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Acts of faith and doubt

EXILE: THE LIVES AND HOPES OF WERNER PELZBy Roger AverillTransit Lounge, $32.9
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WERNER Pelz, the son of a Jewish entertainment entrepreneur in Berlin impoverished by the Depression and Nazism, travelled twice to Australia. In 1940, aged 18, he was one of 2500 or so enemy aliens, most of them Jewish refugees, transported from Liverpool on the infamous Dunera. He returned to England in 1942.

In 1973, after living in England and Wales for 30 years, he sailed out in comfort to take up a lectureship at La Trobe University, where he taught for 13 years. He died in Melbourne in 2006, aged 84. From Pelz's voluminous writings, from the testimony of family, friends and colleagues, and from his own memories as pupil and close friend, Roger Averill has composed a loving but warts-and-all account of his professional and spiritual odyssey. In each chapter he interweaves the stories of Pelz's life, his relationship with the author, and his dying.

In the all-male world of camps at Hay and Tatura, Pelz had sexual experiences that he wrote about later with a candour unusual among the internees. Also in the camps he began a conversion to Christianity that was completed after he learnt his parents had been murdered in Auschwitz.

Back in England, married to a Viennese, Lotte Hensl, he became a Church of England clergyman - the only German Jew to do so? - and was appointed curate successively to two Lancashire parishes, resigning after conflicts over his commitment to anti-nuclear activism. In the 1960s, he and Lotte co-wrote books contributing to a surge of interest in radical theology, most notably God Is No More, and Werner contributed to The Guardian a regular column of autobiographical reflections and gave radio talks on religious subjects. From these pulpits, he signalled accumulating doubts about Christianity and increasing commitment to a world view in which Jesus was a latter-day Jewish prophet.

Lotte suffered severe neurosis, never fully recovering from the shock of bearing a son, Peter, whose arrival in 1945 had put an end to both parents' utopian hope of serving in the vanguard of a movement to transform postwar Europe. The marriage fell apart slowly, surviving only as an intellectual partnership until Werner and Lotte separated. Werner lived from 1970 with Mary Zobel, the English-born widow of a German Jew and owner of a cottage in Wales occupied by the Pelzes.

Averill writes that Pelz, at the age of 48, ''set about reinventing himself as a sociologist'', enrolling at the University of Bristol to write a PhD thesis revised and published as The Scope of Understanding in Sociology.

Mary and her three children accompanied him to Melbourne when La Trobe appointed him to a lectureship. She was unsettled in Australia, and would eventually be engulfed by depression, while Werner engaged in prolonged conflict with his youngest stepchild, Justin.

He did not talk much about his time as a Dunera boy, but he made a point of visiting Tatura and Hay. The desert-like landscape of Hay evoked, he wrote, powerful memories, which had left their mark on the subconscious.

In his last years, as Averill tenderly records them, he endured professional disappointment and personal anguish. Unable to find a publisher for what he regarded as his magnum opus, The Curse of Abstraction, he wrote hundreds of haiku on the themes of life and death, such as:

''Age was to bring peace,wisdom, respect. Instead itbrought terminal doubt.''

La Trobe, though, brought profound satisfaction. His colleagues in the sociology department he found ''open, cosmopolitan, tolerant''; his course on reason and emotion in society attracted huge numbers, and in and out of class he stirred many students to think for themselves. Averill writes eloquently about his Socratic capacity as a teacher. He is a sure-footed guide to the intricacies of Pelz's thought and to its connections with his protean life. Like his subject, Averill is a truly creative writer.

■Ken Inglis is the author of many books, including Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, which won the 1999 Age Book of the Year Award.

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Bookmarks

Gongs in the north
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ON MONDAY, the shortlists will be announced for the new Queensland Literary Awards, which replace the premier's awards that were scrapped by new Premier Campbell Newman in April. The literary community reacted with more speed than a Lee Childs thriller to establish the new prizes. A public appeal to raise $20,000 has brought in close to $30,000. The winners of the 15 categories will be announced on September 4. Committee chairman Stuart Glover, who was the founding director of the Brisbane Writers Festival, says the future of the awards beyond this year depends on community, corporate and government support. ''There is a sense that there is support potentially from all those sources,'' he says, and adds that Arts Minister Ros Bates isn't averse to the idea of Queensland literary awards. Everyone is waiting to see what will be in next month's state budget to gauge the direction of the government's arts funding policy.

The storm continues

MANY of you will remember Dave Eggers' book Zeitoun, which told the bizarre and terrifying story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. He is the Syrian-born American builder and decorator who helped people by paddling his canoe through the flooded city. The book focused on Zeitoun's wrongful arrest by the authorities, who not only kept him in detention for three weeks but also wouldn't inform his family of his whereabouts and inflicted on him a fair amount of physical and mental abuse. This week, Zeitoun was behind bars again, charged with trying to have his former wife, Kathy, her son and an unnamed man murdered. It's a sad fall from grace for a man who became a hero as a result of his behaviour in 2005 and subsequently set up a charitable foundation to which profits from the book go. Zeitoun and Kathy divorced last year. Last month, he was jailed for assaulting her and it is alleged he asked a fellow prisoner to commit the murders. An animated film based on Eggers' book is due for release in 2014.

A false climax

IT SEEMS as though the crowning of Fifty Shades of Grey as Britain's best-selling book ever has been a fraction premature. With e-books, it probably is, but Nielsen BookScan figures show that Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code remains - for a while, at least - top of the pile (and also the reject pile, according to Oxfam op shops), having sold 5.1 million copies. Fifty Shades of Grey has sold 3.8 million copies (in book form), with the other places in the top 10 consisting of seven Harry Potter titles and another Brown book. The other two erotic books by E.L. James have each sold more than 2 million copies. Writers such as Stieg Larsson and Stephenie Meyer also feature strongly in the top 20, with the only ''literary title'', Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, featuring at No.19 with sales of slightly more than 2 million. The only Australian in the top 100 is Markus Zusak, whose The Book Thief has sold 800,000 copies since 2007.

Remembering Claire

IT WAS sad to hear that Claire Kearney died a couple of weeks ago at her home in Tewantin, Queensland. She was 79. Most people would know her from her many years at the Hill of Content bookshop. The formidable Kearney started there in 1966, became manager in the early '80s and retired in 1995. She was instrumental in making the Hill of Content one of Melbourne's finest bookshops.

When crime pays

THE next couple of weeks is awards season for Australia's crime writers. The Ned Kellys will be dished out on August 29 and a few days later the Davitt Awards for women crime writers will be presented at the Celtic Club by Swedish crime writer Asa Larsson (no relation of Stieg, before you ask). The shortlists for the Davitts are, for fiction: Jaye Ford (Beyond Fear), Sulari Gentill (A Decline in Prophets), Carolyn Morwood (Death and the Spanish Lady), Jennifer Rowe (Love, Honour & O'Brien), Kim Westwood (The Courier's New Bicycle) and Helene Young (Shattered Sky); children's/young adult: Ursula Dubosarsky (The Golden Day), Nansi Kunze (Dangerously Placed) and Meg McKinlay (Surface Tension); true crime: Wendy Lewis (The Australian Book of Family Murders) and Liz Porter (Cold Case Files). sistersincrime南京夜网.au

Getting Ziggy with it

DAVID Bowie didn't make it to the closing ceremony of the Olympics in London but he is coming to the Melbourne Writers Festival. Just kidding. He is, however, getting a tribute at Liner Notes, the annual session in which a motley crew of talent delivers spoken-word tributes to the tracks of a chosen album. Among the guests are former Australian of the Year Tim Flannery and Lebanese poet and journalist Joumana Haddad. This year, the album is Ziggy Stardust and will feature Five Years, Yana Alana; Soul Love, Omar Musa; Moonage Daydream, Sean M. Whelan; Starman, Flannery; It Ain't Easy, First Dog on the Moon; Lady Stardust, Benjamin Law; Star, Alicia Sometimes; Hang on to Yourself, Ben Pobjie; Ziggy Stardust, Deborah Conway; Suffragette City, Haddad; and Rock'n'Roll Suicide, Emilie Zoey Baker. It's at 8pm next Saturday at the Regal Ballroom. For bookings, see mwf南京夜网.au

The worst of times

POOR old Edward ''It was a dark and stormy night'' Bulwer-Lytton. He gets an awful lot of flak about that opening to his novel Paul Clifford. The annual competition named after him is for the worst piece of writing. Here's this year's winner, by Cathy Bryant from Britain: ''As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids [sic] burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.''

POETRY

Graphology Cambridge Psychedelia 3

How much space we can't fit in,

Curlicue into Simenon terror,

Ennui of garden restaurants

And garden paths, an error

Of judgment deciduous as sin.

And in the name of the heaven- sent,

And the bravado of capital, refuse

To name the name on everyone's lips.

Base stations styled into the ruse

Of old buildings, so intransigent.

Ice on the grass as everyone slips,

A gecko in the Mekong issues a warning:

Sparkling colours array an alert,

And play on our Mobius rambling.

The passion is a nativity of trips.

God bless!

John Kinsella

EVENTS

TODAY

TRUDI Canavan signs copies of The Traitor Queen. 1.30pm. Dymocks Knox, 425 Burwood Highway, Wantirna South.

JOHN Jenkins launches Karen Throssell's Chain of Hearts. 2pm. Collected Works, Nicholas Building, 37 Swanston Street, city.

TODAY/ TOMORROW

CO-DIRECTOR of Dickens 2012, Adrian Wootton, discusses screen adaptations of Dickens' novels. 4.30pm. Village Roadshow Theatrette, State Library, 328 Swanston Street, city. Tomorrow: Dickens and crime. Bookings: wheelercentre南京夜网

TOMORROW

FILMMAKER Paul Cox discusses Tales from the Cancer Ward. 11.15am. Emerald Hill Library, 195 Bank Street, South Melbourne. Info: 0417 556 143.

TUESDAY

ANDY Griffiths unveils The 26-Storey Treehouse. 4.30pm. Sun Theatre, 8 Ballarat Street, Yarraville. Bookings: 9689 0661

WEDNESDAY

BARRY Jones launches David Day's Antarctica. 6.30pm. The Barn, Montsalvat, Hillcrest Avenue, Eltham. $10. Bookings: elthambook [email protected]南京夜网; 9439 8700

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A perfect protagonist

R.J. Ellory pips Mark Billingham to the post of better crime read, with A Dark and Broken Heart.RUSH OF BLOODBy Mark BillinghamLittle, Brown, $29.99
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A DARK AND BROKEN HEARTBy R.J. ElloryOrion, $29.99

IT BEGINS with a beating, escalates to armed robbery, climaxes in a massacre and then we get to page 24. British crime writer R.J. Ellory has never been one to shy away from fast and furious violence. If that sounds like too much excitement too soon, rest assured that once he has your attention, Ellory slows the pace to work through the moral consequences of these acts and their implications for the man responsible, Vincent Madigan.

Vincent is a typical Ellory hero, the contradictory man whom we have met before in a series of remarkable stand-alone novels set in various locations and epochs in the kind of US where people live lives of mostly quiet desperation.

''Things happen,'' Vincent tells us. ''Most of them bad.'' Despite his resignation, there comes a moment when Vincent wants to make them turn out right. Ellory's skill as a writer is to make us want this too, even when we know Vincent to be the cause of so many of those bad things in the first place.

This is what Ellory does so well: humanising the face of violence, taking us into the centre of the maelstrom where there is stillness and a kind of understanding. As usual, this process is cathartic and moving. Page 24 is also the location of a major revelation that curtails further analysis or commentary. This may be a reviewer-proof book. Just read it.

Fellow Brit Mark Billingham also begins in the US, in Florida at the Pelican Palms Motel, which offers ''paradise on a budget'' to sun-starved tourists.

Three British couples - Barry the builder and the overweight Angie, mixed-race Marina and the computer nerd Dave, would-be lothario Ed and long-suffering wife Sue - meet up on their sun-seeker holiday and are all present when an intellectually disabled teenager disappears. Back in Blighty, they exchange emails and meet for the first of three dinners that punctuate the book: ''I do a mean bread and butter pud!'' Angie promises in her invitation to the first.

The staging of these dinners is nicely done. What each couple chooses to cook and how their homes are organised and presented constitute an effective study in British manners, suburban aspiration and inevitable frustration.

Angie wants to cook something ''Floridian'' and almost chooses the organic chicken, opting instead for the cheaper version. Barry thinks it all sounds too ''poncey'' anyway and is embarrassed by her desire to impress these former ''best friends for six days'', including the elegant Sue, the kind of woman who puts a lot of effort into looking as if she made no effort whatsoever. Angie has even had table mats made featuring a holiday snap of them all on their last day in ''paradise''.

Needless to say, the topic of conversation returns to the missing girl. After her badly decayed body is found in a mangrove-choked inlet and another girl of similar age and handicap vanishes in England, trainee Detective Constable Quinlan pays each of the couples a visit before reporting back to the senior officer on the case in Florida. While necessary to the plot, these procedural sections receive short shrift and don't go anywhere useful.

The creator of Inspector Tom Thorne, most recently translated to television as actor David Morrissey, Mark Billingham's usual beat is the police procedural with detective hero. Rush of Blood is his first stand-alone thriller and not altogether successful.

Part of the problem has to do with voice and point of view. There are simply too many perspectives (including that of the killer). The main drawback has to do with affect, since there is not one character about whom we might care. Billingham's characters are closely observed, mercilessly dissected, but there is no emotional hook pulling us through to the final revelation.

And that's where Ellory has the edge. Even though his hero is a ''bad man'', it's impossible not to care what happens to Vincent Madigan.

While Billingham may have written a clever crime novel, it is Ellory who has written a great one.

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From a Freudian palette

NAKED CLAY: DRAWING FROM LUCIAN FREUDBy Barry HillShearsman Books, $25
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THE late Lucian Freud had a four-word manifesto, URGENT SUBTLE CONCISE ROBUST, scrawled upon his studio wall, but most people's impressions of him are less exact and combine a challenging stare, thickly painted, confronting nudes, and some vague gossip about how many children he may have fathered.

Not entirely the wrong impression, but not the whole picture, which as Barry Hill shows in this marvellous book, you won't see unless you look.

Naked Clay is art history, autobiography, existential struggle, all woven through 60 years of Freud's paintings from 1944 onwards. What does it mean to be naked, to look at, to be looked at, possessed? Can art justify the severity, or tenderness, of such a gaze? These are the questions Hill asks, as the paintings do.

Naked Clay is on one level a classically proportioned art book: a precise and perceptive examination of one man's oeuvre. The fact that it is conducted entirely through poetry almost escapes notice, even when Hill is working small lyrical wonders on almost every page.

And yet there is only one painting to be seen, on the cover of the book: Girl with White Dog from 1950. ''The girl with the white dog/as still as the door closed behind her/is daydreaming of mice/in a drawer of socks.'' Or is she? You can look at the image and decide - if you think it important.

Inside the book it's all text: readers well acquainted with Freud's work will read the poems in one way, as will those who choose to go and find the images for each poem on the way through. Reading the paintings as I did without seeing them, with only vague memories and a kind of texture in mind, the poems were nearly always enough.

But then there was Large Interior W9, with Freud's ailing, depressed mother in a chair, a woman naked in bed behind her: ''If one has been quietly weeping/the other will not have seen./The lover has made a grandmother/of Mother, and Mother might not know./And there, under the chair/is a pestle and mortar/its weight like the spirit of a woman/set down after pounding.'' Surely no painting could match that poem, but it did, even on a laptop.

True, Hill says, a little later, with the long central poem In Sight of Death but remember those questions. Have you really thought them through? And he then does exactly that, allowing neither Freud, nor himself, nor us, to avoid the issue or displace it with mere aesthetics.

Hill wrestles for 20 pages with the body, real and painted, with art and with poetry's presumption to interrogate and explain it, and with his mortal self. There's a kind of exhaustion at the end, and while the answers aren't any closer, the parties somehow agree to differ.

After this the book relents, seems almost to sigh, ending with a tribute to the poet's parents that is half mea culpa, half love song. After a long journey to London and back and through the years, the poetry settles, is somehow more accepting and resigned: ''the body becomes subject to fact/or settles into being/a constellation of resentment, grief, memories struck dumb … The best a poem can do/is keep scrubbing itself clean/withstand the furnace, refuse the insipid.''

Hill has honoured Freud's scrawled manifesto to the letter in this urgent, subtle, concise and robust book.

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Ladies and gentlemen, polish your poodles

No ruff stuff ... groomer Kazoo Hirae prepares three-year-old white poodle Remi for Purina groomQuest 2012. The competition is held at Castle Hill Showground.AXL ROSE is swaddled in blankets and shivering damply. It's a big week for this poodle.
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He is one of 120 dogs competing in today's Purina groomQuest 2012, Australia's biggest and richest dog grooming championships.The groomers will fight for glory, $40,000 in prizes and a spot on Groom Team Australia for the 2013 world championships in Barcelona. Judges are from Japan, Serbia and America.

''It's just like the Olympic Games,'' says Jenny Kent, the owner of Pet Design, a salon with six groomers in this weekend's championship.

For the past two months, Mrs Kent's Lane Cove grooming salon has been busy after hours with preparations for groomQuest 2012 - the room is lined with bins brimming with poodle curls.

''We have over 40 entries in the poodle category,'' says Les Speerin, the contest organiser. ''It's the outstanding look and polish you can put on a poodle.''

Mrs Kent praises the championships for giving professional groomers an ambition to aspire to.

Kazoo Hirae studied for three years at Sunshine Dog Grooming in Fukuoka before taking a job at Mrs Kent's salon. This year he is entering Remi, a gargantuan three-year-old white poodle.

Remi is being groomed in the famous continental style, in which the back half of the dog is shaved in strips. Remi submits to this with dignity.

The groomer's job, Mr Hirae says, while plucking at Remi's considerable mane, is to shape over nature's irregularities and present a dog that lives up to an ideal shape.

Groomers have been known to compete like terriers. ''Very nasty,'' Mrs Kent says of the competitive atmosphere at its worst. ''I personally haven't seen any sabotage … ''

But they are driven by a deep affection for their animals.

''That's my foundation bitch,'' Mrs Kent says, tapping a portrait of the 13-year-old black poodle she bought around the time she quit her job as a primary school teacher to turn pro.

Joelene Turnbull, 30, is one of Mrs Kent's most promising young groomers and is entering Axl and three other dogs.

She will rise at four this morning in a bid to improve upon last year's second placing: ''I'm having lots of dreams about poodles.''

Purina groomQuest 2012 is at Castle Hill Showground.

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