THE HOOPLA LITERARY SOCIETY
“I don’t know how other writers work, and I’m new to it, but definitely my responses to things that are going on in my life inform everything I do.”
- Dawn French on writing her new novel, Oh Dear Sylvia, The Sunday Times.
Dan French writes in response to what’s happening in her life. Photo via themirror.co.uk.
Top news this week is the subject of book banning. Krissy Kneen is an Australian writer of very erotic fiction, some would even say its pornographic.
That has always been enough to draw criticism and praise in equal measure for her bare all style, witness her own memoir, Affection.
Now her latest novel Triptych: An erotic adventure will ensure the name Krissy Kneen goes down in Australian literary history for being banned.
The Apple iBook store has banned the book for what it calls its “objectionable content.” It seems that pushing the boundaries of what constitutes sexually acceptable behaviour, even though it is fictionalised, even though Kneen drew her inspiration from erotic works of art, has its limits.
There does seem to be an inherent irony that Fifty Shades, regarded by many as poorly-written mummy porn sells like hot cakes, but the real McCoy is banned.
Ms Kneen is no island when it comes to having a book banned. The most frequently banned books in Australia are erotica, those involving explicit illegal drug use and those discussing end-of-life issues, especially if they condone assisted suicide. You can see a complete list of books banned in Australia here.
On the plus side, Krissy Kneen will no doubt enjoy a spike in the sales of Triptych thanks to the good people at Apple.
Oh Dear Sylvia by Dawn French
“This is Jo, Silvia’s elder sister. Her mouth has mistaken itself for a machine gun.
“It just bothers me darling, that when you do eventually wake up, I’m not even going to be able to tell you what happened because nobody seems to bloody know! You are probably the only one and will you even remember?
“God knows. Well obviously God knows, whichsoever God one chooses to align oneself with, of course. I can’t remember now if you even believe in God, do you? Oh God, that’s awful. No. I don’t think you do. I think you’re a hundred per cent not quite sure, aren’t you? I remember you once saying you thought Jesus wore a blindfold to decide who would get the poorly babies, and how that was terribly unfair, but you were eleven, so you may well have updated your thinking since then.”"
Silvia Shute has fallen from the balcony of her apartment on a freezing cold night and is now in a coma. Her estranged family begins to trickle in to visit her as she lies there in a bed with tubes everywhere, a machine breathing for her and her roots already showing.
There is her ex husband Ed still bewildered as to why she ended their marriage so abruptly, selling the house out from under her children and disowning her sixteen-year-old daughter Cassie when she revealed she was pregnant.
There is her older sister Jo who lives in a world of crystals and alternative therapies, all designed to distract her from the realities that their mother dies when they were 9 and 6 and their father’s ensuing descent into depression and alcoholism left them to fend for themselves.
There is their daughter Cassie, now mother to four year old Willow, who tells herself she hates Sylvia as a way to bury the pain of her mother’s rejection. And her brother Jamie who ran away to the war in Afghanistan to bury his hurt and hatred. Lastly, there is Catherine, Cat, Sylvia’s best friend, who is beside herself with the loss of her friend to this dark world.
All of them project their hurt, anger and grief onto the somnolent Sylvia, dredging up the past and dumping it on her sleeping head, all of them watched over by the diligent Jamaican nurse Winnie. Slowly, as the days of watching over her go by, the pieces of Sylvia’s life are revealed. Why did she abandon her family, cutting off all contact and refusing to even meet her granddaughter?
Whilst everyone assumes it is just because Sylvia has always been selfish and headstrong, no one has ever paused to question whether there might be more factors at play.
Dawn French has written a novel that is darkly comic, disturbing and deeply compassionate at the same time. Perhaps it is because French was writing Oh Dear Sylvia as her mother succumbed to a long battle with motor neurone disease that she is able to bring such insights into the suffering of those that survive loss. Or it may just be that a life of writing and performing comedy and drama has honed her eye for the small moments that add up to life’s big experiences.
Either way, Oh Dear Sylvia is a terrific read, proving that French’s huge success with her first novel, A Tiny Bit Marvellous was no fluke. French is a serious, talented writer.
For those of us who thrill at being scared or perhaps like being read to, BBC Radio 4 is running a four part series, The Gothic Imagination, which includes reinventions of two horror classics, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
You can listen to these interpretations, complete with scary sound effects to send a chill down your spine over here. How very appropriate with Halloween approaching.
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