The Anti-Canon

Anti-Canon Series: The Hunter, Julia Leigh - by Gary Budden

Committing a cardinal literary sin, I came to Julia Leigh’s debut 1999 novel, The Hunter, via the cinema. Even worse, in fact, a DVD.

The 2011 adaptation of the novel, starring Willem Dafoe, was an unusual beast and struck me as something far removed from mainstream modes of cinema storytelling (though not without its precursors), with its Tasmanian setting, unique and unusual characterization and the fact that the plot involved hunting down a possibly-extinct species for the benefit of a shady biotech corporation. It may have a title that suggests a Jason Statham thriller, but The Hunter was most definitely art. Reading a few reviews I duly discovered the film was based on a lauded Australian novel from the end of the last century, by a woman named Julia Leigh; a writer I had never come across (then again my knowledge of antipodean literature doesn’t stretch much beyond Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines, and he was English).

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The Anti-Canon Series: Zen in the Art of Archery by Brendan Pickett

Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel is a sublime introduction for Westerners seeking an understanding of Zen. Herrigel was a German professor of philosophy at the University of Tokyo. As such, the prose is concise and efficient, focusing on the “essentials, so as to make them stand out more clearly.” If it was a waffling literary tome it would not accurately recount Herrigel's enlightening Zen experiences. And it is enlightening.

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The Anti-Canon Series: David Peace's Red Riding Quartet by Natalie Hardwick

“This is the North. We do what we want!”

Welcome to the sepia seventies according to David Peace. His seventies is also abundant in ultra-violence, patriarchy, punchbag spouses, liver, gravy, claggy-carpets, civil decay, yellow lights and muddy floors – so, all in all, pretty drab. It’s a boil on the arse of time, one to be lanced and drained over four pieces of perfect crime fiction.

Peace’s vitriolic portrait fits perfectly with my thoughts on the decade. To me the seventies is the three-day week, warm Blue Nun, Chapman and Chinn, not Ian Dury, abstract design and Al Pacino’s golden age. However, the Red Riding quartet contains no jocular nostalgia, quipping or anything nice at all, in fact.

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The Anti-Canon Series: Daniil Kharms by Gareth Rees

A few months before 36 year old outlaw writer Daniil Kharms starves to death in a psychiatric prison in 1942, a German bomb hits a block of flats during the siege of Leningrad. One side of the block is destroyed. On the other side, windows implode. Inside one of those shattered apartments. Kharms’ second wife, Marina Malich and philosopher Yakuc Drukin frantically gather up his papers and notebooks. These fragments floating through the bomb blasted air are his collected works. They’re what’s left of him.

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The Anti-Canon Series: James Herriot by Nell Frizzell

Great emotion ruins great art.

As anyone who has ever suffered a break up can tell you, sometimes you just don’t want to deal with emotions. Not in life, nor in literature.

When you’ve been thrown against the snot-drenched rocks of fate, you cannot handle heartache, have no truck with love, feel done in by drama, you are too glutted with both pity and pain to bother with it in your cultural life.

It is at times like these that all you really want is a cow’s rectum. Or a prolapsed equine vagina or sheep with lead poisoning, perhaps.

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The Anti-Canon Series: Jean Binta Breeze by Sam Berkson

In the poets’ backstage area at Wandering Words at Shambala Festival a few years ago, I saw Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze sipping rum and coke at a wooden table on her own, between the tents and vans, a little apart from the rest of the rowdy poet crew. She seemed content enough but was happy to let me join her. On each of the few occasions I have had the chance to spend time with her, I have felt that Madame-Tussauds-but-actually-real moment when you get to stand next to your hero. She told me a story of her ‘break’ as a poet. It is story which I have subsequently heard her tell on stage, so I suppose it is a public story. As a young woman, she was living in the hills of Jamaica, “living as a Rasta”, smoking too much, eating not enough, struggling to look after her children. Eventually she was sectioned, where, like the woman in the title poem of her debut publication, Riddym Ravings (Race Today, 1988), “di dactar an de lan lord operate / an tek di radio outa mi head”.

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The Anti-Canon Series: Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club by Kit Caless

I know we all know Fight Club. I know most of us have probably read at least one Chuck Palahniuk book. I'm not writing to tell you about the author, as if you've never heard of him. I'm not here to present Chuck as outside of the literary mainstream. I'm here to nominate Fight Club to the Anti-Canon, as a book that is vital for teenagers to read, something that changed the way I looked at the world when I was young. A book that still has the power to shock, subvert and inspire.

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The Anti-Canon Series: Niall Griffiths by Gary Budden

It took me a long time to realise that it was OK to write about the things that I was interested in, the world I knew, the life I had lived and the lives I had observed.

Like many,  I was in love the idea of being a writer before I had anything original to write about, having studied a fairly traditional selection of British and American literature at school – Conrad, Fitzgerald, Yeats, Pinter, endless Shakespeare. All worthy of study of course but not relating, really, to much of the life in Britain that I had experienced. Like many, I was also a big fan of science-fiction and fantasy. I had my Tolkien- love affair aged about twelve (later in life I would claim, perhaps dishonestly, about the racist and classist aspects of his work), discovered Ballard and Moorcock in my first year at university. Read dutifully my Bukowski, failed to enjoy Kerouac and all the other Americans English literature students appeared to fawn over. Loved Raymond Carver, struggled with but appreciated Burroughs, loved Cormac McCarthy (I writer I first picked up due to a mention in Niall Griffiths’ Grits, in fact).

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