Rushdie sahl-MAHN
Vladimir Nabokov na-BOE-kof

coetzee’s coup

In Literature on May 25, 2010 at 7:49 pm

The winners of the 2010 NSW Premier’s Literary Award were announced at a dinner at the Art Gallery of NSW last Monday.

I was most excited to hear that J.M. Coetzee won the $40,000 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction for his memoir/novel Summertime, and Cate Kennedy won, most deservedly I think, the People’s Choice Award for The World Beneath.

Coetzee was overseas and unable to collect his award in person. I could not help but reflect on Alex Miller’s comments last month about authors not bothering to turn up to awards ceremonies. Lamenting the decline of the Miles Franklin Award, Miller said, “If you get the Pulitzer, you go and pick it up. if you win the Booker, you go and pick it up”. The NSWPLA, not so, it seems.

The full list of winners:

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction
J.M. Coetzee, Summertime

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction
Paul McGeough, Kill Khalid: Mossad’s failed hit … and the rise of Hamas

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry
Jordie Albiston, the sonnet according to ‘m’

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature
Pamela Rushby, When the Hipchicks Went to War

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature
Allan Baillie, Krakatoa Lighthouse

Script Writing Award
Shared by Jane Campion, Bright Star and Aviva Ziegler, Fairweather Man

Play Award
Not awarded in 2010

NSW Premier’s Prize for Literary Scholarship
Philip Mead, Networked Language: Culture and History in Australian Poetry

Community Relations Commission Award
Abbas El-Zein, Leave to Remain: A Memoir

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing for Fiction
Andrew Croome, Document Z

The People’s Choice Award
Cate Kennedy, The World Beneath

Book of the Year ($10,000)
Paul McGeough, Kill Khalid: Mossad’s failed hit … and the rise of Hamas

Special Award
The Macquarie Pen Anthology of Australian Literature

On Coetzee’s Summertime, the judges’ said:

Summertime follows a young English biographer who embarks on a series of interviews with people who were important to the dead writer called ‘John Coetzee’, focusing on the years 1972-1977 when Coetzee, in his thirties, was living with his widowed father in Cape Town. From the testimony of these significant people, including past mistresses, a favourite cousin, and a Brazilian dancer whose daughter studied English with him, comes a portrait of a detached, self-analysing man who felt his displacement in and from South Africa with a fierce and unrequited passion to find a true patrimony.

Built on several levels – the biographer’s interviews, the notebook accounts, and the late author’s comments on his own notations – Summertime is also a contemplation on the nature of fiction, and on the reliability of evidential history. Cunning in its assurance, Summertime is an act of self-dissection enlightened by cool humour. Clever, at times playful, and always unafraid, J.M. Coetzee relies on prose itself to engage the reader in a progressively moving account of the human dilemma.

J.M. Coetzee’s work includes Waiting for the Barbarians, Life & Times of Michael K, Boyhood, Youth, Disgrace and Diary of a Bad Year. He was the first author to win the Booker Prize twice and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.

The judging panel is pleased to announce that J.M. Coetzee’s Summertime is the winner of the Christina Stead Prize for fiction.

their brilliant careers

In Literature on April 21, 2010 at 5:32 pm

…and the literary award shortlists keep rolling in! Today the six finalists in the running for the 2010 Miles Franklin Award were announced.

The shortlist consists of:

The Bath Fugues, Brian Castro
The Book of Emmett, Deborah Forster
Butterfly, Sonya Hartnett
Lovesong, Alex Miller
Jasper Jones, Craig Silvey
Truth, Peter Temple

The winner of the $42,000 prize will be announced on June 22.

And at a personal level, I have finished reading Ian McEwan’s Solar. I never tire of his fine writing and biting humour – some of the already famous scenes in this book inspire peals of laughter every time I think about them. But it’s easy to feel weighed down by the truly repulsive protagonist, Beard. It’s little wonder our species face a planet in peril. Indeed, his character leaves us with a sense of impending doom for the earth and the human race.

the pages of march

In Literature on April 12, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Here is some fabulous fiction that has been sharing my bed over the last month or so. I note the bias towards Australian male authors! I shall endeavour to venture into some different material over the next few months.

Next up, I’m going to indulge in the hype and take a look at Ian McEwan’s new novel, Solar.

And having seen the film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I adored (those Swedes know how to do a film!), I have now conceded that it might not be as ‘trashy’ as I’d first anticipated. Thus, a fresh copy of the (rather chunky) paperback has gained a place on the to-read pile.

I expect that the above two books might leave me in want of some glorious prose. Perhaps some Woolf.

the state of literature

In Literature on April 8, 2010 at 9:58 am

The shortlist of titles vying for the 2010 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards were announced yesterday.

David Malouf has been nominated for the Christina Stead Prize for his novel Ransom. With two previous wins (in 1979 for An Imaginary Life, and in 1993 for Remembering Babylon), a win this year would rival Peter Carey’s record in the awards.

Take a gander, but most importantly, cast your vote for the People’s Choice Awards (NSW residents only!).

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction
J.M. Coetzee, Summertime
Richard Flanagan, Wanting
Cate Kennedy, The World Beneath
Steven Lang, 88 Lines About 44 Women
David Malouf, Ransom
Craig Silvey, Jasper Jones

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction
Michael Cathcart, The Water Dreamers: The Remarkable History of Our Dry Continent
Graham Freudenberg, Churchill and Australia
Anna Goldsworthy, Piano Lessons
Richard Guilliatt & Peter Hohnen, The Wolf: How One German Raider Terrorized Australia and the Southern Oceans in the First World War
Paul McGeough, Kill Khalid: Mossad’s Failed Hit … And the Rise of Hamas
Noel Pearson, Up From The Mission: Selected Writings

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry
Jordie Albiston, the sonnet according to ‘m’
Emily Ballou, The Darwin Poems
Judith Beveridge, Storm and Honey
Emma Jones, The Striped World
Morgan Yasbincek, White Camel

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature
Kathy Charles, Hollywood Ending
Richard Harland, Worldshaker
Justine Larbalestier, Liar
Glenda Millard, A Small Free Kiss in the Dark
Kirsty Murray, Vulture’s Gate
Pamela Rushby, When the Hipchicks Went to War

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature
Allan Baillie, Krakatoa Lighthouse
Morris Gleitzmann, Grace
Lincoln Hall, Alive in the Death Zone: Mountain Survival
Richard Newsome, The Billionaire’s Curse
Gregory Rogers, The Hero of Little Street
Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood (Illus), Harry and Hopper

Community Relations Commission Award
Abbas El-Zein, Leave to Remain: A Memoir
Tim Soutphommasane, Reclaiming Patriotism: Nation-building for Australian Progressives

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing for Fiction
Steven Amsterdam, Things We Didn’t See Coming
Kathy Charles, Hollywood Ending
Andrew Croome, Document Z
Glenda Guest, Siddon Rock
Karen Hitchcock, Little White Slips
Kirsten Reed, The Ice Age

Script Writing Award
Jane Campion, Bright Star
Kristen Dunphy & Michael Miller, East West 101: Episode 13
Adam Elliot, Mary and Max
Fiona Seres, Tangle: Episode One
Warwick Thornton, Samson and Delilah
Aviva Ziegler & Veronica Fury, Fairweather Man

Play Award
There is no shortlist in 2010. This year a grant of $30,000 will be made available to support professional development opportunities for new playwrights in 2011.

NSW Premier’s Prize for Literary Scholarship
Roslyn Jolly, Robert Louis Stevenson in the Pacific: Travel, Empire, and the Author’s Profession
Philip Mead, Networked Language: Culture and History in Australian Poetry
Brigid Rooney, Literary Activists: Writer-intellectuals and Australian Public Life

The winners of all the awards will be announced on May 17, during the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

malouf and music

In Music, Poetry on March 28, 2010 at 5:47 pm

This afternoon I was lucky enough to experience a sublime collaboration between poet and percussionist at The Con Open Day. This Landscape – Performers and Creators combined the poetry of award-winning author, David Malouf, with Daryl Pratt’s solo percussion music.

Poems, such as “Stooping to Drink” were brought to life by the textures and rhythms of Pratt’s compositions. The music resonates with the lyricism of language. The imagery is vivid.

Stooping to Drink

by David Malouf, 1992

Smelling the sweet grass
of distant hills, too steep
to climb, too far to see
in this handful of water
scooped from the river dam.

Touching the sky where like
a single wing my hand
dips through clouds. Tasting
the shadow of basket-willows,
the colour of ferns.

A perch, spoon-coloured, climbs
where the moon sank, trailing
bubbles of white,
and school kids on picnics
swing from a rope — head

over sunlit heels like angels
they plunge into the sun
at midday, into silence
of pinewoods hanging over
a sunken hill-farm.

Taking all this in
at the lips, holding it
in the cup of the hand.
And further down the hiss
of volcanoes, rockfall

and hot metals cooling
in blueblack depths a hundred
centuries back.
Taking all this in
as the water takes it: sky

sunlight, sweet grass-flavours
and the long-held breath
of children — a landscape
mirrored, held a moment,
and let go again.