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 Australian writer Courtney Collins.
Her debut novel, The Burial, which I read and reviewed last month, was shortlisted for the Stella Prize and has been optioned for a feature film by Pure Pictures.
Courtney grew up in the Hunter Valley in NSW. She now lives in an old postmaster’s cottage on the Goulburn River in regional Victoria, where she is working on a new novel.
You can follow her on Twitter @cc_writer.
Without further ado, here are Courtney’s Triple Choice Tuesday selections:
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was published when Carson McCullers was in her early twenties. It was her first novel. All of her books to follow inhabited that same Southern Gothic world, resonant with William Faulkner, who she has been compared to. As Graham Greene described it: “Miss McCullers and perhaps Mr Faulkner are the only writers since the death of D.H. Lawrence with an original poetic sensibility. I prefer Miss McCullers to Mr Faulkner because she writes more clearly; I prefer her to D.H. Lawrence because she has no message.” I’m with Greene on that, on all counts.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is tender and gentle. I read it once a year and I doubt I will ever tire of reading it. Somehow, as well as holding onto an ability to describe and reveal a character so their impression is indelible, McCullers also invites you to view them softly, to hold them in compassion. Whether it is the 14-year-old Mick Kelly longing to play the piano or Singer “the thin mute” longing for his friend Antonapoulos, all of the characters seek a particular beauty and consolation in an unbeautiful setting.
As a writer, McCullers has a clear-sighted view. She sees what there is to see and at the same time she sees beyond it. There have been attempts to adapt the novel for film and theatre but neither has held the power of the original novel. It seems to me that The Heart is a Lonely Hunter does what only a novel can do: express the complicated yearnings boiling inside the characters, distilling it into poetry.
Australians live under many comforting myths and one of them is that Australia is not a racist country. At 17, I had never read anything like Ruby Langford Ginibi’s heartbreaking autobiography, Don’t Take Your Love To Town. It’s a story of five generations of an Aboriginal family told “from her side of the fence”. The author has no need for fiction – there’s enough drama and tragedy to tell in her own life. The language is without affectation and free of sentimentality. The pain is raw and real.
The book takes its title from the Kenny Rogers’ song of the same name and you can hear it playing in the background of Ruby’s chaotic life but perhaps not as loudly as Ruby’s own resistant laugh. She’s intent on living, and living means raising nine children in a country where the race divide is palpable even if it is unspoken. There is hardly a chapter in Don’t Take Your Love to Town that does not feature Ruby giving birth. But then the affirmation of life is short-lived, as many of Ruby’s children die young, making real the statistic that infant mortality is two to three times higher for Aboriginal children as it is for non-Aboriginal children in Australia, even now. For me, reading this book was like an elder coming up behind me and whacking me on the back of the head to say, “Wake up child! This lucky country hasn’t been so lucky for some.”
I read My Hundred Lovers last year during a long winter here where book pages and blogs were unduly fascinated by the success of one erotic fiction title and its spin offs.
I wish that title had been My Hundred Lovers. The world might be just a little bit better for it. It wouldn’t be clogged up with sex props or M.O.Us for starters. Because in its telling of the limitless expanse of the sensual life, it is this title (unlike the other which I need not mention) that really is something special.
On the eve of her 50th birthday Deborah reflects on one hundred moments in the life of her physical body. She asks herself: ”What else does the body know? What else does the breathing heart remember?” As the memories unfold, they are not all lovely, not all welcome. Within them are disappointments and despair. But then there is the plain joy of sex, and not just sex but also the pleasure of grass underfoot, a room, language, laughter. There is sweetness and exhilaration.
In the way it balances honesty and lyricism to reveal a fuller expression of the sensual life, My Hundred Lovers reminded me of another favourite book: Jeannette Winterson’s Written on The Body. They seem to share an idea that the body is a map, charting where we have ”lived, loved and suffered”.
Thanks, Courtney, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!
I, too, love Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and can’t quite believe she was just 23 when she wrote it. I’ve not heard of Ruby Langford Ginibi’s autobiography before, but it sounds like a powerful read. And I’ve been keen to read Susan Johnson’s novel having much enjoyed her last one, which I reviewed back in 2008.
What do you think of Courtney’s choices? Have you read any of these books?