Nagaland by Ben Doherty

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Reviewed by Norrie Sanders

The Indian subcontinent has been ploughing its way into Asia for the last 40 million years and has delivered the highest mountain range on earth. The eastern extremity of this mighty arc of rock shelters the tiny Indian state of Nagaland. For perhaps a millennium, the Naga people have lived astride the mountainous border of Burma and India. No-one knows where they migrated from, but their heritage has more in common with South East Asian tribes than those of India.

Despite the “Nagaland” title, there is no attempt to outdo Wikipedia with detail about the state and its people. Rather, it is the personal journey of one man – Augustine Shimray – from his earliest memories until early adulthood. Billed as a novel, it deliberately blends fact with legend.

Family is the focus of the early part of the book and remains a theme to the last page – though often emerging in unexpected ways. Augustine and his younger brother and sister live a simple life where money can be scarce, but with a resourceful mother who always seems to make a living against the odds. Their father is a great storyteller and hunter – solid Naga qualities – but succumbs to addiction and his descent has a profound effect on all their lives.

As an adolescent and young adult, Augustine’s village upbringing is sharply contrasted to his life in two Nagaland cities and later, the remote and teeming conurbation that is Delhi.  On the way, we see tantalising snippets of the landscapes and the cities, but Augustine’s world, in this book, is about relationships. There are many good times and many good people, but violence and verbal abuse are never far away from him – with serious conflict amongst the Naga and serious racism in the big city.

Running parallel to the main narrative of Augustine’s growth is a second story.  A love story. Rendered in a different font which helps to frame its dreamlike quality, it is both a physical journey through time and space as well as a spiritual journey steeped in legend and love. Ben Doherty recently wrote in the Guardian that, “I came to accept Augustine’s stories as truth. I came to believe in their belief. And I came to know this: one worldview is not more valid than another; one community’s fables and legends are no more unreal than another’s.”

Both threads of the novel end at a point in time where new journeys are about to begin. The skill of the writing is that both stories are rendered as versions of truth. The intertwining of mythology and history is a deliberate conceit of the book. Not only do the characters relate some of the ancient Naga stories, but they act them out. In the end there is no distinction.

The Great Indian Hornbill that adorns the cover is a recurring symbol in the stories. It is large and colourful, prized for its feathers and steeped in spiritual meaning for the Naga people. Like them, this species inhabits only a tiny part of north western India and is more at home in the steamy mountain forests of south east Asia than the dry plains of the subcontinent.

To live in Nagaland is to live in a culture distinct from anywhere else in India, amongst a people who struggle to identify with India and have seen their hopes for independence repeatedly dashed. The Naga people dominate ethnically, but even in their home state, they are anything but dominant politically, economically and socially.

“…every Friday afternoon they studied Indian History. It was always called that – Indian History – a far-off place as well as a far-off time. …….But the ‘Indian’ heroes Augustine learned about at school, the ‘Father of the Nation’ Mahatma Gandhi, the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the ‘untouchable’ Dr Ambedkar, didn’t look like him, or anyone he knew.”

Augustine’s own people contain both his friends and his enemies. Even inside Nagaland, invisible borders guard cultural traditions and tribes can be fiercely protective. The Naga independence movement is at once uniting and divisive, with bloodshed the tragic result. But tribal traditions are deep-rooted and ultimately, of greater moment. As Augustine looks across to a neighbouring village where his soul-mate lives:

“From this distance the two places appear almost identical, to outsiders, perhaps two neighbourhoods of the same community, two halves of the same whole. If only it were so. The river separates his home from hers. It was the river that brought them together, the river that kept them apart.” 

As we come to understand, these invisible borders are inviolable and transgressors are punished.

The theme of being an outsider within one’s own land as well as within the lands of others is pervasive. When Augustine determines to have a traditional face tattoo, even his less-worldly brother warns of the consequences in a city like Delhi:

“’People will stare. No one has tattoos on their face anymore. Even back home, it’s only the very old people, and they will be gone soon. People here stare at you already, and you hate that.’

‘That’s why I should do it. People stare at me already, so why don’t I just be who I am. I’m proud to be Naga. Why should I be ashamed?’”

Ben Doherty’s debut novel is a polished piece. He may have limited book writing experience, but writing about foreign lands is his forte. He has worked for several global news organisations and has been awarded for the quality of his pieces. His focus on migration and refugees has brought a practised eye to the issues faced by Augustine as an immigrant in his own country.

Augustine’s story is unique, but it has many universal elements – love of parents and family, racism against minorities, addiction, poverty, tribal conflicts, freedom, tribal tradition and a sense of belonging. Most of all, it is about resilience in the face of many setbacks.

What is special about this book is the melding of reality, spiritualism and mythology into a thought-provoking voyage to a faraway world.

Nagaland

(2018)

By Ben Doherty

Wild Dingo Press

ISBN: 9780648066378

272pp; $29.95 (paperback)

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Origin Story: a Big History of Everything by David Christian

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Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Undoubtedly one of the most exciting books released this year with perhaps the most atrocious cover of the year. Buy the book and you’ll see what I mean about both contents and cover.

Following the successful streaming by Macquarie University of a Big History on Coursera it was inevitable that the book on which the telecast was based would be a winner. Consider the book in isolation from the series and the magic lingers. Even the telling of our story makes wonderful reading. Think about the prose in this short passage:

The storytellers are teaching history. They are telling stories about how our world was created by powerful forces and beings in the distant past….These are the ideas with long legs that can stay the course…The universe of the modern origin story is restless, dynamic, evolving, and huge…still under construction (7 – 10).

Origin Story is a tale of development. It uses what the author describes as Goldilocks conditions (areas not too hot, not too cold, just right) that allow growth to occur, and thresholds, key transition points where increasingly complex things appeared. But the numbers are vast and cannot be imagined so, in a very neat trick, David Christian provides a table in which the “real” figures are shown next to a column where the figures have been divided by one billion Hence Threshold One: the Big Bang occurred 13.8 billion years ago or 13 years 8 months ago depending on which column you read. Threshold Four: our sun and solar system formed at 4.5 billion years or 4 years 6 months ago.

There would be few who have no interest in when our story began and under what conditions. David Christian is not afraid of fitting snugly in confined spaces and tells us that our universe began “as a point smaller than an atom. How small is that?…it might help to know that you could squeeze a million atoms into the dot at the end of this sentence” (21). Another fine example of translation into dimensions his readers can grasp.

Apart from a Preface, an introduction, and a timeline, the book is divided into four arts. Part 1 called Cosmos tells of the beginning, the building of stars and galaxies, and molecules and moons. (and ‘moons’ you say? Read the book!) Part 2 examines Life in intriguing Little Life and the Biosphere and Big Life and the Biosphere. Christian likes these intriguing titles and I will not spoil his fun. Part 3 is simply called Us. Here be tales of humans, farming, agrarian civilizations, on the verge of today’s world, and the Anthropocene. Finally, Part 4 is The Future – where is it all going?

When you dip into Part 4 you might think as I did that we’re really a pretty smart species and must be heading on to bigger and better things. Well, I won’t tell you the details but, millions of years from now, we’re not going to be looking all that good. In fact, we won’t be looking at all as something will have turned out the sun. Let’s look at David Christian’s parting comment, party pooper? – maybe he is:

It will turn out that everything that seemed permanent in our universe was actually ephemeral. Maybe even space and time will turn out to be mere forms, mere wavelets in a larger multiverse. Entropy will have finally destroyed all structure and order.

At least in one universe. But perhaps there are more to get working on (305).

There’s a fine upbeat note on which to close this absolutely amazing book with the absolutely most awful-looking cover. Definitely one for the library shelves.

Origin Story: a Big History of Everything

(2018)

By David Christian

Allen Lane/Penguin

ISBN: 978-0-241-33837-7

$35.00; 368pp

Return to Roseglen by Helene Young

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Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

It is not often that the main character around which the story revolves is a nonagenarian but this is the case in Helene Young’s seventh novel Return to Roseglen.

Ivy Dunmore lives at Roseglen, a cattle property west of the Atherton Tableland, but doesn’t know how long she can cope on her own, even with the help of her younger neighbour, Mitch. Her only close family is a son, who Ivy suspects is taking advantage of her. Ivy may be ninety-three but she has learned a lot about running a cattle station over her lifetime and is determined to ensure that whoever replaces her at the property will have its best interests at heart. Ivy also has a secret which is beginning to weigh heavily.

Her two daughters have their own lives to live some distance away, however they return to Roseglen when they both reach a turning point in their lives much to Ivy’s delight. But how will the different personalities rub along?

Helene Young uses this family and their relationships to explore social issues which are rarely highlighted in popular literature. Themes in the novel embrace the impact of menopause, retirement and the fall-out from divorce on women’s wellbeing as well as elder abuse and the frustration of old age.

This is a novel about the women in this family and the strengths that they have acquired from Ivy as well as through their own experiences.

It is also a novel about love – not the feelings of passion accompanying first love but more about parental love, intergenerational love (children and grandchildren), tough love and indulgent love which can also be blind love until actions can no longer be ignored. There is also demonstrated the power of respectful non-family love, enduring love and the realisation that before some bridges can be mended the issue of self-love needs to be addressed.

Twenty- eight years as an airline captain in Australia and her visits to rural and remote places along with a fascination and interest in people and social issues have provided Helene Young with an insight which she aptly entwines into her novels, especially this novel Return to Roseglen.

In 2011 and 2012 she won the Romance Writers of Australia (RWA) Romantic Book of the Year Award. She was also voted most popular romantic suspense author by the Romance Readers of Australia (ARRA) in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015, and shortlisted for the same award in 2012.

I really enjoyed the honest way that the author treated the themes in this novel, from the frustration experienced by Ivy yet also her determination to do the right thing and how the strengths of each of the girls comes to the fore. “She’d grown up with tough love, or very little love, and that’s what she dished out to you two. And why was Lissie different?……Lissie isn’t you. She wants peace and quiet in her world, had no trouble showing her emotions……….you never wear your heart on your sleeve…..doesn’t mean that you don’t feel things deeply. You do. Maybe too deeply. Maybe you need to forgive yourself” (246-7).

This was a story about the strong women in one family and they are not alone.

After loss and devastation experienced by the characters they find the strength to carry on. “That’s what Mum would have done. Chip off the old block. The Dunmore girls are made of stern stuff. We’ll survive……Chin up, as Ivy used to tell us” (355).

This does not mean that there are no interesting male characters in the story. Ken, the son, is the main villain and sees everything in relation to how it can benefit him, even going so far as to try to destroy anything that might thwart his goals. But there are kind, considerate, loyal and honest men within the story line like Tom and Mitch who are both supportive and loyal friends to Ivy and her daughters. Mitch owns the property between Ivy and her son’s spread and often finds himself in physical conflict with Ken as he tries to protect Ivy from her manipulative son.

There is love, anger, hatred and feelings of powerlessness within this story just as there is in life and for me it ticked all the boxes for a very good read.

Return to Roseglen

(2018)

By Helene Young

Penguin Michael Joseph

ISBN: 978-0-14-378774-7

384pp; $32.99

Enjoying Retirement by Michael Longhurst

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Enjoying Retirement is the distillation of the thoughts of a genuine, highly qualified professional whose writing in the present instance demonstrates his commitment to the welfare of retirees. Michael Longhurst was a consultant psychologist before retirement who has based this particular book on his research with a sample of 200 retirees. We are told that he is an internationally published author and leading authority in the area of adjustment to retirement. I have seen no evidence of this unless the publicist is referring to articles published in journals with an international readership, to which Longhurst would contribute as part of his job. No books have been listed, but there is a reference to an earlier version of this book. What the publicist has written is of no real interest, however, since Michael Longhurst’s own writing establishes his high level of expertise as a psychologist.

The book is divided across an introduction and five sections together with two appendices. One of the great strengths of this book is the layout of the sections and of the chapters within sections. Let us take Section One, Chapter One as our exemplar. Other sections and chapters follow a similar construction. Section One begins with the conduct of the Retire 200 research culminating in the desirable outcome which is the focus of this section, Purposeful Activity. The aims of the chapter are defined, the term ‘purposeful activity’ is similarly defined, and this is followed by an exhaustive list of fifteen motivators to involvement in purposeful activities. These are listed and then treated separately in considerable detail. They are followed by ways to use purposeful activities to enrich lives, including what resources are available in the wider community, and there are case studies. Finally, a summary concludes the chapter.

The chapter is a clinical appraisal and presentation. It contains no diversions, is extremely easy for the layman to follow, and reflects great credit on its author. That Longhurst is a scientist is never in dispute. Each of the other chapters within sections follow similar patterns. Communicating effectively is one skill that Longhurst has mastered.

But then the wheels fall off the cart.

Section Two is on ‘maintaining and managing relationships’, 104 pages of it. Section Three deals with ‘maintaining your psychological fitness’ in 78 pages and Section Four provides 32 pages on the ‘impact of personality and the need to cross-skill’. These three segments take up 214 pages of a 300 page book. I question their relevance to retirees. In my experience retirees have no interest in rehearsing to be assertive (78), using the fog technique (82), developing an action statement from a written agreement by all parties involved in a conflict and its resolution (104), nor do any couples I know have the time or inclination to carry out a 180 degree check on shared values in their relationships with their partner. When presented in casual discussion with a group of retirees, the views were that DMTA and RET were mumbo-jumbo that might be something a psychologist would be interested in but not those with their feet on the ground. Perhaps a more balanced view might be that with a different audience these techniques might be quite sound, but for retirees, who feel they need no reminders, these techniques are out of place.

People ‘Enjoying’ their years of retirement are not much interested in the material that is explained so ably in Sections Two to Four. The book relies heavily on what Michael Longhurst calls Retire 200. The selection of the two hundred comprising the study leaves me uneasy. The sample was selected as follows:

Participants in the program were volunteers who were recruited to the research via radio and the print media, and from notices on bulletin boards of retirement organisations (xvii).

As I read this, the participants took the initiative to put themselves forward i.e. the sample was not generated at random at all but was comprised of motivated individuals. If this was the case (and no steps were put in place to find a normal or balanced subject base) then the results could not be justified as representative of the retirement population. Since I don’t dispute the reported findings, I must assume that Longhurst took steps to randomize his sample.

One of the premier organization of retirees across the nation is U3A. According to the U3A Alliance, the national coordinating body, U3As were established as autonomous groups, with their own administration and curriculum according to the needs and interests of each group. There are now about 300 U3As in Australia, with about 100,000 members. The largest of these centre on Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, and on the Sunshine Coast (where the author resides). U3A Brisbane alone has 3700 members who attend 290 classes covering anything from foreign languages, computing and science to card playing, Qi-Gong and yoga. There are classes in literature, singing and drama. In most branches there are social committees who arrange visits to local attractions, movies and live performances, and cater for the social aspects of retirees’ lives. Furthermore, U3A Brisbane, having celebrated its thirty year history since its inaugural meeting in 1986, has documented its activities in a colour publication called Forever Learning. It seems reasonable that the author would (or should) have read this book if he was properly focused on retirement and the issues that interest retirees.

The U3A movement receives shoddy treatment in Longhurst’s publication. It gets a paragraph on page 33 and another on page 135. That is the full extent of the coverage of one of the largest adult organisations in the country. There is no mention of U3A Online, where a multitude of courses cater for learning within and outside metropolitan areas. Longhurst promotes purposeful activities; that is the focus of his book. How more purposeful can activities be than demonstrated in the U3A movement? Yet the U3A movement’s minimal coverage in Enjoying Retirement can only be seen as shoddy research or a deliberate decision taken to exclude U3A from consideration.

The book is thoroughly planned and presented. Its Section 5 on ‘managing money and avoiding traps’ is workmanlike and useful. However, the book suffers from irrelevancy and omission. I cannot recommend it for its given purpose.

Enjoying Retirement

(2018)

By Michael Longhurst

Hachette Australia

ISBN: 978-0-7336-3982-1

$22.99; 335pp

 

The Mystery of Sleep by Meir Kryger

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

The Mystery of Sleep is one of those books that the reader comes back to time and again to discover something new and enriching. It is a book that for most folk never becomes boring, but retains its freshness at each reading. Written by one of the leading lights in understanding the significance of sleep, “it usefully outlines the current state of knowledge of sleep science in humans” (Groopman). Meir Kryger is a professor in the Yale School of Medicine and chief editor of a very widely used sleep medicine textbook Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. He is recognised as a global authority on sleep.

In describing the different facets of sleep from birth to retirement and beyond, Kryger demonstrates a superior knowledge of his subject.  His book consists of four parts: One looks at sleep in the abstract, Two at identifying sleep problems, Three at ‘can’t sleep, can’t stay awake’, and Four at ways of getting help. Each section is a rigorous and comprehensive view.

The first part considers the reasons why we sleep at all, why we need sleep. These reasons are then considered  at various stages in the life cycle with particular focus on the reproductive years, pregnancy and post partum, and during menopause and andropause. Kryger admits at the outset that sleep study is so new (it began as a discipline in the 1970s) that the great learning curve is still ahead.  It seems acceptable that our sleep requirements are determined by our genetic blueprint and that without sleep, we die. It is speculated, or in some circles, accepted that we sleep to allow the removal of waste products from our brains, the conservation of energy, the restoration of important bodily functions and the repair of damaged tissues (5).

Kryger describes a wake gauge that indicates when we need to sleep. The wake gauge in the brain  measures the amount of a chemical called adenosine, which is involved in the transfer of energy in the body. The longer one remains awake the more concentrated becomes the adenisone. A measure of good quality sleep is the extent to which a person awakes feeling fresh and anticipatory of the day ahead. Using a case study as a guide to the description that follows, Kryger develops ideas on the amount of sleep that is required at each stage of the life cycle.

Part Two elaborates upon the identification of whether individuals actually have a sleep problem. He considers how the patient might explain their problem so that the medical practitioner can understand what’s going on. He uses a case study of a tired man with cancer. In this case the man had complained of tiredness for two years, his doctor treating him for depression or ignoring his reported behaviours completely. Only when the wife insisted on clinical tests was it revealed that he had colon cancer.  This is a huge section that treats in detail the problems of the insomniac, the issues facing the partners of a non-sleeping individual, the night owl, the graveyard shift, travelling east and travelling west, and so on.

Part Three gives a comprehensive explanation of the medical conditions that affect sleep. These are complex issues that the expert attempts to describe in the language of the educated non-expert. He describes and explains, restless legs syndrome, sleep apnoea, narcolepsy, abnormal behaviour when dreaming , bruxism, and night sweats. He specialises in another chapter with specific relevance to Alzheimer’s Disease, headaches, Parkinson’s – all attributes of the nervous system. A similar comprehensive account of sleep issues associated with each of the body’s systems follows.

The final section, and for many the most valuable section, discusses the issue of getting help. When reading this particular area of the book I was struck with the notion that Kryger, knowing how critical, how important this section of the book is, had geared himself to giving of his best. He  reports on the necessity of seeking reputable people in which the patient can receive professional help. He writes of the types of sleep studies and clarifies what each type of study can and cannot do. He explains what to do and what to expect if a sleep problem is mooted. Another section  looks into cognitive therapy, sleep hygiene, and self-monitoring, and taking responsibility. Another chapter takes up the issue when pills need to be part of the treatment. Medical conditions that are treated with drugs are then identified and a brief, but adequate explanation of the drug in use and what to expect of it follows. He finishes with a neat summary that affirms the need in all of us for restful sleep.

The publication contains a bibliography of relevant studies written in plain English and an index.

This s a very impressive piece of work. Sleep is a very complex phenomenon and, just as he has done in a previous publication, Kryger reveals its secrets to an avid readership. A highly recommended explanation of the subject, sleep.

 

The Mystery of Sleep

(2017)

By Meir Kryger

Yale UP

ISBN: 978-0-300-23453-4

344pp; $32.99

To order a copy of Mystery of Sleep: Why a Good Night’s Rest Is Vital to a Better, Healthier Life at the Footprint Books Website with a 15% discount click here  or visit www.footprint.com.au

 

Please use discount voucher code BCLUB18 at the checkout to apply the discount.

 

 

A Ragbag of Tales and Verses by Ian Lipke

A Ragbag of Tales and Verses

Reviewed by Rod McLary

Short stories have a long history in the world of literature – in fact, they pre-date the novel.  As the novelist William Boyd – himself no mean short story writer – has said ‘short stories seem to answer something very deep in our nature as if … something special has been created’.  The origins of the short story are rooted in the history of oral storytelling dating back to the 14th century – a classic example is Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales which is essentially a collection of short stories within a larger frame.  Even at that time, the short story could be humorous or light-hearted but still well-crafted.  Short stories were always – and continue to be now – immensely popular.  In Britain, over 600,000 collections of short stories were sold in 2017.

These preliminary comments bring me now to A Ragbag of Tales and Verses.  In his foreword, the author Ian Lipke informs the reader that his collection of short stories and poems is the work of almost twenty years from when he was a member of an online short story group.  The stories are meant to be enjoyed.  While they can all certainly be enjoyed, some are serious with sad or – in a few stories – shocking or surprising endings.  Others are humorous and light-hearted.  Of course, in such a collection, developed over a period of time, some of the stories work better than others.

But, before looking at particular stories, it is worth noting that they are very Australian – in the best possible meaning of that expression.  They have a laconic and easy-going style which belies the challenges of crafting a story with engaging characters, a believable plot and a conclusion which in some way will bring the reader up short.  All this within a format significantly confined by its length. The author has largely achieved this in his collection of stories which can be dipped into and read at leisure.

The first story – Charlie – sets the tone for what follows as the reader progresses through the book.  The protagonist in the story is Bill – a tired and petulant traveller who is very fond of big-noting himself to anyone within earshot.  His long-suffering wife – Sheila [even her name is quintessentially Australian] – barely contains herself as she struggles to calm him and maintain the peace.  Inevitably, Bill is one of those people who believes he knows more than the locals.  Consequently, he meets Charlie.  The ending is one the reader can discover for her/himself.  Like all the best stories, tension is built progressively and, while the reader may guess at the ending, when it does come, it comes with a jolt!

One of the best stories is actually an extract from a longer work.  A Matter of Matrimony is taken from a novel by the author – Nargun.  It tells the story of two Indigenous people – Mangana and Nemale – from different mobs who meet by chance during tribal conflict.  There is an ease in the pacing of the story which admirably suits the context in which the story is set.  The cadence of the sentences is beautifully measured as this example demonstrates:

Soon, through the darkness, the massive slopes of Tibrogargan appeared illuminated against the evening sky, as steady as they had been for thousands of years, and Mangan knew that he and his fellow fugitive were almost home.  [107]

In keeping with the theme of the story, the reference to Tibrogargan – well-known to all South East Queenslanders – adds a frisson of recognition of country.

A second very good story is They’re only animals.  From the first sentences – Bernie O’Hare’s a decent bloke – for a cop.  Alright, I’m under arrest, but he had no choice – you know you are in for a treat.  The laconic Aussie humour of the writing sets the reader up for a shock conclusion.  It really is a destination well worth the journey.

The stories are not without the occasional ‘in house’ reference.  One character is named Miles Franklin – the reader can discover for her/himself in which story this character can be found.

Perhaps, there is only one story which does not quite come off.  Beryl strives a little too hard to achieve a surprise ending and ultimately disappoints.

But, as well as the short stories, there are a number of poems – poems which are written to be read aloud ‘with rhythm and rhyme very much present’.  To this reader, the poems appear to be much more personal than the stories and a number seem to have their origins in personal experience.  Others are humorous observations of life such as A Queensland summer

Three o’clock, get the kids,

Feed the offspring, sweaty lids,

Homework out, aaww, Mum!

Thermometer deceased at 4.01. [75].

Some are tinged with sadness and loss as in I remember

I will look for you as the days grow mild

searching all the while

I will hear your voice in the laugh of a child [58]

A particularly moving poem is Myall Creek and other massacres which begins with the sentence ‘When settlers stole the earth from our side’ [110].  In one sense, nothing more needs to be said about the experience of the First People.

Overall, A Ragbag of Tales and Verses [incidentally ‘ragbag’ is defined as ‘a motley assortment of things’] comfortably achieves what is meant to do.  That is, it brings together a collection of stories and poems which can be read independently of each other.  But, it is also a collection which can bring a smile to your face, ‘tears to your eyes’, and a sense of having spent well an afternoon or evening reading stories and poems which are each a snapshot in time.

Ending as we began, William Boyd said about the short story – and he could well have said it about these poems too – ‘for the duration of its telling, some temporary sense has been made’.

A Ragbag of Tales and Verses

[2018]

by Ian Lipke

InHouse Publishing

ISBN 978 1 925732 72 4

196pp; $20.00

Killer Instinct – Having a Mind for Murder by Donald Grant

Killer Instinct

Reviewed by Dr Kathleen Huxley

Note to Readers: When this book was reviewed it was taken at face value (as is any other book). We in no way support any unethical disclosure that has recently been associated with this work. The name …… that appears in the review is not known to us and is used only for the purpose of making a point.

This book is written by leading forensic psychiatrist Donald Grant, the first State Director of Forensic Psychiatry in Queensland and a member of the bench of the state’s unique Mental Health Court.  It is an interesting and insightful account of the workings of the murderous mind when considered by an eminent expert in the field. The book begins with reviews from distinguished individuals including Margaret McMurdo (past President of the Queensland Court of Appeal), Fiona Judd (Professorial Fellow in Psychiatry, University of Melbourne) and Julian Davis (forensic psychiatrist) who consider the book to be ‘an intriguing read’, ‘a painful, honest and unflinching account’, with ‘the authenticity of the authorial voice’. This is fitting praise for a book that so succinctly and professionally conducts a scientific examination that aims to understand the killer mind and the reasons why certain individuals embark upon murderous acts.   The writer tells us he is concerned not with ‘who did it’ but ‘why they did it’.

The Author’s Note at the start of the book prefaces a descriptive account of ten murder cases in which the author has been called upon to undertake psychiatric evaluations of the perpetrators. He reassures us in this note that ‘murder is a rare event’ the incidence in Australia being ‘around one for every 100,000 people’.

We are informed that the profile of the most common offender is a male between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five with the majority of murders occurring in cities more frequently than rural areas. Additionally, there are strong associations between murder and ‘domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, general criminality, gang activity, social instability and sometimes ethnicity’ whilst ‘two thirds occur in the home’, ‘the commonest weapon is a knife’ and ‘three quarters of offenders are caught and charged within a short time’.

Grant believes that the killer instinct is a primitive predisposition that exists in all of us, a theory that is supported by research and studies into early brain development in humans, observation of animal behaviour and evolutionary evidence. Fortunately for the majority of evolved humans, it has been established, that we have a brain structure and chemistry that allows us to harness our aggression, control our impulses and make intelligent decisions that allow us to protect ourselves by alternative means.

The ten case histories which are eloquently written about in the book present us with a diverse range of murders and offenders. There is a detailed clinical discussion of each case that concisely conjures up the acts, the scenes and the actors involved in them. Sadly, they are not staged or invented but are accounts of actual murders that have taken place in Queensland. Each report contains details of clinical interviews and formal assessments which paint a picture of the locations, histories, victims, offenders, motivations, events, families and friends, consequences and current location of the murderers in vivid detail.

The first narrative in the book describes the case involving the 1989 murder of Edward Baldock by Tracey Wigginton. Described sensationally by the press as the ‘Lesbian Vampire Killer’ Grant gives us a comprehensive account of the psychiatric examination of Tracey. He carefully traces the reasons, with history and supporting arguments, as to why she was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. The gruesome crime involved Tracey and her three friends luring Baldock into a car with the promise of sex and then frenziedly stabbing him 27 times nearly severing his head.

Solving the murder was fairly straightforward as a bank card belonging to Tracey was found in one of Edward’s shoes which lay beside his body. Her defence lawyers looked for a psychiatric defence and she was thought to be possibly suffering from multiple personality disorder as under hypnosis she was said to have revealed six different alters. However, during two long interviews undertaken by Grant for the court he found that ‘despite the awful content of her history, Tracey virtually showed no emotion; she shed no tears. The only sign of what might have been beneath the calm façade was anger in her voice describing her mistreatment by others, particularly her recent problems with Debbie. There was never any hint of psychotic symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations, either in the present or the past. I was intrigued, however, when she told me that she could not recall the name of the psychiatrist who has interviewed her at least sixty times but described the fact that his glasses were always dirty.’

From a clinical point of view the author tells us that ‘Tracey’s case was important as a legal precedent because it made clear statements about the status of dissociation and multiple personality when it comes to legal responsibility. It made clear that the whole person, not any alter, bears responsibility for a crime.’ Tracey served 23 years for her crime and is now back in society on strict parole.

The remaining nine depictions in the book are no less fascinating than the first and encompass a wide range of psychiatric conditions and murders with chapter titles including ‘The Devoted Son Who Murdered his Mother’, ‘A Dangerous Prisoner’ and a ‘Delusion of Love’. All of the case histories reveal in-depth portrayals that conjure up images of the alarming nature and complexity of a murder.

This book is a fascinating analysis of the diverse range of backgrounds and motivations that provoke one person to kill another. The accounts impress on us the importance mental health professionals place on the accused’s background factors, personality and context of the crime. It is a rare insight into the world of forensic psychiatry and how it probes and predicts human psychology and behaviour in a methodical, detailed and meticulous way. If the workings of the criminal mind of murderers and how they are assessed and observed interests you this book is a must. It is a highly readable, addictive and compelling snapshot of a world not many of us have the chance to hear or read about in our everyday lives.

Killer Instinct 

(2018)

by Donald Grant

Imprint: Melbourne University Press

ISBN: 9780522873597

AUD$34.99; 277pp

The Young Descartes: Nobility, Rumor and War by Harold J Cook

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Unfamiliar with the writings of Harold J Cook before I picked up The Young Descartes I had no preconceptions about what I would soon read. Cook’s mountain metaphor captured my attention as it explains the strategies for determining the events in the life of the young Descartes. Much remains unresearched and, in Cook’s view, we need to nose around in the foothills where newly discovered information of little value in isolation when placed alongside other evidence could lead to conclusions that supplement our current knowledge. In other words, since direct evidence of Descartes activities is difficult to find, the advancement of knowledge will have to rely on indirect evidence.

Cook notes that Descartes moved in a world that made judgments according to lineage, title, and office. Descartes’ family had those attributes and Descartes later gained an inheritance from his mother which gave him a title in his own right. His father had risen in government ranks and knew most of the leaders of France. Most of the young Descartes’ family identified with their father’s Brittany, Rene by contrast saw his mother’s Poitou as the province he called home. His mother’s family were among a dissatisfied group that called for a stronger and reformed monarchy, resulting in a distinct coldness in the relationship between Descartes and his father, which in turn was exacerbated by his father’s close identification with Cardinal Richelieu.

Cook makes a strong case for Descartes in his late teens “busying himself with rounds of visiting and socializing, and perhaps swordplay, looking for the main chance to attach himself to one of the groups around the great persons of the day” (52). As Cook points out, Descartes’s later work on the passions revealed his knowledge of the distinction to be drawn between authentic feeling and calculation. Society in France in the early seventeenth century could have a dangerous face. Most survived by serving a master. In this Descartes stood alone. He was particularly vulnerable because he had no powerful figure at his back.

However, Cook reveals the close friendship between Claude Mydorge, a royal judge who rose high in the king’s service. Mydorge is important to posterity, however, not so much for his administrative skills as for his ability to stimulate “a serious early interest in mathematics in his young companion” (57). A friendship developed also with Guez de Balzac, a lesser noble just as Descartes was, but a “helpful intermediary to the greats” (58).

Cook’s thesis holds up well in depicting who the young Descartes was by means of what he might have been. We have been slowly gathering evidence and expect to find Cook continuing to build a man of substance from pretty thin material. In 1618 or thereabouts Descartes lived among his friends, some of whom were libertines, spending days consulting with Mydorge and seeking patrons among the powerful. But, according to Cook, an account by the French biographer Baillet suggests that Descartes may have come close to Concini, a Marshal of France and second in power only to the queen. “It would not be the relationship of a lifetime for Descartes, but in politics, even a few months can be transformative” (67). It seems he took note of his friends’ warnings and stayed clear of Concini but continued seeking patronage of great nobles who were close to Marie de Medici and the young Louis. When Louis staged a coup to get rid of Concini, Descartes left France in haste.

It is excellent fun to follow the young Descartes through the intrigues of the French court in the time of Marie de Medici and her son Louis XIII.  The ministrations of Cook’s pen open up an intellectually intriguing world. More to the point Cook delivers a world that was treacherous and dangerous, a world characterised by murder and treachery. It is a vicious world as Cook’s description of the execution of the young comte  de Chalais shows all too clearly. Cardinal Richelieu’s brutality in his insatiable grasping for power and the rivalries between the Catholics and the Protestants are all here.

A new chapter examines the life of the young Descartes studying engineering with the Dutch. By the beginning of the seventeenth century war making had become a complex applied science (81). It relied on “the application of the latest technological devices and mathematical methods related to complex machines…to solve physical problems (81). Descartes’s encounter with engineering would have a profound effect on his thinking, for it was in consideration of a military puzzle, that he drew the conclusion that he should begin his own philosophy from his own first principles. It was as an engineer and mathematician that he met one of the most influential men in his life Isaac Beeckman, whom Descartes credited with a new way of thinking.

To note that Descartes left France following the young king’s coup is to realise how well and how quickly he could sniff out danger and take himself out of reach of his enemies. Clearly he travelled widely but for what purposes and to what locations are still not clear. Cook quotes Descartes’s own words to sum up his activities in the period between 1620 and 1625. Writing in his Discours Descartes is circumspect: travelling, visiting courts and armies, mixing with people of diverse temperaments and ranks, gathering various experiences, testing myself in the situation which fortune offered me, and at all times reflecting upon whatever came my way so as [to] derive profit from it” (Cook, 117 – 18). Cook is in no doubt that Descartes was a peripatetic traveller in the 1620s, possibly, or even most likely, in the employ of someone as yet unidentified. By 1630 Descartes based his activities in Paris, but little is known beyond this.

Cook shows very clearly how frustrating it must have been to pin Descartes down. He remarks, “But perhaps Baillet’s comment about how Descartes turned away from abstract contemplations to ‘the study of man’ meant that he was inevitably becoming involved with the factional positioning within France after all” (156)? He is not convinced. However, Cook is in agreement that Descartes by 1629 was an accomplished diplomat and soldier, an excellent mathematician and experimentalist, known to some of the great French aristocrats, and well known to both royal and papal officials (170). Cook shows that Descartes’s reasons for departing to the Netherlands and remaining there for twenty years are by no means confirmed.

The reasons for Descartes shifting to the Netherlands are at best speculative. Cook’s approach is authoritative but also laced with common sense. As the conjectures mount, Cook calls a halt. “Let us unpack the moment of his leaving” (190), he says. Cook comes to the conclusion that France was a most uncertain place, whereas in the Netherlands, ‘no poisoner of reputation or life awaited him” (194). Peace and quiet and personal safety allowed the young man to continue his studies. Descartes had investigated the foothills of Cook’s metaphor and was now ready to tackle the mountain itself. The final chapter is a masterly exposition of the life of the young Descartes. It is left to some other scholar to continue the journey.  Intriguing, to say the least.

The Young Descartes

(2018)

By Harold J. Cook

University of Chicago Press

ISBN: 978-0-226-46296-7

$64.00; 288pp

To order a copy of Young Descartes: Nobility, Rumor, and War at the Footprint Books Website with a 15% discount click here  or visitwww.footprint.com.au

Please use discount voucher code BCLUB18 at the checkout to apply the discount.

http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/Y/bo26059703.html

War Storm by Victoria Aveyard

Rise with the Dawn (Book 4 of the Red Queen Series)

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Victoria Aveyard must be feeling very pleased with her efforts of the past few years…if she’s not, I urge her to check her bank account. She should be pleased, not because of anything to do with cash reserves (that was just a throw-away line) but because she has captured huge chunks of the YA market with her Red Queen series of novels, and through their success established the Aveyard Empire.

To comment on Book 4: War Storm with any hope of success a reviewer needs to bring up the factual history from earlier books in the series. The audience is more than likely made up of fans who know all I am about to reveal. The fans will know at once that I have revealed little more than the bare bones of the plot to this point. Those readers who are not fans will find the revealed events completely inadequate and will no doubt borrow or buy the earlier volumes. All I am prepared to say at this point is to confirm Victoria Aveyard as a truly amazing writer.

Aveyard describes a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change. But then she begins working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power that could easily end Silver dominion over the Reds: for Mare can draw upon the heavens and conjure up lightning to do her bidding.

In a world of betrayal and lies, and fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers declare her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Scarlet (Red?) Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

Making her escape from the prince and friend who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind. She sets out on a recruiting drive, but then discovers that she is at grave risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat. Unhappy and unsure, Mare becomes a prisoner, powerless without her lightning, tormented by her mistakes. She lives at the mercy of a boy she once loved, a boy made of lies and betrayal, a boy named Maven.

Now a king, Maven continues weaving his web in an attempt to maintain control over his country – and his prisoner. Meanwhile, the remnants of the Red Rebellion continue organizing and expanding. As they prepare for war, no longer able to linger in the shadows, Cal, Maven’s older brother focuses his attention on getting Mare back.

Cal’s powerful Silver allies, alongside Mare and the Scarlet Guard, prove a formidable force. But Maven is driven by an obsession so deep, he will stop at nothing to have Mare as his own again, even if it means demolishing everything – and everyone – in his path.

This is the point at which War Storm continues the story.

War Storm does not disappoint. The story dies not diverge from the direction that was followed through Books 1 to 3. It unfolds logically until the final pages. The love stories are developed fully and played out to a sensible, realistic conclusion. It feels strange to report that there are love stories in a world built on hate and the attempted imposition of one person’s will on others. The most notable love story is that of Cal and Mare. Shakespeare’s Shrew has nothing on this pair, who take four large volumes to realise that loving means giving of oneself unreservedly. The number of false barriers and restrictions or parameters within which love is offered is frustrating to say the least. Even then one has to sacrifice an awful lot before the other can admit to love. Much more interesting is the relationship between Evangeline and Elane. Having to hide her affections for another woman from her scumbag father and very bit as hateful mother, Evangeline never fails to rise above the occasion. She is one of the great characters in the book.

Maven as the supreme villain never ever puts in anything but a stellar performance. He is unashamedly evil and his development through the four books is consistent. The reader is in no doubt that Maven is untrustworthy, sly, vicious and at most times murderous. His treatment of Mare whom he loves but cannot have is inspirational writing. His brother, by comparison, is vacillating and weak, but has the redeeming grace of not giving up on his villainous sibling when everybody else recognizes him for the murderer he is. There’s a little off-balance in this respect. Cal is a leader of men but his almost fatal flaw, his refusal to believe that Maven is no longer the brother he knew, puts others as well as himself at risk.

Victoria Aveyard’s imagination is vast. Its portrayal on paper is a masterpiece of the narrator’s craft. Shapeshifters, downright scary mind sifters, the Lakeland queen and princess who can call on water to drown whole armies, the vast numbers of characters with deadly skills that only they can master, Silent Stone…the panorama is breathtaking. Her landscapes and water worlds are real in the readers’ minds who never for a moment can put the books aside as just fiction, something made up.

This series was begun by a woman of twenty-four who had not long graduated with a creative writing degree from a major American university. This is a slip of a girl who slays giants. She will light up the literary world again and again.

War Storm

(2018)

By Victoria Aveyard

Orion/Hachette

ISBN: 978-1-4091-7880-4

$19.99; 672pp

The Making of Martin Sparrow by Peter Cochrane

The Making of Martin Sparrow

Reviewed by Rod McLary

Set in 1806 – a mere 18 years after the First Fleet landed in Botany Bay – this novel chronicles the activities of Martin Sparrow and a rag-tag collection of convicts, farmers, constables, prostitutes and hunters.  Martin holds leased farmland near the lower reaches of the Hawkesbury River.  He is heavily in debt and can see no way of paying what he owes.  Especially now after the Great Flood of March 1806 washed his holding into the sea.

The Hawkesbury region is the frontier of the embryonic New South Wales – where the lives of the men who populate it are ‘nasty, brutish and short’.  In the words of Thaddeus Cuff – a Constable and one of the area’s very few civilized men – ‘you want to see men at their worst, you follow the frontier’.

In this well-researched and well-written novel, the reader does exactly that.  Written in colonial vernacular, the novel describes day-to-day life in a colony populated by the overflow of criminals from England who are policed by men who are equally [and perhaps more] brutish and violent.

In setting the context for the novel, the author describes succinctly and movingly the day-to-day horrors existing in the colony.  The buying and selling of women as ‘wives’ which may well be illegal but is argued for by claiming that it is ‘custom’; the horrific punishments meted out to men who are considered to be of no intrinsic value by men who have themselves been brutalised; the ugly and demeaning manner in which the colonists speak of and act towards the First People – all are set out dispassionately and with an objectivity which in no way lessens the impact and horror.

Martin Sparrow – faced with a debt he can’t repay and as a lessee to land which has now ended up in the ocean – seriously considers escaping ‘the mean-hearted little world of the ridge and the river’.  However, Martin knows that he lacks mettle and panache and so needs to have someone to take him with them.  At the same time, two convicts, who have both mettle and panache, are planning an escape believing that, on the other side of the mountains, there exist –

the most beautiful grassy woodlands you are ever going to see, and way below, a small village, embosomed in a grove of tall trees by a most majestic river, flowing west, west as far as you can see, and small boats gliding the channels between little islands, and women, knee deep in the shallows, casting their nets. [71]

This imaginative vision of western New South Wales is based on an opinion expressed by no less a personage than Matthew Flinders who of course has not ever been there.  He is convinced though that the west is largely made up of a vast inland sea populated by whales.

After hearing this description and especially the reference to the women, Sparrow lets out ‘a deep sigh’ and immediately commits himself to the escape plan.  His decision sets in train a series of events which has as their purpose both the making of Martin and the describing of the brutality of life in a fledgling colony.

Thus, he sets off with his two convict companions to find their way to this idyllic world over the mountains.  However, there are obstacles everywhere not the least of which is a river which they cannot cross without a boat.  Taking advantage of a young boy – who coincidentally is the son of a magistrate – they borrow [steal] his boat.  Sadly, the boy dies an horrific death by bull shark.  This is simply the first of a series of brutal deaths most of which are at the hands of Martin as he begins to develop courage and fortitude in an attempt to win the heart of Beatrice Faa.  Bea [as she is called] is the discarded 17-year-old wife of a sealer and who may or may not have a family connection with the Chief Constable – Alister Mackie.  Bea is sold to a farmer largely to protect her against a worse fate if she was left in the town.

Martin has an affinity with the local First People which stands him in good stead as he traverses the mountains on his way to the ‘embosomed village’.  Along the way, after dispatching to their maker a number of escaped convicts, he rescues a young girl – Dot – who is held captive by a farmer and forced to be his ‘wife’.  This farmer also meets his just desserts at the hands of Martin.

There will be no spoiler informing the reader of this review of the fate of Martin.  However, in the concluding paragraphs, there is a foreshadowing of the impact of the growing colony on the First People.  Moowut’tin – an important character in the novel and a member of the First People – says while looking down at Martin and Bea walking westwards through the grassland –

Of his people he knew at once, not long ago, there was only themselves and others like them, and the edged world was theirs alone.  They were one and indivisible with their beginnings, with then and now, with earth and stone and tree and all living things … abiding [444]

In his Afterword, Peter Cochrane describes his book as ‘a work of fiction in which the documented past provides points of departure into an imagined world’.  Echoing Moowut’tin’s words above, the author makes the point – ‘the people of that hinterland [the so-called wilderness] were, in 1806, still sovereign in their retreats, unmet, as yet, by the creeping floodtide of white settlement’.  [453]

The Making of Martin Sparrow is a book well worth the reading.  Its language, the accuracy of its depiction of life in the colony, the tension created by Martin’s escape and its consequences all contribute to an excellent historical novel.

Peter Cochrane is a widely published historian and writer based in Sydney.  He is best known for his book Colonial Ambition: Foundations of Australian Democracy which in 2007 won the inaugural Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History and the Age Book of the Year.  His previous work of fiction was Governor Bligh and the Short Man.  He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

The Making of Martin Sparrow

[2018]

by Peter Cochrane

Penguin Random House

ISBN 978 0 670 07406 8

453pp; $32.99