Tuesday 31 January 2006

The Jesus Man (1999) by Christos Tsiolkas is an enthralling novel detailing the byways and dangers of the mythical Melbourne suburbs. Australian Rules football features strongly, as do drugs and work, family and unemployment, neighbours and girlfriends. The dialog is sprightly and enjoyable, the story dark and uncompromising. There is a murder, a suicide, grief and stuggle. There might even be humour and companionship, depending on the reader's way of looking at this perfectly-shaped world of second-generation Australian children. Tsiolkas has made a name for himself in the Australian cultural scene; he has written plays and criticism as well as stories and novels. Three novels so far, and he was only born in 1965.

I bought this volume in Maroochydore, at the Duporth Book Exchange, a secondhand shop located near the second-best shopping mall. Surprisingly, it was displayed (cover-out) in the window among a sheet of religious literature — obviously the owner had neither read it nor knew anything about Tsiolkas, who is clearly, on the strength of only a cursory Google-search, a son of the inner-urban counter-culture. But, then, I knew practically nothing about him, either. Sydney and Melbourne are a long way apart. I'd read only one review in one of the Saturday papers of his latest work, Dead Europe (2005), and so bought the novel out of curiosity with that small memory intact after many weeks. The review had been favourable as well as memorable.

The other day I bought Tsiolkas' first novel, Loaded (1995) at Kinokuniya, and am now waiting for Dead Europe to arrive by post from Gleebooks, whose Web site provides for online purchasing. I look forward to reading both.
From the Bankstown Canterbury Torch: "WALKING down Campsie's Beamish Street makes Keith Hughes angry."

I don't get angry walking down Beamish Street, I just enjoy the show. It's a cultural cauldron, a multicultural mish-mash, and a great place to live. I don't get "offended by the prevalence of commercial signage in languages other than English".

Strathfield Municipality, just north of here, has imposed signage regulations that require the English component of signs to be larger than those of other languages. But I don't really see Hughes' point. Last Saturday on the way back from the Happy Chef restaurant I took note of the signs and decided that there were very few that could cause offence to even a sensitive soul. I also decided that Hughes must be intensely unhappy in other areas of his life to take such great offence at the sight of Beamish Street shopfrontages, shingles and awnings.

No doubt Canterbury Municipal Council fervently hopes that Hughes would just disappear and never raise his voice again. The idea of putting restrictions on signage is not pleasant. For me, it's appealing, the plethora of linguistic symbols that dot the landscape. I'll keep an eye out for further developments.

Monday 30 January 2006

Tony Takitani is a film made in 2004 in Japan and which is based on the eponymous short story by Haruki Murakami. I wanted to see it, so I contacted Filmlink magazine to find out if it would be released in Australia. They didn't know, but suggested I contact either Madman or Siren distributors, who would be likely to carry such a product. Siren replied in the negative, adding that "The sales of all things Japanese/Hong Kong have not met my expectations and that includes the Takashi Miike titles we have, that have a higher profile than a lot of Asian releases. We are reducing the number of foreign releases on Siren during 2006."

Madman did not reply to my e-mail. So I got in touch with Palace Cinemas in case they were in the running for the rights. Their reply: "We’re not aware of the film being purchased for Australia. It released straight-to-video in the USA through Strand Releasing, after premiering at last year’s Sundance Film Festival."

Another negative. Finally, the Internet came to my aid, with a link on the movie's Web site leading me to the world distribution company, who replied: "The film was only sold to TV in Australia (Pan TV Ltd and SBS)."

Although it was the weekend, I telephoned SBS who simply advised me to check my TV guide. They had no plans to screen it immediately, I was told. So I'll wait and keep my eyes peeled, and maybe I'll catch it before it disappears into the ether like the memory of a good story.

I also contacted Dendy, who replied: "It's unlikely that this film will get a theatrical release if already sold to TV. However, anything is possible with festivals and various events around town. The best way to find out would be to contact the sales agent (for whom the SBS buyer should have the contact details)."
Over the Christmas holidays I read a few books:

The Plot Against America, Philip Roth (2004)
Enduring Love, Ian McEwan (1997)
The Blackwater Lightship, Colm Tóibín (1999)
The Master, Colm Tóibín (2004)
My Michael, Amos Oz (1988)
The Golden Age: A Novel, Gore Vidal (2000)
The Deer Park, Norman Mailer (1957)
Harlot's Ghost, Norman Mailer (1991)
The Jesus Man, Christos Tsiolkas (1999)
Lateshows, Frank Moorhouse (1990)
Grand Days, Frank Moorhouse (1993)

There may have been others, I can't remember. I also completed The Harmony Silk Factory (2005) by Tash Aw.

This was all after returning from Queensland.

I saw Broken Flowers, which was a new release directed by Jim Jarmusch, at the Dendy in Newtown. What a great ending... Could that be his son? I particularly enjoyed watching 'Don Johnston' driving around the suburbs in a rented car. This may have something to do with the fact that in America they drive on the other side of the road, but it was rather disorientating. I was frankly impressed by his ability to successfully navigate to his destinations using only maps downloaded from the Internet... When I drove up to Queensland I studied for hours the maps dad sent. Although I, too, consulted the Internet. But I found that it all came together very easily, in the end — just followed the signs directing through-traffic away from central Brisbane and toward the Sunshine Coast, where I got off the highway at the wrong (and very last) exit, fortunately ending up becalmed only a street from my parents' apartment.

That night in Newtown I bought two of the abovelisted books secondhand from Elizabeth's Bookshop and took a call on my mobile from my cousin who wanted to offload some boxes of memorabilia left after uncle Elmer passed away. Some of the photographs are quite suitable for framing and hanging. Maybe I will do so after picking up from Studio 275 in Earlwood the four identical lino cuts — my own creations of twenty years since — that I've had framed.
Review: Shakespeare: The Biography, Peter Ackroyd (2005)

Genius must find its time, too, and can quicken only in the general atmosphere of its period.

Peter Ackroyd's London: The Biography (2000) didn't impress me all that much. It was altogether too enthusiastic about its subject, and is always at risk of seeming overly partial — especially at the very end of each short chapter. But as a London resident Ackroyd can be forgiven for boosting his home town... Although I don't know how well I'd stomach somebody saying such things about mine. (Maybe there's little chance of that happening.) Much more rewarding is Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination (2002), the book he wrote next, which demonstrates an extraordinary ability to synthesise vast amounts of erudite information and stick to a theme through thick and thin. An idea as fragile as that which is espoused in this book requires a vice-like memory and the means to keep the reader's interest through some quite dense passages. Its chapters are longer and more challenging.

The quote above, of course, comes from Ackroyd's most recent offering: Shakespeare: The Biography, another book of very short and pithy chapters, each introduced by a heading that is amusing in its own right. The typography is of a high standard. The unfailing Ackroyd memory in full swing is again to be experienced as he navigates the reader through facts and ideas culled from the thousands of pages he digested to produce this work. It is possibly much better than the other big, popular Shakespeare biography that is readily available to general readers: Park Honan's Shakespeare: A Life (1998). Ackroyd's book has 11 pages of bibliography, two bunches of colour illustrations and an index.

The opening quote summarises Ackroyd's preoccupation with the spirit of place that works on us all. He also introduces notions developed in the cauldron of Albion, such as this:

The drama of the Globe, then, was largely built upon a succession of scenes. The sequence of scenes conforms to the English love of interdependent units, a series of variations on a theme that encourages variety rather than concentration and heterogenity rather than intensity.

This is straight out of Albion, but not the less welcome for that. It is satisfying to find a writer so firmly in command of his material that he can echo himself in successive works without being tiresome. And Shakespeare: The Biography is anything but. I read it in virtually one sitting — an entire day spent curled up on my red vinyl couch.

Sometimes his words become flat with a kind of enthusiastic predictability:

...Falstaff is the essence of Shakespeare, cut free of all ideological and traditional notions. He and his creator go soaring into the empyrean, where there are no earthly values.

Sometimes he sticks to the facts and flutters his hands over them to create journalistic jewels:

The publication of Love's Labour's Lost can be seen ... as a highly significant event in the creation of the modern conception of the writer. It was not the least of Shakespeare's accomplishments to elevate, and perhaps even to create, the status and the reputation of the commercial author.

(He later provides evidence of the economic troubles The King's Men suffered when the playwright pretty much retired in 1614. Shakespeare's fame was very widespread and deep in his time.)

The problem with Shakespeare is that we know so very little about him. Which is the cause of such notions as this:

[Shakespeare] did not know where the words came from; he just knew that they came.

It's hard to blame Ackroyd, since he really tried hard to synthesise a great amount of stuff into 518 pages of entertaining prose:

The Elizabethan age seems always to be on the edge of despair or dissolution, with the prospect of everything crashing down in flames; hence all the bravura and defiance of its major players.

Ackroyd has tried to ensure that we know a little bit more about Shakespeare than we did before.

Saturday 28 January 2006

On 10 December, 2005, I drove to Maroochydore on Queensland's Sunshine Coast to see my parents and pick up some boxes of books dating from before my overseas sojourn. The round trip of about 2,000 kilometers required an outlay for petrol of around $150 — I drive a 1.3-litre Echo. I stopped in Ballina on the way up and pulled into the first motel I came to. That night I ate a pizza and drank a six-pack of Strongbow, and left the next morning early, arriving in Maroochydore at about 11:00 a.m. I stayed in an apartment on the Maroochy River, watching the pelicans from the balcony — and drinking more Strongbow. I was on holidays, after all.

The books and other assorted items, some new, some from ten years before — including a beautiful, blue-and-black ceramic bowl which now adorns my living room, a glass salad dish, five wine glasses, a Pixie O'Harris painting on loan from mum, some of my old lino cuts from twenty years ago (now framed and hanging), a bedspread, and a blue throw printed with elephants — are now safely stored away in my flat. To accommodate the new additions to my library I ordered a new bookcase to fit the space available outside the bathroom, from a firm I found on the Sensis Web site and based in Lane Cove.

The Pacific Highway is dreadful in places, especially between Grafton and Ballina, where the bumpy, single carriageway forces you to adjust the steering wheel constantly, causing me arthritic pains in my hands that lingered on well into the evening. Passing trucks under these conditions is a nightmare of timing and endurance. On the way home I stopped for the night at my cousin's place in Bobin, near Taree. We went to a social gathering that evening, which featured folks from the local area — some playing instruments and others belly-dancing. Children flew around the place as we hung about drinking beer outside the back door in the cooling eve. A big contrast to the week spent with mum and dad.
Today — Saturday — my friend and his son came over for lunch. We ventured up Beamish Street to the Happy Chef Seafood Noodles Restaurant where I ate a delicious bowl of prawn and chicken laksa and some fried dim sims. I chatted with the guy who served us, who told me he'd be driving down to the New Year celebrations in Chinatown tonight, where there will be a dragon and other festivities on show. The article in the paper when I got back said it was the largest Chinese New Year celebration in the world outside of China.

On the way back I stopped off at the newsagents to buy the papers (The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Saturday editions, which contain arts supplements), and a bottle of milk.

I noticed a cutline at the top of the front page of The Australian showing a photograph of J.M. Coetzee. When I returned home, found this article on their Web site.

It's an intensely technical article that will be hard for some to follow. For me, not knowing German, it was sometimes difficult to follow his nuances. The article will be published later this year in a book entitled Translation and the Classic.

My friend went off to surf and karate taking with him two items by Murakami from my library: After the Quake (2000) and Dance, Dance, Dance (1988).
Gabo dries up.

"I have stopped writing. Last year was the first in my life in which I haven't written even a line," said Marquez.

First reported on January 26 by The Times, on January 27 the article was reproduced in a truncated form by The Australian and then re-published word-for-word on News.com.au.

Friday 27 January 2006

For Christmas I gave mum a copy of Slow Man (2005) by J.M. Coetzee. I bought the hardback at the Coop Bookshop as it was discounted 15 percent. Postage to Queensland was about eight dollars.

She read it twice, apparently, and especially enjoyed the portrayal of Elizabeth Costello, who she described as "gutsy". So that I could read it too, she returned the volume to me here in Campsie. I read it and then returned it to her along with my paperback copy of Elizabeth Costello (2003) — another eight dollars.


She especially enjoyed the earlier novel's long final scene where Elizabeth is waiting to be admitted to the afterlife — or wherever this ante-room is leading to. It's a curious ending, but Coetzee pulls it off with flair: the dusty streets, dowdy barracks and incommunicative staff. A perfect depiction of the state of high bureaucracy and lifelessness that must accompany existence at the farthest edge of created space (chiming in nicely with the over-regulated, decrepit village depicted with such verve in Murakami's Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1991)).


Mum asked me for another book, so I'm going to send her The Double (2004) by Jose Saramago. I love his tortuous paragraphs and bleeding dialog, and this book is actually a mystery thriller in the traditional format that I know my mum once enjoyed reading.

The first book by Saramago that I read was The History of the Siege of Lisbon (1989), which dad gave me and which I started in Japan while travelling — first in the coach to the airport and then onboard the flight. The narrative gripped me from the first page. There's something so soothing about his prose. It lulls you and whispers secrets through the matrix of text in a way that no other writer's does. Dark green and grey prose.

Thursday 26 January 2006

Books Kinokuniya (Galeries Victoria on the corner of George and Park Streets, Sydney) wants five dollars from shoppers wanting to renew their Loyalty Cards. They want 15 dollars for new members. This is surprising, as when I first got my card some time ago they gave it to me for free and without my asking for it. With the new system, in addition to the 10 percent discount, they offer advance notification of events at the store — there's an area on the application form to fill in your personal details including e-mail address. You can now choose to have announcements sent to you. As with the card itself, you must sign the form. On the back of the application form it also says that in order to receive an e-mail newsletter you can visit the information desk in the store.

On Kinokuniya's Web site it's interesting to see two Haruki Murakami novels in the 'fiction best sellers' list — in right-hand side-bar. They are: Kafka on the Shore at No.3 and Norwegian Wood at No. 5. The list is as of 15 January, so these results are recent, even though both books (2005 and 1987, respectively) have been around for a while. Norwegian Wood especially is an easy book to like, but still it's inclusion surprises me. I would wager that it wouldn't be on the best-seller list of any other bookshop in Australia. I don't know if that's because Kinokuniya is part of a Japanese chain, or due to the fact that so many young, ethnically Chinese people shop there.

The first time a Murakami novel came into my range of experience was when I saw a South-Asian-looking chap reading one on the train from Hornsby to the city. Of course, since then I've read everything and eagerly await new releases. I have to say that my Japanese friend — I won't include his name, but he knows who he is — didn't enjoy Kafka on the Shore, nor did he enjoy the previous book, Sputnik Sweetheart. In a way there's been a change in the tone of Murakami's output, I feel. The heart-tugging appeal of novels like Norwegian Wood and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle has been replaced by a more cerebral one, with plots and characters that circle around a theme, and following a ruthless logic up to the end of the book. There has been a change, but I still enjoy his work immensely. There was a time when I would spend the entire weekend for weeks in a row just re-reading Murakami novels, soaking up the emotion and mood.

My Kinokuniya Loyalty Card resembles their tote bags — very stylish in blue and white. The tote bags I especially like, with their translucent blue block of colour and heavy plastic stock. I guess I'll renew, next time I visit the store.

Tuesday 24 January 2006

I'm happy.

Usually when I watch the cricket on channel Nine there's a problem with reception. Not tonight. And what a game. South Africa beat Sri Lanka by nine runs in a match that I started watching from the beginning of the Sri Lankan batting, after I arrived home.

The reception problem is exacerbated when I put my feet up. It's hard to believe, but it's true. I find my two-seater red vinyl couch quite comfy even when I rest my ankles on the northern arm. The arms are high so my neck is bent rather a lot, but it's quite cosy. In this position, however, the TV generally starts to go out of focus so I have to sit up on one cushion or put my feet up on the coffee table when watching Nine.

TV reception is a bit of an issue. When I first moved to this apartment — quite recently — I soon found out. Called the strata managers, who fobbed me off, saying that nobody else in the block had complained. But the reception on the ABC is terrible — streaky swatches of fizz cutting diagonally across the picture and making it jump vertically. The jumps prevent viewing of captions and subtitles. The streaks make watching tennis impossible. Luckily tennis is on another channel (but, then, I don't follow tennis).

Maybe a digital set-top box will help me sort this out. Three of the five free-to-air channels work fine. Unfortunately for me, the ABC has some of my favourite programs. And then there's the cricket.

Monday 23 January 2006

Booker prize-winner DBC Pierre has just published his second novel. Ludmila's Broken English: A Novel is the title of this offering to the great unwashed from the Ireland-based author who was born in Adelaide (now the home of Nobel prize-winner J.M. Coetzee).

We look forward to reading it.

Also on the market after publishing 'Wrong About Japan' in 2004 is Peter Carey, another home-grown expat. Amazon is taking orders for delivery after 9 May. On its Web site Random House is advertising several events around the release of Theft: A Love Story.

We also look forward to reading that.
I'm really not sure what to use to describe the area I live in. I've chosen to call it inner west, but it's actually more accurate to say it's on the border of the inner south-west. I found an interesting article by Bob Gould about the area. The Prime Minister grew up around here before moving off to grander things. But Gould's article is also interesting from the point of view of the multicultural appeal of this area. Here's a snapshot of the diversity to be found here. For me it's great, having lived in Asia for ten years, as I can buy a tasty bowl of noodles in any one of a dozen eateries for around eight dollars when I don't want to cook.

Campsie is two just suburbs out from Marrickville, which must certainly be classed as inner west. Then two suburbs out from us is Lakemba, a suburb that generally features strongly in any news coverage of Muslim affairs, and must surely be classed as inner south-west. The Inner West Courier newspaper doesn't list Canterbury Council on its links page. And the Inner West Weekly, part of the Cumberland Group of newspapers, includes Campsie in its circulation area for the Canterbury-Bankstown Express.

But I'm sticking to 'inner west' in my profile — I feel more inner west than anything else, at least.

Apart from writing for socialist journals, Bob Gould is better known as the proprietor of Gould's Book Arcade in Newtown. The store was once located on George Street in the middle of the city. Then he moved to Leichhardt. But now he's firmly ensconced in upper Newtown, just a stone's throw from where I work.

Sunday 22 January 2006

Welcome to Happy Antipodean. My first post.

I've recently been looking around the Internet using the vlog map — http://www.vlogmap.org/ — a very neat tool, I think, that is well designed to help Web surfers locate good video blogs. There are now many, many video blogs available online, some of which receive posts daily, some once a week, and some less frequently. I've tended to only bookmark those which receive regular posts, since these best maintain the Web surfer's interest. Most of my bookmarks have been for US Sites, although I've yet to get onto Europe. The US has the most vlogs listed on vlogmap, over 400 in fact.

The selection is marvellously entertaining on my 512 kbps connection, even though my download allowance has forced me to do a lot of surfing after 12 a.m. and before 12 p.m., which is the period when my bonus allowance kicks in.

Many vlogs have high production values, and have been produced using video editing software, while others have been uploaded without any editing. Most use music underneath the voice. Some present fictional videos, others documentaries. I've tried to avoid watching and bookmarking videos of pets and religious gatherings, as these are not so compelling for me.

Many vlogs provide links to other vlogs — giving a good way to increase one's list of bookmarks. In the future I may list my own favourites, which of course include the famous Steve Garfield of Boston. My Rocketboom link is actually located among my 'News' bookmarks.