Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Get your oven-fresh Aust Lit news here

Australian Book Review now, as of yesterday, has a blog!

And from it, I have learned that First Tuesday Book Club has decided to replace one of their two projected books for next month's discussion, Helen Garner's The First Stone, with something else.

On the whole, I think this is just as well, as I think it would have dominated discussion to the point of obliterating comment on any other aspect of the program. Blogospheric discussion of the first episode over the last week has inevitably centred on Garner and TFS, and I am still as astonished as I was when it was first published in 1995 to see the bile still being poured over Garner by people who are still proud to say they have not actually read the book.

Many of these are people who would rightly scorn to write 'I know this is true, because my friend told me' in a scholarly footnote, so why they think it is okay to argue this way elsewhere is one of the mysteries of life.

No matter what one's position, it is intellectually indefensible to trash a book that one has not read.


  1. Jo Case has given Sars and the PW readers group blog a nice thumbs-up there.

  2. Well said. (I've had to post as Anonymous, because the log-in didn't like me. WG here.)

    There's another point, too. Is an author's subsequent or current work to be judged on her/his past mistakes? Mistakes that the author has been big enough to be open about?

    I just deleted a couple of pars: I'll keep this discussion to Garner to make my point. One of the things that touched me the most in Garner's flawed & moving book, Joe Cinque's Consolation, was when Mrs Cinque had adopted an unwitting racist view toward Indians. I don't have the book at hand, but Garner said something like (and forgive my clumsy paraphrasing of her fine prose): "[This case] had alienated Mrs Cinque from her highest ideals, from her own, best self."

    What a tremendous, humane insight. I thought about this a lot yesterday when people contributed thoughtful things to Sarsaparilla, and I thought about the "worst self" writers can present as bloggers. It reminded me of that wonderful nun in Dead Man Walking, who said "A man should not be judged by his worst act." (To my knowledge, though, none of us bloggers have killed anyone.)

    But my point is: sure, if Windschuttle or Paul Sheehan brought out another book, based on their past performance I wouldn't read it. Because I don't trust them or what they've got to say. But there are other writers who have books out at the moment who've committed nowhere near the magnitude of mischief that Windschuttle did, who are willing to address their detractors, and who are nonetheless copping it from all sides from people who haven't read their curent work.

  3. Absolutlely correct. Windy and Sheehan, of course, never earned one's admiration in the first place, whereas I think at least half of the vilification Garner copped in the first instance came from people who had previously liked or loved her work and felt abandoned and betrayed.

    And there was indeed a deplorable amount of revisionist 'Oh well, we've had another look at Monkey Grip and The Children's Bach and suddenly we've found all this anti-feminist stuff in them that we didn't notice before, so they're worthless too', much of it from feminist academics who should have known better. (As a feminist academic myself at the time, I found this kind of stuff completely deplorable and stupid.)

    Garner, of course, is still copping it from people who haven't read the one book she's vilified for in the first place, now 11 years old.

    I know TFS backwards because when it came out I was in the middle of a little book about Garner for the Oxford Australian Authors series and I ended up writing a whole chapter (out of only four) on TFS. It meant I had to read every sentence carefully in order to work out what I wanted to say about it. And the truth is it's nothing like the phantom 'book' that everyone vilifies. Apart from anything else it is, as Garner said later, a question-asking book, one that constructs readers as one half of a conversation at every step -- it's one of the least didactic nonfiction books I've ever read. It should go without saying that I don't share HG's attitude about the students or about the "Master" (don't those places crack you up?), but could see no need to hate and vilify her on the strength of it. I was astounded to be told, in a university, that if I wasn't with the righteous, then I must be against them. And this in 1996 with Bush as Pres still unimaginable.

    It's too late now, of course; for every equivocal sentence in TFS there are 99 blameless ones, but the still-hostile, if forced to read it, would pounce on every arguable sentence and ignore all the others.

    PS the comments box is all yours -- no need to delete stuff. Digress by all means.

  4. I'm a huge Garner fan.

    I agree that a lot of the criticism of her is misguided.