A pair of

Ragged claws

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Romei

WHEN asked about my favourite book from child­hood, I name with­out hes­i­ta­tion Elis­a­beth Beres­ford’s 1964 novel Awk­ward Magic, which I read at eight or so. This book about a boy, Joe, who adopts a stray dog that turns out to be a grif­fin, is part of a se­ries of nine ‘‘magic’’ nov­els, but I don’t re­call read­ing any of the oth­ers. Beres­ford, who died in 2010, is best known for the Wombles books, but I don’t think I read them at all. I also say Awk­ward Magic is one of only two books to make me cry, the other be­ing the Ivan Smith (words) and Clifton Pugh (art­work) bush­fire para­ble The Death of a Wom­bat (1972). Yet while I have read Wom­bat many times as an adult, and al­ways find it just as mov­ing, Awk­ward Magic has been left to gather dust, partly be­cause I fret­ted about the risk of mar­ring a pre­cious mem­ory. That changed re­cently when I de­cided to read it to my six-year-old son, Syd, who has grad­u­ated from picture books to chap­ter books and who, touch wood, ap­pears to be an en­thu­si­as­tic reader. As I write we are 60 or so pages in. What do I think of it, al­most 40 years on? (Dear god!) Well, it’s a lovely lit­tle book. But here’s the im­por­tant thing: Syd is into it. He’s fas­ci­nated by the im­pe­ri­ous grif­fin, as was I as a child, and im­pressed by Joe’s com­bi­na­tion of mod­esty and pluck. So, far from punc­tur­ing pre­cious mem­o­ries, read­ing this book is cre­at­ing new ones. Will it make me cry at the end? I’ll have to re­port back on that. AS you read this the Perth Writ­ers Fes­ti­val will be wrap­ping up and many of the par­tic­i­pants will be try­ing to work out ways of say­ing the same thing dif­fer­ently at Ade­laide Writ­ers Week, which runs from March 3 to 8. How­ever, there will be some fresh faces in Ade­laide, among them Booker Prize win­ner Alan Hollinghurst, who will be much in de­mand. Other vis­i­tors in­clude Ron Rash (we re­view his new novel on page 20), Is­raeli short story writer Et­gar Keret, Span­ish novelist Javier Cercas, Bri­tish writer Caryl Phillips and the Amer­i­can au­thor of In the Cut, Su­sanna Moore. The strong Aus­tralian con­tin­gent in­cludes Frank Moor­house, El­liot Perl­man, Brenda Walker, Nicki Green­berg, Kate Grenville, Gil­lian Mears, Alice Pung, Mar­got Lana­gan, Gail Jones, Les Mur­ray and Sonya Hartnett. De­tails at www.ade­laide­fes­ti­val.com.au

‘‘I wish I wrote en­thu­si­as­tic re­views more of­ten, but that’s just an­other way of say­ing I wish more books de­served a rave.’’ English novelist and critic Adam Mars-jones af­ter win­ning the in­au­gu­ral Hatchet Job of the Year Award for his re­view of Michael Cun­ning­ham’s novel By Night­fall.

www.theaus­tralian.com.au/thearts

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