Posts filed under ‘magic realism’




I guess it should be no surprise that I really liked Tremble. The book is billed as erotic fantasy, and I am both a keen participant in Sydney’s burlesque scene and long term reader of fantasy novels. So its a match made in heaven me.

Unfortunately no one else in the bookgroup has this combination of interests so Tremble did nothing for them, not even a weakness of the knees, let alone trembling all over.

I thought it was a long shot but I thought maybe they’d go for it in a guilty pleasure sort of a way. I thought it had a chance with them because it was written by a woman, so the sex was all from the woman’s perspective; also a lot of the stories were set in Australia; some were funny; some political; some informed by ancient myths and legends; the perfect brew for my taste so I thought maybe Bookgroupers would find something to enjoy.

Alas I was alone on that island. Badly written, not erotic, weird, too much, some book groupers even complained the sex was stereotypically male oriented . So unhappy were they, that very few read more than couple of stories.

So I guess I cannot recommend it to anyone other than people like me – long term fans of fantasy and burlesque. If you happen to be in that group, quite possibly a group of two, just you and me, this may be the book for you and, maybe you should call me.

Otherwise, based on the reaction of other book groupers i’d have to say stay away – unless you really want to push your boundaries with stories of magical sex, revenge and enchantment set in Sydney, Brisbane, the English countryside and in one case the Falklands war.


March 20, 2016 at 4:06 am Leave a comment



Carpentaria by Alexis Wright won the Miles Franklin in 2008. The bookgrouper who read it described it as savage outback version of magic realism. It clearly depicts the black and white communities of rural australia, but it is very hard to read, partly because it is written in such an angry voice and all its characters are in such a desperate condition, but mainly because it is so true.

The reviews on goodreads largely agree with the above – important book but hard work. the magic realism aspect and the amazing but strange writing seemed to bother some people, and be a turn on for others.

Bookslut gives a detailed account of what the book is about and how it is written.

The Miles Franklin judging panel said:

Alexis Wright’s powerful novel about the Gulf country works on many levels and registers. At its centre is Norm Phantom, an old man of the sea and custodian of indigenous lore, his wife Angel Day, and their son Will, who is involved in a deadly fight for land rights against the shadowy proprietors of the huge Gurfurrit mine. At one level, the novel is a gripping account of that campaign and the mining company’s violent and illegal attempts to protect its interests in the Gulf. At another level, it is a stunning evocation – some will want to call it magic realism or postcolonial allegory – of a sublime and often overwhelming tropical world that is still inhabited by traditional spirits like the rainbow serpent, the groper, the sky people and the ghosts of the dead. These ancient spiritual forces work through the elements of sky and sea and land to throw off the presence of the strangers and restore this remarkable place to something like its ancient rhythms. The novel’s climax is quite literally apocalyptic, drawing together its different stylistic registers of myth, allegory and social satire; its conclusion is cathartic and even inspiring


For this bookgroup we each read a book that has won one of the numerous australian literary awards, and talked a little about the award it won.

February 25, 2014 at 9:10 am Leave a comment


Bookgroupers returned to the classics for the holiday season.

No-one would dispute that Dickens is a classic author, just look at the details about dickens here, but I was very surprised by the value that I got from what I had envisaged as a classic fairy tale for kids.

Believing it to be a kids fairy tale i was not surprised to find the characters to be overblown stereotypical representations of various character types. But i was very surprised to find such a strong recognition of my own and other peoples behaviours in these characters, and i was even more surprised to find myself very moved by the fate of these charicatures and to be forced into some reflection of mine own while reading of scrooge doing his repenting and changing.

however, the group more broadly was not so moved though all agreed it was a good and worthwhile read. the bookgroupers, being such warm generous and friendly types, perhaps had less to learn from the ghosts of christmas past, present and future than i did.

interestingly no-one had read the original before – not recently anyway. equally interestingly i dont think any of us read a second dickens. a few, like me, started but didnt finish. this may be more a comment on the length of most of dicken’s other novels rather than their quality or relevance. although in my case (i tried to read hard times) the stereotypical nature of the central character, which in a short supernatural moral tale like a christmas carol was a strength, became a serious flaw in a lengthy novel. it seemed so clear where the novel was going, that is the stereotypical character would get his comeuppence a la scrooge, that i couldnt be bothered reading hundreds of pages to get there.

most significantly, the group discussion revolved more around the historical and cultural impact of the book rather than the book itself. this was probably because everyone knows the story very well so there isnt that much to discuss, whereas the idea that dickens, through this book, created christmas as we now know it was not well known to us.

this really is an interesting point of cultural history that many of us were not aware of prior to reading the book and some material on it. It seems to be a clear example of the power of ideas and literature.

However i think its worth noting that the effect of dicken’s idea, that is as one bookgrouper put it, a secular consumerist christmas rather than a church based christmas is helpful to commerce and capital. so we can put dickens and his version of christmas up there on a shelf with a collection of other new ideas in history such as the work ethic, the separation of church and state, and individualism. all these are ideas that arose in culture, through philosophy or religion, and seemingly propagated unassisted through western countries. In each case however they supported rather than undermined commerce and capital. other ideas seemingly at odds with commerce and capital took longer to catch on, for example freedom for slaves, feminism and ecological thinking.

January 8, 2009 at 10:02 am Leave a comment


what happens when barbarella goes to the holocaust, both the nuclear one and the jewish one, and meets hellboy, who is there tracking a band of allegedly murderous goolywogs?

well first they go to an art gallery to look at a collection of zinc plates that resemble the karma sutra and there they meet a very feisty iranian woman who tells them the history of her country and berates them – saying be true to yourself, make something of your life, make all this tragedy worthwhile.

so they realise they need to get out of there before the end comes, and luckily the league of extraordinary gentlemen are on hand to get them all out.

in short its a fiery encounter – and so was this bookgroup. luckily the shaun tan was there to pour calming oil on the stormy seas, with his whimsical, moving and beautiful but surreal stories from his suburban childhood. they were so gorgeous they evoked my own childhood in the suburbs, almost rehabilitating it really, by allowing me to populate my memories of my suburb with his magical creatures and characters.

i imagined his water buffalo of knowledge grazing on the vacant block in the street of my childhood, i imagined the barnacled diver with his dripping hose knocking on the door of our mrs bad news – they were the bird family in my street. and i imagined every house with its own ballistic missile or its own secret country in the roof space.

everyone agreed these were very touching and lovely images, but there were questions about gravitas. i guess i agree – it is a surreal and beautiful, but gentle, version of the suburbs. it doesnt take on the issues of racial tension, crime and unemployment etc. its a personal vision not a political one. there is a list of shaun tans other work here

and that gentle vision was very welcome because many of the other graphic novels that bookgroupers read were overtly political – maus about the ww2 holocaust, persepolis about iran and when the wind blows about nuclear holocaust.

however being graphic novels they all seemed to have in common that they told these big political stories from a humble one person/one family viewpoint, rather than an abstract helicopter view that a grand novel or a non-fiction piece might

the other things that seem to be common in the graphic novel genre are the use of lots of characters from ancient myths, making the books beautiful objects in themselves, and they seem to stimulate a lot of talk.

it was a very fiery and engaging bookgroup that roamed across all the terrain sketched out by the books. partly i think it might have been so lively because you can get a feel for a graphic novel quite quickly by flicking through the pictures. normally in a theme bookgroup its hard to talk because there is only so much you can say about a book you havnt read, but in this case it was easy, just flick through and say ooh look at that what’s going on there?

October 25, 2008 at 11:53 am Leave a comment

Salman Rushdie, ‘Satanic Verses’

Satanic Verses Dave hosted the discussion on Salman Rushdie’s story of the titanic struggle between good and evil.

We had a sub-continental feast to accompany discussion of the famous sub-continental book. The discussion was long and boozy – religion, politics, fundamentalism and occasionally the book was mentioned.

When the book got a look in not all citations were positive – hard going was a common phrase, due to all the unexplained references to historical religious figures and sub-continental history and mythology.

There was strong support for the background material peter sent around. Its an online study guide. It goes into the background of the controversy surrounding the book followed by a chapter by chapter synopsis, critical questions and explanations of obscure references.

Don had already had a bit of a roam through the internet looking for something similar so he could turn up at the book group knowing more about the book than anybody else but the link certainly put a stop to that idea. 

The Group felt the material really helps to reduce the confusion and allow you to relax and enjoy the writing. so for those of us who havn’t finished yet we should dip into that before carrying on.

January 30, 2005 at 8:17 am Leave a comment


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