Friday, December 14, 2012

The Scarlet Letter

I cheated a bit with The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne - I listened to an audio book whilst in the car. What hit me most was the language - magnificent. I love the old fashioned prose, and that way Hawthorne  used description and metaphor.



The other thing that struck me was the intensity, and this is partially created by the way the language is used. The characters' emotions are analysed and wound out through physical characteristics - their guilt and anguish is felt by the reader so potently because pages and pages are spent on developing the turmoil of the characters.
   In general, I am starting to prefer English/European classics rather than American classics. I am not very familiar with American history. But what this book did was remind me how long America has been settled and what their beginnings were like. This book is based in the 1640s! I tend to forget that there was much settlement in America before the American revolution. Even then, America seems to become what it is today after the American civil war. This book just shows what a different place American was a few hundred years ago.
   The conservatism and extreme religious beliefs/views made me think about how different society was then and is today. It also highlighted the stark different between Australia's origins which were rough and founded with convicts, whereas the American settlement seemed to be extremely conservative. Two countries born fairly recently out of extremely different origins, and yet converging in so many ways in modern times.
   Rather than the story grabbing me particularly, this novel made me quite philosophical ...

Saturday, December 8, 2012

2012 Classics Challenge Completed



I joined by to November's Autumns's 2012 Classics Challenge late last year. Here's my original post - the goal was to read seven classics, only three of which could be re-reads. My list was:

Great Expectations
Sons and Lovers
The Master and Margarita
The Grapes of Wrath
Madame Bovary
The Happy Prince
Anna Karenina

I didn't get around to reading The Grapes of Wrath - it's still sitting here waiting. But in the process of the year, I also made a commitment to the Classics Club to read 50 classics by May 2017.
   As well as those read above, I also read the following classics this year:

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony
Rebecca
The Great Gatsby
Lady Chatterley's Lover

Here are my posts in response to the prompts posted by November's Autumn:

September Prompt
July Prompt
June Prompt
April Prompt
March Prompt
February Prompt
January Prompt

This challenge was very enjoyable, so thank-you to November's Autumn for hosting it and thinking up a prompt each month to keep us engaged. Looking back over the year as been a good activity, because although the year seems to have flown, a lot has been packed into it, and I've read a lot. It feels like a long time ago that I read some of these novels. Lots more classics reading to come ...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Past the Shallows

After taking 9 weeks to read the last novel, I flew through Favel Parrett's Past the Shallows in a few days. On the 2012 shortlist for the Miles Franklin award, this book was just a pleasure to read. This is another Australian novel for the 2012 Aussie Author Challenge.
   The language is simple, short and sharp. The sentences are long and descriptive when they need to be, and short and quick to keep the pace going when they need to. When the writing is imitating the thoughts of the young boys that are the main characters, the sentences are short and simple. The language leaves so much unsaid, and yet the characters are so vivid.



Aunty Jean is the only living female in the story. She appears both cruel and caring, self-centred and yet generous, unstable but intuitive. She knows how the boys live, and how their father treats them, and yet she doesn't do more. She buys groceries for them once during the story, and lets them starve otherwise, when she knows their father doesn't provide for them. She dissolves into tears very quickly, but then she takes Joe's safe haven away from him by contesting the Grandfather's Will and selling the house. She must have her own reasons, but she is a very complex character. The image of her that I get is of an older women, fairly large, and wearing oversized cotton dresses. There is not much description of her at all.
   It is interesting that the boys' father is only ever referred to as 'Dad' throughout the novel. I think we learn his full name once, but it doesn't have much impact. He is a faceless monster.
   Maybe Aunty Jean is afraid of Dad, which is why she doesn't interfere more. Maybe the whole community is afraid to do something - it must have been set in time some years ago, otherwise someone would get child protective services to visit (or the Fisheries staff would have made a report to child protective services after their visit).
   It is suggested that the ocean is a metaphor for Dad - that Harry fears it, and Miles both loves and hates it. Until I read this suggestion, it didn't occur to me. I thought that the way the boys related to the ocean reflected more on their own characters. Harry is more tentative and sensitive - he is not daring and rebellious like the older boys. Miles is the typical middle child, trying to please everyone - he wants to be free, but he feels obligated to look after Dad and look after Harry.
   The piecing together of memories and events is done very skilfully by Favel Parrett, and although a lot is left unresolved at the end (about Dad, mainly), is doesn't really matter. You only care for the boys, and the reader knows that all will be well.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony

This is the novel that took me the last 9 weeks to read - it's 841 pages and really consists of three volumes; Australia Felix, The Way Home, and Ultima Thule. The Fortunes of Richard Mahony is written by Henry Handel Richardson, which is the pen-name of Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson who was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1870. So I read it as part of the 2012 Aussie Author Challenge, but it could really be a novel for the 2012 Classics Challenge or the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge.



I will use extracts from the Afterword by Dorothy Green:
   "The Fortunes of Richard Mahony is at once one of the simplest books to read and one of the most complex and profound: a fusion of the domestic and the sublime which has no parallel ... It is first of all an absorbing account of a marriage, of a union between a man and a young girl, who grow and change, who seem for most of their lives to be polar opposites, each with a particular 'wisdom' which contradicts the other's. Yet at the end, we find that they have exchanged that wisdom, each has learnt painfully what the other knew, and the underlying bond, the bedrock affinity between them, is re-affirmed.
   "From one point of view ... The Fortunes of Richard Mahony is a novel about money, about the struggle to get a living, or to grow rich. Set against the background of the great goldmining boom of the mid-nineteenth century, money is a bone of contention between husband and wife, even through their brief period of great prosperity". It is here that I deviate, because whilst this novel was set about 150 years ago, Richard Mahony was struggling with many of the traits that the modern Generation Y is accredited with - need for money, materialism, restlessness, and impatience towards advancement in life. It was really interesting to see these traits so described in a long-ago generation that is looked back upon as somewhat of a golden era, with very different worries from today. In fact, their worries were the same as ours.
   "Marriage and money: these are subjects of abiding interest to all human beings. But there is a third one linked with them in this novel: the circumstance of being an emigrant, of being homeless, of feeling alienated ... The first volume, Australia Felix, concerns the bustling commercial life of a society precariously based on mining, whose members are struggling towards financial security. Its movement it towards settled order from chaos; its image is earth, the stable element which nurtures life if it is not abused. The second volume, The Way Home, reveals the security is an illusion, no sooner acquired than lost, or if not lost, then regarded as irksome. Its image is the sea, the dangerous unstable element which Mary dislikes and Richard loves. Its movement is towards instability, the breaking up of established patterns. it also demonstrates the truth of Mary's assertion: 'But people are the same everywhere!'. The stuffy provincialism which drives Richard back to England is a habit of mind, not a geographical reality, a habit even more pronounced in the home country than in the colony. In the first volume and for much of the second we are conscious of the social background to the lives of the central characters, but the author gradually closes in on them as Richard's alienation progresses, until in the third volume, Ultima Thule, the narrative concentrates almost exclusively on the states of mind of Richard, Mary and their son Cuffy.
   "The secret of the power of The Fortunes of Richard Mahony to move to tears so many of its readers (including me) lies hidden in the mystery of imagination ... To try to read The Fortunes of Richard Mahony with full attention is not so much a task which every educated Australian might be expected to perform, but an unforgettable experience of the profundities which sustain the simplicities of existence; an experience which shakes and strengthens the reader who yields himself to it, and which endows the common dust with a tragic grandeur."
   That says it all. Exquisite.

Apologies

I haven't posted anything throughout October or November 2012. I have a good reason, but I apologise anyway, because I value my followers and fellow bloggers more than my ego.



   I bought a business, so I am part of the way to achieving my goals. Though being a business owner will make is difficult to achieve my other goals - of being an avid reading and becoming a published author - because there is just so little time in the day.



   So, it took me nine weeks to read the novel that I started just before I bought the business. I will write a post about ti shortly. It was a lengthy novel, but it's the longest I've taken to read a book, and I must say that I am glad to finally have finished it and to be able to move on!
   More posts to follow ...

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Woman of Independence

As part of my commitment to the 2012 Australia Women Writers Challenge, I picked up A Woman of Independence by Kirsty Sword Gusmao.
   Kirsty is the young Australian wife of the first president of the world's newest country - East Timor.
   This was a very informative book - I was interested in it intellectually, but I had to force myself to read it. Unfortunately, I didn't find the story-telling to be very engaging. The reason I persisted is because my husband was in the INTERFET peace keeping force in 1999, and again involved in 2006 during the second presidential election.



The book was published in 2003, so it didn't detail the years of Kirsty and Xanana Gusmao's lives during Xanana's presidency. I would have liked to know how they dealt with the problems in 2006, and Xanana's transition from president to prime minister.
   I was more interested in Xanana's story, and that of his imprisonment. The relationship that developed between Kirsty and Xanana (whilst he was in an Indonesian prison) was interesting, with their struggles and their joint passion and drive for East Timor. Now that the country has settled, I'd also like to know how their family has grown and what their sons want to make of their lives.
   The book also awoke a desire in me to visit East Timor as a tourist, and try to help their country in some small way. Maybe in the next couple of years I will get there for a holiday.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Five Greatest Warriors

As part of my commitment to the 2012 Aussie Author Challenge, I read another book by Matthew Reilly this week. I read The Five Greatest Warriors.
   It's my second Matthew Reilly book, since I read Scarecrow earlier this year.



Reilly's books are very easy to read, involve little thinking, and they're fast paced.
   I didn't realise that The Five Greatest Warriors was the final book in a trilogy - but it didn't matter. The story stood alone, and had enough references and explanations to what had happened in the past to be able to read on. Like I said above, Reilly's books are not complex, and don't involve much thought.
   This story could have been filled with exactly the same characters as Scarecrow. Reilly is not god at character development. They are cardboard cut-outs. But there is so much action that there is not much time to get to know the characters anyway - they are just parts of the action. The lack of character development, though, causes the reader to have no emotional connection with them.
   Unlike when I read Scarecrow, however, I had an emotional connection with the theme of this story. It was much more interesting than an international bounty hunt. The Five Greatest Warriors was an elaborate 'game' to save the world, involving ancient artefacts, links to religion and ancient civilisations, meteorology and astronomy. It would have taken Reilly some time to research.
   This book played like an action movie in my mind, with characters with unreal weapons and technologies, and amazing displays of speed and strength.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Last week I finished reading the classic novel Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, published in 1938, as part of my commitment to the 2012 Classics Challenge. I had not heard of this novel until I saw a review of it on First Tuesday Book Club. They are very careful not to give away too much of the story, and the story certainly exceeded my expectations. In fact, it's been one of my favourites this year!



Rebecca is the name of the first wife of Maxim de Winter, who is dead. The narrator is the young second wife, whose name we never learn.
   The story beings with the second Mrs de Winter telling how she and her husband live a quiet, secluded life, avoiding their acquaintances and virtually hiding from the past. It seems like they are afraid.
   Then the second Mrs de Winter goes back to tell of her meeting Maxim de Winter and returning with him to his estate, where she lives in the shadow of the dead first wife, and seemingly can't live up to the expectations of her.
   Because it is narrated by the second Mrs de Winter, we are thrust into her adolescent emotional turmoil, and see the story from her point of view until the whole thing unravels before her, and then we learn the truth when she does.
   Mrs Danvers, the main housekeeping and Rebecca's former maid, is exceedingly jealous that her mistress could be replaced, and sets out to undermine the new Mrs de Winter and play mind games with her. Mrs Danvers is a great character.
   The novel is more of a suspense story than a romance, which I wasn't expecting. It could even be considered a ghost story, although there is no physical presence of the ghost. It is quite clever, and the writing is lovely.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

September Prompt - Classics Challenge

I read Anna Karenina last month, and for the September Prompt of the Classics Challenge is to select a piece of music that reflects the book.
   I cheated a bit. I first thought that the music would have to be classical, because of the period in which the story was set. Then I thought maybe an opera piece would be perfect, because they went to the opera a couple of times in the novel. But instead, I looked up the soundtrack for the 1997 Anna Karenina movie on Wikipedia.



   That article gave me the perfect piece, which I immediately downloaded on iTunes: Tchaikovshy's Symphony No. 6, "Pathetique". It contains several movements, some with manic allegros reflecting Anna's mood, and then really dark periods of exaggerated tragedy. It's also really long!
   Here's a version from YouTube:



Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lovesong

Back to reading for the Aussie Author Challenge, I read Alex Miller's Lovesong this week. I raced through it. It was satisfying. It wasn't drama-filled; it was just a story about life and love. Winner of 2010 Age Book of the Year, it was a lovely piece of writing.



I have no criticisms, but I'm not gushing about it either. I really don't know what to say, except that it has left me feeling calm and reflective, and I slept really well after I finished it last night!
   It did raise a couple of questions about the narrator, Ken, who is a novelist himself. He listens to the story of John and Sabiha Patterner, and decides he is going to write a novel about their story. However, at the end, John says he is writing the story himself. Ken is jealous, and doesn't believe John will write it well or complete it. He gets a bit competitive, and it raised a moral question for me - should a writer write someone else's story without their permission? If a writer writes a friend's story without their permission, will the friendship last? At what point does a story become historical fiction - do all the main characters have to be dead?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Anna Karenina

I have been absent for about a month, and with good reason: it has taken me 4 weeks to read Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. I was surprised at how easy it was to read, and that may have something to do with the translation or it may not. Firstly, each part is separated down into chapters that only last for 4 pages or so; so you really feel like you're making progress when you're reading. Secondly, the pace and flow of the novel felt surprisingly modern. I say this when comparing Anna Karenina with Doctor Zhivago, which was writing much later and was much more difficult to read.



All I knew about Anna Karenina before I started reading it was that it was considered one of the greatest love stories ever written. I didn't know much else, except that she committed suicide. On reading it, it is far more complex that I had ever expected. Anna's love story with Vronsky really didn't touch me - it felt immature, shallow and selfish (like the two characters). It was Kitty and Levin's love story that really stole the whole show for me. I would flick through the chapters about Anna just to pick up Levin's story again.
   If I were naming the novel, I certainly wouldn't have chosen 'Anna Karenina'. But reflecting on that point, Anna Karenina's love story is like a smoke screen for the real, rich and mature love that Levin and Kitty develop. Maybe Tolstoy wanted the reader to focus more on Anna, and for her brilliance and beauty to overwhelm the other aspects of the story. For me, however, Anna's beauty and charm was like the perfect red skin on a rotten apple.
   Anna's relationship with Vronsky wasn't ill-fated. She drove it that way, with her insecurities and bi-polar type mood swings. Because my reading of Madam Bovary was so fresh, I kept drawing similarities between the two women. Vronsky, a shallow and self-centred man with little emotional maturity, didn't know how to deal with Anna. A pity there wasn't couples' therapy back in Russia in the 1870s!
   Levin's character, however, was fascinating. He is complex, deep-thinking, progressive, yet holds onto his values; he is scientifically trained which causes him to question faith all the way through the novel, but at the end he finds faith and it calms him tormented soul. His torment over the birth of his son was also fascinating - he excepted to instantly feel an overwhelming love, but instead he felt repulsion and pity. I really appreciated how candid Tolstoy was through Levin's thoughts and feelings.
   It is a real achievement to finish this novel, and I recommend it to committed readers who haven't tried. It's not as difficult as it first appears!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Room at the Top

This is a re-read for me, but I'm struggling to find books on my shelf for the Aussie Author Challenge. I first read this book in 2010, after seeing Heath Ducker speak at a breakfast seminar at the National Family Law Conference in Canberra. Heath didn't bring any of his books with him, so I went out and bought the book at lunch time. I was lucky enough to see him in a lecture later that afternoon, though I hadn't expected he would attend any of the lectures, since he's not a family lawyer. So, I think I embarrassed him, by running up to him and asking him to sign the book. I don't care - whatever it takes!



Heath was a good speaker, for a young man. He was engaging and honest. Inspired by his speech, I read his book really quickly, the first time. It left me feeling like I was ignited with compassionate energy to do something for those less fortunate. I contacted Youth Insearch, which had helped Heath so much in his life, and got a very ambivalent response. It wasn't encouraging. I got the pattern to knit the love wraps, and did a few of those. Then I moved to Sydney and got caught up with the craziness of just trying to survive in this fast-paced city.
   The book flows really well. It follows Heath through his early years, through his battles, and then through his achievements as a young man. He grew up in 'abject poverty, in a dilapidated government house with shattered windows and holes in the floor through which weeds climbed. He lived with his single mother and nine siblings, conceived with many different fathers. Most days they had nothing to eat but breakfast cereal. Just when it seemed things wouldn't get worse, Heath was sexually abused by the father of his closest friend.' He ended up as a young lawyer at a top-tier law firm in Sydney, though I think he now works in a government department.
   As I said, I raced through it when I read it first.
   On the second read, I took my time. I knew where it was going, so I reflected on the messages a bit more. I also don't think that the book conveys Heath's real voice. It uses some fairly emotive language, and I think it is written with some deep insight and reflection that may not have been possible without some heavy editing.
   I do think it's the best book Australian true story, after Kinglake-350, that I have read.
  This time, rather than leaving me with an intense desire to do something straight away, I have been more reflective myself. A lot of what Heath believes in - in a supportive community, and committed individuals providing special services - I don't think I can achieve whilst living in Sydney. I have no sense of community at all, here. That's part of the reason why my husband and I have decided to move back to the country in the coming months. Working in a small firm, actually doing grass-roots law, I will be helping individuals with real problems. Currently, I have no effect on anyone's lives whatsoever. I am not practicing the kind of law that I want, at the moment. I will be returning to doing family law, to representing children in child protection matters, to representing criminals in petty crimes, and representing families on the death of their loved ones. I can't wait. I will be a member of a small community, and I will participate and aim to make the community a better place. I hope that I will eventually participate in the Aunties and Uncles program that Heath found so useful, but if not, I may be able to do some short-term foster care or respite care for needy kids.
   Everyone should read this, if you have any concern for the decline of community and society.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Shifting Fog

As part of the Australian Women Writers' Challenge, I read The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton this month. There was no hint of an Australian theme in this novel - I had thought it would be about one of the grand settlers households in country New South Wales. Instead, it was about an old English manor with all its tradition.



The style jumps around a little in this book. Some of it is written as a film script. Some of it is written like a letter. Most of it is narrated by Grace in the first person, but sometimes it is hard to tell whether she is in the present (1999) or in the past.
   The story starts on the eve of a glittering society party in the roaring 20s (1924), by the lake of a grand English country house, a young poet takes his life. The only witnesses, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, will never speak to each other again.
   Grace Bradley, 98, one-time housemaid of Riverton Manor, is visited by a young director making a film about the poet's suicide. Ghosts awaken and memories, long consigned to the dark reaches of Grace's mind, begin to sneak back through the cracks. A shocking secret threatens to emerge; something history has forgotten but Grace never could.
   Then Grace starts telling the story from the beginning, further back before the war, when the sisters were still children, and she had just been employed at Riverton.
   Although the story was quite tragic in many aspects, because the main focus was Grace, I found it very uplifting. She kept a secret that wasn't hers, because of the duty she felt for the family she worked for. However, the novel unwraps lots of little secrets about Grace's life, and also about the connections between characters that aren't evident at first. I thought that everything tied together very neatly, and I think that love won in the end. It was very hopeful.
   The first world war was a catalyst for enormous social and cultural changes. I was really interested to see how those changes affected a large manor house, and those downstairs in particular. I had never thought of it before. I was so intrigued that I bought and watched the first two series of Downton Abbey straight away, to preserve the feeling of the upstairs/downstairs relationships and interactions.
   I am really looking forward to reading more Kate Morton novels.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Great Gatsby

I think a lot of people think that they know the story of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but in fact they don't. I thought it was about an eccentric old rice guy taking a young hopeful under his wing, with a lot of extravagance and an element of magic. I had the image of the circus ringmaster in my head.
   It's nothing like that.
   It's a love story, and a tragedy. It's a short moment in time that has left a great impact on the main character and narrator. It unfolded because of an accident and a mistaken identity. And Gatsby himself is a young man.



The Penguin version that I read had about 50 pages of analysis by way of introduction. I think it was somewhat over-analysed as a study on American class and society (old money v new money/east v west).
   I think it was a doomed love story. Gatsby wanted to amass wealth to try to prove his worth to the wealthy woman that he loved. He didn't think he would have a chance with her unless he was rich. He probably didn't, because she was a materialistic snob. In any event, when she discovered that his money was from bootlegging, it wasn't good enough for her then either. In another way, it was a doomed love because Gatsby only loved her whilst she was unobtainable - he yearned from a distance. When she was sitting in his house with him, or at his party, she wasn't what he imagined her to be.
   Nick Carraway, the narrator, is very disillusioned by the end of the story, even tainting his story-telling on the way through. He is sick and tired of the snobbery, the materialism, the shallow and the false. He is disgusted by a lot of what he sees. He has become a cynic, and I think he's given up on believing in the good of people.

Friday, July 20, 2012

July Prompt - A Classics Challenge

This month, November's Autumn has suggested that we choose one of the classics that we have read recently that has left a lasting impression.

My most recent classic was Madam Bovary. The lasting impression, other than the selfish, shallow, materialistic and immature character of Madam Bovary herself, the biggest impression in this book is the agonisingly slow suicide. It's about the longest lasting and drawn out suicide in literature, I think.



This is not really as I picture Madam Bovary, because she had dark hair and was probably stunning, even as she was dying. 'She rolled her head with a gentle, anguished movement, trying to open her jaws all the while as though she had a heavy weight on her tongue. At eight o'clock the vomiting began again ... she began to groan, feebly at first. A violent shudder went through her shoulders, she turned whiter than the sheet she was clutching in her fingers. Her wavering pulse could hardly be felt at all now ... drops of sweat stood on her blue-veined face, which looked as if it had been petrified by exposure to some metallic vapour. Her teeth chattered, her pupils were dilated, her eyes stared vaguely about her ... little by little her groans grew louder. A muffled scream broke from her ... she was seized with convulsions ...' This goes on for 12 pages!
 
I've said it before: this story was certainly not what I was expecting!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Scarecrow

Reading to achieve challenges that I have signed up for is certainly pushing me to read what I wouldn't ordinarily read - which is good! I want to read as broadly as I can. Last week, I raced through Scarecrow by Matthew Reilly, as part of the Aussie Author Challenge.



This book is fast paced. It is over 400 pages, yet it has short chapters, short paragraphs and short sentences. It races past.
   The story was action packed. It reads like an American blockbuster playing in your head. Completely unbelievable, but a glorious indulgence. The blurb even reads like a film preview voice-over:

It is the greatest bounty hunt in history.
Fifteen names.
There are 15 targets, the finest warriors in the world - 
commandos, spies, terrorists. And they must all be dead by 12 noon, today.
The price on their heads: almost $20 million each.
One hero.
Among the names on the target list, one stands out.
An enigmatic Marine named Shane Schofield, call-sign: Scarecrow.
No limits.
And so Schofield is plunged into a headlong race around the world,
pursued by a fearsome collection of international bounty hunters -
including the 'Black Knight', a notoriously ruthless hunter who seems intent on eliminating only Schofield.
The race is on and the pace is frantic as Schofield fights for survival,
in the process unveiling a vast international conspiracy and the terrible reason why he cannot,
under any circumstances, be allowed to live ...
He led his men into hell in ICE STATION.
He protected the President against all odds in AREA 7.
This time it's different.
Because this time SCARECROW is the target!

It is not the type of book that I could read all the time, but it was fun. Don't read this is you want an emotional connection with the characters - (SPOILER ALERT) Matthew Reilly cannot even create an emotional response when the hero's girlfriend dies. But enjoy it for what it is - escapism. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

March

Another novel for the Australian Women Writers challenge: March by Geraldine Brooks. Sometimes we forget that Brooks is Australian, because she writes very broadly, and very rarely has an Australian theme. March won the 2006 Pulitzer Price for fiction, which makes Brooks even more extraordinary.



There was something very familiar about this novel. It was verging on a feeling of deja vu throughout the book. I couldn't quite predict what would happen, but I had the 'oh, yeah' moments, as if I had read it before. I haven't read it before, though. It was only published in 2005 (I thought I had started reading it in high school but given up, but it was published too recently for that!).
   This novel mirrors the classic novel Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I haven't read Little Women before, and I didn't want to until I had read March, so I have listed it to My Classics Club List. It is written in the first person from the perspective of the absent father, Mr March, during the American Civil War. There is only part of the book which is written in the first person from the perspective of Mrs March, whilst Mr March is too sick to narrate.
   The writing is very good, so much so that you don't notice the writing - it is just a swirl of story that evaporates from the pages as you read. It's also a unique view of the American Civil War (which I am not all that interested in), as I think I've noted before in this blog. So a good way of getting a bit of an inadvertent history lesson.
   Brooks is so unique with everything she writes, I can't pick her style. I enjoyed People of the Book more, because it was challenging and such a strange topic for me. But March was so well written, so smooth and flowing, so easy to read - maybe that's why I didn't enjoy it quite as much, because I didn't make an effort to read it. Or perhaps I enjoyed People of the Book more because the topic interested me more.
   Either way, Brooks is one of Australia's greatest writers.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Madame Bovary

I finished Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert a few days ago, but I've taken my time to digest the story, instead of writing this review in a torrent of passion. This is another classic that I have read as part of the 2012 Classics Challenge in which I'm participating.
   The story wasn't was I was expecting at all. I only picked it up due to a review on the First Tuesday Book Club. I thought it would be more flippant and romantic. Instead it is harrowing and tragic.



I don't view Madame Bovary as a heroine. I tend to think of the main characters as heros and heroines when I like them. I think of them as protagonists when they antagonise me! Madame Bovary was antagonistic. She must have been mentally ill - either bi-polar disorder or antisocial personality disorder. I didn't feel anguish for her, which I know I was meant to - I was just incredibly frustrated at her emotionally immature she was!!!
   Madame Bovary is a very modern woman. She is extremely vain and materialistic. She wants to be loved, but doesn't know how to love. She reminds me of women who admire the characters in Sex and the City. Don't get me wrong - I love Sex and the City, but I know that it is not a true reflection of single life in New York. Women who admire and want the life depicted in Sex and the City are not realistic - they don't realise how hollow and lonely that life would actually be.
   Madame Bovary didn't have Sex and the City, clearly, because she lived in rural France in the 1850s. But she did have fiction, and she escaped into a fictional world. She thought that love was a contrived romantic passion. She lived her life striving for something (love) which she actually always had. On her death-bed, I'm not sure if she even realised how much her husband loved her. And those men whom she had affairs with, who apparently loved her so much, didn't even blink an eye or suffered a sleepless night when she died. She was a foolish woman - shallow and self-centred.
   This must be a good novel, to still get me riled up, even after a few days of having finished it ...
   Gustave Flaubert was brilliant for his time, and very modern himself. Very perceptive to write such a modern novel with issues that are still relevant over 150 years later.

Friday, June 8, 2012

June Prompt - A Classics Challenge

As part of the Classics Challenge, this month the prompt is to create a visual tour of a particular location in the classic. I read Lady Chatterley's Lover, and have decided to try to create a visual tour of the little lover's shack.

Lady Chatterley runs through the English woods to her anticipated liaison.



The small hut in the forest where they make love amongst blankets on the floor.



The little stove in the hut where they warm their naked bodies.



The pheasant hens and chicks that the game keeper tends near the hut.



The forget-me-not flowers that they weave in each other's pubic hair.



This was one of the most liberating novels I've ever read, and also one of the most vivid. Although the writing was sparse enough that a lot was left to my imagination, it was still vivid.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Blasphemer

Shortlisted in 2010 for the UK Costa Novel Award, over the last fortnight I have read The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale. This is the first book this year (other than non-fiction books) that I have read that is not for  a challenge. I read this one for pleasure (not that the others weren't pleasant), because my mum recommended it. Thanks mum- it was a great pick!
   It is an intelligent novel, which is described on the cover as 'unforgettable'. For most of the novel, I was wondering what was so unforgettable about it. Certainly, the characters are real, and the issues are engaging, although sometimes it felt like I was being lectured. It's the ending that ties everything together perfectly, and it truly is an unforgettable story!



This novel is about love, cowardice, trust and forgiveness. It follows the lives of Daniel and Andrew Kennedy. Andrew is Daniel's great-grandfather. Daniel is a modern-day father, atheist, greenie, scientist, and metro-sexual.
   I learnt a lot. I learnt that the UK army shot its deserters during WWI (I thought it was only the French who did that). I learnt a bit about physics, music, biology, religion, and the human spirit.
   Read it!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Forgotten Sea

I had high expectations for this book. I read it as part of the Australian Women Writers challenge ... otherwise I wouldn't have finished it. Beverley Harper is Australian, though she spent a significant amount of her life in Africa.
   On the back of this edition, she is said to be Australia's answer to Wilbur Smith. Now, I love Wilbur Smith, and have read a lot of his sagas over the last few years. However, The Forgotten Sea by Beverley Harper is nothing like a Wilbur Smith novel. It's more like a murder mystery in a Mills & Boon novel.



Having said that, I did actually have a lot of guilty pleasure reading this novel. About half way through, when the Mills & Boon style romance got hot, I couldn't put it down. Her fans have posted online that it is one of her best novels.
   It was full of cliches, it's predictable and a bit ridiculous, but the reader does become invested in the characters.
   So if you like a murder mystery, and you like suggestive paragraphs about hot sex (but never actually have the sex described), then you should give this novel a try.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Lady Chatterley's Lover

As part of my commitment to read more classics, I read Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence. Having read Sons and Lovers by Lawrence earlier this year, I was really looking forward to the prose and character development that I had enjoyed so much in Sons and Lovers. I had no idea what to expect when I picked this book up, which is usually the case when I read something - I don't do much research before hand. I was a bit shocked, I must admit, but this was one of the best books I have ever read.



After I had finished reading Lady Chatterley's Lover, I did a bit of research. I didn't know the controversy that surrounded the publishing of this novel. I hindsight, though, I can see why some stuffy people got their nickers in a knot over this book.
   Lawrence wrote it in the 1920s, which shows how progressive he was. It was only printed privately in Italy, until it was finally published openly in the UK in the 1960s. Penguin Publishing was prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, but the verdict was "not guilty". Australian banned the book, and as recently as 2009, the Australia Post refused to sell the book in its store or outlets!
   This novel is not smut or obscene, despite some of the uses of the "f-work" and the "c-word". There are very descriptive sex scenes, but overall the book is about intimacy. It was extremely progressive for Lawrence to have been writing about the female orgasim or about menopause. It is the character development and emotion in this novel that saves it. You take the journey that Lady Chatterley takes during her affair. The ending is also magnificently done - it leaves you to meet your own expectations of 'happily ever after'.
   As well as the sex, there is a lot of exploration about the decline of the social fabric of society - about what industrialism is turning the working class into, and also about the lowering of the upper class. It is very much about the class system, and Lady Chatterley's battle against it and struggle to accept her position. It touches on the dissatisfaction of the lower and middle classes, the strikes, and has references to socialism and anarchism.
   I think my own self awareness and sexuality has benefitted from reading this book - I think we should all live with awareness in the moment, and appreciation for what we have, rather than just pretending to live.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Ballad of Les Darcy

As part of the Aussie Author Challenge, this week I read The Ballad of Les Darcy by Peter Fitzsimons. I have now read about four of Peter Fitzsimons' novels, and he has a unique writing style - it is like he is sitting beside you telling you the story. He writes non-fiction, but he makes it like a proper story, rather than just reciting research. I was also lucky enough to hear him speak in Wagga Wagga two years ago, and had him sign a couple of his books.



I had heard nothing of Les Darcy, I am ashamed to say. I was a bit disappointed, because I thought it was going to be the story of a boxer-tured-war hero. In fact, he died when he was twenty-one, just after he had enlisted - he didn't even get to war.
   Even though he died so young, Les Darcy was already the middleweight champion of the world, and the light heavyweight and heavyweight champion of Australia! He is one of Australia's greatest athletes, ever, but he is virtually unknown (to my generation, at least). I am so glad that Peter Fitzsimons wrote this little gem of a novel (only about 50,000 words for the Books Alive initiative for the Australian Government).
   The novel has caught the flavour of the time, in the early 1910's and through the first years of World War I. I cannot believe the amount of pressure that the Australian press and public put Darcy under to join the Army. His mother refused to sign the paperwork, so whilst he was under twenty-one years of age, it wasn't his choice whether he joined up or not. But everyone seemed to ignore that fact.
   His spirit was also very inspiring. He was such a straight-living young man, who came from a family that must have struggled when he was young. There is very little about his early years, which I imagine to be very difficult. There is also very little about his relationship with his drunken father (who, somehow, manages to outlive his younger mother by about 8 years!). I might explore some other books written on Les Darcy, since I am intrigued by the struggling and working classes around the time of Australian federation.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Hunger Games Trilogy

I started reading the Hunger Games because I wanted to read the book before I saw the movie (which I still haven't seen). I loved the first book so much that I quickly read the next two. They are a great trilogy by Suzanne Collins - very well structured - and suitable for a wide variety of readers. I think they are aimed at young adult readers, but I wonder if the young adult reader will fully understand the mental health problems that Katniss develops.



The Hunger Games is the first novel. I don't want to focus on the plot or what happens, since the story is probably generally known by most already - or you can go to Wikipedia and find the plot. So, I don't know what else to say - except it should be read quickly, like you're scoffing down and indulging in a delicious dessert!



Catching Fire is the second novel. Continuing to read this trilogy was very indulgent - I am meant to be reading classics and literary works that extend my writing. By the ease that I can slip back into reading young adult science fiction is amazing. This adventure with Suzanne Collins has made me think that I should not try to buck what I like most, and perhaps I should be writing young adult science fiction, instead of struggling with historic sagas.



Mockingjay is the final novel of the trilogy. I didn't want to let these characters go! As simply written as it is, the characters are very well developed. Obviously, particularly Katniss, whose turmoil is palpable. I rejoiced, in a way, when Katniss could let go of some of her barriers and find solace in Peeta. I felt that there is hope, after all.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tiger Men

I just finished reading Tiger Men by Judy Nunn as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge. This is the first book by Judy Nunn that I've read, and I did enjoy it. I will be looking out for her other novels. The style reminds me a bit of Bryce Courtney, because it was a long saga without a real plot. It was just about life, and the reader really gets invested in characters.



The tiger referred to in the title is not the typical big cat that is brought to mind. The tiger is the Tasmanian tiger, now extinct. Throughout the novel, Judy Nunn draws snippets from another book written nearly 100 years ago, about the systematic extermination of the Tasmanian tiger. It was heart-wrenching.
    In fact, the whole novel was quite educational. Tasmania lead Australia in many respects, including having electrical street lights installed. The last part of the novel was also a good overview of Australia's participation in World War I.
   The story starts by following three men; Silas Stanford, a wealthy Englishman; Mick O'Callaghan, an Irishman on the run; and Jefferson Powell, an idealistic American political prisoner. It is also the story of the strong, proud women who loved them. Then the story branches out and follows the three families for three or four generations.
   Highly recommended.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Guide To Writing

I know I have been quiet, and a bit slack with my writing lately. I am busy, but I can make all the excuses in the world. The fact is, I should make time to write.
   I'm certainly making time to read.
   Today, a friend sent me a great link; to Timothy McSweeney's Ultimate Guide to Writing Better Than You Normally Do. It's funny. It's inspired me again.
   Please, help me. All those followers; keep reminding me why I'm doing this. Give me little tips. Ask me why I haven't posted for a while.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Happy Prince

Another classic for the 2012 Classics Challenge: The Happy Prince and Other Fairy Tales by Oscar Wilde. This book of little moral tales is charming. I wish it had been read to me as a child, so I am keeping them book to read to my own children (when I have some ...). I was put onto this book by the First Tuesday Book Club.



The Happy Prince is one of the nine fairy tales written by Oscar Wilde. It is the tale of an ornately decorated statue who is saddened by the poverty around him. So he asks his only friend, a late migrating swallow, to take his jewels to those in need.
   When the Happy Prince has given all he has, and is no longer so beautiful, the rich men of the city meet to decide his fate.
   The Happy Prince's selflessness opens up the eyes of his friend, the swallow. The swallow doesn't feel the cold of the winter, because he is warmed by doing good and bringing joy to the needy. The swallow eventually sacrifices his life, by not migrating, and dying from the cold, once his task of dispersing the Happy Prince's riches is done.
   What I found interesting throughout these fairytales, and which I don't really appreciate in a child's book, are some of Wilde's own views put across - such as some very religious references, and also some references to Jews. I found them subtle and confronting.
   All these fairytales are little tales of morality. I really enjoyed them. Great lessons for kids.

Monday, April 9, 2012

There Should Be More Dancing

Another novel towards the Australian Women Writer's Challenge: I read There Should be More Dancing by Rosalie Ham last week. I've read Rosalie's two other novels (Summer At Mount Hope and The Dressmaker) and I enjoyed them far more, I must say. This novel is not as wickedly funny. It took me longer to read, and it was probably more emotionally challenging.



Margery Blandon was always a principled woman who found guidance from the wisdom of desktop calendars. She lived quietly in Gold Street, Brunswick for sixty years until events drove her to the 43rd floor of the Tropic Hotel. As she waits for the crowds in the atrium far below to disperse, she contemplates what went wrong; her best friend kept an astonishing secret and she can't trust the home help. It's possible her first born son has betrayed her, that her second son might have committed a crime, her only daughter is trying to kill her and her dead sister Cecily helped her to this, her final downfall. Even worse, it seems Margery's life-long neighbour and enemy now demented always knew the truth. There Should Be More Dancing is a story of Margery's reckonings on loyalty, guilt and love.
   I didn't like Margery, and I didn't feel much empathy for her. She was a nasty, narrow-minded woman, who purposely closed off her emotions to her family. It's sad that she wasted her life, and realises too late. She's eighty, and what kind of life can she now lead?
   The characters are vivid, unique and have realistic traits. They are three-dimensional characters, and Rosalie Ham is very good at character development. Unfortunately, I think there is a reason why so few novels' central characters are elderly, and that is that they don't generate much action.
   It's a great novel on its own, but Rosalie Ham's other novels are so brilliant that I was disappointed by comparison.

Friday, April 6, 2012

April Prompt - A Classics Challenge

I read Charles Dickens' Great Expectations most recently, as part of the Classics Challenge. I'm ashamed to say that I have never read Charles Dickens before. This month's prompt focuses on the cover of the book.
   The edition that I bought and read had close-up of a pair of iron manacles laying in a swamp. It's a fitting cover, having now read the book. But when I first picked it up, it wasn't an appealing first impression. Originally, I couldn't find an image online of my cover, but this time I found it and I have also included a number of other covers from other editions (there has been so many).






The above covers reflect many aspects of the book. My cover, with the manacles, are obviously the chains that Magwitch filed off in the swamp when Pip was a child. The second cover is of the crazy old Miss Havisham, in her wedding gown and dead flowers. The third is of Magwitch and Pip in the graveyard, where the story begins, with Miss Havisham, Estella and Howard in the background. The fourth is just a painted image of Pip himself.
   My favourite part of the story is Miss Havisham, so I really like the cover with just her on the front.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Messenger

I read The Book Thief two years ago, and really thought it was unique and powerful. So when I saw another book by Markus Zusak at the book shop, I snapped it up. Zusak wrote The Messenger before The Book Thief. It won the 2003 CBC Book of the Year Award (Older Readers) and the 2003 NSW Premier's Literary Award (Ethel Turner Prize), as well as receiving a Printz Honour in America.
   The Messenger probably hasn't been as popular as The Book Thief, because it doesn't have as much international appeal. It's topic does not focus on an international traumatic event on WWII. But, I think Zusak's writing is better in The Messenger - I think it's more subtle and possibly even more touching.



Blurb: Ed Kennedy - cab driving prodigy, pathetic card player, useless at sex - shares coffee with his dog and is in nervous-love with Audrey. His life is one of suburban routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.


That's when the first ace turns up and Ed becomes the messenger. 
Chosen to care, he travels through town, helping and hurting, until only one question remains. Where are the messages coming from?


This is a novel "about glowing lights and small things that are big". It's about a Good Samaritan. It's about very normal Aussies. It's about one particularly normal young man who does some loverly things (small things that mean a lot) for other people. It's very spiritual. There are lots of messages: to be selfless in love, about the meaning and value of aspirations, and about the joy we can experience despite the difficulties we face in day-to-day life. It's a novel that can be hard and confronting, but it's a novel that is very funny and real.
   The narrative voice in this novel is so strong - it's a brilliant, real voice. His language is authentic, blunt, and sounds just like he's talking to us. It doesn't have too much flowery, emotional investigation. It just is.
   Please read it!
   P.S. Another novel for the 2012 Aussie Author Challenge.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Great Expectations

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is the novel that I alluded to in an earlier post that I was struggling with. I found it slow and boring. The language is lovely, and there is some wicked humour and beautiful phrases. However, if Dickens had written this book in this century, an editor would have made it about half as long as it is.



I think part of the reason that I didn't enjoy it is that I didn't like Pip. Usually, if a book is well written, I can put aside my dislike for the character, but I couldn't with this novel. Pip would make me sigh with frustration at his snobbery. I laughed when Trabb's boy was making fun of Pip for pretending not to know anyone and making out that he was too good for the locals where he grew up. But even with Pip narrating from later in life, I still think he has very little insight. Or very little insight into Biddy, who knew him better than he knew himself.
   Because I cannot generate much enthusiasm for this book, I will answer some of Penguin's bookclub questions:

   Why do you think it is one of Magwitch's principle conditions that Pip (his nickname) "always bear the name of Pip" in order to receive his financial support?
   I don't think there was a deep and meaningful reason for this, like some other reviewers. Magwitch was poorly educated and a criminal. Often, criminals go by an alias. Magwitch didn't know Pip's real/full name, so he had to identify Pip by the name he knew, and he wanted Pip to retain the name so that he could find him.

   Why do you think Miss Havisham manipulates and misleads Pip into thinking she is his secret benefactor? 
   She was a wicked, bitter old lady and wanted to inflict emotional turmoil on Pip. By letting him think that she was his benefactor, she kept him tied to her and Estella, whilst he might otherwise have gone off looking at other women. Also, her own family thought that she was Pip's benefactor, and it suited Miss Havisham to have her jealous family (who just wanted her money) to be in equal turmoil to Pip.

   Miss Havisham confesses to Pip that in adopting Estella, she "meant to save her from misery like my own". Do you believe this, given Dickens' harsh characterisation of Miss Havisham throughout the novel?
   I do believe that Miss Havisham honestly thought that to begin with. She was lonely and wanted something to love. She would have been better off getting a pet. She certainly couldn't have adopted a boy. But given Miss Havisham's bitterness, and how beautiful Estella ended up being, the result could not have been any other way.

   When Miss Havisham is set afire, do you believe that, given her state of mind, Dickens intended us to read it as an accident or a kind of penance/attempted suicide on her part for her cruelty to Pip and Estella?
   I certainly read it as a suicide attempt. I don't know if Dickens meant it that way.

   What do you think makes Pip change his opinion of his benefactor Magwitch from one of initial repugnance to one of deep and abiding respect and love?
   Pip's repugnance was born out of his fear (of Magwitch being a murderer) and his sudden loss of his own belief that Estella and he were destined for each other. Once Pip got to know Magwitch and his past, and once Pip accepted his circumstances, his repugnance for Magwitch dissipated. However, I don't think he would have loved and respected Magwitch as much if Magwitch wasn't on the run and in need of help. If Magwitch was going to be a continual burden on Pip and follow him around forcing him to live how it pleased Magwitch, I don't think Pip would have loved him at all.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

I am reading another book at the moment, which I will review when I finish it in the next week or so, but it is so slow and boring that I was looking around for something else to read. I picked up Wild Swans about 15 years ago, but didn't finish it. It was too confronting, I think. This time, I read it in two days. A bit more perspective probably helped me deal with the stark reality of the human rights abuses in China. I can't believe what so many people went through, but their hardships have certainly helped make them the fastest growing nation in the world today.



I read another review, which was a positive review overall, but it started out by saying how depressing this book is. I didn't find it depressing. I found it inspiring. It was certainly eye-opening and educational. The hardships suffered by tens of millions of Chinese had my chest tied up in knots. But I wasn't depressed. I felt strong, and I felt the strength of the author, Jung Change. She is inspirational, as is her mother and grandmother, whom the book is about. In fact, the Chinese people are an inspiration, for what they have endured and survived, and for what their nation has become.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

People of the Book

As part of the challenge to read more Australian novels by female authors, I finally read People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. I have read A Year of Wonders before, and never really knew why everyone raved about Geraldine Brooks. Yes, her writing was fine, but they weren't outstanding. Having read People of the Book, now I know what all the fuss is about. This book is superb!



The historial education in this novel was what most appealed to me. The amount of research that Geraldine Brooks did for this novel is phenomenal. The information about religious history has been presented without an agenda, and has really opened my eyes to many things that I was oblivious of.
   People of the Book has been compared to Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. I think the Da Vinci Code is a pale comparison.
   People of the Book won the Australian Book Industry Award in 2008.
   The main story running through this novel is of a book conservator who is responsible for restoring the Sarajevo Haggadah (which is a real book). The story alternates between Hanna (the conservator) in her investigations, and the (fictional) stories of the book's origin and its various survivals through times of upheaval for Jews in Europe.
   I loved this book - please read it, if you haven't already.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

March Prompt - A Classics Challenge

I read the best book this month, for this prompt! In March, those participating in the Classics Challenge have been asked a number of questions on a setting in their classic read.
   This month I read The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov: here's my review.
   The setting is in the chapter entitled Satan's Rout! It is an amazing palace in which Satan holds his ball.
   The palace is clearly in another dimension from the world we know, or some kind of supernatural powers are at play, because the massive palace is all situated in a tiny fifth floor apartment in Moscow!



   It is speculated that the setting for Satan's ball is modelled off a Spring Festival that was hosted by the US Ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1935, which was held at Spaso House. Wikipedia says that the decorations surpassed imagination, with a forest of young birch trees being brought into the chandelier room, a dining table covered in Finnish tulips, and an avery made from fish netting full of pheasants, parakeets and one hundred zebra finches. There were also animals roaming around, on loan from the Moscow zoo. Mikhail Bulgakov apparently attended this Spring Festival, which gave him the inspiration for Satan's ball.



Like the rest of this bizarre and wonderful book, the Spring Ball that Satan hosts is a feat of imagination. Margarita is the hostess, and she is bathed in a special serum beforehand, which makes her young and beautiful, and she hosts the whole ball naked (but wearing amazing shoes made of rose petals). Margarita enters the palace through a lush jungle. The first room is full of white tulips, and there is a full orchestra. The next room was full of roses and camellias, with fountains of champagne. Another room contained a jazz band made up of chimpanzees, gibbons, mandrils and marmosets. Butterflies fly over the dancing guests. There is a massive pool with a crystal bottom, full of Brandy with people swimming in it. And there is a extremely grand staircase, at the top of which Margarita meets Satan's guests.
   The mood is certainly intoxicating, frivolous, and over-the-top. It is decadent, and demonstrates Satan flaunting his influence over humans who are too easily tempted to be drunk and naked, and romp with the devil!
   This setting is certainly the culmination of the storyline, and Bulgakov lets his imagination go most extravagantly!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

That Deadman Dance

Another brilliant Australian novel: That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott. This was the winner of the 2011 Miles Franklin Award. It was shortlisted for the Indie Book Award 2011, and it was a regional winner of the 2011 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.
   This book raises so many issues, but does it in a way that is not obvious - it doesn't stick the issues in your face, it unfolds the issues around the beautiful characters. The story is very touching, but (and this is not necessarily a bad thing) it left me feeling sad and ashamed.


This story is based in Western Australia, in the early white settlements, in the early 1800s on what was known as the 'friendly frontier'.
   The novel is told over periods of time, sometimes looking back on events for the point of view of the old, and sometimes right in the moment with the young. It is told from the point of view of black and white, male and female. The way that Kim Scott has developed a unique voice for each narrator is brilliant - they are subtle and unique and very believable.
   There are traces of understanding and hope, of people rising above their prejudices about skin colour. But then there is a clash of cultures, and inevitably the reader is disappointed (why was I so disappointed, when I know the history of our country? Why did I expect any different?).
   This story has certainly left its mark on me, and I can't articulate the emotion that I'm feeling about it. I just hope that every Australian reads this.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Blurb

One part of my final assignment in the creative writing course I was doing with Griffith University, I had to write a blurb for the novel I'm writing. It was inspiring to write, and it has changed the focus of my novel (again).
   Here it is:

Based on an unsolved double murder that happened nearly 100 years ago in Australia’s most remote alpine cattle station, this story explores how country people close off from outsiders to protect their own.
   A wealthy station manager is found murdered and buried in a shallow grave. His one employee is missing, only to be found months later, also dead. Was is the work of cattle thieves, or an angry husband defending his wife over a rumoured love affair? Or neither ... maybe the two murders were not committed by the same hands. One thing all those country folk agree is that it was bush justice.
   Told through the eyes of cattleman Harry Smith, whose life was intricately tied to the station, this is a tale of loyalty and trust.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is a wild ride. I picked it up because as part of my goal to read widely, and to read more classics (as part of my commitment to the Classics Challenge). It was reviewed on the ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club in August 2011, otherwise I would not have known to try it. Having at least heard the reviewers from that program, I knew that this book would not only be a cultural stretch for me, but also very unconventional.



   The devil and his crew of demons descend on Moscow and wreak havoc. They send many crazy, turn people on each other, and particularly target those in the arts and literary culture. There are people turning into pigs, naked women running around, people getting drunk whilst swimming in a pool of champagne, and witches flying on brooms. Margarita is one of the few who recognises the devil for who he is, resists his onslaught and embraces the change that he brings. After selling her soul to the devil, in return she is reunited with her lover, the master. The parallel story is part of the novel written by the master, about the true story of Jesus’ crucifixion from the point of view of Pontius Pilate. 
   This book has an Alice in Wonderland feel about it - the writer’s imagination was wild and crazy whilst he was writing it. There is also a very contemporary feel to the writing, unlike the writing of Boris Pasternak who was also writing in the Soviet Union at about the same time. The sentences are short and crisp, the language is precise, and the description is not over-the-top. This book was first published in the 1960s and became very popular in the mid-1970s, although it was written in the 1930s, and I can see why it had such an effect on the Western culture at that time (during the cold war). It is apparently the inspiration for the Rolling Stones’ song ‘Sympathy for the Devil’.



   I took the book at face value, though I am sure that Bulgakov was having a dig at those in the literary world in Russia that would not publish his work, and also criticising other figures in the Soviet Union at the time. I know that there is a lot that went over my head, due to my lack of knowledge of Russia during that 1930s, but I’m sure there are many subtle references in the book for people living during that period.
   Be patient with this book. There is very little emotional connection with the characters - let it flow around you and take you on an amazing ride that will make you stretch your imagination like a child. Your patience will be rewarded.