About Emma Young

Western Australian journalist with Fairfax Media's WAtoday, and entertainment blogger with a love for all things couch-related. Tea/wine/martinis mandatory. Aspect ratio important. Paper and electronic mediums accepted. Highbrow optional.

Big Perth: the series that nearly broke my mind

I’m dead proud of both myself and my colleagues for pulling together this massive, fascinating, data-driven, visually attractive series, which ran daily on WAtoday last week. We broke our minds so you didn’t have to!

Frankly, no other Perth-based media outlet is covering these topics, let alone harnessing these digital storytelling tools. The result, I think, is something unique.

Hope one piques your interest — or if you’ve got time, read them all. I promise you’ll learn stuff that will make you sound smart during dinner party conversations. Click the headlines to go to the story:

There are 1.4 million more people coming to Perth. Here’s where they’ll live

Do you know how many of Perth’s 800,000 new homes are planned for your neighbourhood?

  • by Emma Young

Ninety-four per cent of Perth councils fail to hit new housing targets

Halting urban sprawl involves councils building new higher density housing. They’re not off to a good start.

  • by Emma Young, Hamish Hastie, David Allan-Petale, Nathan Hondros & Conal Hanna

Halting Perth’s urban sprawl is not as easy as it sounds

‘Halting urban sprawl’ has become a catchphrase in Perth in recent years, but it’s closer to fantasy than reality, a new WAtoday analysis suggests.

  • by Emma Young & David Allan-Petale

Eight new bridges, five times the cycle paths: the plan for central Perth

There are plans to double the number of homes in Perth, Victoria Park, Subiaco and Peppermint Grove councils.

  • by Emma Young

The tiny country town set to become suburban Perth

It’s a 90-minute drive away but planners are predicting newcomers will soon outnumber existing residents four to one.

  • by Hamish Hastie

Backyards to be a relic of the past as Perth sprawls past Two Rocks

Perth’s northern suburbs are growing again but, with greater density than Subiaco, this is a different kind of sprawl.

  • by David Allan-Petale

 

Perth Hills ‘tree change’ on the chopping block in bid to halt urban sprawl

It was once the semi-rural gateway to Western Australia’s Wheatbelt, but Perth’s north-east is an unexpected epicentre for the city’s urban sprawl.

  • by Nathan Hondros
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Why fiction is necessary, according to Arundhati Roy, and me.

I have heard research shows it is mainly women who read novels now. I have heard multiple men say before that they do read, but only nonfiction. As though fiction is somehow frivolous. This grieves me.

It shows ignorance of all that fiction can teach you, and inspire you to reach for further learning, as they knit together complex realities in a way only an imaginative product can.

“Only a novel can tell you how caste, communalisation, sexism, love, music, poetry, the rise of the right all combine in a society. And the depths in which they combine,” author Arundhati Roy told The Guardian after the publication of her new novel.

“We have been trained to “silo-ise”: our brains specialise in one thing. But the radical understanding is if you can understand it all, and I think only a novel can.”

In 1997, this woman’s first novel, The God of Small Things, astonished people around the world. It won the Booker Prize, which had never before been given to an Indian who actually lived in India. Or an Indian woman for that matter. It’s now sold 6 million copies.

It followed the lives of a woman embroiled in an illicit, intercaste love affair, and of her twin children: how, as it says, “they all broke the rules. They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much.”

It created the twins’ childhood world in a voice so individual it has haunted me for the past two decades. It remains a standout of my reading life.

But Roy is primarily a nonfiction writer. She’s spent the 20 years since The God of Small Things’ release embroiled in politics, producing essays on topics such as major government dams, the  2002 state-sanctioned massacre of as many as 2000 Muslims in Gujarat and the brutal suppression of tribes whose land is being mined. These will be published in collected book (i.e. brick) form next year.

The news she was publishing a second novel was exciting for the book world; I finally opened The Ministry of Utmost Happiness with the greedy happiness of someone who has a box of chocolates all to themselves.

I soon realised the story unfolds against a vast backdrop of modern Indian history that I frankly didn’t understand.

Here’s four paragraphs I wish someone wrote for me before I started:

  • ‘Partition’ means the division of British India in 1947.
  • It divided three provinces, based on district-wide Hindu or Muslim majorities, to create India and Pakistan.
  • This displaced over 14 million people along religious lines, creating overwhelming refugee crises and large-scale violence, with up to two million dead.
  • It created an atmosphere of hostility and suspicion between India and Pakistan that continues now.

Or, as Roy put it,

God’s carotid burst open on the new border between India and Pakistan and a million people died of hatred. Neighbors turned on each other as though they’d never known each other, never been to each other’s weddings, never sung each other’s songs.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness opens in Delhi in the 1950s, where Partition still reverberates.

The first part follows a transgender outcast called Anjum who lives in a graveyard. There, she has set up a funeral home and guest house, and dreams of motherhood.

Yep, you read all that correctly.

On her first night in the graveyard, after a quick reconnaissance, Anjum placed her Godrej cupboard and her few belongings near Mulaqat Ali’s grave and unrolled her carpet and bedding between Ahlam Baji’s and Begum Renata Mumtaz Madam’s graves … her desolation protected her. Unleashed at last from social protocol, it rose up around her in all its majesty – a fort, with ramparts, turrets, hidden dungeons and walls that hummed like an approaching mob. She rattled through its gilded chambers like a fugitive absconding from herself.

The stories of Anjum’s life are brilliant in themselves.

Anjum called her guest house Jannat. Paradise. She kept her TV on night and day. She said she needed the noise to steady her mind. She watched the news diligently and became an astute political analyst. She also watched Hindi soap operas and English film channels. She particularly enjoyed B-grade Hollywood vampire movies and watched the same ones over and over again. She couldn’t understand the dialogue of course, but she understood the vampires reasonably well.

But after a while I began to wonder where it was all going.

Then the book enters its second part, with an abrupt switch in setting to Kashmir, a region Partition plunged into territorial disputes between India, Pakistan and China that continues today, resulting in almost continuous warfare and civil unrest.

It also switches to a second protagonist, Tilo, an architect who gets involved with Kashmiri independence fighters.

Between these two parts, both told in third person, a first-person narrator is introduced: a drunk hiding out in Delhi while he’s supposed to be in rehab, and one of three men who see Tilo as the love of their life.

I have constructed myself around her. Not around her perhaps, but around the memory of my love for her. She doesn’t know that. Nobody does, except perhaps Naga, Musa and me, the men who loved her. I use the word love loosely, and only because my vocabulary is unequal to the task of describing the precise nature of that maze, that forest of feelings that connected the three of us to her and eventually to each other.

The narrator dips in and out once or twice more alongside a huge cast of secondary characters. While Tilo and Anjum provide some humanity, some whimsy that lightens the darkness of the political setting and the horror and trauma of the country’s warfare and politics, they are never fully revealed psychologically in the way novels conventionally develop characters.

Instead, they form what The Guardian calls an “extraordinary and visceral state of the-nation”.

It was peacetime. Or so they said. All morning a hot wind had whipped through the city streets, driving sheets of grit, soda-bottle caps and beedi stubs before it, smacking them into car windscreens and cyclists’ eyes. When the wind died, the sun, already high in the sky, burned through the haze and once again the heat rose and shimmered on the streets like a belly dancer. People waited for the thundershower that always followed a dust storm, but it never came. Fire raged through a swathe of huts huddled together on the riverbank, gutting more than two thousand in an instant. Still the Amaltas bloomed, a brilliant, defiant yellow. Each blazing summer it reached up and whispered to the hot brown sky, Fuck You.

I spend most of the novel loving this writing, but overall baffled, following gamely along and waiting for it all to come together. The two parts of the narrative do join in the end, and a bit of happy redemption takes place. Yet I’m left still grasping for meaning.

Roy told The Guardian: “What I wanted to know was: can a novel be a city? … can you stop it being baby food, which can be easily consumed?”

She sure can.

“It’s a book that doesn’t pretend to universalise anything or conceptualise anything. It’s a book of great detail about a place,” she goes on. “Writers are being reduced to creators of a product that is acceptable, that slips down your throat, which readers love and therefore can be bestsellers, that’s so dangerous.”

The Atlantic reckoned she went too far, criticising her for a lack of self-editing, confusion about point of view and a lack of humanity for “the very people she tried to humanise.” It called the book a “fascinating mess”.

But she’s still a must-read for me. I’ll probably open her third novel with equal excitement, but more wariness. Like it might either be a box of pralines or a bomb.

Because her writing is still astonishing, like no other writer I can name. It’s not just the magic realist style; it’s like she’s invented her own language. And while it doesn’t mesh as harmoniously with these characters as it did in The God of Small Things, it’s still delightful. Sentences becomes sandcastles, sweet and ephemeral, just existing for the fun of it.

Two men – one white, one Indian – go past, holding hands. Their plump black Labrador is dressed in a red-and-blue jersey that says No. 7 Manchester United. Like a genial holy man distributing his blessings, he bestows a little squirt of piss on to the tyres of the cars he waddles past.

Look, unless you adored The God of Small Things I won’t recommend this. Especially if you’re one of those men who have given up fiction. Starting with this would scare you back off for life.

But it challenged me. We need to be challenged. And if you do read it, now you know at least one person who’d be happy to discuss it with you afterwards!

 

In which I snuggle up with an old Scottish lady

As a journo who covers and reads many stories of extreme real-life violence, my appetite for stories containing guns, beatings and murder has waned in recent years.

I’m hyper-conscious of domestic violence and psychotic mental illness and the sordid social ills that lead to them. I find myself wincing at the movies I used to love and even giving up the Netflix dramas I used to love. There’s enough drama in life. The most I can manage on a weeknight is a 20-minute giggle at Brooklyn 99 and I’d rather go back to Die Hard, which has mellowed with age, than watch the next John Wick movie.

But for some reason serial killer books remain the stuff of fantasy. There remains a level of safe remove, even of escape into unreality. That’s why one particularly grim night a week ago, after receiving some bad news about the illness of an old friend, there was no comfort like curling up with a new killer, from an old author I knew would deliver. Scottish writer Val McDermid has written 38 books over 30 years; she’s got the goods.

Insidious Intent (2017) is the latest in her most high-profile series, featuring detective inspector Carol Jordan and criminal profiler Tony Hill (you might remember, they featured in British TV series Wire in the Blood, which ran from 2002-2009).

There were unexpected evolutions for Carol and Tony in their last outing, Splinter the Silence, and I was keen to see where she took them next. I was not disappointed. Her genius lies in not just detailed, realistic police procedurals but in complex, flawed yet likeable characters. There is no point in a cracking plot if your characters fall flat, and McDermid has created a diverse and compelling cast in Tony, Carol and their motley team.

She develops them even further in this, and there is also AN AMAZING TWIST WHICH I WILL NOT RUIN FOR YOU in case you read it, which you should.

Actually you should probably read the series from the beginning in order to completely appreciate the twist. Book one was The Mermaids Singing (1995). Off you go.

 

Kid on bike with space gun: coming soon to a movie theatre near you

So Stranger Things alerted the movie world to the fact that people like me will watch anything with a poster that looks like this. Accordingly, they have made a movie and released a poster that looks like this and accordingly, I am excited.
It’s from the producers of Stranger Things.

And Arrival, which I just realised I haven’t seen. This will be rectified.

It also contains Dennis Quaid and James Franco, kids on bikes and space guns. That’s all I need to know, but if you need more, here’s the blurb…

“A pulse-pounding crime thriller with a sci-fi twist from the producers of Stranger Things and ARRIVAL, KIN is the story of an unexpected hero destined for greatness. Chased by a vengeful criminal and a gang of otherworldly soldiers, a recently released ex-con and his adopted teenage brother are forced to go on the run after finding a futuristic super-weapon of mysterious origin as their only protection.”

They have released a trailer that suffers from that modern-day bane of being more than double the length it should be. So I warn you, stop watching after 1.20.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hereditary

Went to Girls School Cinema in East Perth to see Hereditary on Sunday night. I had missed it at the mainstream movies but I’d heard it should be seen on the big screen if possible.

It’s the story of a family – Annie (Toni Collette), Steve (Gabriel Byrne), their son Peter (Alex Wolff) and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). The death of Annie’s mother begins a series of grisly and disturbing events that leads her to the heart of a generations-old mystery.

I’d psyched myself up, because I had seen the trailer, which made it look like a combination of every fucked-up horror movie you’re ever seen, times 10. Amusingly, if you haven’t heard, at Event Cinemas they mistakenly played it during the previews for Peter Rabbit, totally freaking out a bunch of children and their mums (probably mainly the mums).

And I’d heard from my friend Sigrid, who is intimately acquainted with horror cinema, that it was one of the most disturbing movies she’d ever seen either. So, grimly prepared, I only let out one terrified mewling noise during the entire thing, which I was rather proud of.

The Ministry of course let out muffled snorts of laughter throughout, which we know was only his male pride deciding to view awful things as funny in order to protect himself emotionally. Right?

Because probably what was worst about this movie was its raw depiction of loss and grief and the terrible dynamics that can fester within families. It’s the combination of that with the intense horror scenes that made it so unusually confronting a movie.

All the performances were excellent, particularly Alex Wolff as the guilty, fearful and confused teenager Peter, but Collette was the obvious standout. She should win an Oscar for that performance. Her pain was awful to behold. It just remains to be seen whether an Oscar could go to a performance in a genre film.

It should! This is a smart genre film, with a dense plot. I’ve decided the use of the miniatures Collette’s character is crafting is just to keep you guessing and kind of freaked out by them (alternative theories welcome in the comments). But there were other elements of the storyline that didn’t seem to make sense, or that we thought were maybe just included for gratuitous horror purposes. We had to Google them before going, “ooooohhhhhh” and concluding that yes, it all made sense. It makes a nice change when a movie makes you work for it just a little.

This is required viewing for horror fans and Collette devotees. I fit both categories and so I’m glad I got to see it on the big screen for the full effect. It was an excellent film. But if you’re not in either category, maybe give yourself a break and pick something funny instead.

 

 

 

 

 

The Equalizer II

Saw this on Friday night. For the uninitiated, it’s basically hyper-violence in which Denzel Washington plays a CIA agent turned vigilante.

The Ministry calls it Black Jack Reacher.

The movies follow a 1980s TV show. I haven’t seen that, but I really liked the first The Equalizer movie, which broke new creative ground in its depiction of Denzel mentally calculating his fight sequences.

Denzel Washington turns everything he touches to gold, and this sequel is no exception, but it’s been turned into a straight-up action thriller, without the nuance of the first. But hey, what’s not to love about a straight-up action thriller, with Denzel Washington subjecting bad people to toe-curling, knuckle-biting levels of violence? 

Special mentions:

  1. A woman gives as good as she gets in a vaguely realistic fight scene. Rare.
  2. A commendable lack of car chases.

 

13 one-line book reviews: non-fiction edition

Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor E. Frankl (1959)

A psychiatrist trapped in Nazi death camps observed that people retain power to choose their own reactions, even in the worst of circumstances. A must read, a classic still in print six decades on.

 

 

Everywhere I Look, Helen Garner (2017)

An essay collection; memories, reflections, observations on all kinds of topics from one of Australia’s most celebrated authors. Utterly breathtaking writing from a master of the craft.

 

 

Work Strife Balance, Mia Freedman (2017)

Funny, insightful, generous memoir, a necessary contribution to feminist debate. I already reviewed it here.

 

 

The First Stone: some questions about sex and power, Helen Garner (1995)

Narrative nonfiction true crime – think Capote’s In Cold Blood. This discomfiting investigation of students’ sex assault allegations against a lecturer is still relevant and compulsively readable.

 

Joe Cinque’s Consolation: a true story of death, grief and the law, Helen Garner (2004)

Immediately needed more. Another unique investigation, this time of the bizarre murder of Canberran Joe Cinque. Possibly even more compulsively readable than the last.

 

Draft no. 4, John McPhee (2017)

On the art of long-form nonfiction writing by the legendary author, New Yorker writer and Princeton professor. Fascinating insights into his structuring process. Hardcore writing nerds will love it.

 

 

Tribe of Mentors, Tim Ferriss (2017)

Autodidact collects short passages of life advice from 100-plus famous people. Fun, more accessible than previous Ferriss and full of amusing, inspiring and useful nuggets. Great gift idea.

 

 

French Women for All Seasons, Mireille Giuilano (2006)

I read French Women Don’t Get Fat last year, loved it and craved more. These are only nominally diet/style books. At heart they are about our culture and our ability to celebrate and enjoy food.

 

 

Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna Kendrick (audiobook, read by author) (2016)

If you don’t love her, watch The Last 5 Years. Her memoir is hilarious, a glimpse inside Hollywood weirdness. Liked it so much I watched entire Twilight franchise just for her awkward-friend part.

 

A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis (1961)

The notebook the great Narnia author kept after his wife’s death. A fierce cry of pain and insight into the process of mourning someone vital: so personal, and yet so universal an experience.

 

 

The Passion Trap, Dean D. Celis and Cassandra Phillips (1990)

A psychologist examines the power dynamics and traps involved in both romantic relationships and friendships, and how to alter them. Should be required reading. Fascinating, sensible and practical.

 

The Boy Behind the Curtain, Tim Winton (2016)

Autobiographical essays reveal WA’s most famous writer’s early life, career formation, relationship with land and insight into WA environmental politics. Exquisitely written, frequently funny.

 

 

How to Be a Writer: who smashes deadlines, crushes editors and lives in a solid gold hover craft, John Birmingham (2016)

Refreshingly modern, useful advice on business, and craft, of being full-time multitasking Australian writer. Tough, like a face-punching Mr Money Mustache for novelists, and laugh-out-loud funny.

 

Further reading:

Peter Craven reviews ‘The Boy Behind the Curtain‘ by Tim Winton – Australian Book Review

The biggest problem with Joe Cinque’s Consolation [movie]? Helen Garner didn’t make it – The Guardian