Carlton through and through

Carlton through and through
Rhonda Dredge

Carlton is a literary place that historically accepted the book and all of its failings long before other suburbs, chiefly because of Readings and nearby café life where you could talk about them.

Lygon St was a cool place to come and see foreign films screening at the Nova and conversation blossomed.

That identity creates a tolerant culture that values different points of view.

If you look at the non-fiction new release section of Readings, for example, there are three sets of shelves in alphabetical order according to author.

Among them you’ll find many voices, including examples of the fast writer. These are people who can whip up some words around an issue, perhaps encourage others to do the same, then publish.

Currently, Old Seems to be Other People, by Lily Brett is on the first set of shelves. Last year The Grandmothers by Helen Elliott would have occupied a nearby shelf. They both deal with what could be called the “senior” woman.

Brett is a novelist and columnist who now lives in New York and Elliott is former literary editor of the Herald Sun, who according to one local writer is known “for her snippy reviews”.

One such snippy review appeared in The Age last month when Elliott reviewed Brett’s book. The review is undeniably entertaining. Elliott called New York “the global bivouac for self-absorption” but it is also undeniably mean in that it compares Brett’s comedic style with that of Trump’s.

The review has annoyed Brett’s Carlton friends who have come out in her defence.

“I think it was a mean-spirited review,” Inara Johnson said. “Obviously humour associated with ageing is not going to appeal to young people but there are many ready to identify and laugh, particularly many fans of Lily who have aged with her.”

As a child Brett lived in Nicholson St and attended Princess Hill for a few years before going to University High School. In the ‘80s she and her husband David Rankin converted an old bakery/warehouse in Canning St where they lived before moving to New York 30 years ago.

Elliott claims in her review that the move has deafened Brett to her Aussie voice, which was once self-deprecating and droll.

“These pieces – it really is imprecise to call them essays – might appeal to those who like to turn every single thing into a gag, like to hear standup comedy routines every night,” Elliott writes.

“But Trump, taking narcissism to endgame, stole every lick of funny from comedic self-absorption. The world has moved on, a long, long way.”

According to Johnson, the essays were written as columns for a German newspaper, hence their ending on a joke.

The columns are full of amusing observations of New York, such as the one that even 60- and 70-year-olds are called miss and engage in speed dating.

The book is not really about body failure. Thank goodness! Despite turning 71 during its writing, Brett still feels young. She also has the wisdom of hindsight. She claims that despite spending three-quarters of her income on psychoanalysis she’s still indecisive, hesitant, bothered and anxious.

Perhaps New Yorkers are more expressive than Aussies, but this is not a crime. The columns are delightful and intimate and don’t dwell on obvious social roles like we seem to relish here in Melbourne.

After leaving the new release shelves at Readings the book will be transferred to “Cultural Studies” while The Grandmothers, a book of essays on a supposedly understudied topic, is available under “Family Matters” at Dymocks •

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