Ah, life! Just when you think you’ve got it nailed, it comes up and bites you on the behind.
I think it’s two weeks since I last did an *ahem* weekly round-up. But that’s because of life. Or death, to be more precise.
A death in the family makes blogging seem inconsequential. Actually, it makes everything seem inconsequential. I guess if nothing really matters, then actually, everything sort of matters. So, I’m back, because it does matter to me.
My father-in-law, Robert Dickerson, was a wonderful Australian artist. But more than that, he was a good bloke. Not perfect. There were a couple of marriages that didn’t end so well, but he always backed people to have a go. Till his dying breath. Never mind that his last few thousand dying breaths were pretty shitty. That’s done now. If you live to 91, a couple of dud months don’t seem so bad. But we miss him. Doesn’t matter how old a person is, when they’re gone you miss them. Period. But what does this have to do with reading? Well, I spent a lot of the past week reading some beautiful newspaper tributes to Bob. What these achieved (particularly the one in The Australian) was a true sense of the man, with all his talent and his disregard for the artistic ‘establishment.’
Coincidentally, as my father-in-law lay dying in the hospice, I was reading The World Without Us, which has quite a strong focus on grief. (Read more of my thoughts on the book, here). Mireille Juchau is the kind of writer I’ll never be. Poetic. Other-worldly. Fluid. Focused on the detail. It reminded me of how books find us when we need them. Grief never really dies. It just diminishes to the point where it looks to the outside world that you’re functioning normally.
After that, and after the few weeks we’d had, it was time to lighten up in the reading department. It was this review, by Beth Driscoll for The Sydney Review of Books, that convinced me to pick-up Susan Johnson’s The Landing (I’d already read Relativity and The Other Side of the World). Interestingly, the review itself sparked a spirited twitter debate between the authors concerned who, naturally, took a little exception to the world ‘middlebrow’ being used in the context of their work. But the ‘middlebrow’ tag relates more to the marketing processes used to sell these books, rather than being any reflection on the writing. I thought Driscoll’s assessments of the two books I’d read was actually pretty spot-on, so I knew I could trust her take on The Landing. She describes it as being ‘Austen-inspired’ which is a perfect description. There’s a kind of bitey humour in this book which is making for enjoyable reading.
The series has been pitched as a modern day re-working of Anna Karenina, where ‘Anna’ (played by Sarah Snook) is now a happily married, mother of one, former tennis pro who falls head over heels for twenty-something year old musician, Skeet (Benedict Samuel) and throws it all away.
Now, I love Sarah Snook. She has the most gorgeous on-screen presence, and her face can (convincingly) merge from radiance to despair in the blink of an eye. But I don’t buy her as a former tennis pro. And frankly, Skeet is a dickhead. Why anyone as gorgeous as Sarah Snook would ditch Rodger Corser (playing her husband) for him is beyond me. Skeet is all long hair and narcissism. Blech!
However, I will keep watching it. The production values are great, there are some darkly funny moments and the support cast is high quality. But the characters are just a little ‘meh’ – everyone’s a bit awful. I’m not sure who I’m supposed to be ‘rooting’ (American rooting) for, and I think you need to like someone in order to keep watching.
Not much to report on the fiction front. It’s all essays, essays, essays this week as the uni semester draws to a close.
Academic writing can be dry, but I have to confess there’s something enjoyable about really analysing something and applying my critical powers. If you do it well enough, there’s a sense of creating new knowledge which is actually not that different from the excitement of creating a new story.
As with everything in life, it’s all in the way you look at it.