Three Key Themes in Summer of The Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler

Summer of the Seventeenth doll is an iconic Australian play, with some deep themes. Here are three of the key ones.

1. Nostalgia and the Passage of Time: The play is set in the 1950s and centers around a group of characters who reunite annually for the summer season. The doll in the title represents a ritualistic gift exchanged between two of the characters, symbolizing their romanticized view of their youth. Throughout the play, Lawler explores the tension between the characters’ longing for the past and the harsh reality of the present. The theme of nostalgia highlights the characters’ struggle to come to terms with the passing of time and the changing dynamics of their relationships.

2. Gender Roles and Expectations: Another important theme in the play is the exploration of gender roles and expectations in 1950s Australian society. Lawler portrays the traditional gender roles that were prevalent during that time, with women expected to be caretakers and homemakers while men are seen as the breadwinners. The female characters, Olive and Pearl, challenge these expectations by working in the city and seeking independence, which creates tension and disrupts the established dynamics within the group. The play raises questions about the limitations placed on women and the struggle for autonomy and fulfillment within societal expectations.

3. Illusion versus Reality: The characters engage in a yearly performance of recreating their youthful summer romance, but as the play unfolds, the cracks in their idealized vision become apparent. The harsh realities of aging, disappointment, and unmet expectations begin to shatter the illusions they have built. Lawler examines the consequences of clinging to illusions and the challenges of facing reality, highlighting the characters’ struggles to reconcile their desires and dreams with the truths of their lives.

These themes intertwine to create a complex exploration of personal and societal dynamics. The play offers a snapshot of a particular era in Australian society while delving into universal themes of time, gender, and the human condition. Through its compelling characters and evocative storytelling, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll prompts audiences to reflect on the passage of time, the limitations imposed by societal norms, and the delicate balance between illusion and reality.


A Short Analysis of Philip Larkin’s Aubade

Philip Larkin’s poem “Aubade” is a poignant exploration of the fear and existential dread that can accompany the contemplation of death and the awareness of one’s own mortality. The poem takes the form of a morning song, traditionally associated with celebration and hope, but Larkin subverts this expectation by delving into the darker aspects of human existence.

The poem opens with the speaker awakening in the early hours of the morning, confronted by the looming presence of death. Larkin presents death as an inescapable reality, something that cannot be rationalized or evaded. He writes:

“I work all day, and get half-drunk at night. Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare. In time the curtain-edges will grow light.”

These lines capture the speaker’s sense of isolation and dread, as he grapples with the weight of mortality in the silent darkness of the early morning hours.

Throughout the poem, Larkin explores the futile attempts humans make to distract themselves from the inevitability of death. He acknowledges the fleeting pleasures of life and the various distractions people indulge in, whether it be work, alcohol, or the company of others. However, these distractions ultimately prove inadequate in the face of death’s certainty. Larkin writes:

“Being brave Lets no one off the grave. Death is no different whined at than withstood.”

These lines emphasize the futility of denial and the universality of death, regardless of how one confronts it.

One of the central themes in “Aubade” is the contrast between the finite nature of human existence and the infinite expanse of time and the universe. Larkin contemplates the vastness of the cosmos and the insignificance of human life within it. He writes:

“Unresting death, a whole day nearer now, Making all thought impossible but how And where and when I shall myself die.”

These lines capture the sense of insignificance and helplessness that can arise when confronted with the immensity of the universe and the impending nature of one’s mortality.

Ultimately, “Aubade” serves as a meditation on the human condition and the existential questions that arise when contemplating the inevitability of death. Larkin acknowledges the darkness and despair that can accompany these thoughts, but he also suggests that finding solace and meaning in the face of mortality is a deeply personal and individual journey.

Philip Larkin’s “Aubade” is a powerful and introspective poem that invites readers to confront their own mortality. Through vivid imagery and contemplative language, Larkin captures the fear, despair, and attempts at distraction that often accompany the awareness of death. The poem serves as a reminder of the fleeting nature of life and the need to confront the existential questions that arise from our mortality.

Review: If Only Tonight We Could Sleep

Before the start of this review, I should state that I know Matthew R. Davis. We have met at  local writing events, and we do follow each other on social media.

The thirteen stories in his first anthology “If only tonight we could sleep”, showcases the broad range of Matthew’s imagination. In this book, there is a nightclub gone wild, sentient roses, weird sisters, a lovers play list, and strange goings on in the rail yards to name a few .  Whilst each story does contain original ideas, Matthew’s clear voice does come through – especially his feel of reality. This is what makes the stories even better, in that they all start in the same place. Reality. As the events transpire and get into the fantastic, they maintain their hold on reality. In the horror genre, spiralling out of control is something that is easy to do, but Matthew does not. He maintains the control on the words and the events. 

There are a few places where a cliché does sneak in, and in one story, there is a small case of author intrusion. But, overall, an enjoyable anthology, and a talent to keep an eye on. Given the nature of Matthew’s stories, two attentive eyes might be safer.

Review: Kill Code by Clive Fleury

The world that Clive builds here is one that is presented clearly and tersely – this is evident given the novel comes in at 148 pages. The other reason that he is able to do this is due to there being very little in the way of new ideas. The images presented are standard post climate change / economic collapse / dystopian future.

The story follows Hogan Duran, a former police officer, eking out a life in this world, trying to feed himself and a former colleague. When the opportunity presents itself for him to improve his lot, he takes it. As is expected in this genre, he discovers the darker side of the world he inhabits. As the heroic type, he does something about it.

The voice of the main character remains constant through out the novel. There are no areas where he suddenly changes word usage.  The use of the first person creates the doubt of what truth is, which reinforces what appears to be the main theme of the novel. What is truth ? And whose truth is true ? 

On the downside, the use of the first person takes some of the tension from the action sequences. There are a few, and they are fast and to the point.

Reading this novel, there are a few places that are disjointed, as characters that have made an exit aren’t identified. However, this could have been forgiven if it had been part of the final explanation of the experience – which it wasn’t – so what could have been a plot point, looks  like a plot error.

At the end, it does feel like a volume one of a larger saga, and it will be interesting to see how that progresses.

Overall, is you are looking for a quick dystopian novel that is fairly well written, this will fill in some time and go for it. 

Review: Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

After the ride that was Ninefox Gambit, a reader could be asked how to top that. It’s a question of sequels, and one that often has a disappointing answer. In Raven Stratagem, Yoon Ha Lee shows that they can work. Taking place shortly after the events of the previous volume – one I suggest people go to – the action moves as a ghost of infamous general, the fleet he hijacks, the empire that rules them all , and the belief that goes with the imperial calendar. Much of this universe seems based around the concept of the calendar, with conflict often based on the view of a calendar. 

That’s not to say this is a boring novel. It moves along at a cracking pace, and even after reading the first, still has surprises in it. With empires, large scale battles, military protocols, it ticks all the neccessary ticks for a classic space opera. The writing style is easy to read, yet the concepts are twisted enough to require very careful reading.

Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

One of the tropes of modern science fiction is the large interplantary empire. From Asimov’s Foundation, to Lucas’s Star Wars, the Empire and its machinations is one of the cogs that have helped keep the genre going. It is also one of the reasons why the large Empire falling has become a bit of a cliche as well. With a name like The Collapsing Empire, you might be inclined to be a little disappointed with John Scalzi. After reading this novel, you won’t be.

The biggest problem that the large space empire always faces is distance. Scalzi puts forward the idea of the flow, which appear to be a one way worm hole. Power in the empire is at the nexus of these “Flows”. 

It is from here that Scalzi begins a fast paced story of unexpected leaders, disasterous events, and political intrigues. Each chapter is told from one character’s point of view, with all told with a distinctive voice and attitude.  This is clearly the open salvo in a series that promises many surprises, fast paced action, and a few laugh out loud moments. 

Review: Provenance by Ann Leckie

When your first book wins three major awards in the genre, you tend to set yourself a very high bar. Anne Leckie follows her Ancillary Trilogy with Provenance, a new novel that takes place in the same universe as her previous work.

This time, the story is more of children wanting parental acknowledgment, and what that can lead to. In this case, it results in a criminal busted out of a broken prison, a murder, and a political crisis. Taken at face value, Provenance looks like nothing new, but Leckie’s main character Ingray is a sympathetic one who must make their way through the events they set off.  Along the way, Leckie also looks at the importance of historical artefacts, and if the truth of them is more important that what they represent. 

The story moves with the slow burn that Leckie used in the past, and this is appears to the first of a multi volume story. It is one that I will certainly look to follow with interest. 

Review: New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

In the near future, the ice caps are going to melt, sea levels will rise, and disaster will hit the planet. Unlike other apocalypses in fiction, Kim Stanley Robinson seems to suggest that we’ll do alright after all this. New York 2140 looks at the city of New York after the disaster. The world has adjusted, with New York becoming a city of canals, where keeping the water out is as important as getting around. Into this world, Robinson places the importance of the finance trader.

The story itself starts with the disappearance of two programmers and then becomes a history of the world, a travelogue of New York, and a treasure hunt. Once the necessary enviromental issues are taken care of, Robinson starts with what appears to be his real agenda. In order to make sure his readers understand everything, Robinson has information dumps along the way. We are presented with an author who is annoyed at how the GFC of 2008 was handled, and he puts forward a solution to it.

This is not a fast moving story, but it is not boring. The characters all get thier own chapters. They are what Robinson does well – regular people just trying to get through. The fact that his future seems possible, and is logically extrapolated from current events, make this novel seem like a warning for the future. Both enviromentally, and economically – ignore his ideas at your own peril. 

Overall, a good book, and one that should be a jump-off point for discussion

Review: Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

When a family of psychics gets discredited in the 1970s, you would think that their story would end right there. 


It is just the start.

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory picks up the story of the Telemachus family in 1995. At first glance, this could easy be a piece of nostalgia. But it goes beyond that. It tells the story of a family that is dysfunctional, committed, and more than the 1970s produced.

The story is told with a series of flashbacks that advance the story and add to the sense of loss the weaves through the story. That’s not to say that this is a depressing story. Far from it. With mob bosses and government agents, the family pulls together with the fighting, bitching, and humor that a family will do.

And when the chips are down, they all come together. The climax of the novel is one of the best endings of a story I’ve read. 

Overall, an enjoyable and gentle book.

Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

In the future, corporations will rule everything and crafted drugs will help people achieve many things. Those on the fringe will fight against this same world. From this description, Autonomous by Annalee Newitz would seem like another rip off William Gibson’s Neuromancer, but it’s more than that.

Based in the year 2144, this story tells of a pirate drug maker,  who reverse engineers patented drugs and then sells on the cheap. When an issue is found with the drug, the race is on. With the help of other pharmaceutical patent pirates, an escaped indentured human, and a robot, she will try to find a cure. Hot on her heels is an Intellectual Property Police office, partnered by a brain encased in a robot’s carapace.

What I found interesting was the interaction between technologies. For those into computers, the concept that all machines identify both parties and start and end data is one that rings true. That’s where Autonomous is done very well. All the ideas put forward in this story appear to be extrapolated from current ideas. Given Newitz’s background in technology and science journalism, this is hardly surprising.

The only problem that I really felt was the development of the world itself. Granted the scenes are well written, but some locations felt that they were just names, without much difference to other locations. The locations in Africa felt much the same as those in Canada. But this is a minor qualm. 

This is a good book, from a writer whose fiction will certainly be worth watching in the future.

Previous Posts