Tag Archives: fiction

Another Voice for Nam Le

Louisiana Alba is the author of Uncorrected Proof, which I heart, so I asked if she would write something just for me (and you lit-lovers). Here ’tis:

Italians have a phrase: non mettere le mani avanti, don’t put your hands out in front (to prevent the fall you fear). Let the scholars sort out my fictions. I am trading here on memory and instinct alone, a dangerous line, I know, particularly as I was going to do a piece on Windschuttle and other historical fabrications. Do you know Windschuttle? Does anyone care? No? Then, I best leave him for another time.

Nam Le has just won the Dylan Thomas Prize. This is no small prize and no small feat, I said to myself, then realised I was staring at my own. My feet were the only feet in the room. I was intrigued though I confess I didn’t know Nam Le’s work before I went online and ordered the one copy of The Boat held by the British Library. The book of The Boat. The Boat in book form. It says a lot about the focus of readers in London that it hadn’t been snapped up already. After the Booker Prize shortlist was announced every copy of every book the BL had by every writer on the damn list was in use. Hell, what’s going on? I said at the time.

Nam Le, who is he? When no answers came I could interpret I webbed wider to find out more. I came upon: ‘Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice’, from The Boat itself. I read the screen-printed story. Even in the twenty-first century I still find it hard to read fiction this way. Yet Nam Le had me hooked with his first words. The Boat had cast me a line. ‘LHPPCS’ is a fine and good story, as Hemingway might have said. I saw echoes, or imagined I did. Thom Jones’s an-American-in-Vietnam stories, what was Nam Le doing here, a parody of memoir technique developed by a writer come writing-teacher in an Iowa writing school? Many stylistic lines from many American short story writers crossed my eye-line, Le skilfully self-addressing the author, wannabe, manqué throughout.

Thom Jones is still on that Iowa program I believe. I have long admired his work and reference him in Uncorrected Proof. Judging by ‘LHPPCS’, I feel no less strongly about Nam Le’s capacities, finding the comments of praise I saw this morning true and right down to the last syllable. Hemingway is an apt voice to mention as well, I suspect, for what happens at the end of ‘LHPPCS’ happens to the Hemingwayequestrian character in The Garden of Eden as well – the writing and story of both characters ending up…No, I can’t say it either.

Let me be frank or… Nam Le. This writing strikes more than one chord, literary and life chords. When I first left Australia, after university and film school, my first assignment abroad was to film a boat full of ex-Vietnamese hitting land in southern Thailand. Pure fate. It was only the second time I had professionally put an Eclair 16mm camera up on my shoulder, only the second time I had used one live full-stop.  As I clambered about the decks of beached boats, sweat running in my eyes, the stench of summer in the Gulf of Thailand all around, somehow I kept the excitement of the waving forms motoring towards me in focus, somehow I maintained the other arrivees close-by in frame, somehow I didn’t end up in that murky Thai seaside drink all sides up. All along I had no idea I would revisit this plot and theme several times in my life.

I move on to Hong Kong filming and producing two more films on escapees from a hell on wheels inside Vietnam, to a fate far worse than the Thai camps, if my olfactory memory of the warehouses along Hong Kong’s Pearl Harbour serves me well. My fourth and last experience is back in Sydney six years later, making a film for Special Broadcasting Service on a need some Vietnamese children developed for writing up their experiences. In a Strange Land, one girl titled her poem, or was it tilted, living out a nightmarish late childhood horror that was Cabramatta, or as some Australians casually called it back then, Vietnamatta. Reading Nam Le brings it all back.

What is Nam Le’s ‘LHPPCS’ all about then? Writing in Iowa? Growing up in Australia? Relationships? Remembering Mum? Revisiting or leaving Vietnam behind? Getting onto livable terms with Dad? Memory in ‘Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice’ is a wonderfully cruel trick. We live and die by it along with his character in the same instant. Nam Le’s memoir, the memory of his life’s truths as laid out in fiction, is an examination of a fictionalised ‘ex-Boat person’ narrated in such an unadorned air of truth that if the other stories in the collection are even half as good, then I know in truth I am in for even more of this rare treat.

Can’t wait to see what she says after reading the rest! – LM

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Small versus Big, and small must win

ElephantEars Press, my publisher in Hackney, a small, new and independent publishing press dedicated to bringing you good literature, fiction and non-fiction, at fair prices, is now offering FREE post and packing to ANYWHERE in the world.

These holidays ElephantEars Press wants to give readers a real and true deal.

Lately, I have been following Amazon’s attempt to monopolize Print On Demand, to force independent publishers to accept Amazon on terms designed to crush the life out of the independent publishers and booksellers. It’s a disgrace – Amazon only got where it is because readers like you and me helped them become a force. We supported them in the early days because we wanted diversity, because we believed they were for us. Not anymore they aint!

Amazon wants to monopolize bookselling and print on demand publishing. They want to to kill off publishing independents and consumer independence. Don’t let them. Buy from small independent presses like ElephantEars. Support small and ignore the big homogenizers of creative output.

For this holiday, for your gifts – Buy from the small dedicated publishers like ElephantEars Press determined to bring to you reading quality for your pound, dollar, and euro

SUPPORT SMALL against BIG.

Art, commerce and the dizzying world of artifice

I have been trying to get a blogger of note to become a reviewer of note, that is, get to her to do a notice on my book. Or should I say write a note, postice me, no, well notice me in her..well I think you get what I mean by now.

The problem is or was she was taken up with blogging the Hirst thing as he was selling 111 million or whatever pounds worth of what, we don’t really know yet, in the middle of what we’re not sure yet is the second worst (or just the worst) finance mess of all. I fear the financial bang down on economies and hell only knows what else, all that money stuff that holds us all up in the first and last place has much yet to say.

That Hirst Thing- SuperTouch

That Hirst Thing - SuperTouch

My own hazy memory of other memories tells me that 1929 was the first big stock market etc crash, but 1931-4 was the real pain that the ordinary bloke felt so keenly, pain the world felt all over. Ditto for 1987, which became 1991-3, when the real ordinary mess that was house values falling down around people’s ears really hit home.

I remember 1987 very well. I was in Sydney and was about to try to sell my apartment, and, a few days before the crash, went to a property auction in the suburb of Bondi Beach to see what I could possibly do, auction or straight sell. That auction day was a scene from Fellini. It was dizzying mad, like nothing I had seen, people shouting over each other to buy huts and hovels for double and treble their one day prior worth. Perhaps I exaggerate the doubling and trebling but that was what it felt like being packed into that auction house room.

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach - by Pio Carlone

At that time the king of all things moneyed down under, particularly the market gambling sort, was a one Robert Holmes a’ Court, greenmailer and white knighter extraordinaire, who became Oz’s first billionaire. He was richest but still (unofficially) vying for the title of most wealthy man in Oz, fighting with two redoubtable dark nights and media souls, Rupert Mudoch and Kerry Packer, for the privilege, probably, I guess, because he came from the West not the East. But all up before the 1987 crash Holmes a’ Court was worth 2 billion dollars, a tidy sum even today, and from reports of Hirst’s worth, enough to buy him out twice over.

And Robert Holmes a’ Court – like that other Robert from Oz, Robert Hughes, the bloke that Hirst doesn’t too much like apparently – was a lover, no, a connoisseur of Art. I say Art with a capital, because Robert Holmes a’ Court was into ART in a big way. A horse lover, a stocks gambler, he also bought into the big and small art stables. He bought and supported big and small names. And one of his stable of small names was a one Paula, an artist I knew in passing. Paula created holograms, a pioneer of minor reputation in a part of the world that by geography alone diminishes the adjective minor to very very small in the world of ART – her end of it, at least. She told me about her brush with Robert.

Those who know what happened in 1987 will remember the face of Robert Holmes a’ Court standing at the glass wall of an upper floor overlooking the Sydney Stock Exchange that day his fortunes went a little too far south for his liver to digest. His face was a newsprint picture, financial grief of power disappearing faster through him than a bad curry. Post crash, when the bits stopped falling, when the exchange chit dust cleared (long weeks on after much gnashing of teeth, wringing of hands, and of course, horse trading), he was worth 600 million, not too bad either even for a mogul today. He devoted himself to other matters thereafter, his horse stud, his art and perhaps some charity if I remember well.

Paula told me how he arranged to see the work she had been doing under his patronage some days after his catastrophic crash – he was dead in three years, at 53. She described a distracted figure walking into her studio and standing trying to get his head around what she was doing, trying to fathomize what she was telling him (and Paula could tell you at twenty fathoms). The world of finance had done his head in. Getting his mind in a grip with tiny green hologrammed figures was beyond him. Robert stared at one of her projections stuck out in thin air. ‘But it’s so small,’ he said and left without another word. And that was it for Bob and ‘er, the last Robert H. a’ C. dollar she ever saw.

Paula in her studio

Paula in her studio - COFA

Now no one could say that Hirst’s work is tiny in the way that Paula’s experiments were back then. And what with that artistic industry of so many hands, his tanking of animals in preservative somehow brings Holmes a’ Court’s newsprinted face to mind, this apparition of a human staring at this watery cow, and turning to an assembly of art gamblers I see him trying to say something. Only I can’t hear him against all the clamour of bidding. Was it, what’s next Damien, the white elephant? No, that’s what I would say. Was it something about it all being so small? No, that cash cow aint tiny. I’m still looking, trying to read his lips as they disappear into the thin air of  a reconstruction of a long-lost auction room  – moments, ethereal elements caught up in a hologrammed memory – along with a good part of the world’s financial infrastructure, coming soon to a leaky tank near you, not to mention that review of my book, Bob H. a’ C ., his horses and Paula, my apartment, the diamond encrusted prices a Russian miniature oligarch saw fit to pay for a Hirst tanked up thing – all those mad, dizzying seconds.

Being With Shakespeare and Company

‘Uncorrected Proof’ is in Shakespeare and Company. I recommend a visit there for anyone. You can literally spend hours in there.

REVIEWS of UNCORRECTED PROOF

Cover - Uncorrected Proof

Cover - Uncorrected Proof

What readers are saying

From America

With tongue in cheek humor and a sly poke at genre fiction, literary untouchables and the publishing industry this book seems tailor made for smart praise. Even though I wasn’t able to pick out all the literary styles interwoven playfully within the book — and frankly at a certain point I was so into the story it didn’t matter — when I was able to pick up on an author or style it just added to the fun. Very impressed with the versatility of the prose and the ability to coopt all these writers and yet still make it all work within the story being told, a story that holds its own as a larky genre thriller with literary overtones and a lot of humor too. In the end all came off as clever parody. Especially enjoyed the “genre thriller” kick of the kidnapping and rescue of Ellen mirroring the story within the story within the story. Given the levels of literary byplay and the scope and ambition of the prose styles, the story is amazingly accessible. It even is a bit of a high concept as well — literary high concept (or highwire act) in which, while flawlessly speaking in all these different voices the book still tells a thoroughly enjoyable pulp story about stolen manuscripts and deferred vengeance in the volatile, cutthroat world of publishing. Making publishing a life and death enterprise is a nice conceit that allows all the tropes of detective and spy fiction to come into play and gives it much of its kicky fun. Bravo!

– Paul Duran, LA director and writer (Flesh Suitcase and The Dogwalker)

I found your book very refreshing..very readable but also so postmodern and referential. I delighted in your sources.

Richard Olafson, Editor, Pacific Rim Review, San Francisco

From Australia

Quite an extraordinary work. Initially the surreal plot threw me then I realized that the plot, the use of various styles and forms, present continuous, film scripts and cooking instructions etc, were creating a particular structure. Eventually, I concluded that it was some sort of a coded book, either intentionally or as some kind of experiment, which I failed to appreciate. Like most coded works, the book consists of two novels seamlessly interwoven. In this case the characters from at least one are able to inhabit the other. This is clear when you separate the two novels by the plot and other code markers. The two novels are quite different, and even seem to deal with different subjects and are sometimes contradictory. I have tried this coded thing but I used simple invisible multi-layering as you do when encoding engineering drawings. This form of yours is way beyond that. This is a very brave new world you have stepped into, or invented, a new realm.

Eric Willmot, author of Pemulwuy and Below The Line

It reads like a splendidly maintained & protracted metafictional elaboration of the climactic shoot-out in the fun-fair corridor of mirrors at the end of Orson Welles’s ‘Lady from Shanghai’. I was glad to see refs. to ‘King of Comedy’, surely one of the last century’s vy best films…

Tom Gibbons, painter, writer (Rooms in the Darwin Hotel) and academic

From the UK

Uncorrected Proof by the wonderfully-named Louisiana Alba… I’d read it. If I were reading anything.

Katy Evans-Bush, author of Me and the Dead

http://elephantearspress.com/uncorrectedproof.html

Joyce’s Influence

James Joyce

Brought him up because I wondered if his position in the literary scheme wasn’t drifting into a long slow decline. No, not so, it seems, from the reaction. Someone put him down as having two of the best final lines ever written, but then his final sentence in Ulysses goes on forever  – 33 pages in Penguin Twentieth Century Classic edition (Bodley Head – if not boggle yr head).

Joyce is one of those impossibles, except the other impossibles like Musil you can learn to forget pretty quick. Joyce, he lingers and lingers and makes you re-read him and then you frown and then you pick him up again and frown some more and then you find gems, but boy some ordinary stuff, duds as well. The point is though, he recreated the novel, gave us a key out the Victorian literary prison – literally.

Is Joyce Dead?

Does he live on in writing today? And if not, who are the writers that make the difference, guide our consciousness these days? Marquez? Borges? Pynchon? (not for me). McCarthy? Stephen King (is he anyone’s favourite?). How many people still read 20th century writers today for inspiration? Anyone want to add to this list? (in no particular order).

Joyce – for destroying the concept of realistic/willing suspension of disbelief narrative. Kakfa – for bringing the waking dream to the fore. Faulkner – for As I Lay Dying. Hemingway for being himself and those short stories, Gertrude Stein – for the value of repetition, Andy Warhol – for that diary, Marquez – for Love in the Time of Cholera, his prose-poetry and story capacities really melded in this one, J.D. Salinger – for page one filled with attitude in The Catcher in the Rye, Jack Kerouac – for describing the road, Brett Easton Ellis for showing us how alive American sociopathology and sadism is in the ‘well bred’ (well-breaded) American soul, James Kelman for that language and wonderful portrait in How Late it was, How Late, Dylan for Like a Rolling Stone, Henry Miller for Tropic of Cancer, Samuel Beckett for being there, Woody Allen for all his films onward from Annie Hall, Jorge Amado, The Animals, W.H. Auden, Warren Beatty, Saul Bellow, Chuck Berry, Robert Bloch, Lawrence Block, Jorge Luis Borges, for the best short writing of the 20th century, Hermann Broch, Joseph Brodsky, Charles Bukowski – made east LA come so alive, Anthony Burgess, John Burnside for crossing Commercial Street (Road) in the rain, Albert Camus, Ethan Canin – the Accountant, Raymond Carver for all his stories, Raymond Chandler, Leonard Cohen, Larry Cohen, Julio Cortazar, Billy Crystal, e.e. Cummings, Michael Cunningham, Len Deighton, Don DeLillo, T.S. Eliot – sometimes, James Ellroy, John Fante, William Faulkner, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ian Fleming, Safran Foer, Richard Ford, Michel Foucault, Jonathan Franzen, William Gibson, Nadine Gordimer, Graham Greene, Dashiell Hammett, Jimi Hendrix, Homer (hey, you can’t forget him), Dante for just those opening lines in Inferno , Elfriede Jelinek, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Thom Jones, Charlie Kaufman, John F. Kennedy, Milan Kundera, Philip Larkin, John Le Carré for Leamas at Checkpoint Charlie, John Lennon, Elmore Leonard for everything he wrote 1980 to 1990, Kenneth Lonergan, Federico Garcia Lorca, Norman Mailer for The Executioner’s Song, David Mamet, John Marks for exposing the undercover boys, Paul McCartney, Jay McInerney, Robert McKee, Czeslaw Milosz, Eugenio Montale, Robert Musil for showing us that a book and a brick can be the same thing, Vladimir Nabokov, Pablo Neruda, Stewart O’Nan for Speed Queen, Harold Pinter, Luigi Pirandello, Marcel Proust, The Rolling Stones, Philip Roth, Arundhati Roy, José Saramago, for a truly favourite book of all time for me – The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, Sam Shepard, Wislawa Szymborska, Quentin Tarantino for Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Peter Tolan (along with Billy Crystal, Robert De Niro and Harold Ramis for some of the best dialogue in a film), Sue Townsend, Gore Vidal, Derek Walcott – beautiful narrative poetry, Patrick White for showing me the spirit, William Butler Yeats for opening up classical style modern poetry for me and Paul D. Zimmerman for that gem and most underrated screenplay, King of Comedy.