G'day. I'm Sue, a writer and a reader from Australia. I have a fervent belief in multidimensional versions of me in parallel universes who spend all of their days reading and writing. I blog in long, web-unfriendly sentences at

Reservoir Dad - Clint Greagan

How do you write about sweetness without it sounding like schmuck? Or family life without it sounding boring? It's hard doing sweet. It can so easily go too far, so that instead of a delicious fairytale you get Disney, remanufactured so as to not scare the children and in the process shaking off important clumps of dirt that are meant to be psychological pointers. Fairytales are meant to be illustrated psyche-walks, where you play all the parts.


Caramel tastes best with salt. And this book is nothing like boring. It's the way fairytales are meant to be, with light, with a bit of dirt, with high-note sweet that aches, midline vanilla, and a few bottom notes of aching grief.


Reservoir Dad isn't a fairytale or a fable, though. It's a life. Five of them, joined together. Clint Greagen lives in Reservoir, in Melbourne's slightly-inner north. (When he asked what Reservoir was like as a place to live, the real estate agent told him, "It's getting better." Reservoir was once the sort of place that if you called it Reservoir, using the French pronunciation, you'd be laughed off for being a wanker. Melbourne house prices being what they are, though, these days old-school Reservoorians have migrated out further, to Craigieburn).


Clint and his wife, Tania, have bought their first house. Then, along comes Archie. Then Lewis. Then Tyson. And then Maki. Not long after Archie is born, they make the decision for Tania to return to her job as a physiotherapist and part-time lecturer and for Clint to take on the role as a stay-at-home dad. This book is the story of those days.


How refreshing that he recounts it with such honesty. I wonder, in broadly speaking terms (this caveat needs insertion when about to talk about gender), if Clint was a woman would he have deleted more of the times he's going nuts, the times he's losing it? Or, if he did, would he hang onto the guilt for as long as many women would? I know I'm generalising here, but these are some of the thoughts I wondered while reading Reservoir Dad.


It's a bloody funny read. Highlights of the Minutes of the Northern Dads' Group are illuminating:


11:20 - I make and transport fresh coffee to every Dad and listen in. The topics being covered by each group are as follows: Jack and Ben: global warming, backyard maintenance and sex; Dan and Joe: hangovers, kids, cricket, immunisations and sex; Kelvin and Simon: children's pop-up books, how great kids are and sex

12:00 - A child poos. All Dads present sniff their child's bum. Eventually the culprit is located and excluded from the group until the proper corrections have been made.

12:30 - The children and Dads all gather around Ekko to pat him and learn proper pet-handling behaviour. In his excitement the dog rolls over and, along with its belly, exposes a long lipstick-shaped penis. Ben's son reaches for it immediately. All the Dads freeze on the spot and scream in horror which, thankfully, shocks the dog back into an upright position.

12:45 - A hotly fought competition ensues between the three Dads and their children to see who can leap from the porch and land the furthest from the rose bushes.

12:46 - One hamstring says ping

There's some interesting stuff in here about the politics of stay-at-home dadding. Of those who speak down to him. Of how trailing around after your partner is home from work raving for 30 minutes straight is not so much a gender issue as it's a need-adult-convo-now issue.


On the stress and feeling of complete uselessness during Tania's labour to bring Archie into the world, and the appearance of the anaesthetist:


He wore blue pants and a blue shirt, just like the rest of the employees in the hospital, and in another building he may have even passed as an inmate in a low-security prison. But I'll always remember him as the man who entered the room standing atop two pure white draught horses, whose clip-clopping sent the message of hope down the halls and into every room of the birthing ward. He was wearing the purple and gold robes of kingly eminence. The dull, off-white walls around us sparkled with the magnificence of his crown. I rubbed the weariness from the muscular buttocks of his steeds and fed them the finest muesli as he honoured us both by slaying the monster I had only been able to wail at. As he took his leave from our lives I fell to one knee and whispered, 'My Liege.'

And on change-table Archie:


He defecates like a startled duck. He wees straight into the air almost every time I change his nappy, which is freaky to say the least, although I was surprisingly nonchalant when he jet-forced a sample taste - mid-stream strength - directly into my mouth.


He has a bulbous pot belly - a direct inheritance from Tania's dad - with light blue veins running over it like patterns on an ancient Greek milk jug, and when I combine that with the wide-open eyes rolling and jolting about in their mad search for focus, I am unable to stop my mind from playing random image association games ... here comes E.T. and Fat Albert on his spindly little legs saying, 'Hey hey hey!'

Self-deprecation and hyperbole are a delicious combination. Intersperse them with moments of pure, aching love and that very human emotion of wishing for things to last forever and this book has some heart-punching moments. On a bedtime conversation with Tyson, four:


I assumed he was mostly asleep and so I whispered, 'Luv ya, mate.'

From my vantage point behind him I saw his cheek rising with a smile.


'Why?' he said.


I was immediately overwhelmed by a sense of wonder and longing. In this dark room, on the bottom bunk, with the likelihood of another sleep-interrupted night ahead, came the prospector's pan rising above the surface of the stream, the glint of gold already visible.


It was the expectation I heard in his voice, I think, and his smile that made me aware of the opportunity to affirm something that would last a long time for the both of us - maybe forever. 'Just because I love you, mate,' I answered. 'And because you make us all laugh. And because you're such a great dancer ... especially to Gangnam Style. And because you jump so high. And because you use snappy crocodile fingers when you draw. And, do you know, when you're away at kinder I miss you so much and can't wait to see you again.'


And that was enough. As I watched him wriggle his head back and forth to reach further into the comfort of the pillow I was fully aware of how little time I had left. All the rooms Tania and I have filled will one day be empty. The beds of our children - those I often groan with exhaustion to climb into - will be gone.


Greagen has lovely-honed observation and poignancy. On Archie as a new baby:


His tongue creeps out past his lips, then draws back inside, then creeps out again, and I get a little glimpse of who he might be because it seems to ignite some curiosity. He holds still at first, enthralled by the slimy sensations firing around the edges of his mouth but when his tongue retreats he starts panting in his excitement to feel it again and harnesses the energy in his limbs just enough to make his elbows shudder like wings buffetted by a steady breeze. All the effort causes him to vomit a little, and as I wipe it away I panic: What if Tania and I are killed in an accident?

On a quickie with the wife:


... I've lain there afterwards, used and glowing, comparing her attitude and approach to that of a black widow spider, except that instead of eating me once she's finished she can just make a sandwich or open a packet of Cruskits.

Some funny moments comes from the eight months the family spend living with Tania's parents while they have their house rebuilt. Sexual frustration, the stress that comes with living in your in-laws house exacerbated by your now-four children taking over? Leads to paranoia. And murderous intent. Living in close quarters with someone, everything grates. When it's your mother-in-law, tripled that. This is why you put her tongs in the dishwasher - you know it will drive her crazy and keep you sane. It's only right when she insists on stirring her early-morning coffee so that it "sounds like she's pushed a woodpecker's head into the cup and shoved a finger up its arse."

Clint never shies away from the stress and mind-boggling craziness and the relentless, boring grind of raising kids ... or the way the love pours in and melts his heart all over again. The way the love is so strong that it holds back the desire to do harm, to go bonkers. It's refreshing. Surely every person on that crazy morning run must desire to "stay home and watch DVDs and eat Vegemite scrolls and maybe start growing some marijuana plants as the first step to raising four career criminals."


This book came from the crazily-popular blog of the same name, which Clint started writing as a way of processing his stuff. Every crazy person knows that writing helps make you at least a little saner, right?


So how do you represent sweetness and the everydayness of raising kids? How do you do it honour, so that it doesn't smarm or bore? Just have a dad hopelessly in love with his wife and his kids write to tell you about it direct. None of that 1970's distant dad disconnected from his emotions here. Clint loves his kids and loves being a dad and he'll warm your heart telling you about it, and about how vulnerable it makes him feel. ('This feels illegal,' he says to Tania as they leave the hospital with newly-born Archie). He'll also lay it out on a red satin pillow of self-deprecation, hyperbole, honesty, a little bit of tragedy, a decent nod to the haunting moments of our lives, and a wicked sense of humour and that's why it works so well. It reminds you again of how normal bringing up children is and how damn awesome everyone who does it at least nominally well is. Even if your taste in 80's music is outright cruddy.


Published by Random House, July 2014

Our Tragic Universe - Scarlett Thomas

The deep thinking and deep discussion going on in this book is my version of chick lit.  If you love exploring ideas, then a read of Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas might just tickle your fancy like it did mine.  It ponders its way through the complexity of relationships, roaming through explorations into science, pseudoscience and philosophy, pondering what's able to be known and what isn't, what's real and what isn't, and how we all get sucked into our own narratives.

Meg is a thirtysomething writer who's stuck within her own novel, the one she's kept rewriting and rewriting and deleting until it's where it is now, back at a measly 43 pages.  She's also stuck in a relationship that's sinking fast, is contemplating entering another, and she's broke.

She also has rather interesting friends who have wonderful intellectual discussions.  If this is the sort of dinner table conversation you like, then perhaps we should have dinner:

"Aquinas wondered what would happen if God wanted to achieve universal resurrection.  In other words, bringing everybody who had ever lived back to life at the same time.  What would happen to cannibals, and the people they ate?  You couldn't bring them all back at the same time, because the cannibals are made of the people they have eaten.  You could have one but not the other.  Ha."  I looked at Rowan.  "That's a good example of a paradox."

... "This is an interesting conundrum," Conrad said eventually.  Aquinas focuses this problem on the cannibal, but in reality everything is made of everything else.  Every boat I build used to be a tree, several trees in fact, and perhaps meteorites, iron ore, plants and so on.  You can't eat your cake and have it too.  I think this is where the paradox comes from."

Depending on whether you think this sort of thing is pointless intellectual masturbation or it stimulates your imagination will determine whether you find this book a pain in the bum or a rollicking good ride.

Personally, I love books where the protagonist spends time pondering the reality of perception of her dog, Bess:

B gave me a look that I anthropomorphised into 'What on earth are we doing now?', so I explained to her that we were going to go and rescue Josh and then drive home to Dartmouth, and we might see some squirrels on the Lanes and when we got back it would definitely be time for her dinner.  She cocked her head sharply each times he recognised a word: Josh, home, squirrels, dinner.  I wondered if I could communicate with B more efficiently by using only nouns and then stringing them in the rough order that they were going to happen.  Was that what the world was to B?  Was it all just nouns on a timeline?  There had to be a bit more to it than that: she was visibly thrilled at the idea of squirrels, even though, as I'd said to Libby, she didn't chase them any more.  She did look a bit baffled, however, that the squirrels could come between home and dinner, so I changed the order to Josh, squirrels, home, dinner.  This time she whimpered slightly as I said each word.  I reckoned I could probably write a book on dog psychology myself after all these years of study.

Others have commented that Scarlett Thomas is too smart for her own good, that she draws attention to herself with "Look at me, look how smart I am" intellectual cartwheel-turning.  Of course, on one level that's exactly what she's doing, considering this novel plays with metafiction and the idea (strange to modern Wasterners) of the storyless story.  However, I found the exploration of ideas to be so satisfying that for me this all panned out as playful fun rather than egotistical masturbation.  Perhaps that says something about me, I'm not sure.  

"One of the paradoxes of writing is that when you write non-fiction everyone tries to prove that it's wrong, and when you publish fiction, everyone tries to see the truth in it."  I bit my lip.  "Of all the theories of the universe I've come across, [yours] is probably the best one.  Honestly.  But I can't accept theories of the universe.  I think it's too big to theorise."

"But isn't the point of being alive to try to answer the big questions?"

I shook my head.  "For me it's about trying to work out what the questions are."

Questions and answers.  The wonderful thing about loving both questions and answers is that when you get tired of the lack of answers, you can retreat backwards into living loving the questions.  Which, paradoxically, is a much bigger and more exhilarating space in which to live, leaving entire empty rooms for mystery, and for playfulness.

The ideas played around with in this novel mean that nothing is resolved in the traditional fashion, with ends all neatly tied up.  And while that annoys the hell out of me, it also makes me smile a little because, well, it's always a little fun to be fucked with ... before you go on to the next book that will probably have some neat resolutions and a bow on top.  I find it interesting that while I'm quite happy with open-endedness, I did notice a vague sense of dissatisfaction on finishing this book that I couldn't put my finger on until I considered it here.

Perhaps I want bows more than I realise.


Floodline by Kathryn Heyman

Floodline - Kathryn Heyman

This is my first time reading Kathryn Heyman, and not to be my last.  I very much enjoyed the feeling of safety that comes from being in the hands of someone who is confident in what they're doing. This is Kathryn's fifth published novel, and it feels like it.

Which is good, because she tackles a few large subjects of biblical proportions - floods, like, and loss, and disasters and faith.  Different types of faith. 

There's the faith that sometimes comes easily and sometimes is lost just as easily.  It's a faith that looks like faith but sometimes it can really just be a cover for something else, or someone else, or for not acting.  And then there's the faith that is also lost easily - faith in life, in humanity.  It's easy in our everyday world to be cynical and think that that has entirely eroded.  People, after all, as a community, to turn to when you need them, can be very disappointing. They do not want to see your suffering.  We do not know, in our culture, how to handle another's suffering very well.  We do not know how to handle each other very well.

Horneville is flooded.  And the waters keep on rising around the hospital where Gina Donaldson works as a nurse.  She's a good one, too.  She is able to provide care for patients along with the requisite detachment that is required to stop you from burning out.  Gina's problem isn't detaching.  It's detaching too much.  And then really, Gina feels like she burned out years ago.

Mikey Brown has faith in spades.  Or at least she thought she did.  The host of the Shop for Jesus channel, Mikey's refuge has become NuDay, the megachurch began by her and her then-husband as a house church in their lounge room, but which sprung out into monolithic status by the vision of their pastor, Gary, who wanted to do big things for God.  The result is NuDay, a sprawling complex of thousands of members.

Mikey is lonely.  It's just hard to realise it.

With NuDay, you were never alone.  Each day was stretched full with work for the ministry; by the time Mikey had given her hours in the NuDay store, then worked on designs for the services, gathered together the children's worship resources, filmed Shop for Jesus - well, she didn't have a lot of time left over to feel alone.  Silence didn't come into it much, either - what with prayer and song and thankfulness and praise.  Without silence, it got pretty easy not to notice whether you were lonely.

Mikey was originally going to travel to Horneville to protest against the gay pride march occurring there, to make a stand.  But then when news of the flood came, her and Gary decided instead to use the care packages they had put together for overseas aid and use them instead in Horneville.  So Mikey and her two sons, Talent and Mustard, drive the packages down there.

What Mikey and Gina both find within this disaster zone, amongst awful death and suffering, is renewal, and hope.  

This version of the book came to Kathryn after she'd already written 60,000 words:


It dawned on Kathryn Heyman way too late that she had it all wrong. The novel she was writing about a woman called by God to take her sons on a road trip around Australia was unsparing in its portrait of certain absurdities of charismatic Christianity. But it lacked something. It lacked love. And there was another treacherous thought that, try as she might, she could not swat away.

"In that earlier book, I had a lot about the church and about setting off - and the church dynamic was a much bigger story and, really, right towards the end, I had this tiny moment in the hospital,'' Heyman says.

''I had read a report about the events that happened in Memorial [Medical Centre] in New Orleans and I was haunted by it. It was a life-or-death situation where the medical staff had to make extreme ethical decisions. It was a horrible feeling; I got to the end of the draft and thought, 'That's the moment; that's where the novel is.' I've never done this before. I threw away 60,000 words.'' (excerpt from Linda Morris's interview in The Age).

That's the thing about criticising - it's hard to do it without ending up seeming somehow as shabby as the thing you're criticising.  It's easy, after all to stand against things, but just that much harder to actually stand for stuff.  And charismatic Christianity is surely an easy potshot.  So if Heyman needed to throw 60,000 words away to find a greater level of compassion, then it was worth it, because she doesn't come across as judgmental.  The brush strokes with which she paints Mikey are just as generous, well-rounded and compassionate as they are for the other characters in the book.

Tantony - Ananda Braxton-Smith

"I could only think about my brother from a distance.  From a distance he could be an idiot or a son-of-the-moon;  from a distance but a different angle he could be a prophet and a Venerable.  Right up close to him, though, he was just a mess of whittering and birdshit - and with my face, too.

He'd taken our face to town, into the market and the harbour, and he'd done and said such things as made folk stare at me slip-eyed and mutter.  I'd learned to sit dumb as rock and deaf as bugs.

After a while longer I'd learned to hurl my mind-eye away.

Faraway.  Into the clouds and out to where the sea and sky meet.  Out there I could snug into the skytowers, see only my feet dangling, hear only the winds rushing.  Faraway, there was only the blue water spreading far below, my legs swinging above, between them just clouds and seabirds."
Tantony by Ananda Braxton-Smith makes me yearn for somewhere I've never been and which doesn't exist, but whose scent nevertheless comes in on the occasional breeze.  Her writing is so densely layered, like a decades-old compost heap, rich and earthy.  I read books too greedily, consuming them like a Westerner, eager for the next sentence so that while my racing mind thinks, "I didn't quite get all of the gristle out of that last para; I should go back and read it again,"  by then I'm already halfway through the next, swallowed by the too-small seconds of life, eating the words whole without chewing.  Ananda's writing is so lush that I actually want to go back again, just to roll the words round in my mouth one more time, to be a little startled by what I see upon second chewing.  No mean feat.

Characters feel defined and at the same time mysterious and shifting.  Boson Quirk is half in this world and half in the next.  His increasingly bizarre behaviour (bipolar psychosis we would probably call it today) put them on the outside with the townsfolk, and now his twin sister Fermion has begun hearing the voices that haunted her brother before the bog swallowed him whole.  Dreams and visions versus mental illness;  a desire to understand the real beyond the superstition, to find that which she can stand on through the harshness of the world, swirl around Fermion as she sets out on a journey of her own to try to find some answers about her brother, herself, her family, and how to keep them from falling apart.  The setting is dreamy, where everything blends into one so that your footing in the story feels sometimes as precarious as the bog upon which the fictional Carrick stands.  Ananda's writing shines different lights from different angles so that I suspect she would achieve fresh-seeing and poetry and otherworldliness via a novel set in contemporary times.  I would really love to read that.

Though I didn't want to leave here.  This is the second book in the Secrets of Carrick series.  The protagonist of Merrow, the first book in the series, Neen, lives in the village of the island of Carrick while in Tantony the Quirks live on the outskirts in the bog.  All three books in the series are stand-alone stories, occurring over one summer in the fictional Middle Ages island of Carrick.

Fermion's poetic tongue that gives an otherworldly feel to the prose.  Braxton-Smith's sentences drip beauty and dreamy, and have that "once upon a time" feel of the fairytale where time is both nowhere and somewhere, inside and outside.  Not everybody's cup of tea I'm sure, but it's what makes this book so beautiful to me, a meditative slow-down. 

Having said all of that, it always amazes me how it has to be the right time for you and a story to come together and alchemise.  When I first read Merrow last year something fell flat for me in its reading.  Whether digestive, hormonal, seasonal or mental I can't rightly say.  But with Tantony, I was there.

This book is categorised for ages 13-19 years but it defies that categorisation.  I'm 42 and I can't wait for the next installment. It doesn't feel just like a book for young adults.  It feels ageless.  If there are any adults who are resisting reading fiction that is categorised as young adult, there are a lot of wonderful books you are missing out on.   This is one of them.

Part of the Australian Women
Writers Challenge 2013

At the expense of digression I must say that I knew Ananda in another life.  But still I would praise this book even if her, Peggy Hailstone and I were not fellow students together at Deakin Uni in the late 1990's, a triumvirate of mature-aged Creative Writing students in a mass of young 'uns.  I live in the same area now as she did when I sat in her kitchen eating homemade basil pesto and pasta, and I have a horrid, horrid feeling swirling in the pit of my guts that the person I saw smiling at me outside the supermarket one day a year or so ago was Ananda.  But (a) I was having a bad, bad day and (b) I am awful with memory, faces and names and (c) I'm vague as to be almost useless.  On that day I was feeling weird and depressed and paranoid, and I made the snap assumption that the woman smiling at me was either (i) mad or (ii) mistaking me for someone else and so (rather strange behaviour for me) I put my head down and walked into the supermarket.  It took two weeks for me to link the face with my bog-crap memory so that one day, driving down the road, Ananda's name swirled to me out of the mists of the late 90's.  Now, looking at her photo in this interview, I am rather perturbed that it was in fact her.  And so I just want to take the opportunity to say that if that was you, Ananda, I apologise, from the midsts of my premenopause and pyroluria to say sorry for being such a weird, rude ole cow :)

The Women in Black - Madeleine St John

The Women in Black - Madeleine St. John, Bruce Beresford

Geez, I dunno. What am I missing?

I think this is possibly the first time I have ever been bamboozled and swept off a book's trail by its foreword.

Coming to this book knowing nothing about Madeleine St John, I decided to read the foreword written by the film director, Bruce Beresford, who was Madeleine's class compatriot at Sydney University in the early 1960's.

I became interested in the author herself - who was this difficult woman whose tastes went in all directions - Christianity, Buffy the Vampire Slayer - and what was it about her and her past which made her so quick to cut off friends and family who did her wrong?

Leaving the forward then I was descended into a pile of fluff, from which I somehow just couldn't find myself being able to muster up the energy to care enough about any of these characters. Reviews by others have left me a little bewildered. While Hilary Mantel found it a "pocket masterpiece," and Lee Tulloch devoured it in one sitting as a "delicious meringue" and Bruce Beresford thought it a "comic masterpiece", I found it a sort of sweet silhouette of the Sydney of that time but ultimately, really didn't care all that much.

Sigh. What am I missing?

Maybe I just need to lighten the hell up :)

Drink, Smoke, Pass Out

Drink Smoke Pass Out - Judith Lucy

If self-deprecation wasn't Judith Lucy's stock in trade, I'd understand her employing it for this book. After all, she is talking about things which require ironical quotes around them - things ike "soul," "energy," "consciousness." Things that can make you feel like a right dickhead talking about them, especially (and still) in Australia.


Apart from pretty stuff we might post on Facebook, it's not like we have very easily recognised cultural containers for easy discussion about the spiritual aspect to life. Like so many things it has been commodified, flattened out to be just one more ... thing. One more choice for a flaky selection of the community.


Still, I love to try to talk about it. But my blog provides ample posts as evidence for the difficulty of pulling it off without sounding like a bit of a nong. And so I really understand Judith Lucy's desire to write around this area and the angst it must have caused her in doing so. Every time I go back and read anything I've written that tries to name a spiritual experience, I cringe. I feel pulled in two directions because I identify again with what I've tried to describe about that beautiful and mysterious space, while at the same time part of me is desperate to hit the delete key so nobody else reads this totally sappy drivel. There is never a writing space that you can feel as vulnerable with as this - or as easily misunderstood.


Spirituality is a little like being in love. When you're in it, you're swimming in it and it's the world. And those people who are looking in on your pool thinking you're deluded - well, they're just jealous because their skin's dry, right? And yet when you're out of that space and in a more mundane one - an hour later while you're cooking dinner or sitting in traffic - it's quite easy to believe that that space is really just a dumb and wanky mirage.


Which is why I so enjoyed Judith's book and the way she pokes fun at spirituality and at herself. There's something about her self-deprecation that makes the book even more lovely.


"I'm very grateful to my mind. It's helped me put on pants and write the odd joke, but it can also be a bit like Mickey Rourke's face - an inexplicable, disturbing mess." It's Judith's crazy monkey-mind, the death of her parents and the refusal of career, relationships, the bottle and the bong to provide fulfilling answers that set her to wondering about some of those bigger questions.


As part of Judith Lucy's Spiritual Journey she went on a Buddhist meditation retreat. The schedule makes you gulp - 10 hours of meditation for 10 days, no talking, reading, writing, yoga or music.


"Day four was a nightmare. It was like all my negative thoughts got together and had a huge party. I knew I had some self-loathing issues, but this was like watching my mental dialogue under a microscope, while stoned on some hydroponic grass. It was so relentless that I remember thinking it was futile to even imagine I could change my life. Why not just go back to wiping myself out, if this was the alternative? It was just my usual string of personal abuse (you're stupid, you're ugly and - one of my father's favourite lines - why can't you be more like Tina Arena?), but I had nothing to distract me from these thoughts and it made me feel completely helpless. If my negative mind and I had been engaged in some sort of battle, it had definitely won. I really couldn't see how things would ever improve, and yet the next day was completely different. The thoughts were still there but they didn't bother me anymore. I could sit back and watch them come and go and not get involved, and I actually started to experience tiny breaks in the relentless flow."


The title of this book is a parody of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, a book that graces my bookshelves, and some of which I loved, some of which was awfully tedious and not a little pretentious, the author having my own same tendency to sometimes take herself just a little bit too seriously. But what I got from Eat, Pray, Love is ultimately what I got from Drink, Smoke, Pass Out, and with a hell of a lot more fun, only a little less sugary sweet, with a shitload more swear words and references to dicks and brutal, blatant honesty, all in Judith's particularly endearing and irreverent style. This book is fun.


The piece of this book that I loved the most was at the end, and I hesitate to include it here because it was so lovely coming upon it myself. Judith hesitated to include it because she didn't want you to think she was a crackpot or tripping on acid, but it sums up what I loved most about this book - the fact that we are all mental in rather more than one way, struggling to hold our shit together, making it up as we go along. The culture in which we are forced to live cast us in the harshest light one to another. We are pitted like enemies against each other and against ourselves but still, despite all of that, there is this space that we all experience at times, when we are totally here, and maybe even feel like we're bumping up against something else, a space which I think cultures previous to ours and closer to the ground knew more intimately than we:


"... it probably lasted about two hours. I was completely there. It felt like my senses were all on overdrive - I could feel every little breeze, hear every tiny noise and I was simply drunk on what my eyes were seeing. Every plant or flower, every ray of light that bounced off a surface was just amazing. I felt like I was moving in slow motion. At one point, I passed through a street market and felt completely connected to every person there. Some classical music was playing and it felt like everyone was engaged in some giant choreographed number, where we were all doing exactly what we were meant to be doing. That feeling continued when I saw people walking in the park and when I picked up a ball to hand it back to a father who was playing with his little girl. Everything felt exactly right. We were all part of something much larger, and it was perfect. I've never felt such a feeling of wellbeing. I've never felt such pure happiness. It did feel like a drug, and towards the end of it, I panicked ... It was so different from anything that I'd felt before and I think I worried that if it didn't end, I would somehow not get back to my old life. It's nuts, but it was like I thought I'd be locked in the Narnia wardrobe forever. I haven't experienced anything like it since and I still can't really explain it. Okay, now someone can call an ambulance."


What I love about this book is she is so real. There's no ethereal sitting up in the skies having your shit together. As Judith says herself, "I'm not living in a cave in the Himalayas, I'm single and I still drink (sometimes I still drink a lot). But I am less fucked up, and I thought, why not share a story that's sort of about spirituality, but doesn't take itself too seriously, and has no eating, less praying and loving, and a lot more drinking, smoking and passing out, because if my tale didn't have those elements, it would just be a pamphlet."

The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You

The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You - Karla McLaren I will be returning to this book. Karla McLaren's insight is quite unique. I gained a lot of insight and help with understanding what anger is and how to let it flow me to joy out the other side. Quite the learning expereience.Her techniques for learning to understand your emotions on an energetic level, and to release them, are excellent.A book for re-dipping.

Past the Shallows - Favell Parrett

Past the Shallows - Favel Parrett

The term "Wintonesque" was woven more than once through the reviews at the front of this first published novel by Aussie female writer Favel Parrett. It's not just the parallels in writing style and content - the surf, the beautiful, redemptive surf - but it's also in the narrator's eye. There's a kindly benevolence in both writers, a certain compassion.


There's a childlikeness about compassion. But in an age of stiff egos and parasitic capitalism anything childlike can easily be mistaken for weakness and taken advantage of. But compassion is like the sway in the bridge - its weakness is its strength.


Contrast that with the small turning circle that is the emotional life of the boys' father. He is one of those people who is there even when he's not, permeating the air with the threat of the violence that's borne out of desperation, betrayal and lack of vision. Joe, the oldest son, is almost gone from this isolated part of southern Tasmania, in the boat it's taken him years to build. Joe is going before he gets stuck here forever.


Miles, the middle son, is only 13 but he can feel himself getting stuck here already. Being forced to go out on the boat to keep an eye out while his Dad fishes for illegal abalone, Miles is alternately solidifying into the earth like concrete, and drowning in the sea. Except for when he's surfing. That's the only time he feels free.


"He sat back behind the break, looked back towards the beach. Joe was only just coming down the track, but he was strong. He paddled quick and he'd be out in no time. Miles turned his head to the horizon and grinned. A good-sized line, maybe a four-footer, hit the reef and began to peel. Sometimes you didn't have to move an inch. The shoulder of the wave lifted his board; he looked down the clean face and took the drop. Miles felt his bones. He carved along the wave nice and loose, flicked up with sharp cutbacks every so often to bring him back up onto the shoulder. He heard Joe hooting from the beach and he knew he was charging."


The sea flows right through this book - its dangers and its depths, about those who are sucked under and who suck others under in turn, and about the beauty you feel when you know how to ride the waves.


The heart of this story though is Harry. Seven year old Harry. But you'll find that out for yourself.

Women in Black Pb

The Women In Black - Madeleine St. John Geez, I dunno. What am I missing? I think this is possibly the first time I have ever been bamboozled and swept off a book's trail by its foreword. Coming to this book knowing nothing about Madeleine St John, I decided to read the foreword written by the film director, Bruce Beresford, who was Madeleine's class compatriot at Sydney University in the early 1960's.I became interested in the author herself - who was this difficult woman whose tastes went in all directions - Christianity, Buffy the Vampire Slayer - and what was it about her and her past which made her so quick to cut off friends and family who did her wrong?Leaving the forward then I was descended into a pile of fluff, from which I somehow just couldn't find myself being able to muster up the energy to care enough about any of these characters. Reviews by others have left me a little bewildered. While Hilary Mantel found it a "pocket masterpiece," and Lee Tulloch devoured it in one sitting as a "delicious meringue" and Bruce Beresford thought it a "comic masterpiece", I found it a sort of sweet silhouette of the Sydney of that time but ultimately, really didn't care all that much.Sigh. What am I missing? Maybe I just need to lighten the hell up :)

Red Spikes

Red Spikes - Margo Lanagan

And thusly begins my love affair with Margo Lanagan's short stories. It took a few to warm up but by the time I got to A Feather in the Breast of God I was hooked. What is there to not like about a story that is narrated by a budgerigar?The only reason I didn't give this 3 1/2 stars is because I can't work the hell out how to give a half a star.

The History of Love

The History of Love - Nicole Krauss I couldn't sleep last night, and so as I finished one novel, I broke open the next straight afterwards. It always takes some time to hit your straps with a new book. The first few paragraphs can jar as you suss out the writer's voice, and shake off the previous one.Last night on First Tuesday Book Club, author Dame Stella Rimmington talked about the unwritten contract of trust that exists between a writer and a reader, and how sometimes you can't hand your trust over straight away. Sometimes you never hand it over at all. By page 12 of The History of Love I was crying (and that's a large-print edition version of page 12, too), reading in bed by my book light, hoping it wasn't going to turn into sobs and wake the bed's other occupant.I'm about a fifth of the way through this book and already I don't want it to end. There is an inevitability about the ending, both physically when the pages will run out, and also within the story itself. Leo Gursky is at the end of his life, a man you wouldn't look twice at in the street. We get to see him through a golden lens. Nicole manages the magician's feat of accomplishing this without any schmaltz. There's no Vaseline on the lens, but she writes about love and loss, tragedy, loneliness, despair, beauty, and death in a way that highlights the beauty of life. Hard to do. Not many can do it as well. I'm so glad to have discovered Nicole Krauss, and so look forward to reading everything she's ever written ;)

The Alchemy of Illness

The Alchemy of Illness - Kat Duff

There was something so very comforting about reading this book. Kat Duff is very good at explaining the feeling of descending into the underworld that comes with ongoing illness, and the topsy-turvy way the world sometimes feels in comparison. She gives a new way of seeing the experience of illness and ennobling it. It is why she can say at the end of the book that she hopes she does not forget what she has learned while being in that world.

A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan I have a bad memory. I mean, a really, really bad memory, so that my partner looks at me in amazement when I can't remember a place we went to a couple of weeks ago. My CV has big patches in it simply because I can't remember what the hell I was doing in 2007.Perhaps this has something to do with the strange ride A Visit From the Goon Squad took for me. I began it in extreme like - loving the characters, the great writing - but then somewhere in the middle, I started to get bogged down. Tired. A little jaded even. I was struggling to keep up with the serious amount of characters in this book. A graph would have been handy for a memory moron like me. And so reading this book felt too hard, and then I gave into my relentless habit of reading way too many books at once and put it down, picked up another, and read that for a few days. By the time I got back to this book, my memory shortage was made even worse by having climbed out of the Egan world and I was having to do even more flicking back over previous chapters to remind myself who the hell Drew was, and just where Lulu fit into the picture.And then I hit the chapter written by Alison Blake, the PowerPoint chapter, and something started shifting for me. The plot started coalescing. Suddenly, in the twilight of the book, I fell totally in love. Couldn't get enough. Didn't want it to end.I sigh in admiration at the smartness of Jennifer Egan's mind, at the ride she took me on that covered the gamut of the frailty, the fucked-upedness, the sweet fragility of people, the heartbreak and beautiful ride that is being human.

Things We Didn't See Coming

Things We Didn't See Coming - Steven Amsterdam I found this really tedious after a while and gave it up halfway through. I don't really know what all the fuss is.

First Person Plural: My Life as a Multiple

First Person Plural: My Life as a Multiple - Ph.d.,  Cameron West

Schlocky, gooberly writing, interspersed with stuff that is much more real and gritty. I don't like it when my attention is diverted from the contents because of the way the book is written, but if the subject matter is compelling enough I can redivert myself back to the material.


We humans just amaze me, really, the incredible ways in which we handle trauma as little tackers so we can survive. This may sound a little strange, but there is an element of beauty, or maybe elegance, in the way humans split the stuff off that needs splitting off so that they are able to function. Putting it all back together again takes a lifetime. Being able to share someone else's ride as they recount part of that whole uber-paintful integration experience is a privilege, really.

Creole Thrift: Premium Southern Living Without Spending a Mint

Creole Thrift: Premium Southern Living Without Spending a Mint - Angele Parlange

I love the way this woman so loves the land ... "the bush", that derisive term that denotes emptiness and pointlessness and the necessity to build a housing estate over it.


Patrice has delved into the land and shared her developing knowledge of the everyday "unsexy" edible and inedible grasses and other plants that are native to the area. So much life going on in an everyday patch of dirt.

Currently reading

Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition
Charles Eisenstein
The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia
Bill Gammage