Simply messing around in books


This half of Gert hasn’t felt inspired to write much about anything she’s read lately. But here are two very different recent Australian publications that might interest you:

Heather Rose The Museum Of Modern Love

A novel inspired by Marina Abramovic says the cover, and it certainly is. Marina Abramovic is a challenging Serbian performance artist who uses the interaction between her body and her audience to explore the possibilities of the human mind both for good and evil, and tests her own resolve to the utmost. The novel is built around an Abramovic show called The Artist Is Present at the New York Museum Of Modern Art in 2010, in which Abramovic sat ten hours a day for 75 days on end. One by one, members of the public came and sat opposite her. The two sat looking into each other’s faces for as long as the sitter wanted, while an increasingly large audience observed.

Many of the people who took part and watched found this a transformative experience and this is the case with the characters in the novel (and with Rose herself, who sat with Abramovic several times). The central character, Arkie Levin, is going through a personal crisis due to the illness of his wife and their enforced separation, and his struggles to keep his career as a film composer alive. All the characters are dislocated in some way: the recently-widowed Jane Miller, the PhD student Brittika, born of an unknown Chinese mother but adopted into a Dutch family, the powerful media personality Healayas Breen, still mourning her estranged and now lost father. The Arkie story interested me, the others not so much. The real drive is Rose’s enormous admiration of Abramovic and her work, and at times this gives a humorless earnestness to the book. An interesting project, half-fiction, half-reality. It’s had rave reviews here.

Carmel Bird, Family Skeleton

Carmel Bird has recently won the Patrick White award, which White set up with money from his Nobel prize to honour Australian artists who haven’t won “due recognition”. Bird is a well-known name in writerly circles in Australia – she’s written nine novels, short stories, some books about writing, and conducts writing workshops, but it’s true she isn’t a name for the wider reading public. I’d never actually read her, so decided on the strength of the Patrick White to read her latest novel. It could hardly be more different from The Museum Of Modern Love. There’s a time-warp feel to this story of an elderly widow in one of Melbourne’s plummiest suburbs who discovers an unpleasant secret in her family’s past. There’s a black plot twist and a lot of mildly-amusing barbs about bad-taste wealth. A slightly Barbara Pym-ish touch translated into an Australian setting. Pym fans might be interested in the comparison.



15 thoughts on “Simply messing around in books

    1. You have to kick that work habit, Leslie. Our brother and his wife have been retired now for a year or so. Both are so busy that he gets up at 5 am just as she goes to bed.

      1. Lucky Gerts! One advantage of Iceland over Alaska is that it has all of the cool stuff (literally and figuratively) crammed into a very small space, whereas it’s spread out over much larger territory here. You aren’t by chance going to the Iceland Writers’ Conference in April, are you?

        1. No, didn’t even know about it. Strangely enough, Gert hasn’t been invited to be the keynote speaker. We’re going walking, and then to the Savonlinnna Opera Festival in Finland.

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