Thursday, November 28, 2013

Cook by Rob Mundle ABC Books (Harper Collins inprint)

Captain James Cook is one of the greatest maritime explorers of all time -- only the acclaimed fifteenth-century explorers, Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama, can stand with him. Bestselling author of FATAL STORM, BLIGH and FLINDERS, Rob Mundle explores the life and travels of James Cook in a major new biography for lovers of adventure and the romance of sail. Over three remarkable voyages of discovery into the Pacific in the latter part of the eighteenth century, Cook unravelled the centuries-old mystery surrounding the existence of the great south land, Terra Australis Incognita; became the first explorer to circumnavigate New Zealand and prove it comprised two main islands; discovered the Hawaiian Islands; and much more. Cook was a man who pursued a teenager's dream that evolved from a chance encounter in a small seafront village on the east coast of England. It was a dream that became a reality and transported him to legendary status among all who mapped the world, on land and sea. Through the combination of hard-won skills as a seafarer, the talents of a self-taught navigator and surveyor, and an exceptional ability to lead and care for his men, Cook contributed to changing the shape of the world map more than anyone else. I think I've seen about 25 biographies of James Cook, in recent days. Nothing of course could ever touch Tim Beaglehole's massive 3 volume history, but then who has time to read that these days. Mundle's book - well, there's a clue in the cover, which looks like a 1970 School text book cover, with it's noble portrait of th man himself. Then there's a few facts. Mundle is a nautical author. He's written of the Sydney Harbour yacht race and about Bligh, who sailed with Cook and Mathew Flinders who was the first to circumnavigate Australia. So he's looking at Cook from an adventurer's point of view, from a sailors view. It spends the first chapters about his early days, as the son of a Yorkshire labourer and his part in charting alliances under campaigns against the French and mostly it's about the three great voyages - The Endeavour's trip charting the course of the Transit of Venus for the Royal Society (which discovered Australia and New Zealand) and then the two shorter trips ending in his death in Hawaii. All through we get no sense of whom he really is. This is more about the mechanical, historic figure. Only during the last village, which Mundle talks of how he flogs his me, more than his usual disciplinarian treatments and animosities towards the 'natives'. It's less a character study than the adventures. There are exciting tales, like when the Endeavour is blown on to rocks, headed into storm and stuck on the Great Barrier Reef. The colour plates and the sailor's glossary is excellent. This is a great first reader of Cook. Any 12 -18 year old interested in this man would do well to start here.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Autobiography - Morrissey - Penguin Classics

Stop me, stop me, if you've heard this one before…. "I come not to praise Morrissey, but to bury him' write the critics. They tear at the carcass of his mottled career, they point at his bones, sticking through the thick skin of irony and they shout: "Fake!", "Poseur!", "Charlatan!" They call to question his public comments and they challenge his sexual agnostics, his vegan lifestyle and his abandonment of the mother country for the crass urbanism of the Americas. They even grunt and moan at the voluptuousness of his new Autobiography, it's ample 600 pages bosom of beared soul-poetic hate, loathing and embracement, which, it seems spent an eternity in its rumoured gestation period. And they are cynical about the imprint of its release, on Penguin Classics. This, now, shouldn't be a surprise. After all Morrissey had pushed for the release of his solo albums to go out on EMI's HMV imprint, which was, at the time, an exclusively classical music vehicle. Typical Morrissey hubris - ad nauseum (sic! The real problem lies in the expectations of the word 'classic'). Can Stephen really expect to live along side The Iliard, Rudyard Kipling or even Frances Hodgson Burnett. The joke or the pun, intended, is on the critic! Like a deeply depressing Dicken's novel he begins with the account of childhood, in miserable post war, sludge-grey Stretford. Life was terrible, school was unhappy and Angela's Ashes seemed like luxury - it did! Yes we all lived in a paper bag in middle of road! Morrisey does not believe in paragraphs or punctuation, reeling against his mid 70's state education with a languid verbosity. He disenfranchises the north in one fell swoop of the keyboard, never to return, but always to dwell. Sad tales told with the weight of a wet dog from the sewers "…these were times when…" he writes of the Smith's early sparkle "a personal music collection read as private medical records." Any student of the Smiths knows how Marr stopped by Morrisey's house and was vastly impressed by his music collection. That early collection of rare Motown inspired the music of the band, the look and the ideas to come. We also get early glimpses of humour. Morrissey had an early career scraping human waste off surgeon's scrubs. He flunks an interview at Sounds magazine, despite his encyclopaedic music knowledge, and botches an interview at the local blue rinse shop when he can't differentiate between a wig and real hair! The Smith's years are fascinating and probably the best bit to read. The ensuing 50 page diatribe from the court case where Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce attempt to claim royalties for the band's work from Marr and Morrissey is reaction I've read for some time. Morrissey does not share with others. All sympathy is lost through this tedious read. If ever an editor was needed - how soon really is now for this? Speaking of which, I hope Sandie Shaw, or relatives of, are not reading it lest they find his icy distaste for her version of the song. But, not all is the chiding of ol' misery-guts. There is the surprisingly tender revelations about relationships such as Jake Walters and Tina Dehghani and even sweeter reflections on family members. Sad but true - Kirsty MacColl sends a postcard from her holiday in Mexico, where she goes on his recommendation, only a few days before her tragic death, killed by a speedboat whilst diving with her sons. "I never found love from one, I instead find it from thousands". Anyone who's been to a Morrissey concert is in on the self-adoration jokes. They get it. Yet his lyrics and music continue to define parts of our lives, they soundtrack our feelings, our loves, our desires. A pity that they can't do this for the man himself.

Friday, November 8, 2013


The Walkley Foundation today announced the shortlist for the Walkley Book Award, part of Australia’s most prestigious accolades across print, radio, television, photography and publishing. More than 70 books were entered into the book award category of the Walkley Awards for Excellence in Journalism this year, with subject matter ranging from true crime, politics and war to biography and investigative journalism. The 2013 Walkley Book Award shortlisted finalists (in alphabetical order) announced at a literary long lunch in Sydney include: • James Button, Speechless: A year in my father’s business, Melbourne University Publishing • Anna Krien, Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport, Black Inc. • Pamela Williams, Killing Fairfax, Harper Collins The judging panel for the 2013 book awards included: Malcolm Farr, chief political writer, Catherine Fox, freelance journalist, author and speaker Adele Horin, writer and journalist John Van Tiggelen, editor, The Monthly Richard Guilliatt, author and journalist, The Australian Deborah Cameron, project director, KJA Strategic Engagement and Communications Susan Wyndham, literary editor, The Sydney Morning Herald Paul Bailey, editor, The Australian Financial Review Ian Reinecke, author and journalist The winner of the 2013 Walkley Book Award will be announced at the Walkley Awards on Thursday November 28 in Brisbane. The Walkley Awards will be broadcast on a special “pop-up channel” on ABC3 from 9.00pm on November 28, with highlights airing on ABC1 Saturday November 29 at 1.00pm and on November 30 at 11.00pm. Highlights will also be available on iView. A full list of Walkley Awards finalists and judges is available at

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Solo – A James Bond Novel by William Boyd

Boyd comes to this project after 17 other books, none which I’ve previously read.  Yet, that really doesn’t matter because this time Boyd is channelling Ian Fleming – literally.  Despite the man passing away in 1964 he is still very much alive thanks to the Albert Broccoli Empire and Sean, Roger, George, Pierce and Craig.  Boyd’s challenge was to capture Fleming’s ‘voice’ picking up Bond midlife (i.e in his 40’s) and slowly allowing the reader into the world created for Goldfnger, Casino Royale and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  In this book Bond consumes way too much rich food, womanises, drinks entire bottles of spirits at virtually any occasion, gets his flat decorated and indulges beyond comprehension buying expensive sports cars, celebrating birthdays by staying at the Dorchester and outlaying ridiculous amounts of cash on airline tickets and firearms.  No, Q branch do not provide all the whizzy gadgets – only Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan get those!

Without spoiling it the plot is basically something direct from the early 60’s.  Bond is sent to a tin pot little African country to sort out a procrastinating revolutionary leader who refusing to lay down.  The plot thickens when Bond’s ally turns on him and shoots him.. Back from the dead, bond discovers his mission was successful but only for now.  There are bigger fish to fry including revenge for his near assignation and a string of untied threads.  As the clichĂ©’ goes – This time-it’s personal!
I’ve read everything Fleming ever wrote.  So the question is – would he have ever, even in a fantasy world, ever written something like this?  Yes and no.  Bond, the Fleming Bond anyway, is cold heartless, a little sentimental but he’d never embark on a revenge mission.  He would have, instead out thought and out manoeuvred his foe, and somehow worked within the rules.  Despite his roguishness, charm would have won the day.  That and cold, hard brutalism.  But Boyd is commended for a cracking read.  He’s not reinterpreting Jane Austin here.  Fleming was never a complex writer.  There are a huge number of detailed facts and observations about Bond’s various meals, including recipes for his own salad dressing – which is a little OTT, to be exact.  And given that, the Martini method HAS to be in here.  Descriptions of every room, the cut and grain of every steak, brand of liquor, wine and precise location of every table and chair in swinging London’s best cafĂ©’s are documented ad nauseam, almost to the point where the plot is a bit of a distraction.  Almost.  If you want to live dangerously and vicariously then this one would be worth the ticket.       

Bridget Jones - Mad About The Boy by Helen Fielding

[SPOILER ALERT!] Author Helen Fielding has decided to kill off Mark Darcy in the new novel, which is out NOW!  Instead, her heroine Bridget has to enter the dating scene again after becoming a widow.

MMM - So is there any point reading on?  G'wan I dare you ...

Reasons to avoid reading this because I’m a guy and I really don’t give a rat’s ass about the trials and tribulations of a neurotic, born-again lonely woman in her 50’s, with two children re-dipping her toe into the dating pool in the modern era: 1,000,000.  Reasons why even for a guy to enjoy the familiar irony and characters made so popular by the first two books – Bridget Jones’ Diary and Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason and the ensuing films starring Renee Zellweiger (mmmm), Colin Firth (Whatever) and Hugh Laurie (Annoying, good looking floppy haired heartthrob – Euuuch!): 386 pages.

OK, cards on the table.  It was during one weekend skiing trip.  We were snowed it and there was absolutely NOTHING to read.  It was then that I was introduced to Bridget, the overweight neurotic dating failure who idealised Mr Darcy from Sense and Sensibility and lusted after his spitting image and ironical copy from the British TV drama - She had met him before, of course, running around naked on his front lawn, aged three years.  Plenty of arguably girly, pointless action (ie no guns or chicks or cars occur and, long story short, Bridget gets her man and marries Darcy and has a family and everything ends happily ever after.

Then this year we catch up with Bridget in 2013.  She’s writing (or procrastinating to write) a screen play based on Hedda Gerbler (go figure!), Darcy’s been killed off (because he was a brave and fearless Human Rights Lawyer and Fielding just had to drive him over a mine in the Sudan).  So Jones, with her two children, surrounded by arrogant Sloane Rangers, a lovable but hippy neighbour, and the same cast of friends from before (Gay Tom, Jude – still pursued by vile Richard who she married, divorced and is still taunted by) bar the foul mouthed Shazza who’s off in South America doing deals.  Her mad, over committed mother is still over arranging Bridget’s social calendar, which is now completely bare thanks to her widowhood. 

There is however peer pressure to get back on the dating horse, with the new additions of texting, Google, relation and dating sites and Twitter.  Bridget quickly masters the art of losing weight and becoming a ‘followed woman’ on Twitter.  If the irony of being in her own web blog/diary about dating as a middle-aged widow is lost on you then ask any of your single (or recently divorced/widowed) female friends.  This book is, to a degree the same as the first, only gagging to be released on  Seriously, the whole thing isa digital download of flirting, anxiety and conquest addressing the aged old question first posed when Fielding ripped off all the best bits from Sense and Sensibility: Does a woman need a man to define who she is?.  Fish riding bicycles aside, in the world of Bridget Jones chivalry, manners, romance and all the advice of a library of dating manuals and parenting books adds up to a huge pile of beans.  This book, for some reason is funnier, smarter and less exasperating perhaps because I’ve been there (not recently, but texting was around) and I know others going through that now.  If you are in your 20’s venturing out on the universe of dating remember this: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and Bridget Jones is still stuck well up her own Uranus – only in a later model, so read the first tow and do not venture to this the third until you’re in your 40’s at least!

And in response to that Spoiler Alert .... well, ok a little OTT - But I made you look!