Welcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers
to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is
that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce
you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.
Today's guest is Marcus Clark.
Marcus lives in Australia and runs an amazing website designed to help you choose which books to read next called — appropriately — What 2 Read Next. He has a particularly helpful section on Australian books for those of you looking for some tips and inspiration for Australian Literature Month.
Marcus is also an avid writer — he has written six novels, three books of short stories and some children's books. His interests are contemporary fiction, photography, new age topics and current history.
Without further ado, here are Marcus's Triple Choice Tuesday selections.
I have not always been a fan of Peter Carey's novels. When I saw this book had won the 2001 Man Booker Prize I was not amused. And writing a novel about Ned Kelly seemed to be a cultural cliché. Done to death, you might say with a smile. Even Mick Jagger portrayed Ned Kelly in a movie.
But from the first paragraph of the novel, I was surprised and delighted at the innovative prose — written in the style of Ned Kelly's Jerilderie Letter. The first thing you notice is no commas, then no quotation marks, little punctuation, yet it reads smoothly, concisely, comprehensibly; all done with an Irish accent.
In 1880, in the town of Glenrowan, the Kelly Gang made their last stand against the police. They used blacksmith-made body armour to protect them from bullets. Ned Kelly tried to attack the police line from the rear. Bullets bounced off his body armour, until he was shot in the legs. He was captured, taken to Melbourne, tried and hanged, all by the age of 25. That is the basis of the Kelly Gang legend.
Peter Carey did a wonderful job on this novel; he conveys the hostility between the Kelly family and the authorities, Ned Kelly's self-confidence and angry defiance. The novel colours-in the legend with detail, factual to the best of knowledge, and fictionalised as novelists do, imaging every minor thought, word, or action. The historical facts have all the elements needed to create an exciting novel. You have the action of the police chase through the flooded rivers, the sound and feel of the horses, the constant irony and bitterness of Kelly's voice, the endless grind of poverty.
It is a powerful and disturbing story of injustice and persecution, yet the telling is what makes it a great book. The novel thrusts you back into the past, were you experience the terrible hardships of life in remote farming communities. The story is told in first person by Ned — so yes, it is one-sided — but it is a story that that needs to be told. The facts are powerful, and the telling is astonishing: an unbeatable combination.
Before I read Power Without Glory (which was published in 1950), I had a politically simple view of the world. Of course, I knew corruption existed, it was just that I expected politicians, church leaders, police commissioners and even betting agencies to be, if not honest, then almost honest.
The story is largely set in Melbourne, Australia, starting in 1890. It is about the rise of a man the novel calls John West — the public knew him as John Wren. Power Without Glory is presented as a novel, but everyone knows it is factual. John Wren rose from poverty to immense wealth and political influence, starting with backyard gambling and bribing the police. The book covers a period of 60 years, and so presents a vivid portrayal of life in Australia during that era, and by life we can include gambling, corruption of political leaders, bribery, thuggery, fixing sporting events, illegal activities of every kind, including murder.
At the height of his power, John Wren wielded as much power as the Prime Minister. Many parliamentarians were in debt to him; financially he had supported their election, his contacts with the Catholic Church went to the top, while newspapers and the police force were also under his influence.
Unfortunately, Frank Hardy never wrote anything else in the same class as Power Without Glory — not to worry, one great work is a massive achievement.
I read the book, almost savagely; I could not stop to catch my breath. It was truly one of those books we come across that is difficult to stop reading, even though it was 650 pages. When I finished it, I was changed. I was no longer as politically naive, I was suspicious of politicians, the gambling industry and police. Somewhere along the way, my political allegiance shifted towards the left. Yet in the book, it is the Labor Party that works hand-in-glove with John West. Perhaps it was that I could see manipulation in the words and actions of the Liberals who were in power at the time. The Vietnam War was raging at full intensity, and suddenly I was full of suspicion and disbelief. Power Without Glory changed my world. Thank you, Frank Hardy.
David Hicks was born in 1975 in Adelaide, Australia; this is his autobiography. After leaving school at 15 he worked on remote cattle stations. His experiences in the outback gave him the skills needed to take a job in Japan pre-training racehorses. Hicks decided he would ride a horse along the old Silk Road to China. But before he could start that adventure, he began watching news items about Kosovo, where Serbians were carrying out atrocities against the Muslim population. He became convinced that he must assist the people of Kosovo.
Hicks joined up with the Kosovo forces, who were supported by NATO, but before he got into actual combat, the war ended. Hicks was an adventurer, sympathetic to Muslims, sympathetic to people who were oppressed. He spent some time in Afghanistan learning basic military training, for what purpose it is not clear. While trying to return to Pakistan, he was taken prisoner by Northern Alliance soldiers and sold to the Americans for $1,000 bounty. He was transported to Guantanamo, Cuba, where the Americans have an armed forces base.
From that point on it was all downhill: the beatings, the confinement, the questioning, the lights on day and night, the air-conditioning set to freezing, the lack of food, the solitary confinement, the abuse, the shouting, the kicks and punches, never ended. George W. Bush insisted that the detainees were not POWs and so the Geneva Agreement did not apply. They could do what they liked to the prisoners.
After five-and-a-half years of this treatment, Hicks was ready to commit suicide, he was in constant pain, his mind confused, his sanity eroded, release seemed impossible. Finally, charges were brought against him. The Australian Government said that he had not broken any Australian law, and there was no evidence he had broken any American law. So they updated the Military Manual with some new crimes (which were later ruled as invalid).
Hicks was charged with “providing material support to terrorists”. George Bush claimed David Hicks was “the worst of the worst”. So Hicks pleaded guilty and was given a further nine months imprisonment in Australia in a civilian prison, before being released. A number of high-ranking Americans fought to bring sanity to this case, indeed they opposed the whole system of sham justice. The FBI were shocked by the illegality of procedures, but the outcome was rigged at the Presidential level; it was all political.
Thanks, Marcus, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!
This is a wonderful selection of books. Sadly, I tried and failed to read True History of the Kelly Gang many years ago, but perhaps it's worth a second try? Does it count that I've visited Glenrowan and seen the landmarks associated with the Kelly Gang? I've also been meaning to read Power Without Glory for a long time and on my last trip to Australia I went out of my way to source a copy to bring back to the UK with me. It's been sitting in my pile ever since — it's the size of it that puts me off! And I'm intrigued by the Hicks case...
What do you think of Marcus's choices? Have you read any of these books?