“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.