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Book Review: He Died with a Felafel in His Hand April 9, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews, Reviews.
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My supervisor recommended a number of books to read to get myself into the mood and rhythm of the type of book I wanted to write, and one of them was John Birmingham’s He Died with a Felafel in His Hand.

The title of the book was something I was very familiar with, but to be honest I didn’t even know it was a book.  I had heard about it years ago as a film, a typically [insert adjective] Aussie film starring Noah Taylor.  To be fair, I never watched it, and don’t intend to.

So naturally, I was not convinced that the book would be a good read.  I was wrong. He Died with a Felafel in His Hand is a cracker of a book and John Birmingham is a ridiculously good writer.

The title (and the first line) of the book is a reference to one of the many housemates Birmingham lived with in share house accommodation during the 90s.  The whole book (and it’s a short one — my typo-riddled library-borrowed version was 214 pages) is filled with outrageous and hilarious vignettes about all the crazy housemates Birmingham encountered and the type of things they got up to, usually involving horrific hygiene, a plethora of drugs and bizarre, freaakish, unexplainable human behaviour.  All laugh out loud stuff.

It’s a very easy book to read because there is no real structure — there are chapters but he just goes from one housemate to another, from one house to another.  You do kind of get lost in all of it but it doesn’t really matter because all the stories are so well-written and funny.  There are also little side-stories told by his friends that are equally insane and disgusting, though it took me a while to realise that they were not Birmingham’s personal stories.

Birmingham’s voice and his style is right on the money.  It’s conversational, observational, extraordinarily sharp and witty.  It’s not overtly descriptive but each description manages to hit the bullseye in just a few words.  Definitely someone I can learn from.

I really enjoyed He Died with a Felafel in His Hand and will most probably read it again.

5 out of 5

[PS: I can totally understand, however, why a movie version would have flopped because it could not have been very faithful to a book like this where everything is all over the place and there is no real narrative thread.]

When mind and words don’t match April 2, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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1 comment so far


I finished the first draft of chapter one of my novel project this morning but I feel surprisingly empty.

It’s a tad over 4000 words and I would prefer shorter, but that’s not the problem.  It’s just not as good as I wanted it to be.  Why is it that what’s in my mind never translates to the page as well as I want it to?  Why can’t my words ever do my imagination justice?

I can already spot a few problems.  Maybe it’s because my reading material as of late is nothing like the type of book I want to write.  I’ve been reading third person subjective character portraits in The Slap by Christos Tsialkos (review coming shortly) which I finally finished today (it’s a bloody long book).  It’s a great book but it’s too serious, too melodramatic, too reflective and too poignant.  Not exactly the influence I wanted for a blacker than black comedy.

Hopefully, that will change when I start reading stuff closer to what I want to write.  I’m reading Lolita again, and I’ll also be reading He Died with a Falafel in His Hand by John Birmingham and stuff by Frank Moorhouse and Shane Maloney.  Lots of reading doesn’t mean writing, but I’m becoming more and more convinced lately that what you read affects what you write.

I wanted chapter one to be mindblowing.  It’s okay at the moment, but it’s not mindblowing.  Yes, it’s only a first draft, but will I ever be able to mould it into what I have in my mind?  Do I have what it takes?

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