Best books I never wrote
REVIEWS BY LILY WOODHOUSE
COONARDOO: THE WELL IN THE SHADOW BY KATHARINE SUSANNAH PRITCHARD When I read this novel I wondered why Pritchard’s name wasn’t up in lights all over Australia. First published in 1929, it is set on a cattle station in WA and spans decades in the lives of the main protagonists, white man Hughie and his loving Aboriginal companion from childhood, Coonardoo. To our 21st century sensibilities Pritchard falls into moments of incipient racism, but the novel is vibrant, heartfelt and clear-eyed: an extraordinary weaving together of Aboriginal and white Australian characters not achieved by any of her contemporaries or many of ours. 30 SEPTEMBER 2017 SIX COUSINS AT MISTLETOE FARM BY ENID BLYTON Classist, snobbish, and not at all celebrating diversity, Enid Blyton’s books were enjoyed around the world for decades. I was old enough to be aware of the mounting criticism. But I didn’t care. I had lots of cousins too. And sometimes we fought and had adventures. I made a solemn vow that when I grew up, and if I ever wrote a book, it would be just like Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm, which I considered better than any of the | YOUR WEEKEND THE JEWEL IN THE LOTUS: A HISTORICAL SURVEY OF THE SEXUAL CULTURE OF THE EAST BY ALLEN EDWARDES My atheist artist/actor uncle was a handsome ladies’ man. I stole this book from his study and read every word by torchlight under the covers. It was an education, at only 13. When I loaned it to a school friend, her mother got hold of it. After reading every word she threw herself into her car, drove round to our place and left it in the letterbox in a brown paper bag. She looked pretty hot and flustered, a state I recognised. FAITH SINGER BY ROSIE SCOTT Writer and activist Rosie Scott died in May of this year. She leaves behind a legacy of trans-tasman work, some novels set in New Zealand and others in Australia. Faith Singer is set in gritty, gaudy Kings Cross. Scott’s nuanced descriptions of her beloved adopted city are second to none. Feisty, big-hearted Faith brims with compassion for her fellow man, not unlike the writer who created her. Read this novel and fall in love, not only with Faith but the city of Sydney. BUY ME THE SKY: THE REMARKABLE TRUTH OF CHINA’S ONE-CHILD GENERATIONS BY XUE XINRAN This is an extremely alarming book, not only for Xue’s understanding of the challenges rising in Chinese society after 30 years of one-child policy, but for the implications in the wider world. Over 10 million families from the first generation are now raising their only children, and they are apparently unwilling to parent. Xue writes “…romantic and motherly love are perishing amid the indifference and warped views on human nature”. This is the “three-screen” generation who prefer to spend all leisure time online. Sound familiar?
Reviewed by Graeme Tuckett
James Baldwin was a friend or associate of Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X.
Those three men, all towering figures in the American civil rights movement, were murdered within a few years of each other during one of the bloodiest and most notorious eras of recent North American history.
In the early 1970s, Baldwin proposed and then began to write a book about the lives of the three men. Of how they intertwined, of their legacies and of what the world lost via their assassin’s bullets.
Baldwin’s book – to be titled Remember This House – was never completed. But from the copious notes, journals and interviews Baldwin left behind, film-maker Raoul Peck has assembled a kind of oral and visual recreation of Baldwin’s writings, his vision for the book and his tireless, fearless advocacy for human rights for all of America’s citizens.
I Am Not Your Negro emerges as a ferociously well-argued, blazingly intelligent, wondrously layered and utterly watchable piece of work. Working within a startlingly brief running time, Peck lays out a history of race relations in North America, the Civil Rights movement, the lives of the three martyred men and a very personal biopic of Baldwin himself.
This film is about as good as a documentary gets.
What is it like inside the mind of Stephen King? Lots of people ask him this, but could he really tell you after living there for so long among the monsters and murderers? The second-best tour guide to that region, I think, would be Owen King, his youngest child, who has just taken part in a lengthy mind-melding experiment with his father. They have written a book together.
The men are sitting on the 17th floor of a publishing house in Manhattan. Stephen, 70, is lean and rangy with hawkish features and white hair. Owen is 40 and looks rather like his dad, although his face is wider and his features seem gentler.
“I think that [my kids] get some of my imagination,” Stephen says. “And some of my wife’s imagination. We are novelists and they grew up in that atmosphere.” The family home was and is a gothic mansion in Bangor, Maine, with wrought-iron bats on the gate. The one thing he remembers about Owen’s childhood, Stephen says, is that they didn’t have a television. “Owen was a kid that read enormously.”
Now they have made up a story together. Sleeping Beauties is a sprawling fantasy, more than 700 pages long. The story is set in 2017 as a strange sleeping sickness that afflicts only women spreads across the globe. A gooey web cocoons them as they nod off and if you wake them they are distinctly narky, not to say murder-y. As the women fall into this mysterious hibernation, a gorgeous naked lady with superhuman strength, trailed by clouds of moths, shows up in a small town in Appalachia, murders a couple of blokes in a trailer and then allows herself to be arrested.
A pitch in conversation is sort of how the book came about, Owen says. The Kings are constantly lobbing ideas for books at each other of an afternoon. “My brother [Joe] is a writer, my wife is a writer and of course my father’s a writer.” The only renegade is the Kings’ daughter, Naomi, who is a Unitarian minister.
Usually the pitches were “jokey ideas”, Owen says. “Like, ‘I want a story about x, y or z.’ So I had an idea. I said to my dad, ‘How about a story about what happens in the event that all women in the world do not wake up?’“
Dad loved it. “I said, ‘You should write it,’“Owen says. “That’s not the first time he’s heard that.”
Stephen thought that Owen should write it. Owen has published a well-regarded short story anthology and came out with his first novel in 2014. He edited and contributed to a collection of superhero stories too. “Most of my writing is reality-based fiction with a comedic bent,” he says. Tackling a global pandemic in which half of humanity is rendered unconscious “seemed like an awfully big jump for me. It seemed so much more like a Stephen King novel than something that I would do.”
So father and son went back and forth. “Eventually we compromised that we would collaborate on it.”
The small town in impoverished Appalachia is in what political scientists now refer to as Trump country, although they were writing before the presidential election and had envisaged Hillary Clinton taking the White House in an early draft. Trump is mentioned once, when a character is trying to think of a worse “asshole” than her boyfriend and concludes that all that remained were “Donald Trump and cannibals”.
Across: 7 Cleric, 8 Caught on, 9 Stingray, 10 Turpin, 11 Chains, 12 Firebugs, 14 Psychos, 16 Spidery, 19 Corn beef, 21 Staffs, 22 Repast, 24 Baroness, 25 Lashings, 26 Perils.
Down: 1 Blotches, 2 Franciscan, 3 Scorns, 4 Butter up, 5 Thor, 6 Loping, 8 Cry off, 13 Bad manners, 15 Overtone, 17 Refusals, 18 Off base, 20 Operas, 21 Straps, 23 Ache.