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Here's the Story

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This was loaned to me by an enthusiastic friend who told me that Maureen's story was very similar to the one I wrote in Sleep Before Evening. I found the book, which I read in a few days, pretty cheesy, cliche ridden, and superficial (she should have gotten a better ghostwriter), but despite all that, it was engrossing enough to distract me away from Salman Rushdie for a while, and there's a kind of open sincerity in Maureen's prose that is engaging enough.
The Snowing And Greening Of Thomas Passmore

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One of the great joys of reviewing is happening upon a small press book from a first author that is so good, you can’t stop thinking about it. It’s a wonderful serendipity that publishers, agents and reviewers wearily hope for and rarely find. The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore is one of those books. It’s tightly, expertly written, and yet so tenderly rendered, that the reader descends directly into Thomas Passmore’s dreams, struggling to surface back to reality along with the protagonist. At first glance the story seems simple enough. A man wakes from a strange dream as he lands in Heathrow from Sydney, slightly disoriented. There’s nothing too odd in Thomas Passmore’s initial disorientation. Anyone who has taken a long flight will recognise that muzzy jetlagged sense of confusion, and if it isn’t the first time, the déjà vu. Thomas understands convention, and speaks and navigates his way through the airport clearly. His mission on this visit is to spend time with his dying mother, and to find an old girlfriend and discover why she suddenly left him a number of years ago. It doesn’t sound like much of a plot, and the connection between Kate and his mother seems a tenuous one, but the resulting journey progresses in a spiral through Thomas’ past where he has to confront a number of interwoven demons. It’s a psychological trip that, for the reader, is both confronting and intimately, almost horribly, familiar. It’s more than just a trip down memory lane for Thomas, it’s a fight for life, underpinned by a mystery that is both concrete and metaphoric. The novel is ambitious in that it attempts the journey from a very deep starting point: Thomas’ unconscious psyche. The writing is richly poetic, at times so charged that you could publish it as stanzas and it would work: "As seasons pass, I coil tighter. Spend months pulling the world in on myself. Become my own black hole, sucking the bright energy out of my most colourful dreams, spitting out nothing. (190)"The story is built around a triumvirate of demons: Thomas’ ex-girlfriend Kate, his icy mother, and his father, who committed suicide when Thomas was quite young. Each of these people shift-shape through the book: moving between the antagonist and counsellor roles, and moving in and out of perspective. Navigating through the maze of loss, Thomas has to work through his emotions and internalised responses to these people, determining who he is now, or he will literally die. As he moves through his journey to the past, there is always the present he has to reference: the wife and children he has left in Australia. And though Thomas’ search may seem insular at times, it’s the extraordinary force of Burman’s writing that keeps the reader deeply engaged; making Thomas’ story our own. Although the ending is given away right from the start, the shear physical blow of it still comes as a shock. Suddenly all the disjointedness in the novel, which never impedes readability or progression, is put right in an affirmative transformation that is both large and tiny in scope. The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore is deeply original, powerfully moving, and hugely satisfying. The reader can expect to cry, but not in any contrived way. The way in which Burman manages to traverse the line between the inner and outer world is masterful. This is a novel deeply rooted in time and place, while it moves beyond both of those things. It is an exceptional debut.
God of Speed

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Luke Davies is the sort of writer that skips past the surface of his subjects, moving deeper into that underlying subconscious place of pain and fear. His latest novel takes on the over-wrought subject of Howard Hughes. In his heyday, Hughes was America’s biggest 20th century icon, still believed by many to be one of the greatest geniuses that America ever had.His impact on the world was huge and varied, touching on the movie industry and Hollywood, aviation, engineering, biomedical research, and even espionage and warfare. His life has been the subject of numerous films, books, and studies, not only for his accomplishments, but also because of the extraordinary split between his early life when he is visible everywhere, and his later life, when his is almost entirely invisible.Taking on Hughes’ life is no small task for a novelist, especially for a writer so used to working in the micro sphere of poetry. Davies is up to it. His portrait remains something entirely new – a fiction that takes on the contours of Hughes’ life, but which goes deeper into the heart of this invented man to find everyman.The book opens just prior to the “final decline.” It’s June 1973, where a 68-year-old Hughes prepares to fly again after 13 years of reclusive dormancy. The book stays at that point, tracking Hughes’ sleepless, drug-ridden thoughts through the night as lies, waiting for his friend, confidante and ultimately biographer, Jack Real, to wake and accompany him on his flights.After those flights, Hughes fractured his hip and remained bedridden from that point until his death three years later. In his thoughts — feverish and strange — he flies through his life reflecting, refracting, and moving through those moments in such an intimate, personal way that the reader almost comes to understand him.It’s not all warm. Davies' Hughes is self-centred, moving through sex and drugs with a hunger that is as ugly as it is damaging. The name dropping is almost irritating from the intensity of his relationship with Katherine Hepburn, through Ava Gardner, Billie Dove, Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Faith Domergue, and Susan Hayward - all treated with a hungry misogyny that ended up being a kind of laundry list of famous legs, vaginas, and skin, devoid of the person within the body parts.Hughes' hunger can’t be satisfied by these women, who he catalogues by the type of sex he could have with them, anymore than it could by the drugs he later used in the same way. Instead of Ginger, Bette, and Lana, there was Emperin, Valium, and Ritalin replacing that hot, fast hit of success, of a blockbuster completed, the roar of an engine beneath the legs, of making huge amounts of money.Placed in the uncomfortable role of Hughes’ confidante, the reader is made to understand this fictional Hughes, from his earliest memories of his mother’s germ fears, to his latest ones of infirmary and addiction. There is an honesty here that is painful, horrible at times, but also, and mainly because of Davies’ poetic skill, beautiful.The grand scale of Hughes’ life is all on the outside. On the inside, where the reader sits at a nightmare ridden bedside, Hughes is still that little boy, afraid of germs, and unable to breathe in, but we can still hear the outside world. Despite the small-scale scene, Davies manages to provide the big picture of Hughes’ world. We have his real neurotic memos that give us a sense of how he might be presenting to those around him.These are disturbing instructions on how many Kleenexes should be used to open the door of his cabinet, or how to “prevent the backflow of germs” in sending flowers on the death of Bob Gross, who ran Lockheed. The way in which Davies handles the relationship between inner world and outer; between Hughes’ schemes and his obsessive-compulsive implosion without ever leaving his setting of a single night, and single bed, is masterful.Though Davies’ Hughes isn’t exactly a likable character, the intimacy is so striking and the intensity of the portrait so great that Hughes becomes someone entirely familiar. Not so much the grand aviator with all the superlatives of his status: richest, fastest, most inventive, but instead, a man like any other, pursued by demons and running hard to find a way to live through them. He succeeds and he fails, as indeed, we all do on one level or another. This is a remarkable fusion of prose and poetry, well worth reading, regardless of whether or not the subject matter is of interest to you.
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