Remarkable fiction

Overland 200 contains some rather remarkable fiction – about whales and art criticism and ebay addicts – from writers Karen Hitchcock, Janette Turner Hospital and Christos Tsiolkas. They can now be read online. Here’s a tantalising paragraph or two to whet your appetite:

‘Forging friendships’ – Karen Hitchcock

Hannah replied to my Facebook request for friendship by email. Hey Keira, she’d said in the email, what’s it been, one year, two? She was no longer with Thomas, she’d moved interstate and she’d prefer – she wrote – not to use Facebook to maintain contact. She was thinking of closing her account anyway, it had the potential to become a nightmare, she knew way too many people. (The italics were hers). And she hoped I didn’t mind. She hoped she’d see me round the traps. We could catch up. Someplace, sometime. Which to my mind was all just a fancy way of saying: I’ve moved on, now fuck off.

So I wrote back to Hannah: I totally understand, Hannah, thanks so much for finding the time to write back to me, because I do appreciate how precious your time is. I know that you really should have a PA to handle all this Facebook rejecting for you; how horrible it must be to tear yourself away from your food-co-op-agitating and vegan-shoe-buying and film-shit activities just to compose nasty little Facebook rejections designed to make everyone else feel like a piece of crap. I mean, HOW TAXING for you, Hannah.

‘Weird people’ – Janette Turner Hospital

There’s a joke at the resort and on the whale-watching boats. Tourists who are leaving the island pass it on. New arrivals splurt laughter, clap hands to mouths in embarrassment, cast sidelong glances at the skipper of the Moby Dick, then furtively retell and embellish. The whispering buffets Rufus – his hearing is painfully acute – though he knows no malice is intended. The rumours multiply like krill and bruise him, but gossip is normal, he knows that. He knows this is the sort of thing that normal people do. He watches as they arrive from the mainland on the catamaran, already infected, brushing salt and hearsay from their cheeks. The story, the joke – with variations – always travels sotto voce, stealthy as a harpoon, but hits target with a brutal bang of laughter.

This is the way the joke goes.

Question: How do you know if he likes you?

Answer: He looks at your shoes when he’s talking to you.

Rufus gets it.

Call him Rufus he has heard many times, always spoken with a slow American twang. He gets that one too, though the backpacking college students believe it is their secret in-joke.

Call him Weird.

‘Rococco’ – Christos Tsiolkas

The auction of the painting A Lady Escorted into the Garden by the minor eighteenth-century Portuguese artist Alfonso Rigas de la Guerra created a significant stir in art circles when it was recently sold for €3.2 million (see ‘Unknown Work Sets Art World’s Hearts Racing’, Guardian, 17 May 2006). Though the price itself was relatively insignificant when compared to the astronomical sums fetched by more famous works, it nevertheless was an astonishing sum for a painting that has little, if any, international profile. It is not my intention here to comment on the workings of the international art industry. But I do believe it is necessary to make the one following observation before I begin: since the 1980s, any belief in the ‘revolutionary’ potential imbued in the traditional high arts can no longer be a tenable critical position, if for no other reason than the more democratic digital media technologies allow for a dispersal of message and image that would have been unimaginable to an artist of even a half-century before. But it is not only the internet that has exposed the elitism of art practice. Artists are neither a ‘proletariat’ nor a ‘vanguard’, and they do not make successful ‘revolutionaries’. If they have been, it has only been for a moment before the firing squad or the gulag or the concentration camp has seen to their ignoble demise. Some of the more fortunate are taken up as a permanent class of bohemian émigrés by whatever cities happen to be the cultural centres of their moment. In the end, all are forced to rely on the kindness of the haute-bourgeois stranger. We can only but wish them luck. The sword, we well know now, post the twentieth century, is indeed much mightier than the pen.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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