Magda Szubanski, Reckoning: A Memoir (Text 2015; Bolinda audiobook read by Magda Szubanski)
Tim Winton, Island Home: A Landscape Memoir (Hamish Hamilton 2015; Bolinda audiobook read by David Tredinnick)
We listened to Reckoning on a car trip fromSydney to Brisbane and then part of the way back. It’s hard to imagine a book better suited to such a trip.
Magda Szubanski, a superb comedian as the fat, unloved but ever optimistic Karen in Kath and Kim, and the bustling farmer’s wife in Babe, here comes out as a complex, thoughtful person with quite a lot to say and the ability to say it well. I particularly admire her way with similes. As you’d expect of a celebrity memoir, it gives us the background story on a number of her well-known and much-loved parts, as well as her more obscure commercial and critical failures. Unsurprisingly, it goes into her family history, but though there are elements of celebrity-misery-memoir in the story that emerges of a depressed mother and a rigid, disciplinarian father, the narrative transcends that category to become something much more interesting.
There are many strands. Possibly the most interesting is Magda’s quest to understand her father. She tells us at the start that he was a teenaged assassin, an ally to Jews who put his own life at risk, and a member of the Polish resistance during World War Two. A key element of her own life story is her gradual uncovering of the details and significance of that, and of its implications for how he related to his own children. There’s also her struggle with weight, and the agonising story of her coming to terms with her sexuality, of coming out to her family, and then to the world is a revelation. (That is to say, I vaguely remember that when she came out my response was something like, ‘That’s interesting – Oh look, something shiny!’ For her, it was a major decision: she had to face the possibility that her career and any number of important relationships would go down the drain, and she also had to face head-on the internalised version of the vicious oppression that comes at Lesbians and Gay men.)
Magda Szubanski reads this audio book, and I recommend this as a way of receiving it. Perhaps it would be funnier read on the page: there’s plenty of wit, but Szubanskidoesn’t play for laughs. She does, however, do the voices: her father’s Polish accent (‘Ach, Maggie’), mother’s soft Scottish burr, her own childhood pipe, and any number of show-biz types (her impression of Mark Trevorrow is uncanny).
When we’d finished Magda’s book, we moved on to Tim Winton’s Island Home. Sadly, we lasted only about 40 minutes into it, and even that was a struggle. The book itself is interesting. Winton writes about the meaning of the land in Australian sensibilities: we have more geography than culture here, he says; the long Aboriginal custodianship of the land has had a very different impact from the ubiquitous naming and taming of Europe, and the last two centuries have not erased that.
The book is interesting, and I hope to read it some time. But my companion and I found David Tredinnick’s reading intolerable. He did that thing of not trusting the words to do the work, but injecting emotion and significant intonations. The effect was to constantly draw attention to the words rather than to what they were trying to say. You could tell that Winton was struggling to articulate something, but it was being read to us as pronouncements of wisdom from on high. I see from Bolinda’s site that David Tredinnick is a frequent reader for them. I hope this performance isn’t typical.
Reckoning is the twentieth book I’ve read for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
I’ve been hearing good things about Reckoning. I’m not sure I’ll find time to read it – unless it is put under my nose – but I’m glad to know that this has more substance that the “typical” celebrity memoir.
That’s a shame about the Winton book, but I’m not surprised in a way because I think an important part of the book is its photography. Without that, it may be that it just doesn’t work well. (In other words, I suggest it may be worth giving the poor reader another chance).
Are you going to add this Szubanski review to the AWW Challenge? You can you know.
Thanks for reminding me of the challenge, Sue. I’ve now added it. And thinks for the word about Tim Winton’s book. I’ll keep an eye out for it in hard copy.
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Just reading Charles Bukowski “On Writing”and I think some writers E. G. Tim Winton start thinking they have to get onto some esoteric wavelength,
so hard to be at the top.
love Magda review. lOVE HER THINKING AND WRITING.
Tim’s first novel was such a good story rippling out like the waves he was obsessed with and such great characters. but I had to read it twice before I enjoyed it.Just had second rejection for my book. they were sooo polite I wished they had done a Grab….owsky and said it was shite.’…..But….Bukowski fires me up and Leonard Cohen quote ‘Bukowski brought everybody down to earth even the angels’. like your reviews. I’ll now read Winton as I have left it waiting on shelf ‘Island Home’……..if you know any small press publishers, could you let me know, I’ve been published by Ginninderra (poetry) hope I’m not intruding on your time but HELLOOOOO.
Hi Patricia. Thanks for commenting. Sorry, but I’m no help at all with suggesting publishers. I guess you know all those stories about hugely successful authors papering their walls with rejection slips, and I guess like me you find no consolation there at all.
Thanks Jonathan, I believe Buwkosk lived in a flat whose floors were covered in newspapers/ Emily Dickinson, covered her whole house in poems “I have a funeral in my mind” my first poetry book was published
so quickly I hid in a closet, Americans seemed to send me most wonderful comments,but hardly sold except I found a site that were selling tmy book illegally but” whata hell Archy” Archy and Mehitable’ by Don Marquis is a good read….am now reading Clive James ‘Unreliable memoirs/ nice to meet you and hope you and your partner have a good year 1916…..another” 365 days around the sun” P.J.
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