Reading The True History of the Kelly Gang and really getting into it. Australian literature has been posing some problems for me because relative to Canadian literature, for example, there doesn't seem to be a great galumphing tonne of it. Yes, yes, tonnes of Australian writers, Malouf and Coetzee - he counts as Australian now, right?, and Nick Cave if you must, and - well, I'm writing this as a Canadian, so take it with a grain of salt.
But there is something so intimately Canadian about Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Margaret Laurence, James Sinclair Ross, Robertson Davies, Leonard Cohen, Timothy Findley, that chick who wrote Fall On Your Knees, Gabrielle Roy, Gaetan Soucy - about any Canadian author I can think of, actually, whether I like their work much or not, there's something that is obsessively and inescapably Canadian. And in each case, though you can see, for example, what Laurence owes to Sinclair Ross, and what Munro in turn owes to Laurence - it's different relationship with that Canadianness. Sometimes I don't think it's a good thing. In Atwood's case, for example, I only enjoy her short stories, her poetry, and those of her novels which make the strongest effort to ditch her national identity - I think she's a writer who's badly hamstrung by this quality of Canadianness - whereas with Laurence, it's hard to imagine her bothering to write about anything else besides her emotional relationship with her nationality, and I think the result was pretty smashing.
Anyways, my problem with Australian literature so far is that it's not giving me any sort of feeling at all for Australia, and I can't think of the books I've read by Australian writers and get an impression off of that of what Australia is. So far that's almost certainly my fault for not having read enough, and in the case of Peter Carey, this is the first of his books I've really been able to sink myself into. I tried with Oscar and Lucinda a few years ago and to my shock, because it doesn't happen that often, I felt like I'd been pitched out of the book by my ear - I couldn't read it. I forced myself through a hundred pages or so and had to give up. Probably from having watched the film as it's also happened with Jude the Obscure and Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and usually I take to Thomas Hardy like a fish to water.
So obviously The True History of the Kelly Gang is obsessively Australian in the way that I, about to step into that great unknown, and looking for, and it's a great read so far too, one of those unputdownable things. There is a slight tweeness to it, because the way that it blends a poetic stream of consciousness with a half-educated narrative voice once in awhile throws up a phrase that Ned Kelly was never going to fucking say, but that's alright. And I'm not saying it's an authentic or correct vision of Australia or anything like that, but what it is, is something that convinces me Australia really exists as an emotional entity - that it's a place with its own soul, that you have a relationship with - and as I'm going there more or less determined to find a way to love it forever, that's important.