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3/5 (31 évaluations)
140 pages
2 heures
Jan 1, 1997


'Funny, poignant, or black, and often all these at once, the stories work cumulatively as a compelling contemporary text about embodied experience.' — Marion Campbell Proudflesh is a book of stories about bodies — various, human, vulnerable — and the histories they carry with them like suitcases that must eventually arrive, even if 'last seen in Athens'. In that arrival, anything may happen, including the possibility of love. Stylish, perceptive and highly readable, Proudflesh is a fine introduction to the powerful writing of this best selling writer who was short listed for the Miles Franklin Literary Award.
Jan 1, 1997

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Proudflesh - Deborah Robertson




...my mother and I learnt about the nature of wounds: between the wound and the scar there is proudflesh ... Across the surface of the wound, stealthy and irrevocable, grow the bridges of capillary and connective tissue. The flesh is now Schiaparelli pink or red; it is drunk with blood. Proudflesh is the flesh of healing but it is too tender and miraculous to last; it has its moment and is gone.

London in the Eighties; Perth in the Nineties. Oz Lamb, Meat Weekly, the body of the poet; Dregs Draught, Cream magazine, the poet’s daughter in the flesh ... perhaps.

Proudflesh is a book of stories about bodies—various, human, vulnerable—and the histories they carry with them like suitcases that must eventually arrive, even if ‘last seen in Athens’. In that arrival, anything may happen, including the possibility of love.

Stylish, perceptive and highly readable, Proudflesh introduces a writer of power and accomplishment.

Cover photograph by Simon Obarzanek.

Deborah Robertson was born in Bridgetown, Western Australia, in 1959. She studied at Curtin University, and currently teaches in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Murdoch University.

Photograph by Jane Turner.

for Michael and Joan and Marion


Earlier versions of some of these stories were previously published in Fremantle Arts Review, No Substitute (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1990) and Summer Shorts (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1993).

‘Babyhead’ was awarded the Katharine Susannah Prichard Short Fiction Award for 1991.

Material quoted in ‘Consuming Passions I’ is from: ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree’, Sylvia Plath (Faber & Faber); ‘I Say A Little Prayer’, words and music by Hal David/Burt Bacharach (Casa David Music/New Hidden Valley Music), reproduced by permission of MCA Music Australia Pty Ltd and Rondor Music (Australia) Pty Ltd, unauthorised reproduction is illegal. Details of Sylvia Plath’s clothes in ‘Consuming Passions II’ were drawn from Anne Stevenson’s biography Bitter Fame (Viking, 1989).

Proudflesh was written with the assistance of a Creative Development Fund Fellowship from the Western Australian Department for the Arts.

Consuming passions I

London 1984

Alone in a hotel room in a new city, Kate hears from Qantas. Ms Kelly, the airline advises her, your luggage was accidentally unloaded at the end of the Perth-Bangkok leg of your flight. It was last seen in Athens. She empties the presentation bag that the airline has given her in compensation for her loss. Gifts for the bereft traveller: a kangaroo brooch to bestow identity, brinylon sockettes, an eye-shield, a sewing kit for small emergencies.

All she has in the world was last seen in Athens.

The suitcase comes back, still strapped and locked. She takes it slowly. She finds a room in which to live. It is satisfactorily compact and looks down onto the street below. The single bed is good and hard. The walls are as dull as cement. There is a walnut dresser. The previous tenant has left family photographs tucked into the frame of its mirror. She throws them away, takes down the curtains and rolls away the rug covering the floorboards. She opens the case. The books are wrapped in plastic. She slowly unpacks them: the 1968 Faber edition of Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, the 1966 Colossus and glued-together copies of Crossing the Water and Winter Trees, the ‘68 and ‘88 editions of The Bell Jar, an American and an English edition of the collected poems and the Faber 1986 Letters Home, a remaindered hardback of Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, and The Journals of Sylvia Plath which she had stolen from the Fremantle Library. Inside, a stamped record of the places it has been before her—Nannup, Kondinin, Kojonup, Dalwallinu. There are also six notebooks, empty notebooks, and they are hers. Their pages are as white as snow, which she has never seen.

The room is bare. It is immaculate. She puts the books and a candle on the dresser. They look like implements of devotion. It is a room fit for a nun.

When Sophie comes down from Leeds she has half a degree from art school and a wild love for Modesty Blaise. On her etiolated body she fashions a perfect, worshipful reproduction of that high-kicking and intuitive freelance adventurer. Over a lift-and-separate bra she wears, as a rule, black. For leisurewear: slacks to the hip and Spanish riding boots, spurs for special occasions, a turtle-neck sweater. When she goes out drinking and dancing it is leather, as close as a second skin, but for the office she steps out in spike heels and a starched skirt cinched at the waist by a six-inch width of leopard skin, collar up. At the kitchen sink every Sunday she retouches her hair blue-black and piles it with concealed pins and lacquer into a conch on top of her head, the fringe draping like lustrous seaweed into her eyes. It is a look Sophie considers appropriate for a young woman in the Eighties—full of allusion to the sculpted bodies of classic Hollywood, gesturing towards the French intellectual elegance of, say, a Greco or Signoret, recalling the glacial, feline wit of the Avengers women.

The Editor-in-Chief of Meat Weekly looks up from Kate’s CV. I see that your studies have all been in poetry, he says. Kate nods. But I expect, like all Australians, he says, you eat a hearty breakfast? Kate understands what is required. Steak, two sausages and a nice lamb chop, she replies (heartily).

First day on the job at Meat Weekly, the entire editorial staff come to help her when she strikes a problem. What is a haggis? she asks. A haggis, they say, is a furry wee thing with two legs shorter than the others so it can run very fast around the sloped sides of hills. Fair enough, she says. And, they continue, there is a Royal Society for the Protection of the Haggis. Phone up the Ministry of Agriculture, introduce yourself, they’ll tell you all about it. She makes the call. The silence on the other end of the line lengthens as her fellow workers, one by one, hurry out to lunch. Having just written the headline THE THINNER THE SKIN, THE FATTER THE PROFIT for an article about a semi-automatic membrane remover, she sees that she has created an aphorism that could be applied to her skin and their profit. She decides to toughen her hide and laugh off their little joke.

How’s your haggis? they shout across the office all afternoon, delighted by her good-naturedness.

Sophie chooses an advertising agency with offices in New York and Tokyo. At the interview, the Managing Director leans across his desk and places something small and rough in her hand. That’s a piece of gravel, he says, in ten words or less tell me how you sell it. Modesty always knows how to get out of a jam. You call it a diamond, she replies.

Sophie now sees that how do you do? has been replaced by what do you do? She thinks it’s a logical shift, that people are what they do and what they buy, that the new way is timesaving and information-generating. When she herself is asked what she does, she is at first enigmatic. She will call herself a Troubleshooter but, when pushed, will add that she has one foot on the ladder and the other just leaving the ground.

In the office she has gained a reputation for having a good nose—a scent for the times. She understands well the new intolerances registering like hyper-allergenic reactions on the public hide. When there are complaints about the caricature of a black woman grinning from bottles of Genuine Sarsaparilla, Sophie is consulted. When members of the track and field team test drug-positive at the Commonwealth Games, people stop by her desk and ask how they might rescue the athletes’ sponsor, the chocolate health drink manufacturer that is their client. They ask her many questions as she sits typing their memos, filing their work. She sees herself as Red Adair lowering into the flames of exploding imagery; a heroine of the social inferno.

Kate begins her notebooks:

It’s dark when I leave for work and dark when I return. Outside my room the city breathes, but I cannot manage it. The headaches are back. I might just as well not have left home, if pain is to be my only landscape. I take codeine, perhaps too much. I do not need to visit London’s sights; I am my very own wax work, I am imprisoned within my own Tower, the Black Death is my company.

The electric fire burns all night in my room. I am so cold. I listen to tapes of Sylvia reading her work in the poetry room at Harvard College Library in 1959. Her cool American tones. I understand her more each day, now that I too am a foreigner in this land. She was cold here too.

How is it possible that one day I will be older than she ever was?

Sophie makes out a list:

look others in the eye when you’re talking to them, particularly those who have power over you

don’t raise your voice at the end of a sentence, as is the habit of women

identify skills

set goals

stay sharp

Kate writes:

Codeine dreams are brighter, more real; like film. I dream of my father. A garden of sourgrass, rusted fence, a round Holden disappearing down the narrow dusty road. The colour is faded, or perhaps it was the colour of the time. He is holding me; it is just the two of us. I’m wearing my first shoes, red patent, and he is in loose trousers and a singlet. He smiles like a boy, his hair is perfectly waved and slicked back from his forehead. He is thin; from the slope of his shoulder and the way his hand grips his wrist, I can see I am too heavy for him.

The pain is still there when I wake.

Listen Sophie, I’m going to give you something you can sink your teeth into. Larry pulls a chair up to her desk. Sophie looks him in the eye. New Zealand won’t come to the party and side with us in this latest row with the Muslims, he says. Seems they’re looking after their meat trade with Teheran. So Maggie’s chopped them off. Finished. No more succulent NZ lamb on our butchers’ slabs. Until they decide to come back with their tails between their legs. In the meantime, we’re getting the stuff from Australia. Oz Lamb. Seems that when we joined the EEC in ‘73, there were a lot of sheep left to rot in those big Australian paddocks. So it’s kind of delicate. That’s why we’re bringing you in on this one. The job is to get Oz Lamb back on our tables. I’ll tell you what to do. I hear there’s an Australian sheila working on a butcher’s mag over at Smithfield. Get in touch, make a date, maybe she’ll have something we can hang this on.

Kate is asked to take off her jewellery and shoes. She tucks her hair into a net and pulls on wellingtons and a long white coat, slips her notebook and pen into a pocket.

The PR man says: Acceptance of stock in good condition is an important criterion of both animal welfare and cost effective management. The truck is backed into the reception bay. The cages are unloaded; each is filled by a writhing brown mass. At the flick of a lock, with a release of heat and stench, the mass differentiates and becomes chickens, stunned at first and then frantic. He says: The birds’ fear seeps into their flesh, toughens it, dulls the flavour. A high quality product is got through speed. Men wearing face masks hoist the birds onto an overhead pulley, thousands of beating wings and dangling red beaks, and they pass smoothly across the ceiling, through a door and

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31 évaluations / 3 Avis
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Avis des lecteurs

  • (3/5)
    No doubt but Robertson writes great characters. The people and their interactions leap off the page with authenticity and moving emotion. The book is worth reading for that alone.Unfortunately, plot is not the book's strong suit. It follows a clever (I avoid the spoiler here) set up that diverts the reader from a later plot development between the main character and two others, but after that the plot seems to drain away to nothing. In the end, I felt a bit let down. No, actually I felt let down, a lot. Like many authors (note to self) Robertson pads her plot with lots of interesting side trips. These are for the most part quite interesting and worth the journey, but by the end, one feels the padding.Still, for the depth of her characters, Robertson is worth reading.
  • (5/5)
    The more I read the more I loved it, and appreciated the restrained but lyrical quality of the writing. The plot moves in small but convincing ways. The characters are totally real. Wasn't quite happy about the way it ended, but would definitely recommend.
  • (4/5)
    This is the first book I've read from my box of winnings from last year, and I enjoyed it a lot. It follows a group of people who are all connected by this one artist, Adam Logan, who's designing a memorial for children. A lot of it's quite sad, but beautifully written, and the characters all seem really real. I was so pleased by the epilogue.