Books too

26 Aug

Yes, I have also been reading, thanks to Surry Hills Library.

1) Talking it Over (1991) by Julian Barnes. A postmodern gathering of narrative voices, very cleverly done. Introduced me to the word steatopygous.

2) Blow Fly (2003) by Patricia Cornwell, who is certainly an interesting character. I’m afraid I found this over the top and utterly melodramatic. I’m afraid too that the more a novel salivates over the precise details of technology, weaponry, and brands of coffee (product placement?) the less humane it seems to become; yes, I know it’s par for the genre. Cornwell gets one bit of obsessive detail wrong too, talking at one point of jarrah wood from South Africa. As we know, the word is from an Australian Aboriginal language and the tree from Western Australia.

3) Imagine being gay in Ireland in 1965. This was the lot of John Broderick and of the central character in The Waking of Willie Ryan (1965; republished 2004).

Willie Ryan is an old man who arrives back in his home town in ‘the great central plain of Ireland’, having escaped from the insane asylum where he was wrongfully incarcerated, and unvisited, by his devout Catholic family for twenty-five years. The given reason for his commitment was an attack on his sister-in-law, Mary Ryan, wife of his brother Michael. The true reason: a homosexual affair with a hedonistic young man who introduced him to art, literature and music. When he returns to his family, Mary continues to insist on Willie’s insanity. After all, didn’t he refuse to go to Confession or to attend Mass during all his years in the asylum? Together with Father Mannix – who was complicit in ‘putting away’ Willie – she conspires to bring about Willie’s reconciliation with the church. For Willie’s enemies, nothing evil has happened as long as it is not seen to have happened. But through Willie’s piercing vision, we see the truth – his brother Michael’s grief and remorse; his nephew Chris’s fear of freedom; and the perceptiveness of asylum nurse Halloran. When Willie knows he is about to die, he agrees to a private family Mass, setting the stage for a confrontation with Father Mannix – one which will pitch moral integrity against the ‘petty bourgeois snobbishness, hypocrisies and pretensions’ of the ‘little grocer’s republic’ of 1950s Ireland.

Take away the specific Catholicism and it could be Sutherland, Sydney, Australia in the same era! Beautifully written, and well worthy of republication.

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Posted by on August 26, 2006 in Cultural and other, gay life/issues, Indigenous Australians, Reading, Surry Hills


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