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9781741753356, Allen & Unwin, 2007

The perfect book for me is one that is about the extraordinariness of everyday life – the things that human beings acknowledge, and the things they deny; the amazement, comfort and simultaneous hurt in personal relationships; the wealth beneath the surface, but also the necessity of surfaces.

Charlotte Wood looks into a grown family, whose father has fallen off the roof in a terrible accident. Geoff’s wife, Margaret, slides with the sands of life. Cathy, Stephen and Mandy, the children, are all incredibly different. The complex interweaving of their pasts and relationships are explored. Mandy acts as a contrast to many of the other characters. She is a righteous and flawed vigilante, a war reporter who has just returned from Iraq. In conversation she is sharp and piercing, defending things she has seen that others like to turn a blind eye to. But in this way she also controls her own dark side, the menaces of her past and memories.

The character of Tony allows her to check herself. He is the hospital wardsman and a shady figure from both Cathy and Mandy’s pasts. He befriends Stephen during the ordeal, before displaying his true self.

The events unfold in only six days, but they are rich and vivid, as life is. There are no moments free of the effect of what has come before. Everything is relevant to something else. The novel expresses how much can happen in a day, a moment, and how as people, we are in a constant flux of change and unpredictability.

The book is melancholy. It reaches in and tears out your heart with the tragedy not just of death, but of the awareness that all moments lead up to it.

(Kindle edition)

Random House Vintage, 9781740510325, November 2007, $32.95 (TPB) (UK pb).

First published in the October 2007 issue of BOOKSELLER + PUBLISHER magazine (c) 2007 Thorpe-Bowker (a division of RR Bowker LLC) http://www.bookseller+publisher.com.au/

Wilfred Lampe has experienced a whole century in the Snowy River town of Dalgety. He’s a part of the landscape, its consistencies and its alterations. The Olympic Commitee have him in mind as a representative of the values of Australia. But how can one life, so full of contradictions and challenges, be summed up in one brightly lit ceremony? Is it right to transform the complexities of a life into a series of symbols, and the life of a nation?

Aurora Beck stares in the face of death in Sydney. At 28 she has already traversed the country, dulling her experience with drugs. She lives in fear of her ex-boyfriend, Wynter. She, like Wilfred, lives alone. Graham Featherstone is a radio announcer whose personal life has fallen to pieces. He deplores the state of the country, the vacuity of consumerism, the voices that are not being heard.

These characters and others come together in a vividly descriptive and masterfully constructed narrative with questions about personal and collective history, the potency of place, and the disturbance and rapidity of change. The novel honours simplicity, substance, and peace, and laments the loss of closeness in a moment of quiet. An insightful, brilliant Australian novel, destined to become a classic. For fans of literary Australian fiction.

Interviews + Profiles

Oct 13, 2007

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First published in the October 2007 issue of BOOKSELLER + PUBLISHER magazine (c) 2007 Thorpe-Bowker (a division of RR Bowker LLC) http://www.bookseller+publisher.com.au/

The Trout Opera sprang from an encounter with a Dalgety local, stories of the place, and much research. What were you most inspired by when you first visited the place?

I hadn’t been to the Snowy Mountains since I was a child, and on the visit that sparked The Trout Opera in 1996 I was overwhelmed by the stark physical beauty of the place, the yellow hills and purple skies, the whole muted and ancient feel. The minute I drove into Dalgety, on the banks of the Snowy downriver from Jindabyne, I was instantly struck by the ghosts. This was a town where a lot of life had been lived, once upon a time. I guess I felt obligated to examine that, and ultimately bring it back to life as best I could. Near the end of writing the book I went back to Dalgety (population about 80) for one last visit, and stayed in the ancient Buckley’s Crossing Hotel for a night. I didn’t sleep much that night.

The radio announcer in the novel is always cut off while ironically expressing the view that what is being seen and heard in the press is essentially one-sided. Do you think literature is something that can reclaim this ‘other voice’?

I think literature can take and hold a moment in time better than a newspaper, magazine or other media outlet. By the very nature of it being held, it can pose deeper questions than the press can offer day to day. I wanted to have a character in the book who could express opinions on the period – the 90s, leading up to the year 2000 – and figured a late night radio host would be ideal for the times. He is that ‘other voice’ you talk about, and his opinions are offered up not as a definitive treatise on Australian cultural and political issues, but as moments held in time. Readers can choose to take questions out of that if they wish to do so, or not.

You’ve created such well-drawn characters. I can imagine it would have been difficult to leave them behind. Who was the most challenging to write and why?

Of all the characters I’ve ever created, this cast was the most difficult to let go. I felt from the outset, for some reason best not explored, that I was akin to Wilfred Lampe, and felt all the joys and sorrows of his life. The friend who inspired the character Tick died just a few months before I finished the manuscript. But I think Wynter may have been the most challenging to write, in hindsight. He physically repulsed me, yet I felt compelled to dig deep into that feeling and understand him. I think I ultimately did, but I wouldn’t invite him around for dinner.

The motifs of trout, fishing, and nature are solid and persistent from the first glimpse of Wilfred in the strange trout suit. What kind of effect did you hope this would have?

When I began writing the book I became interested in the art of trout fishing, especially in relation to the Snowy River. I had reported on the strangulation of the river – our great, mythic, celebrated river – over time, and began to understand how important it was to so many communities along its banks through history. In the end, the metaphor of the river, and more importantly, the essence of trout fishing – the lure, the fly fooling the fish – sat perfectly with the themes of physical and emotional addiction, and the resilience of nature, and people, that began to emerge as the novel progressed.

Some of the most beautiful moments are when we are ‘looking back’ at Wilfred quietly fishing with his father, or exploring the untainted slopes with Dorothea. Through looking back, do people (personally and collectively) essentially redeem, or inhibit themselves?

That’s a complicated question, but I would hazard a guess that when we look back we both redeem and inhibit. This is one of the primary frailties of Wilfred. His habit of looking back at life to redeem a future for himself has the opposite effect. His looking back keeps him inert. He never moves forward. He lives a whole life in his head, and another in the actual world. As a human being, I suspect he’s not alone. The eye of a trout sees both its own river world reflected back to it off the underside of the water’s surface, and simultaneously through the surface to the outside world. Wilfred only ever sees the reflection. History has shown this can also be a collective condition.

Who are some of your favourite authors, and what kind of readers will enjoy your book?

I’m a great fan of Patrick White, Thea Astley, John Cheever, Graham Greene, R K Narayan, and on and on. I didn’t really discover, until I’d finished The Trout Opera and could get a sense of its shape, that I had actually written what might be considered and old-fashioned novel in the current climate, a book that has very few strong storylines, a rich cast of characters both major and minor, and a narrative scope that covers a century. I think readers who enjoy a good ‘old0fashioned’ epic, something you can luxuriate in, and who are prepared to spend time with characters that they just might fall in love with and care about, will enjoy The Trout Opera.

 


9780733620980, Hachette Australia, 2007 (link).

Lachlan Fox is an investigative journalist for GSR (Global Syndicate of Reporters). He’s an ex-Aussie Navy operative now in New York City. He is attempting to uncover just who may be trying to access the powerful information database ‘Echelon’, and to what purpose. The information could enable any smaller power to have significant run over the free world. Fox himself has several eyes upon him, one of them enraged by a liaison with his lover, Kate.

Fox’s best friend, Al Gammaldi (the poor man’s Al Giordino) is also hands-on in the investigation, but the majority of their banter involves pizza, fat jokes, arses, and Kevin Smith movies. The book actually features a cavalcade of under-30s attitudes and pop-culture references. Unfortunately though, the female characters are weak, willing and ultimately patronising.

The action is reasonably intense, but the proliferation of one-page chapters could have been worked into better hooks for the reader. Too much is explained too soon and the only surprise is at the very end. Fox is mixed between serious investigative journalism and the lighter side of life, sometimes uncomfortably.

As a thriller it is reasonably enjoyable. Phelan’s intentions are also interesting, to make the world aware of Orwellian threats to freedom. If you enjoy Robert Ludlum this may be right up your alley. Fox Hunt was the first Lachlan Fox book, and Blood Oil (the third) is planned for 2008, which Phelan informs me will be much darker. I look forward to seeing his development.

Commentary

Oct 3, 2007

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Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the whole festival, but I had a wonderful drunken time at the ‘Mega-Mega Launch’ last Saturday night. On Sunday I attended a couple of sessions and checked out the Zine fair. Overall, my experience was enlightening. Anyone who misses the potential of Australian youth or believes them apathetic is delusional. And they sure know how to have a good time. Here are some photo highlights –

Ryan Paine – Is that a Voiceworks in your pocket?

David Prater – editor of Cordite and master poet. See also my earlier interview with him, Jill Jones, and Paul Hardacre.

Three ladies and a Sex Mook.

Thriller writer James Phelan and the very talented Christopher Currie, writer and co-editor of Eatbooks.

I didn’t catch his name but The Matrix changed his life, here with Andrew Hutchinson, author of Rohypnol.

Andrew, myself and James (thanks again for dinner guys!)

The crazy-wonderful presenters at the Mega-Mega Launch.

 

The team behind the Sex Mook – including Julian Fleetwood (editor) and Lisa Dempster (publisher – Vignette Press).

 

The ‘serious’ novelist versus the author of Fox Hunt and Patriot Act

Reviews + Analyses

Oct 3, 2007

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My latest review published in Cordite Poetry Review

Of the two chapbooks under review, Lucy Holt’s exquisitely crafted poetry in Stories of Bird pecks at single moments, both from an intimate as well as a bird’s-eye view. Her use of symbolism is focused and sensory. Hers are deep and personal poems, with some empathetic politics, that draw the reader in. Alison Croggon’s chapbook Ash, on the other hand, speaks with a more despairing voice. Hers is an exploration of mood. Her poems flow together through pain and awareness. They are more all-embracing than Holt’s, connecting history and broad spatiality to the personal; but fear, emptiness, darkness and blood are their prevailing themes.

Read more…