In this volume, Steep Stairs Review continues to build upon its eclectic identity, merging a collection of contemporary critiques of key postmillennial works, alongside independent creative poetry, prose and visual arts. The collection, among others, explores political, social and cultural representations in international literary work, and serves as an intersection between the concept of literature as entertainment and as a medium of communicating important social, cultural and philosophical perspectives.

This volume begins with a collection of critical book reviews: Glen Jennings, in Death and the Movement: Sheng Keyi presents a critical review of Sheng Keyi’s attempt in Death Fugue to portray the Chinese Protest Movement of 1989 and its aftermath. Next, Colm McNaughton in R L Williams’s A Companion to Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Review underlines the importance of taking into account the historical, political and economic context of Latin America in order to accurately understand Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Katherine Firth in Orange, Pear, Apple, Dada: Emily Gravett, Again! and the avant-garde presents a concise and informative background to the origin of Dadaism followed by a discussion of its place in today’s literature by reviewing Emily Gravett’s award-winning contemporary children’s literature. The final book review in this volume, Between the Thames and the Tiber: The further adventures of Sherlock Holmes: A Review by Michael Todd, introduces the reader to Riccardi, a Conan Doyle imitator and his book Between the Thames and the Tiber: The further adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

The volume continues with a series of critical film and TV series reviews: In his sharp criticism: Metaphor and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – Feature Film starring and directed by Ben StillerPhilip Kemp highlights the importance of approaching text “with a symbolic, metaphorical and mythological focus” in order to gain deeper appreciation of the social impact of art. Next, in The Secret River and the Masks of White Australian Identity, Michael Heald by critically reviewing a scene from the recent television adaptation of Kate Grenville’s novel The Secret River, reminds us of Australia’s colonial past and White Australian identity. Finally, Susan Karpasitis in What did you think of Gone Girl – you’re a feminist,  don’t you love that kind of stuff? examines the challenges of reading contemporary film narratives through the lens of an ever-changing feminist ideologies.

Next is a collection of poems by Rod BeechamDanny FaheyNazanin Ghodrati and Talitha Fraser who respectively in Reflections of a Perfect, Drowning, The Brick Choir and Untitled  present a defamiliarised version of the everyday struggle from the metaphor of drowning to the issue of identity and self-perception.

Ernie Gray in Sri Lankan Story recounts the emotional journey back to Sri Lanka a decade after surviving the 2004 tsunami that cost thousands of lives in Sri Lanka and worldwide.

Lastly, this volume proudly showcases Sally Dalton-Brown’s abstract expressionist palimpsest paintings in Picasso’s Dust: Sally Dalton-Brown. Her strong brush strokes on the canvas allow for a personal dialogue between the presented image and the resulting subjective interpretation.

 

Steep Stairs Review Editors, Nazanin Ghodrati and Susan Karpasitis

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Sheng, K 2014 (Shelly Bryant trans.), Death Fugue, Sydney, Giramondo.

Reviewed by Glen Jennings

Sheng Keyi has written (and Shelly Bryant has translated into lively English) an excellent novel about young migrant workers in China. Northern Girls is realistic, humorous, and convincing in its portrayal of young women who leave their villages to seek a new life. Xiaohong and Sijiang are nuanced characters shaped by naivety, and cunning who face exploitation but also take risks in search of rewards. Knocked down many times, and only occasionally helped up, their aim is to “make it” in a country that, over the past twenty-five years, has been on the most spectacular “make” the world has ever seen. Anyone interested in the transformation of China from an overwhelmingly rural society to a global powerhouse, and the young workers who feed the literal and figurative furnaces of that powerhouse, should be interested in the lives of the Northern Girls.

Impressed by Northern Girls, I was greatly looking forward to Death Fugue, the latest fictional collaboration between Sheng Keyi and Shelly Bryant. This anticipation was heightened by the fact that Sheng Keyi had chosen to write, allegorically, about the Chinese Protest Movement of 1989 and its violent suppression. I lived in China during that time. What is euphemistically called “The Tiananmen Massacre” is a defining moment in my life, and something I believe deserves deeper exploration through fiction. This is exceedingly difficult for a Chinese author still living in China to do. Sheng Keyi, a native of Hunan who now resides in Beijing, is bold and admirable for tackling this important topic. Death Fugue also appeared around the time of the “Occupy Central” demonstrations in Hong Kong, the so-called “Umbrella Revolution” against China’s denial of full democratic reform for the citizens of this former British colony (people who never enjoyed full democratic freedoms under the British). Unsurprisingly, Death Fugue is officially unpublished in China and it has not been released through Sheng Keyi’s previous English-language publisher, Penguin. Instead, a small Australian publishing house, Giramondo, has taken up her novel. While it is always good to stick up for the little guy having a go, Death Fugue unfortunately cannot be recommended as highly as Northern Girls.

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Williams, R L 2013 A Companion to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Tamesis, Woolbridge.

Reviewed By Colm McNaughton ©2015

This companion, authored by US academic Raymond Leslie Williams, is an attempt to introduce the reader who is assumed to have no prior knowledge, to the complex and mercurial Colombian author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Explaining Garcia Marquez to the uninitiated is no easy task because he and his literary works sit at the very juncture of history, memory and imagination in the Latin American reality. Thus, to contextualize Garcia Marquez you are necessarily encountering the very processes Latin Americans have at their disposal to reflect on where they come from and where they might be headed.  Of course there are numerous critics, especially those north of the Rio Grande who will disagree with this assumption; but this is the very battleground which Uruguayan historian Eduardo Galeano so eloquently referred to as La Memoria del Fuego/ the Memory of Fire.

In placing Garcia Marquez both as an author and as a person into the maelstrom that is the unfolding of Latin American history, what I am proposing is that his works can best be understood and appreciated as a creative response to the historical/ political/ economic contexts in which he found himself and his fellows at a certain time and place. To do otherwise is to consciously (or even perhaps unconsciously) decontextualize and depoliticize both him and his works, and as a consequence you may be contributing to ongoing forms of imperial/ state violence against the Latin American body. This I will suggest is precisely the fundamental weakness of this volume. This text essentially approaches Garcia Marquez through a narrowly compartmentalised and siloed off discipline of literature, and as a consequence what we are encountering is but a distorted caricature of the Colombian author. Omitted from this perspective is any sense of the revolutionary seer, who throughout his working life develops an arsenal of metaphors, incantations and stories to confront and attack the reach and power of imperial imagination. Garcia Marquez’s frontal assault on the pernicious master’s imagination is akin to the Cuban Revolution of 1959, which not only overthrew Batista, the US backed dictator, but also left a significant dint in the their beloved Monroe doctrine. Sadly, the Garcia Marquez we encounter in these pages is but an apparition of his marvellously real self.

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Written by Katherine Firth

The first Dada manifesto was read by Hugo Ball in 1916 in Zürich at the first Dadaist soirée: Dada is a simple word, he claims: it is “Very easy to understand. Quite terribly simple.” I had always believed it was a word that meant nothing, but Ball claims: “In French it means “hobby horse”. In German it means “good-bye”… In Romanian: “Yes, indeed”. This means that it is a childhood word, an international word, a contradictory word, a hello, yes, no, goodbye word. In the second Dadaist manifesto 1918, Tristan Tzara suggested that “One shouldn’t let too many words out. A line of poetry is a chance to get rid of all the filth that clings to this accursed language.” Small numbers of words are good, poetry, patterns are good. Dada helps you to strip away, allows you to return to a time of greater innocence, of cleaner, simpler, purer moments.

Dada is one stream in the early twentieth-century modernist avant-gardes that attempted to remake and rethink culture in these radical ways. The modernist small book and small magazine movement (1905-30) was strongly influenced by an interest in the book as a thing. The Russian Constructivist school’s little magazines were made of patterned wall paper off-cuts, like Khudizhestvenny Trud (Artistic Labour). The Dutch magazine Die Stijl (The Style) advocated bold lettering and radical, non-horizontal typography. The German magazine Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) broke the rules of painting which said that a picture should look realistic, look truthful, in order to enable artists to speak a deeper truth about spiritual realities. The lettering, the paper, printing on wallpaper samples, breaking the rules of type, of grammar, of visual layout, they all intentionally set out to break the rules, to build a new set of possibilities for books, for language, for society. This often went hand in hand with a radically new ways to understand the human condition through the insights of psychoanalysis.

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Riccardi, T 2011, Between the Thames and the Tiber: The further adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Pegasus Crime, NY.

Reviewed by Michael Todd


The first imitation of Conan Doyle’s Holmes and Watson appeared only four months after the characters appeared in the Strand Magazine in 1891. By 1995 there were over 2000 pastiches or parodies (Klinger, The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes Vol 1 2005 p lvii).

From now on there may be an increase in the number of those imitations as the above-mentioned Leslie Klinger in October 2014 was successful in an American Court in arguing that the Conan Doyle estate no longer possessed copyright over the names Holmes and Watson (the estate attempted to collect a fee when other writers made use of the characters).

Ted Riccardi is a professor emeritus in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University, and he has written some half dozen books featuring Holmes and Watson.

The stories, as with the originals, are written and have an introduction by Watson, and Riccardi has captured Conan Doyle’s writing style. While the stories reflect the original writing, the editing does have some problems, with a number of misspelled or deleted words, and the fact that the stories are not in chronological order is slightly annoying as you bounce back and forth between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Philip Kemp

The ‘Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ is a 2013 feature film starring and directed by Ben Stiller. The film is based loosely upon the famous short story by James Thurber of the same title, which was published in The New Yorker on March 18, 1939 (and which is available to read free of charge on The New Yorker’s website).  

The scenes presented in the film are largely action-based and designed to cater to a broad audience, and the subtext of the film to some degree represents the sentiments of the short story. There are, however, substantial differences between the brilliant short story and this filmic attempt at profundity by Hollywood.

Tired of his monotonous job producing photos for publication, the title character of Walter Mitty in the film, played by Ben Stiller, daydreams of spectacular and exciting adventures. Downsizing executive, Ted Hendricks, is brought into the company to oversee the last print edition of the magazine before the publication is moved online.

The protagonist in the short story is possibly somewhat autobiographical and  Ramachandran and Blakeslee (1998, pp. 85-87) have posited that Thurber may himself have suffered from Charles Bonnet Syndrome or ‘visual release hallucinations’ where people with partial or complete blindness are subject to detailed and involved hallucinations such as those described in the short story and represented in the film.

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Written by Michael Heald

The recent television adaptation of Kate Grenville’s novel The Secret River, is, in my view, quite a triumph. The novel itself, you may recall, achieved some notoriety when the historian Inga Clendinnen challenged its historical veracity. Grenville was lucid in the face of such an astonishing lack of understanding of the nature of art and story.

The Secret River follows the lives of Will and Sal Thornhill, from their impoverished struggles in nineteenth century London, through transportation to Australia, and their rise to the status of substantial land holders on the Hawkesbury River.

I will focus only on one short scene here, which I believe creates a dramatic image which can become a powerful moment in this country’s reflection on its colonial past. This occurs after the main character, Will, had been swept up in a punitive raid on a local indigenous camp, an episode of vicious mayhem, men, women, children and babies slaughtered, along with several of the white attackers. The aim of the raid, as far as Will was concerned, was to let the indigenous group know that they had to clear out and not try to visit his farm anymore, which was a part of their traditional country. Events had quickly spiraled out of control, however.

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Written by Susan Karpasitis

A while ago a former student proudly declared that they had found a book that they actually enjoyed reading. ‘It’s really good – you should read it, there is loads about how bad men are, and representations of strong powerful women – you love that stuff don’t you, you’re a feminist?’ Not really sure where to begin in reply to that comment, I walked off with my copy and decided to humour the student for old times sake! I fully expected that by the end I would have a strong and definitive opinion on how, and indeed whether or not, Gone Girl was something I could endorse or reject. I was instead left confused, and deeply affected by the polarities of the novel and film regarding its representation of women from a feminist perspective.

Let us begin where most discussions of female characters begin, with the Madonna/ Whore dichotomy. We all know this one. A woman is either a submissive, meek and willing sexual and emotional servant of the man/ patriarchal figure (think 50 Shades of Grey) or she is a sexually independent, passionate but ultimately treacherous ‘whore’ – (Gone Girl’s Amy). This is a tried and tested construct of female characters presented and firmed up in the good old Victorian era. The twentieth century continued to build upon the whore image, but added a little pop psychology into the mix – the sexually independent ‘whore’ becomes a man-eating psychopath – Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Disclosure – a danger to herself, to society and of course to the rational and stoic man. And that is where I assumed that Gone Girl would fall – into the category of intelligent but psychotic female lead.

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Reflections of a Prefect

October 20, 2015

Written by Rod Beecham

I’ve always hated Passover,

the slightest twitch rippling the Sanhedrin beards,

rustling the people like a cornfield

hiding a wolf.

Some maverick preacher, no political threat,

quiet, in his own world

(where I’d like to be),

but they wanted his blood.

Claudia talked of bad dreams,

said he mustn’t be killed.

I don’t have dreams:

I collect taxes.

Pay or be punished and no religious babble.

I rather liked the man:

quiet, well-spoken, no political threat.

Priests yelled and waved their arms

aped by the stinking mob

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Drowning

October 20, 2015

Written by Danny Fahey

For many years now I have been using Grace Paley’s Drowning poems as an exploration of image/metaphor etc and the use of Dramatic techniques to present the poems in a theatrical form. I start teaching one of the poems (i.e. Drowning II) with the line “this is how the camel I am drowned”. But I have this weird habit of twirling words around in my head so what I see/read/ and what is to be seen are not necessarily the same.

So the problem was, as a student pointed out, the poem does not start with the line “this is how the camel I am drowned”. I checked the book of Grace’s poems that contained the drowning poems and…sure enough…there is no camel in that second drowning poem. It was a shame because I had made all these links to drowning and journeys and such that linked the camel into the idea of drowning (desert images etc).

In response to all that work and to my strange error, I wrote these two poems. I hope you enjoy them.

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The Brick Choir

October 20, 2015

Written by Nazanin Ghodrati

Photo by Nazanin Ghodrati

Photo by Nazanin Ghodrati

They heard her voice, more like a noise

From the other side of the brick wall

Screams: muffled echoes

Scratches: broken nails

Cries: thousand tears

There in her throat lives a spider

That climbs up with every nightly scream

And weaves its sticky web in her mouth

Trapping her voice

To silence her, to erode her

And all she lives for is

The choir sung by the bricks

Screams: muffled echoes

Scratches: broken nails

Cries: thousand tears

———-

Nazanin Ghodrati is an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) lecturer. Her literary interests are in Gothic, horror and absurdist fiction, as well as in confessional poetry.

Untitled

October 20, 2015

Written by Talitha Fraser

me/

learning to love is messy and painful and oh how i

want to be free/ free to be me/ or perhaps someone

else/ off the shelf/ will do/ for you i can’t

remember who/ it is exactly that I am trying to

please/ freeze/ hold it right there, that’s the

perfect shot/ but now the light has changed

and we’ve got to change our location/ altogether

now/ how is it that no one warned me this

was going to take work?/ Jerk me/ around

for dinner tonight? / A frightful mess/ rest of

my life with you/ I’m so confused it’s true/

have we made any/ progress payment due in two

weeks/ sweet for the sweet/ heart don’t take on

so/ feeling low? / I think you should go/ not

without me/ can’t you see/ understand me/

just throw the Frisbee/ I will catch/

you/