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Oblong Obsession Posts

Common People, by Tony Birch

Common People, by Tony Birch, book cover

Common People (published by University of Queensland Press, July 2017), is a collection of short stories by award winning Australian author Tony Birch. Other of his works, including Blood was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2012, while The White Girl, was named winner of the 2020 NSW Premier’s Award for Indigenous Writing.

Through this collection of short stories, Birch casts a light on facets of day to day life most of us don’t see, or prefer to ignore. Birch’s characters are mainly Indigenous Australians who may find themselves on society’s fringes because of health, race, unemployment, or addition issues. But their lot is not hopeless, as they strive to persevere and overcome.

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Film of the last Tasmanian tiger colourised

The last thylacine, a carnivorous marsupial, usually known as the Tasmanian tiger, died in captivity in 1936 in Hobart’s zoo. Here’s footage filmed of Benjamin, as he was named, originally recorded in 1933, and recently colourised to mark National Threatened Species Day, earlier this week on Tuesday.

It’s horrifying to think Benjamin died as a result of neglect, locked out of a shelter overnight that would have offered him protection from the Apple Isle’s extremes of weather. The video pretty much says it all, in regards to his living conditions though.

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Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart

I’m loving Kristen Stewart’s work post The Twilight Saga. Clouds of Sils Maria, and Personal Shopper, are two stand-outs for me, but if the trailer/teaser for Spencer is any indication, it looks like she well and truly out does herself.

Set over three days at Sandringham, the Norfolk estate of the British royal family in 1991, Princess Diana makes the decision to end her marriage to Prince Charles, as she spends Christmas with her in-laws.

But Xan Brooks, writing for The Guardian, suggests Spencer may not be a film for monarchists:

No doubt it took an outsider to make a film that’s as un-reverential as Spencer, which dares to examine the royals as if they were specimens under glass. At heart, of course, Larraín and Knight’s tale is utterly preposterous. It’s a tragedy about a spoiled princess who lashes out at the servants; a thriller about a woman who has only 10 minutes to get into her dress before Christmas dinner is served. But how else do you play it? The monarchy itself is preposterous.

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Some suggested reading for September

A new-ish month, a new selection of suggested reading from the ABC Arts’ monthly book column. I’m liking the sounds of Things We See in the Light, by Sydney based Australian writer Amal Awad. Set in Sydney’s inner west, and loosely related to two of Awad’s earlier books, it tells the story of Sahar, who returns to Sydney after leaving her husband of eight years in Jordan. But it is an experience Sahar is reluctant to discuss with her friends, even as she becomes ever more settled in Sydney.

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Beautiful World, Where Are You, by Sally Rooney

Beautiful World, Where Are You (published by Faber/Allen & Unwin) is the third novel by Irish author Sally Rooney. Alice and Eileen are old friends who are young, but not that young. They often exchange long emails as they attempt to put the world to rights, and make sense of their love lives. Alice, a famous novelist, asks Felix, a warehouse worker, to accompany her on a holiday to Rome.

Beautiful World, Where Are You, by Sally Rooney, book cover

Eileen, a literary assistant, who lives in Dublin, has recently ended a relationship and has begun flirting with Simon, an old childhood friend. The two women haven’t seen each other in many years, so when they eventually meet face to face, they find their perceptions of each other – impressions generated by way of their email correspondences – are in sharp contrast to reality.

Beautiful World, Where Are You, by Sally Rooney, book cover

Oh to be a fly on the wall witnessing that meeting. Beautiful World, Where Are You has been published in two editions. The regular edition sports a blur cover, while the yellow cover book is a special edition hardback with a bonus short story. Another addition to the to-be-read list I think.

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The Man From Snowy River was Aboriginal: Anthony Sharwood

In his new book, The Brumby Wars, Australian journalist and radio and TV presenter Anthony Sharwood contends there is “overwhelming evidence” the subject of Banjo Patterson’s 1890 poem The Man from Snowy River, was Aboriginal.

Patterson’s iconic verse recounts the story of a lone rancher who succeeds in capturing a racehorse who had absconded with a herd of brumbies, or wild horses. Sharwood says only indigenous ranchers worked in the area where the poem is set.

He has studied the topography of the poem: “the pine-covered ridges,” the flint stones, the “ragged and craggy battlements” of Kosciuszko, and says they all point to the location of the poem around Byadbo in the New South. The Welsh side, not the Victorian. Byadbo is the only part of the mountains with “anything remotely resembling pine-covered ridges,” he writes, and the only place with flint rocks and jagged peaks, rather than smooth ones. If the trip happened there, it is an area where all the ranchers were indigenous, he says.

Sharwood believes Patterson presented the rancher as being of European descent to appease the literary tastes of the late nineteenth century.

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After Story, by Larissa Behrendt

After Story, by Larissa Behrendt, book cover

In After Story (published by University of Queensland Press, July 2021), the latest novel by Sydney based Australian author Larissa Behrendt, Jasmine, an Indigenous lawyer, is feeling rundown after an intense case. Della, her mother, meanwhile is struggling following the death of her aunt, and a former partner.

Jasmine believes it would do Della – who’s barely ventured beyond the small rural town where she lives – the world of good to go on an overseas holiday. An avid reader, Jasmine has always wanted to see the places where writers such as Jane Austen, and Virginia Woolf lived and worked, so they set off for England.

Jasmine has hopes the holiday will restore the somewhat neglected mother-daughter relationship. However the disappearance of a child in London’s Hampstead Heath, forces Jasmine and Della to relive the trauma the family suffered when Jasmine’s older sister vanished twenty-five years earlier.

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I Shot the Devil, by Ruth McIver

I Shot the Devil, by Ruth McIver, book cover

You know what they say about returning to your past, don’t you? Most people think it’s a bad idea. But for Erin Sloane, a crime reporter, the opportunity to write an investigative article about murders committed twenty-years ago, might be the career break she’s looking for. There’s a few problems though.

Erin knew of the two victims, while her father was one of the police officers who originally investigated the crime. Stories of devil worship and satanic killings were rife in the aftermath of the murders, and the case was eventually closed after police laid charges. But was that really the end of the matter?

It seems though Erin doesn’t quite realise how much she’s bitten off, in taking on the story. Dark secrets from the past, including many of hers, stand to be dragged into the light. Such is the premise of I Shot the Devil (published by Hachette Australia, September 2021), by Melbourne based author Ruth McIver.

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Stella Prize 2022

Along with a swish new website, and identity, the Stella Prize – which recognises the work of women writers in Australia – is open for entries for the 2022 award. For the first time the Prize is accepting works of poetry, in addition to fiction and non-fiction titles. The longlist will be announced on 3 March 2022, the shortlist a few weeks later on 31 March, with the winner being named on 28 April 2022.

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On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong, book cover

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (published by Penguin Books Australia, 2019), is the debut novel of Vietnamese American writer and poet Ocean Vuong. The story is set around a long letter written by a twenty-something Vietnamese immigrant living in America, nicknamed Little Dog, to his mother, Rose, who is illiterate.

Little Dog’s letter traces his family’s history, prior to his birth, and their relocation to America. He recounts his experiences of being bullied at school, and goes on reveal things his mother did not previously know about him. It is not always a life lived happily though, and domestic violence, racism, and homophobia, are among recurring themes.

Based in part on Vuong’s own life, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous was named as one of the top ten novels of 2019 by the Washington Post, and was also a finalist in the 2020 PEN/Faulkner Award. The novel is also set to be adapted for the screen, with American filmmaker Bing Liu directing.

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Julia Ciccarone wins Archibald’s people’s choice Award

Here’s some more oblong media for you. Melbourne based Australian artist Julia Ciccarone has won the people’s choice award in the 2021 Archibald Prize, with her self-portrait, “The Sea Within”.

The Archibald Prize is an annual award celebrating Australian portraiture. Peter Wegner won the main prize with “Portrait of Guy Warren at 100”, while Kathrin Longhurst took out the packing room prize, with her work of musician Kate Ceberano.

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Macadam Stories

Macadam Stories, a 2015 film by French filmmaker Samuel Benchetrit, tells the story of four people living in a dilapidated apartment block on the verge on an industrial wasteland, each of whom are seeking connection, whether they know it or not.

Sternkowitz (Gustave Kervern) finds himself confined to a wheelchair after some exercise misadventure. He strikes up a friendship with a nurse (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) who works nights at the local hospital, after he goes in search of food late one evening.

Charly (Jules Benchetrit), a lonely teenager, befriends Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert), a despairing actor, living across the hall, who’s struggling to find a new role.

Madame Hamida (Tassadit Mandi), meanwhile finds herself hosting John McKenzie (Michael Pitt), an American astronaut who’s capsule inadvertently landed on the roof of the apartment block.

While viruses, lockdowns, and self-isolation, are not a part of this story, all the characters here are cut-off in some way from the outside world. Macadam Stories is a hopeful, warming, film for our times.

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Why don’t booksellers suggest more women authors to men?

Jane Sullivan writing for the Sydney Morning Heralds, asks why book publishers and sellers seem to predominately promote titles written by men to men. Why not the work of more women?

You might argue that booksellers and publishers are only reflecting what the research consistently tells us: while women are prepared to read books by both men and women, far fewer men are prepared to read books by women. Margaret Atwood, for example, is one of the world’s bestselling writers, but only 19 per cent of her readers are men.

If you’re looking for a few suggestions though, I can recommend The Lying Life of Adults, by Elena Ferrante, The Weekend, by Charlotte Wood, How Much of These Hills is Gold, by C Pam Zhang, Picnic at Mount Disappointment, by Melissa Bruce, and The Paper House, by Anna Spargo-Ryan.

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Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro book cover

Klara is an AF. An Artificial Friend. A human-like android. In the world Klara lives in most teenagers have an AF. To Klara, it’s a strange world she inhabits. For one, she is puzzled by the apparent obsession people have with their “oblongs”, their smartphones, or tablets. People spend inordinate amounts of time looking at, or interacting, with their oblongs. To Klara it must seem as if these people have an oblong obsession

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