Derek Rielly, Gulpilil, Macmillan, 2019.
This is like a long obituary (tho a short book) as the subject is so close to death, and much of the book is set in the present (rather than the past as is normal for a biography) as the author is concerned to make clear how intimate he is with his material.
It’s not a great book, but it does cover the actor’s career, and gives a sense of what he is like, and also of what it means to belong to neither of the two worlds: black and white.
The entirely remarkable Ben Gilmour was interviewed for a whole hour on the ABC the other day. The topic was well worth the time. He’s just published a book about his experiences as an ambo – a paramedic – stationed in Sinny at Bondi. This meant that he and his partner were usually the nearest to be called to a suicide attempt (or success) at The Gap – the most popular spot in the country for offing yourself. I bought the book (which is called The Gap) and read it in a day. It’s one of the most gripping books I’ve ever read.
But that’s only half of my point here. The other half was not mentioned by the interviewer at all (unless I missed the very beginning of the interview) – namely, that Ben Gilmour has directed and had released two feature films! Son of a Lion (shot in Pakistan) was released in 2007, and Jirga was shot in arguably the most dangerous place in the world, Kandahar Province in Afghanistan, and released in 2018.
I think what most preoccupied Tim Winton in working on this novel was getting the voice of the narrator, Jaxie, right. As it’s almost all we hear for the duration, it’s just as well he succeeded. It’s not understood to be written by him, of course—he’s probably barely literate—but it is narrated by him, and the language on the page represents what he ‘would of’ written if he ‘could of’—thus giving examples of the principal solecism which occurs consistently throughout—together with ‘et’ for ‘ate’, which is complicated, but works.
The other main character, Fintan, only appears halfway through, and is represented only by what he says to Jaxie—who does not understand half of it, but records it accurately (of course). Jaxie is the character who is in search of … ‘peace’ is the preferred term, and Fintan is the spiritually advanced character who has perhaps found it.
Then there’s a plot, which is a bit stuck-on-at-the-end, providing closure for the story in a way that is convincing enough. One is usually glad to escape from the world of a Winton novel—he’s often said not to do his endings well—and this one provides a neat half-page summary (almost like a PowerPoint slide) which tidies everything up, and lets us go.
But this novel does not let us go when we have put it down. Its evocation of Jaxie’s universe is so precise and convincing that it will stay in the reader’s mind for some time – well, this one, at least.
Montaigne was the greatest essayist. Here’s the best bit from his best (and possibly last) essay, ‘On experience’. This is as good as it gets.
We are great fools. “He has passed his life in idleness,” say we: “I have done nothing to-day.” What? have you not lived? that is not only the fundamental, but the most illustrious, of your occupations. “Had I been put to the management of great affairs, I should have made it seen what I could do.” “Have you known how to meditate and manage your life? you have performed the greatest work of all.” In order to show and develop herself, nature needs only fortune; she equally manifests herself in all stages, and behind a curtain as well as without one. Have you known how to regulate your conduct, you have done a great deal more than he who has composed books. Have you known how to take repose, you have done more than he who has taken empires and cities.
One sometimes comes across some piece of writing that perfectly encapsulates something, and there should be a way to keep such things where they can readily be found.
A ‘pillow book’ used to be such a thing. Now I suppose it’s a blog.
I can’t remember how I arrived at this piece by the legendary (to me, anyway) Douglas Hofstadter on machine translation, but I want to record the source here.
From my point of view, there is no fundamental reason that machines could not, in principle, someday think, be creative, funny, nostalgic, excited, frightened, ecstatic, resigned, hopeful, and, as a corollary, able to translate admirably between languages. There’s no fundamental reason that machines might not someday succeed smashingly in translating jokes, puns, screenplays, novels, poems, and, of course, essays like this one. But all that will come about only when machines are as filled with ideas, emotions, and experiences as human beings are. And that’s not around the corner. Indeed, I believe it is still extremely far away.
Just before starting to watch the last episode of The Good Karma Hospital, I was starting to develop the idea of using Amanda Redman’s left arm as a metaphor for … just about everything about The Meaning of Life. Only to find that the scriptwriters had the same idea. And they used it.
I went looking specifically for a taxonomy of detective plots. The ‘locked room’ plot is the only one of which I was aware, but I was sure there were other such. In the event, I did better, finding a more general taxonomy of mysteries, which includes plots but also other ways of classifying detective and mystery stories. For a listologist like me, it’s a delight:
I had in mind that Russian dude who did a thing on the Russian folk tale which was quite important in the development of narratology:
Propp, Vladimir 1968 , The Morphology of the Folktale, tr. Laurence Scott, from Morfologia Skazi, Leningrad) University of Texas Press, Austin (second edition 1970). There’s also this:
Todorov, Tzvetan 1977, ‘The typology of detective fiction’  and ‘An introduction to verisimilitude,’  in The Poetics of Prose, Cornell UP, Ithaca.
I am having fun putting up my lectures on Narrative Fiction from 1995, some of which would form the basis of my only published book. I see all of my personal and academic faults displayed in them, but they still might be of use to someone. My study of Freud on the one hand, and narrative on the other, may still provide some useful insights.
Here is the opening paragraph in Liz Byrski’s first venture into writing fiction, in Gang of Four (2004).
There was a moment when she first woke, a moment free of any sense of the day ahead; a moment before she opened her eyes and when all she could feel was the warmth of the early sunshine falling on her face through the open curtains, and the soft heaviness of her body relaxed after sleep. A moment of innocence before reality interfered.
I’d already lost interest at ‘soft heaviness’. I didn’t need the naivety (‘innocence’, ‘reality’?) of the second sentence to confirm my disinterest not only in this character (I’m not a woman of a certain age) but also in this writing.
There’s a writers conference in Fremantle as we speak, and I took the opportunity to seek out writers with some connexion to Freo and make pages for them on my Fremantle Stuff site. I’ve also bought some of their work to sample if I didn’t have any already.
I had already read two of the three Alan Carter novels with Cato Kwong as the central character: the first (Prime Cut) set in Ravensthorpe/Hopetoun in southern WA, and the second (Getting Warmer) set in Fremantle. Cops ‘n’ crims.
Which is also the milieu of David Whish-Wilson, at least in Zero at the Bone, the only one of his books I’ve looked into so far. This one’s set in Perth and Fremantle in 1979.
Liz Byrski‘s first novel, Gang of Four, is the only one I’ve looked at. I’m not in the target audience of women of a certain age, so I found it of no interest. It’s not writerly.
I’ve read all of Tim Winton‘s novels. One which is clearly set in Fremantle is Eyrie (2013): a main character lives in Johnston Court, the absurdly tall block of flats in central Freo. Friends dislike his endings, including this one, but I didn’t have a problem with it: you just have to read closely.