Month of reading

I was stoked this month to be asked to contribute the ‘month of reading’ column to The Victorian Writer, the magazine of Writers Victoria. Below is a version of my column.

I was recently held up at Melbourne airport for seven hours. I tried to see it as a blessing: pure, uninterrupted reading time. I read The Fortunes of Richard Mahony by Henry Handel Richardson (Text Classics) until my wrists ached (it’s almost 1000 pages). It’s mainly set in 19th Century Victoria and Mahony is one of the most complex characters I’ve encountered. He changes and grows and becomes set (as we do), then he surprises you. Then he stops surprising you (and his long-suffering wife, Polly/Mary), and then he surprises you again. He’s so like a real person. I’m only just half-way through, and what a delight that is.

At the Picador party at the Sydney Writers’ Festival I was given a copy of Emily Maguire’s new novel. I decided before reading Fishing for Tigers I’d go back to Maguire’s earliest works. Taming the Beast is about a consentive but abusive relationship that stretches over years. Some of my favourite books have a real edge of cruelty to them, as this does. It’s an addictive read, written in a kind of urgent style, and it asks the reader to consider certain issues around sex and power, violence, consent, freedom and influence.

I indulged a current obsession by reading Ronald Bergan’s biography of queer actor Anthony Perkins (of Psycho fame). I fell hard for Tony after seeing Orson Welles version of Kafka’s The Trial. The bio is well written, not too sensational or speculative (but with some very sweet, intimate details, like the fact he apparently had very soft skin). It contains neat little criticisms of Perkins’ films, plays and TV appearances, and ties him closely with his most famous works.

I adored Eliot Weinberger’s poetic essays around different creatures in Wildlife (in Giramondo’s Shorts series). Weinberger leaves much space for the reader in these short pieces on naked mole-rats, rhinoceroses, fish, lizards, birds; about people turned to birds, dreams created by sea cucumbers, and a girl marrying a frog.

As this is the ereading issue I should mention something I recently enjoyed reading on my iPhone: Dallas Angguish’s short story Bridge of Sighs, about androgyny, eccentricity, friendship and desire in Venice.

6 thoughts on “Month of reading

  1. I was knocked out by Emily Maguire’s novel, Taming the Beast. It is still one I remember vividly, and the kind of book I’d like to write. I have a beautiful photo of the Bridge of Sighs at night, taken by my husband, above our kitchen table so I’ll have to check out that short story.

      • All except The Gospel According to Luke. Her new one is ace! I’m writing on it for The Big Issue. Princesses & Pornstars is great too–same sort of casual but meaningful and affecting style as her novels.

  2. I have to confess that I struggled with the only two of Richardson’s novels I’v read, Getting of Wisdom and The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney. Both I found slightly too self-conscious in style, but I have to agree with your observations about Mahoney’s complexities; personal evolution is never a straight line, and not always progress. It was also hard for me to not compare Richardson to Eliot (and very few writers of either gender compare well to Ms Evans) and I suppose in some measure because both felt obliged to write under a masculine pseudonym. Women writers weren’t necessarily frowned upon – provided they didn’t become presumptuous and attempt weighty literature. Unfortunately, I think we haven’t quite got over that prejudice, despite the evidence of top-flight writers such as AL Kennedy, Jeanette Winterson, Zadie Smith, Toni Morrison and Caryl Churchill, to name a few.

    • Hi Alan, I didn’t find Mahony self-conscious in the slightest! I was in deep. But I haven’t read Eliot so I wasn’t making that comparison, either. I’m writing a longer blog post on Mahony, I look forward to your response…

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