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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Edit: My arm has been twisted — twisted, I say! — into signing up for the AWW 2014 Challenge!  I promise to do better than last year.

I’ve signed up to read at least four books by Australian women and review at least three.  I guess this ties neatly into my vague plan of reading all the non-fiction nominated for the Stella Prize!

Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get A Life

I didn’t read much YA as a teen.  Once I realised my dad’s Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov books were aimed at adult audiences, I figured that reading anything aimed at a younger age group would be a regression.  Had the young adult market been flooded with fantasy and SF as it is today, it might be been a different story.

Nevertheless, there were exceptions.  Maureen McCarthy’s Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get A Life was one of them.  It was published in 1995, when I was thirteen, and I fell instantly in love with its characters and situations.

It’s hard to describe Queen Kat without making it sound cliched.  Three girls, all from the same country town — but from different schools — wind up sharing a house in Fitzroy as they take their first steps in the adult world.  Carmel is shy and fat.  Jude is a bolshy political activist.  Katerina is spoilt, rich and beautiful.

This was the cover of the first edition. Can you imagine anything more perfectly ’90s?

It is full of cliches.  Carmel develops self-confidence.  Katerina gets in over her head in the drug scene.  But they’re executed so well, it’s easy to forget we’ve seen these stories before.

And in between Carmel and Katerina’s stories is Jude, the one that defies cliche.  Jude’s father was a Chilean revolutionary, and she discovers that the man who ordered his execution is living a happy, comfortable life in Melbourne.  Jude’s story is heavy stuff, covering the torture of her parents and the US-sanctioned human rights violations in South America in the ’70s.  Pretty harrowing stuff for a book that was marketed to young teen girls.  

Not that the other two protagonists have it much easier.  Carmel’s chapters vividly encapsulate her self-loathing and body-hatred.  Her family, cash-strapped farmers, are vividly drawn, from her mother — a sharp woman who can’t stop herself from striking at Carmel’s vulnerable points — to her charismatic and charming oldest brother.  They feel like real people.

Katerina’s story runs the risk of feeling like an after school special.  Wealthy and beautiful, she falls in with a dangerous crowd who flatter and exploit her.  Katerina winds up posing for a semi-consensual softcore photoshoot that ends with her rape.  Later she attends a rave which is raided by the police, and is caught with a large quantity of pills.

It all sounds very melodramatic, and it’s without doubt the plot that stretches credibility furthest.  (I can totally buy that she dabbles in modelling, but the front cover of Australian Vogue?)  But it’s well-executed, not least because hints are dropped throughout the book that something is very wrong in Katerina-land.

The current edition, the one I own, has a shot from the TV adaptation on the cover. I appreciate that Carmel actually looks like a fat girl here.

Now, I’m quite finicky about POV in my reading material, and I strongly dislike multiple first person narrators.  (Even though I’ve written it myself in fic — but that’s okay, because fan fiction is amateur!)  So I was rather surprised to realise that this, one of my very favourite novels, has not only three first person narrators — a third of each book is devoted to one of the girls — but it opens with three passages written in third person.

I need to reconsider everything I’ve ever thought about POV, because this totally worked.  The third person narratives introduced the girls and their backgrounds without letting us get too close — and then we’re immersed in each characters’ head for a significant chunk of the story.

The other thing that I loved: the setting.  Now, I first read this many, many years before I moved to Melbourne, but I strongly suspect it shaped my whole idea of the place.  I mean, it’s a book about a bunch of wine-drinking young women living in Melbourne’s inner north, and now I am a wine-drinking young woman living in Melbourne’s north.  Thanks, book!

Having said that, it all feels much richer now that I know Melbourne.  I’ve walked and cycled down Canning Street, where the girls live.  I’ve caught the trams they catch.

At the same time, though, a lot of their Melbourne is gone.  The department stores where Carmel tries on clothes she can’t afford have closed.  The Chilean cafes in Collingwood and Fitzroy serve Tex Mex now.  These girls were the first wave of a gentrification that has dramatically changed the inner north.

Sadly, the mini-series is no longer in print, or whatever you call it when DVDs are available.

In fact, the book is so very much a product of the mid-90s that I’m curious to see how the 1999 TV adaptation works.  Jude’s family history means you can’t place the story anywhere but in the mid-90s.  The DVD is no longer available in stores, but there is a copy waiting for me at my library as we speak.  STAY TUNED.

I hope it’s not a spoiler to say that No Award has some bird-related guest posts coming up.  I’m in favour of guest posts in general, but I do have to take a moment to express my feelings about birds.

They are horrible.

THERE, I SAID IT.

I didn’t always hate birds — I used to be quite indifferent — but I was swooped by one too many magpies as a teen, and now I flinch if I hear wings flapping behind me.  It isn’t easy, walking home from school after a bird has flown off with a chunk of your scalp.  Not to mention some hair which it no doubt used to line its nest and signal to other birds that it was a great nestmaker.  I begrudge every hair that magpie took.

Many years ago, when I worked in a book store, our back room was invaded by a pigeon.  It perched high atop the shelves and stared down at us, daring us to come and get it.  “Just try it,”  it seemed to say, “and I’ll shit on some new releases.”  It had beady little eyes that burned with hatred for humanity and books.  We eventually chased it out with a broom, but I’ve been strongly anti-bird ever since.

My mother has a pet budgie named Charlie.  Charlie seems harmless enough, but Mum bought her thinking she was a boy budgie. Then Charlie began laying eggs.  An innocent mistake on the part of a pet store owner?  Or a nefarious budgerigar conspiracy to expand its population?  Well, the joke’s on Charlie, since Mum only bought the one bird.

Mum lets Charlie out of her cage to walk around the kitchen table.  “Pock, pock, pock,” go her talons as she marches over my laptop, examining the keyboard like it was composing an essay on birds rights activism.

Birds are basically miniature dinosaurs — the exception being, of course, that miniature dinosaurs are ADORABLE, and also don’t exist anymore.  Except in the form of birds.  And birds remember.  “Liz,” you say, “they’re not that bright.  There is no way birds have a genetic memory of their lives as dinosaurs.  And avian reincarnation is theologically dubious on a number of grounds.”  Sure.  That’s just what they want you to think.

How do I know there’s a vast bird conspiracy?  Because we live in an age when you can put a bird on something and just call it art.  Portlandia was a warning, people!  One that we didn’t hear, because we were distracted by twee bird prints and plush owls and flying ducks!

Chickens will eat each other if you give them a chance.  They also eat their own eggs.  THAT IS NOT COOL BEHAVIOUR.  Frankly it’s a little troubling, and I think chickens should seek counselling for their cannibalist urges, though obviously not from this guy.  In the meantime, buy organic chicken and free range eggs, and under no circumstances trust a chicken.

I speak with some authority about birds, because once a bird tried to use me as a mule in its attempt to escape a pet store.  There I was, innocently admiring some kittens, when I felt something move … and when I looked down, there was a budgie attached to my skirt.  Attempting to blend in, so I’d carry it away from the pet store and into Ikea.

Don’t worry, though.  I single-handedly prevented the avian invasion of Sweden by yelping and jumping, and then making high-pitched squeaking noises until a shop assistant took the bird away.

Some particularly evil birds

An emu gazes at the camera. Its eyes are empty, its gaze hollow.

Seconds after this picture was taken, the photographer was murdered in cold blood by the emu. I expect.

Bird apologists will tell you that emus are just inquisitive birds whose habit of pecking at anything they find interesting is easily mistaken for aggression.  THAT IS A LIE.  And even if it was true, what do emus even need to be curious about?!  Are they the intelligence-gathering vanguard of an invasion?

Simplistic pixel art depicting a bird.

Even pixellated birds are evil.

Okay, yes, Flappy Bird went from “explosive meme” to “old meme” in, like, three days.  This monstrous game was basically unwinnable, and if anyone tells you otherwise, they are a sneaky bird appeaser.  Now it’s come out that some of the knock-offs contain malware.  So that’s great.  Please hold while I delete some stuff from my phone…

The main birds of Angry Birds. They look contemplative. I don't know why.

Some of these birds don’t even look angry!

While we’re on the subject of birds that make people want to throw their smartphones…

Look, Angry Birds, I get it.  Pigs have stolen your eggs, and that makes you mad.  But then, you avian hypocrites, you send your hens off with explosive eggs!  To save your children, you must kill them!  You are well over the moral event horizon, birds.  Not to mention that it’s totally problematic how the hens are the weakest of you.  Let’s talk about the unexamined misogyny inherent in Angry Birds.  Let’s think about your bird privilege.  I’m calling you out on Tumblr as we speak, that’s how strongly I feel about this.

I’m not racist.  I don’t hate all birds.  Why, some of my best friends are birds!  Like that time my BFF jumped up on the futon and pretended to be a bird.  Although that was horrible.  She made her hands into talons and had the wild-eyed look of a person who would stop at nothing to get a reaction.  It was remarkably like that episode of The Carrie Diaries where Freema Agyeman’s character mixes ecstasy and LSD and hallucinates that she’s a bird, only it happened eight years earlier and my BFF isn’t Freema Agyeman.

Freema Agyeman, looking divine yet somehow evil, wearing feathers - it's a high fashion Hallowe'en costume.

But here’s a picture of Freema from that episode anyway.

Anyway, the point was, I don’t hate all birdkind.

Here are some birds which aren’t terrible

Big Bird! Looking happy and waving.

I especially enjoy it when he roller skates.

Look, I’m not a monster. How could anyone hate Big Bird?

Although I do find it troubling that he’s basically a giant four year old running around Sesame Street without a guardian.

I’m in favour of Muppet birds generally, as a matter of fact, because all the evil of birds is concentrated in Sam the Eagle, and he’s really not around that much.  However, I do think Bert needs a better hobby than pigeons.  Paperclips are where it’s at, Bert!

Mo Willems' The Pigeon waves at the reader.

‘Sup.

The Pigeon is actually my very favourite bird ever.  I wouldn’t let him drive the bus, but I’d probably share my hot dog with him.

Two galahs, pink birds with grey wings, gaze at the camera. They look pretty mellow.

Look at these guys! How can you hate them?!

Galahs just crack me up.  I see them hanging around, all puffed up, like they’re some kind of credible bird, and they have no idea they’re basically the same colour as Barbie’s Dreamhouse.  No one takes you seriously, galahs.  But I like you, I guess.

IN CONCLUSION, birds are mostly evil, but some are okay.  If a bird has infiltrated your home in the guise of a pet, I recommend approaching it with caution, treating it with affection, but maintaining CONSTANT VIGILANCE so you’ll be ready when it turns against you.