The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Tim Dou­glas

“Sum­mer was on the way; Jem and I awaited it with im­pa­tience. Sum­mer was our best sea­son: it was sleep­ing on the back screened porch in cots, or try­ing to sleep in the tree house; sum­mer was ev­ery­thing good to eat; it was a thou­sand colours in a parched land­scape; but most of all, sum­mer was Dill.”

There is some­thing about sum­mer and the ad­vent of the hol­i­day sea­son that, for me, re­calls young Scout Finch’s sea­sonal won­der­ment in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mock­ing­bird. Of course, I’m far too old for imp­ish ad­ven­ture th­ese days (I leave the scraped knees to my Scout-age chil­dren). But that sense of awak­en­ing is pal­pa­ble around Aus­tralia at this time of year.

And so while the big end of town takes off its stiff suit, pours it­self a mar­tini and shuts down for the hol­i­day sea­son, the arts sec­tor takes its op­por­tu­nity to burst into vi­brant life. Gal­leries across the coun­try are open­ing the doors on sum­mer block­busters, from Nude at Art Gallery of NSW to David Hock­ney: Cur­rent in Mel­bourne and Sugar Spin at the Queens­land Gallery of Mod­ern Art. Cin­e­mas are gear­ing up for the Box­ing Day bo­nanza ( Red Dog: True Blue, re­viewed on Page 13, is among the ma­jor re­leases). Syd­ney, Perth and Ade­laide fes­ti­vals are pre­par­ing to raise their cur­tains between Jan­uary and March, while stage com­pa­nies — from opera to theatre and dance — are push­ing through the Christ­mas pe­riod with pro­grams aimed at ev­ery­thing from high arts to chil­dren’s shows. Add to this tours of the world’s biggest mu­si­cal acts (Adele, Spring­steen, Cave, any­one?) and a boon year for book pub­lish­ing, and you may, like Shake­speare, find your­self think­ing sum­mer’s lease hath all too short a date. Thank­fully, Re­view pub­lishes through the sum­mer. Think of it as our gift to you; some­thing to brighten what has been a rel­a­tively dark year for the arts glob­ally.

That trou­ble, of course, be­gan on Jan­uary 10 when David Bowie passed on to the great labyrinth in the sky and wors­ened when Ital­ian lit­er­ary gi­ant Um­berto Eco died in Fe­bru­ary; the point of no re­turn ar­rived in April with Prince’s un­timely de­par­ture; and the tragedy was com­plete with the deaths of Leonard Co­hen, Aus­tralian writer Shirley Haz­zard and 99-year-old Zsa Zsa Ga­bor.

And then there was the enig­matic Lee her­self. The fa­mously reclu­sive au­thor died in Fe­bru­ary in her home town of Mon­roeville, Alabama, a mat­ter of months af­ter the con­tro­ver­sial re­lease of Go Set a Watch­man — the first draft of, or se­quel to (de­pend­ing on who you ask) Mock­ing­bird. Heaven knows what Scout might have made of all that, or in­deed of 2016, but there is lit­tle doubt she’d find a sil­ver lin­ing. So let me take young Miss Finch’s lead on this and wish you all the best for the hol­i­day sea­son.

And with that, in­dulge me an ad­di­tional brace of Scout-bound lit­er­ary wis­doms to digest over Christ­mas: “Un­til I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breath­ing”; and for the yule­tide gas­tronomes: “Pass the damn ham, please.” Happy read­ing.

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