Irish mythology has fascinated me since I was a little girl. The stories of sliding between parallel worlds, of the human and the Sidhe, of Tir Na n’Og, seemed both familiar and strange. I felt like I missed something by not being able to speak Gaeilge (or Cymric for that matter). My family name is Irish, but my family moved to Australia five or six generations ago, I think we traced it to about the time of the famine. I am one of the invaders.Continue reading “Reflection: The Invasion (The Grey Land Book 2) by Peadar O’Guilin”
I’ve been listening to audiobooks. I’ve had friends and colleagues tell me that this is a thing that I should be doing for ages. This makes sense, I’m busy, I’m overcommitted, I commute and I do a lot of walking. Audiobooks should be a way of maximising productivity and pleasure in one hit. In some ways, they have been. I enjoy being read to, there’s something delightful and childish about it. I find it comforting.
I also find it hard to concentrate, and I often have to go back and repeat entire chapters. I realise that as I’ve been cleaning, walking, staring out of the train window, whatever, I’ve lost half a story. In one ear, out the other.
I remember the first time I saw Janny Hval. She was performing at the Bella Union in Trades Hall and was supporting Laura Jean. She was on stage with a double bass, and a drum kit. There might have been other instruments, I don’t remember that. I do remember her voice: ethereal, and pure. Her voice was morning sunlight made song. She put me in mind of Milton’s Lapland witches, whose charms eclipsed the labouring moon. Ever since then, I’ve been chasing that first encounter. I found a version of it in her album Viscera, although less so in later albums and performances. I was hoping that her book, Paradise Rot, would again, trip up my experiences. It did.
I’d been hearing a soft hum about Jesmyn Ward’s writing for a little while, but with everything that I have to read for teaching, reading for pleasure sometimes takes a back seat. I’m sorry that I waited so long to have this book in my life. Sing, Unburied, Sing is described as a twenty-first century archetypal road novel, however the point of departure and return, the home, is as important to this story as the journey. I initially read the story as an engagement with the literary fantastic, where hauntings are manifested through trauma, illness, and in some instances narcotic induced breaks from reality. However, it slowly becomes clear that these breaks from consensus reality are not specific to the characters, and the reader is also implicated in experiences that transcend the world in which we sit.
My reading of this book was definitely shaped by my love for Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Sing, Unburied, Sing revisits and explores not only the searing loss of potential and hope that is inscribed on the bodies of generations of African-Americans, but it explicitly juxtaposes it with the forgiveness and the lauding of potential that is offered to white men and women. The book is gentle, but unapologetic in holding white readers to account for their privileges, and with the echo of Black Lives Matter, and the current imprisonment and dehumanisation of non-American People of Colour by the current administration (and I know that Australia has been doing this for years, against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as well as against refugees) it is a text that should be on university curricula everywhere.
The other feature of this story that puts me in mind of Beloved is its use of circularity; this is less revolution that spiralling. The stories told by pop to the young protagonist, JoJo always circle around their ending, but don’t quite arrive there, and even when enough of the story is pieced together for the reader to know what sorrows sit in Pop’s shadow, there is no resolution to those sorrows, no reconciliation, no moving on. They just continue to haunt and to hurt. it puts me in mind of a brilliant article written by Philip Page for the African American Review back in 1992. In both stories the only way in which the parental figure (in Beloved, Sethe, in Sing, Unburied, Sing, River) can ensure the safety of the children in their care is to remove them. In Between the World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates writes “Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered.” This anxiety, a rational anxiety that arises because of the violences that white supremacy —institutional, systemic and polite— wields against black bodies is at the heart of Ward’s book. But her writing is not hopeless, though it is mournful: JoJo and Kayla both provide a path forward: they understand where they are from, and they know and feel its hurt, and they demand more from the world around them, even as they know they will be denied it.
I’d like to write more about this book, but to do so in a more explicit way where I can be less obtuse and not worry about spoiling the story. At the same time, I know that that sort of writing has to be just for me, because, as a white girl, it’s important that I read this story, but my thoughts on it are not important. This story is not written for me, even as I learn from it.
This Sunday I determinedly curled up on my couch and read. I read all day. My housemates walked back and forth past me, my cat yelled at me, and I stayed under a doona and read. It was glorious. I read What Should be Wild by Julia Fine. I don’t remember why it was I purchased this book, only that it arrived in a Book Depository delivery and I think the front cover is pretty. I regularly judge books by their covers and there are some very pretty books that are being released at the moment. however, What Should be Wild is more than just a pretty face. Continue reading “Reflection: What Should be Wild by Julia Fine”