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Baz Ozturk | Melbourne  'You think that would have changed things? The answer is of course, and for a while, and never.'

Reading Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh. I figured that having been crushing on Ottessa the person and reading and listening to everything Ottessa I can find, I should probably get to one of her books. Here’s hoping I like Ottessa the artist. 🤞🏼

Finished: The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst. Rating: 2/5. I’ll cut to the chase: I loved The Line of Beauty and mostly enjoyed The Stranger’s Child, but this, Hollinghurst’s debut, was a just okay reading experience. I pretty much started this the same time I began my final semester at uni, and it took me over three weeks to read. I wasn’t in the right headspace and I’m very much aware that it affected my experience with the book. But life is always going to play its part on our reading experiences – it is what it is. This is a story about a rich gay man from noble stock who refuses to work and prefers to pursue a life of idleness and sex sex sex. He encounters an old enigmatic gay lord who charms him into considering a literary project. The lord wants Will to write a book about his extraordinary life, a life that was also full of raunchy sexy sex. But it turns out they share a few other choice obsessions: black boys, lower class boys, and barely legal adolescent boys. But oh no, it’s not just coincidence. It’s a thing in the world of this novel. Will’s best friend is also obsessed with black men, and pretty much most of the supporting cast are into young teens from the lower classes. I found it weird and I’m not sure what to make of it. 🤷🏻‍♂️ Some of the dirty sex was hot though. My fav is probs the scene in which Will makes his bf piss in his trousers, making a puddle on the linoleum floor, over which Will splashily fucks him like a dog. Lol. Anyway this is a bad write up of the novel. The heart of it is elsewhere, but I couldn’t help but be struck by the constant little oddities of it. In the final quarter it brings home the fact that, behind the well oiled machine of discrete gay society in London, these men suffered persecution, were constantly arrested, and treated by people and politicians like pests needing to be cleaned out of the city.

Just bought from @readingsbooks. I’m super stressfully busy with uni, and I can’t do anything over 250 pages at the moment, so for the next while I’m all about short stories & slim novels. I’m close to finishing The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst, and will be ready to start one of these tonight or tomorrow. I haven’t decided which – feel free to make a suggestion.

Two Women in a Room, 1945 by Joy Hester, probs my favourite from the permanent collection at Heide Museum of Modern Art.

A good friend pointed out that I seem to prefer paintings in which I can see a story. Lightbulb moment.

Reading The Swimming-Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst.

Finished: Eugénie Grandet by Honoré de Balzac. Rating: 3/5.

Like the Balzac novels I’ve read previously, this one is an examination of the attitudes and changing priorities of the French people brought on by the Revolutionary period of 1789-1799. It seems that most of the focus of The Human Comedy altogether is on how French society became toxically obsessed with amassing wealth and status. Balzac is pretty bleak in his depiction of Eugénie Grandet as an innocent destined to drown in such a culture, and of her father Monsieur Grandet, whose maniacal hunger for gold represents all that’s fucked up about it. When he was younger Balzac studied and then worked for a short while in law, and he put his knowledge of the law, contracts, finances, to use in his plots and he embroils the reader in the money matters of his characters, and it all feels very icky. I finished this feeling disgusted by the thought of money, as I’m sure I was meant to. It’s a bitter cautionary story about the effects of materialism when taken to its extreme, and Balzac is master of the vicious indictment. His novels read like thrillers; drama, passion, violence, rivalries and psychological games – it’s all here. It’s all kinds of wrong and oh so juicy.

Street, Dresden 1908 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. One of my favourites from the NGV’s current MoMa exhibition.

I find interesting art works that interpret the changes in the way people feel and live that are caused by the ongoing modernisation of society. Especially early ones that are creepily more relevant today, like this one, that remind me that the experiences of our time, of the post-internet age, are not as new and unique as I sometimes think.

NGV’s words: ‘Kirchner has violently heightened the colours of this urban scene, depicting its figures with mask-like faces and vacant eyes in an attempt to capture the psychological alienation wrought by modernisation. On the painting’s reverse, Kirchner painted a scene of nude women bathing in a natural landscape. Such idyllic scenes were frequent subjects for Die Brücke artists. This one creates a fitting juxtaposition to the jarring city scene it mirrors.’

Watching The Gospel According to André by Kate Novack.

Reading Eugénie Grandet by Honoré de Balzac. This is my fourth novel from The Human Comedy, Balzac’s grand project of close to a hundred linked stories and novels. The Human Comedy is divided into different areas of focus. Eugénie Grandet is from ‘Scenes from provincial life.’ The other three I’ve read are:
– Old Goriot, part of ‘Scenes from private life’
– Cousin Bette, part of ‘Scenes from Parisian life’
– Ursule Mirouët, part of Scenes from provincial life’

Finished: The Shawl, and Rosa, by Cynthia Ozick, two stories that form one whole. Rating: 4/5. I read her novel Heir to the Glimmering World (called The Bear Boy in the UK) and didn’t love it, so I’m glad to’ve had a very different experience with this read. Where that novel felt a little heavy and overwritten to me, here everything was masterfully balanced. This is undoubtedly Ozick’s most revered work of fiction, and is considered a modern classic. The Shawl, in 8 pages, is about Rosa Lublin, a Jewish camp prisoner under the Nazi regime, and her baby girl Magda. Rosa is a longer story (some call it a novella) that looks at her life many years later in Florida, USA. The first part, The Shawl, is amazing, distilled to a perfect shape. It is dark and wrenchingly sad. Heartbreaking. You know what’s coming the whole time but it still puts your heart in your mouth when you get there. The last sentence is chilling – I suspect the final scene will be one of those indelible moments that’ll stay with me. In either story there’s not a glint of light in sight. Just an emotional wallop of unremitting grief and despair.

Reading The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick, and Rosa, the companion story to The Shawl.

Finished: Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido. Rating: 5/5.
One of the standouts of my year so far. I heartily recommend this gorgeous multifaceted jewel to everybody. It’s breezy, brainy, unselfconscious, dirty sexy, and funny. It pops with deliciously fizzy dialogue (oh the dialogue!) that made my head swim with pleasure. This novel is full of verve, earthy, bright and alive – I absolutely loved it. (Can you tell with all the superlatives?) It follows the fortunes of young Katherine and her love affair over the years with the Goldmans, a cool, bitchy, smart and glamorously messy family who become infatuated by Katherine and take her in. Clearly influenced by Jane Austen, it’s a little Brideshead Revisited, a little The Line of Beauty, but snappier and with a formidable female protagonist. You won’t have read anyone quite like Katherine, I promise you. I won’t soon forget these characters, and I thank Trapido for the fresh, crisp slap I needed. If you’re in need of an antidote to wake up from an experience of heavy-handed prose, give this one a whirl.

Saturday night situation.

We’re halfway through the year people, and I’m curious about your experiences/tastes in 2018 so far. Got just a few simple questions, if you don’t mind; a couple of them aren’t 2018-specific. Let’s get chatty! Pick one or two to answer or answer them all (yes please):
1. Best read so far?
2. Favourite new author discovery?
3. Most underwhelming/disappointing read?
4. New connections! Name a Bookstagram account you discovered this year.
5. Who is an author you haven’t read yet that you will definitely get acquainted with by the end of the year?
6. Name a book you read this year that you’d be curious to see made into a movie adaption.
7. In what century were most of your reads this year published?
8. Who are the writers writing today whose every new book you will read?
9. Name a dead author you wish had been more prolific so you’d have more of his/her books to read.

Reading Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido. Been curious about this novel for a long time, and then was sold when I learned that Rachel Cusk is a fan and wrote an introduction for a UK edition (the cover of which is so repellant that I went for the US edition).

Finished: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields. Rating: 3/5.
The aura of this novel is one that is naturally appealing to me. An artistic, interrogative treatment of ordinary, comfortable, unoriginal, unremarkable life? I’m all about it. But I want to talk about this novel on a basic structural level, because I’m a little baffled by it. (Readers of this book, talk to me). The Stone Diaries, full of things to love in content, held me back from total immersion by its style, by which I mean its form and not its prose. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to read it? I wasn’t taken by the oblique, clever ways in which Daisy’s autobiography was written. The Stone Diaries is supposedly the autobiography of Daisy Goodwill; Daisy narrates her own life, from birth to death, and she refers to herself both in the first and third person, and she also omnisciently gets into the minds and voices of her family members, and narrates from their perspectives as well. Ok, so, what’s happening here? This obviously isn’t a straight up autobiography. Something different, right? Unusual. Alright. So then Daisy is writing an imaginative, fictionalized story about her life, getting at it, she admits, through “distortion and omission.” She states at one point that people are greedy for the substance of their own lives, and this book seems to be her attempt to locate this substance – a truth that fiction as a form is better equipped to strive toward. She is aware of the traps and impossibility of writing an actual account of a whole life. And I guess this is why she is ‘novelizing’ her story? Or was I supposed to suspend my disbelief and believe that it was all true, that the book contains both a first-person narrator and an omniscient author? I was a little perplexed by the structure of it all. I couldn’t find my feet and that sadly messed up the experience for me. What do you who’ve read this think? 🤨 (Continued...)

Reading The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields. I think the reason I didn’t pick this up before is because I was put off by the title.

Finished: Maigret Enjoys Himself by Georges Simenon. Rating: 3/5. I really enjoy the elegant simplicity of Simenon’s prose style, the unhurried pace, the economy of the writing, that I think I mostly read him because of it and not the crimes Inspector Maigret becomes consumed by. The main pleasure doesn’t seem to be in the crime story, really. Or should I say it’s not only about the mystery to be solved and figuring out the psychology that leads a person to commit a terrible crime: it’s also as much about Maigret’s life in Paris and his acute observations about its people, the psychology of the people in the police force, doctors and lawyers and university students and bar keepers, the person who operates a book stall by the Seine, the tourists and the woman who works as a maid or nurse for a wealthy family. As Muriel Spark said, Simenon is “lucid, simple, absolutely in tune with the world he creates.” Soulful, clear-eyed, super French. Delish.

Reading Maigret Enjoys Himself by the uber prolific Georges Simenon. Puts even Joyce Carol Oates to shame.

Finished: For Love Alone by Christina Stead. Rating: 3.5/5. Another intense, exhausting, forceful, peculiar, overwritten, brazenly intelligent and relentless novel by one of the most fascinating writers I know. It’s the odyssey of a young woman, poor and intelligent Teresa Hawkins, and her fierce determination in a culture shackled to puritanical ideals, to marry and find love, be free and know the world. Her experiences take her from an abusive, poisonous family in Sydney who depend on her measly income, across to the big, sooty city of London, where she becomes tangled in a confusing messy obsession with the infuriating, smart, manipulative misogynist Johnathan Crow, who Teresa finds alluring and helpful in her quest for satisfaction. Her journey from beginning to end in 600 pages required patience, but it was one of those novels that I was happy to be patient with, reveling as I did in the minds and philosophies of these characters as they starved after the truth about what love is, how it manifests itself, what purpose it serves in society, how it differs for men and women, for people from different classes, whether it is good or bad, or when it is good and bad, and whether it deserves to be sought or completely abandoned. Angela Carter described well, in her review of For Love Alone, what it’s like to be steeped in Stead’s fictional world: “To read Stead, now, is to be reminded of how little, recently, we have come to expect from fiction. Stead is of that category of fiction writer who restores to us the entire world, in its infinite complexity and inexorable bitterness, and never asks if the reader wishes to be so furiously enlightened and instructed, but takes it for granted that this is the function of fiction. She is a kind of witness and a kind of judge, merciless, cruel and magnificently unforgiving.” Reading this, like reading her novels The Man Who Loved Children and The Beauties and Furies, was a unique, gritty, aggressive, breathless, gratifying experience.

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