A pair of

Ragged claws

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Romei

STRANGE days in­deed. A fel­low goes over­seas for a few weeks and look what hap­pens: one prime min­is­ter is binned so an­other can be re­cy­cled, JK Rowl­ing turns her lit­er­ary wiz­ardry to crime fic­tion and a woman wins the Miles Franklin. Only jok­ing about the last of course: huge con­grat­u­la­tions to Michelle de Kretser on win­ning our most im­por­tant book prize for her won­der­ful novel Ques­tions of Travel. It couldn’t hap­pen to a nicer writer. WHEN Kevin Rudd chal­lenged Ju­lia Gil­lard on June 26, it was mid-morn­ing in Rome and I’d just cracked the spine of one of the best books I read dur­ing my break, Sarah Du­nant’s novel of the Bor­gias, Blood & Beauty (re­viewed on page 22). The novel opens with the pa­pal con­clave of 1492 that even­tu­ally elected Ro­drigo Bor­gia as head of the Catholic Church. He be­came Pope Alexan­der VI. Three pages in and with one eye on events in Can­berra, I was struck by a pas­sage de­scrib­ing the car­di­nals’ back­room de­lib­er­a­tions: ‘‘. . . even in the la­trines the work con­tin­ues: ne­go­ti­a­tion and per­sua­sion over the trickle of age­ing men’s urine’’. Du­nant, who di­vides her time be­tween Lon­don and Florence (lucky her), is head­ing to our shores for the Melbourne Writ­ers Fes­ti­val, which runs from Au­gust 22 to Septem­ber 1. The pro­gram is on­line at mwf.com.au. AN­OTHER epic and im­pres­sive book I read while on leave sprang from the other side of the At­lantic: The Son, by Wall Street trader turned writer Philipp Meyer. This novel fol­lows three gen­er­a­tions of a pi­o­neer­ing Amer­i­can fam­ily made rich first by cat­tle and then by oil. Think Ge­orge Stevens’s 1956 film Gi­ant, ex­cept with more blood­shed, as Meyer spares no one in its bru­tal de­pic­tion of how the west was won. The author is an­other head­ing our way, for the Bris­bane Writ­ers Fes­ti­val from Septem­ber 4 to 8. The pro­gram was due to go on­line this week­end at bwf.org.au. ONE of the treats of be­ing over­seas is read­ing the In­ter­na­tional Her­ald Tri­bune, not least be­cause you never know what you might find in it. The July 1 edi­tion car­ried a fas­ci­nat­ing piece about ac­tors cash­ing in on a boom in au­dio books, which are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing dou­ble-digit sales growth in the US. Au­dio books are in de­mand be­cause the de­liv­ery method has be­come so easy: you down­load to your mo­bile de­vice, mean­ing there’s no need for bulky CDs or tapes (re­mem­ber them?) and the clunky hard­ware that goes with them. This has ‘‘cre­ated a bur­geon­ing em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for ac­tors pur­su­ing star­dom on stage and screen, al­low­ing them to pay their bills by do­ing some­thing other than wait­ing on ta­bles’’. In­deed the boss of au­dio book gi­ant Au­di­ble, Don­ald Katz, reck­ons his com­pany is the largest em­ployer of ac­tors in the New York area, with 2000 on the pay­roll. Ac­tors in­ter­viewed for the ar­ti­cle said they counted on nar­rat­ing two books a month, earn­ing $1000 to $3000 a pop. So I de­cided to give it a go, al­though I went down the pre­his­toric path and bor­rowed a book on CDs from my lo­cal li­brary and lis­tened to them on what may or may not still be called a boom box. I wanted some­thing short and fa­mil­iar so went for Franz Kafka’s The Me­ta­mor­pho­sis, read by English ac­tor Martin Jarvis on the Naxos label. Once I got used to the English voices in my men­tal eastern Euro­pean set­ting I set­tled in and en­joyed this sad and fan­tas­tic story. Even so, I’m glad my first ex­pe­ri­ence with it, many years ago, was just be­tween me and the printed page.

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