Tag Archives: ANZ Literature Month

The Cook – Wayne Macauley

Living with a trained chef, it seems that an interest in all things foodie has become part of my life through osmosis. Actually, let’s rephrase that. Living with a trained chef the technical side of cooking, flavours and presentation has become part of my life through osmosis. I have always taken a possibly slightly beyond healthy interest in food and experience fine dining when I can. Note – living with a chef means I am never allowed to cook, or if I do it is always wrong (yes you can even stir a stir fry wrong, apparently). So books with a foodie slant have an interest to this household and having not read one for a while and it being Kimbofo’s ANZ Literature Month it seemed the perfect time to read Wayne Macauley’s The Cook.

Quercus Books, paperback, 2013, fiction, 256 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Zac is a young offender who, after having committed an act of violence, is given the option of either going into a young offenders institute or of joining Cook School, an initiative set up by a celebrity Head Chef who wants to do good for the community and also quite possibly for his own PR. Here Zac learns all the trick of the trade, from slaughtering to sautéing, of cooking under the eyes of Sous Chef Fabian and occasionally the Head Chef himself. Zac soon gets a taste (sorry) for the world of cooking and as he watches the life the Head Chef lives, and the delights celebrity can bring, Zac decides that is the life for him and he will do anything to achieve it.

Head Chef stopped stalking the bench. It was a bit religious he had his arms out palms up his wedding ring was huge. You have been chosen he said each and every one of you it could have been anyone but of all the young people wandering the suburbs wasting their lives you and only you have been chosen. Do not waste this opportunity. You have a kitchen the envy of a Michelin-star restaurant the best teaching talent in the country fresh produce at your door it is up to you to use these resources and not waste them. Remember you are flying the flag for good taste gentlemen. If you are not prepared to aim higher and higher again I suggest you take your supermarket chops and go and eat them with the dogs.

Initially you could be fooled into thinking that The Cook is simply a satire on the cooking world and all the cookery shows, from Masterchef to the recent show Taste with Nigella and co, and at first glance it is. As we learn, grimly fascinated as the descriptions are quite full on, how you slaughter various animals after having reared them in fancy ways to make the most of your meat. We also learn how the finest chefs make everything top line with basic ingredients and maximum price, you know what I mean; mushroom foam, a piece of pork the size of an iPod mini with the tiniest stokes of sauce surrounding it. And also how the upper classes will happily pay through their noses for it. Highlighted all the more when Zac becomes an ‘in house’ chef.

Yet The Cook is actually so much more than that. At it’s very (cold, dark) heart this is a book about class, something I am learning Australian authors are very interested in. We watch as Zac watches the upper classes and all the while Macauley is saying ‘look how outrageous this is’. What I think Macauley then does which is very clever is break this, possibly subliminally, is then have it running into three strands. Firstly we see how the upper classes are not always based on the money people actually have and also the fall from grace when recession hits both at the Head Chef’s idyllic school and then in the rich suburbs of the cities.

Secondly, through Zac, we look at how this affects the younger people of today who are striving to find (let alone make) a place in this world when even the most privileged are struggling, even if it is behind closed doors. Zac was from the wrong streets before he became a wrong’en and therefore he has to work harder and harder and harder in order work against the preconceptions people will have of him, even the preconception of himself. Macauley creates a fascinating psychology being Zac as a boy who believes himself lower than the low and who may want the trappings of fame if he can’t become part of the elite then he can at least aim to be the highest of the lowest of the low, if that makes sense.

I don’t want to work for a boss who props me up just above drowning I want to work for a customer who knows I am below them and who knows that I know. This is my shame it is a shame I want to be proud of. The money is elsewhere it’s always been elsewhere that is the truth of our lives someone else is holding the string dangling it in front of our eyes do we jump like dogs for a treat or do we flatten our ears say I’m your dog you’re my master give him shame out of every pour make him feel so big and special that he can’t help dropping something down for you. It’s not up to us to change them our job is to lick their boots kiss their arses let them make the money they’re the ones who know how to and let’s be thankful for what trickles down.

This means that thirdly we look at the question ‘is there actually power in servitude?’ This is not something that is answered in The Cook instead it is a question that hangs in the air, or just behind the dining room doors. We are to go away and think about it and with the sudden dark twist, which should not be given away because when it happens its brilliant, at the end there is no doubt you will be thinking about it long after you have read it.

However, some of you may not get there because I occasionally struggled. You see Macauley’s cleverest trick with The Cook is also something that I occasionally found hard to work with and that was Zac himself as our narrator. Let me explain. Zac’s narration is initially very monotone whilst having the verbals. Everything comes out at once, Macauley doing this by having not a single comma (no not a one) in the book at all. He is also slightly cold, I couldn’t decide if this was some condition, lack of education or just his personality. This occasionally becomes slightly overbearing and so I needed to have a bit of space with him now and again. Yet his voice does change slowly over time and having continued I was fascinated as he goes from determined to delude to desperate. I was very glad I persevered.

I think that The Cook is a rather fascinating book, relatively small, utterly brimming full of themes and ideas. Macauley’s creation of Zac and his ways of narration are a risk that pays off with an ending that I will be left thinking about for quite some time. Less a satire for me and more an unabashed and often confronting look at society, the class divide and the future for those who are young and sometimes make mistakes and the messages of aspiration that we are sending them. Well worth a read.

ANZ-LitMonth-200pixWho else has read this and what did you think of it? Have you read any of Macauley’s other books, which I don’t think have crossed the water here yet, and if so what did you make of them? You can see other reviews of the book from ANZ Lit Lovers, FarmlaneBooks, The First Tuesday Book Club and Kim of Reading Matters. Kim has recommended the book to me many a time and so it only seemed right that I read it for her ANZ Literature Month this May. For more info on that head here. Back to The Cook… I do like a book with a dark little heart and one that builds and builds giving a final twist, can you recommend any others in that sort of style?

 

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Filed under Maclehose Publishing, Quercus Publishing, Review, Wayne Macauley

Other People’s Bookshelves #41; Pamela Parks

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we head over to Tasmania, apt for ANZ Literary Month, to join the delightful blogger Pamela Parks (for more violet crumbles, Tim Tam’s and jarra tea) to have a gander through her shelves which have a theme… Pamela really, really, really likes Penguin Books. So without further ado let us find out more about Pamela and then have a route around her bookshelves.

I am retired, collect vintage first published Penguin books from 1935 – 1970 and ride through Tasmania on a 350 cc Italian Scooter. I grew up in Michigan where I learned to read during long winters and have since moved to Tasmania, Australia because they had a shortage of speech pathologists. Working for 40 years in that field I retired to collect books, rescue injured wildlife of where there is no end for a sanctuary and ride with a motorbike club. I am ageing disgracefully. I have spent the last several years collecting Penguin books in USA, England and South America. My husband and I have 3 dogs and 2 cats though they don’t know they are animals. We haven’t told them.

Snip20140323_5Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

Any book can live on my shelves. People give them to me, I buy too many, mainly because their covers appeal and the stories look good. I converted a bedroom into the Penguin room. There are probably 4500 books in that room. There is Penguin ephemera tacked to the closet doors and a Penguin art deco reading chair and lamp. I have no system except a bit of overkill.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

As you walk in the Penguins are on the left wall floor to ceiling. On the right wall the non Penguins live alphabetised by title. The boxed sets live on the very top shelves. The reference books (books about books, literature and reading) live in the bookcase in the bedroom. The John Steinbeck, Jack London and Ernest Hemingway first editions live in the hallway out of the light on their own bookcase.

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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

The first book I ever bought was a 59 cent copy of Trixie Belden who I adored when I was about 9 or 10 years old in the late 1950’s.   There was a little section of children’s books in the 5 & 10 cent store in mid-Michigan where I grew up. I had to spend a lot of time talking my mother into it. After that I would steal quarters from my mother’s purse to buy sequels that came out in that series. Then I branched out in Nancy Drew. The town I lived in was very small (5000 people) and books were in short supply.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

No I would not be embarrassed by types of books but I am embarrassed by how many books I have that are not read. It really is shameful and I keep buying more, both Penguins and non Penguins (mainly reference books about books and literature). I really do need to lock myself into my house with locks on the outside of the doors and not go out until I read them and move them on.

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Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I have a copy of The Night Before Christmas that belonged to my mother in the 1930’s, a few first editions of John Steinbeck which I love and a very large two volume set of first edition books by Jack London’s wife. I also keep a collection of old dog adventure stories from the 1800’s to 1950 with illustrations by Albert Payson-Terhune and Cecil Aldin. I collect them for the art work in them of dogs, horses and cats. I also have about 2400 vintage Penguin books from various series before 1970 when Allen Lane (the publisher) died. If this house catches fire I probably will be too busy getting my pets out to worry about books. I love the books but the furry balls of love come first.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

We didn’t have many books in our home and once I’d read everything I could in the town children’s library we weren’t allowed to check out adult books. We had librarians that never married and ruled the books with a hickory stick. You couldn’t touch adult books if you were a child. It’s too bad really because I would be a lot better read if I could have read more books by American authors. It was the midwest America and censorship was rife. Now I have many classics on my shelves, the Penguin books which are a real social history of many authors and is probably why I collect so many books. I couldn’t get many as a child.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

No, once I read a book from a friend I seldom feel the need to revisit it. There are some reference books though that I will buy if I see something I like in a bookshop.

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What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Outside of a Russian Penguin book (all in Russian in the main series) it would have to be a couple of art journal books. Wonderful books about journaling your trips or you daily life with lots of drawings and sketches through them. They are called An Illustrated Journey and An Illustrated Life. Every page is crammed with drawings by pencil, pens and paints. Great fun.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

There sure are. Mainly a book of birds by James Audubon or John Gould. I love those early exploring natural history books from the 1800’s. Sadly I can’t afford them unless I hit the lottery. All the books I really love cost tens of thousands of dollars. Oh to be rich. I would also like a copy of every John Steinbeck American first published book ever published. Already they have become too expensive especially Grapes of Wrath. (While I’m dreaming I’d have them all signed too.)

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

They’d absolutely think I was the most well read person in the world and be awestruck and inspired. They wouldn’t know that so many of them have not yet been read. I won’t tell them though.

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A huge thanks to Pamela for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. If you would like to find out more about her and the books she loves make sure you head to her blog Travelling Penguin. To find out more about ANZ Literature Month head here. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Pamela’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

Some books need to be read at just the right time, sometimes whim chooses its moment and others it feels like fate has stepped in slightly. I have been meaning to read Graeme Simsion’s debut novel The Rosie Project for ages and ages, since it came out in fact and had lots of glowing reviews from its home turf of Australia, indeed even being featured on The First Tuesday Book Club. Yet for some reason I was never quite in the right mood… and then Adam at my book club chose it and so it seemed fate had intervened. This I should add was back at the end of February but I thought I would hold off reviewing it until Kim of Reading Matters (who shared her shelves with us all yesterday) delightful ANZ Literature Month which runs throughout May.

Penguin Books, trade paperback, 2013, fiction, 352 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Professor Don Tillman is a man who is going to get married, to who, well he doesn’t quite know yet. What he does know is less who she might be but much more who he doesn’t want her to be. Don has actually gone the extra mile and designed a questionnaire to find his ideal partner which he calls The Wife Project. This he feels will be a winner, yet the options for a possible wife don’t seem to be very forthcoming. Occasionally he does get a first date, alas there always tends to be some slight issue that throws Don off kilter and rather off his date. Don, we soon discover, is very particular character from liking to spend exactly 94 minutes cleaning the bathroom to being very sure that anyone and everyone should know the difference between an apricot sorbet and a peach one.

Cycling home, I reflected on the dinner. It had been a grossly inefficient method of selection, but the questionnaire had been of significant value. Without it, and the questions it prompted, I would undoubtedly have attempted a second date with Olivia, who was an extremely interesting and nice person. Perhaps we would have gone on a third date and a fourth and fifth date, then one day, when all the desserts at the restaurant had contained egg, we would have crossed the road to the ice-cream parlour, and discovered they had no egg-free pistachio. It was better to find out before we made an investment in the relationship.

However things change slightly when Don’s friend Gene, a man who is currently doing his own project on the differences between sexual intercourse with women from every country, a project we are never sure he has been fully honest with his wife about, steps in. He sends Rosie in Don’s direction, she is almost everything that Don wouldn’t want yet she needs some genetic help in finding her real father (another project) which slightly begrudgingly Don agrees to, leading him on a journey of detective discovery and one of self-discovery too.

I will admit that it does all sound a bit cute and schmaltzy, and at times it often is. It all sounds rather predictable and you can probably guess what is going to happen, even the twists and turns that come along, with all the characters and the genetic hunt (though with the latter I was rather wrong footed) yet even a big old cynic like me found himself enjoying it rather a lot as I was reading on.

The main reason for that is Don himself. Initially I didn’t think I was going to get on with the narration because it is (and this is a good thing but it could put some people off) very unique. Don is a professor in genetics which has rather an irony as, we assume as it is never made official, he has some form of Asperger’s Syndrome which is one of the things that he himself deals with but cannot spot in his own, very precise, behaviour. This makes his narration initially seem very matter of fact, quite distant and sometimes rather cold. As we get to know him though we see it as just a quirk in his personality which warms us to him and we often find ourselves laughing at the honest way in which he will view a situation or person. Simsion does something very clever here as we never laugh AT Don, we just laugh at the way his thinking highlights some of the ridiculous ways in which we behave as people. It’s a difficult balance to create without making Don the joke of the book, Simsion does it deftly.

Then she interrupted my thoughts. ‘Anyhow, I’ve got a genetics question.’
‘Proceed,’ I said. I was back in the world I knew.
‘Someone told me you can tell if a person’s monogamous by the size of their testicles.’
The sexual aspects of biology are regularly in the popular press, so this was not as stupid a statement as it might appear, although it embodied a typical misconception. It occurred to me that it might be some sort of code for a sexual advance, but I decided to play it safe and respond to the question literally.
‘Ridiculous,’ I said.
Rosie seemed very pleased with my answer.
‘You’re a star,’ she said. ‘I’ve just won a bet.’

I have to admit as the book went on I did have a few wobbles with it. My first question was why the book had to go to New York, which isn’t a spoiler as I haven’t told you why? It seemed a bit unnecessary and was the first time that I felt like it was a screenplay which had been turned into a book to then make a film, which is apparently how the book came to fruition. It had that slight ‘must appeal to Hollywood and the American market’ rather than actually being needed for the story I felt. The second thing was that Don starts to change, again I won’t say why or in what way, yet this too didn’t feel quite right, the whole point of the book to me (and what makes it so quirky and original in the genre it is in) was about how Don was different and how we should celebrate it, I couldn’t quite decide if in the end that was the case.

Either way, I enjoyed The Rosie Project. It made me think about how we perceive and judge people in a nice easy way – if that sounds patronising I don’t mean it to. Sometimes we need books you don’t have to think too much about (not in a snobby way) you just simply read them for the enjoyment and, in this case, the giggles (I laughed out loud at a scene involving a full sized modern skeleton) that they provide along the way, being entertained as you go.

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Filed under Graeme Simsion, Penguin Books, Review