The week before last I went to an author interview in the city. I posted up Part I and said I would post up the main books of Mr. Dessaix this week. They have been reissued, as some were out of print, by Xoum Publishing. You can view Part I here.
Be sure to notice the flashy new covers. I quite like them.
When we talk of Robert Dessaix we most commonly think five main novels he wrote. Most are autobiographical or linked to history. In the talk I attended he talked briefly to each one. There are other books one can read that are not mentioned below. I thought I would give you a brief explanation of what he said as he referred to them.
My Mother’s Disgrace- This is his most autobiographical book. He talks about growing up in Sydney to adoptive parents. He discusses the relationship he found later on to his biological mother. The difficulties of coming out ‘gay’ during that time period and his family’s reaction to it.
Night Letters – In this novel he writes of his visit to Venice, Italy. He is coming to terms with his recent diagnosis of HIV. The books discusses much history of Venice and how he incorporates his thoughts of his illness into this holiday destination. He writes in his hotel room every night as he comes to terms with where his life is heading.
He mentioned the first two books are often taught in the school curriculums. He told a funny story of a Marist College in New South Wales where these books were on the reading curriculum. He asked the representative at the school how does a book with the content of homosexuality and AIDS make it onto a curriculum in a Marist school? The reply was, “The Brothers don’t know what they are about.” (More audience laughter)
Corfu – He mentioned he likes this book quite a bit more and thought it a good starting point for those who haven’t read him. Although he stated the critics didn’t seem to appreciate it much and he will always remember some of the cutting remarks he read. He begins to explore in more depth the ordinariness of people around him. He decides what is important to observe whilst travelling. He ties that in with what he also feels about himself. He discusses how intimacy in all its different forms makes up your life.
Twilight of Love: Travels With Turgenev – This is a non fictional account of his love for Russian literature. He attended Moscow University and taught Russian language. His favourite was Turgenev. He decided to learn more about him and visited his homes in Germany, France and Russia. He was interested in his love life around the married opera singer Pauline Viardot and the triangle of love she lived in. There are themes of love, sex, theology and eventually death. I have read it and think it a book one reads once without asking questions and then needs a re-read to consolidate all that is in it. This is especially true if one is not familiar with Russian literature.
Arabesque – This book was not discussed in quite the detail as the others as we only had one hour and then questions. I have taken the synopsis from Amazon below:
One Sunday afternoon in a secluded valley in Normandy, Robert Dessaix chanced upon the castle where the famous French writer Andre Gide spent his childhood. Recalling the excitement Robert felt when he first read Gide as a teenager, he set off to recapture what it was that once drew him so strongly to this enigmatic figure. On a magic carpet ride from Lisbon to the edge of the Sahara, from Paris to the south of France and Algiers, Robert takes us to the places where the Nobel Prize-winning author, in ways still scandalous to modern sensibilities, lived out his unconventional ideas about love, marriage, sexuality and religion. Featuring meditations and conversations with fellow travellers on such diverse subjects as why we travel, growing old, illicit passions, and the essence of Protestantism – and illustrated with over 100 stunning illustrations and photos – Arabesques is Robert Dessaix and travel memoir at their absolute finest.
He did go on to talk about the different selves people seem to live in. He believes everyone has more than one self and if you live in a small town/city sometimes it is hard to live out all those selves. He enjoys travelling because he can let some of his other selves come to the fore. Being gay and a well known writer he made a funny remark, “How does anyone have an affair in Hobart?” A woman from the audience called out, “Get a different car!” The room erupted into laughter.
We covered a great deal of Dessaix territory in this single hour at the bookshop. I have read his books, My Mother’s Disgrace; Night Letters and Twilight of Love. I have Arabesque and Corfu sitting on the shelf. I think sometime I will have to have a Dessaix month and reread the books I have read as it has been a long time, and get into
the ones I haven’t. I feel I have a better understanding of what he is saying.
It certainly was an evening of enjoyment and our heads swirled afterwards with
so many topics.