Category Archives: Uncategorized

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 25-31 May 2022

History of Rome Podcast Episode 141: Blood and Water looks at the ten years of co-existence between Constans and Constantius. The religious culture wars were not dead, and the two emperors became caught up in them: Constantius leaned towards Aryanism, while Constans was pro-Nicean. Constans in the west began losing touch with reality, spending all his time hunting and banquetting, and neglecting the army for an archery corps. This isn’t going to end well. It didn’t because he was overthrown and killed by Magnentius. Constantius took on the usurper Magnetius in 350AD, finally triumphing over him in 353 when Magnetius did the right thing and committed suicide. To ensure that a rebellion didn’t break out while he was on the other side of the empire doing this, he appointed Gallus, one of the two survivors of the Massacre of the Princes, which would free him to go after Magnetius. Episode 142: You’ve Earned It. Gallus was unpopular because he cut the food supply to the citizens in order to supply the army instead, and he was persecuting pagans as a fundraiser. In the end, Constantius killed first Gallus in 354 and then Claudius Silvanus in 355. That left him the last man standing, which was good until he started looking for a successor. There was only one male blood relative left, his cousin Julian. Episode 143 Julian the Pre-Apostate traces through the early life of Julian before he became Julian the Apostate. He was a studious lad who had been orphaned when Constantius killed his father, and he was allowed a fairly free education in the Greek-speaking East until he was summoned to Milan so that Constantius could check him out. Constantius didn’t see him as a threat, so he gave permission for him to keep travelling around for his education. When he was 23 years old, he was made a junior Caesar and Julian decided that if he had to be a Caesar, he’d do it well. Despite not being well supported by his generals, he had a good victory over the Germans at the Battle of Strasbourg, which of course made Constantius a bit twitchy again. Never a good thing.

Conversations (ABC) The Caving Time Lord introduces us to Australian geochronologist Dr Kira Westaway who has been involved in archaeological discoveries of ‘the hobbit’ (Homo floresiensis) in Indonesia, and more recently, the molar from a young Denisovan girl in Laos. And to think that for so long, we thought we were the only ones here.

Rear Vision (ABC) Sri Lanka: Failed State When Ceylon became Sri Lanka in 1948 it inherited an economic completely geared to British interests. Exports of tea and rubber to Britain brought in foreign exchange but this was directed entirely towards buying in products produced elsewhere (especially Britain). Sri Lanka has teetered on the edge economically for much of its history, forced to take IMF loans with their iniquitous hard-right political policy prescriptions. Politics has been dominated by the Rajapaksa family who dominated all the major political positions, and the war against the Tamils led to a bloating of the army at huge cost. Recent events like the abrupt suspension of imports of fertilizer, the collapse of tourism, and the decision to reduce (!) taxes has led to acute shortages of food and fuel. Although many accuse China of increasing Sri Lanka’s indebtedness, the major creditor is in fact Japan.

Things Fell Apart (BBC) Most of the issues of the culture war just wash over me, but I find the issue of the relationship between transgender rights and feminism less comfortable. I’m troubled by how quickly any discussion becomes sharp and painful- but I guess that’s just because this particular ‘culture war’ topic is one that does engage me. In this episode Many Different Lives, Jon Ronson revisits the MichFest women’s festival in Michigan in 1991, where conflict arose over whether a trans woman could attend a women’s festival run completely by women, for women. The issue splintered further- what about pre-trans women? He discusses second and third wave feminism, and the origin of the term TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminism), which was not intended to be a term of abuse.

Wikimedia

History Hit It’s rather ironic that people pay to go on a treadmill at gymnasiums. This episode The Treadmill features Rosaline Crone, a Senior Lecturer in History at the Open University who has specialised in nineteenth-century criminal justice history. The treadmill goes back to Roman times, when it was used by slaves and labourers as a form of crane for lifting heavy objects. The treadmill in a penal setting was invented by William Cubitt, who saw it as a way of giving work to prisoners in the Bridewell. He had the idea of turning the ‘hamster wheel’ type of treadmill inside out, so that the steps were on the outside. It could be- and was- used as a mill, particularly in Sydney but not in the UK. In the 1830s and 40s there was a backlash against its use, but it was revitalized from the 1860s to the early 20th century, when men could be sentenced to 6 hours on the mill. The movie ‘Wilde’ was wrong in depicting Oscar Wilde on the treadmill: like 50% of other prisoners in the 1890s, he received a medical exemption.

Australia if you’re listening (ABC) It’s not just that Australia has finally rid itself of the Coalition government, but this final episode sees light on the horizon too. The 49-year-old energy prophecy that is finally coming true goes back to 1973 and Professor John Bockris of Flinders University, who saw the dangers in the runaway production of carbon dioxide and predicted that Australia would become an energy exporter in the future, using solar energy to transform hydrogen for export overseas. This episode points out that Australia has been at the forefront of technology that has been picked up by other countries- NASA, China- but that we have sustained reputational damage from the Coalition government’s stance on climate change. In his final words of the series, Matt Bevan notes that nearly everyone he spoke to for this series said that Australia would get there in the end, but that we need vision and consistency over several decades. Perhaps, in the 2022 election, we have finally made a start.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1-8 May 2022

The History Listen (ABC). The Benalla Experiment looks at the post-war migrant camp at Benalla in Victoria for single mothers (for whatever reason) and their children from countries affected by war. It was not a transit camp: people stayed there for years. It had a factory next door, and the women worked in the factory to pay back the costs of their voyage, and 24 hour child care was provided. Just as much, this story is about the struggle with Heritage Victoria to get the site recognized for its social and cultural importance, even though many of the buildings are now used by community organizations.

History of Rome Episode 132 In This Sign sees the end of Diocletian who just died after a reign that was important in restructuring the empire but marred by the persecutions and his failure to be able to establish the tetrarchy on a long-term basis. Perhaps that was because a four-headed structure in itself was unstable, or perhaps because none of the others were as good as he was. Meanwhile, Constantine -recognized as the first Christian emperor- was playing a long game. It’s not really clear whether he really was a Christian, or whether he was after the absolute power that it conferred. Christianity didn’t become the state religion for 50 years after Constantine’s death. The story of him painting a cross on his soldiers’ shields is probably apocryphal- he had 40,000 soldiers after all- and it wasn’t a cross, it was a Chi-Ro which certainly indicated Christ but also was a symbol for ‘good’. Moreover, there is no sign of a cross or Chi-Ro on his Triumphal Arch, which is strange.

The Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Wikimedia

Episode 133 The Milvian Bridge goes slow-motion into the battle that pitted Constantine against Maxentius. Maxentius wasn’t particularly popular because he had levied heavy taxes for his building projects, which he hoped would shore up his position. Constantine had 40,000 well trained loyal soldiers: Maxentius had 100,000 lukewarm ones. They first met in battle outside Verona, where Constantine triumphed. He then turned to Rome and the two sides met in battle on the Milvean Bridge over the Tiber. Maxentius consulted his soothsayers over whether he should mount a battle and they said ‘the enemies of Rome will be defeated’. (They didn’t specify which side was the enemy though). When Maxentius’ troops realized that they were being defeated, they tried to cross back over a small pontoon bridge and many (including Maxentius) ended up in the water. Constantine marched into Rome, although he did not sacrifice to Jupiter, which suggests that he had found a new god. This wasn’t the real victory of Christianity over paganism that is often depicted. If Constantine had made a genuine conversion, he certainly underplayed its significance amongst the Romans who weren’t ready to have it imposed on them.

Episode 134 And Then There Were Only Two returns to the East which was divided up between Maximinus Daia and Licinus. Maximinius Daia recommenced the persecution of the Christians that Galerius had put an end to. He genuinely hated Christians, and saw Christianity as a real threat to the Empire. Licinus was an ally of Constantine, with whom he signed the Edict of Milan which legalized Christianity, and more importantly, returned confiscated property to Christians. Quite apart from any genuine belief in Christianity, this was a way of wedging Maximinius. The Battle of Tzirallum on 30 April 313 saw Licinus triumph, and now there were just two emperors instead of four.

Australia If You’re Listening (ABC) Episode 5: What We Missed While We Were Knifing PMs goes through the political circus where we saw four powerful people lose their jobs six times. I had heard about the failure of the Labor Party to negotiate with the Greens, but I was unaware of the negotiations between Turnbull, Combet/Wong and Ian McFarlane which could have actually eventuated, but everything was upended by Abbott’s ascension. Ross Garnaut had high praise for Gillard’s system, derided by Abbott as being a ‘tax’, and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) only survived because Clive Palmer wanted a photo opportunity with Clive Palmer.

Start the Week (BBC) I haven’t watched Bridgerton, but I know that Regency is having a bit of a moment. The Georgians features Penelope Corfield (author of The Georgians: The Deeds and Misdeeds of 18th Century Britain), Tristram Hunt (author of The Radical Potter: Josiah Wedgwood and the Transformation of Britain) and Professor Philip McCann , the Chair in Urban and Regional Economics at the University of Sheffield. They discuss the change in consciousness during the Georgian era (which actually is the long 18th century) in relation to commercialisation and expertimentalism and ‘can-do’ism (my word, not theirs). Interesting to consider that Australia was colonized within this Georgian/Victorian timespan.

Things Fell Apart (BBC) Episode 4: Believe the Children looks at the spate of satanic child abuse cases in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s, spurred largely by Christian evangelists and the media, and drawing on guilt felt by parents for placing their children in child care. It features an interview with Kelly Michaels, who was sentenced to 47 years imprisonment for sexually abusing children, until her conviction was completely overturned. I found this interesting article about the interviewing techniques used in the McMartin Preschool and Martin cases, compared with a Child Protection Services unit. The satanic child abuse conspiracy of the late 20th century has resurfaced with QAnon today.

How It Happened: Putin’s Invasion Episode 4: The View From Russia challenges the idea that Western sanctions are going to pressure the Russian people into turning against Putin. A Russian commentator points out that 50% of Russians are hard-core Putin supporters. Another 1/3 would be conditional supporters. Only about 20-25% oppose Putin, but they are not necessarily prepared to come out and protest against him. This is largely generational: older people remember much harsher sanctions than the current ones, and younger people have largely fled. Alexei Navalny is Putin’s most prominent opponent, but currently facing charges and imprisonment. His supporters are taking a long view, hoping that in about five years time, when Russia faces an inevitable crisis, they will be ready.

Rear Vision (ABC) The Marcos Revival- from pariahs to the presidency in the Phillipines. Despite his parents embezzling $5-10 billion dollars from the Phillipines, Ferdinand ‘Bong Bong’ Marcos is in a winning position in the Presidential elections this coming week. The outgoing president Rodrigo Duterte is still very popular, despite killing 30,000 Phillipinos, most of whom come from the lower classes. However, his government has spent generously in social welfare programs directly aimed at these same lower classes. Presidents can only serve one six year term, and Duterte had hoped that his daughter Sara would contest the election. However, she decided to run for vice-president in an arrangement with Ferdinand Marcos Jnr, instead, incurring her father’s ire. President Duterte is making lots of insinuations that Marcos is a drug addict. The Marcos family, meanwhile, has had a long-term strategy for decades to rehabilitate the family reputation and entrench its power.

Exploring someone else’s city: Bunbury

“What’s she doing in Bunbury??” you may ask. Well, you know those COVID figures of cases and hospitalizations?…they’re real and some of those patients are aged 38 instead of 98- and one of them is my son. So, there was a quick scramble onto a plane and over to Western Australia. He’s much, much better now, and I’ll be heading home on Monday. But in the meantime, there’s walking to do and places to see, other than a hospital ward.

I decided that I’d walk to the hospital and went via the Big Swamp, which was absolutely teeming with wild life and birds. There has been lots of building development on what must have been swampland in the past. There are South Western Long Necked Turtles in the swamp, which cross the road to nest in a dry watercourse on the other side of the road. In a bit of an evolutionary blip, they can’t withdraw their necks into their shells, so they are pretty defenceless against predators.

I wonder if this is the last Civic Video store (now closed) still standing? Someone had a sense of humour with the parking bays.

I visited the Bunbury Museum and Heritage Centre in what had once been the Boys School, built in 1886 to replace an older convict-built structure. They had a nice little exhibition about ‘The Blind Man of Bunbury’- K. C. Lewis who ran a canvas goods store in Bunbury between 1955 and 2021.

Then up to the Art Gallery in the former Sisters of Mercy Convent School. There was a little exhibition called ‘Museum of Loss’ which attracted my attention. They had left one of the nun’s rooms intact. A pretty sparse life.

Then a walk up to the Pioneer Park, which had been the site of the first cemetery. Most of the paperwork over who had been buried there had been lost, so they don’t really know who is buried there. I had hoped that there might be gravestones, but there were only interpretation panels telling of the history of the graveyard itself.

Then across the road to the beach- absolutely beautiful. I was fascinated by the Back Beach Sea Baths which were built in the 1930s, but only lasted a few years before being destroyed by the waves. Still, those foundations have held on for nearly 90 years.

My phone tells me today I walked 8 kms but it feels much more than that!

Exploring my own city: Westgate Park

I hate driving over the Westgate Bridge. It’s a real white-knuckle drive, what with the steep drop over the sides and all the B-doubles thundering past. But if I’m a passenger, that’s a different matter. I always look down at the park below and think that I must visit it one day- and today, on a warm, still Anzac Day- I did. Click on the images to enlarge them.

The lake, a former sand mine, turns a brilliant pink at the end of summer, but there was no colour in it today. There were no noisy miners, and so there was lots of bird life: wrens, honeyeaters, wattlebirds, mudlarks, magpies. It’s hard to believe that it was ever the blighted place it was forty years ago. The Age described it in 1979 as ‘scrofulous scenery indeed … dead water, swamp, sick factories, dead wood, haze, gasping barges, wretched refineries, wheezing chimneys, dead grass, institutional putrefaction’. It’s not like that now. There’s been lots of hard work done here by the Friends of Westgate Park since 1999 – a real gift to the people of Melbourne.

Site of Westgate Park 1984 Weston Langford https://www.westonlangford.com/images/photo/400480/

You can read more about Westgate Park here.

‘Song of Solomon’ by Toni Morrison

1977, (reprinted 2016)
416 p.

I have read this book twice and both times, to my regret, I have failed to write about it in any detail immediately after reading it. Perhaps it’s because the book itself is so complex and masterful that I have barely known where to start. I still don’t. There were more than twenty years between my two readings, so on my re-reading, it was as if I were coming to the book for the first time. I was just as impressed the second time as I had been the first. After reading some pretty mediocre writing recently, it was like handing myself over to someone who can really write. I love books that have a circular structure, where the actions in the opening pages are mirrored in the last. The book opens with Robert Smith, the insurance agent, jumping from the roof of Mercy Hospital in 1931, and it ends with Macon Dead Jr. making his own leap. In between these two flights, Morrison takes us on a Quest novel from the northern states of America to the south in Virginia – the opposite direction to the flight from slavery- and across American history from Reconstruction through to the Civil Rights movement.

The book is too complex, and too much time has elapsed for me to write about it. Suffice to say that it is a book that merits reading and re-reading and reading once again. It combines magic realism with real-life historical events; it is a meditation on naming and the loss of names; it reflects folk-knowledge and music- there is just so much here, layer upon layer. It is magnificent.

My rating: 10/10

Sourced from: Readings. My own print copy

Read because: Ivanhoe Reading Circle March 2022 book.

‘Zebra and other stories’ by Debra Adelaide

2019, 324 p.

I have a rather ambivalent attitude towards short stories, and I find them very hard to review beyond merely summarizing them. Finally, after many decades, I have worked out that I enjoy them most when I read just one story at a sitting, no matter how brief, and leave it to percolate overnight until moving on to the next one. They are also very good for late-night reading when you’re too tired to read anything that involves memorizing actions or characters beyond that one act of reading.

However, I do like Debra Adelaide’s short stories. Flipping through the book beside me now, I can recognize and remember nearly each story on reading a paragraph or two (my test of whether a story has ‘stuck’ or not). The stories are arranged into three parts on the basis of whether they are narrated in first, second or third person, and the final story ‘Zebra’ is more novella than short-story at 121 pages.

First Part starts with ‘Dismembering’ where we see a woman who has a vivid dream that she and her ex-husband dismembered a corpse which they buried in her back garden. She is so un-nerved by the dream that she begins divesting herself of all the possessions that she had brought to her second marriage in what seems to be a steady mental unravelling. ‘Welcome to Country’ sees another form of cleaning-out as a woman, in a near-future Australia, begins gathering together her now-absent son’s belongings from the 1990s to take to ‘Country’, a fenced off, separate outback community where a mean-spirited government holds those claiming ‘sovereignty’ or refusing to conform, in perpetual detention. ‘A Fine Day’ a woman visits her friend Alex, who is trying to get his ex-wife to return to him. His ex-wife Helen, doesn’t want to be found despite her own loneliness. The story has a very Chekhovian ending.

The Second Part starts with ‘Festive Food for the Whole Family’ which I very much enjoyed, given that I was reading it just before Christmas. Given in the form of advice, like a magazine article, it talks about how the successful Christmas host will prepare food to meet all the dietary requirements of demanding guests. Meanwhile, her husband is becoming increasingly familiar with his sister-in-law and so the carving knife comes in handy. ‘How to Mend a Broken Heart’ is a description of the “leaden numbing pain” that sets your body in turmoil and makes even the slightest job, like shopping, an ordeal. ‘Migraine for Beginners’ is obviously written by someone who has experienced migraines (although, for me, my migraines are more of the Hildegarde von Bingen variety- see below). ‘The Master Shavers’ Association of Paradise’ is set in an offshore refugee ‘facility’ which is certainly not Paradise, where a young boy establishes a barber shop as a way of filling in time until he can move to the mainland.

Wikipedia

The Third section starts with a lovely story ‘Carry Your Heart’ where a woman meets a man in a bookshop- what book lover could not respond to a romance in a bookshop? In ‘I am at Home Now’ Debra Adelaide writes from the perspective of Mrs Phillips, who cared for Bennelong, when he travelled to England with another indigenous man Yemmerrawanne in 1792 with Governor Phillip. ‘No Hot Drinks in the Ward’ takes us to the children’s cancer ward of a hospital, where a mother with a sick child has been tossed into a world she never wanted to be part of. ‘Nourishment’ carries on this theme, where a wife is visiting her husband in hospital, where he is fasting before surgery. In ‘The Recovery Position’ Cate is an ex-soldier, now conducting workplace training in First Aid classes. Teaching CPR triggers her memory of returning to Tarin Kowt with Trooper Brad Innes in a helicopter. ‘Wipe Away Your Tears’ starts in a plane over Istanbul as a couple visit Gallipoli. Her husband, Harry, is searching for the grave of his great-grandfather but he has not properly mourned his brother Johnny, who had died in a car accident.

‘Zebra’ is by far the longest story in the book. Set in the Lodge in Canberra, there is a female P.M. who reminds us just a little of Julia Gillard. She is unmarried, calm, unhurried and she finds herself drawn to the beauty of the gardens around the lodge where she discovers that her neighbour, Kerr, has been surreptitiously shifting the fence. Somehow she manages to float above all the political turmoil, and she finds a still point in the gift of a zebra which arrives unsolicited at the Lodge. She is lonely, and attracted to her staffer, but is fearful of being spurned. It is all a bit fey and implausible, and but then again…look at Gladys. Who would have thought that romance could haunt the corridors of power?

So, all in all, a strong selection of stories that I felt perfectly happy to pick up each night. I think that ‘Zebra’ will remain in my mind because it was so strange, and I may think of ‘Festive Food for the Whole Family’ next Christmas (and send up a silent prayer of thanks that my own Christmases are much more pleasant occasions.)

Rating: who knows. I can never rate collections of short stories.

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

I always forget to do this “I’ve finished!” post once I’ve met my self-selected target for books written by Australian women writers. But this year I have an excuse: I didn’t reach my target of twenty-five books, and I didn’t really read more fiction either, even though I vowed to do so.

Here’s what I did read in alphabetical order by surname:

FICTION:

Our Shadows (2020) by Gail Bell

Say No to Death (1951) by Dymphna Cusack

Questions of Travel (2012) by Michelle de Kretser

The Eye of the Sheep (2015) by Sofie Laguna

The Animals of That Country (2020) by Laura Jean Mackay

The Ruin (2019) by Dervla McTiernan

NON-FICTION:

Black, White and Exempt (2021) by Lucinda Aberdeen and Jennifer Jones (eds)

Caroline’s Dilemma (2019) by Bettina Bradbury

Nine Parts of Desire (1995) by Geraldine Brooks

Oh Happy Day: Those Times and These Times (2020) by Carmen Callil

Only Happiness Here (2020) by Gabrielle Carey

The First Stone (1995, 2020) by Helen Garner

Fury (2021) by Kathryn Heyman

The Palace Letters (2020) by Jenny Hocking

The Most I Could Be (2021) by Dale Kent

Malinche’s Conquest (1999) by Anna Lanyon

The New World of Martin Cortes (2003) by Anna Lanyon

The Chase (1986) by Ida Mann

The Women of Little Lon (2021) by Barbara Minchinton

The Countess from Kirribilli (2021) by Joyce Morgan

A Trip to the Dominions (2021) by Lynette Russell (ed.)

Defiant Voices: How Australia’s Female Convicts Challenged Authority (2021) by Babette Smith

Ten Thousand Aftershocks (2021) by Michelle Tom

Escape from Melbourne….

During lockdown, we planned all sorts of little trips. Lockdown finished, but we felt a bit reluctant. Then the BIG lockdown was imposed and that was the end of that. I had some trips back and forth to the Mornington Peninsula in January, then ANOTHER short lockdown. Jeez- you wouldn’t want to book tickets anywhere, we thought.

So when a couple of beautiful days were forecast for the end of April, we decided on the spur of the moment, to desert the cat and go to Mt Macedon to look at the autumn leaves. Most of the places we looked out were booked out, so we spread our net further afield and ended up at Cleveland Winery, in Lancefield.

Beautiful place. We didn’t stay in the old 1880s house (unfortunately) but in the guest suites nearby. We woke up to the sun rising over the mist that clung to the vineyards. Quite beautiful

The sun rising over the vineyards

We were on the hunt for autumn colour, and Forest Glade gardens delivered in spades. I wasn’t aware of using a filter on the photos- I think that they really were this colour. Absolutely spectacular

There was going to be a wedding that afternoon.
The Japanese Garden
The Maple Walk
More of the Japanese Garden
I do like a bit of topiary
The gazebo

It was lovely to get out of Melbourne. And who would have thought that you could get so much pleasure from the paper strap over the toilet suite assuring you that it is sanitized, pillows that are too plump to sleep on, and little dobs of Vegemite in plastic sachets?

The cat wasn’t too happy though.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 9-15 April

The History Hour (BBC) This program focuses on historical events, mostly in living memory and it seems to be presented by journalists rather than historians (I may be wrong on this). The Black Jesus episode looks at the Rev Albert Cleage who re-named his Detroit Church in 1967 as ‘The Shrine of the Black Madonna’, replacing a stained glass window of Mary with a large painting of a black Mary and black baby Jesus. He did not agree with Martin Luther King’s inclusion of white activists in his protests, and he argued that if man was made in God’s image, then it was likely that he was black as most of the world’s population is non-white. There’s also a segment about Margaret Thatcher being interviewed by Soviet journalists on television in 1987, a discussion of the effect of Karen Carpenter’s death on the discussion of anorexia, and the story of two Englishmen who were kidnapped by FARC guerillas in Columbia while they were hunting for orchids.

Heather Cox Richardson talked on 12 March, answering one of the questions she is most commonly asked: When did the Republicans (progressive) and Democrats (conservative) swap? She starts off by reminding us that when the Constitution was written, there weren’t parties at all. She pins the swap mainly to the 1960s when Barry Goldwater ran. This is a good, stand-along episode to explain something which previously seemed quite baffling.

Fifteen Minute History is almost never 15 minutes, but it is still short. It´s produced at the University of Texas at Austin, where PhD candidates interview historians about their recent publications. In Episode 130: Black Reconstruction in Indian Territory, Alaina Roberts discusses her new book I’ve Been Here All the While: Black Freedom on Native Land. An African-American herself, she has always been aware that her family owned land in Oklahoma, and she wondered how that came about. She found herself exploring the connections between previously-enslaved African-Americans and Native Americans. Some were themselves enslaved by Native Americans, while others moved into Native Land as part of Reconstruction. I had to listen to this twice to make sense of the distinctions because this history is new to me.

Big Ideas (ABC) I have recently read Anne Applebaum’s book The Twilight of Democracy, and so I was interested to hear this interview with Applebaum Democracy Under Threat recorded at the Adelaide Writers Festival in March 2021, where she is interviewed by Sally Warhaft. You don’t need to have read the book to enjoy the interview.

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘Phosphorence’ to….

I haven’t read the starting book for Six Degrees of Separation in March. It’s Julia Baird’s Phosphorescence and it’s sitting beside the bed unread. In fact, I had to look up what phosphorescence actually IS and I find that it is a sort of light. So, for the March Six Degrees, I’ll go with the theme of ‘light’. You can read the ‘rules’ for Six Degrees of Separation on Kate’s Books are my Favourite and Best website but essentially it’s a form of trigger association based on the books that you have read. So, thinking of light….

I really like John Banville’s intelligence and the way that he makes you work hard as a reader. In Ancient Light, he effortlessly handles two narrative lines, while expanding your vocabulary. I must confess that I didn’t realize that it was part of a trilogy – and a trilogy that I had read, no less!- and I felt rather foolish when I realized that the books were all related.

I was rather less impressed by Ellen Van Neerven’s Heat and Light, a collection of short stories arranged around three themes: Heat, Water and Light. It was a bit of a ‘curate’s egg’ of a collection- very good in parts, but some stories made less of an impression.

I read Danielle Wood’s The Alphabet of Light and Dark before I started writing this blog. Set on a lighthouse on Bruny Island, it is a story within a story where an aspiring author returns to the lighthouse once tended by her great-great-grandfather and decides to write about her great-great aunt. There are lots of descriptions of landscape and reflections on history.

M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans is set on a lighthouse, too, but this time in the 1920s on the Western Australian coast. A husband returns from the war a changed man, and his wife Isabel cannot understand the existential changes that have been wrought on her husband. Their marriage is wracked by tragedy and loss. There’s a Jodi-Picoult-esque ethical dilemma, which was concluded a little too rapidly for my liking.

There was no rushed ending in Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light. The third of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, it’s the brilliant culmination of a marvellous work of historical fiction. You know how the story is going to end (not well), but Mantel keeps you engrossed right to the last page.

And finally, someone who could barely remember seeing light: Helen Keller. Light in My Darkness is her compilation of autobiographical writing. Originally called My Religion, it’s pretty turgid in places and I found it easier to skip the chapters on Swedenborgianism. Frankly, I wouldn’t bother reading this and instead read Dorothy Herrman’s Helen Keller: A Life.

So, mainly fiction this month and a rather crabby collection of reviews. Rather ironic really, given that the theme I had chosen for myself was ‘light’!