Rabbit, Run – John Updike

Rabbit, Run, by John Updike (not to be muddled with Upton Sinclair as I often do), has a simple enough plot. Rabbit leaves his alcoholic and pregnant wife Janice, and shacks up with a young woman Ruth for two months. A pastor Eccles befriends him in the hope of convincing him to do the ‘right’ thing. I won’t go into the ending, but in short, everyone is miserable and worse off than they were to begin with.

I disliked all the characters. I found Eccles the least awful. I admire his desire to have an amiable outcome, and his empathy, but I was frustrated by his fence sitting. I did not pity Janice, because she was an alcoholic. I did not empathise with Rabbit, because while I understand his wife was unbearable to live with, he was just as despicable by leaving his child with her. I hate Rabbit for his need for control and adoration. He often talks about how lovable he is, which is an arrogant delusion. He tried to control the women around him emotionally and physically. He did not have any respect for anyone, or the ability to empathise with others.

running rabbit

After I finished Rabbit, Run I Googled it so see if I was ‘supposed’ to hate everyone in it. According to Wikipedia, it was written in response to Kerouac’s On the Road “to depict ‘what happens when a young American family man goes on the road – the people left behind get hurt’” . I certainly think Updike made his point, and wins the debate in my mind. This is no surprise given by feelings for On The Road. I cannot understand what The Washington post was thinking: “…By his compassion, clarity of insight and crystal-bright prose, he makes Rabbit’s sorrow his and our own.” I do not believe Updike had any compassion for Rabbit, nor were Rabbit’s actions portrayed as understandable, relatable, or forgivable.

While I did not enjoy Rabbit, Run, I do think it was very powerful, and would recommend it. It seems many readers on Amazon feel the same. It makes me feel anger, which very few books have. This is not a side of my emotional repertoire I indulge in my personal life and so dislike experiencing recreationally, but certainly this does not discredit Updike’s skill as an author.

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Remebering Babylon – David Malouf

Beautiful book cover

Beautiful book cover

 Malouf is an acclaimed Australian author. Remembering Babylon was published in 1993 but is set in colonial Australia. Being published only 18 years ago hardly makes it vintage, as the publisher claims, but that’s neither here nor there. It deals with the common topic of prejudice and for me comes somewhere between the subtle, intricate analysis of Forster’s A Passage to India, and the brash, dictation of Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Consequently I’d give it half marks.

What I enjoyed about Remembering Babylon were the diverse characters, and the look into pioneering life.

What I didn’t like about this book was the seemingly irrelevant passages, the limited insight, and the unnecessary use of profanity. On the first point, there were a few short incidences that were, while beautifully written, seemingly irrelevant to the central theme. Malouf told single incidents from several perspectives, but he didn’t go deep enough into any one for my enjoyment. As for the profanity, I cannot stand this in written prose. Malouf could have just as easily conveyed the hardened, uncouth characters without it. Furthermore, he uses unpleasant imagery for things which are not unpleasant. For example, instead of saying Mr Frazer made his lips into the shape of an arsehole, he could simply has said Mr Frazer pursed his lips.

This is not a book for those who need a climatic ending, but Malouf poetically captures the nuances of Australian flora and conditions so it is more the journey than the destination.

What I especially loved about this re-release was the beautiful cover, which resembles Delftware, with it’s stark white cover and royal blue line-art. It was 80% of the reason I bought it.

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Sharing

I’ve been incredibly busy at work these past few weeks, and even have had to work over the weekend. Therefore I haven’t been free to do any crafts for myself, but I have had a bit of spare time for Google. Here are some great ideas I’d like to share:

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The Body – William Sansom

There is a bookshop opposite a hotel my grandfather used to own. The hotel was a beautiful multistorey Queenslander-style building and was long ago knocked down and replaced by a square cement TAB. I heard the store next to the bookshop caught fire a few months back and have yet to venture to see if the bookshop survived. It was the sort of shop where you didn’t know how they survived financially, let alone a fire. You could barely walk for the piles of books, you had to climb over turrets and squeeze through caverns of pages of pre-loved stories. It was an adventure ebook readers would never have. On my last trip there, I sat in a corner of the store piled with Penguin classics, surrounded by the susurrus of falling pages for an hour. I picked up about 10 books at 20 cents each, far cheaper than online.

One of these was The Body. It didn’t look much, and I didn’t read the blurb before starting. It was surprisingly a fascinating and well written insight into jealousy and aging. A persnickety, middle-age husband catches his young neighbour peeping at his wife in the shower. He then proceeds to invent an elaborate affair, creating circumstantial evidence, and reading into inconsequential happenings.  The way he imagines theoretical conversations of confrontation is something I can ashamedly relate to. I often make up imaginary arguments about why tearing down beautiful old buildings, to be replaced by cement is responsible for the degradation of Brisbane as a society. A reader will find the husband ridiculous, extreme and humerous, but are secretly counting the times they have followed this train of thought. That’s what makes this book worth reading.

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DIY fish tank decorations

We bought a fish tank, for our large goldfish who previously lived in our leaky, cold pond. I used to think goldfish were dull and stupid, but now I know this is not true. There is a difference between a fish you keep alive, and one you keep happy. They are fun and full of personality, and need stimulation.

Plants are pretty cheap and are effective if you experiment with depth and height. We chose ones with spots or pink leaves for interest. You do have to be accepting that goldfish might eat your plants.

The boy got an old terracotta pot from the back yard and smashed to make a cave for them to swim up through. Be sure to soften the jagged edges and give it a good clean first.

I put one of my coca-cola glasses into the tank. I haven’t been permitted to display my collection in the living room (in exchange for him not displaying items I find unpalatable), so was happy to sneak this in. The glass has turned out to be the goldfishes’ favourite item, as they take turns sitting inside.

I have made some bright sculpi decorations but we haven’t been brave enough to put them in the tank yet for fear it will give the fish cancer. We’re goingt o test it out on some pest fish first and see how we go.

What are strange or pretty things you have seen in fish tanks or aquarium?

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Self-Saucing Chocolate Pudding

Ugly but tastey

Admittedly, my oven has been in a period of quiescence recently, due to my battle with cholesterol. However, I have decided to wake it up when we have company. Self-saucing pudding is good in so many ways. It tastes deliciously warm, isn’t too rich, is simple yet impressive, can be prepared in advance, can be transported, and keeps well for microwave re-heating.

One memory I have of this pudding is my dad asking my mum and I, “How do you make the sauce?” “It makes it own sauce,” we replied. “No, but you have to do something to have sauce,” he contested. “Nope, that’s why it’s called ‘self-saucing’ pudding”. “hmpf”, clearly suspicious of some sort of chicanery.

There are many memories of this one at Christmas time as well. The warm pudding which is too warm for a Brisbane summer, was offset by refreshingly cold ice-cream, the kind that was so frozen you had to boil the scoop, and have a strong aunt dish it out. The soft bits being mixed in, the crispier top smashed, and the sauce being drizzled over the top. I have many cousins, so there would be a subtle power-walking to the desert table, as the sauce was spooned out from underneath the entire pudding by the early birds, leaving the last few pieces dryer than they should be.

Find below my grandma’s recipe. Don’t over think it, should only take 5 minutes to whip up!

-Mix together: 50g butter (melted), 1/2 cup milk, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 cup SR flour, 3/4 cup castor sugar, 1 tbs cocoa

-Pour into oven proof dish

-sprinkle with mixture of 3/4 cup brown sugar and 1 tbs cocoa. Carefully pour 2 cups hot water over the top

-Bake in moderate oven for 40 minutes.

 

 

 

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The Short Reign of Pippin IV

It’s no secret I love Steinbeck. I regularly visit Archives in the hope they have a book of his amongst the ample Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. Last month I found The Short Reign of Pippin IV. Besides telling a story, the pages had the lovely benefit of each falling out as I read them in turn. Who needs a book mark? I will have to use the binding technique utilised by my mother on her copy of 1984; the ancient art of rubber band binding. An no, I am still not any closer to desiring any sort of ebook. My books have personality. This book’s personality just happens to be that of an unstable person. But every village needs the village fool.

This short story I found is in the same vein as The Moon is Down. It is a satirical look at politics and society, acted out by idiosyncratic eccentrics. The Short Reign of Pippin IV is purported as some of Steinbeck’s funniest novellas, however I found The Moon is Down to be much wittier. Having said that, Pippin is full of very clever descriptions and imagery of caucuses, it’s only that the humour is a bit more literal than that found in The Moon Is Down (at least to my mind).

If you’re feeling a bit lazy or can’t get your hands on a copy, the concept (minus the political insights) of the story have been put into a few terrible films, such as King Ralph.

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