peteg's blog

Nadeem Aslam: The Wasted Vigil.

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Kindle. Powerful stuff, mostly handled well. As topical now — with the Taliban swinging back into power — as it was back in 2007/2008. The Taliban, the local war lords, the CIA, the Pakistanis, the Soviets fight in Afghanistan. It's a bit pox-on-all-your-houses but comes down hardest on the foundations of Islam. (As a non-expert on Islam I found it difficult to accept many of the quotes as canonical.) Aslam solves the structural problem of the novel (that there appears to be only about ten people in the whole country, each with unique and unusual histories) by focusing on a small village with a deep history of conflict, and people with rare skills (doctors, female teachers, CIA agents, ...).

Many and varied opinions at Goodreads. Yes, the dialogue/speech bubbles all sound about the same. This sometimes made it difficult (and unrewarding) to untangle who was making what claims with what evidentiary basis. Lorraine Adams. Yep, it has its moments of overwriting.

6Cry Macho

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Clint Eastwood's latest. It's a sentimental clunker. Macho is a cockfighting rooster that does all the violent stuff. Clint does some romance and fathering in between some sauntering. Mexico, once again a healthier place than the USA.

A. O. Scott tells us that it's 1980, in case you're wondering why things are so wholesome.

Douglas Coupland: Hey Nostradamus!.

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Kindle. Coupland tries to be serious, or at least earnest, about religious fundamentalism and school shootings. The result is as shallow as anything else he's done but worse due to its heavy themes and poor execution. The third chapter (Heather) is epically poor: a lonely female court stenographer who can only be completed by a man, waffling away in Generation X flights of fantasy. Just as well he tells us she's awesome, things are great, etc. as we'd never have figured that out for ourselves.

Goodreads. If I'd checked there first I wouldn't have bothered.

Under the Skin

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Samantha Morton's first feature from 1997. I saw it back then and have been meaning to rewatch it since 2014 for reasons unknown. I didn't remember much at all, and now find there's not a lot going on; her character struck me as a clone of Sinead. The plot is sexual perversity in a minor English town (apparently one with a single train station, and not Manchester) as the training wheels come off a young lady's life. Morton is fab. Perhaps I was thinking of The Libertine.

Janet Maslin at the time. The editing was great.

Quarterly Essay #69, Mark McKenna: Moment of Truth: History and Australia’s Future. (March 2018)

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Kindle. I've been enjoying some of Midnight Oil's The Makarrata Project from late 2020; it's an unabashed return to a sense of Oz-ness that has been missing from these strange and grim days. The best bits are when Peter Garrett isn't singing, as Bernard Zuel implicitly observes. The best bit is the second half of Change The Date when Dan Sultan takes over ("drinking down your chardonnay / how long can you just look away?"), leading to a duet (?) with Gurrumul Yunupingu in what sounds to me like a friendly and playful conversation. Unfortunately the album wears off (out) quickly.

This is Mark McKenna's response to Turnbull's flat (offhand, stonkering, rude, obnoxious) rejection of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. (I add those adjectives as it was the result of a very long consultative process that supposedly had bipartisan buy-in.) It is deeply felt but not great at explaining why any particular thing happened or is going to happen. For instance, how did the Kurnell joint projects come to be? Is that a process that can be replicated elsewhere? He seeks (as always) to link reconciliation to his pet republican project in a flimsy manner. Wishful thinking I fear. Overall it is more polemic than argument.

The best parts were some quotes he pulled, like this one from Galarrwuy Yunupingu in 2016:

The Australian people know that their success is built on the taking of the land, in making the country their own, which they did at the expense of so many languages and ceremonies and songlines — and people — now destroyed. They worry about what has been done for them and on their behalf, and they know that reconciliation requires much more than just words.

There's a lot more there than here.

Recent events suggest another path forward: Australia could simply join the USA, either as seven distinct states (minting the N.T. as a state while abandoning Canberra to the sheep) or as one. We could use the opportunity to rejuvenate our dysfunctional political structures. The Aboriginal causes would instantly benefit from the robust native title and human right protections of the US Constitution.

Followup correspondence is linked from the Text Publishing page. Megan Davis responded with another essay which mostly recapitulates McKenna's. The delta is an emotional account of the before, during and after of drafting the statement. Michael Cooney apparently leads the Australian Republican Movement now (who knew it still existed?) and shares my concerns that the politics of the republic and indigenous recognition can and should be separated lest one irreparably damage the other. Russell Marks makes some good observations about South Australia and concludes with a paragraph that succinctly and powerfully summarises the anxieties of the beneficiaries of dispossession. McKenna's response is not linked there.


Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds (1987)

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Alex Proyas's first feature from 1988. Financed by the Australian Film Corporation (AFC) via their "Creative Branch", which makes me wonder if it was a bicentennial project. Roughly this is from a classic period of Australian craziness: not a return to Wake In Fright but an indulgence and celebration of quirkiness, individuality, spirituality, freedom and perhaps genius. Think of the stump-jump plough, Young Einstein, and not of Max Max. The story is soporific — not far off Chicken Run — but so what: the cinematography is gorgeous and there's the odd moment of inspired zaniness. Shot in Broken Hill. It is easy to see how he got from here to The Crow.

Recently Luke Buckmaster.

Atticus Lish: The War for Gloria.

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Kindle. It feels like a long while since his first novel, but perhaps that's just the times. I was disconcerted to read that this effort was substantially funded by his father.

Briefly we're in working-class Boston in the midst of a mother decaying from ALS while her devoted high-school son attempts to care for her while getting through school and managing his complex relationship with his father. There's some unskilled construction work, mixed martial arts, an aspiration to become a Navy SEAL, and a perspective on the incels that will probably be passed on by. Some it smells of Dennis Lehane. I can't say I understood the point of Adrian or found him to be well developed. Physics and mathematics are gestured at as places of incontrovertible truth, tarnished by humans who overclaim.

Lish keeps us unbalanced all the way along, and not by selectively withholding information but by keeping his vantage tight. At various points I wondered if the (omniscient) narrator was reliable, which is clearly intentional. Towards the end we get something of an Ann Patchett wrap up, a few 25th Hour alterna-futures, which I felt left some of the main themes unresolved.

Dwight Garner. Harvey Keitel as Leonard? That'd make it Holy Smoke!. Goodreads makes it seem that the ladies did not go for it, but here's Martha Anne Toll for NPR. She seems to miss that Lish consciously juxtaposes structured and unstructured violence. Andre Dubus III. And we wait for the next one.

The Hand

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Oliver Stone's second feature, from 1981. I think it's clear that it was never a good idea, even at the time. Michael Caine turns in a stodgy performance, showing that when things work (as in, e.g., Sleuth) we can ascribe that to his co-star(s). Even so nothing can really save this intrinsically flawed whatever-it-is. Mercifully the sequel, so begged for at the end, was never made.

Vincent Canby. Clever? When? Again I'd suggest that David Lynch made far better use of juxtaposing creepy-crawlies with small-town shenanigans. Stone's thing is politics on the largest stages.


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Oliver Stone's first feature from 1974. I can't see how but it must've seemed like a good idea at the time. It's some kind of moralising horror, like Tales from the Crypt — mesmerising Martine Beswick does the Ralph Richardson thing, sorta, but not the Joan Collins thing. She's joined by a dwarf and a giant, which together with the red curtains were all better used a bit later by David Lynch. The framing story (dreams within dreams) was always a poor move.

It was not reviewed by my usual suspects.

Jamil Jan Kochai: 99 Nights in Logar.

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Kindle. A pointer from Mohammed Hanif. Briefly, a family living in the U.S.A. returns to Afghanistan in 2005 to visit their ancestral compounds and adventures ensue. There's some magic realism and some funny bits ("You swear to God you'll lie?") that mostly mine the chasm between the cultures. I often found it hard to figure out the family relationships and pronouns and articles of clothing etc. Cross-dressing in a burqa was a crime of cliche. It is mostly well structured but I'd lost interest by the time the story of Watak was presented as pages of untranslated text.

Very well marketed. Hanif softens many things: for instance Marwand doesn't "tease" the dog, he tortures it, gleefully. I didn't see the motivation for that and hence felt it undermined rather than underpinned the whole story. Goodreads didn't dig it.

John Clarke: Tinkering.

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Kindle. Hard to believe he's been gone four years now. This is a compilation of excerpts and offcuts of his written work. We get some Dagg, a diary of the Stiff shoot (he was starstruck by David Wenham), some political historiography that was sadly wasted on the muppets of that time and much else. Some is clearly quite rough or intended for very targeted amusement. Overall I'd say you're better off poking around his website or watching the ABC's tribute. I wonder what he'd make of these farcical days.

Goodreads is a bit tepid about it. Robert Phiddian: "Surely deathless prose (even from the dead) is an improvement on an endless stream of nouns prefaced by 'How good is ...?'"


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I haven't seen this in a very long time.

Three stars from Roger Ebert. Eric Bana: a star is born. Stephen Holden draws the line to Natural Born Killers.