“with hesitation, doubt or dread.”

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My life as a Fake by Peter Carey

From a nation with many fine writers, Oz as it is apparently called affectionately has an unusual number of “fakes” of one kind or another. Some time back a young British immigrant woman almost passed herself off as a Ukrainian refugee – Why? I donot know, a white male writer masqueraded as an Aborigine woman – How? I donot want to know. Literary posturing is not new neither is it unique to Australia, but recently there seems to be a plethora of FakeLit coming from down under. Peter Carey’s narrative is quite binding by re-creating a fictional account of one of Australia’s better known early attempts at literary subterfuge.

In Australia, the “Ern Malley” affair remains notorious – poems apparently penned by an unknown genius of the 1940s. Carey spins his tale based on this scandal, bringing a fresh sense of life and place to his characters. He introduces Sarah Wode-Douglass, London literary magazine editor, and the man she’s long considered her family’s nemesis, John Slater. Sarah is lured to Kuala Lumpur, leading her to a disheveled old Australian, Christopher Chubb. Chubb has a secret, which he dangles enticingly before the editor. It’s a collection of poetry by a Bob McCorkle, who Chubb invented. The invention was to have highlighted the failure of the Australian literary elite to understand real poetry. In doing so, it would provide a comeuppance to Chubb’s former classmate and editor of “Personae”, David Weiss.

The situation gets freaky when Weiss issues the work and is charged with “publishing obscenity” by an holier than thou Melbourne policeman. Worse for Chubb, Bob McCorkle emerges as a “real” figure pursuing Chubb and demanding recognition as the “poetic genius” he’s been depicted. Chubb both chases and flees McCorkle, ending up in Malaysia on a bizarre quest. Chubb/Carey creates a monster in McCorkle – a massive man with violent tendencies, bent on retrieving a reputation he’s never earned. Lacking the violence, Chubb seeks his own recognition through Micks, and this story is dictated to her during her time in “KL”. She must endure a world entirely alien to her while negotiating for the manuscript with a man who is forthcoming in one way, but highly elusive in others.

Carey’s handling of this tale is masterful and flawless. The characters may seem outlandish, but the author conveys them with precision and finesse. Sarah is obsessed with her lust for the collection – one is almost reminded of the editors of the post-modernist journal “Social Text” blindly gobbling Alan Sokal’s wonderful hoax. Post-modernism has launched many bizarre tales. Carey’s knowledge of place is equally compelling as he takes us from KL, through Melbourne, Sydney and back to the Malay jungles. There are warlords, asides in time and place – none of which interrupt the narrative, since each provides enhancement – and a bruising finale.

My life as a Fake by Peter Carey

My life as a Fake by Peter Carey

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Díaz

The story opens by exploring the life of a Oscar, a promising young Dominican child growing up in Jersey who morphs into an overweight, unpopular nerd who is desperate to lose his virginity.

The story then proceeds to explore the lives of Oscar, Oscar’s mother, sister and Mother’s family (persecuted by Dictator). The first half of the book is a little bit irritating as the author uses footnotes and many Spanish language phrases that are not translated. Besides these language issues and the jumping back and fourth in time and among characters the book beyond where the main characters develop very nicely. Awesome integration of the political, social and economic history of the Dominican Republic and how the environment shaped many of the lives of the generations who migrated to the U.S.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Díaz

V by Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon’s first book V. is probably one of the great books of the last 50 years surely could be classified as a modern classic. It is a book full of symbolism.

It is a story about Benny Profane, a poor “schlemil” whose pathetic life is filled with almost surreal adventures that lead him to gangs and love and alligators in the sewers! But Benny’s adventures become intertwined with those of Stencil and the mysterious V. Here lies the great challenge and great genius of Pynchon. There is a search to discover meaning and perhaps to discover one’s own history.

Pynchon’s tale follows the misadventures of Benny and all the while, like some great mystery thriller in reverse, the deeper one gets into V., the more information that is revealed, the more complex the mystery becomes. Indeed, the thrill of Pynchon is to become ensnared in that mystery and try to find meaning in that complex and interconnected web.

Ultimately, perhaps, like all the great questions in life, the question of the meaning of who V. is. But the power of this novel is that it draws you in to consider that mystery. The book, somehow, finds connections between the great historical events of the beginning of this century and several generations of characters who themselves are all interconnected and the ever-changing technology of this century. Is V. a mysterious woman, a cause of the wars of this century or the essential meaninglessness of modern society? Read V. and discover that answer for yourself!

Fans of Danielle Steel or Stephen King might get a little bit of indigestion reading this though you do not have to have a triple digit IQ to follow this, read it and then re read it and then perhaps have another go you will find more meaning to this masterpiece from the young Pynchon. Enjoy!

V by Thomas Pynchon

Sex and Stravinsky by Barbara Trapido

Be prepared to get trapped right from the first page. Barbara is a genius.

The time is 1995, but everybody is linked by their past. Brilliant Australian Caroline can command everyone except her own ghoulish mother, which means that things aren’t easy for Josh and Zoe, her husband and twelve-year-old daughter. Josh has bizarre origins in a South African mining town, but now teaches mime in Bristol. Zoe reads girls’ ballet books and longs for ballet lessons; a thing denied her until, on a school French exchange, she meets a runaway boy in a woodland hut. Meanwhile, on the east coast of Africa, Hattie Thomas, Josh’s first love, has taken to writing girls’ ballet books from the turret of her fabulous house – that’s when she can carve out the space between the forceful presence of Herman and her crosspatch daughter Cat who, after some illicit snooping, is secretly planning a make-or-break essay on mask dancers in Mali. Hattie wakes from a dream of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and asks herself about the composer, ‘Do his glasses look sexy?’ His glasses are just like Josh’s glasses from two decades earlier. From far and wide, they are all drawn together; drawn to Jack’s place. Or is he Jacques? Or Giacomo? Beautiful, mysterious Jack, the one-time backyard housemaid’s child who, having journeyed via Mozambique and Senegal to Milan, is back exactly where he started – only not for long. In its mix of people from different spheres, the book throws up the complexity, cruelty and richness of the global world while, as a sequence of personal stories, it comes together like a dance; a masquerade in which things are not always what they seem.

 Sex and Stravinsky by Barbara Trapido