Reading Underwater

Location: Sydney, Australia

I used to blog about books - until I got the complete Stargate boxed set.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Head of the Corner

The other week I read a charming little book called Head of the Corner (Google won't find me a picture)by award-winning journalist, novelist and poet Grace Ingoldby.

At least I think it was charming, in a way that reminded me a bit of Virginia Woolf's trick of getting completely inside people's heads.

It was about a collection of mismatched variously flawed and self deluding characters who'd all found refuge as guests or workers in a convent on an small island off Ireland. They all thought about their lives while the convent set about closing down and moving to Europe. Half the dialogue was with people who weren't literally there - not including conversations with God and the saints.

But the points of view shifted and there was so much interior monolguing going on that I'm not entirely sure what happened at the end SPOILER ALERT Someone might have claimed to have seen a miracle. Press may or may not have descended. This may have been a foolhardy ploy to fake a miracle to keep the convent on the island. My real problem was that at the end "a familiar looking body" was found floating in the harbour without any more identifying clues. I could think of at least three characters it might have been including one who'd died and been buried in the island's cemetery that was meant to be falling into the sea chunk by chunk, someone who'd been said to have fled the island but may have killed himself instead of going home and the resident no-hoper who might have tripped over a sheep. But I simply couldn't work it out for sure END OF SPOILER.

And it was driving me crazy.

Over the next fortnight I had a couple of odd dreams about these Irish nuns.

In fact, I was so bothered by not understanding this basic plot point, I tried to find a review of the book. I mean on-line of course.

But I couldn't because it's from the late 1980s.

And then I found out that the author, sweet, clever and wise Ms Ingoldby passed away almost three years ago.

So I can't even ask her what she meant.

Maybe I should just set up a book club.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Must be here somewhere

It's been two and a half weeks since we moved but I still feel more dislocated than relocated. I keep turning the wrong way in the kitchen, opening the wrong drawer in the bathroom and fumbling for light switches which aren't where they used to be. For two weeks I didn't have the internet which meant that I had to do about three hundred administrivial things like paying bills and finding out about bin night by talking to actual people using what my mum calls the steam powered telephone. It felt really odd to ask questions out loud rather than looking for a written answer on a website. And the boxes I've unpacked! Who knew that thousands of books would need scores of boxes to move a mile. And none of them feel like they're in the right places yet.

The fact that the government changed while I was off-line gave me a real sense of precariousness about the state of the world. The telly kept talking about "Prime Minister-elect Rudd" but I didn't really believe it because I couldn't read political bloggers. I kept expecting to wake up one morning and find out the election result was all a house-moving delusion.

This sense of unease and confusion wasn't helped by reading the deeply unsettling A Game with Sharpened Knives by Neil Benton/. This is about the physicist Shroedinger (of the cat fame) who left Austria for political reasons after Hitler invaded. He sought refuge in Dublin during the Second World War when the infant Irish nation was in a state of tenuous neutrality, being bombed "accidentally" by the Germans and half expecting to be invaded by either side.

Schroedinger didn't really fit in. He lived with his wife, mistress and unacknowledged child in a deeply Catholic society. His home life suffered because of food and heat shortages and because he had a disastrous affair. His work wasn't going well. The weather was foul. He had enemies, both real and imagined, everywhere.

Benton created a great sense of menace and danger throughout this book that kept me perpetually off balance as I waited for some momentous disaster or another. I also felt quite out of my depth during long discussion about Irish poltics and physics. So, not really an easy read for a beach holiday.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Regrets, I have a few

We're moving house next week-end so Beloved and I voted this Saturday.

Curiously, this isn't one of the 30 grounds for eligibility for a pre-poll vote. Having to work, travelling interstate and being more than 8 kilometres from a polling place for the whole day all are but being a gibbering wreck because your worldly possessions are hiding in boxes so you can't make a cup of tea without dismantling a cardboard tower all confusingly labelled "kitchen" that has somehow been wedeged between the bedroom door and the disassembled bed frame is no excuse.

I know from past experience that there's no way I couild cast a valid House of Reps vote in such a mental state, much less vote below the line for the Senate (and I have to vote below the line. No way those big party party preference deals are going to detract from me exercising my democratic right to put Pauline last).

So off we went to the local community centre, fictitious story about planning to drive to Brisbane on Friday prepared in case anyone asked.

But they didn't. Phew, wouldn't want to be caught LYING to an Commonwealth Official, would I? There might even be a $50 fine for that.

It was pretty painless actually. There was hardly anyone waiting which was just as well because Winnie was grizzling and it took ages for me to get up to number 79 on the Senate ballot. And we met the mother of one of the candidates who seemed quite nice. They even had long enough string on the pencils in the cardboard booths for me to write with my left hand without contorting and looking like I was trying to cheat from the person on the right.

But it's hard to believe we now have to wait a whole WEEK for the result. A whole week to wonder if I did the right thing...

And now GetUp has this quiz to help you make up your mind by matching your opinions with candidates' policies. Of course, based on this, I should have chosen someone else. Do you think they'd let me go again?


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Poor semicolons

Between the Christmas catalogues from every shop in the city, real estate ads and the electioneering guff, the letterbox has been pretty full lately. Luckily, junk mail is of tremendous interest to small babies. The pictures are bright. The pages make a delightful crackling sound when scrunched and one of Winnie's great joys in life is tearing pages into bits small enough to fit into her mouth.

I don't like her actually EATING this stuff though. I mean should I bother sterilising her bottles if I let her eat chemically treated wood fibre covered with glossy inks?

I'm also fairly sure I don't like the idea of her ingesting some of the political messages either, especially the poorly phrased and designed brochure that arrived today containing the following crimes against punctuation:



The Liberals won't be there to stop unions going into small business and dictating economic policy; costing jobs.


With no checks and balances, in a cosy and risky relationshop between the Labor States and Labor Federally; small bausinesses, our strong $1.1 trillion economy , and the families dependent on its stability, WILL suffer."

It's the semicolons I feel sorry for. It's not their fault but they reakly do look dumb up there.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Swimming with Sharks

Oops, looks like I fell off the internet again.

I read >Sea Change by Robert Goddard the other week. This was a great read about dastardly political skulduggery and derring-do in eighteenth century England and parts of Europe.

Goddard tells a really complicated story about what happened to the secret account books of the South Sea Company, which collapsed disastrously embroiling most the great and good of the time in a bribery scandal. Many different people are on the trail of the book with murder in their hearts. Through it all, a hapless impecunious mapmaker struggles to keep his head and get the girl.

This was an utter delight: the sort of book I wish Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle had been. There's a dizzying cast of lords, earls and other titled bods but a helpful glossary at the back helps the reader keep track. Goddard clearly knows his stuff but doesn't beat you about the head with everything he's found out.

One of the more dangerous people chasing the book hither and yon worked for a parliamentary committee of inquiry. He was sent overseas armed (with arms and with powers of arrest) and able to demand full assistance from the diplomatic service. Let's hope Mrs Bishop desn't get ideas for using powers like that in her next committee inquiry.

Assuming she gets another inquiry after the election...

Speaking of which, both local candidates for the major parties were at our local fair in baby-kissing moods yesterday. Beloved and I looked at each other in horror and hurried Winnie home.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Blog Entry 220: in which Mary tries vainly to say something new about motherhood

Winnie is five months old today.

So I've had five months of casual clothes, not wearing a watch and and struggling to do the most basic administrative tasks between baby sleep times.

If anything, my gorgeous girl looks more like this picture of Winston Churchill than when she was born - except for the bow tie. She's one of those babies whose impossibly round cheeks complete strangers feel compelled to pinch. Most of the time she finds this hilarious. The rest of the time, she's a screaming horror.

When's she's awake, her two settings are delight and despair. The tiniest thing (or nothing visible to the adult eye) makes her swap between the two. I spend half the day singing, shaking jingling things and waving toys at her to keep her smiling.

I'm still a bit surprised by how interested I am in her. It's like my genetic programming kicked in when she arrived and a switch in my brain turned me clucky. I lie awake and worry about the world she'll live in. I want to buy her endless toys and clothes but haven't bought anything for myself for six months. I devour news stories about babies and children and utter silent prayers of thanks to unknown powers that we've avoided major problems so far.

This means that I'm not reading very much at the moment. Even stranger, I feel no burning urge to be snarky about books I haven't enjoyed that much (Irvine Welsh, I'm talking about Glue here. What a waste of ink!) or to tell people that I agree with the Booker judges about The Inheritance of Loss and other judges about Mr Pip (Yes, very good. More please). I just sort of want to let things flow for a bit.

It's a beautiful day. I'm going to take Winnie for a walk and if there's time to read a book, I'll enojy it if I can.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Drugs are bad, mm'kay

I knew having a baby would cost me money, take all my time and mean I wouldn't be going to the movies for a while, much less going out dancing every week-end.

I even half-expected far worse things to happen than did (eg stretchmarks, not finding childcare, losing touch with childless friends)

But I didn't know it would cost me my will to blog.*

Weird eh? Actually, not really. Half the time I'm too busy playing happily with my gorgeous girl to blog and the rest of the time I'm in far too high dudgeon about the idiocy of all levels of government to type anything I won't regret later.

But I can't let Mrs Bishop's latest outrage against years of expert opinion for the sake of political pointscoring pass without comment.

She's Chairman (sic) of a parliamentary committee that has just recommended a new emphasis on zero tolerance for drug use as opposed to harm minimisation strategies that actually treat addicts as human beings and addiction as a health not a moral issue. To give her credit, at least the non-government committee members were allowed to read the report this time. Her last major inquiry (into childcare) was discussed at a meeting arranged for when it was common knowledge that the ALP members were busy electing Kevin Rudd as their new leader. They complained. They got nowhere.

Yesterday Mrs Bishop was on
Triple J's the Hack program using her Margaret Thatcher perfumed steamroller approach of repeating ad nauseam that drugs are bad and policies that allow drug use to continue in any form are bad.

My carefully thought out comment is:


Bring on the real election campaign.

*Years ago, when I was an impressionable teenager, there were anti-drug ads on telly that said something like "I knew heroin would cost me mony. I didn't realise it would cost me my friends, my job, my looks, my boyfriend and my health." Probably just as ineffective as the scary ones showy ice addicts gouging their arms but they made the point that there were consequences of addiction.