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by Nikki Tranter

28 Oct 2007


Five years ago, there I was, sitting alone, away from the crowds, hating The Lovely Bones all by my lonesome. I hated that book so much, I threw it away upon completion. My contention was that Alice Sebold had transplanted Ghost into a poorly-written, horribly sugary teen drama where life (and death) is just heavenly. Her notions of family and pain, especially of the magnitude hinted at in the book, were nothing short of pedestrian – naïve, even. Every word of the thing made me cringe – was I reading the latest literary bestseller full of grand themes and poetic sentences, or a hunk of godawful trash slapped together by someone trying to rip off R.L. Stine?

I was then and remain still flabbergasted at the worldwide response to the book as some kind of gift from above. Every somewhat competent book-judge from Oprah to Michiko caught the Lovely Bones disease—sugar-shock, probably – and the few of us who doubted Sebold’s ability were slammed for so many things, among them sympathising with rapists (I kid you not). I’m sure I wasn’t the only one with a distaste for Bones, but damn if it didn’t seem like Sebold’s fans all chose me to rant at. Never have I received so much feedback on any single book review. Although, I guess they’re right—I should have used a **spoiler** warning. Sorry.

Still, vindication has come at last! My mum rang me this morning to read the Age review of Sebold’s new novel, The Almost Moon, published in the Saturday culture lift-out: “The Almost Moon is easily the worst second novel to follow a good first novel that I’ve read,” writes Michelle Griffin. “It’s almost baffling in its willful embrace of bad choices.” Ooh, wow.

Michelle is not alone. From USA Today to the Guardian and back around to the New York Times Sunday Book Review, most everyone is wondering what the hell happened to their favorite first-time novelist. And they’re doing it with vitriol. Lee Siegel at the Times musters up more grit than Griffin: “This novel is so morally, emotionally and intellectually incoherent that it’s bound to become a best seller.” And this, which I might just print out and peg to the wall:

Even the schlockiest popular novels of yore—By Love Possessed, Marjorie Morningstar, The Chosen—had accurate, if mundane, social and psychological perceptions. Danielle Steel has that. You and I have that! It’s beyond comprehension that Sebold can publish a novel pretending to reflect reality that’s so severed from reality.

Much the same could be said about The Lovely Bones. Man, what was it about that damn book that had the world so transfixed?

Anyway – time has revealed all, and Sebold appears to have much work to do to grab back her place in the book world as a name to watch. Meanwhile, can I say I told you so?

 

by Nikki Tranter

24 Oct 2007


Loved the cat-slapping going on this week between lovers and haters of the new Gossip Girl TV series. The guys at The Intelligencer think the show is the greatest thing ever invented and that anyone who disagrees is, like, way uncool, while Lesley M.M. Blume thinks the show is not only complete crap, but a terrible influence on its young audience.

Blume, for The Huffington Post, writes:

Along these lines, Gossip Girl seems to tell us that there’s nothing to look forward to, and there will be nothing to look back upon ... except more of the same. We’re not just destined to become brittle materialistic adults; we already are brittle materialistic adults by the time we hit puberty. We have no choice. We’re wired for misery. If we have money, we’re destined to be miserable with it. If we don’t have it, we’re destined to be miserable without it, and spend our lives with our noses pressed up against the glass.

Intel his back:

We know (from photo evidence) that [Blume] hasn’t been in her thirties long enough to actually forget that the whole point of high school (and anything else leading up to the age of 21, at which point everything irrevocably and nightmarishly reverses) is, was, and will always be about getting older as fast as possible.

Hmm, Blume, I think, makes the better argument. The purpose of the Intel piece is to criticise Blume’s “reading” of Gossip Girl. However, it counters but a few of Blume’s key points—just the easy ones. Blume feels sorry for the kids today who have The OC and this new show to reflect their youth, while Blume had Heathers and Clueless and smart movies with smart teens. Ooh, Intel retorts—she’s just a jaded child of the ‘80s who also watched Alf. TV, Intel says, is supposed to be silly and far-fetched—hello?, they practially squeal. What was the argument again—something about reality? Alf fits in ... where?

Blume’s point is, on the whole, that in her day teens acted like teens—as they did in Alf and Growing Pains and Who’s the Boss?, and every show Intel mentions. Kids today, writes Blume, if you listen to shows like Gossip Girl, have lost what it was that made teens teens—innocence, naivete, and all that other good stuff. Intel tries again:

Lesley’s point here is that they try to make Blair’s character on the show act way older than her age, which, duh, is totally correct.

And then you realise they’re just not trying. You win, not through intellienget debate, but by metaphorically poking people in the boob and running off. Take that Lesley Blume! And, by the way, you look like Paris Hilton! It’s the anti-ouch, really, when your rival proves your point for you.

On Gossip Girl—check out EW‘s interview with show producer Stephanie Savage.

 

by Nikki Tranter

23 Oct 2007


by Nikki Tranter

21 Oct 2007


Welcome back, Re:Print!

Three weeks later, and we’re back online. But, you know, amid the confusion surrounding my recent house-move, lack of co-operation from both my Internet provider and my apparently exhausted motherboard, and fear that Re:Print would never again see the light of day, there was an upside. I got to read—a lot. Instead of waking up each morning and heading straight for the office, I made myself a cup of hot Milo, grabbed my new blanket (thanks Trish!), plonked on the couch, and read. Book after book after book. For the first time in years, I didn’t have to struggle to find reading time. It’s been sensational. And I’ve decided to stick to the pattern—emails to be checked the night before; mornings to be spent in my blanket and the company of a book. It helps that my surroundings now include paintings on the wall, clean carpets, and the open air of a big, beautiful new house—decidedly different from the three-room-flat-with-ant-problem-behind-the-busy-restaurant I used to try and read in. 

Fulci is overwhelmed.

Fulci is overwhelmed.

The other cool thing about the move has been about re-acquaintance. My lack of living space has meant that my ever-growing library has been kept in stacks around the house, stuffed into bookcases three-deep, and buried away in my parents’ garage in tubs meant for clothing and laundry. Now, because I’m the proud owner of my own office, I’ve got room to house the lot. I loathed packing the heavy monsters, but unpacking them has been an unexpected dream. I found books read and filed away, books bought and never properly organised, books acquired and promptly forgotten. Here they all were—from an old copy of Tom Sawyer, to The First Wives Club, novelisations of Gremlins and The Eyes of Laura Mars, weirdo horror books like Crawlspace and The Last of the Crazy People. I found my collection of Outsiders paperbacks, my dog-eared copy of That Night, and even my grandfather’s Bible with an inscription in front dated 25-12-1927. Pouring through the stacks, I found myself remembering little stories connected with those books—when I got them, where, and why. I remembered the days when I could read endlessly, when there were no emails. It’s been a re-acquaintance as much with myself as my library.

Now, for the fun part—the organising. And to purchase shelves, to finally catalogue the collection as it rightfully should be. My books, like me, deserve some room to move.

 

by Deanne Sole

2 Oct 2007


Bruno Schulz was shot dead in the street by a Nazi, not an unusual fate for a Polish Jew in 1942. A hundred nameless people shot dead in the street by Nazis (vaguely, historically, without anything to connect us to them any more than we were intimately connected to the Chinese miners suffocating underground or the limbless torsos of Rwanda years ago) is a statistic, but the author of Street of Crocodiles and Sanatorium at the Sign of the Hourglass shot dead in the street by a Nazi is a literary outrage, mentally palpable, a cut that time will never mend; there will not be another Schulz. Never again that particular, melting, ecstatic prose, that combination of Kafka and backwards-looking sorrow, a yearning after childhood so vivid, so intense, that he had to resort to Symbolism to explain it. Rubbing salt in the wound come rumours of one final manuscript, The Messiah, which seems to have vanished completely, drafts and all.

Donne can ask us not to ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee, but in Schulz it tolled for this one world, this capsule of beauty that was Bruno Schulz, tucked away in his backwater village of Drohobych, a bachelor whose self-portraits show him with a slightly bowed head, peering sideways (a requirement of self-portraits you might think, the artist having to look sideways at the mirror, but witness old Rembrandt calmly gazing forward or Mervyn Peake with his globular eyes and stallion hair), alert, even wary, as if he spent his life waiting for that bullet. Here he was at 50, only just starting to have his stories published, the beginning of a new career, really, before this thug put a bullet in him, not knowing that this man had a history, not knowing about the father, Schulz Senior, who turned into a horsefly, a cockroach, and a crustacean, who dried up and was swept away, who collected birds, did deals with a black-bearded man who might have been the devil, and preached the genesis of creation around the figure of a tailor’s dummy—not knowing about Adela the housemaid of unusual and suggestive powers, or the other housemaid Genya who made white sauce out of invoices—not knowing Nimrod the puppy or Dodo and his brain disease—not knowing the mysteriously Proustian and metamorphic Book, “a large, rustling Codex, a mysterious Bible … an enormous petal-shedding rose”—oh this foul dumb goon, whose only claim on our attention is that he shot Bruno Schulz.

Some writers die of old age, some of sickness or cancer, some of suicide or drinking, and some die like this, stupidly, but leaving great beauty behind: “enclosed in a glass capsule, bathed in fluorescent light, already adjudged, erased, filed away, another record card in the immense archives of the sky.”

(The quotes in this post come from Celina Wieniewska’s translations of Schulz’s Sklepy Cynamonowe and Sanatorium pod Klepsydra.)

Further Reading:
A Schulz website in Polish.
A Schulz website in English.

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