Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Broken Shore, encore une fois

Peter Temple's The Broken Shore was published last year to rave reviews, including mine for the SMH, and it's just won the Colin Roderick Award for 2005. This award is given by the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies at James Cook University for the best Australian book, in any genre, published in the previous calendar year: The Broken Shore won out over, among other shortlisted things, Kate Grenville's The Secret River and Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers.

As I can no longer find my review online, I reproduce it here in an attempt to lure anyone who hasn't read this book yet to do so at the first opportunity.

Synchronistically, if that is a word, this news comes within days of my stumbling over another rave review of Temple, this time of Identity Theory which I haven't read, at the blog Head Butler, where Jesse Kornbluth says this. But in the meantime, here's mine from last year:

The Broken Shore
By Peter Temple
Text Publishing, 320pp, $29.95

Detective Senior Sergeant Joe Cashin, badly damaged in the line of duty, has been seconded to a job in the relative quiet of his childhood home town on the southern coast of Victoria. When he isn’t walking his two black standard poodles through the countryside or trying to find a comfortable position for his damaged body in a chair or on the floor while he listens to opera, Cashin spends his non-work time planning the rebuilding of the ancestral ruin in which he lives.

But then a highly respected and well-heeled local is found dead in his own home, and the body shows the marks of torture. The evidence points to three Aboriginal boys from the local community, but it soon starts to look as if there might be quite a different story behind this murder.

It’s hard to know where to start praising this book. Plot, style, setting and characters are all startlingly good, and even lovers of crime fiction will recognise that Temple has taken his writing beyond the usual boundaries of that admirable genre, though it still follows the mainstream conventions. There’s the idiosyncratic detective, a troubled loner with signature tastes in music, alcohol and/or books. There’s the tight plot full of red herrings and false trails, and the deft interweaving of a romance sub-plot involving a suitably foxy heroine. And there are some very, very horrible moments as the action unfolds.

Temple’s greatest gift is for the creation of his characters: their back-stories are sketched in with great economy and clarity, their general cast of mind is conveyed through small details, and their motivations are revealed detail by small detail. But most of all, Temple has an astonishing skill in conveying the feeling between his characters: the slow accretions of trust, the red haze of hatred, the fine strands of hostility in the weave of desire. When this book is made into a movie – and it will be – the real test for the actors will be in the two-handed scenes where they have to play off each other, because the emotional currents running between the various characters are so deep and strong as to be almost visible.

Temple has an acute ear for the speech patterns of a certain kind of Australian man. Although the story is not actually told in the first person, we see events from Cashin’s point of view so the style tends to be that of the character’s own very Australian inner voice, laconic to the point of occasional incomprehensibility, its humour deadpan and drier than a chip. When Cashin and his colleague Dove notice a bit of casual private-schoolboy bullying as they pass in the street – itself a briefly eloquent counterpoint to the wasted lives of the Aboriginal boys – Dove says ‘Year ten mugging class. Been out on a prac.’

There’s also plenty of action, much of it gruesome, some of it comic. There are remarkable evocations of landscape and cityscape, in which recognisable parts of Australia melt imperceptibly into fictional ones: Temple’s Melbourne is half invented, half real, as though you could turn down an alley off Lygon Street and suddenly find yourself in one of his plots. There are also some spectacular set pieces; the scene in the abandoned theatre is brilliant and chilling, a passage of suspense and horror that’s played out in silence and leaves much of the worst to the reader’s imagination.

The subject matter combines two of the most dark and dangerous undercurrents in contemporary Australian society: the status and treatment of the Aboriginal population, and the emergence of long-buried stories of institutional sexual abuse. Temple writes about these things with enough insight and passion to make the reader ask exactly where the boundary lies between genre fiction and ‘serious’ literary fiction. The Broken Shore is one of those watershed books that make you re-think your ideas about reading.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Anybody here under 30 and doing postgrad work in Aust Hist or Lit?

If you are, you might be interested in this email I've just had from Peter Kirkpatrick, president of ASAL:

Dear members and friends of ASAL,

Norman McCann Summer Scholarships in Australian History and Literature: National Library of Australia

Applications close: 30 September 2006

Gianoula Burns Tel: (02) 6262 1232 or

Scholars are invited to undertake six weeks of research, from 2 January
2007, using the National Library's Australian history and literature

Generously supported by the McCann family in memory of former National
Library Council member Norman McCann, the scholarship is open to Australian
tertiary students under the age of 30 who have completed their first degree,
and have commenced or are interested in postgraduate studies.

Successful applicants will come from the disciplines of Australian history,
literature, librarianship, archives administration or museum studies.

Information and application forms here.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Second First Tuesday Book Club

Two programs in, and so far this lively bit of Tuesday night teeve on Our ABC is still working. I'm trying to work out what it has that makes it different from earlier TV arts chat shows which have nearly all been excruciating to some degree or another. Here are the three things I've come up with so far: no gimmicks, ruthless editing, and Jennifer Byrne.

Byrne was great tonight. She was funny, she was smart, she kept everybody more or less on track without being in the least a bossy cow (this is no mean feat; I could never manage it in tutorials), and she is an extremely experienced TV person who knows what works and why. Being married to Andrew Denton must help a lot, I should think, but Byrne goes further back with TV even than she does with Denton and I am sure they bounce ideas off each other about how best to use the medium. Having said all that, my favourite moment tonight was when she lost patience with all the others, who were humming and hawing about Dava Sobel's Longitude not being enough of a rattling good yarn, and said 'Well, I think you're all fools!'

The editing was obtrusive in that the jerkiness of the conversation was quite obvious and the continuity was pretty nonexistent; the discontinuity, if you will. But at least it got rid of (this much was clear) a lot of waffle and left only the most lively bits of the conversation safe from the cutting-room floor.

The two surviving panelists from last month's four were Jason Steger and Marieke Hardy, aka Ms Fits; Peter Cundall and Jacki Weaver had been replaced by Pru Goward and John Safran. I wonder what the rationale is; is it two out and two new ones in per show? Did Cundall and Weaver (by far the best last month, I thought) only ever sign up for one show? Surely they can't have been got rid of after the fact; they were both great.

Tonight Jason Steger loked far more relaxed and comfortable (as it were) in front of the camera, and what he has to say is always interesting and articulate. Hardy was good, and looked gorgeous (this is important; it's television, after all). I thought she was being a bit wilfully dopey about Longitude, but what she had to say about The Shadow of the Wind was great. Pru Goward was all right but managed to get in an obligatory, and really silly, disparaging remark about 'left-wingers', apropos the admittedly shocking revelation that Gunter Grass was in his youth a member of the Waffen-SS. And John Safran ...

Yes. Well.

It'll be interesting to see who they get for the first Tuesday in October. It would be really good to see someone up there who can match Byrne for intelligence, intellectual sophistication, performance chops and passion, because nobody has come close so far. Louise Adler? Robyn Archer? David Marr?