Provocative, teasing, charismatic and achingly tender.
Cover image for All is Given by Linda Neil via UQP.
‘Did you know', Spike (Milligan) divulged to me between dessert and coffee, ‘that Groucho Marx and TS Eliot were pen pals?' writes Linda Neil, Australian author, songwriter and documentary producer, about her magical meeting with the comedian at The Tandoori Traveller in London’s Notting Hill. Groucho, ‘Woy Woy,’ ‘Goonishness’ ‘Breakdowns,’ ‘Stiff upper lips’ and the ‘Erotics of strong curries’ were but a smattering of topics that surfaced in Milligan and Neil’s conversational ping- pong played against a backdrop of softly falling snow.
Evidently, the comedian’s perspectives on storytelling which embraced the techniques of Jorges Borges, ‘his readers couldn’t tell where the truth ended and the fantasy began’ and listening to Milligan’s stories, ‘that skirted the edges of credibility’ infuses this captivating memoir in which the ‘fabric of facts and fiction’ are seamlessly interwoven.
Neil’s magical encounters with people of which her bizarre dinner with Milligan – is the most startling – is but one of this book’s charming themes, and, there are themes because Neil’s adventures are threaded and woven together by her lifelong engagement with music and in particular as a songwriter. Instead of snapping photographs on her travels, she captures special moments in song. ‘New songs seemed to drop onto my body like tiny fragile creatures from the sky.’
It was through her involvement in Australian musical ensembles the author reached Rome and Scotland. And it is through sound her perspectives on places are formed. ‘Just as Christopher Isherwood became a camera in his Berlin stories, I feel I become … a listening device through which pass information, emotion, explorations, conflict, colours, textures and light.’ In a recording studio in Kathmandu, she hears an approximation of AC/DC’s ‘It’s A Long Way to the Top’ and says, ‘in the spaces between the out-of-tune chords I thought I could make out the drone of monks.’
Other appealing portraits include the laughing Flower Lady of Shongshan Park in Shanghai from whom she buys jasmine because the scent reminds her of Brisbane’s West End. And there are similar piquant meetings with Fabian in Paris and Gabriel in Kathmandu who drive the prose, stir a spirit of wonder and mediate between past and present. Friendships with like-minded travellers are honoured while the impermanence of connection is accepted.
The rolling ebb and flow between Neil’s inner and outer worlds, her home and global forays, memories, swimming across a creek in Tallebudgera and an adolescent fascination with Greta Garbo, and struggles in the present, are integral to her wanderings in China, Mongolia, India, London and Paris. Provocative, teasing, charismatic and achingly tender, the pulse of this textured, gently meandering, meditative memoir is steady and its insistence pulls the reader into the realm of Neil’s irresistible dreamlike world, a state of ‘wonderment’ in an ultimately existentialist journey.
Rating: 4 1/2 stars
All Is Given: A Memoir in Songs
Category: Non-fiction,Gift ideas,Top 10
Release Date: 31/10/2016
ISBN: 978 0 7022 5409 3
First published on
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