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The book corner: Telltale

  • 02 September 2022
Telltale by Carmel Bird Transit Lounge Publishing Melbourne Australia 2022   I have to declare an interest: I have known award-winning writer Carmel Bird for years. Because of the tyranny of distance, however, we rarely see each other. But I have followed her career with interest, as they say. And what a career it has been so far. Under the heading By the Same Author, publisher Transit Lounge has listed thirty-one works. I have always admired Carmel’s industry; I also admire her versatility, for she has written novels and short stories, books on the approaches to the writing of both fiction and memoir, and children’s books; she has also compiled a collection of stories by the people who were part of The Stolen Generation, and has edited several anthologies. Then there are the large numbers of reviews she has written over the years. Carmel seems usually to have written what she wants to write and, like the Greek poet Kavafis, approaches the world at a slight angle.

Australian cultural icon and erstwhile publisher Hilary McPhee calls Telltale ‘a rare thing, an ingenious memoir,’ and she is right. It is interesting and reassuring to note that books about reading and recollections of reading habits seem to be proliferating: see Susan Hill’s Howards End is On the Landing, for another example. Perhaps such writing is a defence measure against various worrying developments in the Western world: some universities in England, for example, are axing their English Literature courses. It hardly seems credible, but is definitely happening.

In such troubled times, it is also heartening to note an emphasis on the book as an object, and one to be valued as such. Telltale is a beautiful physical production: congratulations to Transit Lounge Publishing and their team. All the envy-inducing details of production are on the final fly-leaf of the volume, and are well worth noting. It is a lovely book to hold, and the visual details are gorgeous: note the peacock on the front cover, and the bridge photographed in the end-papers. The book as object is a thread, one of many, that runs through Telltale: changes from the depressing volumes produced during wartime (poor-quality paper, dull colours) to the often splendid creations of today.

'Throughout the book we are invited to note the connection between reading and writing: indeed the sub-title is Reading Writing Remembering. Carmel wonders whether her use and choice of language has been shaped and