Claws

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Romei

You may have no­ticed a story from Eng­land about “the Banksy of punc­tu­a­tion”, a self­de­scribed “gram­mar vig­i­lante” who has been sneak­ing around for more than a decade, mainly in Bris­tol, largely at night, cor­rect­ing punc­tu­a­tion on shopfronts and street signs. He’s es­pe­cially tough on apos­tro­phes: miss­ing ones and, even more heinously, rogue ones, such as in Tomato’s 10p a pound. He has de­vised an “apos­trophiser” to deal with lofty signs. I don’t want to of­fend him but I’d call that a long stick. He re­mains anony­mous but a BBC re­porter did track him down one night. “I do think it’s a cause worth pur­su­ing,” he said. He re­called his first brush with gram­mat­i­cal bad­ness, in 2003: “It was a coun­cil sign — Mon­days to Fri­days — and had these ridicu­lous apos­tro­phes. I was able to scratch those off.” He iden­ti­fied a beauty salon as a ca­reer high­light: “Amys Nail’s. It was so loud and in your face. I just couldn’t abide it. It grates.” When it was sug­gested he was van­dal­is­ing pri­vate or pub­lic prop­erty, as some have said of Bris­tol artist Banksy, he replied: “It’s more of a crime to have the apos­tro­phes wrong.”

Hear­ing about this made won­der what he’d do with F..king Apos­tro­phes. That’s the ti­tle of a little book by Bri­tish ad­ver­tiser Si­mon Grif­fin (Icon, $16.99). The as­ter­isks are mine, not the pub­lisher’s. Would Bris­tol bol­lock me for that? Grif­fin’s book claims to be a “pro­foundly use­ful short guide to the most mad­den­ing punc­tu­a­tion in English”. I don’t think “pro­foundly” is the right word there, but let’s leave that. And all the eff-ing aside, the book is an in­ter­est­ing take on the apos­tro­phe. As the au­thor knows, he won’t be on ev­ery­one’s side. “Peo­ple will ar­gue strongly (some­times even vi­o­lently),” he writes, “that they are right about f..king apos­tro­phes, even when they are wrong.”

With that in mind, tell me about the apos­tro­phes that have most an­noyed you, on a sign, in a book, on a tat­too, any­where. Or about other lan­guage mis­takes that have made you con­demn the per­pe­tra­tor to “be the show and gaze o’ th’ time”, as Mac­Duff put it. I’ll share a few in com­ing weeks. I want to catch up with some re­cent prizes. First, The Aus­tralian/ Vo­gel’s Lit­er­ary Award went to Marija Peri­cic for The Lost Pages, a bril­liant (I was a judge) reimag­i­na­tion of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Franz Kafka and his friend and lit­er­ary ex­ecu­tor Max Brod, aka the Bloke Who Didn’t Burn the Books. In the sort of amus­ing co­in­ci­dence that hap­pens in the world of books, the day af­ter Peri­cic won I spot­ted this book in a pub­lisher’s cat­a­logue: Bak­ing With Kafka. By Bri­tish car­toon­ist Tom Gauld, it’s a col­lec­tion of sketches and lit­er­ary-minded recipes. I may bake the cock­roach pie, though I doubt I’ll do a Papil­lon and eat it.

Another man­u­script award, the Richell Prize, had its de­but win­ner with Sally Ab­bott’s theend-is-nigh thriller Clos­ing Down. James Bradley re­views it and The Lost Pages on page 20. The Stella Prize was won by Heather Rose for The Mu­seum of Mod­ern Love, a novel that has a real artist, Ma­rina Abramovic, as its cen­tral force.

Rose’s novel, set in New York and ab­sent of Aus­tralian char­ac­ters, was not longlisted for the Miles Franklin this week. It did, how­ever, make the fic­tion short­list in the NSW Premier’s Lit­er­ary Awards, along with Gretchen Shirm’s Where the Light Falls (which started life as Vo­gel con­tender), Ryan O’Neill’s Their Bril­liant Ca­reers, Tara June Winch’s Af­ter the Car­nage and Char­lotte Wood’s The Nat­u­ral Way of Things. O’Neill is also on the Miles longlist, with Steven Am­s­ter­dam ( The Easy Way Out), Emily Maguire ( An Iso­lated In­ci­dent), Mark O’Flynn ( The Last Days of Ava Lang­don), Josephine Rowe ( A Lov­ing, Faith­ful An­i­mal), Philip Salom ( Wait­ing), Inga Simp­son ( Where the Trees Were), Kirsten Tran­ter ( Hold) and Josephine Wil­son ( Ex­tinc­tions). Con­grat­u­la­tions to all. The short­list will be an­nounced on June 18.

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