Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"a thin bat's squeak of sexuality"

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1945).

This book is hilarious, romantic and also, disappointingly, a little bit rubbish. I loved the social satire (fits on my shelf with Nancy Mitford), I loved the critique and the sadness of the crumbling classes, and the homoerotic relationships ... and the language! It is divine! I dog-eared all the pages and underlined all the lines.

The story opens to Charles Ryder as a middle-aged army captain, who happens to be stationed at a big country house during WWII - called Brideshead. But! It is not Charles' first time here, and we are then swept back into his memories of being a young man and in the company of the enigmatic and ever-so-slightly troubled Sebastian Flyte.
Just the place to bury a crock of gold,' said Sebastian. 'I should like to bury something precious in every place where I've been happy and then, when I was old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember.'
...I must write to you as I am mourning for my lost innocence. It never looked like living. The doctors despaired of it from the start.
Sebastian is much devoted to Aloysius, his teddy bear. How this made me laugh! A teddy bear driving a car?! What ho! Sebastian writes in a letter to Charles:
I have a good mind not to take Aloysius to Venice. I don't want him to meet a lot of horrid Italian bears and pick up bad habits.
All the interactions between Sebastian and Charles are charged with sexual energy, lots of references to lips and faces. But Charles is drawn to Sebastian's sister Lady Julia, too. When he first meets her (rushing to the sickbed of Sebastian, who has actually only sprained an ankle) she asks him to light her a cigarette:
It was the first time in my life that anyone had asked this of me, and as I took the cigarette from my lips and put it in hers, I caught a thin bat's squeak of sexuality, inaudible to any but me.
But he feels peace when not with Julia. Is it because their love overwhelms him? Charles is a bit of a softy. Also, it is obvious he is in love with Sebastian.

But years later, a now alcoholic and mostly useless Sebastian having floated off to North Africa, Charles is returning to England via a fancy cruise ship from a painting trip he took in South America. Here, he and Julia succumb to their mutual love over the course of a couple of days, while the ship is buffeted by very rough seas and poor Charles' wife is seasick and in bed. These scenes on the ship are wonderful. Surreal, almost, and romantic.
Ten hours of talking: what had we to say? Plain fact mostly, the record of our two lives, so long widely separate, now being knit to one.
And they are a little hilarious. When Charles' (cheating) wife is seasick he unsympathetically describes her suite as a maternity ward and she is so wan and pathetic when she receives a bouquet of flowers:
as though the game were a private misfortune of her own for which the world in its love was condoling with her ... my wife seemed to make a sacred, female rite even of seasickness.
Then, especially towards the end of the novel, religion becomes (well, it was a theme throughout but really dug itself in here for the long haul) a big part of it - and ruins the story for me. According to the notes at the front of the book, Evelyn Waugh became a devoted Catholic and this book is kind of a hodgepodge that he wrote in a very short amount of time, which represents his conversion. But it made the story so unsatisfying for me: so C and J can't be together because she is too much of a sinner? And poor, poor Sebastian who thinks he is mad, or has indeed gone mad, and has gone to live with monks/priests? No one seemed to be happy, they had happiness but they threw it away because of Catholicism. So strike me down and call me sacrilegious but I could have done without this part, Evelyn.

I enjoyed A Handful of Dust more. But that is for another day. Tell me, what did you think of this one? What am I missing? Am I just a sucker for a happy ending?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

the golden age of aviation

Cath Crowley recently posted a playlist for Graffiti Moon, which included Sunlight in a Jar by The Lucksmiths.
Overblown libretto and a sumptuous score
Could never contain the contradictions I adore
We can just be chaos and then something aligns
It's so hard to contain, maintain it or define it
So, inspired, I thought what's better on a ever-so-slightly grey Sunday than a little Luckmiths singalong?

From the album Staring at the Sky, The Golden Age of Aviation is one of my all-time favourite Luckies songs*.

The Golden Age of Aviation

For argument’s sake let’s pretend we could stop arguing
Over which of us is wrong and why it isn’t you
We’re barely awake before your head’s up in the clouds again
There’s nothing you like more than having nothing much to do

Stood akimbo
Staring out the window at the sky

All afternoon you’ve been buried in a biography
Of an aviatrix lost at sea, never to be found
Holed up in your room, holding out for an apology
But gravity will get to you eventually

You’ll come down from upstairs again
With all those model aeroplanes

And the novelty wore off
When the pilots still wore goggles
But your eyes look skywards
And your mind still boggles

I’m going grey but you look younger than a year ago
When you put your hair in pigtails and you put your hand in mine
We’ll be OK - I’m happy when you’re here
But oh, your smile can seem as far away as once upon a time

You can’t help it
Hopelessly nostalgic

A passing interest in the past
But I think it’s going to last a little longer
I’ll hold on to your hand as tightly as I can
But modelling glue is stronger

The novelty wore off
When the pilots still wore goggles
But your eyes look skywards
And your mind still boggles
Through frequent flyers’ disappointments and disasters
The golden age of aviation never lost its lustre

*I love planes, am the first to look skyward at the sound of one.
Here's the 'Little Ripper', my grandfather's Piper Arrow.
If you ever want to get me a present, I would like to go up in a biplane.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Five years ago I started working at The Sun Bookshop in Yarraville. My heart was grieving for the little town I had just left in France's south west, but the fabulous women (and, later, man) of the Sun took me in and helped me make Melbourne my home once more.

They supported me through the HELLISH HELL that was my Honours year and let me take off ten weeks to go gadding about the world when I felt the urge in 2008 (well, there was a wedding I just HAD to go to, people to travel with and terrible coffee to drink) and then moved things around for me when I decided to go back to study once more. During my years there we opened the Younger Sun and I was allowed to make it my baby - a children's bookshop to play in! What more could a girl ask for?! Well, there were good times and bad.

But they were nearly always the best of times.

With plenty to read, and Saturday dancing.

And people who let me sell them my absolute favourites.

But then late last year I had the enormous good fortune to interview for and then, amazingly, get a job in children's publishing. And it was way too good a chance to pass up. So I packed my little bag, bought the team a new stapler and some teacups, wrote a list of very strict instructions on how to treat my baby (which I hope they just gaily threw out and started doing things their own way) and made my way to Richmond* where I now spend my days with a new amazing bunch of women (and one man) who are 'totes awesome' and awfully good at their jobs. I love it already.

But change isn't easy. I miss my bookshop job. I have to change the way I blog around here. Richmond isn't quite as nice as Yarraville, or at least not as ville-esque. And I still miss that village in France, so I guess it doesn't go away. But I know it's all going to be something like an adventure**!

*technically still Northside. Though its Southside mentality is unnerving.
**apparently I am an eternal optimist. What?? I might not find the next Harry Potter in the slush pile? Phooey!***
***ok, KH. i probably won't...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

what does the future hold?

The Future of Us, Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

A mostly entertaining story about what some teenagers might do with the information given to them by a bizarre portal to the future through a strange website called Facebook. It has a familar, funny Back to the Hot Tub Time Machine Future take on the future, borrowing cheap jokes from Almost Famous (which were cringeworthy then), Mick Jagger still rocking as an old man, etc.

FB pops up on Emma's new computer when she first loads up the Internet and she's horrified to discover the picture of an older version of herself alongside a bunch of short inane comments about her life. How vapid it can be? This is what I personally hate about social media. Contemplating highlights, attention-seeking behaviour making pathetic comments about her husband - blurg. But the character of young Emma as she is presented, I was hardly surprised that she would grow up to be that kind of FB user.

Emma isn't nice, but perhaps that's what the book is about, it holds a fifteen-years-later mirror to her face and she has to rethink the way she acts. The message and the outcome are a bit confused though. She was manipulative to the end, selfish and shallow and there was little chemistry between the two leads. I just kept wanting to shout at Josh run! get out of there!

The book's story is a love story, but I would have liked some more about the world as a whole - what has changed since 1996? Death of Princess Diana, September 11, George W, Obama, another war in the Middle East, tsunamis and floods and earthquakes. But not even just political: reality TV, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman splitting, Madonna's weird arms and hands ... it could have been really fascinating to see the world through a FB feed, links to news articles and photographs of significant events.

I wanted to love this book. A quick read, funny in parts - possibly will entertain the yooths with the outdated technology. I pretty much agree with this NYTimes review.

But speaking of disappointing and vapid ... I saw Young Adult.

I forgave Diablo Cody for Juno because Ellen Page was so damn endearing and because Allison Janney is my queen. And Young Adult had such a brilliant poster, Charlize Theron is pretty amazing and I love a good return-to-your-hometown story. Unfortunately I don't think the film was funny, nor insightful, enough to be successful. Mavis was so sad, so alone, and she needed help. She was narcissistic and mean and desperate. But nobody learned anything, nobody changed at all. So what was the point?

Not only this, but it was generally accepted that Mavis wrote YA (even though I don't know that her Sweet Valley High-type books are really YA) because she had been unable to leave her teen years behind.

Now that's a depressing thought. And so, so wrong. It is such a special gift that YA writers have of being able to remember the wonder and the joy and the angst of being a teenager or young adult. I would never want to tell any of my favourite YA authors to grow up! For it isn't about living in the past, but being able to tap into it and tell a great story. That's what Young Adult lacked. A story.