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Archive for August 11th, 2010

Last week in Dublin, I interviewed Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap, which is long-listed for this year’s Booker Prize. The book follows the lives of eight characters – of various races, ethnicity and circumstance – in suburban Melbourne after a child is slapped (not by his parents) at a family barbecue. Tsiolkas was an engaging and thought-provoking interviewee  and the alloted word count simply didn’t run to including all the worthwhile things he had to say.

The novel, his fourth, has been hugely divisive. Some think it brilliant and relevant, others (like India Knight) dismiss it as “unbelievably misogynist”. It’s a book populated by cheating husbands, dysfunctional relationships and casual racism. Even the women refer to themselves as sluts. There is a lot of sex, much of it unfeeling, aggressive and there is an underlying tone of menace directed at several of the female characters. But it’s a book. And Tsiolkas is not a misogynist. He’s a sincere, intelligent, gay man who has been with his partner for 25 years. Do people automatically blur the lines between authorial reality and fictional viewpoint? Does writing about misogynist make him a de facto misogynist? (I don’t think it does). And why do so many people have such disparate views on the novel? Online, people have been quick to detract, even when they haven’t read it, because as Derek O’Connor writes in his 500 Words of Summer post on On the Record today:

Everybody knows that you don’t need to actually experience the art in question any more to have an opinion on it.

Have you read The Slap? Did you like it? Is it misogynistic?

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Shelf Life

There are many little things that would make my life better. Manageable hair. Better cycle lanes.  Working in an industry whose death wasn’t constantly being foretold by the media. But sometimes, I think that what I really need for inner peace are shelves. I dream of having a house lined in custom-made shelving, where chaos can be calmly catalogued.

Most of the shelves in my house are actually organised by author or subject. This one, in the sitting room, is completely randomly disorganised and, as you can see, double stacked. It's a complete mess. Disgraceful. I need more shelves!

Instead, I live in a house with random shelves in every room, ranging from Ikea Billy numbers to a 1940s glass-fronted book case-cum-writing-desk that once belonged to my great aunts. And that isn’t nearly enough for my and my husband’s vast collection of books, comics, magazines and albums. What I grandly call my study is full of teetering piles of the many book proofs I get sent every month. Despite the fact that I’m much more brutal than I used to be (I pass on or recycle nearly all the magazines I buy rather than keep them; I get rid of books I know I won’t read again – which, it has to be said, are mostly books I get sent for work), our house is still full of stuff that really needs a shelf of its own. Or about ten shelves.

Recently in the Observer, the great comedian Stewart Lee wrote evocatively of his dream of a perfectly shelved house, in which his vast collection of comics, albums and books could be stored. Oh, how I could relate. For, like Lee, I yearn for a house with a place for everything and everything in its place. Instead, I live in a house where at least some of the shelves look like the one I photographed for this post, ie an overstuffed mess.

There are many times when I’m relieved that my husband and I didn’t buy a house during the boom. But the one thing that makes me yearn for a house of our own is that I could, at last, line an entire room with built-in shelves, preferably painted white. Even when you’re long-term renting from an extremely generous and nice landlord, you can’t start installing built-in shelves. Or at least, if you do, you have to be aware that you’re not going to live there for the rest of your life and that some day you will have to move and probably leave those shelves behind (unless you buy a house with exactly the same-sized-and-proportioned rooms, which is frankly unlikely).

Thanks to Lee’s piece, I know that I’m not alone in my yearning for enough shelving. But how many of us are there? Do any of you readers dream of a world where no book is double stacked, and where albums are not squashed into boxes or stacked in yet more teetering piles?

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