Quick reviews

Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living
Carrie Tiffany. Picador, 2005. ISBN 0 330 42191 3, RRP $22

Australia, 1934. The Better Farming Train snakes its way through the countryside, spreading industry and science, promising agricultural riches. Jean—the dreamy idealist, endearingly referring to herself as a ‘baking technician’—meets Robert—the ‘soil-taster’ who believes it possible to capture the war with an equation—and together they become the poster image of the modernist couple.

This Australia is oppressive and dusty in every way: drought, mouse plagues, sand drifts, crops that won’t grow, utter phallo-centrism. But it’s also very real, so tangible that the text feels invisible; and the prose: stark, economic, without pretension or curly decoration. Like a child yet to learn the euphemistic language of adults.

Tiffany’s novel is about many things: knowledge as capital; an Australian landscape that refuses to be tamed; latent sexuality and desire. I expected quirky and pleasant, not a darkness infusing every word, and definitely not the dystopic nature of it as a feminist text. This is Australian history as herstory, in the tradition of Jean Bedford’s Sister Kate. Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living won’t change your life, but it is definitely worth a read.

Brooke Davis

Does my head look big in this? 
Randa Abdel-Fattah. Pan Macmillan, 2005. ISBN 0 330 42185 9, RRP $16.95

Most people would agree that the VCE is hard enough by itself for most teenagers to deal with. Add to that a major religious commitment, a first romance, a school bully, and the trials and tribulations of being 16, and you have the very entertaining novel Does my head look big in this?

Following in the footsteps of Looking for Alibrandi, the novel takes us into the life of 16-year-old Amal, an Australian-born Muslim girl who is struggling with her identity. The novel opens with Amal’s decision to wear her hijab ‘full-time’, and her apprehensions about how those around her will react. She confronts her decision with humour, telling one classmate she is wearing the hijab as a part of a hair regrowth program.
Randa Abdel-Fattah does a great job of combining Amal’s faith with a storyline that young to mid-teenage readers will like. The novel is relevant, as Amal and her friends deal with issues such as school, parents, racism, body image, religion, bullying and diversity.

Elizabeth Allen


Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs
Gerald Murnane. Giramondo, 2005. ISBN 1 920 88209 X, RRP $24.95

Some writers argue; some tell stories. Gerald Murnane writes, he tells us, ‘by the stream system’. He suggests connections between the most vivid images in his mind. He explores the interplay between memory, image and thought. So he traces a lifelong love of horse racing to a midweek edition of the Sporting Globe placed in his hands by his father. From it he ‘began to see each race as a complex pattern unfolding’, and ‘each race only an item in a much larger pattern’.

Murnane’s work is quietly beautiful. But without an argument to make or a story to tell, this collection of his essays leaves the reader without a sense of the purpose behind his writing. Murnane writes that he looks forward to learning, in reading fiction, ‘something that the author could have told me by no other means than the writing of the piece of fiction in front of me.’ I wish that he had found the means to make an argument or tell a story in his writing, to convey to the reader something more than an unfolding pattern of images.

Joel Townsend

The Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change, Tim Flannery. Text Publishing, 2005.ISBN 1 920 88584 6, RRP $32.95

If The Future Eaters was Tim Flannery’s big book about Australia, The Weather Makers is his big book about the world, his ‘manual on the use of Earth’s thermostat’.

It is an essential primer for those who seek to understand the complex ways in which we humans, the ‘weather makers’, are shaping our weather and climate, and the impact that our decisions, personal and political, will have on our future.

The Weather Makers catalogues a frightening number of climatic changes now taking place all over the world at an alarming rate: melting polar ice, rising temperatures in the atmosphere and the oceans, coral bleaching, extinction or threatened extinction of numerous species of plants and animals, reduced rainfall and increased desertification, and the displacement of human communities and, in some cases, whole cultures.

It’s an ominous report, but Flannery remains hopeful that we can—and will—change the way we live. To that end, he offers practical suggestions for reducing our energy consumption and thereby reducing the production of dangerous greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide, which is the chief culprit in global warming. After the hottest year on record in Australia, do the cool thing and read this book.

Robert Hefner


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