Susan Sheridan reviews 'The Innocent Reader: Reflections on reading and writing' by Debra Adelaide and 'Wild About Books: Essays on books and writing' by Michael Wilding
The Innocent Reader, Debra Adelaide’s collection of essays reflecting on the value of reading and the writing life, also works as a memoir. Part I, ‘Reading’, moves from childhood memories of her parents’ Reader’s Digest Condensed Books to discovering J.R.R. Tolkien and other books in the local library, and to the variable guidance of teachers at school and university. Its centrepiece is the powerful essay ‘No Endings No Endings No’, which juxtaposes the shock of discovering that her youngest child has cancer with her grief at the death of Thea Astley in 2004. The last words of Astley’s final novel, Drylands (1999) give this essay its title. Adelaide draws out the hope that they suggest as she tells how reading – aloud to her son in hospital, and to herself when he was too ill to listen – enabled her to survive this terrible time.... (read more)
In Tirra Lirra by the River, an elderly woman, Norah Porteou, returns to live in her childhood home in Brisbane after forty years as a ‘London Australian’. The house is empty, so is her life. Norah is a ‘woman whose name is of no consequence’. She is sensitive, vaguely artistic, slightly superior (‘Mother,’ she appeals in a childhood scene, ‘don’t let Grace call me Lady Muck.’) The novel consists of a review of her past, with interruptions from half-remembered neighbours offering curious and resentful help.... (read more)
Declarations of loathing for the other members of one’s species tend to be tedious in reality but hilarious in fiction. The characters in Michael Wilding’s latest novel repeatedly prove this point with their mock-serious diatribes against, among others, the habitués of Sydney coffee shops (‘black-clad, metal-pierced creatures’), the patrons of English pubs (‘maggots … a rabble’), ...