Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Elaine Bergstrom – Baroness of Blood

Baroness of Blood (Ravenloft, #12)Baroness of Blood by Elaine Bergstrom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My, what a nasty piece of work is Baroness Ilsabet Obour. But she’s a complex and well-rounded nasty piece of work, which elevates this novel above popcorn level. More than most Ravenloft novels I’ve read, this one ascribes to many classic Gothic traditions, yet Ilsabet is imperilled not by a man, but by herself and her own courses of action. She is haunted – internally and externally, and throughout the length of the novel she vacillates and questions if what she’s doing is the wisest way, and in the conclusion, things get resolved in the poetic justice sense of resolution.

The novel is dark, make no mistake. There’s no light, joy or laughter anywhere here. It’s only the dumb and clueless secondary characters in this novel which stop me from awarding this five stars. Ilsabet is surrounded by idiots when her character cries out for effective foils and counters.

Still, this is one of the better Ravenloft outings.

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Richard Awlinson – Waterdeep

Waterdeep (Forgotten Realms: Avatar #3)Waterdeep by Troy Denning
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As good as the book before it in nearly every way. That’s to say we have x amount of pages of escapist popcorn-level fantasy that’s pretty much devoid of things like character building, literary flair and so on. Of course, you don’t read Forgotten Realms novels for these reasons – well, one hopes you don’t. Still, this is an enjoyable romp and wraps up a mostly serviceable trilogy about ordinary people becoming gods and goddesses in a magic-bedevilled world. So, this is the end for the “raven-haired mage”, the “hawk-nosed thief” and the “green-eyed warrior.” All wrapped up.

Well, it should wrap things up but there’s two additional books in this series. *Sigh* isn’t there always?

Whatever. It’s all good fun.

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Richard Awlinson – Tantras

Tantras (Forgotten Relalms: Avatar #2)Tantras by Scott Ciencin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Superior effort in nearly every way to its predecessor. It isn’t boring, which of course is a huge plus, and it’s almost a criminal offence for a D&D book to be tedious to read. Regardless of their value as literature, they should be popcorn page-turners.

Well, Tantras thankfully is. It’s competently written though it has all the faults of this particular niche of fantasy fiction – that’s to say minimal characterisation, few grey moral areas. overly tight plotting and character motivations that occasionally border on the nonsensical. Bad guys are bad guys because the plot says so, not from any logical reason or story progression.

But, as I keep saying in these D&D reviews: it’s all good fun. This time around, it actually was good fun. Here’s hoping the next instalment is just as fluid,.

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Ramsey Campbell – Nazareth Hill

Nazareth HillNazareth Hill by Ramsey Campbell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not one of Campbell’s better efforts. It starts out a bewildering mess, being introduced to a dozen or so characters who subsequently have zero or almost to do with the story. Halfway through the novel, it picks up and boy, does it ever. It’s page-turning stuff, but why did a reader have to wade through a bunch of inconsequential padding first?

Trimmed of about a third the volume, and the meaningless first few chapters excised, this book would’ve been a five star effort, like The Hungry Moon was – which didn’t tangle itself with pointless plot threads and insignificant characters.

Oh well. To quote a platitude, you take the good with the bad. You get lavish servings of both with this book.

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Four months of silence

…and I have to apologise about that. Several reasons. I’m doing Honours for my BA and this is occupying a good deal of time, to say nothing of the stultifying of non-academic creative writing it’s doing. Second: inertia. Couldn’t be bothered syndrome. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always had difficulties maintaining a blog as I’m not a journal-keeping type. But I’m not about to abandon this one, and with my academic year coming to an end soon, I can be a bit more regular about posting here.

Hergé – Tintin and the Picaros

Tintin and the Picaros (Tintin, #23)Tintin and the Picaros by Hergé
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like with all of the Tintin stories, I read them years ago, but am adding them to Goodreads for posterity.

Of all of the completed Tintin stories, this is among the weakest and it’s a shame in a way Hergé passed away before he could redeem himself with Alph-Art. It feels different from most other Tintin works – he changes Tintin’s clothes, adds peace symbols to his bike helmet, puts hippies on a plane, adds in clumsy political commentary…you could argue Hergé is updating his best-known character to the age this story was written in, but it doesn’t really work. Captain Haddock really does seem like an anachronism in this book and why, after all these years, must he be saddled with a first name?

It’s fun in its own way really, but it isn’t on par with the earlier Tintin works. Not a great way to go out.

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Hergé – Tintin in America

Tintin in America (Tintin, #3 )Tintin in America by Hergé
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First read this a long time ago – adding it now for posterity.

The author is still finding his way with Tintin in this third installment. It’s not as farcical or controversial as the two works before it, but if you can name a cliche about 30s era United States, this book covers it. Greedy capitalists and lurid gangsters abound. No plot to speak of – Tintin arrives in the US and proceeds to take on organised crime, and wins though nobody appreciates his efforts at first. The book also takes aim at Native American land rights, the hypocrisy and uselessness of Prohibition and there’s a latent comment in here somewhere that an honest American is a poor American.

A transitional work – not as enjoyable as his later stuff, but there are signs it was coming together.

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Honours critical review – gothic literature

An essay I did for uni


Review of Danielle Carr’s (2013) Master of Arts thesis Psychological Reflections on Post – Modernist Gothic Literature

The nature of my research is to place the traditional forms of Gothic and dark romantic literature in a contemporary Australian setting, taking the genres away from their archetypal settings of castles, mansions and inserting them into the everyday, workaday world of the Northern Rivers of New South Wales. Danielle Carr’s thesis is titled Psychological Reflections on Post – Modernist Gothic Literature and her research parallels mine as she explored the psychological themes behind Gothic and dark romantic fiction, and separated them from their settings, thus enabling Gothic and dark romantic fiction to be effectively placed in any location. Additionally, Carr’s research includes creative components integrated into the thesis, which is a strategy I will use in my own research.

In spite of the title of Carr’s thesis including postmodernism, there is actual little emphasis devoted to this artistic movement. On the contrary, in form and shape, Carr adheres to traditional narrative structures in her creative works, with clear beginnings and endings, and no unreliable narrator techniques are used. In fact, as Patricia Waugh states, modernism is a fiction of consciousness, where postmodernism is one concerning itself with the fictionality of a text (Waugh cited in Nicol 2009, p. xvii). So postmodernism as a literary style is less interested in the working of the psyche or the soul than it is on the nature of the very text itself, using this definition. Another definition is that postmodernism is a blending of all styles to deliberately defy classification (Abrams 1999, p. 168). There is none of this experimentation in the thesis as Carr concentrates altogether on the nature of the Gothic and the dark romantic being fictions about the conscious. She makes a distinction between Gothic and dark romantic literature, stating that the latter is a subset of the former (Carr 2013, p. 5) and quotes Poe’s Ligeia as a salient example. She suggests that the seminal difference between the two is that dark romanticism features visionary, poetical writing. However, the distinction is often blurred as Dinçer points out that both are fictions of dark dreariness, usually concluding in an unhappy manner (Dinçer 2010, p. 220).

The methods Carr used were composing three creative works of varying length, The Conservatory, Psychosis and The Lady of Tangiers, then writing an exegesis on each, with an eye to psychological theory and how it can be applied to Gothic and dark romantic fiction. Carr worked alone on this thesis and there is no acknowledgement to any other contributor apart from a bibliography listing her sources. Psychological Reflections on Post – Modernist Gothic Literature draws heavily on the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung (Carr 2013, p.3), particularly Jung’s theories of Self and what Jung called the archetypes: psyche and soul (Stevens 1994) in which Carr identifies as being critically important to Gothic literature. She argues that the literature itself would be ineffective without psychological insight or the application of psychological theory. The literary symbolism in Jung’s theories has been utilised in Carr’s first creative work in the thesis, The Conservatory, is a short piece the author has constructed in a deliberately antiquated style. Within, Carr implements Jung’s archetypes and his theories on the mandala – the circle. The mandala, according to Jung, was emblematic of the what he termed the “psychic transformation” (Jung cited in Stevens 1994). Carr uses this symbolism in her short story to illustrate how a mental state can come full circle. The Conservatory also deals with the matter of the Faustian bargain, where the protagonist is searching for the elixir of youth. Carr cites Goethe’s work as being seminal to the Gothic canon (Goethe cited in Carr 2013, p. 13) and she has her protagonist seemingly forsake his life for the pursuit of the elixir.

In her second creative work, Psychosis, Carr again applies the psychological theories of Freud with regards to the repression of bad memories (Freud cited in Carr 2013, p. 27). In her creative work, Carr suggests that repressed memories are not a natural mental state and there had to be division between the conscious and unconscious. The character of Melinda in Psychosis is redirecting her suppressed memories into “anxiety hysteria” (Carr 2013, p. 28) which Carr suggests is a subset of psychoanalysis. The hidden or obscured memory aspect posits itself into Gothic literature in terms of the unstated or understated, which Carr exemplifies with her mentioning of du Maurier’s Rebecca (du Maurier 1938) in which the titular character is deceased but exerts a palpable and dark influence throughout the novel (Carr 2013, p. 5). So, Carr suggests that what is figuratively buried beneath the surface can be an effective ploy in Gothic and dark romantic literature.

Her third creative work, The Lady of Tangiers, is a novelette that draws upon Freud’s theories of the uncanny (Freud cited in Carr 2013, p. 49). Here, a unrequited love story is made ominous by the environment itself: the Sahara Desert. The visitors to this harsh land are a group of English aristocrats going for a sortie from the safer confines of the Moroccan city of Tangiers (or Tangier as it is more commonly known). Among the sands and the harsh winds, they encounter the supernatural and the romantic interest of the protagonist vanishes. Carr in her exegesis of this story makes comparisons with the colonial experiences of the British in Australia: the strangers in a strange land trope, thus shifting the genre of the story into the postcolonial. She states that Gothic fiction set in lands that have been colonised are by their very nature haunted (Mafe cited in Carr 2013, p. 50) which suggests that the land itself remembers or is capable of sentient deed. This is an important facet to my research as I intend to employ a similar methodology with my own creative work: imbuing the land itself with a slumbering malevolence.

Much of the thesis is a work of juxtaposition and intertextuality; comparing her creative works to previously published material and placing them into the Gothic and dark romantic canon. Interestingly, she makes comparisons between The Conservatory and previously published material insofar as stating that the garden is a place of innocence (Carr 2013, p.17) and that this innocence can be inverted by the application of Gothic and dark romantic tropes, especially those sourced from philosophical literature such as Jung and Freud. Thus, I feel that Carr is making a point here in her thesis that Gothic fiction is largely one of upending order and completion, and replacing it with disorder and unresolved issues. This is a crucial key in my own research as other works I have studied have drawn similar conclusions (Chudy, Cook & Costello 2010).

To summarise, Carr makes repeated references to psychology and symbolism and their importance in Gothic and dark romantic literature. There is stress made that these forms of literature depend heavily upon the usage of symbol and metaphor for their potency. Indeed, Carr draws a conclusion through exegesis and exposition that Gothic fiction would not work without such artifice. At its very core, both forms of fiction are works of psychology, where the fear and dread, or the sin and guilt, are sui generis. I do not believe that Carr has made a totally effective use of her fiction to convey the points she is making as all three works are in need of editing, as there are numerous phrasing and dialogue issues with them. Regardless, the core ideas are firmly there and the exegeses are sound, providing further avenues into deeper research. In summary, this thesis succeeds as an article of research into Gothic and dark romantic fiction, particularly in an Australian setting.

References

Abrams, M 1999, A Glossary of Literary Terms (7th ed.), Thomson Publishing, New York

Carr, D 2013, ‘Psychological Reflections on Post – Modernist Gothic Literature’, MA thesis, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria

Chudy, T, Cook, N & Costello, M 2010, A ‘ruined or fractured’ sublime: voice, identity and agency in reading and writing the gothic/noir in subtropical regional Australia, Strange Bedfellows: Refereed Conference Papers of the 15th Annual AAWP Conference, 2010

Dinçer, F 2010, The light and dark Romantic features in Irving, Hawthorne and Poe, The Journal of International Social Research, 3(10), pp. 218-224

du Maurier, D 1938, Rebecca, Victor Gollancz, London

Nicol, B 2009, The Cambridge introduction to postmodern fiction, Cambridge University Press, New York

Stevens, A 1994, Jung, a very short introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford

One night at the table (play)

A play I did for uni


CHARACTERS

TRAVIS A welder by trade in his late forties, loves his
cricket and his footy. Working class traditionalist.

LISA His nineteen year old daughter, first year uni student
Progressive minded.

SETTING

A dining room with a long oblong table in the centre. The table is set for a meal for two. A single fluorescent light on the ceiling. Sparse furnishings – some paintings of nature scenes on the walls, a wall unit with associated knick-knacks. There is a kitchen in the background.

TIME

It is dinner time. Light through kitchen window gives the impression of twilight.

SCENE 1

AT RISE: (LISA is bringing two plates of food from the kitchen to the dining room table. TRAVIS is sitting at the table already, busy with a mobile phone.)

LISA
(Reaches table)
If I have to cook at Christmas, I’m gonna scream.

TRAVIS
(still looking down at phone)
Hmm? Well, we can’t eat grass for Chrissy, can we?

LISA
No, but we can have something cold. You know? Salads, cold meat, rolls and stuff. We don’t need to cook. You’re too stingy to buy air-con for this place.

TRAVIS
(looks up at LISA as she sets the plates down)
Stingy? You know how much a decent reverse cycle air-con costs? To say nothing of the power bill. So much for Tony nuking the carbon tax – freakin’ bills keep going up. Nothing’s getting cheaper.

LISA
(sits down)
More reason to have cold stuff. You don’t want high bills, then don’t make me cook at Chrissy. I buy cold stuff from Coles – coleslaw, green salad mix, mesclun and a bunch of sliced meat, and we’re good to go.

TRAVIS
(shaking his head)
Bullshit. That sounds like a granny’s Sunday lunch at the nursing home.

LISA
Think of the environment, Dad. If I don’t cook at Chrissy, there’s less carbon polluting the air, making summer hotter. Everyone wins.

TRAVIS
Except for me. I get rabbit food for Chrissy. (stops eating and glances at LISA) What the hell is a “mesclun?”

LISA
It’s NOT rabbit rood. Look, you don’t get enough vitamin C and iron, Dad. All that shit you eat for lunch now, pies and sausage rolls and so on. Unhealthy crap, every bit of it. Dr. Gordon at uni, he’s a geologist and he says that pies have thickener added to them to bulk them out. That stuff’s carcinogenic.

TRAVIS
It’s what?

LISA
And you’re making me cook in forty degree weather. All because you won’t buy an air-con. Well, I’m bringing in that big fan from out in the garage and I’ll be gunning it all day if I have to slave away in there.

TRAVIS
I don’t think it works.
(HE chews, and stares down at his food)
What’s this purple stuff?

LISA
It’s cabbage.

TRAVIS
Purple cabbage? Really? I think you’ve added some of your Greenie chemicals to it. I’m gonna end up a socialist now, aren’t I?

LISA
(shakes head slowly)
Dad! It’s a cultivar of cabbage that’s purple. It’s the same damned thing as regular cabbage. Brassica oleracea, the cabbage of yore. Same stuff, trust me. Another teacher at uni, Professor Wilkins, he teaches calculus and says cabbage’s iron content is as good as spinach. There you go, an expert, so it’s good for you, green or purple.

TRAVIS
You’re not making this shit for Chrissy, I can tell you that right now.

LISA
Shit? My cooking is shit?

TRAVIS
(covers his mouth apologetically)
Well…no, just this cabbage.

LISA
But it’s still something I cooked! Me! Did you call mum’s cooking shit?

TRAVIS
(coughs)
No. Of course not…um. I’m just saying I prefer cabbage that’s the right colour.

LISA
Try it.
(emphatically points at her father’s food with a fork).
Just give it a go. I bet you like it.

TRAVIS
All right, it’s good.

LISA
Told you. We’re having it for Chrissy.

TRAVIS
Yeah, but you gotta cook it, don’t you? Slaving away in the kitchen.

LISA
Boiling vegetables isn’t the same thing as roasting stuff in an oven. I can make cabbage, toss some salads together, some nice sliced meat, like ham, mortadella, pastrami, some hot English mustard, cranberry sauce. What do you think of that?

TRAVIS
Morta-what?

LISA
If I get all the meats and salad vegetables Christmas Eve, it’ll only take like ten minutes to sort out Chrissy lunch. There’s this guy in America, Doctor Oz, a world-famous medico. He says that doing things like slaving away in the kitchen isn’t a productive use of your time. He’s an expert on health, so he would know all about time and motion, right? Makes perfect sense to me.

TRAVIS
Yeah, he sounds like a genius. Still don’t think it’s right not to cook for Chrissy. It’s a tradition, you know? We’ve been cooking big baked dinners and lunches for Christmas for donkey’s years. What would your mum think of not having a roast dinner for lunch? Think of what she’d say?

LISA
She’d say “buy a damn air conditioner, you cheapskate”

TRAVIS
They cost thousands for a decent one. Already told you that. I’m not made of money so think of my bank balance, please.

LISA
Get a halfway decent one then. I’m still getting that fan out of the shed if you’re gonna make me cook.

TRAVIS
It’s un-Australian not to have a roast at Chrissy. Like not having Coon in the fridge.

LISA
Plenty of Australians have salads and cold meals at Chrissy. Coon cheese is nasty, and it’s racist. Just ask that guy in Toowoomba.

TRAVIS
(gives LISA a long, hard stare)
No true Australian has cold meals at Chrissy, Lisa. It’s completely not dinky-di.
(TRAVIS turns to the audience)
I just can’t understand it with her. This family has had Christmas dinners for ages, since I don’t know when. Nice, hot, big Chrissy lunches and dinners. Sometimes turkey, sometimes roast beef or ham, but I gotta say, I don’t care for turkey much. The Yanks love their turkey, but I reckon it tastes like old mutton. But either way, we don’t have cold stuff for Chrissy. I don’t care if it’s summer here and the wallpaper’s falling off the walls – it’s how we do things. How we’ve always done it. It’s our way and there’s no reason to change it. We cook for Chrissy. It’s too easy, you know? You don’t fix things that aren’t broken, and a good old fashioned Chrissy lunch, with ham, taters, asparagus and stuff is how it’s good. Not damned salad and sliced meat from Coles’ Deli. If you want that, have it for lunch some other day, but not Christmas Day. Traditions are traditions for a cause and there’s no godly reason to change them.
(turns back to LISA)
It’s not ridgey-didge, Lisa. It’s not what any true Australian would do.

LISA
I guess we’re not true Australians then. I’m embarrassed to be an Australian sometimes anyway, Dad.
(LISA turns to the audience)
People booing champion Aboriginal football players, our speaker of Parliament on the take and all that. Our manufacturing base is no more, everything has been outsourced or sent overseas. Everything! And people need to recognise Indigenous Australians in the Constitution! Harmonisation of the people! Reconciliation. What Dad wants me to do is indicative of the old-ways zeitgeist. The woman cooks, the man sits and watches, goddamnit! If only Mum had stood up for herself more with him, but no…old school she was, pathological housewife, born female to be nothing else than a sow-breeder, kitchen slave and dogsbody. At least she had the sense to finally realise her place in life was tainted. I wonder if she’ll even call us this Christmas from wherever she is now. I just know Dad spoke shit about her cooking too. Well, no more!
(turns back to TRAVIS)
I’m gonna go get that fan. If it blows up then you watch – I won’t need to cook anything this Christmas.
(LISA gets up and EXITS through the kitchen)

(TRAVIS grunts and returns to his mobile phone)
I wanted to put ten bucks on that four year old I saw at Rosehill, whatever it’s bloody name was. How the hell do I place a bet again?…What do you mean, no credit? I just got paid yesterday…ah stuff it, I’ll go down to the TAB. Can’t beat the old way.

(LISA returns to the dining room, carrying a tall metal fan. She puts it in front of her father and plugs it in to a power point.)
Watch this thing conk out!
(SHE turns on the fan. It starts up smoothly, oscillating strongly.)

TRAVIS
Looks alright to me. Look at it go. If it wasn’t gonna work, it would’ve stopped by now.

LISA
I thought you said this probably wouldn’t work? It looks like it’s never been used to me. Probably hasn’t been.

TRAVIS
(another long and hard stare to LISA)
Are you gonna cook Chrissy lunch?

LISA
(distracted)
Hmm…yeah why not?

TRAVIS
Good girl, I knew tradition would win out in this house…what’s a mesclun?

Edgar Allan Poe – Ligeia

LigeiaLigeia by Edgar Allan Poe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tumultuous vultures of stern passion! With this short sentence, Poe continues the alliterative colour of Shakespeare, even if the subject matter is grimmer and darker than anything the Bard conjured up. This, probably more than any story written before or since, is testament to love transcending death – or a cautionary tale about taking opium. Your choice.

This story creaks but it’s lost little of its power over the years and is probably required reading for any serious student of the Gothic or the Dark Romantic.

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