A Pale View of Hills 

Dulwich Hill branch manager, radio personality, and book selling superstar, Morgan Smith tells us how it is; and our Blackheath branch sends a mountain missive.

May 2017

Gleebooks Bookshop - Wednesday, May 10, 2017
It’s May, which of course means Sydney Writers’ Festival—yet again packed with wonderful writers and exciting events. My guess is that George Saunders will be the star of the show, but I am not going to pretend that I read Lincoln in the Bardo which is all written in quotes from real and imaginary people. Too much like hard work methinks although I’m assured that once you get the hang of the format, you can’t put it down. There’s much to look forward to at the SWF and for once I am going to book for some of the paid events and not miss out like I usually do. I’m liking the look of the Slate Culture Gabfest and Advice from Nasty Women at the Town Hall on Saturday night. I’d also love to hear Bernadette Brennan, Annabel Crabb and Fiona McFarlane talking about the work of Helen Garner, but will probably be keeping the home fires burning on D’Hill that morning.

Lesser known writers who are attending the festival I recommend to you are the short story writer Joy Williams, Chris Kraus, author of the naughtily titled I Love Dick ($20), which is not actually a naughty book. You should get a laugh with Jamie Morton who’ll be talking about his hilarious book My Dad Wrote a Porno ($30). His Dad actually did write a porno, and the book is his father’s execrably bad text with extremely funny annotations by Jamie and his friends. Very naughty.

A writer NOT coming to SWF, but who is my writer of the month is Colm Tóibín, whose latest novel House of Names ($30) is a brilliant retelling of the story of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon and their children Orestes and Electra. I have to admit I find it hard to get my head around Greek mythology—did these characters actually exist or were they fictional characters invented by Homer? And what can it all mean? Still, it’s all storytelling in the end and this is storytelling at its most brutal, tender, visceral, heart-wrenching best. Tóibín veers away from accepted versions of this ancient story—in his book Electra and Orestes don’t go together to Athens but Electra stays in the palace plotting the murder of her mother and her lover, while Orestes spends some years living on a farm with Leander (a character who seems to be a Tóibín invention) unaware until his return of his father’s murder. Orestes is a weak man and is convinced by his sister Electra to commit matricide—not a spoiler unless like me, you knew nothing of the original story. As in any great novel, the reader cannot help but believe and invest in these characters and their fates. It matters not whether the story is ‘true’ or ‘false’. Now I want to go back and read all the Tóibíns I’ve missed, which is everything except The Master which also played with ideas of truth and fiction, given that writer Henry James is the main character.

 
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