Authors "Down Under" Are Writing the Books I Want to Read
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I suppose it was from reading and loving these peripatetic Asians that I continued voyaging until I made landfall in New Zealand and Australia. Upon arriving on the Oceanian shores, I met three breathtaking native writers who have chosen to stay home and write their novels instead of roving abroad, except for one, born in Canada but making a home in NZ.
First, I met Lloyd Jones and was deeply affected by his disturbing "little gem," Mister Pip. Absolutely it was the deserved winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for best book in Southeast Asia and the South. Jones writes with such gentle force of clear uncomplicated expression, producing sentences like. . .
"I do not know what you are supposed to do with memories like these. It feels wrong to want to forget. Perhaps this is why we write these things down, so we can move on."Well, I didn't move on after closing the novel, I lingered under its spell.
From lingering affects of this enchantment, I was moved to buy another book by him, which I picked up only today. It's called Paint Your Wife, and I expect it will be another story of gentle power, featuring ordinary, yet extraordinary, people that will stay with me long after I come to 'The End'.
From several years ago, some of you may have had to put up with my constant campaigning on behalf of Eleanor Catton's most original, ambitious experimental novel built upon and around Tarot cards, the lore surrounding them, and the relationship of the cards to planetary bodies and human personalities. This is the most complete ground-breaking work of fiction I've encountered. Every element of fiction is wrung out of all its aspects; even the physical construction of the book is married to the elements of fiction. The Luminaries packs enough emotional and intellectual impact -- requiring the reader to solve a great puzzle, discover and work out the intricate secrets of plot, characters, and more (no spoilers!) -- to keep the reader as involved in the reading experience as a joystick jockey can be in playing a complex video game.
I doubt other worthy nominees felt any confidence in their chances to take home the Man Booker Prize in 2013. If anyone of them did entertain the thought, it must have been fleeting, especially if they had the courage to read the eventual winner's entry. Only one word will do for this work. Masterpiece.
Since reading The Luminaries, I've sought out other books written by Catton. Some months ago I found her earlier novel, The Rehearsal: A Novel, but I've yet to read it. Be warned: To read Catton, one must gird the loins and be ready for a roller coaster ride of sheer virtuosity.
My last Down Under author is native to the continent of Australia and another Man Booker winner. If I regard Catton as the Master of NZ, then Richard Flanagan takes the title among Australian writers, IMO. If "masterpiece" is the reserved descriptor for "Luminaries," then "devastating" is the modifier for The Narrow Road to the Deep North: A Novel.
I remember as a child being taken to the theater to see a vivid movie about a WW II POW camp run by the Japanese where mostly British prisoners were enslaved, building a bridge over an Indonesian River as part of the rail linking Burma and China. It was compelling and brutal, and I've never forgotten the visual experience of Pierre Boulle's novel-brought-to-screen, The Bridge over the River Kwai. Nor have I summoned the stomach since seeing the film, to read the book. Instead, I found myself reading another novel from another more recent era on the near same subject.
Both Boulle's and Flanagan's books are superb character driven studies of good and evil. But the later novel, perhaps because it is removed from actual events in time, is a more ambiguous and convoluted examination of character than Boulle's strict black (Japanese guards) and white (British prisoners) battle of wills. Flanagan writes an introspective examination of captor and captive with such focus on outward cruelty vs. resistance to inhumanity that the feelings of steamy claustrophobia in the jungle setting are only vanquished by an explosive revelation of what Flanagan's major theme is as the novel winds down. He pulls the ground out from beneath the reader's feet in such a way that forever changes one's perception of up and down, black and white, and good and bad.
The products of Jones, Catton, and Flanagan are works of heft, a word that may come to mean more to readers who venture to go Down Under in search of new authors worth their reading time. For one, I'm hooked to the point that many of my favorite modern American and British writers seem almost unimaginative in comparison.
If there are writers in the Oceania "school" who have impressed you, please share! Tout their talents in this thread. I'm always in the market for making the reading acquaintance of new authors.
If an autistic, routine and plan bound hero with more foibles than a tricky mountain road can become a comic hero, the Simsion has cornered the market on the type. How he makes it work is partially due to the three volumes in the "Rosie" cycle being written so that Don Tillman, 'autist extraordinaire,' is the point of view character. Woody Allen made NYC Jewish angst highly popular to the general movie goer. Simsion has made Don and Rosie utterly believable, sympathetic, and heroic in each book. We literally see two crippled personalities possessed of shriveled souls move forward in growth as they struggle to adjust to each other individually and to the expectations of so-called normal society.
Since one of the aspects of the novel that I look for in a "good" read is a story that illuminates a corner of the human condition in an original way so that I suspend disbelief and root for the main character to triumph over the efforts of the antagonists to make him fail, it's easy to understand why I'm a fan of Simsion who has chosen to make mental illness the center of his books. And in the effort, succeed in reducing the stigma of differentness due to mental organization that hovers on the outer edges of the nonpathologic mental construct bell curve.
The Rosie Cycle is tender, respectful, honest, and enlightening. And its main characters are worth rooting for if for no other reason than they make a "normal" reader hopeful of achieving a loving healthy relationship in which small victories over our naughtier angels are just as noteworthy and satisfying as Don's strides in achieving social "normalcy" are to him. We'll only enjoy more LoL moments in life and be the happier for it. isn't that reward enough?
Simsion does not disappoint us libuous-bibulous readers in book two. Cocktails, as well as gourmet meals, abound. Don is involved with his friend Gene in a HUGE beer cellar (yes, beer cellar) project for Gene's client who pays cash in $100 bills. Is that normal?
I cannot rec this book for recovering alcoholics.
Found this website featuring Mansfield's birthplace maintained by New Zealand Gardens Trust.
Ah! I'd be afraid to read The Fatal Shore. Some of my English father's ancestors "emigrated" there, supposedly to be teachers. I might find out that they didn't arrive voluntarily. Others were military adventurers in Indjah. Dad's dad sailed with the Cunard line, leaving him, his sisters, and mother to manage without him forever. Still others went to Argentina to become cattle barons. I don't know if they left voluntarily, either. But I do know that they returned to England to visit when dad was a youngster. So, I assume they were allowed to come and go as they pleased.
As far as I know, none became writers.