Memoir    Interview    Poetry    Fiction
Vana Manasiadis

Extracts from a Reading Journal, 2005

Sunday 13 March

I finished Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red on Friday and wished that I hadn’t. It was an amazing trip into a profoundly ‘sad and beautiful world’ (quote from band Sparklehorse). I think that this response is going to be very unacademic in the sense that it won’t include any quotes and reviews of specific parts. (If I was going to write such a response I would want/have to read the Autobiography two or five more times.) At this point I just want to try to express the profound effect the book had on my senses and the way it tugged at heart-strings – probably in the most nebulous and vague way imaginable.

Since reading it, I think of the colour red all the time (actually, see is more correct). I imagine the whole of Geryon’s red world and am baffled by the way Carson managed to create such a world without sounding repetitive – even though she repeated the word ‘red’ constantly. I can see the red monster, the red volcano, the red anger, red shame, red loneliness, red frustration, red passion, red heartbreak, red awkwardness. Everything about Geryon is red and dense and absorbing. Without flicking through the book, I remember the impression the image of Geryon’s mother straightening and hiding his wings before school had on me. (The first day at school is harrowing – was at least so for me – and then to have red wings to hide as well...)


Wednesday 1 June

So I suppose it’s winter then. And that the course is half-finished. And that I’m definitely not. But, I’ve been reading Rushdie’s collection of essays, Imaginary Homelands, and have been taken back to places I’d forgotten about, provoked into continuing ruminations on past, memory, exile, land, flux, plurality, fiction, ‘truth’.

Aside from questions to do with narrative voice (which are pig-headedly not going away), I’ve been thinking about form a lot. (Or, in Damien’s words, ‘the container’.) The question of form came up in my folio seminar. The prosy couplets seemed to work, as did the dialogues, but the form that I’d felt most at home in – short lined poetic stanzas – didn’t. Several in the class felt that the ‘Postcards’ section, so formed, didn’t succeed in expressing the (in my mind thoroughly mixed up) world of Vana and Vana’s kin. That in contrast to the other bits, the ‘Postcards’ stanzas were less fluid, more generic.

So the container then. Getting the container to fit the contents. (I keep thinking cake tin – too small and cake is squished, too big and cake has too much room.)

Enter Rushdie and a much needed return to why the flcuk I’m doing any of this.

In his first essay, ‘Imaginary Homelands’, Rushdie discusses the real, or not, homes we endeavour to (re)turn to. His focus is on emigrant writing, particularly Indian emigrant writing, more particularly his writing as an Indian emigrated to the UK. I could relate to it a whole lot, not having managed to reconcile my own parts yet – emigrant (child of emigrant) vs not (not an emigrant).

The essay opens with a description of a photograph of a house on the writer’s wall dated 1946 and a quote from an L P Hartley novel: ‘The past is a foreign country’. But Rushdie inverts this idea. He says instead that the photograph ‘reminds me that it’s the present that is foreign, and that the past is home, albeit a lost home in a lost city in the mists of lost time.’

Rushdie’s words made me think of the photographs I’ve responded to in my work. They are places I’ve been to somehow. They are not images of strange places that belong to someone else, my grandmother or others, they belong to me; or rather I belong to them, or rather, I make myself belong to them. Rushdie goes on to say that ‘exiles or emigrants or expatriates are haunted by some sense of loss’ and ‘some urge to reclaim’ but that they are not ultimately able to do this and so ‘create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands, Indias of the mind’.

Initially, I’d conceived of my folio as a kind of social history or documentary-style telling of an OE experience, with a bit of family stuff, perhaps rendered in chronological fashion, probably expressed in terms of causes and effects (eg Greek immigrant mother → daughter’s return to Greece), as backdrop. But I’ve come to understand that things are a hell of a lot messier than that – and that I hate linear time anyway, and that as I’ve said before, I am here but also there, I am me and also not. I like the idea Rushdie proceeds to – that the past is a country from which we have all emigrated, that as a result there is a certain cultural displacement, and ultimately a necessary acceptance of ‘the provisional nature of truths’ (and of History).

Rushdie goes on to discuss plurality and partiality. He says, ‘our identity is at once plural and partial. Sometimes we feel that we straddle two cultures; at other times that we fall between two stools.’ I guess I’m trying to articulate similar ideas in my own writing – in a more jumbled and less obvious way though. Plurality is the thing I’m most interested in exploring at the moment. The coexistence of lots of things – past, present, people. I’m sure displacement will importantly sneak in from time to time but perhaps not to take centre stage.

The next essay in the collection that I read was ‘On Palestinian Identity: A Conversation with Edward Said’. I was drawn to this, because I’m a fan of Said’s, because I belong to the Wellington Palestine Group, because having said that the idea of displacement etc will probably not dominate my writing, as a descendant of refugees what Said might say might concern me; might concern my writing. He also gave me some ideas for poems.

Said says that in the West, people have come to think of ‘exile as a primarily literary and bourgeois state’, that ‘exiles appear to have chosen a middle-class situation in which great thoughts can be thought’. This has made me think about my grandfather’s escape from Asia Minor and the new home he spent his life building in the refugee suburb of Athens. Said continues: ‘What happens to landless people? However you exist in the world, what do you preserve of yourselves? What do you abandon?’ ...

Then Said discusses pessoptimism, which he explains by way of anecdote: a mother’s son dies on his wedding day and as the bride mourns, the mother says, ‘thank god it happened this way and not another way’. The bride, angry, asks for clarification and the mother explains ‘if he grew old and you left him for another man and then he died, it would be worse’. Optimism or pessimism? In Greek there is a very similar idea expressed by the words Mi Chirotera, perhaps translated as could be worse. It’s usually very comic and almost always how the elderly (including my grandmother) make sense of the world. Perhaps I could use this. Thanks Mr Said.

The essay on Marquez also gave me a little food for thought. It seems Marquez’s grandmother was the main inspiration for One Hundred Years of Solitude, given her partiality for ghost stories and supernatural occurrences. I remembered something that my mother says happened on the 39th day after my grandfather’s death. In Greek Orthodoxy the spirit wanders for 40 days before its final ascent (or descent). So, my grandfather’s visit to 8 Akatea Street on day 39 may come up.

The last essay was ‘Is Nothing Sacred?’. Rushdie begins the essay by describing a family practice that our family also practised: the kissing of bread and books. Like Rushdie’s, our family kissed bread if it fell on the floor. We too apologised for clumsiness, apologised to God (whose body in the Christian tradition is, after all, bread). My sister and I were made to kiss fallen books too, although I can’t say we went as far as the Rushdies with their kissing of Enid Blyton. Usually the value of the fallen books mirrored the values of our mother – the Bible, encyclopaedias and most literary hardcovers were kissable, tatty school text books that would never teach us anything of value were not.



Monday 13 June

After I complained to Suse about insomnia and general insomnia-inspiring anxieties (mostly folio anxieties), she came up with a plan to get me out of bed before noon. So, today I got up the earliest in ages, at ten, and met her at the public library in town for a coffee and pair-writing meeting. I quickly discovered that the world had still been functioning even without my participation (I didn’t think I could call long solitary days in pyjamas ‘participation’). There were people drinking coffee, with other people, in public places, carrying bags, dressed. Amazing. I had a soy latte and a seafood sandwich and felt pretty gluttonous.

Then, we sat at a table facing Civic Square and started. Suse stressed me because she became immediately immersed, slave to a pen that had somewhere to go. (Just like exams when everyone all around looks like they’re racing towards a sure-fire A, and you haven’t understood the question.) I took out my notebook and a pen and a tissue and checked my cellphone.

Since last week I’d been frustrated due to an overload of researched information and an underload of knowing-what-to-do-with-it. I’d ordered and received a book over the internet – an English translation of a Bulgarian translation of a Byzantine manuscript written by one Constantine Manasses (a relative according to the family myth) and didn’t know what to do with it. For the tenth time, I looked at the miniatures. Then, this time, the miniatures started telling stories. The figures, I’m sure, began to move.

But this is a reading journal right? On the way home after the library, I came across Te Papa and decided to go in and have a look at a couple of exhibitions: Passports and Qui Tutto Bene.

After the gilt images of the manuscript, it occurred to me it was not a bad idea to read about real people, real stories (real in that there would be photographic evidence of their existences). Passports tells the story of New Zealand immigration with an emphasis on migration post the Maori settling of New Zealand. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was drawn to the stories of people who had immigrated from continental Europe; and also to the strong theme that kept coming through – that of escape, the escape to a better place post depressions, wars, displacements.

I took this down off one of the walls :

      I was thinking of my family and a better future – we had been shown films and
      pictures of New looked beautiful, colourful and green, away from all
      the destruction.

      Panagiota Alexiou, from Greece, 1951

This reminded me of my mother, especially because she saw similar pictures, thought – probably – similar thoughts. I thought that I could write about the promotional film she and my auntie saw before deciding to take off. It could have been a simple night at the movies, but it ended up being anything but. If I wrote such a poem, I’d make it out as just that – a night at the movies. I learnt that a large group of Greek immigrants came from Ithaka (Odysseus’ home island!); that the phenomenon is called ‘chain migration’ (a cool image – the chain). Another or related reason for immigrating was the fact that New Zealand is surrounded by water. (Does the water stuff come through in my work?...I feel it should should should.)

Some first impressions also resonated with me:

      We saw those hills full of stones. Everyone thought ‘what a stony country!’ But
      when we came closer, the stones started moving. The hills were full of sheep.

      Lydia Slikas, Lithuania

(My mother had thought the white blobs cotton wool.)

      newness and unfinishedness
      Henry Sewell, England

      sparkle with light
      MaryAnn Martin, England

      Catherine Graham, Britain

The story of a Polish woman particularly touched me. She was so homesick she cried every day for years and years. Mostly people had immigrated particularly early on knowing that they’d never return to homelands. I turned into Qui Tutto Bene (everything’s good there) feeling kind of part of something big and heart-breaking.

Qui Tutto Bene tells the story of Italian immigration to New Zealand. I grew up in Island Bay, and went to the Catholic primary school there where I was friends with Virginia Iovine (with whom I skipped class to go and eat lunch at her mum’s on Trent St), with Paola de Gregorio (whose grandmother called me Basilica – the Italian word for cathedral), with Krissy Muollo (whose older sisters pulled my hair but who herself atoned for this by cleaning the parish church brass with me for Father Smythe, who willingly got us out of PAT tests). Also Orazio and Cataldo who teased me to tears but whose mother was friends with my mother so I never told (God only knows how they communicated).

The tales of the fishermen touched me and two images stayed with me. The first was the trunks that people came with (‘Your whole life in a trunk’); the second was a telegraph:

      Dear Husband,
      We are without your news for two years. Write care of the Red Cross. Your mother
      died June 1942. We are all very well.
      Your Wife

It was Paolo Rotondo’s recorded take on all this that finally pulled me out of the maudlin state I was falling into. A friend of my sister’s (I already knew a little about his thoughts), and of similar age, he spoke about how cool it is to be able to inhabit more than one space. He talked about his Italian side and his New Zealand side – not in terms of mutual exclusivity but in terms of one enriching the other. Perhaps not an earth-shatteringly original viewpoint but one which I find myself often overlooking.

The thing is, I don’t want my work to be all sadness and fatalism. I want Greece to marry New Zealand and I want them to do lots of things together and enjoy each other’s company. Paolo held up an Italian book, an epic poem which he felt summed things up. It was about a guy who accidentally gets locked in a cemetery in Naples, after hours, when all the ghosts come out. The Neapolitan cemetery offers a level playing field (not so possible for live Neapolitans). When they all emerge they hang out together – irrespective of origin, date, place, cause of death, age, gender. That’s a cool story.


Friday 22 July

I got up this morning with the best intentions to write as mammoth a journal entry as time would allow. Unfortunately, I also decided to begin a fitness regime which consisted of a long walk up and down the southern hills, rearrange all the pictures on the walls, cook a sumptuous lunch. It is 4.15pm. Time is not my friend. (Have I said that before?)

A few days ago, in preparation for this ‘Day of the Journal’, I printed out a heap of Wislawa Szymborska poems off the net. I also printed out the Nobel Lecture that she gave in 1996 when she won the prize.

The speech comforted me on many levels. It was kind of a defence of poetry, or more precisely a defence of the poet. The thing is, I’ve been wondering lately whether I actually am one. I mean I always thought I was. The fact that I’ve never chosen to read a lot of poetry has never vexed me much. But this year, having read much more, having discussed ‘poetry issues’ infinitely more than normal, I’m feeling an impostor. The inventiveness of other poets confounds and humbles me; the mystery of line-breaks and gaps, when I increasingly want to write in full sentences, frustrates. That can’t be good.

In the meantime, the word ‘poet’ has not become satisfactorily demyst(ic)ified for me. Poet, poet...I am a poet. It sounds presumptuous, even arrogant. Like saying I am wise. I have several friends who say they are poets, never mentioning the paid work they do each day – they always sound tossy to me. Szymborska has this to say:

      Contemporary poets are skeptical and suspicious even, or perhaps especially, about
      themselves. They publicly confess to being poets only reluctantly, as if they are
      ashamed of it....Bureaucrats and bus passengers respond with a touch of incredulity
      and alarm when they find out they are dealing with a poet.


      poets will write writer on questionnaires etc unless of course they put down
      whatever job they are doing in addition to writing instead.

So why is this??? I spend hour upon hour gazing at nothing, my back to the heater. When Anthony comes in, often an hour, or more, after the first concerned Have you done much today? I tell him ‘I’m working at this moment’. How can any sane person believe that? (Anthony never does – and I don’t much feel like believing it either.) How can that be work? Now I’m not saying that the prose writer doesn’t have such moments, but I suspect that if they had too many then the hundreds of pages would never get written – and I suppose they might end up with some nice poems instead. (What am I saying here? That I have a poet’s sensibility, but a prose writer’s love of conventional syntax? Really, I’m talking a lot of rubbish.) Over to Szymborska. After having described the film biographies of great scientists – ‘suspenseful’, painters – ‘visually stunning’, musicians – ‘aurally delightful’, she says:

      But poets are the worst. Their work is hopelessly unphotogenic. Someone sits at a
      table or lies on a sofa while staring motionless at a wall or ceiling. Once in a while this
      person writes down seven lines only to cross out one of them fifteen minutes later.
      And then another hour passes during which nothing happens...Who could stand to
      watch this kind of thing?

So far Szymborska’s speech isn’t defending the poet that successfully. So far I’ve still been thinking: silly poets, who’d want to be one? Of course, just like a sneaky poet person to end up with some quite profound stuff:

      Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous ‘I don’t know’ ....All sorts of torturers,
      dictators, fanatics and demagogues struggling for power by way of a few loudly shouted
      slogans also perform their duties with inventive fervour. Well, yes, but they ‘know’. They
      know, and whatever they know is enough for them once and for all. They don’t want
      to find out about anything else, since that might diminish their arguments’ force....
      Poets must keep repeating ‘I don’t know’. Each poem marks an effort to answer
      this statement; but as soon as the final period hits the page, the poet begins to
      hesitate, starts to realise that this particular answer was pure the poet
      keeps on trying.

I really really really like that idea/line of defence: insecurity and uncertainty good, conclusion bad. If it weren’t for Szymborska’s final words, I’d have been convinced that I am a Poet after all:

      But in the language of poetry, every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not
      a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single day
      after it.

Um, yes. Not sure I’m there. (And those gaps       still haven’t dealt with those.)


Wednesday 27 July

After reading Szymborska’s Nobel speech, I thought that reading some of her work mightn’t be a bad idea. I spent all the remaining printer ink downloading and printing one last heap. (So now I can’t print out any more of my own stuff until I get a new cartridge, and I’ll keep forgetting to.) Before I do the launch, I should say that I’m listening to Eleni Karaindrou’s haunting composition and soundtrack to Ulysses’s Gaze, the really amazing Angelopoulos film. It wasn’t easy getting the right soundscape going for Szymborska’s poetry – it addresses the big things – war, death, fate, mortality, history. (Stevie Wonder wasn’t cutting it.)

So. The big things. Are we ‘allowed’ to write about them?

I was going to say that I had grown to like her poems very much, but that I’d had difficulty with them at first; that initially, my ‘Poetry with a capital P alert’ started beeping; but that would emphasise the wrong response. Yes, I did recoil a little at titles like ‘Consciousness’, ‘Hatred’, ‘Love at First Sight’, and I didn’t warm immediately to the worlds within which the poems were set – WWII for example – but I had to question my response. It was, I suspect, a very New Zealand response.

I remembered a comment Stephanie de Montalk made when she came in to talk to us – about New Zealand poetry not normally being able to show the weight of history. I think in fact she used the word ‘light’ to describe NZ poetry. So why the lightness? Or better, why not also the heaviness? (I like the lightness.) Is it the whole we are a new country thing? A we are just coming into our own, and our history starts now thing? Do we tolerate Szymborska-type poetry coming out of the mouths of New Zealanders? Or might we respond with questions such as ‘How is this your experience?’, ‘How is this relevant to me or the people of Newtown or Golden Bay?’ Or, ‘How about some New Zealand English?’ Sometimes I feel that I’m trying to insert New Zealandisms into my work so that I can make my work relevant/interesting to people who might read it here and murmur ‘Mmm, yes’.

Could the ideal be to make something so specifically believable that it becomes universal? Szymborska’s ‘Hatred’, ‘Consciousness’ aren’t anchored to specific times, to specific places, named people. Would she have got far if she’d lived here, stripped of any excuses – Polish heritage, direct experience of Nazism, Communism?

Or am I being too harsh? I was thinking, while I was reading, that my mother would love her stuff – she too is big on the ‘big ideas’, has filled multiple exercise books with her own poems condemning wars for example. (But then, she’s Greek.) When I was little, I used to write such things too – mostly to please Mum who thought/thinks that references to the everyday don’t have places in Poetry (with a capital P). I shudder now... But why do I? OK. I have to come to some conclusions.

Szymborska’s poetry is good. It’s good, I think, because she does mix the everyday with the monumental. Perhaps she’s not the kind of writer who is careful to provide the reader with positioning, orientating details, but the people are real and, irrespective of where they live and when, their foibles and quirks are a counterpoint to those ever-present looming shadows. (The ‘looming Shadows’, often personified, have foibles and quirks of their own.)

Szymborska does focus her lens right up close onto the small things – on the minutiae of everyday activity – on everydayness. Tiny people go about their business usually oblivious to what lurks around the corner. Sometimes, Szymborska does this with a kind of sympathetic humour, other times she seems to be telling humanity off and trying to highlight the absurdity of the everyday beneath the grand things that don’t disappear no matter how much we ignore them.


Tuesday 16 August

I finished Robert Dessaix’s Corfu at 4am the other night and then spent the rest of the night/morning thinking about it. And am still thinking about it. I don’t know where to dive in really, as I felt so many things reading the novel. I don’t know how I’m going to avoid sounding sentimental and nostalgic and romantic all at the same time. I am worried about this. Dessaix has a style that’s kind of another time – a time when it was OK to be fully romantic and melancholic, to speak of fate and ill-fated love affairs, of death and (im)mortality. To speak of serendipity, meetings of minds. Also of the failure of such meetings – of loneliness, loneness. Dessaix is an utter romantic.

Perhaps I was primed for this after having heard him speak both at the City Gallery and at Varsity. He really blew me away. All that talk about the sublime, courtly love, embodiment. He said that the sublime for him was made up of the chasms and peaks of love and death. That he always tried to say what deep down he suspected might be unsayable. I really really liked his idea of the beautiful in writing:

      What people find beautiful is that which embellishes them, that in turn leads to their
      own transfiguration and redemption – when people say ‘what a beautiful painting’,
      they are really saying ‘thank you, I feel beautiful’.

How much more romantic can you get? And all that talk about coming down the mountain, coming home – so romantically humanistic – not Big Byron or Shelley – there is an earthing. I thought Keats. (Dessaix: ‘You have been atop the mountain, but want to go home...all writing starts a long way away and ends at home.’ Keats did that in ‘Bright Star’ and his Odes didn’t he?)

Other of Dessaix’s comments to do with the process of writing that I thought brave and magical were:

      To write well is like slashing yourself open – it can be quite devastating.


      Writing is like falling in love – put yourself in the way of it and then one day, on the bus,
      it happens. You can’t make it happen, but you can take a lot of bus rides.

So it makes sense then that I would have loved his Corfu – filled as it was with Homer and Sappho and Cavafy and Mr Chekhov. What a fatalistic bunch. Did they transfigure me, was I ‘redeemed of ordinariness’? Well, it was hardly surprising that the Odyssean stuff resonated immediately. All the ‘mythic travelling’, the ‘homeward–boundness’, the working out. The blurb of Corfu says:

      In a village on the island of Corfu, alone in the cottage of a man he’s never met, a
      young Australian actor pieces together the strange life story of the writer whose home
      he is living in. As he explores his surroundings and makes new friends in Corfu, his
      own life begins to appear to him like an illuminating shadow-play of his absent hosts.

Blurby language aside, this blurb rightly mentions the idea of shadow in the book. Corfu, the island and the metaphor, are filled with them – shadows (or ‘shades’) of historic drifters – dead (Sisi the Austrian aristocrat, Odysseus, later others), and living (the expat community, returned emigrants). History and memory, language, desire, friendship and honesty are also shadows ever difficult to pin down. The narrator begins exploring Berwick’s (the absent author), while he tries to escape, or catch up with, or confront his own.


Sunday 28 August

I’ve really taken to this ‘appropriate soundtrack’ thing. I’m about to give a few impressions on Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband and I am listening to Fauré’s Requiem. That may sound tossy, but really, you can’t beat a rousing and terribly sad chorus at the best of times. And, well (I don’t care about sounding sycophantic anymore), Carson is the blimmin best of times. (Also, The Beauty of the Husband navigates through the end of a marriage and is a requiem of sorts.)

This is my last entry. We read aloud at the City Gallery tomorrow. I’m kind of feeling like I’m navigating (or at least very close to navigating) an end of my own; and this is the main reason why I chose to pretend once again to conviction and opinion about somebody else’s work – this time with Anne Carson in the room. And it’s right to finish with the single most influential writer for me this year. (Damien you were right – I have returned to Autobiography of Red untold times.)

The title The Beauty of the Husband: a Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos is immediately brooding, romantic, sad, elevated, sensual (the tango), and also not.

‘Fictional essay.’

Why has she called it an essay? The blurb on the back reads: ‘The Beauty of the Husband is an essay on Keats’s idea that beauty is truth, and is also the story of a marriage....’

‘Story of a marriage’ I accept wholeheartedly, but ‘essay’?? If I’d picked up the book having only read the blurb, not knowing who Anne Carson was, I might have expected some academic paper on Keats, some philosophical pondering with frequent illuminating and pertinent quotations, particularly from his ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ from which his words ‘beauty is truth...’ come.

But no. And phew, thank God.

The Beauty of the Husband is at first glance an illusive work. The Keats quotes which divide the work are not obviously illuminating, are not famous lines from the poet’s work. They are Keats’s jotted thoughts, margin notes gleaned from his copy of Paradise Lost; and lines (or the working out of lines) from rather unfamous works such as ‘Otho the Great’. (‘Ode to Indolence’ might be an exception – but maybe I say this because it is a favourite of mine.) The argument is not academic. The quotes don’t slot in nicely and make perfect sense.

Instead, there is a riddle forming, a secret relationship between Keats and the voice of this ‘essay’ and the reader. Two of my favourite quotations:

(Between tango VII and VIII; between an all night battle of words and a flashback to love letters)

      – we imagine after it –
      note on his copy of Paradise Lost, I.706-30

(Between tango XXII and XXIII; between an attempt at reconciliation and the dialogue between Ray – Husband’s friend – and Wife)

      a sort of Delphic Abstraction a beautiful thing made more
      beautiful by being reflected and put in a mist

      note on his copy of Paradise Lost I.321

      [there is a faint mark after beautiful read by one editor as a dash,
      by another as a slip of the pen, while a third does not print it]

Perhaps, here’s where the ‘essay’ part comes in. If an essay is an attempt, then there is a real sense in the book of there being an attempt to say something, understand something; in this case, the end of a marriage. The gaps, the fragility, the question marks – these things become clues and form the connecting tissue.

Really, this poetic attempt feels truer than any sociological, psychological or, worse, literary discussion paper on the subject! Mr Keats’s idea, that ‘beauty is truth’, makes sense. For the wife, the husband’s beauty was a presence, a magnet, and became a truth beyond its physical reality; it became reason, force, explanation, embodiment even of the marriage.

I never really ‘got’ Keats’s idea before now. I wondered for years how Keats could have said that in the first place – he embraced mortality, old age, decay – very unbeautiful things. I remember Honours discussions that centred around big words: Romanticism, Classicism, Aesthetics. In The Beauty of the Husband, there are lots of murmurs and quivers and little words (in a little font). I guess it’s always helpful to have an illuminating example.

The Beauty of the Husband is not only made up of quivers, however. I loved the very clever (bold) tango headings – the kind of mock-academia suggested by the Roman numerals, the authoritative phrasing and recollection of philosophy and science, the unapologetic dismissal of punctuation.


The titles are bold in all senses and a perfect contrast to much of the body of the book with its images of burning, sinking, falling, disintegration. They kept me from dissolving into the pages myself. And importantly, reminded me that I too can break the rules, be a little flagrant.

And I’ll leave it at that.

Reading Room
Michele Amas
Angela Andrews
Vana Manasiadis  
Mary McCallum

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