Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Packing Death

By Lachlan McCulloch



In an earlier blog, I made mention of the fact I read a book solely because the marvellous woman who recommeded it had earlier gifted me some wonderful oral sex.

Similar story here, but just like the Ennuit Mute in my previous post, there was no oral. But there was the lure of it.

See, I had a third date with Project Manager Who Can Do The Splits. Hmm. That nickname is too long. Spiltgirl? Nope, connotations. The Splits? Sounds like a Radiohead album. Miss Splits? Ah, there we go. So anyway, I had a third date with Miss Splits last Sunday night and we went out to a restaurant and afterwards she invited me back to her house for a coffee and I of course said yes. Anyway, we drank coffee and talked and talked and at 11pm, facing a two and a half hour drive to get home, I said, "Well, I better hit the road."

Miss Splits: What?
Perseus: It's a two and a half hour drive, so I should really get going.
Miss Splits: You're kidding?
Perseus Q: Umm...
Miss Splits: It's the third date!
Perseus Q: Umm... oh, I see, umm...
Miss Splits: Oh, whatever. Jesus.

So in a scramble to change the topic I started to rummage through a pile of books next to the couch. They were all true crime and I started babbling away about how the the whole Underbelly thing interested me because it was so Melbourne and all, and anyway, she hand-picked this one out and said, "Oh, you'll really like this one," and I was too much on the backfoot to disagree so I said, "Oh really?" and she urged me to take it and read it so I did.

So as much as I stuffed up the third date, in order to return the book a fourth date is almost a given. It is scheduled for next week.

Did I mention she can do the splits?

So anyway, the book is a true story written by the undercover cop who infiltrated the Pettingill family and because of his excellent work a fair few drug dealers copped massive sentences. There were plenty of 'wearing wires' scenes and bits where they suspected he was undercover but he managed to talk them around and, you know, a couple of scenes were gripping and all, but I read it in under 4 hours and I've already forgotten the author's name.

Good on him though. I'm glad there's people like him around. He's the real hero. Not some schmuck who gets stranded in an ice cave and waits patiently for someone to rescue him. This bloke is an actual hero. But a writer he ain't. What we need is for supercops like this bloke to tell the story, then get Brian Castro or Christos Tsoilkas to write the story or something.

Still, his matter-of-fact writing style means this book can be consumed in one sitting, and would make excellent company beside the pool / sea / sprinkler / fish pond on a summer afternoon.

I'm not marking it.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Seal Wife

By Kathryn Harrison

(best-selling author of 'The Binding Chair' which I've never heard of)

This is the second in a series of five books I bought for $5 each at The Book Grocer.



Early 1900's, Alaska. A meteorological man from mainland USA gets posted to Alaska to work as a weather-measurer or whatever it's called. Meteorologist.

He meets a mute Ennuit woman, who I shall call Mute One. He follows her home. She won't let him go down on her, but she lets him fuck her as she plays with her clit until she orgasms. They do this every night for months. He takes food to her, she cooks it, they fuck. No oral.

Don't think I'm being crude for the sake of it by the way. It's what's in the book.

Anyway, the mute Ennuit never speaks because she's a mute. You know. And the science / meteorologist dude, well, he talks a lot about his work on pressure systems but he doesn't know if she understands English or not because a) she doesn't really seem to listen to him and b) she's a mute.

One day she vanishes.

So he gets drunk at a dance and fucks a hooker with missing teeth and the hooker steals his money.

Later, he goes back to the same hooker and this time when she tries to take his money he belts her.

Then he develops a crush on the woman who sings at the cinema. He finally meets her. She's a mute as well, so lets call her Mute Two. Though, she's not really a mute because she can sing. But she can't talk because of her bad stutter so she writes down what she wants to say. Anyhoo, he visits her regularly, then when her father goes away they start to have sex and the father suddenly rushes in and says (paraphrasing) "now that you've shagged my daughter you have to marry her." Turns out it was a sting. He doesn't want to marry Mute Two so he avoids her. She smashes up all his temperature measuring things and then she leaves town in violent circumstances.

Luckily for him, Mute One, the eskimo, comes back. He starts fucking her again, but still no oral. The end.

*

For the many Perseus Q scholars out there who study my every word, you'll be aware that in my excellent review of Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' I confessed that I didn't get it. However, I had the good manners to concede that maybe I was too dumb to get it.

Not so this time. I just didn't get it, and I don't think it has anything to do with my intelligence or lack thereof. I just think that whatever it was I was supposed to 'get' is either way too abstract or way too stupid, ergo, it can't be gotten unless you're a sprite or a fool.

Y'see, I can understand a man of civilisation falling for an Ennuit mute. I was ready to accept that this was a book of clashing cultures and the establishment of the USA as a highly conflicted but ultimately benchmarking nation. She could skin rabbits with her bare hands and sew like a Goddess, and he was a modern handyman - a man who could predict weather patterns and thus greatly assist the fledgling economy. The new meets the old and they work together. He's loud and she's quiet but together they present a dignified future for the nation.

I thought that was what I was reading.

But when Mute Two came into it (who wasn't an eskimo), suddenly there was a sexual pattern. The whole 'clash of cultures' fell away and instead I was reading a story of a man's sexual fascination with mutes... written by a woman.

Kathryn Harrison: You don't get men.

Unless! Unless, I've got it all wrong, and there's nothing to get. Maybe she's just into kinky mute sex. Maybe she fantasises about being a mute, and being fucked by a man of science (no oral). Maybe that's it.

So I googled 'sex with mutes' and found one gag about a 'Harposexual' being a person who prefers sex with mutes but will settle for a mime (I didn't laugh, but it is a clever joke) and one post at a sex blog that said this:

"I have a cock with a curve and I've heard no complaints which doesn't mean anything cause I have sex with mutes exclusively. mine doesn't curve left or right but it curves dramatically up. like a 45 degree angle. some girls have said it helped. In that case it sure as hell helped me."

Maybe bendy-cock here should meet up with Kathryn Harrison in a carpark somewhere.


*

The book was alright, I suppose. Meaningless, but, you know, I kept reading. The stuff about the weather was actually the most interesting bit.

I give it a D+

Friday, 14 November 2008

Leviticus

By Some Idiot

*

This is the third and final part of my 'Apocalyptic Mess' series of reviews.

But before we get going, here's a slide show.

*


A sunny afternoon break at home... I might sit at the kitchen table.



Where's the lighter?



"And if the burnt sacrifice for his offering to the LORD be of fowls, then he shall bring his offering of turtle doves, or of young pigeons. And the priest shall bring it unto the altar..." This is so boring.



"And when any will offer a meat offering unto the LORD, his offering shall be of fine flour; and he shall pour oil on it, and put frankincense thereon..." Hang on. Wouldn't the frankincense ruin the smell?



"And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thy offerings thou shalt offer salt." Well, God is clearer on that than he is about homsexuality. Note to the religious: Salt everything!



Fuck. This is like a cookbook from Hell.



Hmm, Leviticus 11:17 reckons that the 'little owl' is an abomination. Ramon Insertnamehere will agree.



Wait, so if you come across a leper, the Priest has to actually yell: "Unclean! Unclean!" God this is fucked. This is doing my head in.


Ooh! The cricket's on!


*

I am going to open my review of Leviticus (which I stupidly read three times, just trying to get my head around it) with a lengthy extract. Perhaps make a cuppa, settle yourself in, and take your time reading this. It is a large slab taken from Chapter 26 of Leviticus - the last chapter, and it is God's words. In this extract he explains what he will do to you if you don't abide by his rules, as detailed in the previous chapters of Leviticus (which I will come to after the extract.)

You ready? Here goes. Leviticus 26: 14-38

14 But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments;

15 And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant:

16 I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.

17 And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you.

18 And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.

19 And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass:

20 And your strength shall be spent in vain: for your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits.

21 And if ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins.

22 I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your high ways shall be desolate.

23 And if ye will not be reformed by me by these things, but will walk contrary unto me;

24 Then will I also walk contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins.

25 And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant: and when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy.

26 And when I have broken the staff of your bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall deliver you your bread again by weight: and ye shall eat, and not be satisfied.

27 And if ye will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me;

28 Then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.

29 And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.

30 And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.

31 And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odours.

32 And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it.

33 And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.

34 Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies' land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths.

35 As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.

36 And upon them that are left alive of you I will send a faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth.

37 And they shall fall one upon another, as it were before a sword, when none pursueth: and ye shall have no power to stand before your enemies.

38 And ye shall perish among the heathen, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up.


Oh man, how cool is that? See, this is why I love the Bible. It is written exquisitely, and with such evilness and spite and it delivers such forceful language and concepts. If I encountered the most hideous and sick criminal, never would I have been able to conjure such an imaginative punishment for him as "...ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat."

And what a remarkable character the LORD, Yahweh, is! He's like Darth Vader multiplied by a zillion..."I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you." Bwahahahahaha!

It's powerful and inventive stuff and at times a delight to read; up there with Shakespeare even, and I am fortunate to be an atheist who can read this and feel nothing but entertained.

But of course, herein lies the problem. 'The Bible' is taken very seriously by many millions of people as a divine document. We swear by The Bible in court. It is placed in hotel rooms, in courts, in parliaments. It is 'holy' in the minds of many who, in its name, have fought wars, and killed, and maimed, and stopped homosexuals from getting married, and insisted they teach Creation in science classes.

And so the religious, if they do believe The Bible is in fact the divine word of God, must take God's threats seriously. He will chastise you for your sins, so you better do what he says to do, and avoid doing what he says not to do, otherwise you may have to eat your children.

But don't panic, because the preceding 25 chapters of Leviticus contains all his rules so if you study them, you'll know what to do and what not to do.

For instance: Homosexuals? Abomination! You're fucked. Very clear on this. "Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination." (18:22).

But the LORD is even clearer on who else is fucked, and they are no more or less fucked than the gays.

Those who get drunk in a church (10:8)
Those who touch a dead camel (11:8)
Those who eat a bat (11:9)
Those who touch a woman who has given birth in the last week (12:6)
Those men who don't have a shower after ejaculating (15:16)
Those who touch a woman menstruating (15:19-20)
Those who eat blood from anything (presumably, the meat should be cooked well) (17:10)
Those who ask a woman to get naked if she's menstruating (18:19)
Those who eat from a fruit tree that is not more than three years old (19:23)
Those with tattoos (19:28)
Those men who get naked with a woman that is menstruating (20:18)
Wizards (20:27)
Anyone who works on the Sabbath (too many references to list)

If you fall into any of the above categories you're likely to have God's face set against you and be slain before your enemies.

Please understand and appreciate this. The above rules (plucked from about 1,000 rules contained in Leviticus) are given no more or less importance than the homosexual issue, which brings me to something that has been noted many times before but I now want to give it a name: The Great Christian Squirm.

The Great Christian Squirm (GCS) is prevalent amongst all the religious except for maybe those nutters who hang about with the 'God Hates Fags' signs at US army funerals (they are the only True Believers I can name).

The GCS is when anybody both religious and who think the Bible is holy, whether they be fundamentalist or recreational, pick and choose. "Homosexuality is wrong," they may say, but have they eaten fruit from a tree less than three years old? Have they touched their wives after giving birth? Because as I say, Leviticus is clear on both topics. So they squirm out of it by saying, "Oh, but that's the Old Testament, and you have to look at the Ancient Greek translation of the word 'fruit', oh and Jesus changed everything and umm, you have to put Leviticus in context of the times and ummm..."

You can't have it both ways, dudes. Either the book is the Holy and Divine Word of the everlasting creator LORD, or it isn't. Either you take it ALL, or you take none of it, so if you even dare say, "It is okay to touch my wife after she gives birth," then I say to you, "Then you cannot have Creation, you cannot have The Ten Commandments, you cannot have Noah's Ark and you cannot have the Resurrection."

It is also in Leviticus that slavery is given the go-ahead:

"Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession." (25:44-45)

I would suggest that all religions, at least in Western society, these days find slavery abhorrent. But there it is, in the Holy Bible. Watch them squirm. Watch them tell you that that bit no longer applies, but that other bit does.

Sorry Christians. If you're telling me that Mary was a virgin, then I can have slaves.

*

As a stand-alone book Leviticus is a dismal faiure. Moses the dumb-arse is on Mt Sinai and God is telling him his rules. That's kinda it. Chapter 26 with all the evil bits is the only entertaining part because the rest of it is rule after rule after rule. It's an empty book - empty of relevancy, empty of entertainment, empty of art. The first eleven chapters is all about burnt offerings... how to slaughter the lamb or the goat or the ox or whatever, which parts you can eat and which parts you can't, when to offer a lamb and when to offer a turtle dove and so on. There's a few chapters on leprosy and boils, a bit about some extra piety required of the Priests and repeated over and over and over is shit about the Sabbath. I tell ya: Moses must have had a keen memory to remember all these rules. It's not like he was taking dictation or anything.

There's only one 'story' in the whole book, in chapter 24, concerning a little half-caste kid in the tribe who blasphemes. God tells Moses to have the kid murdered. "And Moses spoke to the children of Israel , that they should bring forth him that had cursed out of the camp, and stone him with stones. And the children of Israel did as the LORD commanded Moses." (24:23)

Leviticus is of no interest to anyone really, except for maybe orthodox Jews who want to stick to their kosher cooking and need to know when all the holy days on the Jewish calendar are. That's all it is. The whole fucking Leviticus is just one boring and irrelevant rule after another rule.

There are some nice rules that God laid down, though they are few and far between. One which I can't find now was a very direct commandment to be nice to kids and I appreciated that, even though in Exodus God was quite happy for kids to be murdered as long as they were Gyppos. There was also some stuff about looking after family and neighbours if they encounter financial misfortune... you know, like, give them a job, or lend them money, and feed them, and that was nice, but, all in all, it was mainly about how to prepare meat. That's the over-riding and dominant feature of Leviticus, followed a close second by Sabbath rules.

So why did I read it three times? Well, bereft of art, entertainment and relevancy, I found it interesting that we, us humans, as a people, as a species, are capable of believing this stuff to be Holy. I had to keep reading to appreciate how truly bizarre we are. Humans are a fantastic bunch. We are capable of anything.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Night

By Elie Wiesel

This is Part Two of a three part series of reviews sub-titled 'Apocalyptic Mess'.

It is also Part One of a series of five reviews of books I purchased for only $5 a book at the wonderful Book Grocer.




This is an account of the writer's time in a Nazi concentration camp.

I am not Jewish, or religious. I am not German, or Polish. I am not an ethnic supremacist, or belong to a persecuted minority. I am not a child of war, I have not lived in a war zone, I have not been sent to a war. I have not lost any member of my immediate family to a violent death.

Who am I to comment on this story?

I can only understand the holocaust in either political or philosophical terms. And of course by 'understand' I mean 'not understand'.

I'm just another voice who in exasperation, at the loss of anything else to add just says, "Lest we forget."

In my review of Blood Meridian I complained that, "It describes an implausible humanity, so detatched from the land and the laws of existance that it fails to inspire any form of reminisce. It is unrecognisable as coming from Earth. It is not our story."

That's why this book is so horrible. Because it is our story. It comes from Earth. People reasoned a genocide. They used the word 'solution'. Unlike the cartoon directionless psychopaths in Blood Meridian, these people had a reason for their actions. Some people, in time, made a reason for genocide.

I can't score this book. I won't.

This is not a book to read because you want to, it's a book to read because you have to.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Blood Meridian

By Cormac McCarthy



This review is part one of a series of three reviews to be posted in the next few days under the sub-title ‘Apocalyptic Mess’.

Being that I discovered McCarthy early in the year via ‘No Country For Old Men’ and ‘The Road’, and being that I also fostered an appreciation for Western movies in the past six months or so, it seemed fitting to wind up these two interests with a western by Cormac McCarthy (before moving on to my next phase, whatever that is).

I was looking forward to this book, especially because many McCarthy fans (including our comrade ‘Tiger In A Tube’ ) nominated it as his best work.

Here it is: An amoral 14 year old sociopath known only as ‘the kid’ joins a mob of violent scalp-hunters, lead by a sadistic maniac called Glanton and an enigmatic Kurtz-like hairless man known as ‘the judge’ who may or may not exist.

By jesus it was violent.

...one of the Delawares emerged from the smoke with a naked infant dangling in each hand and squatted at a ring of midden stones and swung them by the heels each in turn and bashed their heads against the stones so that the brains burst forth through the fontanel in a bloody spew...

And gory.

...those right pilgrims nameless among the stones with their terrible wounds, the viscera spilled from their sides and the naked torsos bristling with arrowshafts. Some by their beards were men but yet wore strange menstrual wounds between their legs and no man’s parts for these had been cut away and hung dark and strange from out of their grinning mouths.

McCarthy dishes up many impossibly long sentences.

They crossed before the sun and vanished one by one and reappeared again and they were black in the sun and they rode out of that vanished sea like burnt phantoms with the legs of the animals kicking up the spume that was not real and they were lost in the sun and lost in the lake and they shimmered and slurred together and separated again and they augmented by planes in lurid avatars and began to coalesce and there began to appear above them in the dawn-broached sky a hellish likeness of their ranks riding huge and inverted and the horses’ legs incredibly elongate trampling down the high thin cirrus and the howling antiwarriors pendant from their mounts immense and chimeric and the high wild cries carrying that flat and barren plan like the cries of souls broke through some misweave in the weft of things into the world below.

And describes a landscape that is alien to me, I think.

They passed through a highland meadow carpeted with wild-flowers, acres of golden groundsel and zinnia and deep purple gentian...

Using words I’ve never heard (dictionary.com and wiki - thankyou).

Under a gibbous moon horse and rider spanceled to their shadows...

*

The book is gripping and moving but that’s all I can say in support of it. They're like a band of Ivan Milats lead by Kierkegaard’s evil twin from a parallel universe running around mid 19th Century USA/Mexico brewing their own mini-holocaust by senselessly slaughtering and scalping Mexicans, pilgrims and Injuns. Did I mention how violent it is?

The judge is the best character, even though his soliloquies make little sense, and even though he may not exist (is he the kid's mind's creation? Is he Satan?). He’s a bisexual, a pedophile, he's highly educated, multi-lingual and one of the more sadistic characters of fiction. His habit of making sketches of artefacts (whether they be an old shack or an animal or a child or whatever) before killing/destroying them is a fascinating quirk.

Coming across ancient Indian rock-carvings:

The rocks about in every sheltered place were covered with ancient paintings and the judge was soon among them copying out those certain ones into his book...

...then he rose and with a piece of broken chert he scrappled away one of the designs, leaving no trace of it only a raw place on the stone where it had been.


His only explanation for this is:

Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.

And in relation to his extreme sadism, he offers:

War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him.

But the main chracater is the kid who, in the absence of anything better to do, joins this gang of murderers. We follow the kid’s formative years but when he joins the gang, we actually lose him as a central character for about 150 pages. At first this bugged me, but I realised in the end that it was McCarthy’s greatest literary achievement in the book. By dropping the kid out of the narrative we could watch everything that was happening just as the kid was experiencing it. By the time he's freed from the gang and we’re back into his mind, we understand his trauma and total inability to cooperate with the world. Maybe McCarthy shut us out from his thoughts for 150 pages because he had none. Maybe. For, had he got to figurin' things, maybe he'd make a lousy genocidal maniac. Or maybe McCarthy just wanted us to concentrate on the horror.

*

I can see why the book is lauded. It’s a massive and profound work. But, I have a problem with it.

Germaine Greer in her brilliant essay, ‘Whitefella Jump Up’ (I don't care what you say or whether you agree with her essay or not... Greer’s concept is brilliant and important) she posits that:

We hate this country because we cannot allow ourselves to love it. We know in our hearts' core that it is not ours.

But offers this as a way of overcoming it:

If we climbed out of the recreational vehicle and sat on the ground, we might begin to get the message that we can't afford to hear, the message that, since contact, Aborigines have never stopped transmitting. The land is the source of everything;

I argue that Greer is a writer who speaks in the language of myth. I might write an essay on this one day. In short, my summary of her life’s work is that she talks in an ancient and abstract tongue, and too many attack her because they try to understand her in the context of current affairs, hard news and facts. It’s not what she’s about – or at least, it’s not what she means to me. When Greer said, “The animal kingdom got its revenge,” she was not saying (as the hopelessly stupid Helen Razer insinuated) that the animal kingdom got together and hatched a plan to kill Steve Irwin. She was in fact rising to Irwin’s own mythological ubermensch ‘The Crocodile Hunter’ with words appropriate to that mythical superhero's death. They got their revenge on the Crocodile Hunter, not the husband / father.

Same goes with her use of the words (above) ‘hate’ and ‘land is the source of everything’.

I know what she means. At least I think I do. We are as much a product of the land we inhabit as we are our genetic breeding and our expreiences and circumstance. We store within us all that is abstract and transcedental as well as material in these matters. And yet, we deny it, or at best, try to ignore it, but we cannot escape it.

As such, we are a cocktail of both nature's peril and beauty.

Which brings me back to Blood Meridian. I cannot accept such amorality. It is inferred that both circumstance and land created these monsters, but there was no let up. Glanton cared for a dog. That's all we got. The rest cared for nobody and nothing. They existed trapped in one dimension only - as psychopathic maniacs and had no other traits. A glimpse of camaraderie here, a hint of self-awareness there, all to be eradicated a minute later. It’s not good enough to say: “As long as they were employed to slaughter injuns, they couldn’t afford another dimension”, because, hell, even Ivan Milat may have liked ice-cream or Bon Jovi or something.

In a way, they act on the Greer model – they tear up the country that is not theirs by slaughtering the people that are its custodians, but unlike the Greer model, there is no redemption or lesson, nothing to reflect upon, no message in the dirt or the wildflowers, no second to sigh at a sunset or admire the guile of the wolf or the resilience of the quarrey.

The nearest I’ll come to saying something religious is to concede that there is something in the dirt upon which we are raised that melds to us. Human nature is inextricably linked with nature full stop. Physics, biology, geology are siblings to philosophy, art and human experience.

Maybe that's why my tolerance of religion and new-age spiritualism is ZERO, and why I find it all to be abhorrent, childish nonsense. Because it assumes we belong to Jesus, or the Lord, or to some other sentient designer such as the new-age cosmos with its reliance on fate, destiny, 'meant to happen' fucking garbage junk philosophy, and that souls or spirits exist on higher plains extraneous to the planet on which we are rooted to... all these beliefs, whether they be Christian, Islamic or Wiccan remove us from the land, from our experience, from our instinct and most importantly, from the magic that is life. They are trying to relocate us to a place that cannot and does not exist.

We cannot help but belong to the land - the laws governing our existance insist on this and the human mind on some transcedental level knows it and works with it. The same laws apply to all of us and we offer varying results and interpretations back. Blood Meridian lacks this. Just like the Old Testament, it peddles an absolute that's beyond our potential. It describes an implausible humanity, so detatched from the land and the laws of existance that it fails to inspire any form of reminisce. It is unrecognisable as coming from Earth. It is not our story.

But it was cracking entertainment.

B Minus.

Glossary just from the extracts above (fairdinkum, every page had some word I didn't know).

Midden: Dunghill or refuge heap.

Fontanel: One of the spaces, covered by membrane, between the bones of the fetal or young skull.

Viscera: The organs in the cavities of the body, esp. those in the abdominal cavity.

Spume: Foam, froth, or scum.

Weft: A woven fabric or garment

Groundsel: Any composite plant of the genus Senecio, esp. S. vulgaris, a common weed having clusters of small yellow disk flowers without rays.


Zinnia: Any of several composite plants of the genus Zinnia, native to Mexico and adjacent areas, esp. the widely cultivated species Z. elegans, having variously colored, many-rayed flower heads.


Gentian: any of several plants of the genera Gentiana, Gentianella, and Gentianopsis, having usually blue, or sometimes yellow, white, or red, flowers, as the fringed gentian of North America.


Gibbous: (of a heavenly body) Convex at both edges, as the moon when more than half full.

Spancel: a noosed rope with which to hobble an animal, esp. a horse or cow. In his case, he has made a verb of it.

Chert: A compact rock consisting essentially of microcrystalline quartz

*

Apologies to Tiger In A Tube because this is the second novel listed in his Top Eleven of which I've had ill words to say. But he'll forgive me because us Richmond supporters, in the lack of success, only have dignity left.

Friday, 26 September 2008

True Grit

By Charles Portis



Loved it.

I've been going through a John Wayne phase. You can buy his films cheap if you buy them in bulk. Across three collections, I scored about 30 the Duke's films for just $80. For a little under $3 a film, it's great value. I've been going through them slowly in the past few months - some are absolutley fantastic (The Searchers and Rio Bravo are standouts so far) and some are fucking retarded (Rio Lobo... write it down; write the words 'Rio Lobo' down, commit them to memory, and make a pledge to never see that movie). The other night I got to 'True Grit' and was about to hit 'play', but then remembered I owned the book. "What the Hell," says I, "I'll watch another film tonight, and actually read True Grit before I watch the flick," (this then lead to the Rio Lobo disaster of 2008. Seriously, I can't begin to describe how pathetic Rio Lobo is. As a 19 year old girl I met recently would say, "It was AIDS.").

The book starts: "People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood..." and from that very first few words to the very last, the book was UNPUTDOWNABLE.

It is told in the voice of the fourteen year old girl, Mattie, whose father was killed by one of his workers, a man called Tom Chaney, "...a short man with cruel features."

Mattie, though young, has an exacting or calculating manner about her to the point that I surmised she had Aspbergers, and with a mix of that need for exactitude along with guts, skill, wits and a Presbyterian's old-testament longing for revenge, she doggedly hunts down Tom Chaney.

I'm not being flippant on the Aspberger's line either. I don't know if that's just the way Portis writes or whether he's brilliantly skilled at bringing a unique young girl's voice to light, but, Mattie is brilliantly formed, so unique, in a kind of manner that's not quite right but nor is it bad, or wrong, or off-putting. No, Mattie is just, well, umm, not cold as such, but full on. Fortunately, her single-mindedness is taking us on a great adventure with what could only be described as a noble cause... the taking down of a violent killer in revenge for her father's death.

To hunt down the man, she enlists the services of a mean Marshal renowned for having 'true grit'. This is 'Rooster' Cogburn (the John Wayne part), and along with a Texas Ranger by the name of LaBoef (who is hunting the same man for killing a Senator back in Waco, Texas), the three hunters go deep into Indian-held territory.

It's a classic Western. It's also a classic moral tale, a classic chase, a classic adventure - it's romance free but sexy as fuck. It's got shootouts, dead horses, skeletons, rattlesnakes, Indians, double-crossers, executions... everything you want.

They talk mean. The Texas Ranger wants the killer to pay for the high-profile crime of murdering a Senator (and his dogs) back in Texas but young Mattie wants him hanged for the crime of murdering her simple and honest father.

"I want him to know he is being punished for killing my father. It is nothing to me how many dogs and fat men he killed in Texas."

"You can let him know that," said Rooster. "You can tell him to his face. You can spit on him and make him eat sand out of the road. You can put a ball in his foot and I will hold him while you do it. But we must catch him first."


I like the way Portis brings in characters for cameos (if you ever read it, watch out for the bloke 'Stonehill' who in just a few pages becomes one of the best fictional characters I've known). I like the way Mattie interacts with these cameos. The night before she leaves, she decides to sleep in the stable with her horse Little Blackie rather than waste money at the boarding-house for just a few hours' sleep (her financial acumen is a recurring theme).

The watchman was an old man. He helped me to shake out the dusty quilt that was on the bunk. I looked in on Little Blackie at his stall and made sure everything was in readiness. The watchman followed me around.

I said to him, "Are you the one that had his teeth knocked out?"

"No, that was Tim. Mine was drawn by a dentist. He called himself a dentist."

"Who are you?"

"Toby."


I can smell Hemingway...

Rooster, though mean and violent, has a heart under it all. Discovering two young boys torturing a mule, he frees the mule, gives the boys a' whippin' and says to one of them, "See that you mend your ways, boy, or I will come back some dark night and cut off your head and let the crows peck your eyeballs out."

It's at times a violent book, and perhaps the only time we ever get a sense that young Mattie feels fear is when an interrogation of two young cattle-thieves goes wrong. One of them, Moon, who was shot earlier, starts to spill the beans, and suddenly the situation spirals out of control. Fingers are chopped off, guns are fired, people are stabbed and Mattie records, "My thought was: I am better out of this. I tumbled backward from the bench and sought a place of safety on the dirt floor."

As Moon lays dying, he talks of his brother.

I said, "Do you want us to tell your brother what happened to you?"

He said, "It don't matter about that. He knows I am on the scout. I will meet him later walking the streets of Glory."


**

That'll do for extracts. You have to read it. It can be done in one sitting. One rainy afternoon, or as I did it, one empty evening tanked on coffee and Dunhills with an old cat beside me, occassionally strirring.

I wonder what it is I suddenly, in my late 30's, like so much about the Western? For starters, I like the names of things. Daniel Webster's Cigars, Stonehill's Livery Stable, The Grangers Trust Co. of Topeka, Kansas, and my favourite in this book, a reference to a company called 'The Great Arkansas River, Vicksburg & Gulf Steamship Company'.

I like the simple food they eat. Oh, I love gourmet chefs' stream-of-consciousness "agitated greens with Nicaraguan virgin jus" type stuff, but I also like meat and three veg. I think I even like it more, the older I get, and as these western stereotypes range across the land, whether the law or the lawless, they drink their coffee in the morning, their whiskey at night, and in between there's some salted pork, bread and maybe a bite of corn. Many smoke.

These Western stereotypes also have a pleasing mix of anarchy and freedom, but tinged with a sense of community, hard-work, morality and 'what's right and wrong'. Oh, there's a bit too much God-fearin' and that Old Testament rhetoric but I'm prepared to look past it and suggest that for then, back then, in those times, it was intellectual solace (no excuse now).

In the end maybe it's the stereotype itself that attracts me. I spent much of my late 20's banging on about post-modernism, about challenging the hegemony, bringing down stereotypes, throwing history away - stomping on it first - and starting anew with a Foucaultian Utopia where gender, race, class, sexuality, sanity and culture hardly exist beyond their entry in some dusty Museum's ledger.

But now suddenly I'm all, "Fuck it. A man's a man."

That's not denying variations thereof, nor does it condone violence or the evil that men do. Hell, it's the opposite. Sheikh Al Hilaly and his 'uncovered meat' fable diminishes the manliness of him and his flock as far as I'm concerned because real men act like real men, not like budding Satans with unbridled lusts for domination.

But saying a man is a man is a man is just saying, ecce homo, and, well, that's just how it is, and we all, deep down, know what 'being a man about things' infers.

It's the Western that right now exemplifies this for me, and this book is a highly entertaining Western.

I give it a B+.

(PS: The film 'True Grit' was a bit of a let-down of course. It was okay, but, it was largely ruined by a completely inapparopriate soundtrack (which seemed to never stop) that was lithe, light and fluffy - totally at odds with the themes of the story. Also, and I guess it's just because of when it was made and what audience they hoped to reach out to, the film, rather ironically lacked the very thing it promised most: grit.)

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Frankenstein



By Mary Shelley


THE PROS

The story itself is fantastic. Obviously, we all know the basics. Brilliant but mad Dr. Frankenstein makes a monster out of spare parts, it goes on a murderous rampage, the doctor gets on to the drugs, cue moral lesson #17 “Be careful what you wish for...” , some parallels with Actaeon getting eaten by his own hounds and about a hundred other metaphors, life lessons and subtexts ranging from Christian sexual dysfunction to, “Oh no, I ruined my soufflé... I’m Frankenstein!”.

But my knowledge of the tale was based on the B-grade cartoons and movies of my childhood, and The Munsters, and I was pleasantly surprised that at every corner I really didn’t know what was going to happen next.

I always thought Dr. Frankenstein was an old man. Oh no, in the original, he’s a gifted young University student when he brings the monster to life. I also thought he had a dumb hunchbacked assistant. Nope. And I also thought he ran through cemeteries gathering spare parts. Wrong again. In fact, Frankenstein is very vague as to how he gathered the parts, saying only that he, “...collected bones from charnel-houses...” and, “...the dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials,”. As for the process of bringing a monster into the world, he simply announces that one day he realised that he “...possessed the capacity of bestowing animation,” and, “...having spent some months in successfully collecting and arranging my materials, I began.” That's about the sum total of information we get regarding his creation. As for the particular science of the creation, we get nothing. Nothing at all. Still, good on Mary Shelley for not boring us with complex scientific wish-wash, and in a way, the lack of science and procedure helps the story chug along (something Hollywood needs to re-learn... yeah, I’m looking at you George Lucas).

The night Frankenstein finally animates his monster, his first reaction is: “How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form?... Breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.”

Cue memory of creations gone wrong in our own lives: In my case it was my Year 7 Woodwork assignment. I spent months creating a swan. I chiselled its wings, smoothed its face, put a little of myself into every sandpaper scrub and when I handed it in the teacher said, “What is it? A turtle? I’ll give you a C.” The next project was a tray. I failed, and started to become more bookish.

Anyway, after the monster comes to life, what does Dr. Frankenstein do? Instead of immediately putting the monster down, he runs into his bedroom and goes to sleep, leaving the monster to fend for itself. The most awesome moment of the book then takes place. The monster works its way into his bedroom.

“He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped...”

Even reading it now, and knowing what we do of the poor monster’s fate, it’s a powerful scene. What’s both tragic, and in its way quite hilarious, is that Frankenstein not only escapes, but he actually kind of just gets on with his life for a few years, only occasionally wondering what ever happened to that monster thing he created.

We discover later that the monster at that point didn’t even know what he was, or what anything was, including ‘life’, which reminds me of the great monologue by the whale, suddenly ‘invented’ and dropped from the sky in Hitchhiker’s... (I fear this reminder also exposes me as part-nerd).

“Ahhh! Woooh! What's happening? Who am I? Why am I here? What's my purpose in life? What do I mean by who am I? Okay okay, calm down calm down get a grip now. Ooh, this is an interesting sensation. What is it? Its a sort of tingling in my... well I suppose I better start finding names for things. Lets call it a... tail! Yeah! Tail! And hey, what's this roaring sound, whooshing past what I'm suddenly gonna call my head? Wind! Is that a good name? It'll do. Yeah, this is really exciting. I'm dizzy with anticipation! Or is it the wind? There's an awful lot of that now isn't it? And what's this thing coming toward me very fast? So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide sounding name like 'Ow', 'Ownge', 'Round', 'Ground'! That's it! Ground! Ha! I wonder if it'll be friends with me? Hello Ground!”

Heh.

But back to the horrror.

The fact the monster was smiling at his creator makes the scene all the more tormenting to me.

So anyway, a few years later, Frankenstein’s little brother gets murdered and by chance he discovers the monster was the murderer.

A confrontation occurs between Frankenstein and his monster; the monster demands a wife, otherwise there’ll be more killing. Frankenstein acquiesces, but changes his mind just before completing the bride, so he chucks the bride-parts into the ocean.

Of course the monster gets mighty pissed off and goes on his murderous rampage. The story then takes us as far as the North Pole where there’s plenty more excitement to be had.

There’s a great scene on Frankenstein’s wedding night, where instead of screwing his wife (who he’s been waiting to marry since childhood) he instead patrols the corridors of the inn, high on drugs, carrying a gun and ready to shoot the monster. I couldn’t help but detect a fear of sex in the whole scene and in fact, once I got to that bit, I realised that on just about every page of this book there’s plenty of subtext to rummage through, as well as some impeccably created mythology that we can use to both reflect and admire.

The fact that much of the imagery from this original tale still permeates our culture is testament to its many layers.

Also, published in 1818, I wonder if it's the first book to ever provide us with the oft-employed horror cliché of a lightning bolt illuminating a spine-chilling visage for an instant?

“I perceived in the gloom a figure which stole from behind a clump of trees near me; I stood fixed, gazing intently: I could not be mistaken. A flash of lightning illuminated the object, and discovered its shape plainly to me; its gigantic stature, and the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity, instantly informed me that it was the wretch, the filthy daemon...”

In fact, there’s a lot of horror clichés that could probably be traced back to this book and of course Stoker’s excellent ‘Dracula’, but I suppose back then when they were released they weren’t clichés at all. One imagines this book would have once been considered truly horrifying.

THE CONS

Oh, it’s all so POMPOUS. Unlike Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ , it’s ability to scare is diminished by the pompous upper-class twittery of the language Shelley writes in.

For starters, we can’t discern between characters and narrators because they all talk in exactly the same Lord Snot way as each other.

The whole Frankenstein family speak in identical Pompous Twat... and for fuck’s sake, SO DOES THE MONSTER. After going missing for a few years after his 'birth', the first time we hear words come from his mouth he sounds like he has a silver spoon rammed deep up his arse:

“All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us.”

Now, an eloquent monster is fair enough, but it’s a great leap of faith I’m forced to make that in only two years he has gone from ‘Ugga ugga ugga’, to learning the alphabet by eavesdropping on a family ,and then, for his first book, reading Plutarch’s ‘Lives’ (no joke, that’s how the monster got to be so well spoken in the course of a couple of years). But when Frankenstein responds with:

Abhorred monster! Fiend that thou art! The tortures of Hell are too mild a vengeance for thy crimes!”.. I began to realise that Shelley only had one style of writing, and it was coming out of the mouths of not just these two characters, but every other character as well, and the narrator(s). There doesn’t appear to be one linguistic differential between any of ‘em.

Add to that, Frankenstein is a fucking girl and it’s like Shelley grabbed a discarded Jane Austen character from the Austen family’s garbage bin, put a dick on it, called it a mad scientist and made it her central character.

Another thing that bugged me was its lack of sexual tension. The Magic Faraway Tree has more eroticism than this book, and so does Toadie from Neighbours and that tea-towel on my kitchen bench. Like, there’s none. You’d think, given that Shelley used to hang out with the likes of her libertine husband Percy and his best mate, the sister/bear-fucking Goth pinup boy Lord Byron, she’d give us a heaving bosom or a nod to someone’s virility or even a well-turned ankle, or a sweaty bicep, but no, it’s all just so chaste. In a sense, I ended up coming to the conclusion that the whole book was one giant reflection of Mary's own sexual dysfunction and/or disinterest, and I offer this un-researched and ill-informed scurrilous piece of gossip: Mary Shelley was a dud root.

Perhaps her only sexual reference was attributing these words to one of the narrators (a sea-captain who finds Dr. Frankenstein floating on a slab of ice) in a letter to his sister... “I have one want which I have never yet been able to satisfy, and the absence of the object of which I now feel as a most severe evil... I desire the company of a man...”

So Shelley has a bit of gay fantasy, but, you know, that line was on Page 4, and that was the end of that!

I can’t help but compare it to Dracula, which was both scary and sexy. Frankenstein is neither. It’s a little creepy at times, and even sad, but never really chilling and certainly not steamy.

Aside from the monster’s demand (not desire, it was only a demand) for a wife, there is zero reference to anything even vaguely approaching sex and in that, the book lacks a certain spunk. Even death is treated in a most inartistic and mundane fashion. So analysis of our two favourite themes in art, in life, in being a human – sex and death – are absent from this book (which is the complete opposite of the Holy Bible, which, is slowly dawning on me as the greatest documentation of our human lusts and our fear of/ obsession with death... and yet the pious amongst us would claim that the very opposite is true of these two publications).

Once this lack of primal themes started to sink in with me, Shelley’s Frankenstein started to bug me. Bataille would have not got past page 3.

**

I’ll leave the conclusion to the monster himself, in perhaps his finest soliloquy. This one actually affected me strongly because it reminded me of people I have met in my life - the ones that tend to fuck things up for everyone else.

“I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on. .. You hate me; but your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself...”

**

I give it a C Minus.


Mary Shelley - a dud root

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Top 11 Novels

It's been a while. This happens to me. About once a year, I stop reading for a month or so. I read newspapers, and sports statistics, and get into the footy finals and stuff like the Olympics and that, and the whole book thing winds down. But, I'll have two new book reviews next week... maybe even three (I'm on a novel, a science book and the Bible all at once).

In the meantime, because nobody asked me to, I'm going to be one of those 'list' people and I'm going to have a stab at my Top 11 novels. I have linked them all to Amazon, just in case you are swept away with interest and feel like buying them for yourselves (but please try to buy them at Readings first). I've also linked the authours to their wiki entry.

1. The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat

2. Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

3. One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

4. The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

5. The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima

6. Journey To The End Of The Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine

7. The Sound And The Fury by William Faulkner

8. L'assamoir by Emile Zola

9. Christ Recrucified by Nikos Kazantzakis

10. The Tree Of Man by Patrick White

11. Blindness by Jose Saramago

(Apologies to George Orwell, Red Badge Of Courage, every other Dostoyevsky novel, Auto da Fe, some Nabakov books, Enid Blyton, The Enormous Room, Steinbeck, For Whom The Bell Tolls and The Wizard of Oz... you all made the shortlist)

There's only so much one can say about another's list, so instead, please feel free to put your own Top 10 list in the comments (novels only).

If you think my list sucks, well, get fucked.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Madman's Island

By Ion L. Idriess

I was by myself last night because I wanted to watch Richmond play Geelong with no distractions and I had to stay at home anyway because I had work to do. Anyway, Richmond got hammered, and some locals had earlier asked me to go the pub later on.

I said, “I’ve lived in this town for two years and been to the pub only five times. For a reason. I hate it. It’s a cesspool of drunken fuckwits and the chicks are bogan slappers and half the guys wear those pants that are halfway down their legs like retards and surely their mothers couldn't sink so low as to love them... but thank you anyway for the kind offer.”

But after the footy I decided to man the fuck up and go to the fucking pub ‘cos I live in a small Australian town and it's What You Do.

All the people I knew there were dancing. Ugh. I didn’t recognise the music. It was that ‘RnB’ stuff that sounds like cats dying on top of a synthesiser. So I got chatting to this nice couple I know that blessedly were not dancing, and the bloke had his sister visiting. She was a journalist, and a fucking beautiful one at that. We got stuck into the wine, and argued about Oxford Commas.

“No!” she said of the Oxford Comma.

“You can’t stop us,” I said, “Me and my fellow Oxford Commarians. We’re coming. We will pillage, transform, and revolutionise the printed word”. Ah, it was highbrow for a while... and I was thinking, "Jeez, the pub's shit but I've found a nugget of gold with blonde hair and black stockings."


But then it turned. It descended into wine-induced madness, so much so that neither of us could speak properly and the next thing I knew I was playing pool with the journalist’s brother and some bogans from Colac and then the next thing I knew I was in bed alone and the bed was spinning faster than a Sunbeam blender.

I didn’t even try to pick her up. I’m an idiot. Though a rejection was probable, I shoud have at least given it a shot. But even if I got lucky, I would have fallen off. Her.

I don’t drink very well. I like coffee and cigarettes, and ecstasy, but if there was no alcohol left in the world I wouldn’t give a fat rat’s arse.

So anyway the point of all this is that today, Sunday, I couldn't muster the energy or will to do just about anything, and that included reading the two highbrow books I’m currently devouring. So, I crawled to the local second-hand bookstore, grabbed this book at random in the ‘Antiquarian Australian Fiction’ section (attracted by the title), brought it home, put myself in pyjamas, got the potbelly going and read all 238 pages in one sitting fuelled by Lipton’s Tea, Nescafe Espresso (the green label one), a pack of Dunhills and ongoing tomato/avocado on toast.

It was a fucking ripper. Set in the early 1920’s, and allegedly a true story with only minor embellishments, the main character Jack and this other bloke called Charlie are mining prospectors who are dropped off on Howick Island (north of Cairns) to follow up a rumour that there's tin on the island. The boat that drops them off on the desolated island is due to pick them up in a month.

But things go awry.

1. There’s a little bit of tin, but not enough to warrant a mining plant.
2. Charlie, a WW1 veteran, forgot to bring his medication which causes severe mood swings.
3. Charlie secretly decided he was never going to leave the island anyway – he wants to be alone for the rest of his life.
4. The boat doesn't turn up to collect them.


Charlie is the ‘madman’ acknowledged in the title. Without his medication, and scarred by a combination of WW1 and roaming the country by himself (sometimes living long periods with isolated Aboriginal tribes), as well as his physical sickness, he goes mad and tries to kill Jack.

Jack, who is only young, has to hide the whole time over the other side of the island and teach himself how to hunt and fish and survive in the mangrove forests, and also avoid being killed by crocodiles, sharks, stingrays, sand-fly swarms and even opium smugglers at one point, as well as his nutcase fellow island dweller.

He spends every night alone, hiding in a cave, a little scared.

“...on very windy nights a vast murmuring would come sighing over the island from the mangrove forest. In gusts, it would come, in sobbing shrieks that died away among the boulders. No wonder the legends of primitive man are full of ghostly things.”

Charlie’s madness is cyclical. The best twists in the story come when Jack, who spies on Charlie for safety, observes that he’s calm. When he’s calm, Jack actually goes and hangs out with him for a few days and they get along just fine but once he notices the mood swings starting to come on (probably PTSD or something) he has to go over the other side of the island and hide for his life because Charlie comes looking to kill him.

It’s riveting! It’s a gem!

But more importantly than the story itself, is the act of reading a cliff-hanging adventure novel on a chilly Sunday afternoon in your pyjamas by the fire. I ask you, is there a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon? I may not have had the pleasure of shagging the journalist, but what compensation!

God I love books.

I give this one a B.

In finishing, here’s a scan of one of the pages.

Two things to note.

The illustrator obviously didn’t bother to read the book. Jack often mentions the length of his beard but the picture shows a freshly-shaven man.

Secondly, I love seeing notes other people have written in second-hand books. I laughed and laughed when I saw the graffiti.



Monday, 7 July 2008

Fahrenheit 451


By Ray Bradbury




On the one hand, he did well to suggest that attention spans would degenerate and 'stories' would become more compact over time. On the other hand, I think he got it completely wrong to suggest that 'stories' would disappear and be considered dangerous. If anything, the opposite is true.
I generally don't dig sci-fi novels. They mostly offer implausible futures.


To be truthful, I didn't really get it. The robot dogs were pretty cool though.


C-.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Auto Fiction

By Hitomi Kanehara



Fuck me, this was just fucken shithouse.

The writer Kanehara is in her in early 20's and this is her second novel. Apparently the first was marvellous and she's 'an exciting new voice' TM. Lord help us.

The book is about a young writer called Rin, in her early 20's, who has written one novel and is considered 'an exciting new voice'. You see where this is going. Anyway, in the book, her publisher asks her to write a book of Autofiction, which is a kind of 'disguised autobiography' - you know, autobiography posing as fiction. Presumably, this book is the result.

The character Rin is a repugnant harpy. Now, there are two options for us to consider:

1 - Hitomi Kanehara is clever, and the character 'Rin' is nothing like her at all.
2 - The character of Rin is exactly like Hitomi Kanehara.

If it's option 2, then Kanehara is the last artist on Earth I'd like to meet, and that includes that knob who cuts himself and spits black ink... Mike Parr. Knob.

If it's option 1, then Kanahara has still failed, because she hasn't written a delightful book about a self-absorbed twat, she has written a horrible book about a self-absorbed twat.

Shakespeare creates bad people, but they are interesting to read about.

Kanehara has created a bad person, and all I could think whilst reading the book was, "Why the hell would anyone write a book about someone so shithouse?" You know, I know people like this and I don't want anything to do with them in real life, and then I got stuck with this bint for 200 pages.

The character has no redeeming features. None. Well, she's allegedly good looking, but that doesn't help. She does admit she's self-absorbed, but that doesn't excuse her behaviour. We also find out about her past, and yeah, some bad things happened, her ex beat her up, her parents were controlling, she had a drinking problem, but you know, other people suffer these things and don't turn into vacuous and arrogant morons like this Rin character.

At least Richard III was clever and interesting. Rin is neither. She's a horrid little brat and I didn't care two hoots whether she existed or not.

But her worst crime is not her stupid and childish paranoia or her penchant for emotional-blackmail, it is her irrelevance.

For example:

"There I go again! I lied again. I'm the same as Shah. I'm a liar. I'm a fool. It's not like the elements required for telling the truth about Shah's lie aren't here. There's still the thumping bass sound coming through to the room, but it isnt so loud that it hinders the conversation. I could have explained what kind of lie Shah told me, but instead I lied about Shah's lying!"

What is she? 9 years old?

"I sigh to myself and imagine what would happen if a clown were to mow us down in his van while rushing to a morning circus performance. Would he step out of the van to see our two bodies entwined? Would he climb on to our fatal embrace and start to ride us like a ball?"

Who cares?

These are just two selections, picked out by me flipping the pages, closing my eyes, then dropping a finger.

The entire book is like this. Start to finish. Childish thoughts piled on top of each other to build a Babel-esque tower of garbage that is so tall it irritates the underbelly of heaven.

In the end, here's what it's about: A writer who is paranoid, self-absorbed and really fucking boring, goes to lots of nightclubs and obsesses about bad boys. The end.

A good writer could have made something of it but Kanehara has made a fist of it. Her central character is a zero, and so is her book.

Give it a miss.

F.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Underbelly: The Gangland War

By Andrew Rule and John Silverster


























GET FUCKED! Not every book I read has to be highbrow la-de-fucking-da, does it? Go fuck yoursleves and suck a lemon, you who judge me. Up yours and sit on it cumrag. Pansy toff cunts!

(I was too embarrassed to buy it at Readings so I went across the road and bought it at that other store.)

As for a review, well, I mean, sweet Jesus, it is what it is. You know those concise articles Rule and Silvester write in the papers? Well, the book is just the same, but longer.

A re-print in about 20 years will be more interesting when they can actually print all the names. I got a bit confused with all the pseudonyms. I got confused anyway. There were 25 murders and none of them made any particular sense. The motives for the murders are as flimsy as a cardhouse, but I guess that's what makes them all the more compelling.

I went on a blind date last week. It didn't work out. I wanted a womb. She wanted a Trillionaire who looked like Johnny Depp. We got along okay though. Culturally we had nothing in common even though we were both skips from the 'burbs, but she was all Sex & The City and I was all Russian Ark. But anyway, we were at The Retreat in Sydney Rd and as we left, we peered down towards the Brunswick Club where Lewis Moran was shot. Our final chat was about the gangland killings. We had both watched the series on pirated DVD's and we chatted about 'em and I thought to myself, "This is such a bonding Melbourne thing." I reckon the gangland killings, like footy, is another of those great levellers that enables complete strangers to talk to one another. Carl Williams is a fucking celebrity whether we like it or not, and we're fascinated with him and his skank wife. I put it to you, behind this cloak of anonymity, that we're glad he's still alive; not because we are opposed to senseless death, but because there's a chance we can hear more about everything. The more they print, the more we'll buy The Age on Saturday, sit in a cafe and make sure everyone can see us reading the Book reviews and News Extra, but secretly we'll be busting to get home to read the GANGLAND 5 PAGE FULL COLOUR SPREAD EXCLUSIVE in the privacy of our own home where our comrades from the chattering classes can't see us. We're like fatties on diets, hiding in the toilet to eat a Mars Bar.

The Gangland Killings (TM) is interesting.

(I'm sure innocent patrons who happened to be drinking at The Brunswick Club will disagree with me).

But it's like what Jean Baudrillard said about 9/11. He made a bold statement... hell, it's more than bold. It's ugly. It's foul. It makes me squirm every time I think of it, and fuck, I don't even know if I wholly agree with it or whether there's any truth in it at all, but, I dunno, the line hits me somewhere that makes me feel very uncomfortable with myself. Here it is:

To put it in the most extreme terms, they did it, but we wanted it. If that's not taken into account, the event loses all its symbolic dimension...

- Jean Baudrillard


**

Look, on the one hand, Underbelly is the tale of very real people being very really slaughtered over drugs and cash, and the whole episode is abhorrent, and I'm thankful I had absolutely no connection to any of it.

On the other hand, when I read that Graham 'The Munster' Kinniburgh, when late to his own wedding, turned to his rather angry bride and said, "Sorry love, I had to see a bloke", I can't help but smile and think, "Heh. He had to 'see a bloke'"

They were a bunch of murderous thugs and utter cretins and I'm glad that they had the good manners to shoot each other instead of me.

But gee, they're kind of fun to read about. I give it a B Minus.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

A Death In The Sanchez Family

By Oscar Lewis




On the liner notes to Talking Heads' album Stop Making Sense there is a line which reads (from memory) "Rich people will spend lots of money to look at poor people."

Likewise, many authors have made a lot of money by writing about the poor. Pearl S. Buck, Emile Zola, Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck, George Orwell (though in George's case, at least he had a shot at living amongst the poor for a while as recorded in Down And Out In Paris And London - an odd little book if ever there was one, for we knew all along that he, at any time, could get some cash).

I guess it's because we like reading about 'the unknown'. A guy I met once had a theory that the reason mafia films, prison films and gangster films all do well is because we, the audience, aren't in the mafia, a prison or a crime gang so we're fascinated to know what it's like. Same goes for the poors.

This book is interesting, without being entertaining or marvellous or anything. Oscar Lewis, who I've never heard of, travelled down to the slums in Mexico and just interviewed people about their daily lives. Slowly, a book took shape. He came across some siblings, two brothers and a sister who were faced with the death of their aunt and her subsequent wake and burial. The book is wholly in their words, and it's a real downer. They are so poor (they consider the sister the rich one because she eats breakfast sometimes and can afford to go on the bus).

There's Manuel, the eldest, who takes most of the responsibility for family matters. He sells trinkets on the streets, and can sometimes afford to buy juice. Then there's Roberto, the middle sibling, who is out of jail and is also a street vendor. He has children, but they were taken by his younger sister Consuelo who was worried about their welfare. He hasn't asked for them back as yet. Consuelo herself is an uppity go-getter and a show-off because she, unlike every other character mentioned in the book, is not an alcoholic and has a sewing machine. Most of them live in one room slums with up to 8 people. They sleep on straw, on the floor.

To raise the money to bury their dear Aunt (who they suspect was murdered by her abusive alcoholic boyfriend - not that the cops would bother investigating because she had cancer anyway), they are forced to beg, borrow and steal from people as poor as they.

Some of the comments they make are stunning, and some of the scenes heart-rendering.

Consuelo, arguing the point that Mexicans cope with death well, says: "There's nothing charming about death nor is it something we have become accustomed to because we celebrate fiestas for the dead or because we eat candy skulls or play with toy skeletons."

Ah, that line could be re-worked to apply to each and every culture and belief.

Manuel adds: "The living get the chicken, the dead get the hole."

The boyfriend who they think killed their aunt (who was 30 years her junior) allegedly "....was a son of a bitch who hit her and who wanted to fornicate with her in front of people even when she was sick with a cancerous fistula." Nonetheless, Consuela wants all her Aunts belongings to be left to him regardless, on the grounds that she never left the guy even when he hit her, so, he may as well inherit her things. It's another world.

The worst scene is the funeral. She's placed in the poor person's section and they actually dig up an old plot to bury her in. Manuel says, "I saw leg bones still inside stockings and a skull that seemed to be smiling sarcastically at the other body about to go in." Meanwhile, the Priest won't give a service unless he is paid 35 Pesos, an amount they manage to raise but at the expense of eating food for a few days.

Here's my problem. I'm immune to it all. I'm western imperialist scum, or something. I'm a chardonnay sipping socialist in my comfy armchair beside a pot-bellied stove reading this book with extreme detachment. "Bah," I think, "Zola did this shit much better."

Talking Heads were right. Rich people spend good money on looking at / reading about poor people. We read about them with the same detachment that we have to the mafia... "This is not about me, or anybody even like me."

The plight of these Mexicans has, unfortunately, only one effect - my mild entertainment, purchased for $5 in a second-hand bookstore, soon to be lost in the bowels of my bookshelf.

I give it a C.

Monday, 19 May 2008

The Handmaid's Tale

By Margaret Atwood




I met a sound guy recently who had done sound for just about every major Australian rock band in the past 20 years or so. He was giving us all the backstage gossip and stuff, but generally, he wasn't one for back-stabbing or sneering. He enjoyed the company of rockstars and didn't really have anything too bad to say about any of 'em. The nearest he got was regarding silverchair. He had done a tour with them a few years ago and I asked what they were like to work with and he said, "Oh. Man, I'm just not on their trip."

I like that. He's not saying silverchair are bad people, or that they're wrong (something I would willingly say about silverchair), he just wasn't on their trip.

Likewise, I'm not on Margaret Atwood's trip. This is my second of hers (the other was Oryx and Crake) and in my dedication to the 'give each author three chances' rule I have one to go.

She's, umm, too wordy for me. Too descriptive. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I just don't like it. Unless an author I like does it, in which case I love wordy and descriptive.

In The Handmaid's Tale, about nine things 'happen', seven of which aren't that interesting. But the book is 300 pages long which means that on average every 'happening' took 33 pages to describe.

Let's have a quick look at her writing style:

Night falls. Or has fallen. Why is it that night falls, instead of rising, like the dawn? Yet if you look east, at sunset, you can see night rising, not falling; darkness lifting into the sky, up from the horizon, like a black sun behind cloudcover. Like smoke from an unseen fire, a line of fire just below the horizon, brushfire or a burning city. Maybe night falls because it's heavy, a thick curtain pulled up over the eyes. Wool blanket. I wish I could see in the dark, better than I do.

Now personally, I think the paragraph would be better like this:

Night falls. Or has fallen. Why is it that night falls, instead of rising, like the dawn? Yet if you look east, at sunset, you can see night rising, not falling; darkness lifting into the sky, up from the horizon. I wish I could see in the dark.

There, I halved the paragraph but the essence and the poetry remain. In that wise, the book could have been 150 pages instead of 300, and maybe I would have liked it more.

Atwood seems to have the ability to write 20 pages straight in the manner of that paragraph above where nothing actually happens.

(Speaking of 'nothing happens', my favourite ever war poem is this one by Wilfred Owen. Take your time reading it. Read it out loud, if you can. It's a ripper.)

The thing about the nine things that 'happen' in The Handmaid's Tale is that the two most exciting things happen in the last two chapters (not including the completely unnecessary epilogue which lost her some marks). In fact, nothing at all happened until about page 160! Reminds me of Conrad's Lord Jim which was 400 pages of absolute garbage where nothing happens and 20 pages tacked on to the end as an afterthought (he was under pressure from his publisher), with some of the most exciting stuff you'll ever read - if you can make it that far. Which nobody can. If anyone says they've read all of Lord Jim they're a lying fucking bastard.

So anyway, what is The Handmaid's Tale about? It's set in a totally implausible future where extreme right Christians control America with a Taliban-like fundamentalism. The narrator is a handmaid, and her job is to have babies for her 'commander'. That's about it. The storyline is implausible, the narrator is long-winded and Atwood saved all the good bits until the end. I dunno, maybe there's some post-actual meaning to it all, or it's some comment on the (imagined)influence of the Christian Right in the USA, or it's some discursive feminist tome about 'women's bodies'. Or something. I dunno. I probably missed the point.

I'm not going to be too harsh with my marks though, because, just in case the point was obvious and I missed it, I don't want to appear dumb.

I give it a C Minus.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Pablo Neruda Absence and Presence








I sat in the garden, spattered
by the great drops of winter,
and it seemed to me impossible
that beneath all that sadness,
that crumbled solitude,
the roots were still at work
with no one to encourage them.

Neruda

I was sooking recently to a friend about my inability to seduce Pony Girl from the Mallee Desert, even though I am quite sure we should get married tomorrow. The friend looked at me and asked, “Have you ever been truly in love?” and it was a loaded question. I knew what she was getting at. Pony Girl is a myth. Yeah, she seems perfect and all that, but in the absence of actually being her boyfriend / partner all I can do is be in love with the mythology of her, and so in the meantime, my friend was asking, of all my lovers and/or exes, have I ever truly been in love. I hate questions like that. I much prefer talking about footy (Go Tiges). Anyway, I was forced to concede that yes, indeed, I had been, and it was with a woman I often refer to as ‘that psychopathic ex of mine’, ‘whatzerface’, or ‘Andromeda 3.0’.

I was with Andromeda 3.0 for many years. We lived together, we owned property, we had two dogs and three cats, we were engaged, we were planning on having children and were approaching the wedding planning stage when I left her. I loved her to bits and would take a bullet for her. She loved me with equal ferocity. We were perfectly suited on a million different measurements and not only loved one another but revered one another.

I left her because she was a violent alcoholic.

She was riddled with mental illnesses (not her fault) which lead to many physical illnesses (not her fault) which rendered her anti-social, reclusive and unemployable (not her fault) and she became violent (her fault) and dependent upon alcohol (her fault).

I’m bringing this up because a) it’s my blog and I can say whatever the hell I want and b) this is relevant to the book review.

It has been two years since I left her, and she occasionally sends me text messages. They come in batches; whole series of them coming within the space of a couple of hours or so and she is clearly drunk when she sends them. They make no sense and are desperate and crazy. She’s sent me about 60 messages and I’ve sent three back. One said ‘stop contacting me’, another said, ‘stop fucking contacting me’ and the third was the wisest thing I’ve ever said – it was a response to a plea from her for us to meet again to which I replied, “the damage is done.”

The specifics of the ‘damage’ is neither here nor there, nor is the specifics of her illnesses and my decisions. What is relevant is that she loved me, and this was proven by the one message she sent me that came alone, that came when she was sober, and had nothing to do with our divorce. It said this: “You must read Pablo Neruda Absence and Presence”. That was it. That was all the message said.

So I bought it.

Then I read it.

It is exceptional.

It is a book made by a friend of Neruda’s, and it features excerpts from his poems, some essays about Neruda, and lots of photos of Neruda, Neruda’s house and his friends.

Neruda fans will love it, and even if you’ve never heard of Neruda and couldn’t give a flying fuck if he was in your pea-soup, you’d probably still love it.

But ay, there’s the rub.

You can’t read it.

This book, which I give an A+ to, is for me, not you. It is from Andromeda 3.0 to me. I want the whole world to burn every copy of this book that exists, except my copy. Because this book is mine.

Y’see, Pablo Neruda Absence and Presence was Andromeda 3.0’s very best way of apologising for the aforementioned ‘damage’, and after reading it, I then found the courage to admit to my friend that I once loved her. Of course, I told her I loved her when I was with her, often, and told other people all the time, but from the moment I left her, I never once said to anyone that I loved her - I refused to say the words - I was too busy calling her 'that psychopath' and refused, flatly refused to ever say I loved her because it was irrelevant.

This book means I can, now (though not to her, because that's not the point).

So, blog reader of mine, don’t read it.

It’s not for you.

This book exists solely for me.

Go read something else.

**

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Exodus

By Author(s) Unknown



KJV = King James Version of the Holy Bible, the only version anybody should read. The rest are shit.

PQT = Perseus Q Translation of the KJV

I went to a wedding yesterday and the Celebrant opened with, “We are gathered here today in the presence of God...” and I turned to a mate and said, “Run, God’s here! We’re in danger!” and he said, “What are you talking about?” and I said, “Well, I ate un-leavened bread with my roast lamb so he’s likely to put frogs into my kneading-troughs.” He stared at me like I was insane. “Trust me, I’ve read Exodus. And, I’ve been to Wendy Rule gigs and didn’t kill her. That’s also a crime in the eyes of God. ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’.” He told me to be quiet, but a little later on we started going, “Meep! Meep! Meep!” which is the sound of the chocolate éclair truck backing back for the bride.

Because they all get fat after they get married.

**

It’s the story of a man, unaware of his noble parentage that is adopted out as a young baby and grows up to be an epic hero who liberates his people. If you thought of my namesake Perseus you’re right. If you thought of Luke Skywalker you’re also right. But Exodus is of course Part One of the story of a dim-witted murdering thug called Moses who, just because he was the direct descendant of the tent-dwelling liar Jacob, is chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and to their promised land.

Unless Richard Dawkins is your Dad you probably know the basics. The Pharaoh orders all male Hebrews born in Egypt to be killed because he’s worried there’s too many of them (Jew hatin’ goes back a long, long way). Young baby Moses is sent down the Nile in a casket and just happens to be found by the daughter of the Pharaoh and even though she knows it’s a dirty Hebrew child, she adopts young Moses and in a very convenient plot-development, she asks Moses’ mum to nurse and raise him.

One day, all grown up now, Moses sees an Egyptian hassling a Hebrew so he kills the Egyptian in cold blood and buries him in a shallow grave, then, like a common crim, runs off to hide in the desert. While hiding from the cops in the desert, God pays him a visit in the form of a burning bush and tells him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to the promised land. With God’s help, he does this and of course there’s the classic scene where the pursuing Egyptians get drowned after Moses parts the Red Sea and also Moses gets given his Ten Commandments up on the mountain (but breaks them on the way down).

That’s pretty much it for Exodus, but, as I mentioned in my initial Genesis review, I’m going to read the Bible so you don’t have to. And so, for this review, I’m going to amass a series of ‘Things You May Not Know About Exodus’ , which are the things left out of the kids’ comic versions and summaries of Exodus most often published in regular media.

Things You May Not Know About Exodus

There’s a great line by God, and in the KJV it’s all in capital letters. God tells Moses he has to lead his people out of Egypt and Moses isn’t convinced. Like a spastic Kierkegaard, he’s asking, (PQT) “Who am I to lead the people, and who the Hell are you to ask me? Tell me what your name is so I can tell the Hebrews who sent me!” and God responds, “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14). On the one hand, arrogant cunt. On the other hand, he’s God, so it’s a good comeback. I’m going to use the line next time I can’t get into a nightclub. “Do you know who I am? I AM THAT I AM!”

**

It is one thing that God wants Moses to liberate the Israelites, but it is another thing for God to also want the Egyptian overlords to be punished so violently. If there’s any doubt that God is a psychopathic lunatic with the moral fibre of a cigarette butt, your doubt may be put to rest in Exodus. God, for some reason, decides to harden the Pharaoh’s heart so that when Moses tells him that he will lead his people away, the Pharaoh will say ‘no’. This then gives God perfect excuse to do the following:

“I will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt with all my wonders...”(3:20),

“...the fish that is in the river shall die, and the river shall stink, and the Egyptians shall loathe to drink of the water...” (7:18),

“...their steams... their rivers... ponds... pools of water... (will) become blood, and (there will be) blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.” (7:19),

“I will smite all thy borders with frogs. And the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly which shall go up and come into thy house and into thy bedchamber...” (8:2-3),

“...lice throughout the land of Egypt” (8:16),

“...sever between the cattle of Israel and the cattle of Egypt and there shall nothing die of all that is the children’s of Israel...” (9:4),

“...dust in all the land of Egypt, and shall be a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast...” (9:9),

“...plagues upon thy heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people” (9:13),

“...smite thee and thy people with pestilence, and thou shalt be cut off from the Earth” (9:15),

“...hail in all the land of Egypt, upon man, and upon beast, and upon every herb of the field...” (9:22),

“...locusts into thy coast. And they shall cover the face of the Earth, that one cannot be able to see the Earth, and they shall eat the residue of that which is escaped...” (10: 4-5),

“...darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.” (10:21)

And finally, just for good measure:

“...all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill, and all the firstborn of beasts. And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more.” (11: 5-6).

These are not idle threats. He did them ALL because HE IS THAT HE IS... a genocidal, bitter, corrupt maniac. We acknowledge that Saddam Hussein was a sadist who killed his own people, but God actually made these people that he tortures.

Ivan Milat is a more superior moral guide than The Lord.

It brings up much, and not just my dinner. All those zealots who claim every tsunami, earthquake, flood, fire and plague to be the work of God have, in a way, justification, for if you're a mentally ill religious fanatic who believes that the Bible is indeed the word of God, then, well, you would think the Boxing Day tsunami was God’s way of punishing Sri Lankans for whatever.

God, as presented here, is perfectly capable of this havoc if he doesn’t like your kind, and just like your common garden-variety psychopath, he’s easily provoked. In Exodus, at least seven times God emphasises that nobody should work on the Sabbath. He hammers the point home, repeatedly, to the point that I was yelling, “Alright, alright – shut the fuck up about the Sabbath”.

Point is: If you’re an uncircumcised Sabbath-day worker then watch out for frogs in your bedchamber.

But keep in mind, it isn’t just that he punished the Egyptians for making servants of his beloved Israelites, it’s that he deliberately hardened the heart of the Phaoraoh so that the Pharaoh would defy him and thus give him cause to destroy the country. This is akin to hypnotising someone into believing they are a chicken then killing them on the grounds that they thought they were a chicken.

God is not love. God is hate.

On to some more trivial fun stuff...

**

Moses is a self-confessed dumb-arse. “O my lord, I am not eloquent... I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (4:11), so God also recruits Moses’ brother Aaron as the ‘talker’. Aaron actually plays a very big part in the story as Moses’ 2IC, like Robin to Moses’ Batman.

**

Interestingly, God claims credit for making people the way they are, regardless of their physical and mental afflictions. He says, “Who hath made man’s mouths? Or who hath maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I the LORD?” (4:11).

You know what this means for anyone born with a disability. God made you that way. Remember that. He chose to make you that way.

**

For some reason, just before Moses goes into Egypt to confront the Pharaoh, God decides to kill him. In a pub. Yes, a pub. Moses is sitting there with his missus probably having a beer, getting ready for the big day, and God turns up and “..sought to kill him.” (4:24). Luckily, Moses’ missus quickly circumcises their son with a sharp stone and throws the bloody foreskin about and God lets him be.

No, I don’t get it.

**





After Moses parts the Red Sea and gets the Israelites through, he un-parts it as the pursuing Egyptians are coming through and they all die. We all know this bit, but what you may not know is that all it did was make the Israelites fear God... because of his violence, and fair enough. But, they decide to write a song about it and they all sing it, and it’s a real cheery song. Here's some of the poesy:

“I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously:
The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea...”
“Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power:
They right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.”
“Thou stretched out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them.
Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou has redeemed.”


...and here is a particularly poignant line in the song

“The people shall hear, and be afraid:
Sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina.”


**

All the Israelites are in the desert, hungry. So God makes it rain bread.

**

There are many references to God being better than all the other Gods. Even God claims he’s better than the others – he admits he is a jealous God. Which infers... there’s other Gods.

**

If you hate God, God will hate you back for four generations. So even if your daughter becomes a nun, bad luck. If Mother Theresa’s great-grandfather was an atheist, God will hate her. He is very clear on this.

**

There’s the ten main commandments (the first draft of which Moses smashes in a hissy fit), but there’s many other laws God comes up with. Here’s a random selection. If you buy a Hebrew servant you have to let him go free after seven years. If you swear at your parents you will die. If you beat up your servant and he dies you will be punished, but if he’s just battered and bruised and can keep working then that’s okay because he is yours to beat up. You can sell your daughter to a good house. If an ox kills someone, you kill the ox and whoever owns the ox. If you dig a hole and an ox falls in it whoever dug the hole has to pay the ox owner compensation of more than the value of the ox. You can’t have sex with animals. Whoever sacrifices to another God, “...shall be utterly destroyed.” (22:20)

The only nice one is to not oppress strangers. That’s sweet.

**

It is Exodus that introduces us to the concept of, “...if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (21:23-24)

**

God doesn’t particularly care about bridging the gap between the rich and the poor. When it comes to offerings, “The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel.” (30:15)

**

Just like in Genesis when Abraham haggles with God about how many Sodomites to kill, Moses also haggles with God about the proposed death-count of non-believers. At one stage, God decides he wants all the Israelites killed as well, because they’re annoying him, but Moses haggles him down. God may be bargained with, which backs up something my grandfather used to say: “I don’t believe in God, but if I’m wrong and I die and face Him, I’m going to have a few words to say to that bastard.” The Bible clearly shows us that you probably can have a few harsh words with ‘that bastard’.

**

There is an orgy scene. Moses goes up into the mountain for a bit of one on one nattering with God – for forty days - and a lot of those waiting down in the desert get restless and so they make their own God out of melted jewels and they dance around it naked. Moses finds out and with God’s blessing he has most of them killed. “Thus saith the Lord of God of Israel. “Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.” And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses; and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.” (32:27-28)

**

Priests (or Rabbis, I suppose) are first invented / defined in Exodus.

**

Nick Cave has read Exodus. “...that they may make all that I have commanded thee: the tabernacle of the congregation, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy-seat that is thereupon...” (31: 6-7). So have the makers of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, “...a cloud covered the tent of the congregation and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (40:35-36)

**

Moses is 80 years old. At least they made Luke Skywalker young and virile.

**

Exodus is 40 chapters, but nine of them concern themselves with interior decoration, fashion design and architecture. They are the most boring chapters I have ever read of any book, and there’s nine of them. In fact, the whole book is ruined by these chapters. They should have just stopped at about Chapter 22, but no, I had to endure passages like this: (28: 4-8)

And these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a broidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle: and they shall make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, and his sons, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office. And they shall take gold, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen. And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue, and of purple, of scarlet, and fine twined linen, with cunning work. It shall have the two shoulderpieces thereof joined at the two edges thereof; and so it shall be joined together. And the curious girdle of the ephod, which is upon it, shall be of the same, according to the work thereof; even of gold, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen.

It goes on like this for nine chapters. It’s a shame, because the next exciting instalment (Leviticus) promises to be just as violent as this one. We know the Israelites are going to rock up to their promised land and God promises he’ll inflict some carnage on to the people living there already. Can’t wait. Still, it would have been better if some canny editor 2,500 years ago deleted these chapters, or maybe included them as footnotes and combined Exodus with Leviticus.

**

Thoughts

As a stand-alone book, Exodus is a let down. It starts brilliantly – gore, bloodshed, war – and finishes with eleven chapters of design that Vogue Living would reject, word of God or not.

Still no Heaven or Hell. Just death when you die.

The line: “...darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.” (10:21) creeps me out. It’s one of the most intensely evil lines I’ve read, and it comes from the mouth of our loving creator. It is, I guess, open to interpretation, but what I’m reading is that he will put Egypt into darkness both physically and emotionally. He is saying that he will creep everyone out, make them scared, jumpy, mentally ill perhaps, blind in sight and blind in reason. I find it a more violent punishment than the frogs, the locusts and even the killing of the first-borns. He is saying, “I will give them mental disease.” God is truly wicked.




His punishments far outweigh the crimes committed. It’s like Hiroshima. Yes, the Japanese were a threat, and we were at war, but the A-bombs dropped outweighed the circumstance. Maybe we could say the same of Dresden. Maybe. The Nazis were pretty fucked. Likewise, God’s treatment of the Egyptians for keeping the Hebrews in servitude (and mind you, there’s no mention of them being treated horribly) far exceeds the weight of their apparent crime. And why, why I ask, why would he do this to his own creation? In times of war, we can sort of understand carpet-bombing and annihilation, but senseless slaughter by the creator of the Universe? It defies logic. Why would anyone choose to be religious, even if it is proven that God exists? Why should we do anything this mongrel wants us to?

There are answers, for sure. We are his creation so we have to play by his rules whether they make sense or not. But, I am sure that we, as an enlightened people, should very easily get over this childlike subservience to a freakazoid that doesn’t even exist.

You know how to turn a religious person into an atheist?

Make ‘em read The Holy Bible.

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I’d like to say one more thing: In another blog, under another name, I have written essays about anti-Semitism in Australia. It’s one of those things that shits me up the fucking wall, particularly because much of it comes from my alleged ‘comrades’ on the left-leaning end of the political spectrum. I cry Orwellian tears when fellows who I admire throw their support behind psychos like Hezbollah and Hamas and are forever going on about Israel-this and Israel-that and Jews-this and Jews-that. In their eagerness to label George W Bush ‘evil’ they inexplicably make their enemy’s enemy their friend. “Sunni insurgents hate the US so, umm, we support Sunni insurgents.” Yeah, you, Socialist Alliance. And you too, 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Never mind that these same insurgents are Jew-hating automatons with apocalyptic tendencies and are just middle-eastern half-witted knobs with deplorable attitudes to women, gays, children, Jews and democracy.

Exodus is a highly interesting document in the history of the Middle-Eastern conflict. Here we have the Jews, hated even back then, being told that they are the ‘chosen’ and being lead to their ‘promised land’ and the battle is still raging. As an atheist I can say, “This is land is not promised and therefore you can’t have it,” but as a humanist I say, “For fuck’s sake, please have it because no matter where you seem to go you are hated. Please, have this safe home we call Israel and every fanatic Muslim around them there parts... just fucking deal with it." And please don’t think this is an attack on Muslims either – I’m directing my attack solely at those Muslims who are apocalyptic and are calling for the total destruction of Israel. Unfortunately though, there’s a lot of them.

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Exodus, despite getting off to a good start, is not nearly as interesting or as entertaining as Genesis. It is, however, marginally more evil. Although I recommend reading Genesis, I don't recommend reading Exodus, not because of the action, but rather, the lack of it once The Lord gets into his home renovation phase.