Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Autumn Laing by Alex Miller

A while ago I wrote about the satisfaction of putting things into order, of quantifying and labelling them. Well, here I will attempt something that I have meant to do for a very long time: I will choose one book every month that I loved reading and will try to explain why I did love it. And thus I will hopefully save it from disappearing in that big pile of all the other books and movies and newspaper articles and websites that I really wanted to remember; the ones that moved and inspired me and that somehow fell between the cracks in the mysterious landscape of my mind...

This is a book about being old. It is a book about being young and immortal. It is a book about art, about jealousy and passion, about women and about Australia. Autumn Laing tells her story, beginning, 'They are all dead, and I am old and skeleton-gaunt. This is where it began fifty-three years ago.' Doesn't this alone make you want to sit back and read on? Oh, the power of words, drawing you in and creating a world just for you to discover!

Autumn Laing is young and beautiful. It is the late 1930s in Melbourne, and she is married to kind and gentle Arthur. Theirs is a quiet and comfortable marriage. They have a circle of artistic, bohemien friends who come to their house to eat, drink copious amounts of red wine and discuss art and poetry. They are trying to invent an Australian version of the European modernism and argue about aesthetics, philosophy and ethics. Their lifes change when Autumn meets and subsequently seduces Pat Donlon, a promising and hot-headed young artist. He is married to lovely and innocent Edith, who is pregnant with their first child. The book shifts between the unfolding story and the present, where Autumn is dying, bad-tempered and armed with a sharp tongue. She is looking back with regret and longing and eventually is able to find some kind of peace and closure.

Alex Miller is an amazingly skilled writer. His style seems effortless, but is so confident and elegant in providing first only glimpses of the story and the characters that inhabit it and subsequently weaving all the threads together into a rich and colourful tapestry. Miller lets Autumn talk and gives her a truly unique voice. I tried to slow down my reading towards the end, and I really missed her after finishing the story. In fact, I'm still thinking of her as someone I knew and who has recently died. The power of words...

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Julia Stone at the Metro Theatre, 15 September 2012

I have been vomited upon by my two sick children for the last two weeks and have only recently re-surfaced from under a mountain of dirty bed linen, stacks of salted crackers and seas of chamomile tea...

So just before heading to Fiji for a long anticipated and, I think, well deserved holiday, a quick recount of my last little adventure into the Australian music scene. The venue is the Metro Theatre again and the occasion the concert of the lovely Julia Stone.

Support act is The Trouble with Templeton from Brisbane. The band's young singer and songwriter Tom Calder is definitely someone to watch. He's got charisma, a wonderful voice and he writes songs that are catchy and packed with raw emotions.

Julia Stone herself, when she finally enters the stage, is delightful: Her unpretentious and relaxed banter gives the concert a very personal and intimate feel. She tells little stories about how the songs for her solo album By the Horns came about and what inspired them. She is sweet without drifting into the kind of sugary and infantile cuteness that strangely seems to be the default setting for a lot of girls these days (Wow, I sound like a grumpy old woman, and I'm breaking my own rule of not being bitchy in this blog, so enough of this).

Julia Stone does a few trumpet solos, but for most songs she plays the guitar (one bearded guy seems solely assigned to hand her a different model after each song). Stone seems mature and confident and is clearly a seasoned performer. But her most obvious asset is her sheer talent: Her voice is beautiful and fragile, and it matches the songs with their stripped back, acoustic compositions that sound deceivingly simple, but are delicate and well crafted arrangements.
After playing together with her brother Angus for six years, they both have taken this year to pursue their respective solo projects. I'm very much looking forward to seeing Angus Stone perform at the Enmore Theatre this November, where he will play songs from his new album Broken Brights. They have promised to get back together after this little excursion. Whatever they decide to do in the future, these extraordinary siblings have proven that they continue to deserve a central place in Australia's musical landscape.