Growing Pains Saturday, Sep 16 2006 

M.J. Hyland’s Carry Me Down

Claustrophobia n. a morbid dread of confined places.

What is it about the cramped spaces of our lives that frightens us? We do not always fear what is dark and closed off. Confinement can mean safety – the womb we wish to return to, the burrow we long to hide away in, the bomb shelter. Why is it that we seek out these spaces even as we fear being closed in in others? What distinguishes a haven from a trap? Perhaps it is the possibility of escape, the knowledge that there is a way out. As long as the door is open we are content to live cooped up in our small existence – it is only when we realise we cannot leave that the walls begin to close in on us, the shades of the prison house grow stronger.

It is this distinction that lies at the heart of M.J. Hyland’s dark and unsettling new novel. Carry Me Down is a story not so much about the loss of innocence as about the act of clinging desperately to it. In a world without hope, Hyland suggests, delusion is a survival strategy, and the worst enemy is truth. Yet the line between escapism and madness is a thin one, so that sanity, in our desperate times, is a tight-rope walk between the despair of realism and the dementia of fantasy. It is a line we all walk more or less successfully; it is a balance we are all in perpetual danger of getting wrong. (more…)

Colour me bad Sunday, Sep 3 2006 

Peter Carey’s Theft: A Love Story

The battle between the Artistic Temperament and the Commercial Spirit is as old as the fight between Good and Evil. It is a struggle between the necessarily subjective and the inherently objective, between delight and profit, between love and money. Their willingness to starve for their Art notwithstanding, artists need to be paid, but this payment implies the intercession of middlemen between the artist and his audience, the creation of an industry and a market for art, complete with curator, auction houses, critics and investors. So sprawling a social organisation in turn requires rules, simple yet objective guidelines by which its business can be carried out. But how does one impose norms on an activity whose fundamental purpose is to defy all the rules, to break out of the mould? Trapped in the hands of investors who understand only its monetary value, art risks being reduced to mere fashion, but taken out of these hands and valued purely by subjective aesthetic, it rapidly becomes inaccessible and unsustainable. (more…)