Tara Calaby

writer, editor & phd candidate

Tag: drama

An Update: In More Ways Than One

Welcome to the new site. My old Blogspot site was beginning to look decidedly dated, so I’ve moved to a self-hosted WordPress site that hopefully looks a little better! Everything from the old site and my even older review site should now be available here, and I’ll be adding in some further (backdated) stuff over time.

I guess the biggest news is that I have officially graduated from my degree, so I’m now Tara Calaby M.Litt M.A. I was very pleased with my marks and am now investigating PhD programs, because I just really love study. In case it wasn’t blindingly obvious.

I’ve also had a story accepted into Solarwyrm Press’s upcoming anthology, Marked By Scorn, edited by Dominica Malcolm. Malcolm’s last anthology, the Aurealis Award finalist Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction was excellent, so I’m pleased to be a part of her next project.

I haven’t been writing, but I’ve been thinking a lot about writing. That counts, right? No?

Undertow and Shadows

undertowAKA: Finally, an update.

Firstly, Undertow is now officially launched and available for purchase on Amazon. My piece ‘Breath’, a historical ghost story, is one of twenty stories with links to the Gold Coast. I really like the cover art and am looking forward to getting my own copy so that I can read the other stories in the anthology.

Secondly, I have actually been doing some writing. Will wonders never, etc etc. It’s a short play of approximately 20-25 minutes, called ‘Shadows’. Comprising of three monologues about three women with three secrets, it was written to exploit the enclosed theatre spaces involved in The Container Festival at Monash University. Hopefully it’ll be produced there later this year under the direction of Ephiny Gale.

Review: Lord of the Flies

lordfliesI found this pretty disappointing, to be honest, and I’m not sure how much of that is due to it being a bit dated in the modern era of more explicit violence and horror and how much of it is just my own tastes. The thing is, I generally really appreciate it when things are left up to the reader to read between the lines and to understand, instead of be told, but here it felt more like unfinished plots and ideas. I needed to know more about why exactly the boys were on the island to accept it as the basic premise, I needed Simon’s story to be related in a clearer manner and I needed there to be more consistency when it came to the narrative. At times, there were chunks of purple prose thrust into the story as description, but at other times there was a coarseness to the narrative that indicated it was being told with the voices of its characters. To me, that meant that neither style entirely rang true.

I do believe, though, that part of the reason Lord of the Flies didn’t work for me was that its depiction of violence and the “beast” inside humankind just doesn’t scare the modern reader. It shies away from description when it talks of violence against humans, which is particularly interesting when the pig hunting is narrated with great relish. (I personally skipped those scenes, because I can’t deal with cruelty to animals, even in fiction.) We know the twins have been hurt, but we’re given no hint of how. I understand the boys’ unwillingness to think about what happened during the ‘dance’ after the fact but, for a modern reader, accustomed to graphic depictions of violence on the news, let alone in fiction, the dance itself is powerless. As for the inner beast, I wasn’t fully convinced by the book’s depiction of it. I personally needed a greater attention to the changing psychology of the characters. I wanted more of a journey, and I think that could have been achieved by narrowing the focus to fewer boys. (Also, when you have a large cast, naming characters Ralph, Roger and Robert is just plain confusing.)

I’m sad that Lord of the Flies was a bit ‘meh’ for me, because I’d always thought it sounded right up my alley – both as a reader and as a writer. Perhaps the true glimpse of human nature can be found in the fact that I needed it to be darker and more messed-up for it to work.

Review: Goodbye Tomorrow – Gloria D. Miklowitz

Goodbye Tomorrow book coverI enjoyed Goodbye Tomorrow when I first read it as a teenager. I knew a lot less about HIV and AIDS back then and I wasn’t so political a reader, so it was interesting to revisit the novel with an adult and modern perspective.

I think that Miklowitz had very good intentions when she wrote Goodbye Tomorrow, bringing the facts and emotions of AIDS to a young adult audience. In the end, however, the book lacks heart, and now feels extremely dated.

One difficulty is the fact that the novel is written from three different first person perspectives – those of Alex, his sister and his girlfriend. These perspectives change often and, while they do allow Miklowitz to show the reactions of different people to Alex’s diagnosis, they leave the reader feeling rather disconnected from the characters.

My greatest issue with Goodbye Tomorrow, however, was the way the novel deals with the connection between HIV/AIDS and homosexuality. There are far too many gay “jokes” here, and there’s no real justification for them. The overall moral of the novel seems to be that good people can get AIDS too – not just gay men and drug users – so it’s wrong to be prejudiced against people who suffer from the illness. There’s even a startling statement towards the end of the book about how it’s likely that fifty per cent of gay teachers (and, presumably, all gay men) are HIV positive.

Goodbye Tomorrow may have been ground-breaking and important in 1987, but unfortunately it hasn’t aged well. The way the novel represents homosexuality and the dated facts it conveys combine to make it a novel that is no longer relevant in 2012.

Review: Stolen – Lucy Christopher

Stolen book coverStolen is an extremely cleverly written book. It’s essentially a book about Stockholm Syndrome, written for a young adult audience, and its greatest feature is the way that Lucy Christopher takes the reader along on the same emotional ride experienced by protagonist Gemma. At the beginning of the book, Ty – her captor – comes across as creepy and unappealing but, as he reveals more of himself and more of the past that led them both to the Australian outback, he becomes a surprisingly sympathetic character. I never found him truly likeable, because there always remains something dangerous about him, but many other readers have been completely won over by the end of the novel. Manipulating one’s readers in such a fashion takes a lot of writing skill. Although Stolen has its faults, I came away from reading it with a healthy respect for the author’s talent. I love a book that can mess with my head.

As suggested above, however, Stolen isn’t flawless. At times, it feels over-long. There is a lot of description of the Australian outback and I’m not sure whether I’m just jaded to that, as someone who lives in Australia and has been fed images and romanticised perspectives of the outback all my life, or whether the description really does take over a little at times. For the first half of the book, I wasn’t very engaged at all. I kept reading because the premise interested me and the writing style is elegant and clever, but I wasn’t invested in the characters or their actions. I think the beginning of the change in Gemma’s attitude towards Ty also marked the beginning of my greater interest in the novel. Perhaps it was a case of my needing more movement in terms of character development and plot or perhaps it just comes down to me being in a more receptive mood by the time I reached the second half of the book. Either way, my near-indifference was not lasting and I definitely enjoyed the latter half of the novel and the book as a completed whole.

I think that’s really how Stolen should be assessed. Its power doesn’t lie in its characters or even in the artfully described and ever-present setting. The true power of Christopher’s work is its ability to draw its readers in and to make them feel a little of what Gemma is feeling. Her confusion became my confusion. And that’s the sign of a good author.

Review: Sons and Lovers – D.H. Lawrence

Sons and Lovers book coverI picked up Sons and Lovers as the next book to read from my 100 Books list, simply because I’m trying to cull my book collection at the moment, and years of hearing how much people dislike D.H. Lawrence – and this book in particular – led me to assume that I’d have a similar reaction. Really, I should’ve known better. After all, I like Conrad!

I find it fascinating that so many people have been bored senseless by Sons and Lovers, because I was interested and entertained from start to finish. It’s true that there is not a great deal of plot here. Rather, it’s a book that focuses on character and on family relationships. It’s slow-moving and slightly dreamy tale, and Lawrence holds his characters at something of a distance from the reader, but I was nonetheless ensnared very quickly in the piece.

Most of the characters here are awful. There are no genuinely likeable people amongst them. Annie is quite inoffensive and I found myself rather sympathetic to Walter Morel, despite his faults, possibly because of how keenly he was judged by his family for his lack of pseudo-middle-class airs. Or perhaps it’s just that Gertrude and Paul are just so utterly detestable that I feel a kind of solidarity with anyone they disdain. I feel a bit cruel saying so, given that Sons and Lovers is highly autobiographical, but Lawrence certainly didn’t represent himself in his best light when he took on the guise of Paul Morel. And I feel utterly sorry for Jessie Chambers, upon whom Miriam was based, because Miriam is portrayed with such disgust. Clara, too, is sneered at and the reader is left to wonder whether it is merely Paul Morel who has such a Madonna/Whore complex (to go with his Oedipus Complex), or whether that stemmed from Lawrence himself.

Despite the ghastly characters, however, I found Sons and Lovers itself thoroughly likeable. The writing is lovely – elegant but not overwrought – and I’m a big fan of these kinds of slow, intimate stories of family and human nature. I shall be very interested to see whether my enjoyment of Sons and Lovers extends to all of Lawrence’s work. In the meantime, this will not be joining the pile of books to give away!

Review: Free-Falling – Nicola Moriarty

Free-Falling book coverIf Nicola Moriarty’s surname sounds a little familiar, that’s because her sisters Liane and Jaclyn are also authors. With Free-Falling, Nicola makes her own writing debut – and it is one that shows that talent sometimes really does just run in a family!

Free-Falling is a novel about loss, first and foremost. However, it’s also about moving on from great loss, and about the convoluted, complicated journey that may entail. Due to its focus, this novel can be very hard to read at times. The first two chapters are particularly harrowing, as the joint protagonists experience the first short period of time after Andy’s death. For anyone who has experienced deep loss, there will be an uncomfortable level of identification with Belinda’s and Evelyn’s emotions – and lack thereof.

It’s an interesting technique to show grief from two perspectives that really only interesect at the book’s opening and close. For Belinda, there is the loss of an expected future along with the loss of her fiancé. For Evelyn, there is the realisation of lost opportunities and the gradual understanding of the changes wrought in her after the years-earlier loss of her husband, Andy’s father.

The rest of Free-Falling‘s cast slowly gathers as the book progresses. While Andy’s identical twin, James, remains a little undefined due to his being seen through Belinda’s and Evelyn’s eyes, Bazza definitely emerges as a likeable and sympathetic character. If anything, he’s a little bit too good to be true!

The greatest strength of Free-Falling, however, is how real it feels. Perhaps things tie in a little too neatly at times, and it is true that there is a level of near-melodrama to a couple of the events and developments, but the characters are very realistic, as are the emotions that they experience. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Belinda and Andy’s relationship is portrayed as being flawed. The glimpses that flashbacks afford of him explain Belinda’s love for him, while not making their love out to be something unique and perfect – and therefore unbelievable.

Free-Falling is a very solid debut and one that should establish Moriarty as a rising Australian author. Although focussed upon two women, it should resonate with anyone who has experienced loss and the conclusion allows for enough hope that the reader is not overwhelmed by the sometimes-depressing content. I look forward to seeing what Nicola Moriarty produces next.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

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