The brick apartment block where I live has a set of stairs and despite their mildly bleak nature, I like them because they lead to a space that is temporarily mine. They are made of stained concrete slats and the gap between each step draws my eyes downwards. I sneak looks into the downstairs apartments through the safety of the slats, observing my neighbours’ dirty clothes strewn across the floor, dusty knick-knacks, the flickering of a television screen, a low wooden coffee table, an unhealthy potplant.
The way in which Polites has readied himself to write the novel could explain his exquisitely understated, tight prose. He disappears briefly, returning with a shoebox packed with loose sheets and slips of paper. There were hundreds of individual pieces, some scribbled on receipts, others on torn scraps of lined exercise books, and everything in between – clearly the first writable material, snatched whenever inspiration has abruptly taken him. He gestures to the nearest wall. ‘I’ll arrange them all there, and then I’ll cut them into a story. The one for Down The Hume filled up the whole wall. Like literally a satellite map. There’s a narrative underneath all that, and that forms.’
Likely best known for his 1982 novel Schindler’s Ark, which was later adapted into Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning Schindler’s List, Thomas Keneally has been penning a crime thriller series set within Australia’s formative colonial years. Collaborating with his daughter, journalist Meg Keneally, the author has seamlessly blended his encyclopaedic knowledge of our convict forefathers with Meg’s ‘sharp, journalist mind’ to craft the world of the titular Hugh Monsarrat, the Keneallys’ answer to Sherlock Holmes.
The benefits of women taking and using their authentic voices to tell their stories from a place of authority are far-reaching and largely very positive. But when we box women writers into a selective space that disallows exploration of themes, subjects, and topics outside of memoir, we open the door to women writers only to shut them into the foyer.
Some days I wake up as Kafka waking
up as a man up as a son up as a bug
up as a country, which though changed
into some unrecognisable scurrying,
idles in the space it grew up in
unable to leave and with no one
willing to kill it, or look it in the eye
or caress one of its long antennae.
Some days all I hear is the hateful buzz
of its sweet luminous wings.
Beginning, or just bad, memoirists often try to present themselves as ‘likeable’. Yet the more conflicted and honest about our flaws we are on the page, the more likely our stories are to appeal to readers. The most important thing is not to shy away from putting on the paper all those things we often hide in social interactions – those quirks that are unmistakably ours, the hidden thoughts and eccentricities that set us apart and show our most fundamental dilemmas.
Davis has been called, dismissively, ‘a writer’s writer’s writer’, which gives the impression that her work exists somewhere on the ethereal edges of what can be enjoyed by the average person. It’s true that Davis’s prose is often very close to poetry in its meticulous attention to the verbal. But to dismiss this kind of writing as gratuitously abstruse, available only to other writers, is to ignore the true gift that Davis gives us in her work: the gift of noticing, or ‘vigilance’, as one of her Booker-prize judges called it.
While houseplant culture is structured, in some ways, around highly conspicuous consumption (of pre-arranged pairings of designer pots and plants, sold at a suitable premium) and the chasing of trends, plants themselves can never be compelled to hold meaning in the way that man-made objects do. In a global marketplace teeming with functional alternatives, Warby Parker glasses or Nike sneakers or Gorman dresses gain, and threaten to lose, their cachet primarily based on what they signify – they are, as Patterson would put it, ‘complicated by questions of style’. Natural objects can never entirely fall in or out of fashion, in part because their forms both predate and will outlast us, and in part because they were never created ‘for’ us in the first place.