Books & Writing

FRENCH EXIT: AN EXIT WORTH ESCAPING THROUGH

“Have you fallen in with a mad cast of plucky, down at heel characters?” asks a surprising antagonist in Patrick de Witt’s surprising and delightful new novel, FRENCH EXIT.

The query comes from a cat, which gives this hilariously biting satire a touch of the mog magicals, a feline flourish that fuels the narrative and keeps it purring.

Think Auntie Mame out of Edward St Aubyn’s Melrose saga, FRENCH EXIT is the kind of book that sparks envy in other writers, procurement by motion picture producers, and competition from actors hoping to play these characters and wrap their mouths around the glorious dialogue.

The title alludes to an escape from Manhattan to Paris by Frances and her grown son, Malcolm, and their cat, Small Frank, via cruise ship.

The first third of the novel takes part in New York and the vessel, with a detailed account of Frances’ fiscal planning and faint reasoning for decamping, replete with an episode at the Captain’s Table, a visit to the ship’s morgue, and a defused contretemps with a Customs official.

The rest of FRENCH EXIT is set in Paris where Frances and Malcolm encounter a mad cast of ex pats, winemakers, private eyes and people presenting from their past.

De Witt has precision machined a marvellous and memorable woman in Frances, an elegiac and elegant eccentric that electrifies every page she inhabits.

In an economy of peerless prose, the author gives us backstory of her upbringing and the dissolution of her marriage to the lothario lawyer, Franklin Price.

‘The first time she had set foot in a church was for her mother’s funeral. Looking up at Christ’s admirable rib cage, she quietly told him, ‘’ I’m glad she’s dead. Thank you for killing her.’’

‘Her father smelled of cigarettes and drink and aftershave, a combination of scents that she loved devotedly from this moment to the span of her life. Franklin had emanated that same deadly troika when they’d met, before the alcohol had turned sour in him, and the smoke acrid.’

There is a brutal wit at play here, packaged in a madcap spree. FRENCH EXIT is haunting and hilarious, complete with, arguably, the most sincere, surreal and splendidly spirited séance in literature – a séance on a wet nosed after-life.

As Mme Reynard , the expat Paris-cile ruefully says, “Do you ever feel that adulthood was thrust upon you at too young an age and that you are still essentially a child mimicking the behaviours of the adults all around you in hopes they won’t discover the meagre contents of your heart?”, PARIS EXIT is a mixing pot of memories and sweet melancholy, stirred with satire and hi jinx, in a climate of d’humeur orageuse.

The wild, eccentric socialite could be a cliché, but in De Witt’s witty wordplay, it is made irresistibly fresh and tantalising. And besides, as Frances herself says in the novel, “Yes, my life is riddled by clichés, but do you know what a cliché is? It’s a story so fine and thrilling that it’s grown old in its hopeful retelling. People tell it. Not so many live it.”

If you are up for a spree, you’ll have such an exciting time, you’ll shriek with delight, lost in the pages of FRENCH EXIT. It’s an exit worth finding for a great literary escape.

FRENCH EXIT by Patrick de Witt is published by Bloomsbury.

SHANE WARNE’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY : NO SPIN

To some Australians Shane Warne is a legend but others see him as deeply flawed. To set the record straight  and dispel some of these  views, Shane Warne has written his pull no punches autobiography, NO SPIN. Some will be interested in his cricketing career including the co called Ball Of The Century to dismiss Mike Gatting as well as his history making 700th Test wicket. The  Sultan of Spin also sheds light on the art of leg-spin bowling, unveiling how he delivered some of his most potent deliveries.

Then there is the other Shane Warne, with scandal involving the use of a diuretic pill in South Africa, and allegations of links to Indian cricket betting. After pledging  that he would not smoke there is the busting of this pledge by a schoolboy. There are his hair restorative commercials and of-course his magazine page filling relationship with Elizabeth Hurley. Shane Warne’s book does not shy away from  any of these controversies, facing them head-on. Continue reading SHANE WARNE’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY : NO SPIN

THE PORTRAIT OF MOLLY DEAN: THE START OF AN EXCITING NEW SERIES

Move over Phryne Fisher, there’s a new female investigator on the block and she’s just as stunning, sassy and a dogged sleuth for the truth.

Allusions to Phryne Fisher may be a slight furphy as the sassy sleuth is actually late 20th Century, indeed, on the cusp of the new millennium, but the murder she’s investigating is Fisher familiar 1930 Melbourne, dripping with Bohemian rhapsodies and crooked cop concertos.

Strike the musical allusions, because THE PORTRAIT OF MOLLY DEAN is concerned with the painterly precinct of the arts end of the world.

Author Katherine Kovacic, veterinarian turned art historian, has as her heroin, Alex Clayton, a savvy art dealer whose pickup of a portrait by Colin Colahan thrusts her into a seventy year old murder mystery where the clues are in the canvas and the canvassing of the suspects, then and now, create clear and present dangers.

The narrative is split between two time frames, 1930 when the murder was committed and 1999 when Alex Clayton conducts her cold case investigation. It’s a bold stroke choice and Kovacic pulls it off with panache, painting a dazzling portrait of Molly Dean and her world as well as delivering a delicious depiction of Alex Clayton and her accomplices and acquaintances.

The period placements are beautifully evocative of the time Melbournites had Meldrumites at the vanguard of the city’s Bohemian culture, setting the real, the rich and the wretched, environment Molly Dean lived and dreamed, and tragically died.

Kovacic’s plotting, pacing and economy combined with an erudite, educational and entertaining exactness in art appreciation churns through this dual narrative, doubling the pleasure, doubling the fun, in a compulsively page turning romp.

Kovacic’s eye for art is matched by her ear for dialogue, and the repartee between Alex and her pal, the art conservator, John Porter, puts the spar into sparkling, with a rich palette of patter and persiflage. More Mulder and Scully than Holmes and Watson, it’s a partnership of professional regard and genuine affection.

THE PORTRAIT OF MOLLY DEAN is a palimpsest of a plot, taking a factual murder and overlaying it with a fictional patina of resolution in a most satisfying, accomplished, witty and gripping piece of story telling, artfully done.

A sequel, Painting in the Shadows, is slated for publication next March, so now is the time to prime yourself for what will hopefully be an exciting new series of jaunty capers.

THE PORTRAIT OF MOLLY DEAN by Katherine Kovacic is published by Echo

101 MARVELLOUS MOVIES YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

In any year, there is a multitude of marvellous movies that the masses miss.

These are the forgotten, the neglected and the lost that need to be remembered, regarded and resurrected.

Over a ton of them are are given restorative review in 101 MARVELLOUS MOVIES YOU MAY HAVE MISSED by David Stratton.

From 1980 to the almost present, Stratton cites a century plus one of underappreciated cinema, some very small but decidedly high impact productions, and some, somewhat surprisingly, forgotten films that star very famous and popular actors including Dustin Hoffman, Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett and directed by luminaries like Lumet, Lynch and Ang Lee.

It is extraordinary, for instance, that two films directed by Sean Penn and starring Jack Nicholson, The Crossing Guard and The Pledge, did not ignite a blaze in the box office.

Nineteen “pure” Australian films are listed among the hundred and one plus three co-productions made in collaboration with three other countries.

It’s interesting to see how many of them feature Ben Mendelssohn, now quite a success in American productions and a staple of US TV and film.

All but one are in the English language and all kinds of genres are represented – comedies, westerns, musicals, thrillers and romances.

In his introduction to 101 MARVELLOUS MOVIES YOU MAY HAVE MISSED, Stratton says that in researching the book it became clear that the political film is probably the most difficult to market in the cinema. “Audiences, it seems, aren’t very keen to go to the cinema to see political films, and, given that reality, it’s interesting that so many are still being produced.”
One fears that the brilliant current film, VICE may fall foul of this box office truism and find itself featured in the book’s sequel.

Recent research shows we are a nation of binge viewers, a phenomenon forged from the proliferation of superior television from HBO and their prodigy.

101 MARVELLOUS MOVIES YOU MAY HAVE MISSED is your ideal guide to binge watch these original, audacious, overlooked and obscure films that deserve a wider audience and communal consideration.

101 MARVELLOUS MOVIES YOU MAY HAVE MISSED by David Stratton is published by Allen & Unwin.

POETRY OBJECT. WINNERS ANNOUNCED.

The winning Primary School poem.

 

From Red Room Poetry, whose vision is to make poetry a meaningful part of everyday life, the winners have just been announced for  Poetry Object which is Australasia’s largest free poetry writing competition for students and teachers (Years 3-10). Poetry Object ignites imaginations by inviting young writers to create, publish and submit poems inspired by special objects.   

The Guide had the opportunity to get a little more background from Emma Rose Smith  who heads the project.

SAG:       Congratulations on the eighth year of Poetry Object.  The objects which the young writers choose are incredibly diverse, both manifest and shrouded.  I was very much taken by ‘Breathing Object’ which is delightfully obtuse and by Year 8 student! Why focus the attention of the poets’ work to an object rather than a theme or idea?

EMMA:       It is a beautiful poem! Continue reading POETRY OBJECT. WINNERS ANNOUNCED.

MAN AT THE WINDOW: BRILLIANT DEBUT THRILLER

Perfectly placed for some serious holiday reading, Robert Jeffreys’ MAN AT THE WINDOW heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice on the Australian crime writing scene.

Set in Perth in late 1965, MAN AT THE WINDOW involves the investigation of the shooting death of a paedophile teacher at a well to do private school, where ranks close to cover up rank behaviour.

Thought to be an accidental slaying from a stray bullet fired by roo shooters, the poisoned cup investigation is handed to Detective Sergeant Cardilini, a seemingly washed up cop wallowing in widower-hood, whose drinking disgusts himself, his troubled teenage son, Paul, and his colleagues.

The case appears to be open and shut, but Cardilini’s instincts, intuitiveness and basic disinclination towards elitism and arrogance, prompts him to probe deeper, believing the shooting to be an assassination, or rather an execution of an abusive predator. Continue reading MAN AT THE WINDOW: BRILLIANT DEBUT THRILLER

DARK SACRED NIGHT: A BALLARD & BOSCH THRILLER

What a wonderful world, with its skies of blue and clouds of white, the brightness of day, the dark sacred night.
Only the dark sacred night can be a dark scary place, an unhallowed precinct for predators preying specifically on young women.

Michael Connelly’s latest thriller, DARK SACRED NIGHT has his detective hero of some seventeen previous adventures, Harry Bosch, team up with his latest creation, Renee Ballard, to heat up a cold case that’s become personal.
Both Bosch and Ballard are working other cases separately, he with the San Fernando Police Department, she on the late show with the LAPD.

It’s a prickly pairing, both law enforcers swinging on a precarious pendulum of pragmatism over the pit of procedure and protocol. There’s blind eye turning and hand ear blunting as strict lawfulness is eschewed to snuff lawlessness.

But it’s a professional courtship that, while courting disaster, proves positive in the apprehension of perpetrators past and present.

Connelly continues to entertain and thrill with his perfect mix of police procedural and complex and contrasting character studies.

Bosch is getting more cantankerous with age, imbued with a feeling that there might not be much more time left to close the cold cases he’s become obsessed with. He has crisis of his own competence, although experience and instinct come to the fore to counterbalance any lapses in judgement.

His appraisal of Ballard is acute, for instance, forging an alliance that is not only case breaking but life saving. She is as diligent, dedicated and dogged a detective as Bosch, and, like him, has experienced the belligerence, bureaucracy and just plain bullshit of her employer.

Ballard continues to grapple with the gender politics of the police department and the loss of her father at sea.
DARK SACRED NIGHT is subtitled A Ballard and Bosch Thriller, which, in tandem with the book’s Batman allusion finale, suggests this dynamic duo will team again.

Who knows, Mickey Hallar may get in on the act.

DARK SACRED NIGHT by Michael Connelly is published by Allen & Unwin.

DARCEY BUSSELL EVOLVED

Released to tie in with her 50th birthday ( but a little early really as it is not until April next year ) this is a large heavy coffee table book, lavishly, exquisitely illustrated which follows the life of prima ballerina Dame Darcey Bussell from her student days at White Lodge through to now, where among other things she is a judge on Strictly Come Dancing and hosts the ROH Live screenings. Bussell officially retired from performing in 2007 but is busy with numerous other projects . DARCEY BUSSELL EVOLVED has a forward by Jasper Conran and an introduction by Bussell herself. There is a list of photo credits at the back but no index.

A visual biography in some ways, we see stunning photo spreads of various posters and advertising campaigns she has been involved with as well as rehearsal and performance photographs and learn some of her backstory. Some of the photos are intimate and revealing rehearsal shots,  some of the wonderful studio shots are fluid , flowing and sculptural almost taking flight .

By the age of five Bussell was taking dancing lessons. She enrolled at the Royal Ballet Lower School at the age of 13. She joined the then Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet at 18 (now Birmingham Royal Ballet) and became the youngest principal dancer in the Royal Ballet two years later. Continue reading DARCEY BUSSELL EVOLVED

ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE: A SORTABIOGRAPHY

It was fun.

Those are the famous last words of Eric Idle’s sortabiography, ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE.
He’s talking about his life, of course, which has been a rollicking roller coaster since birth, born in the Blitz, destined for the Ritz.

By odd coincidence, Idle was born on his birthday, named plain Eric because his family couldn’t afford a middle name. This didn’t stop Hitler being an Idle threat.

Surviving the Third Reich, he was plunged into English Public School, which, as he describes it sounds like a concentration camp for children.

Looking at the bright side of this part of his life, Idle writes “ I used to be very bitter about my school days, but now I think it was there I learned everything I needed to survive in life. I got used to dealing with gangs of males and getting on with life in unpleasant circumstances while being smart at the expense of authority. PERFECT TRAINING FOR Python.”

ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE has ambidextrous page turning capabilities by a well thumbed nose in a book kind of way that moves at the speed of life.

From Footlights Cambridge to Flying Circus, television, movies and Broadway, Idle has not been idle in his quest for becoming a comedy idol.

There’s an enormous amount of name dropping – a megaton of nomenclature, an avalanche of appellation, a tsunami of sobriquet – and that’s all part of the fun of the book. People on the bright side of life are fascinating and ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE is peopled with fascinating colleagues and contemporaries, from George Harrison to Harrison Ford.

In the chapter Cinema: Half Sin, Half Enema, Idle muses that he often found that bad movies are much more fun to be on than god ones, then goes on to recount his experience on Yellowbeard.

ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE has been Eric’s subconscious motto in life and the song has earned him a motza but he refuses to license it to advertising agencies. He says you’ll know he’s dead or destitute if you hear it in a car commercial.

Pay and gain Idle-oratory buy (sic) purchasing ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

You’ll whistle through it.

STARS ON STAGE : A CONVERSATION WITH REG LIVERMORE

 

On a hot Sydney weekend afternoon in November fans of a near-octogenarian queued for the signing of his latest book. Stars on Stage A Conversation with Reg Livermore saw Reg Livermore return to The Independent Theatre to talk about the book and his life with ABC Radio presenter James Valentine. It was at the Independent Theatre that Reg Livermore did theatre training as a schoolboy. The two of them appeared relaxed as they conversed about life stages and the stages on which Reg had appeared in his career from early teens until now. These aspects appear in Stages – Reg Livermore A Memoir (Hardie Grant Books, 2018).

A true legend of Australian Theatre, from serious drama to cabaret and more, Reg Livermore has received more than a dozen major awards. He has been a performer, writer, designer and director and appeared on television. In the last few years, he has received three lifetime achievement awards.

In conversation, Reg reflected on some of the relationships, triumphs and tragedies that have shaped him both as a person and performer. Ensuring that he was speaking directly to the audience, Reg appeared variously energetic, sparkling, reflective, matter-of-fact and opinionated. Clearly he demonstrated that he is a person to be respected and listened to if one is at all interested in Australian theatre of the last 66 years and curious about possible life lessons as well as theatrical ones. He did not shy away from failure, had felt its sting and accepted it as part of life. He accepts failure but owns his triumphs. This may be key to his theatrical longevity. Continue reading STARS ON STAGE : A CONVERSATION WITH REG LIVERMORE

DRACUL: A CHILLING ORIGIN STORY

Eerie and authentic, DRACUL is a full blooded prequel to Bram Stoker’s celebrated vampire novel, Dracula, impaled with impeccable heritage by being co-written by Dacre Stoker, the great grand nephew of Bram, manager of the Stoker Estate, and internationally recognised authority on his celebrated ancestor’s extraordinary legacy.

The stakes are always high in trying to emulate and capture the style and ambience of the original classic and Dacre and his co-author, J.D. Barker have suck-ceeded admirably.

Grabbing the reader by the throat from its first page, DRACUL is drenched in dread from go through and to woe with a brilliant evocation of Victorian Gothic that throbs like a carotid artery with verisimilitude, vigour and verve.

DRACUL traverses two time zones a third person Now featuring an adult Bram Stoker and a first person Journal kept by a child Bram.

The Journal of Bram Stoker focuses on his nanny, Ellen Crone, a mysterious woman with peculiar powers, cryptic chronology and a penchant for sleeping in a bed of soil.

“The peculiarities of Ellen Crone. That is, of course, where I should start, for this is as much her story as it is mine, perhaps more so. This woman, this monster, this wraith, this friend, this…being. Her hand always reaching out, even as the prick of her nails drew blood”

Dare one say that this journal is as, if not more, chilling and blood curdling as Jonathan Harker’s journal, or any of the other diaries and letters that was the spine of Dracula.
Stoker and Barker’s narrative gallops from gruesome and grizzly, the uncanny and unsettling in a sequence of unease that is compelling in a page turning whirl closer akin to page tearing.

The chill of the chase is their acumen, the thrill of the unnerving, an exhilarating exhumation of deep seated fear and an exploration of the margins of private experience and popular tradition at the frontier of the natural and the supernatural.

DRACUL is seriously creepy and enthralling, made all the more compelling with the references to Makt Myrkranna splattered throughout the narrative. Makt Myrkrann is an Iclandic version of Dracula, only recently translated. In it, Dracula had a love interest, a woman his equal in many ways, a woman he knew as Countess Dolingen von Gratz, whom Bram believed to be Ellen.

When Dracula was first published in 1897, the first 101 pages had been cut, numerous alterations made and the epilogue shortened.

The authors of DRACUL have picked up Bram’s breadcrumbs and followed them on a bewitching journey, a trail that has resulted in a sublimely spooky origin tale.

DRACUL by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker is published by Bantam Press.