Republic of Moreland

July 7, 2007

Melbourne just not very novel

Filed under: books & writing — Kath @ 12:15 pm

The time to read books is on public transport, of course. (Who has the time otherwise?) Little One and I are in Brisbane for the school holidays, and we’ve used so much PT that I’ve caught up. Just finished David Marr’s His Master’s Voice and Clive Hamilton’s Silencing Dissent and Frank McCourt’s memoir, Teacher Man (all good). Re-read, for the third time, Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer (brilliant). Caught up on two issues of The Monthly (okay) and The American Scholar (always tremendous).

Running out of material, I visited The Avid Reader in West End. Its co-owner, Fiona, is usually excellent at finding exactly what you want. “I want a memoir,” I said. She suggested a few. Nah. How about this, then? She presented A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka.

It’s a novel. My fiction-reading days are over. (The last novel I enjoyed was Mark Haddon’s wonderful The curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. I rarely enjoy fiction.)

But the praise plastered over the cover was superfluous. “Outstanding”, “Splendid”, “Hilarious” “Remarkable”, “Rare”, “Enthralling”, yadda yadda yadda. These reviews were from reputable sources like The Times Literary Supplement. The book was shortlisted for prizes. I bought it.

It was competent and fairly engaging, but annoying. Its high drama, big characters and heavy-handed humour shat me. Its narrative devices were obvious and in your face, treating you like a mug. I was always aware of the author devising the darned thing in order to be clever.

Which got me thinking about the spate of cringeworthy, self-conscious novels (with the exception of Andrew McGahan’s Praise) written ABOUT BRISBANE. Including stuff by Nick Earls, Venero Armanno, and an artless novel by a woman (forget her name) that I won at this event and promptly donated to the school fete. Since the late 80s, there have been heaps of Brisbane novels.

I was wondering if Melbourne novels were as poor, but I can’t think of any. Sure, there have been novels set in Melbourne (Garner, Tsiolkas, Hardy, etc), but try as I might to think about a novel largely about Melbourne, I can’t. This may well say more about my ignorance than the state of things, and I’m happy to be shouted at if I’m wrong, but I’m venturing a theory. Melburnians don’t need novels about Melbourne; but post-Bjelke, Brisbane folk need novels about Brisbane.



  1. So much of the commentary at the time of Zigzag Street et al was simple glee at the fact that Brisbane and its daily doings had finally appeared in a popular novel. I recall reading reviews in the Curious Snail and it was all, “Oh, yeah, there’s this great bit where he buys a Whipper Snipper at Toowong Village and I’ve soooooo done that too! I’m going to play tennis just where he did!” etc.

    As for Moreland featuring in similar stuff, I hope not. I’ve seen how this plays out, and my first thought when local stuff gets name-checked is “There goes the neighbourhood”.

    What ever happened to fantasy locations like Middle Earth or Airstrip One?

    Comment by Bane of Malakas — July 8, 2007 @ 1:39 am | Reply

  2. Did you find “His Master’s Voice” as equally fascinating and depressing as I did? Such a good essay about such a prick…

    Comment by Evan — July 11, 2007 @ 2:44 am | Reply

  3. I haven’t read it yet and its not a novel but short stories but the only recent one I can think of about Melbourne is Shadowboxing by Tony Birch. []

    The only time I’ve really sought out books that are set in or mention Melbourne is when I had been living overseas for a few years. Used to read Shane Maloney purely for the Melbourne references.

    As for Moreland, we do quite well in the film stakes for a small place, I educated my husband about his future abode with films like Death in Brunswick and The Castle. He is still dazed and confused.

    But I think you’re right about needing to write about a place. After the arrested development of the Bjelke years Brisbanites may have well felt the need to document the maturing of their city. Just as adolescents are avid diary and myspace keepers. (I’m leaving now before someone points to my several blogs…..)

    Comment by faith — July 16, 2007 @ 10:52 am | Reply

  4. I remember enjoying He died with a Falafel in his hand, about Brisbane.

    I also liked Three Dollars – anyone remember what city that was set in?

    Comment by Helen — July 19, 2007 @ 9:32 am | Reply

  5. Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (then Kids Stakes and Other Times). God, I loved those plays. My first day in Melbourne (straight off the hay cart) I found myself lost outside the Arts Centre and saw that Kids Stakes was on. I bought me a ticket I did and went to see me a big fancy show – all about Melbourne – plus a lot of other stuff of course. Like love and denial. Reading Helen Garner made me want to come to Melbourne.
    I’m a Perth-ite. Cloud Street and the Shark Net. Both set in the ’50s but shouts volumes about Perth none-the-less (serial killers and water). Of course there’s Sally Morgan’s My Place.

    Comment by joanpylon — July 20, 2007 @ 1:03 am | Reply

  6. It’s a bit ridiculous that a place somehow feels more real by appearing in fiction. I personally feel the other way, especially when the fiction is bad. Which, let’s face it, it almost invariably is.

    I wonder if Great Cthulhu, who lies dreaming at Rl’yeh, feels likewise?

    Comment by Bane of Malakas — July 20, 2007 @ 10:51 am | Reply

  7. […] Filed under: books & writing — Girl on The Avenue @ 1:27 pm Just as I put up a post about the paucity of books about Melbourne, The Age’s Melbourne Magazine makes a liar of me. […]

    Pingback by Text and the city « Republic of Moreland — July 27, 2007 @ 1:27 pm | Reply

  8. For those of you interested in reading about Melbourne circa end of 19th century, my YA novel In Lonnie’s Shadow is set in Little Lon (1891). It’s published by Ford Street Publishing (2010) and is available in good bookshops, direct from Ford Street Publishing, or online (globally). Trade copies are also available from Macmillan Australia.
    View the book trailer and find out more about the novel at:

    Comment by chrissie michaels — December 27, 2010 @ 7:02 pm | Reply

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