Soundtrack to a year: my favourite songs of 2015

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One album will put baby Thomas to sleep: Tiny Ruins’ Brightly Painted One. Itunes says I played the album’s best song, “She’ll Be Coming Around,” seventy times in 2015, but it wasn’t counting all the times it played in the car at 4am in the pre-dawn dark as I looped around the deserted restaurant strip. It’s a soothing indie-folk album, beauty inflected with a wistfulness, never completely sad like so much music I listen to.

It was the year of the Orbweavers too, a quintessentially Melbourne duo (also indie-folk, I suppose), who don’t sing about predictable themes, but instead draw on stories from their city’s history. Their most recent album, Loom, is superb, but my favourite of theirs is probably “On My Way Home,” a catchy and poignant song.

  1. She’ll Be Coming Around – Tiny Ruins (NZ, 2014)
  2. On My Way Home – Orbweavers (Aust, 2009)
  3. Small Plane – Bill Callahan (US, 2013)
  4. Gypsy Candle – Giant Sand (US, 2015)
  5. My Least Favourite Life – Lera Lynn (US, 2015)
    the best thing about True Detective season 2.
  6. Got You Well – Gabrielle Papillion (Canada, 2015)
  7. Vacancy – Aisha Badru (US, 2015) – can you imagine if Sarah Blasko and Lisa Mitchell were the same person?
  8. Confession – Lotte Kestner (US, 2013)
    There’s a beautiful weariness to this song. “Sometimes the moment gets it right / I like the things you say when you drink”

  9. Black Notebook – Ane Brun (Norway, 2015)
  10. If I Could Tell You – Nev Cottee (Britain, 2015)

Film and television – my favourites in 2015

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Our firstborn, Thomas, came into the world in July, and, predictably, I have not been to the cinema since then. If I did go, I would probably fall asleep halfway through. But I’ve still seen some fine film and television this year. We signed up for Netflix to watch series 3 of House of Cards (good but not in my favourites list) and stayed with it for its convenience (the equivalent of a dozen paused DVDs at any time) and interesting range. It started with a well-chosen Australian selection, which I used as an education in some classics I’d missed; alas it hasn’t added many Australian titles since. I’ve reviewed a number of my favourite films, but none of the television series, so I’ll offer some comments on them.

Television

  1. Fargo, season 2 (US/Canada, 2015; SBS) – each episode is a near-perfect short feature film. The crime trappings are just a mode of investigating existence. It’s intelligent, funny, absurd, sometimes brutal. And if you haven’t seen season 1, it stands on its own. But watch season 1.
  2. Black Mirror (Brit, 2011-2013; Netflix) – these short films are extrapolations of our current culture, a couple of years into the future, and offer the most extraordinary critique of our lives today. It’s science fiction at its best.
  3. Toast of London, season 1 (Brit, 2013; SBS) – I cannot convey how bizarre this show is as it follows Steven Toast, the world’s second finest high-winds actor, around his improbable career on stage and film. To give one taste: his arch-enemy exacts revenge on Toast by pretending to be a plastic surgeon and turning a friend of a friend into a Bruce Forsyth look-alike, just to annoy Toast. And you know what he finds funny? He’s not even very annoyed. This will be a cult hit for decades to come but season 2 is not as good.
  4. The Americans, season 2 (US, 2014; DVD) – this is a small masterpiece of the drama and thriller genres, as deep undercover Soviet agents live out their suburban lives in the US of the early 1980s.
  5. Utopia, season 2 (Australia, 2015; ABC) – this satire is so perceptive about how offices function and the groupthink / buzz-words / box ticking which drives too much decision-making in the public service and politics.

 

Film

  1. Walkabout (Australia, 1971; Netflix)
  2. Wake in Fright (Australia, 1971; Netflix)
  3. Deep Water (Australia, 2012; ABC)
  4. Compliance (US, 2012; SBS)
  5. The Imitation Game (Brit, 2014; cinema)
  6. Far from the Madding Crowd (Brit, 2015; cinema)
  7. Wild (US, 2014; cinema)
  8. Foxcatcher (US, 2015; cinema)

My fiction top 5 for 2015

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1. The Illumination / Kevin Brockmeier (USA, 2011)

Andrew Hagan’s novel The Illuminations received a lot of attention this year; I haven’t read it even though my Kindle believes I should, but I did read Kevin Brockmeier’s very similarly titled novel from a few years ago. It’s set tomorrow when everyone’s pain suddenly becomes illuminated, and follows a number of interweaving stories. It shows the potential for speculative fiction to explore the meaning of life and it’s a beautifully strange story. My review

2. Crow’s Breath / John Kinsella (Australia, 2015)

John Kinsella’s short, intense stories are haunted and haunting. My review

3. The Privileges / Jonathan Dee (USA, 2010)

My favourite Jonathan Franzen novel of the year was by Jonathan Dee; it manages to be smart and funny and affecting all at once in chronicling the American rich.

4. Purity / Jonathan Franzen (USA, 2015)

Jonathan Franzen’s actual new novel was not far behind – I called it an  “engrossing and ambitious novel about idealism and marriage.” My review

5. The Book of Strange New Things / Michael Faber (Britain, 2014)

Perhaps this book has to make the top five because I’m still so unsure of what to make of it. A strange novel of religion, marriage and aliens. My review

I read as much non-fiction (mainly life writing) as fiction this year, and I’ll be posting my favourites on my other blog, A Biographer in Perth. What was your favourite work of fiction this year?

The childhood of Katharine Susannah Prichard in the new Westerly

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I first sent a submission to Westerly last century. It was 1999, and it was a poem about leaving home to move to Perth for uni. It came back rejected with a single word circled – I’d used “obstinately” instead of “ostensibly”. I felt a little mortified. There’s no room for getting a word wrong in poetry. (It wasn’t the only reason for its rejection, I’m sure.) Since then, I’ve racked up a couple more rejections – I think two short stories, one of which nearly made it. And now sixteen years later in a third genre – that of the biographical essay – I have finally appeared in the pages of Westerly. It’s the story of Katharine Susannah Prichard’s childhood, and it’s adapted from chapter two of my PhD. I’ve written about it over on my biographer blog.

A Biographer in Perth

Source: Westerly 60:2 – Westerly

My biography of the early years of Katharine Susannah Prichard is a couple of years from completion, but a modified version of chapter two has just been published in Westerly 60.2. My essay is called “‘The memory of a storm’: The Wild Oats of Han and the childhood of Katharine Susannah Prichard, 1887 to 1895.”

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The Fur, Nathan Hobby

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My blogging neighbour, Bill, at The Australian Legend has reviewed my novel The Fur – a nice surprise this many years on.

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WP_20151111_002I follow Nathan’s blog A Biographer in Perth and thought I would check out his maiden novel of a few years ago now, The Fur. It must be in stock in a warehouse somewhere as my no. 1 favourite bookseller, Crow Books (Victoria Park, WA), had no trouble getting it in for me.

Interestingly it doesn’t have a copyright page but I see in WikipediaThe Fur … is a science fiction novel by author Nathan Hobby, published in 2004 after winning the 2002 T. A. G. Hungerford Award for unpublished new writers.” I would further categorise it as for Young Adults, probably 16 and over.

I assume Nathan is from ‘down south’, as the setting for the novel is first Collie, in the jarrah forested hills south of Perth, then the provincial city of Bunbury on the coast, and finally Murdoch Uni in Perth’s southern suburbs.

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The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

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In Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things (2014), a minister named Peter is sent to a distant planet, Oasis, as a missionary to humanoid aliens – the Oasans. The drama on the planet is muted – a proportion of the Oasans have become committed “Jesus Lovers” and require only pastoring and preaching; Peter’s job is not the stuff of nineteenth-century missionary adventure books in which the bearer of God’s word must endure cannibals. Life for the humans on Oasis is a little boring but not particularly dangerous or terrible. Yet Peter can communicate with his wife, Bea, through a kind of email system and from her he learns of the growing tide of disasters besetting his home planet. As the Earth fall apart, he feels disconnected from it and from his wife. Continue reading

Walkabout: my favourite film of the year

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It’s incredible that two of the greatest Australian films – Walkabout and Wake in Fright – were both released in 1971. What a year it must have been, for those who were alive and cinema-goers. Both films are ambitious explorations of Australian identity directed by non-Australians. I watched Walkabout for the first time this week after watching Wake in Fright last month. Walkabout is truly astonishing, a film that is visually captivating, engrossing as a narrative, complex, and still so fresh over forty years later. Continue reading