BOOK REVIEW: What the Family Needed (Steven Amsterdam, Sleepers Publishing)

If you could have any super power, what would it be? This child’s question forms the novel’s conceit by asking a more probing question: what impact would it really have on your life? What the Family Needed is based around members of a somewhat dysfunctional family who gradually develop different powers. The episodic narrative is reminiscent of Steven Amsterdam’s critically acclaimed and award-winning first novel Things We Didn’t See Coming. Each chapter features the perspective of a different family member, beginning with the teenage Giordana and moving through the years as each family member makes a personal discovery. It is a cleverly written study of what it takes to maintain a family, as each individual’s story is woven together to create a family portrait. Each chapter—some more laced with humour than others—further penetrates both the depth and the limitations of human connection, between the night nurse and her patients, the husband and wife, the sisters, the cousins. Peter and Alek’s perspectives are particularly bittersweet, as their powers are so expansive and yet still not quite what they desire. What the family needs seems at times so tangible and yet so out of reach. What the Family Needed is a probing exploration of familial love and forbearance, communication and letting go.

Portia Lindsay works at the UNSW Bookshop. This review first appeared in the September issue of  Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

The new issue has landed!

Ah, there’s the new-magazine smell again. Yes, the May/June combined issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine just arrived in the office.

This issue has a gazillion reviews of as-yet-unpublished books (okay, 75), including such highly anticipated titles as Rebecca James’ Beautiful Malice (A&U, May), Fiona McGregor’s Indelible Ink (Scribe, June), Peter Rose’s Roddy Parr (Fourth Estate, July), Leanne Hall’s Text YA prize-winning This is Shyness (August) and Benjamin Law’s debut The Family Law (Black Inc., June). (If you want to know what some of our reviewers’ top picks were you can read about them in this post.)

As well as all those reviews, the May/June issue includes Kalinda Ashton (The Danger Game, Sleepers) writing about how she got where she is today, Kabita Dhara on the publishing scene in India, author interviews with Susan Maushart, Ben Groundwater, Bill McKibben, Amanda Braxton-Smith and James Phelan and lots more besides.

Subscribers, it will be on its way to you very soon. Non-subscribers, you’ll find a list of places you can buy a copy here. (Or you could, you know, subscribe: $130 a year. Bargain.)

INTERVIEW: David Musgrave on ‘Glissando’ (Sleepers Publishing)

In the April issue of our magazine, reviewer Richard Bilkey asked David Musgrave about his first foray into novel-writing, and found out why Patrick White may have had a laugh reading the forthcoming Glissando.

The title, Glissando: A Melodrama, immediately informs the reader that music will underscore everything in the novel. It is present both in metaphor and as a constant accompaniment to the characters’ lives. How did the musical effect of ‘glissando’ in particular come to be of such central importance to the novel?

One of the main themes of Glissando is the arts and how they are interrelated and the role art can play in our lives, and  the focus is really on architecture and music, although food, memory and writing also play important roles. The musical aspect came naturally, as I have played and written music since I was a child; the architectural aspect I guess came from a preoccupation with forebears who were colonial architects (and who feature in the book). Because I was interested in the arts in combination, Glissando refers to the musical technique of the glissade, to the house Glissando where the narrator lives and writes (the man who built it conceived of the house as a glissade realised in architectural form) and to the dying fall of the narrator’s life. So, in a way, music itself is a kind of master trope in the book for how art can shape our lives, for good and for ill.

Your previous work has often been noted for its clever use of satire and Glissando is no exception, targeting everything from self-righteous wowsers to the ‘majestic idiocy’ of the Sydney Opera House. Why is satire important to you as an author?

That’s a difficult question. It’s not really satire per se that is important to me, but the exuberance of the form. I was attracted to satire not because it is a form of attack but because it seems to open up possibilities and make new connections between things because the form is so varied and goes in so many different directions at once. I first became interested in satire when I studied a course under the late professor Bill Maidment at Sydney University. I was fascinated at the time by Tristram Shandy, and how it seemed to be wrestling with the idea of representation as a totalising act. Later, of course, I realised that Sterne was parodying encyclopaedic knowledge, and making fun of the attempt to make representation complete and total. My initial interest led on to studying other types of the same kind of satire, such as Rabelais, Swift, Peacock, Rushdie and many others. I actually ended up writing a book on it, called Grotesque Anatomies, which is being published in the USA later this year. People often think of satire negatively: for me, it is joyous and celebratory; the satirical targets in Glissando are often almost incidental to the fun, hopefully, that is had in doing so and they are treated fairly gently, I think. Continue reading