SJ Finn eating one piece of art at a time

Week #37 Filth: a novel


I’m a big fan of Irvine Welsh, and have read most of his novels. But for those reading his work for the first time, his writing can be a dense proposition. Filth, on the other hand, has all the grit of Welsh’s prose and less of the density. For this reason alone, it is a perfect introduction to his cannon of work.

Debauched, depraved and down-right filthy, Bruce Robertson is a character the reader can freely love to hate. Follow his thread through the normal immorality (expect at a level unprecedented) of a detective’s world and you come out changed. Literally this rant of Welsh’s has, I would say, a physical effect on its consumer. Be careful, but not restrained. Dive in. 

Week #36 Ghost River: a novel


Ghost River is a book that sheds its bark quickly, leaving the reader with a clear view of the smooth skin of wood underneath. Tony Birch presents us with a summer on a river that evokes post WWII Melbourne and, more particularly, Collingwood with such colour, we except it as truth and dive in willingly. In the tradition of To Kill a Mockingbird and Jasper Jones, Ghost River takes the reader into the lives of young people, and through them we see a child’s view of an adult’s world. Far from being written for the young, however, this work is an educational look for adult readers into what sort of pressures cast shadows over children and how they interpret their world.

But the main purpose of the work is to remind us of what has been in our recent history as well as how much we’ve lost from throwing old history away with those who have been dispossessed from their land. This work tells a straight tale while drilling down into the bedrock of human nature.

Week #35 Maya’s Notebook: a novel

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Not everything Isabel Allende writes strikes a chord with me, however Maya’s Notebook is no less loved than the rest of the works I have written about here. It does, perhaps, go against the grain of Allende’s most famous book, House of Spirits, in that there is (apart from a few references) no sign of ‘magical realism’ in its pages. Rather it is a gritty story that reels the reader in. Maya’s circumstances and those of her wonderfully drawn grandparents are a trip into the seedy streets of Las Vegas: a Vegas we don’t often get to see. Balancing the chaos is the seductive and far slower but, in some respects, tougher life of her escape. The tiny island off the Chilean coast provides what all hectic lives need: simplicity.

Set between the two worlds of North and South America, the fast and the slow, the drug-soaked and the natural, the lessons in this book aren’t hidden; and what makes them stand out is not their importance but the compelling way they’re told. Allende’s ability to write is evident from the very beginning, and this is a book that knows exactly what it is, where its sights are set and how it will proceed to get there.

Week #34 South Bound: a series of monochrome landscape photographs


Caroline Fraser is a GP and a photographer, not that the order matters. These shots, taken, I think, in New Zealand, are a delve into the muddy fog of our minds, with the weird and wonderful process of creating a very clear picture. It’s emotional. These pictures are a monochrome of reality, but provide a spot for the physical and the sensual to join. Here is the full series. Try her light on water series – more delicate, more whimsical, or her straight water series, where colour moodiness is exquisite. Here for a shot in colourful abstract landscapes that inject a new view like an eye into all time, and here for some class. Exceptional. Caroline Fraser has it. 


Week #33 Rhiannon Giddens: a live set

Rhiannon Giddens is a singer-songwriter with a strong and varied sound. One of the best recordings I’ve heard on The Live Set here that Radio National’s Alice Keath brings us, the superb sound of Giddens’ band playing at the Corner Hotel in Victoria Australia, is quality unblemished.

Sure, it’s an hour out of your day but it’ll feed your synapses like nothing else.

Week #32 Namibia: a photographic series

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Vittorio Ricci’s photographs are so precise and yet so full of space, they appear at first, not to be real. Drawing the eye in, however, and creating pause, it’s the very notion of the impossibility of them that takes away the breath. Known for his landscapes and shots of nature, Vittorio Ricci captures our world in torturously dense colours and sharp lines. The breadth of his vision is impressive, the variety a cool swath from desert to snow-covered hills. His photographs ignite a real response, a surge of emotion; they feed us our truly exquisite earth.


Week #31 Aokigahara: a short story

Jennifer Down’s story about the endeavour of grief – what we do, what we can’t fix, what we’re held to when a loved-one struggles to remain strong – is both touching and telling. Set from a sibling’s point of view, Aokigahara balances the responsibilities of a daughter with the grief of a sister so delicately it’s easy to imagine what families go through after one member takes their life.

When the protagonist travels to Japan to retrace her brother’s last steps, the weight of the activity is palpable. The reader understands what is at stake from a hollowness that the character never allows to overwhelm her; sadness is a silent but certain partner. And yes, Aokigahara is a work that is testimony to the fact that narrative can be, in that Gestalt way, greater then the sum of its parts, making for a magical read.