Category Archives: Non-crime reviews

Book review: Beautiful Revolutionary

I first came across Melbourne author Laura Elizabeth Woollett’s work when she participated in a Noir at Bar event I helped organise last year. That night she read one of the tales from her short story collection, The Love of a Bad Man. It is tempting to view her debut novel, Beautiful Revolutionary, as an extension of that collection – twelve terrific stories told from the point of view of the lovers and wives of various bad men in history. Indeed, if I remember correctly, one of the pieces in The Love of a Bad Man concerned the Reverend Jim Jones, a very bad man and the central focus of Beautiful Revolutionary.

Woollett’s novel spans the period of history from the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in June 1968 to the events that occurred in November 1978, when over 900 people died from drinking poison at the People’s Temple Agricultural Project, better known as ‘Jonestown’ in Guyana, founded by cult leader, Jim Jones. When I was younger, I remember Jonestown being described as a mass suicide but, as relatives of the dead have since pointed out, it was really a mass murder, as all but a few drank the poison under duress.

Although we never hear the story from his point of view, the book revolves around Jones, a self proclaimed socialist saviour, but also a sexual predator, quack faith healer and an increasingly unhinged demagogue.… Read more

Wonderland at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image

I had never pondered the influence of Lewis Carroll’s stories, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871). This left me completely unprepared for Wonderland, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image’s latest Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition. The enormous influence of young Alice and her strange world of bizarre anthropomorphic creatures on the large and small screen documented in this exhibition is a revelation.

My review of Wonderland is live and can be read in full here on the Australian Book Review Arts Update site.

My top books of 2016

my-father-the-pornographerIt’s that time of the year for my top 10 reads of 2016. As is always the case, my list is a mixture of new books, old books, fiction and non-fiction. In no order they are as follows:

The Rules of Backyard Cricket, Jock Serong

It took a while for this book to warm up, but about a third of the way through it just goes bang and never looks back from there. An incredibly dark tale of suburban crime set over several decades in Melbourne, as seen through the eyes of professional cricketers Darren Keefe and his older brother, Wally. Don’t let the publisher’s marketing of this book as literary crime fool you; this is as good an example of noir as you will find in Australian crime fiction today. Serong has a beautiful prose style and totally nails the period detail of growing up in seventies/eighties suburban Melbourne.

Old Scores, David Whish-Wilson

Old Scores is the third book by Perth crime writer David Whish-Wilson featuring Frank Swann, former petty criminal, disgraced cop and low rent private investigator.The story is set in the set at the beginnings of the cowboy capitalism that marked Western Australia in that decade. Swann’s peculiar mix of talents is in demand by the state’s newly elected Labour government.… Read more

The 50th anniversary of Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers

algiers-1

The most disturbing aspect of viewing Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers half a century after its release is how familiar the images of the civil conflict involving Western soldiers in an Arab country now feel.

The strange sense of familiarity kicks in from the very beginning, a small, dingy cell where white men in military uniform stand over an Arab male. The traumatised look on his face tells us the Arab has been tortured. That he has given his captors information against his will only adds to the pain and shame etched on his bruised features. His captors dress him in one of their uniforms and take him as they raid an apartment block, no doubt based on the information he has revealed. The soldiers identify a hidden section in one of the apartments where two men, a woman and a child hide. The soldiers wire it with explosives and threaten to detonate unless those hiding surrender.

A decade and a half of reportage on the West’s military involvement in the Arab world, particularly post the mass circulation of images from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and their pop culture reflection in countless movies and television series give Pontecorvo’s chilling iconography of civil strife and military repression an almost everyday feel.… Read more

Only Lovers Left Alive and the business of nostalgia

only_lovers_left_alive_ver5‘Nostalgia’, both as a word and a concept, originated in the seventeenth century to describe a condition afflicting Swiss mercenaries on long tours of military duty. According to UK cultural critic Simon Reynold’s 2011 book Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction To Its Own Past, it ‘was literally homesickness, a debilitating craving to return to the native land. The symptoms included melancholy, anorexia, even suicide.’

Reynold’s book traces the gradual development of nostalgia, amongst other things, from its origins to the mid-twentieth century, by which time it had began to morph into a human emotion, used effectively by both reactionary and progressive movements. This shift also arguably coincided with capitalism’s discovery of the term and the realisation that nostalgia, (particularly our desire for retro culture, which Reynold’s argues has become so insatiable it threatens to calcify contemporary culture) could make money.

The media is full of examples of the emotional and financial power of the nostalgia industry. On the morning I write this, the newspaper carries a report that seventies stadium rock phenomena Queen have announced they are touring Australia, after years trying to find a replacement for Freddie Mercury, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1991. But you can tell nostalgia and its consumerist manifestations are becoming an all-powerful cultural force, when even centuries-old vampires are infected with it.… Read more