Category Archives: TV and Movie Links

Snobs, the Canape Set and the Dummy Spit

Cindy Fazzi’s recent post “Six Signs of a Literary Snob” here reminded me of the vehement debate around the effects of cliques formed around creative writing courses and literary journals in Australia which erupted in 2016 and resulted in a wild outburst from a young Australian author in that revered Melbourne literary journal Meanjin. Luke Carman has runs on the board. He has published short fiction in local journals (HEAT, Westside, Cultural Studies Review) and has been on the shortlist for a few recent prizes. He has published a book of short stories (An Elegant Young Man) and tutors in creative writing at the University of Western Sydney… but there are two strikes straight away. Short stories are considered somehow mildly deplorable and definitely not a mark of “real” literature, and Western Sydney – which means anywhere between Ashfield and Wentworth Falls – is by definition not a site from which worthwhile literary forms could possibly emerge.

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Luke spat the dummy in a big way. He said that Australian literary endeavour had been infiltrated by “wannabes” who were “dictating terms for an artform to which they contribute nothing but their lordly presence”. Luke was taking on the prevalent literary snobbery in Australia which seems to be flourishing more vigorously than ever, especially regarding the books that agents and publishers are permitting past the starting gate, and in the award of literary prizes and other marks of distinction.

Cindy’s go-to list for the literary snob:

  1. Reads only literary fiction; absolutely no commercial genres for this reader.
  2. Refuses to read self-published books.
  3. Refuses to read any best seller, even if it’s literary.
  4. Doesn’t like to read feel-good books or happy endings. The more depressing a book, the better for this reader.
  5. Doesn’t like to read “easy” books. The more incomprehensible, the better.
  6. Won’t read a novel published after a certain decade or period (e.g., nothing after the 1960s or after 19th century, etc.)

This fits the Australian scene perfectly, except for #6. The literary world here is mainly devoted to recently published works from authors who have already made their mark on the Ozlit scene. Debut authors need to have come through a Creative Writing program in one of the main universities and consequently enjoyed Fellowships and residencies in prestigious programs. They are usually championed by an important figure, preferably a famous writer, who refers them on to agents and publishers. Agents and publishers want books whose themes resonate with the current cultural obsessions – indigenous dispossession, gender-based suffering, migrant disaffection, the struggles of the repentant drug addict – and have no interest in books which engage the general popular audience, those which sell well because of their exciting plots and “easy” writing. As for the happy ending, who could take that seriously?

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A great example is the spectacular but largely culturally invisible writing career of Sydney author Liane Moriarty, recently dubbed “the most successful Australian author you’ve never heard of”. I came across her work entirely by accident, wandering about on Kindle as I do most nights, exploring new things to read. I couldn’t believe it. Here was a woman writer, offering great fiction about a Sydney I knew, so recognisable, real places and real (often horrible) Sydney people! I loved the first of her books and then bought and read all of them in quick succession. Now she can’t write fast enough to meet her reader’s demands. This is a writer who has sold six million books around the world. Her books are hardly light-weight. They address the dark side of Sydney suburban life in a way never written about before. Her endings aren’t “happy” although they aren’t necessarily tragic either. They are well-written, lovingly crafted and you can’t put them down. Now Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon are starring in the movie adaptation of her smash-hit “Big Little Lies”. Oh, OK, there’s the problem right there! She is successful! People want to read her books! She’s sold the film rights! And she’s writing about Sydney suburbia. Not good among the Melbourne establishment which pretty much dominates the literary scene these days, or so everyone seems to agree.

 

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Meek and mild Luke Carman

So what about Luke Carman? He’s writing about Sydney too, but it’s a Sydney even Liane Moriarty’s fans won’t know much about. Set largely in his home-suburb of Liverpool, the characters in his stories reflect the turbulent and sometimes bizarre reality of contemporary life for the young in Western Sydney. They are addicts, poets, people who see ghosts, Lebbos, Grubby Boys, scumbag Aussies. His alter-ego writer loves Whitman and Kerouac and Leonard Cohen. The book is full of energy, edgy street-scenes and local voices, really INTENSE as the younger generation say. I loved his book, published by Giramondo, which  is a pretty respectable local publisher, and wondered what had led to his “spray” in Meanjin here. It’s a wonderful but complicated essay, full of rage and bile. Many would join me in saying, “Luke, I feel you”.

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Luke Carman in full flight

Without doubt the Australian literary scene is self-referential and highly conservative. Obsessed with its own preservation, denying the validity of the e-book, loathing self-publishing, there seems to be in a kind of retro-neo-colonial suspension going on here. New forms of expression and new kinds of stories are ignored or, more accurately, not even recognised.

The overlap and interplay between visual and written culture is at an exciting place. As long-form television is replacing the standard movie, new strategies of writing (the long-form literary equivalent, as practiced by Knausgaard for example) opens up a new trajectory reminiscent of Proust. Screen-writers write fiction and turn their fictions back into television series – thinking here of that fabulous 2016 series Good Behaviour – and “books” can be as long or as short as writers like and readers enjoy.

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It’s become a terrible struggle for the conventional author trying to get “the book” published in print. The e-alternative is terrible as well, especially trying to find a market with the five million books now available online. But writers can’t help themselves, they like to write, and readers like to read, it’s a question of finding new ways for them to get together. The canapés and champagne Harbourside set may still be seeking their Bourdieuan distinction, but there is a lot more to the writing scene now, thank goodness!

 

 

Would you want to be published by these people? Farewell to faux-Knausgaard …and what about his wife?

I suppose it is ethically dangerous, or at least raises certain issues, to introduce characters in a TV series who are so obviously based on “real people”. The super-famous Swedish writer who appeared on Younger, clearly based on Karl Ove Knausgaard, didn’t look like him and didn’t behave like him, or at least the version of him one can deduce from reading his books and watching his Youtube videos here or here. He is an altogether smoother, yet somehow more smarmy character. Did Kelsey just go for him because he was so famous?

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Kelsey and the Swedish writer

Introducing his wife to the narrative was an interesting move, as a way of getting rid of him from the plot. They made her out to be old-looking, skinny and hysterical.  The real Mrs Knausgaard, Linda, is something else altogether.

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Linda Bostrom Knausgaard
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Linda and Karl Ove

She has written her own book, Welcome to America (but it is only in Swedish, no translation so far) and the only interview with her I could find was also in Swedish, without subtitles, here.  Wow! I really want to read this book. I love books written by authors’ (and artists’) wives. One of the weirdest is the book written by French ultrabad-boy Michel Houllebecq’s mother – another post on that shortly.

In “Younger” the Swedish writer’s fling  with Kelsey, one of the main girl-publisher characters in the series, is brought to a decisive end by the major tanty Mrs. False-Knausgaard  put on in a restaurant, even though she got it wrong and thought it was our heroine Liza who was doing the dirty deed- and exit stage left for both of them. Poor Kelsey was left with that hideously boring and repulsive Thad. It was a bit amusing when she decided to buy him a super-expensive (and ugly) watch as a kind of “I’m sorry” present, and even more amusing when she decided not to give it to him but he gave her a super-expensive bracelet which she oohed and aahed over until she grasped what it mean … that he’d been having a bit on the side too, although in his case it was with a lap-dancer. Much tackier than a tasteful Swedish author.

Still, it was a shame to see these character go. At least he seemingly wrote real and engaging literature, something the readers could really get into. And it would have been such a great sub-plot if the girls had discovered his wife wrote books too, and decided to publish hers instead of his.  Dream on … that is a step way too far for a popular US TV series.

The books the girls have been trying to deal with since have been less and less worthwhile. One, the plot of which covered intergenerational trauma, turned out to be completely plagiarised by a lady writer desperate to be published, no matter how, and after that the books have got worse and worse, the highpoint of tacky being the “list” of 69 things women supposedly think about when performing a certain deeply subordinate sexual act on men. Yuck! Why would Kelsey have championed that book?

For any frustrated and confused writer who can’t understand why they can’t find a traditional publisher for their work, this series is a godsend. How could anybody want to be published by people like these? If this is the publishing industry, no wonder actual writers can’t get published.

Women in publishing and faux-Knausgaard on “Younger”

INSPIRE YOUR OWN LIFE: BE WHOEVER YOU WANT TO BE! DROP FIFTEEN YEARS AND WORK IN PUBLISHING!

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Thanks to my new exposure to streaming television (thanks,  Stan) I have just started watching a  program about women in the publishing world, “Younger”. The premise is a bit like Suits for Girls: a forty year old woman who used to be in publishing (trad-pub old-style) has been out of the workforce raising her daughter and now wants back in. Ha-Ha. Forget it. Too old! No credits for child-raising or good sense. So she has to pretend she is in her twenties and become a Millenial. Luckily she has great skin and a fabulous figure, with only a few dodgy emergent crows-feet which she can put down to her entirely fake years volunteering  among the despbelieved-she-coulderate and impoverished  in India.
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She spins a new identity: long streaked hair, pull-on beanies, short skirts, high boots… you follow. She gets a fake ID and claims she finished an English degree at Dartford or somewhere then spent four years volunteering and writing a novel.  This is a wholly acceptable cv. Yes!!! She gets a job for a horrible mean lady publisher, also in her forties – a kind of Meryl Streep /Anna Wintour but showing it. Liza (our heroine) has to keep up the pretence that she’s young but it’s so HAAARD! Especially when the workmates see the decorations on her lady garden in the gym ( the grey bush which she quickly trades for a landing-strip) and she’s being pursued by a super hot tattoo artist guy who says he “likes things that are old”. He’s referring to vinyl records but we know it’s really old ladies like Liza.

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Well, the point of the story here is that one of her associates wants to sign up the newest hottest literary writer: they make him a relatively smooth well-dressed Swede but there’s no mistaking he’s meant to be Knausgaard.  swedish-writerim-your-editor

 

 

 

 

It’s a shame they didn’t make him even more like Knausgaard, would have been lots more room for hilarious comedy.

Haven’t got past Episode Three yet so I don’t know what’s going to happen.  Who knows, maybe Elena Ferrante will be next cab off the New York rank for our “Younger” heroine. But it’s a wry and knowing reflection on the idiocies of the contemporary publishing world. Great script so far.