Thursday, 22 May 2014


I am writing my 15th novel and it is called 'The Deck Scrbbers'.  I shall now detail what happened to the 14 before that.  Here's the first five. 

1: SOME, IN FACT MOST PEOPLE ARE FUCKED.  I wrote this when I was 20 and it was nothing more than an exaggerated diary entry.  I mythologised myself for 250 pages.  It was about the realtionship I was in (and how it ended), and it was truly awful.  But, I re-read it recently and I'll give it this:  It was unintenionally a perfect snapshot of the Melbourne late 80's- early 90's goth-punk music scene, (pre-Nirvana), and a reasonably well presented coming-of-age tale, seeing the young man dropout from uni, enter the workforce and try to juggle responsibility, flatmates, relationship, drug binges, writing poetry and all set to a cracking soundtrack.  Writing it I didn't realise how much the music played a part in the book - it's only on the re-read it jumps out.  The bands always got mentioned, the pubs, the albums... it's wonderful.  And Melbourne itself comes out well... there's one scene set at a poetry reading (Squib - Eric Dando was a character in it).  It's a nice snapshop of my life at that time, but it's not publishable.

2:  UNDER THE FINGERNAILS OF BYRON'S ATHENIAN LEGACY.  This was the exciting sequel to the first novel, but the mythology was ramped up.  It was about 300 pages and details a year in Athens, Greece, but with added Greek gods running about.  It mainly concerns my falling in love with Betty Lekkas from Pireaus (in the book I changed her name to Bessie Lekkas).  It is an awful book, but still the same music angle plus sex and drugs and all that which makes it readable for me.  The writing was better than in the first novel, but it's still unpublishable.

3:  FROG IN TNE VELVET LOUNGE:  From the previous novel I got the idea of a Greek God intercating with humans, and I took it further here.  I wrote it first as a film script.  I sent it to Jan Chapman who procued 'The Piano'.  She read it, sent it back, congratulated me, and suggested I workshop the script with a theatre group, stage it as a play, then send it back to her.  I approached a theatre group and they were keen, but two weeks later they went bankrupt and I gave up.  So, I turned it into a novel instead (though I never quite finished it).  It holds up well to this day and I should return to it some time.  It concerns a young insurance clerk (me, disguised - I did a year at an insurance company) who wants to be a poet.  He lives in a large share house in Fitzroy and all his flatmates are going away for the weekend and he has the house to himself.  He can't wait.. he's going to write poetry all weekend.  It opens on Friday night.  He's at home burning all his old poems because they're shit, when three junkes break into his laundry and start stealing his clothes.  He catches them.  Rather than hand back the clothes, they ask him for money - he gives them $20 and they leave, taking his best jumper.  He then turns that into a poem (though he calls them 'three monsters' in the poem) and recites the poem out in the street (at 1am).  It wakes a neighbour, who yells, "Hey Picasso, shut the fuck up!".  "It's okay," he says, "I'm a poet."  The neighbour says, "Well juxtapose this you cunt!" and throws a rock at him.  That's all in the first chapter and it is one of the greatest openings of any film or book ever.  He wakes up the next day and the Goddess Athena (re-imagined as a punk chick) is in his bed.  Madness ensues over the course of the weekend.  It finishes on the Sunday night when he grows a dick.  Literally.  It's great. 

4.  OPIUM AND FALSETTO The third novel (above), all set in the one house over the course of one weekend, got me interested in cabin-fever a bit, and how a lot can happen in one weekend.  This book was set over two years about a couple that never leaves the house.  It opens and the man, Opium, is 20 years old and his lover, the violent and unhinged Falsetto, is 31 and married.  The house is enormous... like, the size of a castle.  It has 'wings', it's own zoo, observatory etc.  The book opens with Falsetto beating up Opium with a cricket bat because she found a list he'd made with his Top 10 favourite things in the world.. Books came in at number one, Falsetto at two, so she beats him mercilessly, but then decides she better stick around and nurse him back to health and not return to her husband.  Over the course of two years, the house gradually shrinks, Falsetto gets younger as Opium gets older and by the end of the book, it's a one-bedroom apartment in Richmond, Opium is 25 and Falsetto is 19 and needs to get back home to her parents' house because she has an assignment due the next day.  And it's only two days' later.  It takes 300 pages or so for the reality of the situation to become clear.  It was too ambitious for my talents (lack thereof) and I gave up almost half-way through. 

5.  JOEY Another reason I gave up on the novel above was that I realised I wasn't too fussed about the boy/girl dynamic, and I wanted more characters.  This fifth novel was about Joey, an insurance clerk who wants to be a poet, calling a work-sickie on a Tuesday morning as he wanted to spend the day typing his poems up on to his new computer.  He lives in a one bedroom flat in East Melbourne, on Hoddle Street (by coincidence... so did I when I wrote this).  But, word spreads he has called in sick.  It's a bit Ferris Bueller, but anyway, all sorts of stuff happens throughout the day, people coming around, and there's marital affairs, a murder investigation, a suicide, a fire and lots of sex and drugs, all in his apartment, all on the one day.  It was all very surreal (I used that word correctly, by the way), and about 80 pages in, I realised I didn't like my own surrealism.  I was going through a David Lynch phase. 


I was 25 years old and had five novels complete or partially complete. 

Saturday, 10 May 2014

The Slap Review

By Christos Tsiolkas.

Very disappointed, very annoyed... with myself.  This has sat on my shelf since the week it was released, but after buying it I ignored it.  First of all, it was about normal everyday people living in the suburbs of Melbourne.  I thought:  Why should I read about that?  That's just my life and most people I know.  As Perseus Q scholars will know, I shy away from 'real-life dramas'.  I like books with grand themes.  I couldn't give a fuck for the minutiae of Western society. I like murder, death, sex, power, religion, collapsing nations... fuck the soap operas and fuck the fruity melodramas.  That's why I can't look at a Good Weekend (or any Sunday magazine insert in any newspaper) without wanting to kill people.  Second of all, everyone was talking about it, and then it became an ABC mini-series, and I have this social/intellectual disease that presumes if a work of art is instantly popular (as opposed to the slow-burn) it must surely be fucking shithouse.  Thirdly, I had in mind my review of Tsiolkas's other book I'd read, 'Dead Europe' where every second chapter (historical account of main character's ancestors) was fantastic, but every other chapter was about a gay bloke gaying around Europe being gay (note: if it was a heterosexual bloke heterosexualing around Europe being heterosexual I'd be equally ambivalent).  Being that The Slap was set in the now, I figured it'd be more like the half of Dead Europe that bored me shitless.  It sat on my bookshelf, lonely.

The Slap is the best book I've read in years and here is why.

I am a couple of years younger than Tsiokas.  He went to Blackburn High and I went to Mitcham High and the only thing that separated those two High Schools was Nunawading High (now a housing estate).  I was lower than middle class, but higher than lower middle class.  Mum never worked.  We holidayed in caravans.... but we holidayed.  I'm not Greek, but our school was populated about 10% Greek, so we all knew Greeks and had Greek friends.  I also happened to be a philhellene (Byron, Iliad, 'Clash of the Titans', Bullfinch) and ended up living in Greece for almost two years in my early twenties.  I speak some Greek.  I was best man at a Greek wedding.  I used to go to The Retreat when it was Greek and eat saganaki, drink wine and dance Greek until 3am.  I want to be writer.  I am writing a book.  I'm halfway done.  It's my 15th novel.  I am not gay but what I do for a living has put me my entire working life around gay people and I have many gay mates and I am simply not fussed by their sexuality but I do find their sexuality endlessly interesting to chat about.  I know alternate bands - intimately.  I didn't work at a vet surgery but I worked in audio-visual rentals.  What's all this matter?  I understand Tsiolkas.

Not only that, I may as well have been in the novel.  I knew every character.  I've been to their houses, I have been to their parties, I have eaten with them, fucked them and taken drugs with them.

The second-most awful person in the book was Rosie (her husband the worst) - she's the mother of the kid that got slapped.  Her cunt of a husband goes missing and she gets help from an Aboriginal Muslim family-friend.  They eventually find him in a pub but he's wasted so they leave him there.  The Muslim takes her back home and she's sitting in the kitchen.  We know her past.  She was once very promiscuous.  She's now just a fuckup.  She's eyeing off the Muslim (who has turned his life around - he used to be a drinker and fighter) thinking she should suck his dick, and I was getting all tense, but then he says to her: "I don't want you or your husband or your son in my life... I don't want you to talk to my wife, I don't want you to be her friend..."  Rosie loses them as friends, and the Mussies buy a 2 bedroom house in Thomastown.  It was at that point I realised it was the greatest Australian novel in a long time.  I realised it was about power, sex, religion and death - everything I want but it just happened to be set in Melbourne.  It's Game of Thrones: Coburg. 

See, the problem with Australian novels is that they are either cliché (bush setting), or they're about junkies (gee there's a lot about junkies) or they are meant to be about normal people but aren't.  They are about extraordinary people but the writers and publishers sell it to us as 'real-life' when it is not at fucking all real life.  The people in these real-life novels are far too sophisticated and altruistic, and quite often saint-like.  It's bullshit.  But Tsiolkas's people are real.  They look out for number one, and maybe numbers two to seven, and that's it.  Seems about right.  Like Germaine Greer does as well, he says what I think but I never know how to say it. 

Manolis, the old Greek man said this of my generation (but in reference to a female character):  "Her beauty, her sophistication, her education, none of it meant anything.  Monsters, they had bred monsters."  I know why he is saying that.  I know old Greek men.  I know old men.  I know my friends.  I know me.  Tsioklas knows me too, and he knows that we know we are monsters, but that we cannot help but be monsters in the eyes of the older generation, and we have to be monsters to our peers and our offspring, but that does not devalue what the old Greek man thinks, nor does it devalue how we live our lives.  We're Gen X.  That's just how it is.   We will make our mark like every other generation has made theirs. 

It is close to flawless, but there's one flaw.  One of the eight chapters, Aisha, read like a diary entry.  It lacked the flow of the other seven. 

It's now going back on my shelf to sit there proudly.

I give it an A. 

Monday, 21 April 2014

We Have Always Lived In The Castle Review

By Shirley Jackson

 I worked too hard for ten weeks, like, stupid hours, like, getting home at 1am and then getting up at 4am to go back to work.  It was fucking fucked.  So Easter was meant to be my time to relax a little, have some quality time with the kids, mow the lawns and read a book or two.  It started with taking Miss Norsename to the Wiggles concert last week (I used to blog about going to see Japanese noise band Melt-Banana, now I'm going to Wiggles concerts... ready!  steady!  kill me!) but at the concert she caught a cold.  Now me, the missus and both kids have colds, and the three month old hasn't done a poo in four days.  They can't go out much during the day either because of their colds and so they, and we, have cabin fever.  Bedtime is a disaster. We have to lay with them for up to two hours.  If we try to leave there's tears.  I did mange to read a book though - this one - and here's my review (because I'm pressed for time and at any second one of the kids might start screaming again):  It was a very good book.  I give it a B+. 

PS: Did I mention we moved to Colac?  I'll say this about Colac, it's not as bad as Moe.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Stranger With A Gun Review

By Bliss Lomax

Bliss Lomax is a non de plume of a bloke called Drago who wrote about 100 westerns under various names.  I'm not sure why you would need several non de plumes for the same sort of thing.  I mean, if he wrote westerns under one name, and Greek histories under another I could understand it, but all he did was write westerns, but, you know, as the kids say, whatevs. 

I love Westerns, and this one didn't disappoint.  I knew I'd like it when on page one, writing of a fella named Jep who owned the 'store', Lomax wrote: "He was well acquainted with the law that made it a criminal offence to sell whisky on Indian lands.  He violated it every day and thought nothing of it."  Ah, the lawlessness...

I hate book reviews that regurgitate the plot.  Any decent review should summarise the plot in no more that 20 words then get on with the review (or, as in my case, the 'reaction') so here's my 20 words or less plot:  Struggling cattle family forced to move north after government eviction.  They hire stranger with gun to help.  That'll do. 17 words. 

So what's in there?  Here's a checklist:

A tomboy heroine, holding her own against the rough and tumble of cowboys: check.
A stranger comes into town, full of mystery and danger: check.
A rich cattle breeder who thinks he's above the law and causes great trauma: check.
A repugnant, illiterate and violent thug that does the bidding of the rich bloke: check.
An honest, hard working old cowboy who's just trying to look after his family: check.
A good natured and wise 'negro': check.
An epic cattle run: check.
Shootouts: check.
Double-crosses: check
A 'dance' that all the townsfolk attend: check
Characters who intimately know their way around the epic open expanses of several states: Check
Total disregard for Indian sensitivities: check
Utter distrust of northerners, and the political system: check
Awesome meals: check (my favourite in this book was "Fried ham, hominy grits and black coffee.")

So it had everything I needed, and then, as a bonus, I got the extras that round out any decent story - the scenes and plots that differentiate it from its genre-cousins.  In this case, we had the baddie being motivated to do his evil solely out of unrequited lust for a woman.  We also got a description of that woman naked (you never see that in old Westerns).  There was an unambiguous attempted rape.  And of course, hominy grits. 

Democrat President Grover Cleveland also came under attack by the author (I'd never heard of him, so I did some research) and interestingly, he was criticised on two fronts, one being a left-leaning complaint (lack of care for the Indians) and one a right-leaning complaint (meddling in the common man's business). 

I listed in my True Grit review all the reasons that Westerns delight me, but after reading this book I can add one extra observation that tickles m'fancy - that roaming cowboys are sort of like hippies.  They don't mean to be.  They are certainly more manly than hippies.  But that acute awareness, enjoyment and respect for nature and animals is kind of hippy.  I just wish hippies were as hard working and as reliable as your average noble cowboy.  And as manly.  Androgynous is cool if you're urban and sassy, but if you're just a dirty hippy it's kind of rank.  Have a fucken shower and cut off those dreadlocks you wanker.  Androgynous hippies are just too lazy to have a gender identity. 

I recommend this book if you happen to like the things on my checklist.

I give it a B-minus. 

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Getting Of Wisdom Review

By Henry Handel Richardson
(who's a bloody sheila!)

I really enjoyed this one.  I suspect it helps being an Australian, even more so a Victorian, and even more so a Victorian who has lived in Melbourne and the country because when she describes the house in Chiltern and the blue gum down the side, the streets of Prahran, the walk between South Yarra and Collins Street, and the sands of Portsea, I could see and smell it all, even though it was written and set at the turn of last century.

It's a coming of age story, loaded with cliché.  The (relatively) poor girl at the posh private boarding school, struggling to fit in.  You know how that all goes.  Well, prima facie that's what it was.  That's how it's marketed.  But all I saw was lesbian subtext, centre-left politics, atheism, feminism and even a sense of what the kids these days would call 'emo'.  Two of the girls who our heroine, Laura, sort of befriended, near the end of the novel and just before they matriculated, talked of their aspirations.  One wanted to be a doctor, the other a journalist.  There was no doubt they had the smarts and talents to have been these things.  But their fate was sealed in one line - one became a housewife, the other a governess " the obscurity of the bush".  But the last we see of Laura she is running off into the distance, thorough a park, having finally left the school and its inferred she went on to bigger and better things, and in that, there was an ambiguously happy ending.  But until that point it was a pleasurably uncomfortable read, with its twists and turns always unexpected, and our heroine never being either particularly likeable or unlikeable - just real.  It's also written brilliantly.  Such clear language, and after the convoluted sentence mangling I endured with Pynchon, it was an utter delight.  I put the book down, and then the missus' water broke and next thing I know I had a baby boy.  Things right now are good. 

I give this book a B.

Monday, 20 January 2014

The Crying Of Lot 49 Review

By Thomas Pynchon,

Free to good home: 3 x Thomas Pynchon Novels.  Just email me your postal address (perseusq at gmail dot com) and I'll send you an unread copy of Gravity's Rainbow, a half-read copy of Inherent Vice and a half-ready copy of The Crying Of Lot 49, and in return you just have to send me one book you think I might like  - you win in that transaction.  I have given up on Pynchon, and I don't want his books to poison my bookshelf any more.

I heard a while back that Paul Thomas Anderson was making a movie of Inherent Vice, and, figuring I'd probably go see it as I like PTA films, I further figured it was time to try Pynchon.  I bought the three novels (all new) and started on Inherent Vice and hated it.  The dialogue was so impossible, implausible and nonsensical that I found myself yearning for a descriptive passage to break the confusion, but when I got a descriptive passage, I had no idea what he was describing.  This is not being anti-art, or anti-prose, or anti-anything, hell, I read Shakespeare for fun and I can happily spend hours pondering a single Dylan Thomas line. I dig Kathy Acker!  So, I'm not being lazy in dismissing his dense sentences, evasive storylines and dialogue that smacks of snippets, hints and echoes of actual conversation - no, it's not laziness on my part, I just hate it, that's all.  To quote TISM - it's novel, it's unique, it's shithouse.

But, just this morning I decided that maybe I was just in the wrong frame of mind when I tried Inherent Vice, so I picked up The Crying Of Lot 49.  I followed the storyline for all of three pages.  Then he started doing what he did in Inherent Vice... not one piece of dialogue seemed realistic, 'quirky' characters popped up by the fuckload, came in, dropped hints, then off they fucked, leaving me confused.  Pynchon lays out a storyline, then goes all Jackson Pollock on it.  But at least a Jackson Pollock can be positioned to match the upholstery on your couch. 

In this book, a woman is named as the executor of her ex-lover's will, and she travels to California to deal with it, then, I read 60 pages of her not doing anything about it, and instead becoming engrossed in nonsensical plots and subterfuges.  It was clearly going nowhere so I stopped at page 64.  The dialogue made no sense at all - it doesn't sound like people talking - it sounds like a word generator is just throwing words around - and the story, meagre as it is, is merely a backdrop to Pynchon's quirky use of language and his "important comic talent" (Spectator) which reminds me, he's meant to be funny?  Never cracked a smile. 

Pynchon fans will argue that I am trying too hard to 'get' it.  I argue back, I don't care if I get something or not so long as I am entertained or informed as I go, and he does neither for me.  It's just words.  It's just hip words randomly scattered like he's Kerouac's retarded cousin. 

I like stories.  I like well-told stories.  I like well-told stories with believable characters.  I just don't think Pynchon a) can do that for me and b) even wants to do that.   I am glad he has his fans.  I am glad they have all found each other, but I live in a different literary world.


Sunday, 19 January 2014

Familiar Review

By J. Robert Lennon

Thank fucking jesus, finally, a modern page-turner that I loved reading.  This was a ripper.  I read a book called 'The Light Of Falling Stars' by this same dude a few years ago, and though I barely remember any of it (plane crash, survivor) I remember really liking it, so decided to give his latest a crack and I'm happy that I did.  I read it in a day, because my missus, Andromeda, is a week overdue with our baby no.2 and all we can do is sit around and wait.  She's been watching Ellen, Australia's Biggest Loser and some other reality show where northern English people have sex, and I've been watching cricket and reading books.  I have so much time on my hands I've even been watching Big Bash (an aside: I am barracking for Hobart because there are two Melbourne teams, both called 'Melbourne', which is fucking spastic - couldn't one be called 'Victoria?' or 'Yarra' or some other form of differentiation?).

But the book... so this woman called Elisa, late 40's, is driving home from interstate after visiting her son's grave - he died about 10 years ago, when he was 15 - and suddenly, she's in a different car, in different clothes, with a different body (fatter) and she gets home and she has a different job, different friends and her son is alive.  Parallel universe?  That's what she thinks, and she investigates.  It's a mystery novel of sorts, but the real clue, I found, was in one line in chapter 21 - "Her thoughts have always been more interesting to her than the world itself."  Much earlier in the novel we become well acquainted with her vivid fantasies (she re-imagines petty disputes she used to have with a college room-mate, but in her re-imagining, they are violent and mixed up with current affairs) and so from my reading, one of the worlds she is/was in is real, the other a vivid fantasy.  Which is the real one?  Who cares?  It's brilliant. 

It reminds me of Sartre's comment that he finds ideas more real than things - in his excellent book 'Words' he says, "In the zoo, monkeys were less like monkeys" - as in, compared to what he thought of monkeys by reading about them and looking at them in books.  I have always been attracted to Sartre because of this.  I feel the same way.  I got to the Parthenon in Athens and it was a lesser place than the Parthenon of my mind.  I have fond memories of both Parthenons.  So this book made perfect sense to me.  Which is more real?  Neither, in the end.  A vivid fantasy is just that: vivid, and real life is not always so vivid.  I can easily live in both worlds, and this is a novel that takes that concept further.  On top of the basic premise, it's also a well-written mystery with interesting characters and reveals.  I also liked how some characters smoked. 

I give it an A-minus.


Friday, 17 January 2014

Monday, 13 January 2014

Eyrie Review

By Tim Winton

Without meaning to, I keep reading books about loners who fuck everything up even though they logically know better.  I find that plot (if you could call it that) excruciatingly dull.

The first half of this book was annoying because I wanted to slap him.  The character, not Winton (he seems like a decent bloke).  Then, suddenly, like headlights over the crest, came a story, and the book went from being the diary of a whingey cuntface to a page-turning love story with an added crime sub-plot.  It was terrific but for some reason the publishers forgot to print the last few chapters so I don't know what happened.

What's that you say?  It was meant to stop there?  The fuck?  What is it with these modern writers stopping stories instead of finishing them?  Oh, it's The Sopranos all over.  I watched that fucking show for years and they didn't finish it.  I'll never forgive them.

I mean, like, come on.  Can you imagine Homer giving us The Iliad, and the horse is wheeled into the Trojan camp and the night is falling and Homer says, "I'll just stop it there and let people come to their own conclusions?"

Shakespeare's writing Macbeth.  The Dunsinane woods are moving, Macduff is on his way, and Shakespeare's stage note is, "Bring down the curtains!"

Authors:  Unless your name is Raymond Carver, finish your fucking stories.  Thank you.

I give Eyrie a C-.

Next baby due this week.  This one's a boy.  I wanted the name 'Ulysses' but the missus said no.