I’m in a bit of a reading no-man’s land at the moment. I recently finished The Landing, by Susan Johnson, and really enjoyed it (think Jane Austen – but set in a small, contemporary, coastal Queensland community). But perhaps the more interesting story concerns how I came to read the book.
A couple of weeks ago, Sydney Review of Books published a controversial piece in which reviewer Beth Driscoll commented on how The Landing, Relativity (Antonia Hayes) and The Other Side of the World (Stephanie Bishop) might lend themselves towards a ‘middlebrow’ reading, because of the marketing and subject matter. (You can imagine how much the authors lurrrvved the label ‘middlebrow’). Flying in the face of all conventional wisdom that says authors should never read reviews, these authors took matters into their own hands, and wrote a response, jointly rejecting the ‘middlebrow’ tag.
Personally, I thought the Driscoll piece raised interesting points about the way in which literary fiction, written by women and focusing on domestic issues, is marketed in a commercial way to a mainstream audience, a factor which may then affect the work’s critical reception. I can also appreciate the author’s dismay at the middlebrow tag, but think Johnson made the best point in saying that ‘any debate between highbrow and middlebrow fiction is essentially one about reputation, and in the face of the building of a literary reputation the author is defenceless.’ In other words, in terms of critical appraisal, the work that must speak for itself, and I’m sure that is what has occurred with each of these three books, which have been critically well-received.
Anyway, The Landing was truly refreshing. Smart, witty, ironic, but with a true emotional core – middlebrow or not – it deserves reading.
Now I can’t think what to read next!
Have you heard of The Knick? (Screening on Foxtel, made by Cinemax)
Pretty much no one here in Australia has – and I cannot work out why. I think Foxtel hasn’t worked nearly hard enough to promote this show, which, for my mind, rivals House of Cards in the drama stakes. For a start, The Knick stars Clive Owen – a bona fide movie star whose name alone should be enough to attract an audience. It’s film-quality credentials are further enhance by the direction of Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich, Sex, Lies & Videotape). Set in New York in the early 19th century, The Knick is The Knickerbocker Hospital, where the main draw-card is the brilliant but cocaine addicted chief surgeon, Dr John Thackeray (played by Owen). This is New York as you’ve never seen it before – a town riddled with corruption, opium dens, racism, and European migrants. The production values are high, the acting totally convincing, and the gore is quite gruesome. But more than that, it’s a totally original concept. I mean, have you thought much about what surgical operations involved in the pre-electricity, pre-general anaesthetic, pre-x-ray era? It was kind of lawless. The doctors were true explorers – of the human body.
Last uni assignment of the semester is done! Woo-hoo! So, now it’s back to fiction. I’ve set myself the next 6-8 months to really press ahead with my next full-length work. I keep seeing people tweeting about NaNoWriMo and writers achieving all those massive word counts and feel like I should be joining in (*stands at edge of dance-floor, twirling hair), but I’m not sure it’s for me. I’m not the kind of writer who can churn out 10,000 words, and then dump half of them, which I think is the attitude you need to go in with if you’re aiming to do 50,000 words in a month. I tend to think first, write second, and not the other way round, if you know what I mean. So – no NaNo for me. But I wish everyone taking part all the very, very best!