Tag Archives: Fay

Bookshop Crushes

Hello Melbourne peeps! I may be overseas but I am never on holidays (from books). As my patient hubby will attest, I insist on going into pretty much every bookshop we pass and have to persuaded not to fill my bag with books in languages I don’t understand, just because they’re pretty. Anyway I thought I’d share some of the lovely bookshops of Paris with you.

A very homey place in Tolouse

Just near Bastille station… check out that tree thing!

Excellent window stuff

With an appropriate window display

Love the ladders

And, of course, Shakespeare and Co

But none of them are as wonderful as Sunflower Bookshop! Come down and visit, I wish I could. I’m on holidays and I miss work, so that should tell you how cool Sunflower is. (Or how uncool I am.) And, as always, join me on my blog for more book reviewing, travelly goodness and shameless self promotion.

Fay out!

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Hello from not Melbourne!

Hey everyone! This is Fay, checking in. I haven’t died or been arrested or anything, I’ve just stopped checking and updating this blog obsessively. This is probably healthy, as Steven told me. But don’t worry, I’m still obsessively checking and updating mine, and I just posted about some books we (probably) have in stock. (Unfortunately I am not able to monitor Sunflower stock in real time. Otherwise I would probably end up doing a lot less sightseeing.) So if you want to hear my thoughts on The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan and Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam then come on down to 1001booksimustread.wordpress.com. (Check it, Ste, I finally figured out how to link!)

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ToB: Lightning Rods vs 1Q84

Ah Lightning Rods, the book we have nothing to say about.

Well there goes the last book I’d read in the matchups.  I am indebted to Lightning Rods for knocking out Salvage the Bones , a book I refused to read (dog death), but then it kept on getting up in my face and knocking out things I liked, while not being available in Australia. It sounds interesting and has polarised commentors but seriously I have nothing to say about it. Go check out the matchup comments to see how people who’ve actually read the book feel about it.

1Q84 on the other hand I have lots to say about. But I’ve already said it in three other posts. Previously, on 1Q84 : I really liked it, found it really entertaining the whole time, it was ambitious and often successful, had some minor problems, I didn’t agree with some ToB judge criticisms probably because I didn’t find it as painful as others to get through. I really like soemthing Judge Michelle Orange said: “The emphasis is less on the sentences themselves than their layering and arrangement for cumulative effect. It’s like reading underwater—at times it feels extraordinary, silky, buoyant, and strange, like moving through a new world.” There’s also an interesting discussion of Murakami’s writing style in the commentary.

Goodbye 1Q84! I’m glad you made it this far and not surprised you didn’t make it further. Tune in tomorrow for the last of the semis!

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Steven: Well Fay, your favourite/the worst book of the tournament is out.  HOW DOES IT FEEL?  Look, this isn’t a chatz format, let the readership know that I wrote these arguments in advance giving Fay PLENTY OF TIME to rebut.  (Fay: while Steven has more time to research, as referenced by his prodigious referencing.) But I hope the truth shines through and that EUGENIDESTRUCTION 2012 is a resounding success.  Allow me to begin with the most glaring fault, Madeleine.  As one of the three central characters, probably the one with the most pages devoted to her, you’d expect her to be more than just a hollow, agency-less shell right?  Noooope.  Madeleine is boring.  Here is what we know about her: she’s preppy, she likes order and neatness but ALSO she secretly loves the punishment of disorder.  Aaaand that’s as far as her depth goes.  To quote Hmgillispie in the ToB comments, “Madeleine has no personality except for her views on literature”.  Amen brudah, and something a number of people seem to have picked up on.  What I’ve seen mentioned a bit in the ToB comments and elsewhere is that the people who like Madeleine either associate her with themselves, or someone they know, thus filling in the gaps in her character.  Fay, if I may be so bold to suggest that you may well fit into this category.  In addition!  Name one thing that Madeleine does in the book that isn’t about either Mitchell or Leonard OH WAIT YOU CAN’T.  Oh sorry, she goes to a conference and decides to study post-grad Victorian literature WHOA SLOW DOWN THERE EUGENIDES!  Throughout the book, all of her actions are precipitated by one of these two men.  She goes to Cape Cod to be with Leonard, and then… actually I’m just going to paste this same argument from a discussion here by Nika Knight at Full Stop: “Even when she scandalizes her mother by moving in with her boyfriend, she’s just following him to a place where she has no job and no goals and no friends. Even when ending her marriage, she does so by acquiescence”.

Fay: Ok let me jump in here for a second. This is a complaint I’ve heard a lot and I think it is by people being thoroughly uncreative and unrealistic. Madeleine is not a Mary Sue! She’s kind of wry, but not particularly funny. She’s pretty  enough to make life easier but is not defined by her looks. She’s smart, but not a genius and not confident enough to voice her thoughts in class. [Steven: So far you’re only kinda ADDING to the boring thing] Quiet you! She’s glad that someone else says ‘Barthes’ first so she doesn’t embarrass herself. You know what that sounds like to me (ok other than me [except for the pretty part], I’ll give you that [Steven: Ha!])? A REAL PERSON. Real people aren’t all stunningly and interestingly characterised, they’re ok at stuff, and nervous and unsure sometimes. [Steven: Agreed!  I’m not asking to read a book about perfect people (if I was I’d just write my autobiography HEYOOO) because that would be boring.  My complaint isn’t that she’s not perfect but that she’s boring.  So all this would be fine as a basis for the character!  But there is no development or journey, no change or transformation.  She stays that way through the whole book, and that’s not enough to make an interesting character.]

And yes, she doesn’t do a lot by herself. May I remind you the book is called The Marriage Plot? It’s a take on the freaking Victorian marriage plot and if Madeleine was full of agency and practical ideas about where her life was going she wouldn’t be at the centre of this book. [Steven: Well, first things first, it’s meant to be a late modern take on the marriage plot which takes feminism into account.  It seems that part was forgotten by Eugenides.  ADDITIONALLY, if the book didn’t remind you every 10 seconds (look here’s the name of a book, aren’t YOU clever) it would just be taken as a good ol’ fashioned love triangle.  FURTHERMORE that’s not what I’m saying.  I’m not saying she has to know everything but I am saying that Eugenides short shrifts her.  I can’t say I’ve read any marriage plot books but I assume the women at their centre aren’t simply the pawns of everyone else for the entire book?  EVEN FURTHER she’s not really at the centre of the book.  It starts as hers but really ends as Mitchell’s, which emphasises all the more her lack of agency.  The book ends, once again, in her simple aquiescence] She follows Leonard because she doesn’t know what else to do with herself. Again, REAL PEOPLE may totally finish college and be at  a loss and grab onto whatever is going rather than go back to live their parents’ house. The uncertainty of the newly graduated is part of the setting of this book and why it works the way it does. Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell are all on the edge of something, moving from a day-to-day life full of literary debate and beatnik one-upmanship into a world where they are suddenly expected to know what to do and how to do it. Madeleine doesn’t, and that’s precisely the point. And who hasn’t clung onto a love affair hoping to recapture their initial feeling? Why does everyone find Madeleine so hard to deal with? To me she is completely real and perhaps fairly ordinary but that is precisely the point.

Steven: Mitchell and Leonard, on the other hand, have a lot more going on.  More depth goes into Mitchell’s idolisation of Madeleine than goes into her character.  Mitchell and Leonard both have Stuff Going On, as well as character development.  Leonard is the most interesting of the three, suffering from bipolar disorder he is either a manic force of nature, bringing joy and excitement into Madeleine’s (and others’) life (until it inevitably goes too far) or he is helpless and demure, in need of Madeleine’s attention.  Both of these states are vividly detailed, and a lot more of Leonard’s personality shines through than Madeleine’s (oh no, she just doesn’t have one).  Mitchell too is more interesting.  Though I found him a whiny, annoying jerk who needs to shut up always (which further says something about Madeleine).  Admittedly THAT last complaint is a personal taste thing.  But let me tell you if there is one thing I don’t want to read about it’s people backpacking in Europe/India.  Actually, that was another thing.  That section was too disjointed from the narrative.  I found in the (roughly) last third everything became a bit too loose and messy, in an unsatisfying way.

Fay: Again, DISAGREE. I found the backpacking section another example of a real person being lost that rang true. The romance of the adventure compared to the realities of being lonely and confused and quite literally lost is something that most travellers will be able to identify with. Especially the scene at the start with Mitchell’s friend ditching him for his annoying girlfriend. I also found it particular interesting as a period piece, a time when backpacking meant being constantly disconnected from everything you knew. Mitchell’s isolation is highlighted by all the letters sent and not sent. And I thought the looseness was again indicative of mental state. Mitchell is isolated and confused, stringing his experiences together in the hope of finding some religious or spiritual meaning. I thought the writing conveyed that really well. [Steven: All of that, MAYBE!  Not caring about white people backpacking and despairing is clearly a personal thing.  But you haven’t addressed its disjointed-ness from the rest of the book.] Ok, maybe because I didn’t find it so disjointed really.  This is a post-college self definining story and it fits in perfectly, as well as being a common experience, with that theme.  Mitchell, who seems to have everything going for him tries to physically distance himself from everything in an attempt to define HIMSELF rather than fall into a path defined for him. Each character spends a lot of the novel feeling profoundly alone, Mitchell just happens to experience this physically as well. It worked for me. Furthermore while I agree with your liking the intensity of the Leonard section, may I controversially say that I found him and not Mitchell to be the annoying one.

Steven: The first third of the book was pretty orright!  I like college/university stories, probably because THAT’S WHERE I LIVE! and I particularly like wanky theories and such because THAT’S WHAT I DO!  So the bits at Brown were fun, where there was still the potential for Madeleine to become not boring.

Fay: Me too! It inspired me to go out and buy a copy of A Lover’s Discourse by Barthes (which I now know how to pronounce correctly) from the one and only Sunflower Bookshop! Buy books there now! I honestly think that you may have liked it more if you had finished uni and were trying to make your life work in the real world. That’s where I live. It is confusing and scary and you don’t always know where to go or what to do. And you’re not the smartest person or the most beautiful person or the most creative person [Steven: speak for yourself! Fay: I saw that coming the second I wrote that.] so you just see what comes along and go where it will take you. Eugenides captures this perfectly [Steven: I will accept this!  But unfortunately that’s not all the book’s about].

So the verdict? We must agree to disagree! Agree or disagree with us Agree with Steven in the comments.

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Tournament of Books <3 Sunflower Bookshop

You guys! YOU GUYS! Tournament of Books gave *ahem* “the well-read staff at Sunflower Bookshop in suburban Melbourne, Australia”  a shout out in the official commentary!

They like us! They found us! How did they find us? They think Steven and I are well-read! THIS IS SO EXCITING!

So check back in tomorrow to catch up on all the ToB news at their officially* favourite ever Australian bookshop. We are going to have to print up new business cards.


*I have no idea if we’re officially anything except awesome at bookselling

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Goodbye, Sweet Sunflower!

Hello internet amigos!

As some of you may know, today I am off on an exciting adventure! I’m (reluctantly) leaving Sunflower to travel through Europe for six months! I will be in Italy, France, Spain, UK, Croatia, Turkey and who knows where else. All being well I will return to Sunflower in September but until then you will be in the capable hands of the usual crew. Although I fear slightly for the welfare of our blogging community once Steven gets free reign….

I will be trying to keep in touch for some occassional Chatz (probably not on Sat[urday]) and to post some thoughts on the Tournament of Books. But I may not be able to adequately defend The Marriage Plot so this is a call to all Eugenides fans – back me up in comments, I need you! I’m also hoping to go to some literary events in Europe and would love to keep you updated.

If you miss me too much you can follow me on my regular blog http://www.1001booksimustread.wordpress.com where I am slowly working my way through the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. While I’m away I’ll be reading books linked to my locations to provide witty and relevant commentary on both the novels themselves and my personal experiences. I hope. More likely it will be the usual vague and uninsightful ramblings. But you might miss that!

If you have any country related suggestions (for books or for visitng!) or wish to tell me how much you’ll miss me, feel free to email me at f.helfenbaum@gmail.com.

So farewell for now! I will miss you muchly!

Love Fay


ToB: The Stranger’s Child vs The Tiger’s Wife

I am on a lucky streak! Loved The Sense of an Ending, hadn’t read the other, it won! Refused to read Salvage the Bones, it lost! Just finished The Tiger’s Wife, loved it, it won! Watch out Steven! Here comes The Marriage Plot ftw! No, I sincerely think my luck will have run out by then. I want The Marriage Plot to win first round just as much as Steven wants it to lose, but I am very worried that my run will have been used up by then.

But I am happy for it to be used up on The Tiger’s Wife. Loved it. LOVED it. I literally just finished it about half an hour ago which I know always helps but still I thought it was great. It’s my new  personal Sisters Brothers. But with a better title.

The Tiger’s Wife is Natalia, a young doctor taking medical supplies across a war torn Baltic region to an orphanage. As she learns of her grandfather’s death she finds herself in a foreign landscape filled with superstition and myth and finds herself tracing her granfather’s own story, that of the woman who loved tigers so much she almost became one. As Natalia traces the story of the tiger’s wife, the deathless man and the diggers at the vineyard where she is staying, legend and reality fuse, superstition and medicine intertwine. Truth becomes lost in the mythology of the past while stories live on and provide a basis for the future

The deathless man and the tiger’s wife are both stories of fear and awe, possibility and impossibility and Tea Obreht tells them simply and lyrically. Her style effortlessly swoops from folk tale to harsh realities and past to present. She perfectly catures a plausible, passionate and not in any way twee relationship of grandfather and grandaughter. Meanwhile all this is set against a history of war and violence in the region, unobtrusive yet influential. And it’s her first novel. And she’s only 26. And she wrote it when she was 24! I am so, so jealous of her talent.

May I add that I don’t think the attacking of the judge was fair or justified at all? And as some further comments have said that sometimes judging reveals more about the person than the book, perhaps attacks on the judge reveal more about the attacker than the judge?

But I definitely recommend The Tiger’s Wife to anyone. ANYONE. Apart from being enjoyable it’s also, as Bethane Kelly Patrick comments,  significant, full of big questions and demands active reading. Steven, care to weigh in?

Steven: Nope. They’re both in store? At the wallet pleasing price of $19.99 each!

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ToB: 1Q84 vs The Last Brother

Fay: For once I’ve actually read both books. Quel excietment! I’ve talked about 1Q84 in a previous review so feel free to refer back for my explicit praide of the books. I’m sorry if I overlap.

1Q84 follows the dual stories of Aomame, a gifted personal trainer who kills irreperably violent men who beat their wives. She is self contained and largely friendless, but has a secret and perfect love that keeps her going. Tengo is an aspiring writer convinced to ghostwrite a crazy story written by a seventeen year old so that it will win a prize and shake up the literary world. But she is a very unusual girl and the usually chill Tengo finds himself getting involved with cults, private detectives and hiding missing people. Aomame gets similarly involed and although their paths do not interesect together they tell to story from different angles, revealing different information and insight into a reality that can’t possible be true.

So I complained a lot about 1Q84. I know I did. It made me feel better about spending weeks wading through the biggest book I think I’ve ever read. I think I actually read The Last Brother during one shift at work WHILE I was reading 1Q84.

BUT that being said I enjoyed every minute I spent reading it! I honestly did. I found it immensely readable, very wacky, excellent fun. And not just fun, also interesting thoughts about love and space and time and justice and parenting and the nature of reality. I was excited to get back to reading it, even though it was a complete pain to hold up in bed. Sure, there were flaws. Putting the three books into one meant that there was some overlap at the start of each new section as they explained what had just happened. NOT NECESSARY when you’ve just read what just happened. And it would have been such an easy edit/rework to sort that out! Also I found some of the translation a little clunky. BUT AGAIN, I loved reading it. For weeks! I didn’t get sick of the story, the characters, the general weirdness or the unusual dialogue.  I think that’s quite an achievment.

The Last Brother
on the other hand is very very short. Translated from the French, it tells the story of Raj, a young boy who lives with a violent father in a secluded spot on a Mauritian island. Poor and friendless he takes to following his father to the jail where he works as a guard. Here he encounters David, a young Czechoslovakian boy who has excaped from his home and the Holocaust to find refuge in then Palestine, only to be turned around and sent to jail. The two lonely boys become friends but when Raj decides to break David out of prison the results are…. not good.

The story takes the form of an older man reflecting on his past and as such it is filled with a mix of nostalgia and sadness. The language is lovely, very poetic. And it paints a vivid picture of the jungle that Raj find salvation in, as well as the easy friendship of two young boys who have each been through a lot of suffering. It was good, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as ANY of 1Q84. I don’t know if that’s how you’re supposed to judge books, and there are more constructive things I could say. It was easy to see where The Last Brother was going right from the start. Part of it’s charm lies in it’s simplicity. But 1Q84 was not just literally but literarily a much bigger work, so carefully constructed around a work of insane imagination, pulling in characters and storylines at all the right moments to keep it compelling

I think the jusge made this point (more or less) and that was their reasoning for awarding the win to 1Q84. But I disagree with their judgement that is was 400 pages too long (maybe 200?) and I also disagree that the end fell apart. I thoguht the introduction of the noir element was a successful way to draw the book to a finishing point and a climax to the ending. I think it was even better than Misha Angrist gave it credit for (for more check my previous post).

I also agree with the commenters who found the The Last Brother was emotionally manipulative. I agree that it sometimes felt like it was working for you to cry, which actually worked against it’s sadness at some points.

Steven, any thoughts?

Steven: Nope, haven’t read either.

Fay: Ok, so in summation: my favourite won, both good books, both in store, come by them now.

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Chatz on Sat(urday) – ToB Stylz

Steven:  Wassuppp

Fay:  Hey ste

Fay: Shall we go through the rigmarole?

Fay: What are you reading this week?

Steven:  WELL mon frere for funsies i am finishing The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips which is FANTASTIC and hopefully when it comes out in paperback we’ll stock the shit out of it

Fay:  I don’t know how I feel about your language

Steven: i feel very good about it, very positive

Steven:  Then not for funsies i am reading don ihde’s bodies in technology and nicolas rasmussen’s picture control for my THESIS in my HONOURS year

Steven: no biggie

Fay:  You’re doing HONOURS? Who knew? In what field?

Steven:  the well known and widely enrolled in and celebrated discipline of history and philosophy of science

Steven: let me tell you when i graduate the jobs will come ROLLING IN

Steven:  what about you bruda?

Fay:  I just finished The Keep by Jennifer Egan and it was excellent! I’m going to order some into the shop. It’s interesting and a bit different and compellingly told just like Goon Squad. She has a real gift for voices, that Egan lady

Steven: especially privileged white voices!

Steven: i kid!

Steven: (but a little)

Fay:  Some of these voices are not so privileged! I think they are all white though

Fay: She won ToB last year right?

Steven:  she sure did fay!

Steven: SEGUE


Steven:  as mentioned yesterday, sense of an ending DEMOLISHED devil all the time

Steven:  and today lightning rods surprisingly CRUSHED Salvage the Bones

Fay:  I was so excited when I woke up yesterday!

Fay:  I got to read some judging on books, some commentary on books and then my favourite won

Fay:  And I don’t know how you get DEMOLISHED from a discussion pointing out the merits and flaws of both books

Steven:  your favourite aka the only one you read?

Fay:  Yup

Fay: But I really liked it

Steven:  well disciples, guess what?  I READ THEM BOTH

Steven: yes you can have it all

Fay: I wish you’d stop calling them disciples

Steven: NEVER

Fay:  So even though I agree with the outcome I disagree with the ToB discussion around the ending of Sense of an Ending. I thought it was perfect for a book that is an understated meditation on memory. NO SPOILERS but I found it NEITHER anti-climactic nor a comment on the nature of twists

Steven:  well for that NO SPOILERS alone you are one better than a certain 2012 Age Short Story competition winner/horrible monster, BRAM PRESSER

Steven: SEGUE

Steven: into the epic tale of betrayal

Fay:  Tell us more!

Steven:  once upon a time, there was a sweet, naive, relatively newly employed bookshop person who was simultaneously handsome and clever

Steven: this certain person, no names or anything, happened to be planning on reading Julian Barnes’s most recent book The Sense of an Ending

Steven: when in walked into the shop, the devil in human form, BRAM ‘UGH’ PRESSER

Steven:  he acted all friendly like sure, we were introduced, and he started up a conversation with our 2nd most presently-in-the-country manager, margaret, about, like, books and stuff

Steven:  he went on for a while in such a manner, lulling me into a false sense of security when B(R)AM! he struck

Steven: and he goes something like ‘yeah and really what happened was SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER MUAHAHAHAHA’

Steven: and then i had an unfortunate sense of the ending

Steven: and now we are enemies, he and i


Fay:  It’s a story for our times

Fay: It’s like Brutus and Peter Pettigrew mixed together

Steven:  it’s like when SPOILER betrayed SPOILER

Fay:  It’s exactly like that

Steven:  the joke being BRAM ‘RESPONSIBLE FOR 9/11?’ PRESSER would have put names there that would RUIN things for people

Steven: also i read the devil all the time!

Fay:  Does that one come with a terrifying yet mesmerising backstory?

Steven:  fortunately for me, no, though those words would pretty accurately describe the book

Steven:  it should have been called DEATH all the time!

Steven:  (though The Devil all the Time gets Steven’s coveted Best-name-of-the-ToB award.  The Sisters Brothers (The BEST Brothers!) gets the worst)

Steven: it’s set in rural backwater Ohio and West Virginia and it is about poor people doing terrible things/having terrible things done to them

Fay:  Wow that sounds like fun reading times

Steven:  it opens with the story of returned WWII soldier Willard Russell giving blood sacrifices in the vain hope of saving his dying wife, then follows several connected characters including a serial killer and his wife, her brother the corrupt sheriff, travelling preachers turned murderers theodore and russell, and most importantly, Willard’s son Arvin, fundamentally a good man but led to violence

Steven: it is a gruesome southern gothic

Steven: and it is well written

Steven: but overall there’s just not enough there

Steven: (though all the characters’ stories do come together in a clever way at the end)

Steven: it’s not a book that sticks with you, and it’s not deep enough

Steven: a pretty good book but not a great book

Fay:  Whereas Sense of an Ending is definitely a great book (to get my foot back in the door of the conversation)

Steven:  sure is!

Fay:  It’s understated and deceptively simple

Steven:  mr. booker distributed his book prize wisely this year

Fay:  and so so beautifully and carefully written

Fay: and real, like with wisdom that can be applied to real life

Fay: as opposed to southern murderers

Fay: also wonderfully quoteable

Fay: (I really liked it)

Steven:  well real life wisdom is hardly the benchmark of a good book

Steven: but yes it was very good

Fay:  no but it makes it stay with you when the other factors are there too

Steven:  and i like the idea of a melancholy reevaluation of the past

Fay: definitely

Fay: good choice, Emma Straub!

Fay: as for today’s match, neither of us have read either book

Steven:  as mentioned earlier on the blog, it’s pretty difficult to get Lightning Rods in australia

Steven: and Salvage the Bones has animal death, which basically means it’s out of bounds for fay and me with our sensitive souls

Steven:  it’s disquallification saves us from having to read it though!

Fay:  I was definitely not reading about dog fighting

Steven:  THOUGH it is meant to be very good!

Fay:  And we have it in!

Fay: So if you’re into animal cruelty, come visit!

Fay: and we’ll report you to PETA

Steven:  (again though, good book)

Steven:  anyway tomorrow we have the VERY BIG 1Q84 up against the very little The Last Brother

Steven: which fay will have some things to say about

Fay:  A conversation I will DOMINATE

Fay: having actually read both books for like the only time in the first round match ups

Steven:  i personally am waiting for the battle between state of wonder and sisters brothers. were it judged by anyoneelse i say the former would be an easy win but i’m hoping wil wheaton’s (better known as this guy) nerditude could let my fave through

Fay: So we’ll see you soon for more ToB fun!

Steven:  ‪so stay safe guys, against my best efforts BRAM ‘POSSIBLE SEX OFFENDER’ PRESSER is still on the streets

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Some questions with Elliot Perlman, who I mention rather a lot

I recently did an interview with famous author Elliot Perlman. Have I mentioned him before? Probably not, I kind of keep it on the dl that we’re friends.

Anyway it was for the Jewish Holocaust Centre’s latest magazine (you should check it out in April) and I thought I’d post some of the fun parts that didn’t make it to the profesh verion. Enjoy!


Fay: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

Elliot: I always wanted to tell stories, even when I was a kid in primary school. I’d write the class play and then the house play and I played in bands and wrote the songs. Reading became important to me, really important to me, when I was around eleven and twelve because I changed schools and I didn’t have any friends at my new school and my parents split up. I was very unhappy and that’s when I started reading more adult books.

I got hooked, and I found that I got so much comfort from reading and I started to devour different authors and it became very important to me. Of course my parents were pleased by this because beforehand I hadn’t been particularly interested in reading and I think that it was because the books I that I was being fed which my sister, who’s four years older, had loved, were the kind of classic English children’s books like Enid Blyton texts. And I thought, five go up a tree, five go down a tree, I don’t care, it’s not my business, let them make lemonade. Where are the people hiding? Where are the survivors? That’s the problem with Enid Blyton stories, not enough Holocaust. These kids they never say anything about it. What are they, conspirators, deniers? Doesn’t matter that it was written before the war.

I started reading, for example, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn and I thought this was fantastic because instead of children going up a tree and down a tree and having a picnic, here was a guy in a Soviet Gulag and on page one he tries to capture a bug in order to eat it, to try to get more protein for the day. This seemed wonderful to me. It seemed realistic to me, because I knew bugs, I didn’t go on picnics but I knew insects and I thought, I wouldn’t want to eat one but maybe under similar circumstances I would think about it.

I thought, if I could give even one person the kind of comfort that certain books have given me, that would be a very worthwhile thing to do. It didn’t occur to me that it was possible to earn a living from it, but I knew you had to keep doing it to get better at it. It’s a craft and you’re not born, I think, being a good writer or storyteller. The more you do it the better you get, the more you read the better you get and the more you write the better you get. It wasn’t until I was thirty that I won The Age short story competition and that sort of led to me being able to get published. Including a story I was just talking about, Good Morning Again.

Fay: I love that story.

Elliot:  Thank you.

Fay: Is that the one that everyone loves?

Elliot: That’s like my hit single, before Three Dollars. I used to read that story aloud whenever anyone would let me, on trams, you know. After that short story my editor said, do you have a novel and I lied and said, yeah sure! I had the idea for a short story about a man who saw this woman every nine and a half years four times in his life, and the most recent time was when he was in his thirties, he only had three dollars. I was writing it and the story was getting longer and longer and I thought, maybe this is the novel, and that ended up being Three Dollars.

Fay: What was your family’s reaction to your writing as a career?

Elliot: At first I think they were worried by it, but since I had law to fall back on they were less worried by it. But the irony was that normally I advise people to get something solid behind them economically before doing anything in the arts. But I was an associate to a Supreme Court judge and I was terrified of not being able to earn a living when I went to the bar to become a barrister and it was the money that I got from writing Three Dollars that enabled me to go to the bar. So the irony was I wouldn’t have been able to practise my profession if I wasn’t an artist. I think ultimately they got comfortable with it but they’re Jewish parents so they worry about everything and they never ever stop and they inculcate that anxiety into me so that now I worry for them. They don’t even have to know about something and I worry in the way that they would want me to.

Fay: What are your favourite authors and books?

Elliot: I’m obviously influenced by a lot of Jewish writers. Isaac Bashevi Singer who was influenced by his brother I J Singer, Bernard Malamud. Thomas Hardy, a lot of the nineteenth century writers, also Charles Dickens and George Elliot. These people wrote about social justice. Zola and Victor Hugo all had a big effect on me. And also writers like John Steinbeck… almost too many to mention. E. L. Doctorow, The Book of Daniel… And Arthur Miller was very important to me, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible. When I was sixteen my stepmother got me an incredibly rare (I’ve never seen it since) vinyl recording of the original Lincoln Centre cast of a play called After the Fall. After the Fall is not one of the plays he’s most known for. In fact it’s the play that probably turned things around in his career for him for the worse. It was first performed in 1964 and it contains the character that everyone assumes to be Marilyn Munroe whom he had married and the world had been cruel to her until she died. And then they beatified her and in this play he describes the descent of a woman very much like Marilyn Munroe and it’s not flattering. I heard it and then read it when I was sixteen and it had a huge effect on me. And one the highlights of my life was that I got to meet Arthur Miller and I got to tell him how important he’d been for me.

Fay: Was that weird? They tell you not to meet your idols.

Elliot: I know they tell you not to meet your idols and for that reason when I saw him I was terrified and was not going to go up to him but the person I was with who had invited me to an after party after the Broadway revival of A Long Day’s Journey Into Night. We went to a place called Tavern on the Green on Central Park. There they had the after party for this Broadway revival and Arthur Miller was there and the person who had taken me said, if you don’t go and talk to him you’re going to regret this for the rest of your life. I thought, she’s right, and so I did. And she was right, it’s one of the highlights of my life and I’m very glad I did it.


Hope you found that interesting! To get the rest of the down low on The Street Sweeper and other stuff check out Centre News in April! And if it’s cool with them I’ll be posting some of it here too 🙂

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