Monthly Archives:March 2019

0

There is no way this can end well

March 10th, 2019 / / categories: 南京桑拿荤场 /

Tragicomic touch … Mark Watson embraces serious subjects.Writers invariably look to their personal life for inspiration. Mark Watson has twin sisters, but he is adamant the sibling relationship in his latest novel, The Knot, is entirely the product of his imagination.
Nanjing Night Net

”They are a lot younger than me so there can’t be any accusations that the book is autobiographical,” he says.

That is a relief, given Watson’s protagonists, Dominic, and his elder sister, Victoria, end up sleeping together. ”I wanted to explore a relationship not seen very often in literature,” the 32-year-old English author and comedian says.

Watson admits it was no easy feat portraying with sympathy two characters committing one of life’s greatest taboos. ”It’s one of the few areas of behaviour that can’t be forgiven or explained,” he says. ”It’s a challenge to make a likeable novel out of something people are instinctively put off by.”

Since Sophocles penned Oedipus the King and Antigone, writers have usually taken a dim view of sexual relationships between family members as either non-consensual or leading to disaster.

Yet Watson, who is best known in Australia as a stand-up comedian and is also a regular on British television, takes a different approach in his fifth novel.

The Knot opens in a country church, where the narrator, Dominic, a wedding photographer for 35 years, describes a typical English wedding. He also wearily observes: ”I have seen marriage vows broken on the same day they were made, witnessed a jilting at the altar … I don’t think there is anything that can happen at a wedding which I haven’t seen.”

Speaking with a gravelly voice from Edinburgh, where he has been performing his latest stand-up act, The Information, Watson says he has long toyed with writing about a wedding photographer, a marginal character in someone else’s drama.

Yet the drama in Dominic’s own life far outweighs the drunken grooms and nubile bridesmaids who populate his working days. The youngest of three children, Dominic lives in awe of his sister, Victoria, but is gently despised by brother, Max. His parents are typical of the interwar generation – hard-working and decent, but lacking emotion.

Watson says he deliberately cast Dominic as an underdog, a likeable if feckless person who is buffeted by events. ”I tried to stack things in Dom’s favour so there’d be room to side with him despite everything that goes on,” he says.

There is nothing graphic in Watson’s exploration of Dominic’s relationship with his older sister, which evolves over the novel from hero worship to lover, albeit briefly.

Indeed, Watson is at his most circumspect in describing the consummation of their relationship; like an ostrich with its head in the sand, Dominic shuts his eyes and brain and pretends the woman in his bed could be anybody but his sister: ”I clung on to these thoughts and let myself topple over the precipice.”

Watson says his failure to describe the sex act between brother and sister was not intended as a cop-out.

But, he adds: ”I couldn’t see a scenario where it wouldn’t be cringeworthy and unpleasant to read. I did feel on the whole that if I went into any more detail it would be that little bit too far for readers.”

Watson also deliberately avoids using the word incest. ”The book is about the narrator’s attempts to deal with temptation and then attempt to deal with the actual act,” he says.

But Watson does not allow his characters to avoid the consequences of their actions, although they do not suffer the calamity that befalls Oedipus, Antigone and most other fictional characters who indulge in such a relationship.

Dominic and Victoria are not the only characters hiding secrets in The Knot; no character emerges squeaky-clean by the end of Watson’s novel.

In the past, Watson has described his novels as serious and tragicomic, and The Knot certainly fits that description. Watson’s comedy shows, many of which he has performed in Australia, have touched on serious topics such as religion, climate change and cyber-fraud.

”I suppose with stand-up you have to go for the instant laughs,” he says.

”Even if I’m taking on more complex subjects, it’s still always about the punchlines.”

The Knot might be laden with characters carrying dark secrets but Watson’s life seems to be an open book. He proposed to his wife of six years, Emily Watson Howes, during a 24-hour comedy show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2004.

”I suppose a lot of my more annoying qualities were more obvious when we got married,” Watson says. ”Funnily enough, one thing I get pulled up on is that I don’t communicate very well.”

As for his sisters, Watson says one of them has read The Knot and ”she really liked it”. ”When she’s back we’ll have to discuss it in greater detail.”

The Knot by Mark Watson is published by Simon & Schuster, $29.99.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie – May Gibbs
Nanjing Night Net

If a gardener can be made and not born, then Snugglepot and Cuddlepie are responsible for my green thumb. May Gibbs’s whimsical stories were the start of my love affair with the Australian bush. The Banksia men may have sent me skittering away from shadows, but they also made me look closely at the natural world.

The Margaret Fulton Cookbook

After a disastrous year in grade 8 home economics, Fulton’s simple recipes were a huge relief. It seemed I could cook after all. Her comfort food still makes my dinner guests close their eyes with delight. Those who tasted my early efforts now appreciate the 21st-century spin – bush-tucker berries are perfect with a decadent pavlova. (Those Banksia men have a lot to answer for!)

Puberty Blues – Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey

While my family thought I was destined to be a wife, mother and good cook, I had other ideas. As a surfboard-riding tomboy of the ’70s, reading Puberty Blues was the slap in the face I needed to break me out of my mould. I was incensed by the book’s inference that all young women in the surfing culture made bad choices and allowed themselves to be used by men.

The Fun of It – Amelia Earhart

Since surfing wasn’t a career option, I sought the advice of the school’s guidance counsellor. ”Nursing would be good,” she told me in response to my request for information on flying lessons. She didn’t know that aviation had fascinated me for years. Looking back over my 25-year career in aviation, I wonder where I’d be if I’d taken her advice instead of stubbornly following my dream.

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

Stubborn or not, at my heart I’m a romantic and Jane Eyre remains the ultimate love story. The wildness of the moors, the threads of mystery, the sense of impending doom, coupled with compelling internal and external conflicts – the heart of any good story – kept me riveted. Jane Eyre’s fortitude and Mr Rochester’s redemption on the road to finding love are examples of beautiful characterisation.

Helene Young is an Australian commercial airline pilot and author of the romantic suspense novels Wings of Fear and Shattered Sky. Her latest book is Burning Lies (Michael Joseph, $29.95). 

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

MICK: THE WILD LIFE AND MAD GENIUS OF JAGGERChristopher AndersenNewSouth Books, $34.99
Nanjing Night Net

Forget the hoary question of whether you would let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone, the decision now is whether you’d let your mother read one of their biographies. Tawdry and decidedly lightweight, Christopher Andersen’s book about Mick Jagger, frontman for the group routinely described as the greatest rock’n’roll band of all time, is nearly as irrelevant as its subject’s intermittent solo career.

The Rolling Stones celebrated their 50th anniversary recently, with the band’s first gig taking place on July 12, 1962, at London’s Marquee Club, and this book ties in with that via an extended update of Andersen’s 1993 paperback, Jagger: Unauthorised (a book that is curiously absent from the published list of the author’s previous works). The presentation of this hardcover improves on its predecessor, but they’re both, in essence, lurid and repetitive reads.

Andersen, whose specialty is British and American royalty (the Windsors and Kennedys, respectively), focuses on Jagger’s sex life, identifying the one-time London School of Economics student as bisexual. The musician’s immense back catalogue gets short shrift: the classic 1971 album Sticky Fingers earns a paragraph, while Angelina Jolie, who strutted through a Stones video clip in 1997 and allegedly caught Jagger’s eye, receives five pages.

The book relies on a wealth of previously published material. Andersen hasn’t interviewed Stones talisman Keith Richards, but he’s read the guitarist’s autobiography, Life. The trials of Jagger’s career, such as gaining control of the band’s finances and his creative relationships with Richards, are referenced without insight, making way for a list of male and female conquests that grows astronomical through suggestion.

Andersen’s problem is that, at the age of 69, Jagger has long been well defined. A compelling frontman turned preening showman on the stage, and a ruthless careerist with a social chameleon’s skills off it, Jagger’s played the anti-establishment provocateur and then accepted a knighthood, and apart from when the Rolling Stones are engaged in selling out stadiums, he’s simply a famous face with more lines than you remember.

At a certain point, roughly when Andersen has Jerry Hall seeing off Carla Bruni in the 1990s, the endless listing of Jagger’s assignations and the text’s uninformed, moralistic tone manages to render Jagger a sympathetic figure. Andersen links Jagger with the late Princess Margaret, suggests Princess Diana was intrigued and even shoehorns Pippa Middleton in, and, if nothing else, it makes you appreciate Jagger’s fortitude.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

0

Bookshop

March 10th, 2019 / / categories: 南京桑拿荤场 /

SHADOW OF THE ROCKThomas Mogford, Bloomsbury, $29.99
Nanjing Night Net

The successful detective novel depends on the interplay between the setting, crime and characters. Here the background is unusual, for Mogford writes of Gibraltar and Tangier. A Sephardic Jew is accused of murdering an heiress in Morocco. He flees to the Rock and an old lawyer friend, Spike. Old forms of corruption meet new technologies, but misogyny still reigns. A new, intriguing voice, but the setting is so intense, it’s overpowering.

SOME REMARKSNeal Stephenson, Atlantic, $32.99

Stephenson the novelist’s forte is technology and its history. Here he sidesteps into shorter form, collecting several stories, essays and interviews. They range typically widely. Arsebestos is about the physical dangers of sitting. Elsewhere, he takes a geek’s tour of the world, following fibre-optic cables. He shines when connecting the techie dots. His novels can be interminable, so these small bites are attractive, quickly consumed.

NORWEGIAN BY NIGHTDerek B. Miller, Scribe, $32.95

Miller’s debut novel takes some unlikely ingredients that, when thrown together, work. Sheldon Horowitz is 82, an ex-marine, proudly Jewish-American. He relocates to Norway for family. An act of violence reawakens his fighting skills and his conscience. Suddenly he is on the run in a foreign land, with a small child in tow. He is also at the stage of early dementia. Add some Kosovar villains and a dogged detective, and the novel becomes utterly compelling.

BOOK THAT CHANGED ME: Helene Young

SNUGGLEPOT AND CUDDLEPIEMay Gibbs

If a gardener can be made and not born, then Snugglepot and Cuddlepie are responsible for my green thumb. May Gibbs’ whimsical stories were the start of my love affair with the Australian bush. The Banksia men may have sent me skittering away from shadows, but they also made me look closely at the natural world.

Helene Young is an Australian commercial airline pilot and award-winning author of the romantic suspense novels Wings of Fear and Shattered Sky. Her latest book is Burning Lies (Michael Joseph, $29.95).

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

0

Say You’re Sorry

March 10th, 2019 / / categories: 南京桑拿荤场 /

Australian author Michael Robotham.SAY YOU’RE SORRYMichael RobothamSphere, $29.99
Nanjing Night Net

Mention Oxford and most of us think of the university’s dreaming spires, the quaint pubs and historic tourist trails, so effectively used on television as Morse and Lewis track a wayward student, a mysterious bluestocking or desperate don.

Yet not so far from all of this picturesque splendour are smaller, lesser known and more typical towns, some with housing estates on their fringes that could just as easily be found in any of England’s big cities. These towns and estates are peopled by a more usual cross-section of English society: the well-to-do, ordinary workers, strugglers, the poorly educated, and, alas, gangs and drug dealers.

It is this latter milieu that Australian Michael Robotham largely mines in his latest novel, Say You’re Sorry, again featuring Joe O’Loughlin, psychologist and criminal profiler. O’Loughlin is a refreshingly unusual crime investigator, not for being separated – pretty usual in this genre – but for suffering the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.

O’Loughlin is travelling by train to Oxford from London in winter, accompanied by his teenage daughter, Charlie, to deliver a lecture. As the train nears Oxford, it passes a group of police removing a young woman’s body from a frozen lake.

Unbeknown to O’Loughlin, he will soon be involved in the unexpectedly resurrected case of the missing ”Bingham Girls”, two teenagers who disappeared from nearby Bingham three years earlier, for the body in the lake turns out to be that of Natasha ”Tash” McBain, one of the pair – and she only died recently.

So where had Tash been during the ensuing time? Given that she survived until recently, could her best friend, Piper Hadley, who disappeared with her, still be alive? And if so, where is she?

As the revived case gets under way, overshadowed by a double murder that may or may not be connected, old ground is revisited and new avenues explored.

Initially, O’Loughlin is employed by the police to profile the perpetrator of the double murder, but he’s then brought in to the Bingham Girls case. This second case will touch him in a personal way through Charlie, who is feisty and difficult at times.

Robotham tells his tale with parallel narratives. One is O’Loughlin’s, in which we accompany him, his former police offsider and the local force in the renewed investigation. The other is the writings of Piper, from which we learn about her, Tash, their families, friends and relationships.

Employing these dual storylines generally works well, as they deliver two aspects of the same case and allow, through Piper’s words, an insight into parts of it that are unknown to O’Loughlin and the police. This also maintains a running tension as you don’t know whether Piper’s story will turn out to have been told by a girl who is still alive or one we will discover to be dead.

As effective as this duality is for the most part, having Piper still telling her story towards the end of the novel tends to upset the book’s overall narrative balance. It may have been more effective for the author to have ended Piper’s tale before the extremely gripping climax begins.

Despite this, Robotham has provided a first-rate psychological thriller containing a disturbing and menacing central story flanked by acute observations about people under stress and how they react.

The well-drawn characters on either side of the crime make fine supports for a wounded hero in a wounded world.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.