Books

National pride

Despite being restricted to members of the British Commonwealth, the Man Booker Prize is a hell of a lot more prestigious than the Commonwealth Games is for sport. There are those who accuse it of being a B-league by omitting the United States and any number of non-Anglosphere countries, but it carries a remarkable amount of prestige, mainly because of the continued dominance of the United Kingdom in the literary world.

The other major difference with the Commonwealth Games is that in sport Australia runs rings around the competition but in books it’s not nearly as influential. Nevertheless, Australia has won the second most Bookers out of any country -- with either four or six prizes, depending on whether you count J.M. Coetzee’s two. I don’t, because he moved here subsequent to his prizes, whereas Peter Carey, Tom Keneally and D.B.C. Pierre are Australian-born. Pierre is another strange case, having been raised in Mexico and the USA with only a short stint as an adult in Australia. I guess that’s what comes from being a nation of immigrants.

This year is a good one for Aussies, with locals Michelle de Kretser (for The Lost Dog) and Steve Toltz (for A Fraction of the Whole) both on the long list of 13. The odds aren’t good, however, with the bookies favouring Salman Rushdie, whose Midnight’s Children was recently acclaimed the best Booker winner ever.

Of course, the long-odds books do occasionally win over the judges and the big names can be overlooked. There were not a few critics that saw Midnight’s Children as a very safe choice for the Best of the Booker and the panel could be conscious of the need to give attention to some lesser-known writers.

The big surprise for the Australian industry is the omission of Helen Garner’s astonishing return to novel-writing, The Spare Room. Garner is one of the few “big name” Australian writers still residing here rather than in the UK or USA. In that sense, she’s clearly “one of ours” in a way that Carey or Pierre or Coetzee aren’t.

Of course, the Booker judges aren’t so interested in national pride and literature is (fortunately) less jingoistic than sport. I still can’t help cheering on one of my own.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

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Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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