What Happens in Amsterdam

…sort of ruins Ian McEwan’s book, Amsterdam, as far as I’m concerned. Most of the novel takes place in England, and is quietly excellent. It’s just the last section in the eponymous city. The weird section.

On the plus side, the book is really short.

The word I most want to use to describe that ending, actually, is silly. Continue reading


Headscarf Girls

He walked through to a hall with pictures of roosters on the walls; in the centre of the hall was a small cock fighting ring. At this moment Ka realised he was in love with ─░pek. And, sensing that this love would determine the rest of his life, he was filled with dread.

Yesterday, I finished Snow, a novel by Turkish winner of big fancy prizes, Orhan Pamuk. I’ll keep post this more or less spoiler-free, I promise. Pamuk places himself (or a ghost of himself) as the narrator of the book, describing the experiences of a poet friend named Ka in the small Turkish town of Kars. (Incidentally, “kar” is Turkish for snow. You can safely assume there is some snow in the book.) In the novel, Kars has become a focal point for tension between the forces of Turkish secularism and political Islam; after the secularist government banned Islamic headscarves in state schools and universities, a string of Islamic activists known as the headscarf girls killed themselves. When the town is closed off from the outside world by (you guessed it) snow, it becomes a crucible for testing this tension. Snow plays out the struggle between politically expressed religion and modernising secularism in events covering a period of about three days. Plus, Pamuk manages to get through a whole love story in the same time-frame. Positively Shakespearean compression.

The very handsome Turkish first edition.

Continue reading


I am sitting in bed sucking on a cup of it. The little yellow Twinings tag dangles, advertising its anchor. “EARL GREY TEA.” Shiny china reflects the words, a little bent. A code on the bottom of the box in the kitchen told me earlier the tea was blended in China. The side of the box had a little message from the current (sixth) Earl Grey. He’s proud to continue the tradition.

The modern world has made emperors of us all.

Even if all isn’t really all, if luxury is still imported from poverty. I can’t help find it delightful. And the tea itself clears my head so wonderfully for contemplating its meaning.

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Sunday Night Daria

When I moved to Melbourne about a month (maybe?) ago, I had a major decision to make. Which books to bring?

Pretty modest stack.

(Sent Portnoy’s Complaint back to Brisbane when I moved, for some foolish reason. Like my old room is a library with a strict borrowing policy)

Out of my really pretty huge collection, I ended up selecting: Portnoy’s Complaint (which I was reading at the time, and now recommend), Carry On, Jeeves (a recommendation from a certain mad cool girl, now also finished and thoroughly enjoyed), A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (probably the most popular Wallace, and now also the only published thing of his I haven’t read), Armour (the less difficult looking book of John Kinsella poems I owned), V., The Name of the Rose, Midnight’s Children, Amsterdam, Johnno, and the Complete Kafka Short Fiction (just in case I get too happy). Continue reading


Stumbleupon is a bit evil. A little troll with a fishing line, waiting for me to bite the bit of blubbery bait so he can reeeeel me in. And just keep reeling and reeling and reeling. I mean, I’m in the middle of a book that I’m really loving, but I still end up here stumbling and stumbling and stumbling…

Only sometimes, the stumble troll throws down a piece of genuine gold. It must be an accident, I can’t believe he means me any good, but nevertheless: something special. Continue reading

Hell House and the Truth

I’ve just walked in my door feeling thoroughly inspired. Waleed Aly is the man. Scott Stephens, Dr Benjamin Myers, and Clare Bowditch are pretty damn cool too. These four brought their blazing intellects to bear on a rather unusual play we’d all just seen together. I’ve never seen such an engaging panel discussion.

The play was Hell House, put on by Back to Back Theatre at the Arts House Meat Market, North Melbourne. (Within walking distance of my new house, just quietly). I feel a bit strange calling it a play though. The performance was originally created by an evangelical preacher in Texas in the seventies. It was and is essentially a fundamentalist Christian haunted house, filled with illustrative sinners being damned. The intention is to frighten the audience–especially the teenage audience–away from the sins of homosexuality, pre-marital sex, alcoholism, etc. One of the original creators of the thing distributes scripts and instruction sets (including fake blood recipes) to help other Churches set up Hell Houses. Back to Back got themselves one of those packages, and set up a faithful recreation, far from the Bible belt. The program explains that they intended to “present the work as a museum would a religious artefact.” Continue reading