What We’ve Been Reading: November 1 Comment

What We’ve Been Reading: November


I jumped on the Tsiolkas bandwagon after reading three reviews that all used the word “masterpiece”. So my expectations for his new collection of short stories, Merciless Gods, were pretty damn high. The collection is an unruly sort of beast, including stories written across the last two decades. The prose is rough, in some places near clumsy, but unapologetically so. Tsiolkas is not a pretty writer. But that’s not the point. His characters are vivid, recognisably Australian, grappling with some kind of hurt and, generally, a need to be good. I’m not sure if this says more about me or the writing, but, the sex bits are invariably the best. What do you do when your senile dad gets a hard-on when you’re washing him down? What does it feel like to be sodomised by your alcoholic boyfriend on his kitchen floor? Tsiolkas answers questions that you never thought you wanted answers for.

I also just borrowed a copy of The Australian Ugliness — Robin Boyd’s scathing account of Australian design and mentality in the early 60s — which, coincidentally, includes a foreword from Tsiolkas. The two writers deal with remarkably similar sentiments; a desire to understand the opaque mass of Australian sensibility. The Tsiolkas introduction of Boyd’s book could easily apply to his own work when he writes, “[Boyd] proceeds to distil all my ambivalence, my hatred and love for something called Australia and a people called Australians … I recognise myself and I recognise my world in this book, all the ugliness and all the beauty”.    



Scripts, scripts, and more scripts…I’ve been getting into screenwriting lately so have spent a lot of time reading pdfs of some TV drama favorites like Big Love, first season Mad Men, True Detective, and the grim new HBO series The Leftovers. It’s actually really interesting to see how these familiar stories look on the page, stripped down to their most essential elements (i.e., dialogue, action, and setting description). If you’re someone who has trouble with dialogue or paring back your writing, I’d highly recommend checking out some scripts—they’re a great example of concise writing, and loads of them are available for free download from places like Simply Scripts.

I also read and loved Pamela Erens’ 2013 novel The Virgins early this month. Set in a Midwestern prep school in the late 70s/ early 80s, it’s a lush and melancholy story about rich kids in love. I’d recommend it to fans of The Secret History and The Virgin Suicides, as it definitely has a similar vibe.



I’m unashamedly a manga fan, and recognise that there are times when my brain doesn’t feel like reading amazing works of literature but instead wants book equivalent of a YouTube video.  Naruto is pretty excellent in that respect. It doesn’t challenge anything except occasionally your patience with a cocky dunce fox-spirit infested kid, and any romantic tension is dissipated through clumsy shape-shifting ninjutsu. Because yeah, most of the manga is fighting, but there are occasional depths. None of the protagonists have a happy family life (though this varies from having no parents, to having your brother kill your parents), and as the series progresses, these all play a powerful role in the growth of each character. Tension is built well, and the characters always seem to be just a little out of their depth, but in a way that is entertaining, and, to my fourteen year old self, inspiring.

  To know what is right and choose to ignore it, is the act of a coward.


  • Chloe Brien

    Sometimes I enjoy listening to audiobooks of books I’ve already read. It’s like hanging out with a familiar friend in a different setting. At the mo I’m listening to the audiobook of American Gods. The narrator has such a husky voice, which suits the mood of the book. It’s a bit weird when male voice actors say the dialogue of female characters — a bit like a Monty Python skit.

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