29 September 2015

A Man's Got to Have a Hobby: Long Summers with My Dad, by William McInnes, Australia, 2005

McInnes looks back to the 1970s and 1980s when he was growing up in Queensland. The book, which is beautifully written, focuses on McInnes's parents (especially his father), his brother, his three sisters, his aunt and, of course, McInnes himself. It is a startlingly honest account with no attempt to soften the corners or to smudge out all those things that the passage of time has labelled unacceptable.

McInnes handles the vernacular with a delightful sense of ease, which gives the story a definite authenticity – nothing is forced; nothing jars. Nothing feels 'out of place' or uncomfortable. It is obvious that this is a language that McInnes fully understands.

The situations, as well as the relationships between the characters in the book, are skilfully described, and the book is speckled with a great deal of humour – in fact, there are many places where the term laugh-out-loud definitely applies.

  Photo of William McInnes from
As well as humour, there is also a sense of the serious and an astute understanding of the emotions that can often be hidden beneath the surface of any seemingly ludicrous situation. At no point, however, does the book descend into sentimentality. McInnes manages to convey the deep emotional links within a family as well as the extent to which those links can then stretch into the next generation and even beyond.

There is much in the book that will spark recognition, especially among readers who grew up in the same period or even earlier. It was a joy to read, and I highly recommend it.

15 September 2015

The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan, Australia, 2006

This is a brilliant but disturbing book, especially given all the political and media hype at the moment, regarding would-be terrorist activity and the need for draconian laws to stifle it.

Although beautifully written, the first part, set in a pole-dancing club, feels a little like the cold channel of deep water that has to be navigated before reaching the sandbank and the breakers beyond. Initially, I wondered at the need for such detail, which, at times, seems almost voyeuristic; however, I later realized that it was necessary in order to put the rest of the novel into perspective. There is also, I feel, a parallel between how the men at the club mindlessly gorge their senses on the semi-naked women and the way the general public are titillated by all the small details related to a suspected terrorist.

As we are told more and more of Gina's story, we realize that she is an ordinary person who, after a difficult start in life, is set on turning her life around. Like most of the characters in the book, she has ambition, but it is more genuine and more human. She looks on herself as a realist, but, as Flanagan notes: Realism is the embrace of disappointment, in order no longer to be disappointed. (p.9)

After the introduction in the Chairman's Lounge, fear is poured into the mix, and like when red ink is added to water everything gradually changes colour. Flanagan wrote: “People like fear. We all want to be frightened and we all want someone to tell us how to live…” (p.166) and, in the words of the ASIO character: “… unless they're terrified, they (the people) won't agree with what we do and why we do it… ” (p.272)  

The politicians, the media, the police, the security services all feed the people this fear, not only to keep the people where they want them but also to further their own careers – no one (except, perhaps, the policeman Nick Loukakis) gives any thought to the victim who is being sacrificed.

In the end, everyone is at fault: the politicians and the media for creating the situation and the public for not having the brains to be able to see through the deceit. The terrifying thing is that this is where we are at the moment, and no one seems to understand what is happening. Terrorism is a definite threat to present-day society, but when concocted threats are used for political and personal gain then one has to wonder who are the terrorists and whether or not there is any way of salvaging our society. 

Photo of Richard Flanagan from

01 September 2015

Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami, Tokyo, 2013

Like all of the books by Murakimi that I have read so far, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is captivating and intellectually stimulating. It is, however, somewhat different to, for example, IQ84 or Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. In both of these books, the imaginative or fantasy element is much stronger, while in Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage a small sliver of fantasy is book-ended between a large amount of reality.

In high school, Tsukuru Tazaki belongs to a close group of five friends; they do everything together, and, if any of the five were to make a guess about the future, he or she would doubtlessly assume that the five of them would always remain together. But then something happens. Tsukuru (whose name means colourless) is banished from the group without any explanation. He is devastated and depressed and contemplates suicide. Years later he meets Sara, who is astute enough to realize that Tsukuru must find out what happened all those years ago – until he can put the past behind him, he is unable to move on.

The book, beautifully written, follows Tsukuru as he peels back the layers of the past and discovers why he was cut off from the group. The process is not without pain and even regret, but, by the end, Tsukuru is able to move away from the idea of colourless to the other meaning of his name: to build.

Anyone who loves Murakami will love Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.
Photo of Haruki Murakami from