Monthly Archives: November 2010

Iowa Writers’ Workshop

I have discovered the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and am thrilled to find that many of the graduates are favourites of mine!

The workshop boasts 28 affiliated Pulitzer Prizes since 1947 by faculty and graduates of the programme. The graduates alone, between them, account for 16 of those prizes.

Notable alumni include Justin Cronin (The Passage), Michael Cunningham (The Hours), Bharati Mukherjee (Wife), John Irving (The World According to Garp), Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and Abraham Verghese (Cutting for Stone). A more comprehensive list can be found here.

The Women in Black, Madeleine St John

With summer almost upon us in the Antipodes, it is good to start a list of great summer holiday reads. This book should definitely be on that list! It is short, sweet and delightfully entertaining. In addition, it is superbly written and structured and is actually a pleasure to read.

The book is set in the caverns of a large department store – read David Jones, Selfridges or Bloomingdales. It describes the lives of the Women in Black who work in Ladies Formal Wear – cocktail dresses and signature, one of a kind pieces. Their tales are carefully and intricately woven together, each one fleshed out in the manner that only a skilled writer can achieve.

The background to these intimate insights into the lives of these women is the hustle and bustle of pre- Christmas shopping and the chaotic frenzy of the sales immediately following the festivities. There is the necessary romance inserted into the fray as well as the fraught relationship between husbands and wives and daughters and their parents.

While this story is set clearly in Sydney, Australia, it is in fact an every man kind of tale (every man who lives in a large, capitalist city that is!). The characters are diverse and genuine and there is a subtle undertone of humanity that filters through this text. Without doubt, the highlight of this story is each characters’ attempt to belong in some place and to some one – whether it is the school leaver trying to find herself or the refugee trying to assimilate, each has their story, their language and each is trying to manufacture some sort of connection which will validate their existence and, on some level, perhaps, their authenticity.

A fantastic summer read.

Sydney Morning Herald Review.


I’m in a funk. A big black book funk. If you’ve never experienced one then it might sound foreign to you, but those who know will shudder to hear these words. I’m reading, slowly, painfully and am struggling to fall into the books, struggling to feel them echo, struggling to write about them, to enthuse.

I don’t think this has anything to do with the quality of my reading (although it might be convenient to blame it on Finkler) because I am actually enjoying Franzen’s Freedom, enjoying enormously. But still, there’s this vacant space and I am not feeling the rushing waterfall urge to pound through the last chapters and swallow the narrative whole.

In the meantime, the books are simply piling up next to my bed, on the floor, spilling off the shelves. If ebooks were weighty then my iPad would be unpickupable, filled with an elephantine load of tomes. Thankfully, I don’t feel this burden otherwise I might just fall into a deep depression to rival the book funk! (Another joyous aspect of my iPad … ahh!)

So, this is my consolation post and perhaps a way to rekindle (no pun intended) the passion.

A question for Finkler

So, I am just about half way through Jacobson’s Finkler Question and I have a question: what is it that is so great about this book? I get that it is quirky, that the language is intriguingly unusual, that there is sufficient discomfiture for readers. But, ‘yawn’, please tell me that there is something more … I am bored. It is all so the same, so repetitive and nothing is grabbing me by the throat and gripping my interest, squeezing the air from my lungs. Yes, it is a well written book, but really, I have definitely read better. Who is on the selection committee for this Mann Booker Prize anyway and should I keep reading? Is there something that I am missing or something awesome that I need to read in just 5 pages time? Can someone please tell me!