Saturday, December 26, 2009


The Most Optimistic of Hobbies

Ah, oenophelia. 

My brother has recently - gradually, over the past two years, say - become an oenophile. That's right, you heard me. It sounds like I'm calling him a bad name, but, truth be told, as I've watched his passion emerge and grow, I have become increasingly impressed by the perfervid faith with which he has embraced this new hobby.

He pursues it with almost numinous fervour, and watching that passion grow has caused me, recently, to pause and consider what it means. 

Collecting wine - and I mean serious collecting, not buying bottles for consumption within the next half hour as statisticians inform us the vast majority of us do - collecting wine is a seriously optimistic business. All of my hobbies involve immediate gratification. Even writing, even when it is geared towards publication, sometime, somewhere down the track, provides me with an immediate sense of peace, of fulfillment. Once it is written, it is written - ok, and then re-written and re-written, but nevertheless, I have something concrete to look at and read and recognise as my own.

But oenophiles collect wine for consumption some 10, 15, even twenty years from now.

Think about it: this is a hobby requiring enthusiasts to believe, truly, that they will not only be alive in twenty years, but alive and sitting down somewhere to a marvelous dinner party at which vintage wine of the highest quality will be drunk, probably in the company of loved ones.

When I go shopping, I buy because I want that thing, now. When I go running, it is because I want that running buzz, now. And because I want to be a dress size smaller, yesterday. All of it is about looking good, feeling good, performing well, right this moment, or at least in the near and foreseeable future.

Wine collectors must be the most optimistic, glass half-full people I know. I guess that's the point. They always want their glass to be half full, or more.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


The Relativity of Cool

Everywhere I have lived, cool people think they have a monopoly on cool. They believe they own it, it never occurs to them that cool might be cultural, cool might be relative.

But it is.

How else to explain the fact that, in the early 90s, it was cool to like Billy Joel in Munich but not in New Jersey. The fact that David Hasselhoff is still cool in Germany but the height of uncool everywhere else. Birkenstocks are ho hum, run-of-the-mill in Europe but all the rage still in North America.

In the year 2000, when I moved to Sydney, it was cool to like Shania Twain in Canada but oh so uncool to like her in Australia. Hard core techno will always be cool in Berlin but it is vulgar in Australia. Tiny skirts, fake tan and stilettos so high you can hardly walk in them are so cool right now in Sydney - and, I imagine, in LA - but so not cool in Melbourne and Northern Europe.

When I arrived at University in Canada in 1993 wearing tailored skirts I was suddenly uncool, although I was wearing the de rigeur clothing of the European chique. Traveling in France in the late 90s it was uncool to be unfamiliar with the pre-choreographed group dances that were all the rage in French clubs, but choreographed dancing in North America or Australia was decidedly uncool - except in Alberta, or Texas, where line-dancing will always be cool.

In 2008, young people wearing Lederhosen and Dirndls to Oktoberfest were cool in Germany but kitsch outside of Europe. In 2009 cynicism is cool in Australia but enthusiasm is lauded in Canada.

In order to be cool in a traditional way one must stay still, in a single cultural environment, and embrace the temporal markers of cool relevant to that place. It is always cool, in any place, to diss those who do not embrace those markers.

But for me the true mark of cool is the ability to move in and out of cultures without caring too much for trends.

That is why I wear hats. They will always be cool to me, other people be damned.

ps. Ok, maybe Hasselhoff is not truly cool in a traditional sense, even in Germany. But he has become a unique phenomenon of cool - he's so uncool that panning him is now cool everywhere.





Mars & Venus

He will not reach out to her, not properly.

He loves her, adores her, worships her, almost. Only so far as he is able to, and that is not enough for her.

She does not want worship, she wants soulmate.

Each morning he will fold her into his body so that the hairs on his chest tickle her nose, she breathes in his scent as he kisses the top of her head.

He draws a bath for her when she is tired and sad.

But days go by when she does not hear from him at all. The variety of his moods, the distance of his passion are inexplicable to her. She does not understand him, not truly, and he will not assist by explaining.

She probably needs too much from him. It is heavy upon her, this need to be loved.

A wonder, really, that men and women survive together at all.


Adam & Jessie: Chapter 3


Dinner was over all too soon. Later she couldn't recall precisely what they had talked about. Food, travel. Hopes, dreams. It almost didn't matter, they spoke as though they had known one another forever. He seemed to know her intimately, he looked into her and considered her in a way none of her other admirers had done. He entered her through her eyes and took up residency within her before she had time to consider refusing him.

He was the kind of man who broke up fights before they could start. The man in the pub who could start a conversation with anyone, without putting them offside. The man who talked sincerely to the homeless man on the street and left him laughing. He had a presence, a glow, he lit up all the dark spaces inside of her.
Her loneliness started to lift.

So that it seemed perfectly natural when, after the meal had finished, he turned to her and said:

"What did you want to do tonight?"

Any other date would have ended then, but theirs was just beginning.


They danced together and instead of knocking his hand away when he reached for her the way she was wont to do with other men, she grabbed hold and allowed herself to be swung this way and that, reeling out and circling back into his arms, dipping and gliding, and then pulling close, coming up for air only to gaze into his eyes.


My Favourite Books of 2009

In no particular order. For a variety of reasons.
  1. Paul Auster - The Brooklyn Follies
  2. Chris Cleave - The Other Hand (also published as Little Bee)
  3. Kim Echlin - The Disappeared
  4. Ian McEwan - The Comfort of Strangers (warning: highly disturbing)
  5. John Fowles - The Collector
  6. Mary Ann Shaffer - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  7. Christos Tsolkias - The Slap
  8. Juno Diaz - The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
  9. Aravind Adiga - White Tiger
  10. Jhumpa Lahiri - Interpreter of Maladies

Some of the books I can't wait to read in 2010:

  1. Anything and everything by Paul Auster
  2. A. S. Byatt - The Children‘s Book
  3. Margaret Atwood - The Year of the Flood
  4. Stieg Larsson - The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
  5. Chris Cleave - Incendiary
  6. Kazuo Ishiguro - anything
  7. Haruki Murakami - anything


Wednesday, November 18, 2009


FURY

God how you hate him.

You were naive in the extreme. They tell you there is a power discrepancy between men and women. They tell you men will abuse that power. Somehow you don't believe it.

Until something happens, and the consequences are so foreign, so incomprehensible, and at the same time, so horribly cliched.

And you finally realise: it is still true, what they say. He has taken from you something you never intended to give, and he keeps taking, every day. It affects you deeply.

And what you did not know: it affects every facet of your being. Your career, your relationships. Your naivete has caused this fissure in your life, it was his hand but your permission.

And what you did not know: no other man will ever understand, and a part of you will hate them too, for being unable to understand.

You are a ghost of the person you once were.

Monday, November 9, 2009


November

Growing up in Europe, November was always a rainy month. The corpses of autumn-coloured leaves littered the mossy earth, moisture hung softly in the air, it grew cold and breath hung suspended in miniature cloudbursts. It was too early for snow, usually, although occasionally, oh joy, the very first snowfall - fat flakes falling slowly - would occur in the week of my mid-November birthday.

In Australia, it is as though the gods celebrate for me by causing the landscape to erupt loudly, ostentatiously into bloom. Jacarandas burst with flowers that define the very essence of purple. Bougainvilleas sprout in glorious displays of red and pink, covering the white heritage walls of Sydney houses. Lavender releases its sweet scent, and the ubiquitous eucalypts and lemongrass lend a citrus undertone to the bouquet of spring.
How lucky am I, spoilt even before cake, before champagne.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Familiar Second Person

I saw you last night. I think you might have seen me, too.

For the first time, the sight of you did not send shivers up and down my spine. I did not attempt to catch your eye. I did not approach you, or say hello. I saw you, surrounded as usual by beautiful people, and, this time, I did not feel a need to interrupt, to make my presence known, to smile and nod knowingly in your direction.

The air did not zing, or pop, with the energy usually generated by our proximity.

I left, last night, without a backward glance. I left, knowing that the place I would lay my head shortly thereafter was more welcoming than you have ever been. Even when you were most drawn to me, you pushed me away with your other hand. A human yin-yang. I loved you but I am not a see-saw, being pushed and pulled like flotsam and jetsam in the fickle tide of your desire does not suit my fragile temperament. Over time, you would destroy me. My edges rubbed raw through constant friction against the relentless rockface of your occasional indifference.

Now it is my turn to exert my indifference upon you. Schadenfreude. I hope you feel the coldness of it. I hope it affects you.
And this: in that hope lies the truth, that I will never truly be indifferent, much though I wish to be.


Sunday, October 25, 2009


Commuting
I have recently started a job which involves a daily commute. One hour each way. Although I was initially less than thrilled by the prospect, I now find myself wishing every morning that the train ride was just that little bit longer. The time I have to myself, every morning and every evening, provides me with a balance between social time and me-time, which, if it is not enforced, I find difficult to instill in my life.

But I think there is more to my joy in the commute than I initially thought. As I prepared myself on Sunday night for the week of train trips ahead, it dawned on me. And as I settled myself on the train this morning, it was confirmed. I had planned ahead. I had a phone card, allowing me to make the overseas phone calls from my mobile phone that I find it so difficult to find the time to make from any landline. I had my large coffee, set on the seat next to me, to last the entire train ride. I had snack bars in my gym bag, to breakfast on. I pulled out my tiny laptop computer, set it on my lap, and connected to the internet. I pulled out my current novel. I pulled out my iPod, clad in its new leather shell, and the in-ear balancing headphones I recently purchased, and turned on the new album I downloaded last night from iTunes. I had a pashmina in case it got cold, and a spot for my umbrella beside me. I was all set, established in my own small interior world even as I sat in that most public of spaces, the suburban train.

And I realised: I am a gifted commuter. I am a gifted commuter because I am an experienced traveler. Getting on the train each morning and heading out of Sydney is restoring to me because it is like getting on an airplane and flying away from Sydney, something I have been itching to do for months.

I haven't left Sydney in so long and it was beginning to get to me. But now I have a local equivalent of overseas travel, and I get to indulge in this more localised form of travel every day.
No wonder I feel peculiar when I arrive back in the city. My mind has established itself by that time in the familiar routine of away-ness.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


In Former Days


In former days we'd both agree
That you were me, and I was you
What has now happened to us two,
That you are you, and I am me?

- Bartrhari


Egypt in all its oppulence lies before me
As I sit in jewels and eat grapes.
You stare with hostile eyes
As gold glitters on each servant
And I clap to the rhythm of the dancers.
Sometimes when I think of you all I see
Is a land of Arctic tides and men
Reigning logic, scorning sentiment
And I wonder why it is you're still with me -
In former days we'd both agree
-
To laugh at Rome, silly Octavius
Marrying off his sister, but oh so
Full of reason, I was vulgarity to him
Wicked witch of dreams
I stole his favourite general
And I wonder, am I vulgar to you?
With you my sweet Marc Antony
I scorned my people and became like you
And you took Egypt. We both knew
That you were me, and I was you.
-
If only time had stopped just then
Balancing like a juggling act
The perfect symmetry of our two worlds
As if we were a comedy. I weep,
Slowly removing one asp from the basket.
This is beyond my control, nor is it you
Who draws the sword though they say
They saw you do it.
I was content with less than our due,
What has now happened to us two?
-
Had we but lived a little longer
The cycle would have turned.
Little Egypts, little Romes
Could have saved us like Perdita and Florizel.
We two were one, though I weakened you in battle
And you me at home; would we were at sea,
Rome and Egypt extremes on land
Our marriage of opposites sealed in waves.
What hand has created our tragedy,
That you are you, and I am me?

- N.

Fragmentation

When she awoke she had forgotten where she was. She stumbled out of bed and into the bathroom by rote, and sat on the toilet in shock as she remembered. She never dreamt she would be back here ever again.

The night before, she remembered now, after walking home seedy from the club setting of their coincidental meeting, they had settled enwined on the couch to watch television, as in times gone by. Her glasses, weakened at one joint, had broken, the arm had fallen off, and he had laughed as she determinedly continued to wear them, skewiff, having set the arm back in the case, an unfortunate, drunken amputee.

Surprisingly she was not self-conscious or shy as she re-entered his familiar bedroom, even though she wore only underwear. She stood in the doorway and looked at him until he sensed her presence, opened his eyes, and turned.

"What the fuck are you doing here!" he exclaimed. But his voice was warm.

She doubled over with laughter. "I don't know! What the fuck am I doing here!"

She got back into bed and they giggled together like children and she folded into his warm side, recognition dawning of the same soft skin, the same strong torso.

"I don't even remember... did we... last night?"

"No," he said. "No we didn't."
She turned towards him and kissed his lips, and, that morning, they did.
*
She saw him two days later, in Court. She stood in the corridor, mobile phone to her ear. He walked around the corner towards her, out of the lift well. Tall in his suit. He looked at her, raised his eyebrows, smiled, but uncertainly. She smiled back at him with a nod of her head, phone still at her ear, on hold.

As he approached he held his hand to his head, miming the wearing of spectacles.

"I have your glasses," he half-whispered.

She smiled. The night before, she had gone to watch television, had opened up her glasses case only to find a lone arm but nothing else.

"I wondered where they were," she said.

"Only they're missing an arm." he said.

"Yes," she said. "I have the arm, I couldn't understand where the rest of them went."

It seemed hilarious, all of a sudden, that they should have divided and conquered like this, a Cindarella moment, one shoe each of a pair, one at his house and one at hers.

And then they were laughing together, silly in their secrets, until she was taken off hold and he walked away.

Strangers again until the next time.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


The TCK Experience

Third Culture Kids. TCKs. A term coined by sociologist Ruth Hill Useem to denote those individuals who, as children, spent a significant period of time in one or more culture other than their own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture into a third, unique culture.

Ruth Van Reken has recently suggested that the term should now be updated, to "Cross-Cultural Kids". Most TCKs I know have had to integrate elements from more than two countries into their 'third', composite culture, so the renaming perhaps makes sense, although in my view it removes from the identifier a critical constituent of TCK-ness: the composite culture created (still generally referred to as the 'third' culture) is more than simply the combination of several cultures. Useem's original hypothesis, with which I agree, is that the experience of the TCK means that their own cultural identity is different from either, or any, of the cultures that have gone into its creation.

This is why TCKs often find they have more in common with one another, regardless of nationality, than with non-TCKs from their birth or citizenship country(ies). They never have full ownership or full understanding of any of the cultures into which they come into contact, even the cultures of their citzenship and / or birth countries.

Returning to a nation of which one is a citizen when one has never actually lived there is not returning at all, although the majority of non-TCK individuals would view it as a homecoming.

What answer, then, to the question: where are you from?

Most people mean, where were you born?

I was born in a country of which I have precious few memories, a country the language of which I do not speak, and of which I am not a citizen. None of that country's more typical natives would view me as one of them.

Some people mean: what passport do you hold?

I hold two passports. I had never lived in either of my passport countries until I finished school.

Some people mean: yes, but where is your accent from?

My accent is a hotchpotch of voices, a motley assortment of lived experiences that have coalesced to create a unique bastardisation of the spoken English language. But what you hear? Well that depends on where you're from. If you're from North America, I sound English to you, or Scottish or Australian. Perhaps even German or Scandinavian. If you're from Australia I sound North American, or perhaps Irish. If you're from Northern Europe I just sound strange.

My answer changes depending on who you are, which is to say, I am telling you nothing about myself by my answer, I am telling you about yourself and your preconceptions of cultural specificity.

Defining characteristics of the TCK: Adaptability. Isolation.



Inch by Inch


Salman Rushdie writes in Midnight's Children of a wife learning to love her husband one bit at a time - focusing her love one day on his nose, the next on his chin, the next on the little finger of his right hand, and so on.

This is how it worked for her, too, with him, although they were unaware of it at the time, it was a subconscious process.

He never saw her naked until many months later. Without intending to be so reserved she let him see just one part of her at a time. One evening she remained fully clothed and unbuttoned her shirt so that just one breast was revealed. Another time she wandered through the room in his white button-down business shirt, legs bare in the moonlight. He lifted her shirt the next night and kissed her belly. She lifted his and became familiar with the muscular indentations at the base of his spine. He carried the soft weight of her hair and nuzzled his nose and lips into her neck. She raised her head and bit, sucked his earlobe, exploring the private space behind his ear. Bit by bit, part by part, they drank each other in, growing gradually to love each other.

So that when he told her he loved her, all of her, she believed it, down to her little toes.

Monday, September 28, 2009


In Defence of Redheads

I may or may not be a redhead. It shouldn't matter, one way or another, should it? No more than my eye colour or my height or the colour of my shoes.

But it does, to many people, not the colour of one's hair generally, but the colour of one's hair if it happens to be red.

If I were a redhead it is likely that I might have been teased as a child - matchstick, lighthouse, little orphan Annie, all of that - but the teasing is unlikely to have been terribly serious, right, no worse than the teasing every young child endures who earns their stripes at a co-educational school.

Or perhaps it might have been a little worse than that.

Ok, fine, I admit it, I'm a redhead, a ginga, a fanta-pants, a ranga. Please don't stop reading, let me finish, give me the benefit of the doubt.

I am infected with the ginger-gene. Gingervitis. Do you pity me?

I never realised it was an infection until those scholars at gingerkids.com gave me something to think about. I never realised I was meant to be embarassed until I went away on holiday with a group of near-strangers and watched the expressions on their faces when they chose for our evening entertainment that particular episode of Catherine Tait - you know the one, it's about a protective shelter for gingers.

Of course I knew I was a minority of sorts. Magazine covers feature blondes or brunettes, not redheads. Features on cosmetics for various skintones or styles for different hair colours generally omit the freckled faces and ginger curls of the McDonald clan.

But it has become cool to poke fun of rangas. Maybe it was always a little bit cool, but it is now the poking-fun equivalent of reality TV, ubiquitous and widely enjoyed (by the baser members of society). A bit of sport. The fast food of poking fun, cheap and readily available.

I read a story not long ago about a couple in the UK with the misfortune of bearing six ginger children. They were forced to move village three or four times in as many years, for no reason other than the appalling bullying the kids endured at school as a result of their hair colour.

One could argue we are the newest minority group in need of anti-discrimination legislation. In fact, we're becoming extinct, haven't you heard?

Truth be told I embrace gingerkids.com, me and my ginga friends hang out together and revel in our very gingessence. There are some advantages in redness.

I have observed, for example, through investigatory browsing that most pornsites have fetish categories specifically for redhead-lovers, so there must be some of you out there. And I have been the focus of a 'ranga-challenge' on a boys night out (the challengers were unsuccessful, if you must know, at least with me).

Redheads are sexy, didn't you know? Just look at Jessica Rabbit. Oh, and a German study a year ago determined we have more sex than the average Joe. We must be having it with somebody, and if it was only other rangas we wouldn't be on the verge of extinction.

And being subjected to inevitable teasing as a child gives us a certain water-off-a-duck's back imperviousness to all sorts of verbal jousting and barbs. We can take what we give, give what we take. Redheads are good to be around.

Unless, of course, you step on that hidden fuse and ignite the ginga temper. The myths do not exaggerate. And we can hold a grudge a long, long time. Be warned.

But in my experience rangas rock. Redheads are fun, we are sparky, we are ok with the fact that you can see us a mile away in the sunlight and our skin is almost see-through.

Your life would be boring without us. Admit it, we make you feel better about yourselves.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009



Adam & Jessie: Chapter 2

The week before, all it had taken was one glance. She had seen him across the crowded pub and stopped, thinking - "that man is exactly my type". Yet had someone asked her what that type was, she would not have been able to explain. When they were introduced, and he shook her hand, they locked eyes for many seconds too long to be socially acceptable. She was dating many men at the same time, deliberately, in order to prevent herself from feeling too much for any of them.

But immediately Adam was different.

She got up and went to meet the dingo. She knelt and patted him, and Adam came to kneel beside her. The dingo sniffed at her, took her arm in his mouth and gnawed at it playfully, ears cocked, eyes sparky. Adam looked at her, then at the dingo – "yeah, she smells good, doesn't she?" he said to the dingo, scratching him behind the ears. "I think so too." Jessie grinned at him.
From the pub they went to dinner. A small South American eatery, he knew the staff by name and they knew him. Perhaps he didn't bring people here often, she thought. The woman manager was openly curious about her, and at one stage commented that she should take a photograph of the two of them. Was the chemistry between them so palpable, she wondered?

A little garden out the back of the restaurant. They stood there smoking, admiring the green surrounds and the twinkling fairy lights. And here they kissed. She was removed, entranced, from the present. For the first time in a year, she felt the coldness inside of her dislodge. It was replaced, gradually, by a glowing sensation. A warmth and a light filling her up from the inside:

Hope.
He smiled at her.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Truth or Fiction? The Conflation of Genre

Some of the most powerful books I have read over the past years surf the uneasy line between fiction and fact. These are books that have become renowned specifically as a result of their ambiguous trajectory. Books around which controversy has spun a web of intrigue so thick that the authors involved have been lucky to emerge relatively unscathed, personal and professional lives altered but intact.

Last year a strange thing happened in my workplace. Out of nowhere a pile of dog-eared paperbacks appeared in our ‘break-out’ space, lining the windowsills in a haphazard manner. Correctly surmising that these were on their way out, headed for the tip unless someone rescued them, I pounced immediately, picking from the rabble at least one treasure – a well-thumbed copy of James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces.

I had heard of this book. Notably, in an earlier life, a freer life, a life in which I had the time and inclination to watch daytime TV, I had watched an Oprah episode during which James Frey appeared to promote his memoir. I have since learnt that the Oprah episode I watched was the first of two featuring Frey. The second would be very different from the first.

On the episode I watched, Oprah – and her audience – purported to be blown away by the raw authenticity of Frey’s writing. A Million Little Pieces is the story of a 23-year-old man whose out-of-control drug and alcohol addictions have destroyed his life and his body, probably irrevocably. He enters a rehab centre in the knowledge that a relapse will mean almost certain death. His journey towards redemption is fraught with gut-wrenching pain, the development of intense personal relationships, and an unflinching honesty which draws the readers in, totally absorbed. And the book’s real drawcard is the fact that the protagonist is Frey himself.
I couldn’t put the book down. Apparently, neither could Oprah.

Frey won great accolades for the book. The editors at Amazon.com picked it as their favourite book of 2003. The New York Times gave it a rave review. Readers all over America and the globe spoke in awe of this most truthful account of drug addiction and rehabilitation. Frey’s genuine confrontation with pain lent awareness to an issue affecting thousands, millions of people the world over.

In late 2005 / early 2006 investigators discovered that significant elements of Frey’s memoir were untrue. Controversy erupted. Readers felt duped. Frey’s literary manager dropped him. Oprah invited him back on her show in order to ask him a series of accusatorial questions. During the show she told him – point blank – that she felt betrayed. In front of a live-TV audience and hundreds of thousands of at-home viewers, Frey was forced to list the inaccuracies in his book, and to justify every departure from the truth.

Readers subsequently launched a lawsuit against Frey’s publishing house, seeking a refund because the book was not what it had claimed to be. They were outraged.

I knew all of this when I started reading A Million Little Pieces, and I picked up the book as a result of the controversy, not in spite of it. What blew me away while I was reading it was Frey’s ability to write in a manner so honest that the story appears to be unerringly true. Had I not known otherwise, I would have been utterly convinced the book was indeed a memoir. Surely, I thought to myself, the power to write so convincingly is itself an extraordinary gift? The book is fast-paced, gripping, exciting – the alteration of facts makes no difference to the authenticity of Frey’s writing. I was 100% hooked.

A couple of years ago I read another book, equally honest, equally controversial. Nikki Gemmel’s The Bride Stripped Bare is erotic fiction at its best. A bored housewife turns to adulterous liaisons with various strangers - including a beautiful virgin - in an effort to re-invigorate her monotonous (but outwardly satisfactory) suburban life.

The novel was published anonymously. Only after publication did the British press unearth Nikki Gemmel as the author. The frankness of her treatise on women’s sexuality became, with her identification, all at once a controversy of the strangest kind – readers across the world were convinced, once she was found out, that Gemmel’s book was not, after all, a novel, but a memoir. Surely, critics reasoned, there would be no need for anonymity unless Gemmel had something real to hide. And she was, after all, married, a housewife, a mother. Just like her protagonist.
The authenticity sought by Frey’s readers, Gemmel’s readers projected onto her, even though her book was classified as fiction. Such perversity. Are we so much more willing to believe the worst of our writers?

In explaining her wish to write anonymously, Gemmel has said that it is difficult for women to write honestly about sexuality, even in our post-feminist world. She says she views anonymity as liberation, particularly for women writers, and cites Virginia Woolf as saying about women that “anonymity runs in their blood – the desire to be veiled still possesses them.” Gemmel has also said that honesty is the most shocking thing of all – a truth she has experienced first-hand since her own unveiling as author of The Bride.

If honesty is so shocking, why was it more upsetting for readers to discover that James Frey was not entirely honest? Why is it so astonishing to find that writers – whose role, one could argue, is precisely to spark controversy, discussion, debate in society – have subverted traditional notions of genre, blurring the line between fact and fiction, in order to provoke? Isn’t that, in fact, what we should demand of them?

Enemies of Imagination - Teaser
Barbara Trapido writes in Temples of Delight that her hero, the man of letters, Giovanni, ate biscotti, hard Italian biscuits, biting on them, gathering up the crisp crumbs in his mouth before taking between his teeth Alice's nipple and sucking. The contrast of hard and soft, those rough-edged crumbs on pale pink skin.

Clare thought she had found her Giovanni, her Mr Darcy. She fantasised about Jack biting her, tearing her skin with his teeth. As it turned out, she never had to tell him her fantasies - he was Giovanni, he played her body like an electric guitar.


Saturday, September 19, 2009


Movement and the Transit Lounge


Pico Iyer, in his essay about transcontinental tribalism, "Living in the Transit Lounge", wonders what, if anything, the new Global Citizens feel strongly about. What are the passions we would live for? He asks. What are the ideals we would die for?


Once one removes nationality, patriotism, cultural and religious affiliations from the human equation one is left with ... not indifference, exactly, but an unusual degree of objective evaluation. It is incomprehensible to the nomad, Iyer writes, to want to die for one's country, for example. It is incomprehensible to the cross-cultural person to believe so strongly in any one culture as to willingly sacrifice oneself to it or for it.

But there is something we would die for, live for, something Iyer points to but does not recognise as the essence of the global existence.

It is Freedom.

Freedom to travel without due regard to borders. Freedom to live and work in many countries, freedom to interact with various cultures in their own language, freedom to get up and leave when the itch begins again.

Getting on a plane, for the global nomad, is coming home to all that is most familiar in the transnational life. The airplane, the transit lounge, these no-man's-land non-geographical spaces are the identifiers of our culture.

And we would fight to the hilt if anyone prevented us from continuing to move across the world. Because that movement is the essence of who we are.

Monday, September 14, 2009


The Year of Dating Dangerously - Part I

Sitting in the Tropicana Café, a Sydney institution, in Darlinghurst. She was reading a chick-lit novel, unusual for her. Its cover was ostentatiously pink with an illustration of a pair of fleshy bare legs set behind the title.

Sitting on her own, reading such a very pink book, she was probably inviting trouble, and she knew it. She was seated at a window table, and she sipped wine as she read.

Outside, in mirror image to the table at which she sat, was another, open-air table. The trio seated there were separated from her only by the floor to ceiling window she glanced through occasionally. The trio comprised two men and a woman, and the relationship between them was hard to discern. Gradually, though, she became aware that the man seated closest to her was stealing glances at her through the window.

She caught his eye once, and smiled. The frequency and duration of the gazes increased.

Finally the man caught her eye again, then tilted his head slightly to one side in order to read the title of her book:

Good in Bed”, it proclaimed, loudly, garishly.

His eyebrows raised as he gave her a look of mock horror, leaning back in his chair with his hand on his chest in a parody of moral outrage. She laughed.

He turned back to his table and scribbled something on a piece of paper, which he then held against the window so that she could read it:

Are you?” it said.

She laughed again, then gave him the thumbs up and a slightly naughty smile, a wink.

His turn to laugh.

His cheekiness appealed to her, and he was attractive – dark hair, dimples, tall – above all, funny, her weakness. He wrote something else on his piece of paper and held another note to the glass. It said, simply:

#?”

She grinned. Why not? She wrote her name and number on a piece of paper and added underneath:

“ – after that, how could I not?”

She held the paper up to the window and watched as the man chuckled and entered her number into his phone. He then wrote another note:

My name is Jake. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

She liked him already. Good name. Good with words. Witty. The whole exchange had been original, different. Even if he never called, this was a come-on she would not soon forget.

And it got better.

One of the friends sitting with him, the girl, was next to write a note, a slightly longer one this time.

Has he told you yet about the 4 ex-wives and the 10 children?” She wrote.

The response:

Who wants an inexperienced man?”

By now the table outside was in stitches, highly entertained.

When they got up to leave, soon after this last exchange, Jake looked at her, inclined his head in an action reminiscent of a Victorian gentleman tipping his hat at a lady, and smiled. She smiled back, waved. Jake returned her wave and then sauntered off with his friends.

Possibilities. The year of yes.


Review: The Jane Austen Book Club – Karen Joy Fowler

I love Jane Austen. I remember reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time when I was in seventh grade, sleeping over at a friend’s house and staying up late by myself with a flashlight to finish the novel, quietly gleeful when Elizabeth finally accepted Mr Darcy’s proposal.

I have since read and re-read Pride and Prejudice, and have gradually devoured all of Austen’s other novels with almost as much pleasure.

You would think an avid fan of Austen’s writing, herself a member of a book club, would find a book entitled The Jane Austen Book Club enthralling. Instead, I am sorry to say, I just didn’t like it.

By all means, if you are a hardcore Austen fan and hunger for anything even mildly related to Austen or her books, give it a go. The writing is not bad. It is simply contrived. What is it with this tide of books using motifs from the classics to infuse what would be plain and mundane stories with something that might pass for a touch of high-brow?
Bridget Jones’s Diary was better. Because the writing itself is amusing and Fielding doesn’t take herself or her characters too seriously, I found the parallels in the framework of Bridget Jones to Pride and Prejudice to be entertaining rather than distracting or just plain irritating, as they become in The Jane Austen Book Club. Similarly, I confess to having greatly enjoyed Sophie Gee’s The Scandal of the Season (not Austen but Alexander Pope is emulated here) – again because it was a little tongue in cheek, a little original in and of itself before borrowing substantially from the Western Canon. In order for a writer to be permitted to improvise from the springboard of the Canon I think it is essential that they first earn the right through innovation, creativity, great writing or – at the very least - a sense of humour wittily expressed through the written word.

Many people have given Fowler’s most recent novel stunning reviews. The Washington Post, for example, ends its stellar review of the book with this line:

“That it is wonderful will soon be widely recognized, indeed, a truth universally acknowledged.”

Again, with the borrowing. It is like the repeated cheapening of Beethoven’s Ninth or Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana by their use in pop/techno/dance songs or advertising jingles. The opening line of Pride and Prejudice was once dear to me but now, after so much re-hashing and over-use in the popular media it is beginning to grate. Similarly, when one of the characters in The Jane Austen Book Club persists in referring to Austen as ‘Jane’, it is grating – even if this is intended, even if it is critical to the development of that character, it grates like fingernails on a blackboard.
The Jane Austen Book Club follows the lives of five women and one man over a period during which they meet regularly to discuss Jane Austen’s work. At each book club meeting a different Austen novel becomes the focus of discussion. Each book club member is dealing, in his or her life, with significant issues – separation from a spouse, falling in love, homosexual love, the lure of an adulterous liaison – each theme is explored through a character. And each character, each relationship, is meant to reflect – some with more subtlety than others – a Jane Austen character or plot.

The novel is set in California.

Am I the only reader who feels that an attempt to set a re-hashed version of all of Jane Austen’s novels in modern-day California might be a bit of a stretch? We don’t have the literary equivalent of Baz Luhrmann’s directorial genius to turn a classic into a modern cult icon (as he did with the 1996 film version of Romeo and Juliet). Nor does Fowler have, as Luhrmann did, the excuse of altering aspects of the original text with the liberty permitted by the use of a different medium. Shakespeare never had the medium of film at his fingertips.

Fowler’s novel is accompanied, at the end, by various appendices – synopses of all of Jane Austen’s novels (so you don’t actually have to read them), an admittedly riveting collection of comments by Jane Austen’s family, friends, colleagues on her novels and her life, and the now ubiquitous set of Questions for Discussion. Like that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer creates a coffee table book about coffee tables that actually becomes a coffee table, here is a novel about a book club created especially for book clubs, cheat-tools included. Worse still, the questions are apparently posed by the book’s characters themselves. Questions by the characters about the characters, in which they seek to draw parallels between their lives and the lives and characters in Jane Austen’s novels.

I understand the concept. And yes, the novel is diverting – I was absorbed and read it very quickly – but it feels forced. And the notion of the book, what it is meant to do, the discussions Fowler envisions her readers having across America (and the world?) is, to me, a kind of Austen equivalent to the science fiction convention, science fiction being a genre which does also feature in this book (in the Pride and Prejudice themed relationship, no less – along with Rhodesian Redbacks and an age gap – a Demi Moore/Ashton Kutcher age gap, not the traditional Elizabeth Bennet/Mr Darcy age gap).

Fowler says towards the beginning of the book that each of her characters has his or her own ‘private Austen’ – an image or an understanding of Austen (the person, not the books) of his or her own making. This continued emphasis by Fowler and her characters on the author rather than the literature is another annoyance. But I suppose that Fowler is partly right – I too have a private Austen. And she is just that – private.


More Play - Vignette 3: Male POV


He knows as he leans against the bar by himself that he cuts a fine figure. He observes the woman on the other end of the room glancing at him, repeatedly, and takes pleasure in it. He is not concerned by the lateness of the girl he has come here to meet. There is too much to see, the Friday night crowd bustles and hums around him.

He looks up in time to see her trip as she enters the room. Typical, he thinks. She looks dishevelled and he dreads the evening ahead, although her obvious interest in him is endearing. I’ll stay for one drink, two max, he thinks.

'Hi,' she says, approaching him warily.He looks at her. She is clearly nervous.

‘You know what your problem is?’ he asks.

‘What?’ she says, a little alarmed.

‘You don’t know whether I’m a good guy or an asshole.’

She swallows. ‘That’s not true,’ she says. ‘I know you’re a good guy.’

He smiles at her, and thinks: Duped.

He orders her a glass of wine and knows he could fuck her by the end of the evening, and that chick across the room too if he wanted to. Sometimes his life is almost boring in its ease.

He decides to mix things up a little.

'You've been eating garlic,' he says, knowing that the bar inflicts close talking as a necessity.

It hits the mark, high colour rising on her cheeks. But he is not expecting her response. She looks up at him, defiant.

‘I take back what I said before. I think you might be an asshole after all.’

It is the first time she has spoken to him like this and the first time he has felt any attraction towards her. Lust seizes him unexpectedly. He raises an eyebrow, artfully.

‘Really?’ he says. ‘Doesn’t that make me a little more interesting?’

She smiles, and he realises she is not insipid as he once thought.

‘Maybe.’ she says. ‘Maybe I’m a bit of a bitch, too, and you don’t know it yet.’

I bet you are, he thinks to himself. But he doesn’t say it. Instead he turns to the maitre de at the bar and asks for a table in the plush restaurant next door.

‘I thought we might have dinner together.’

She looks at him, thoughtfully, catching her plump bottom lip between her teeth.

‘Why not,’ she says. ‘I have nothing better to do.’

But as he turns towards the dining room he feels something cold on the back of his neck. He puts his hand up to catch it and the golden liquid flows through his fingers. He is too late to catch her wine glass, as it falls to the ground, or her arm, as she strides by him out the door.

The fuck that might have been, will never be.

The New Hardcovers

Remember when you would browse bookstores at Christmastime and linger longingly over the limited edition hardcover editions of new release books by your favourite authors? I do. There is a luxury inherent to the hardcover book that is revealed in the feel of a glossy slipcover which hides underneath it a matte cloth finish, the cover etched into it in gold type.

I particularly loved the uneven pages of roughcut editions. Authenticity always seems implicit in such deliberately unfinished work.

They are disappearing, though, the hardcovers. Have you noticed? They are being replaced by softcovers of a larger size.

This change snuck up on me. I didn’t realise, at first, that the giant-sized paperback was a replacement for the hardcover edition. I bought a number of them, and received others as gifts, and became increasingly perturbed: they don’t fit in my handbag.

The joy of a paperback lies in the ease with which you can carry it. I always have a book with me. You never know when you will be stuck somewhere, deserted unexpectedly. On buses, in queues, during lunch – you will often find me tucked away, nose in a book.

What good then, is the book you cannot carry? A hardcover was special, I used to save them for holiday reading, those luxurious times when I could stretch out on a beach or a windowseat for hours at a time, reading like a cat curled in the sunshine.

But these giant paperbacks do not have the same quality of luxury residing within the pages. They are just abnormally large paperbacks, problematic also because they do not fit on the shelves in my bookcase and they are not easily read in bed with the one-handed grip I have perfected over years.

Booksellers beware: these new hardcovers do not sell books. I regard them warily and walk past, waiting instead for the release of the traditional paperback version in a year’s time.


Adam & Jessie: Chapter 1

She accepted the invitation although it went against every rule in the modern book of women's etiquette. Do Not Accept an Invitation if it is Proffered on the Same Day as the Date is Scheduled For. To hell with it, she thought, I'm going anyway.

Doubts momentarily clouded her vision as she stepped into the Surry Hills pub at which they had arranged to meet. He wasn't there, yet she had planned and executed the perfect entrance – five to ten minutes late, as if rushing from another key appointment. She stepped up to the bar and ordered a glass of house white, determined to look confident and calm even if that was not what she was feeling.

As the barmaid handed her the glass, smiling, Jessie accepted it and handed over a $10 note. A hand on her elbow. A man, crew-cut, t-shirt, unfamiliar said: "Are you Jessie?" "Yes," she said. "Hi, I'm Shane. He's running late. Come and join us."

She walked outside, glass in hand, and sat with the band of strangers who eyed her curiously. She shrouded herself in social charm and made conversation. They were interesting, outgoing – different. A dingo sat on the nearby corner of the street, chewing his dinner of raw meat. Conversation ranged from electronic music to detox diets.

He arrived. He looked different than he had the week before. The shorts and t-shirt had been replaced by an ironed shirt in vibrant hues and snug-fitting jeans. She had forgotten he was so well built. His hair was the same, curly and soft, framing his face as well as his spectacles did. And his generous smile was warm as he sat down on the bench next to her, his thighs bumping against hers as she slid over to make room for him. Her heart surged into her throat but she responded gently, accepting his kiss graciously and enjoying the easy togetherness with which they parried and joked with his mates.

This is going well, she thought.

Waiting


She sees him, from time to time.


It used to be she would see him out late, too late, past caring. Ships in the night.


First, they pretended not to see each other. Over time, they came to accept one another, eventually nodded or even smiled. Finally there was a joy when they met, unexpectedly, they would stand together harmoniously at the back of a nightclub watching the circus of twenty-something glamazons play out before them. Two lonely ancients, growing older and lonelier still. A mutual recognition of likeness.


And as another year ticks over, things have changed again.


Now they don't meet in the wee hours of the morning. Now it is evening. Now they are sober, almost. New places. Less circus. The recognition, the smiles, they mean more now. Clocks are turning backwards.


Because the chemistry is not gone. If anything, it is more dangerous now. Nothing to blame it on. It is not circumstantial, this time. It's real.


And the future awaits.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Stillness

Springtime is a problem for me. Restlessness creeps upon me like a fast-growing vine. I can't shake it. New beginnings beckon from every direction.

I've tried yoga, it only makes me more impatient. I've tried meditation, I can't sit still for long enough. I've tried deep breathing, it only helps momentarily.

I need to take up running again, or cycling, else I will surely slowly grow mad before summer is yet upon us.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Desire

For the first time in many years I want something so badly right now that I can taste it, it is bitter and strong at the back of my throat like the accidental, lingering taste of a pain reliever swallowed without water to wash it down.

Problem is, getting what I want inevitably closes other doors. Getting what I want means moving overseas again and leaving a reasonably settled life behind. Getting what I want even potentially closes the door on blossoming relationships.

I want to move again. I have moved enough in my life to look forward to the next time I can leave behind the tangled messy web of life that grows like a shroud of weeds around me every time I stay in one place for more than a year or two.

But a part of me now wonders whether it might be time to fight temptation, stay behind, bravely confront that overgrown meadow of my muddy life and clear a path through it to something new and green, sprouting leaves, growing roots.

A rolling stone stilled by moss.

Thursday, August 27, 2009



Play


For those of you who scoff at fiction, or who are interested in blurring the lines between fiction and fact.


Vignette 2: Swashbuckler

A woman walks into a bar to meet a man. She is, predictably, late. He is, predictably, peeved. She slots in beside him as he leans against the counter, squeezes in tightly next to him amidst the boozy Friday crowd.

'Hi,' she says, looking at him from under her eyelashes. He cuts a fine figure against the wall of glistening glassware, the dark wool of his suit so dense she wants to feel it.He looks at her.

‘Where the fuck have you been?’ he says. As usual the deep baritones of his voice thud against her ribcage and she is rendered momentarily shy.

‘You know where I’ve been,’ she says. ‘Don’t be angry with me.’

‘You've been eating garlic,' he says.

She blushes and turns away. The bar inflicts close talking as a necessity.

‘I have not.’

‘Yeah. Yeah, you have been. Was that especially for me?’

She laughs.

‘Yeah, it was, wasn’t it? Was it to stop yourself from kissing me? I know, I’m irresistible. That’s why you won’t brief me, right, you’re scared we’ll get it on in a meeting room outside court?’

‘Oh, is that what those meeting rooms are for?’ she says, and leans across the bar to order a drink.

He takes the opportunity to resume his appreciation of the young buxom blonde sitting at a nearby table, and when he looks back again at his companion she has a glass of wine in her hand and is batting away the advances of a drunk.

‘Hey mate, why don’t you leave the lady alone? I’ve been watching you and your friend over there chat up every girl in the place – it’s not working so well, tonight, is it?’

The drunk glowers at him and she worries he might start a fight, but he is unsteady on his feet and clearly outclassed. He grunts and turns away.

‘Oh Alfonso!’ she exclaims, setting her wine down and turning towards him, hands clasped and eyes shining gratefully.

He ruffles his thick dark hair disinterestedly.

‘It was nothing. What are friends for?’

She pauses and re-evaluates. She glances in his direction, but he is turned away from her, eyes once again on the blonde.


In her mind, they were perfect for each other, but she had it all wrong. His kiss on her cheek at the end of the night is perfunctory like the powdery stale kiss of a distant great-aunt.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Oh, Vanity

A woman walks into a bar to meet a man. She is, predictably, late. He is, predictably, peeved. She slots in beside him as he leans against the counter, squeezes in tightly next to him amidst the breezy Friday crowd.

'Hi,' she says.

He looks at her. He wants to say why did you keep me waiting? or you look so beautiful tonight, but she makes him nervous. She wants to kiss him, but she can never tell what he's thinking.

So instead -

'You've been eating garlic,' he says.

The bar inflicts close talking as a necessity. And so, it is safe to say that, no matter what happens next for these two, the evening has effectively ended, the wave of possibility which was open wide only seconds ago crashes in on itself like a giant hand closing.

Such a small thing.

But she is the sort who shuts down at the first sign of criticism like a night blooming cereus at dawn. She must be coaxed open, gently. And he is the sort who, met with resistance, will amp up the provocation to elicit a response, any response at all.

They might be perfect for each other but it has started all wrong and the downward spiral is inevitable and quick, the kiss on the cheek at the end of the night perfunctory like the powdery stale kiss of a distant great-aunt.

What might have been will never be.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


A Foot in Every Port


The trouble with leading an international life - and I am aware that this will sound like the high-pitched whinging of a spoilt child to any number of people - is that, no matter where you are, you are also missing elsewhere.


So it is, that I can lie on a beach in Sydney under a sun-drenched sky, gazing out to sea, and simultaneously long for the taste of a European snowflake on the end of my outstretched tongue.


My feet are often itchy.


I worry that this inability to stay satisfied with one continent for very long spills over into other areas of my life. What if I am, through some quirk of upbringing, unable now to ever be satisfied with one relationship, one house, one job, unless there is the possibility of another in the future somewhere?


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Idea for Book: the Serial Killer Methodology



The other day I had this thought:

You know how sometimes, in movies, serial killers leave clues for the cops that are composed of individual letters cut out from various publications and pasted on white paper so that the sentences become small, evil collages?

Imagine writing a book in which every sentence was taken from another book. Not literally cut from a book and pasted into a new book, but stolen in miniature deeds of plagiarism from other authors. One would have to plan the story very carefully ahead of time and then read and read and read in an attempt to find the right lines to carry the story forwards.

A bibliography could be appended, almost as long as the book itself, listing all of the sources from which the composition was drawn.

I think I might start with a short story, though, rather than expending the remainder of my life's hours on that project.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Constructing One's Life in Accordance with various Stereotypes and Cliches


As I have mentioned, I am going through a bit of an Atwood phase.


A friend of mine and I were speaking recently about the fact that one behaves differently at different stages of one's life, sometimes almost self-consciously so.


Having recently moved in with her man, she told me how she had over the weekend experienced her first flouncy female moment in the home, huffing under her breath as she did laundry and tidied while he remained napping in bed.


"The thing is," she said, "I wasn't really angry. I realised that I was probably behaving this way because it was how I thought one ought to behave in the circumstances."


Yes," I said. "It's very wifely."


In The Edible Woman, Atwood discusses the same phenomenon. Describing a man who has recently become engaged, she says that his set of friends has shifted and his image changed appropriately:


"...[he had] exchanged the free-bachelor image for the mature-fiance one and adjusted his responses and acquaintances accordingly..."

Why do we do this? It is, I think, part of the organising principle we employ against the world when faced with uncertainty.


Atwood poetically moves on to illustrate the unease behind the sterotypical actions/reactions of this newly formed couple:

"Before, in the summer, she used to think he didn't often look at her, didn't often really see her; in bed afterwards, he would stretch out beside her and press his face against her shoulder, and sometimes he would go to sleep. These days however he would focus his eyes on her face, concentrating on her as though if he looked hard enough he would be able to see through her flesh and her skull and into the workings of her brain. She couldn't tell what he was searching for when he looked at her like that. It made her uneasy. Frequently when they were lying side by side exhausted on the bed she would open her eyes and realise that he had been watching her like that, hoping perhaps to surprise a secret expression on that face. Then he would run his hand gently over her skin, without passion, almost clinically, as if he could learn by touch whatever it was that had escaped the probing of his eyes. Or as if he was trying to memorise her. It was when she would begin feeling that she was on a doctor's examination table that she would take hold of his hand to make him stop."


One of the most remarkable things about this passage is the clarity with which it conveys the aloneness of two people, even as they lie physically entwined, even as they embark on a legal entwining. One is always alone in one's own mind.


I think my friend is very astute to acknowledge the place from which her huffy tantrum emerged. If we are aware of the stereotypes we are mimicking, perhaps we can consciously decide to stand against them and behave the way we want to rather than the way we think we should.


Not that I have ever been terribly conventional, but today I am taking a stand against type.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Nightlife

I went out clubbing last night and I hated it.

I used to enjoy the messy crowds, the anonymity, the carnival atmosphere. But it's no longer anonymous, I keep running into people I know. And I no longer go by myself, so I don't get the sense of freedom from it that I once did.

And although I am glad I once did it properly, although I learned a lot from watching people dressed in rainbow capes and angel's wings, platform heels and leather boots, I do not find it interesting now. It never changes. Bars close and new ones open but the soul of Kings Cross remains constant.

I want to go, these days, to places where I can hear people talk. That is what makes people interesting, not the colour of the streaks in their hair, not a spray tan, not vertiginous high heels.

Maybe I'm just getting old.

Book Purchase

I spent yesterday at the NSW Writers' Centre, one of my favourite places in the world.

Inspired, I drove afterwards to Berkelouw Books on Oxford Street and bought these three books:

Bill Bryson's Dictionary for Editors and Writers

The Uncommon Reader: A Novella - Alan Bennett

Talking it Over - Julian Barnes

Bill Bryson's Dictionary is a reference tool, and I am allowing myself to buy writing books at the moment. It seems sensible, if I am going to try to write for a living.

The Uncommon Reader was an impulse buy. I like the concept. The Queen, never having been a big reader, happens upon the Windsor travelling library while she is walking the dogs on the grounds of the palace. Having entered the library, it would surely be rude to leave without borrowing something. And so she does. And gradually she becomes obsessed with books. To the point where it is bad for the monarchy - she shows up other heads of state with her knowledge of their national authors and her staff descend into crisis trying to curb her fiendish reading.

I liked the concept so much, in fact, that I bought the hardcover version. It's such a little book. The difference in price was only $5. I was able to justify it to myself. And I'm pleased I did. I've already started reading it.

My writing teacher has used Julian Barnes as an example of good writing a number of times and yesterday we read an excerpt of Flaubert's Parrot. I loved it. So I was determined to buy some Barnes. Only there was none in the fiction section downstairs at Berkelouws, so I headed up the stairs to trawl happily through second hand fiction. Even there only one Barnes stood on the shelf. That's the one I bought.

If it is good I will buy more on Amazon. Or the Nile.

I already have other books on order from both of those sites, I'm such a glutton.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


The Abject Cruelty of Hold Music

A large number of barristers' chambers in Sydney use, as their hold music, the kind of Muzak typically played on airplanes when one has landed and is waiting to disembark.

I do not know whether this choice of music is deliberate, and intended to cause misery in the listener, but it does, certainly in this listener. While on hold I am confronted by the knowledge that I am not in a plane, not in a foreign destination, not travelling, not on holiday, but - sadly - at work, in my office, waiting to speak with a barrister about a conference that afternoon for which I have yet to prepare.

Cruelty indeed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Greece each Saturday


Every Saturday I lie in my boyfriend's Elizabeth Bay bed and stare out towards dense blue skies and a stark white apartment block with roof gardens, almost painfully bright in the sunlight.


"Look, N," he says. "We're in the Greek Islands again."

A Holiday on the 389


This morning on my way to work I took a journey, inadvertently, around the world. I closed the front door behind me and inhaled the metallic smell of rain starting and those first dark spots on the tarmac made me think of Munich, the comfort of grey drizzle. I passed a neighbour's flower box and was transported to Austria, to skiing villages populated with flower studded chalets and small doily curtains in wood-edged windows. I got on the 389 bus and, travelling through Paddington, I put my head down into my Margaret Atwood book so that I was aware only of a small sliver of the world passing by outside.


I could be anywhere, I thought to myself.


And perhaps because I was reading vintage Atwood, I felt I was in Toronto, with the Eaton Centre around the corner and Tim Hortons coffee waiting for me somewhere in a larger-than-life cup.


Then I got off the bus and I was in Sydney again, and late for work.