Saturday, January 24, 2015

Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey


The sigh of satisfaction after finishing an extraordinary, quirky, thought-provoking book is a blissful sound indeed!

At the start I had no expections for Ceridwen Dovey's Only the Animals.

My aversion to talking animal stories is well documented!
The cover also intrigued & repelled in equal measure.

And for the first 2-3 stories I struggled a little with the talking animals. Not because the animals were talking....but because I kept forgetting that I was reading about animals who could 'talk'. I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn't reading a story about humans.

Perhaps that's the only real flaw I can bring up with Only the Animals. All the animals are personified to such a degree that you forget that they are animal.
That's where the beauty & the uncomfortable part comes in though - what is human nature & what is animal nature & is the difference between the two really that great?

Although the book is set up as separate short stories, and I found that I could only read one at a time, the whole thing flowed together through time and space to present a united front.

Each animal was connected to a human writer at a time of conflict. I had enough literary knowledge to recognise & enjoy most of the references, allusions & homages. But I'm convinced you could enjoy these stories at any level.

My personal favourites? The Jack Kerouac style mussel story was hilarious, Colette's cat was seductive, Tolstoy's tortoise & the inspiring twin sister elephants will be revisited for the pure pleasure of it all.

I will leave you with the dolphin who wrote a letter to Sylvia Plath. She is discussing Ted Hughes, as dolphins do,

"Back then, I had admiringly thought he was trying to understand the human by way of the animal, 
but now I can see that in fact he wanted to justify the animal in the human."

This post is part of my Australian Women Writers challenge.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Monkey's Mask by Dorothy Porter

After rereading some of my Porter poems for a recent post, I felt a very strong desire to read one her verse novels.

But I had none to hand.

However I did have a copy of Rebecca Jessen's verse novel Gap on my TBR pile.
I thought, that will do for now.

But for some unknown reason, I googled Jessen before starting the book.

For the record, I never pre-google.

I post-google; I just-out-of-curiosity-even-though-I-will-probably-regret-it-google; I even procrastinate-google. But I never pre-google.

For the record, my pre-google search found an article Jessen wrote for Readings last year, citing the influence of the one and only Dorothy Porter on her writing.

The gods had spoken.

Before I could read Jessen, I simply had to read the source; the beginning of it all; The Monkey's Mask.

Fortunately I work in a small Indy bookshop.
Three days later, the book was in my hand.

24 hrs later, I had devoured it, dreamt it & dropped it in the bath (the water had got cold as I had to finish the book before I got out!)

The Monkey's Mask is part crime thriller (Jill is an ex-cop turned private eye), part sexy romp (Jill is a lonely lesbian), part romance (Jill falls in love), part poetry appreciation 101 (Jill's case is a murdered poetry student).

Jill's voice is ironic, brash and vulnerable "I've got no head for heights/but plenty of stomach/for trouble".

There are times Jill sounds like a poetic Philip Marlowe!

And just like Marlowe's cases you feel the tension rise. You can see the mystery unfold until you want to cry out "look out! behind you!"

But none of this does Porter's story justice.
The Monkey's Mask is gritty, exciting & passionate.
Not one single word is out of place.

Porter's words have captured me - they will haunt me for years to come.
I am not done with her yet!

This post is part of my Australian Women Writers challenge.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

J is for Elizabeth Jolley

Monica Elizabeth Knight was born in Birmingham, England on the 4th June 1923.
She was privately tutored at home until age 11, before being sent to a Quaker school in Banbury for her highschool years. By all accounts, her childhood was not a particularly happy one.

She then trained as an orthopaedic nurse in London. It was here that she met and fell in love with one of her patients - Leonard Jolley (1914 -1994) who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. When Leonard was transferred to Birmingham as a librarian, Monica followed. Unfortunately he was already married to Joyce.

In a bizarre romantic triangle, both women fell pregnant to Leonard at the same time. Elizabeth even moved in with Leonard & Joyce for a while. 
Her daughter, Sarah was born in 1946, 5 weeks before Joyce's daughter, Susan. 
Joyce was told that Elizabeth's daughter was fathered by a doctor dying of TB.

In 1950 Leonard left Joyce & secretly married Elizabeth. They had another two children, Richard and Ruth.

In 1959 they emigrated to Australia with their three children. They settled in Claremont, Perth where Leonard was appointed chief librarian at the University of Western Australia.

Curiously Leonard told his English family that he had emigrated with Joyce & Susan. Elizabeth helped maintain the ruse by writing to the family as Joyce!

Elizabeth began writing in early twenties, but had nothing published until 1976.

In the late 70's she began teaching at Curtin University (or WA Institute of Technology as it was called then). Her most well-known student was Tim Winton.
Elizabeth Jolley (courtesy SMH)

Elizabeth developed dementia in 2000 & died in 2007.

Andrew Reimer"Jolley could assume any one of several personas – the little old lady, the Central European intellectual, the nurse, the orchardist, the humble wife, the university teacher, the door-to-door salesperson – at the drop of a hat, usually choosing one that would disconcert her listeners, but hold them in fascination as well."

Susan Swingler:  "It was one lie leading to another, you do one thing to deceive and then how do you undo it. It snowballs and accumulates until it gets so big that you can't stop it."

Drusilla Modjeska:  "Her novels are so deftly entangled with the material of her life that she has both laid out the terrain and erected a very effective shield."

Romona Koval:  "She wrote about lesbians and surrogate mothers, murder and rape, incest and adultery. Her characters were nurses and loners and cleaning ladies. She was drawn to stories of family misunderstandings."


  • Palomino (1980)
  • The Newspaper of Claremont Street (1981)
  • Miss Peabody's Inheritance (1983)
  • Mr Scobie's Riddle (1983)                     Winner Age Book of the Year
  • Milk and Honey (1984)                Winner NSW Premier’s Literary Award (Christina Stead Prize for Fiction)
  • Foxybaby (1985)
  • The Well (1986)                      Winner of the Miles Franklin Award
  • The Sugar Mother (1988)
  • My Father's Moon (1989)                   Winner Age Book of the Year
  • Cabin Fever (1990)
  • The Georges' Wife (1993)                    Winner Age Book of the Year
  • The Orchard Thieves (1995)
  • Lovesong (1997)
  • An Accommodating Spouse (1999)
  • Portrait of Elizabeth Jolley by Peter Kendall 1986
  • An Innocent Gentleman (2001)

Short stories and plays

  • Five Acre Virgin and Other Stories (1976)
  • The Well-Bred Thief (1977)
  • The Travelling Entertainer and Other Stories (1979)
  • Woman in a Lampshade (1983)
  • Off the Air: Nine Plays for Radio (1995)
  • Fellow Passengers: Collected Stories of Elizabeth Jolley (1997)


  • Central Mischief: Elizabeth Jolley on Writing, Her Past and Herself (1992)
  • Diary of a Weekend Farmer (1993)
  • Learning to Dance: Elizabeth Jolley: Her Life and Work (2006)


Doing LIfe by Brian Dibble (2008) 
The House of Fiction by Susan Swingler (2012)

Order of Australia for Services to the Arts (1988)
Elizabeth was made a Professor of Creative Writing at Curtin University in 1998.

My one and only Jolley novel is The Orchard Thieves.

I fell in love with the cover and impulse bought it based on the promise of a story about a family of sisters (I'm one of four sisters).

But I struggled to get into it. I struggled to connect to any of the characters & I failed to fall into Jolley's writing style.

But I was only in my twenties.

A few years ago I decided to reread a few of those pivotal, amazing, life changing books from my 20's. They all fell flat. They no longer said anything to my 30-something self.

And that's okay. Some books are meant to be read and loved by 20-something's only.

I also believe that there are some books and some authors that need to be read when you are older and more experienced (in a literary sense as well as a life sense).
When I read The Orchard Thieves I knew it was being wasted on my 20-something self.

Writing this post has made me very curious about Jolley's very secretive life. I suspect a Jolley bio is on my 40-something horizon!

This post is part of Alphabe-Thursday.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

North and South Readalong (discussion #2)

I'm reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (1810 - 1865) with It's All About Books, Jenni Elyse & Kami's LIbrary Thoughts.

Discussion two covers chapters 19 - 35, 'Angel Visits' to 'Expiation'.

The first discussion highlighted how much of North and South was based on Gaskell's own history.

The middle section seems to be where the views, ways & ideas of the North and the South collide in the eyes of Margaret.

Milton (Manchester) during the time of Margaret (& Gaskell) was a part of the northwest county of Lancashire, which also included the towns of Lancaster, Preston, Liverpool, Wigan and Blackpool.

The Industrial Revolution saw this area come into its own as mill towns and collieries boomed. According to wikipedia Manchester & Liverpool not only dominated the global economy of the time, but they were the birthplaces of modern capitalism.
And Blackpool become the seaside resort that the workers flocked to for their traditional wakes week (see my Four Seasons post about Blackpool here).

In fact, Manchester & Liverpool both became so big and so dominate, that in 1974 when England underwent boundary reform, they were both removed from Lancashire to form their own metropolitan counties of Greater Manchester & Merseyside.

In Margaret's eyes, Milton and its county, Darkshire is a dirty, bustling, noisy place. Her first view of Milton in chapter 7 reveals "a deep lead-coloured cloud hanging over the horizon."

"Nearer to the town, the air had a faint taste and smell of smoke....Quickly they were whirled over long, straight, hopeless streets of regularly built houses, all small and of brick. Here and there a great oblong many-windowed factory stood up, like a hen among her chickens, puffing out black 'unparliamentary' smoke, and sufficiently accounting for the cloud which Margaret had taken to foretell rain. As they drove through the larger and wider streets, from the staion to the hotel, they had to stop constantly; great loaded lurries blocked up the not over-wide thoroughfares....People thronged the footpaths, most of them well-dressed as regarded the material, but with a slovenly looseness."

In chapter 31, Margaret is still comparing Milton unfavourably to Helstone,

"The chill, shivery October morning came; not the October morning of the country, with soft, silvery mists, clearing off before the sunbeams that bring out all the gorgeous beauty of colouring, but the October morning of Milton, whose silver mists were heavy fogs, and where the sun could only show long dusky streets when he did break through and shine."

But Margaret's opinion of the people and their work undergoes profound changes during the middle section of the book.

By chapter 20 she "liked the exultation in the sense of power which these Milton men had. It might be rather rampant in its display, and savour boasting; but still they seemed to defy the old limits of possibility, in a kind of fine intoxication, caused by the recollection of what had been achieved, and what yet should be."

The middle section also brings on the first spate of deaths that affect young Margaret's life.

The deaths of Bess and Mrs Hale not only show us Margaret's strengths but also Mr Thorton's. We already suspected his kind, loving, generous nature, but now Margaret acknowledges it for the first time.
Furthermore, the death of Mrs Hale bonds Margaret and her father to Milton - as her final resting place, Milton will now always have a tender place in their hearts.

I was curious about the Victorian custom of no women allowed at the funeral. The book suggested it was to do with emotional, uncontrollable women & I thought surely not! Margaret was the strong, resilient one after her mother's death while her father and brother fell apart, leaving everything to her.
So then I thought it may have had something to do with their corsets making them unable to walk behind the hearse to the cemetery.

But then I found this fabulous blog by Kathryn @The Regency Redingote that discussed the very issue!

Corsets did play a part, but class sensibility was the driving force.
The upper class wanted to show their natural superiority in the new age of reason & rationalism by enforcing 'polite society' on its members. Part of polite society involved showing no emotion in public. Self-control was highly valued.
The long funeral processions were also seen as being dangerous for women.

I wonder if Gaskell wrote in so many deaths as a way of highlighting yet another class difference?

The Pride and Prejudice parallels in the love affair continue in the middle section. The heated discussion about whether Mr Thornton is a gentleman or a man reminded me of Lizzie's riposte to Darcy about behaving in a more gentleman-like manner!

As for Frederick! You want to love him for Margaret's sake, but the whole time you're left wondering what he's up to. Can you really believe him or trust him? Can Margaret count on him when she needs him?

Perhaps Frederick is another way for Gaskell to highlight how alone Margaret really is. Her strength and resilience are born of necessity. She can rely on no-one but herself.
When the time comes (I assume it comes!) for Margaret and Mr Thornton to get together they will do so as independent equals.

Now it's time to go off and see what everyone else is thinking about North and South. Hopefully I will have time to join in the twitter chat this time too :-)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Blogging 101 - Copyright issues for bloggers

In a recent twitter conversation with Elizabeth Lhuede from the Australian Women Writers challenge, the issue of copyright law came up.

We both thought that bloggers were probably subject to the 10% rule that applies to research & education papers when quoting authors or their work. But we had doubts. So I decided to do my own research to find out for sure.

The Arts Law Centre of Australia has an Information sheet (link here) that covers many of the basic issues & questions.

First up, copyright law in Australia is automatic for all creative, literary & dramatic works, published and unpublished, including blogs.

The copyright protection is usually effective for the lifetime of the author/creator plus 70 years.

Secondly, there are 'fair dealing exceptions'.

So what does this mean for Australian bloggers ?

According to copyright law, the keys words are 'substantial part' and 'fair dealing'.

You can use an insubstantial part of a copyright work without seeking permission. The hard part is determining what is substantial!
It has almost nothing to do with the 10% rule (myth #1 busted!) The 10% rule only applies to 'fair dealings' for the purpose of research and study.
Quality not quantity is the determining factor in most cases.

The Australian 'fair dealing' rule is much tighter than the US 'fair use' rule.
It covers research and study, critcism and review, parody and satire, reporting the news and offering legal advice.

Fair dealing is more likely to affect commercial use, but non-commercial use is not automatically exempt.
Blogs which have advertising or some other money making feature are more likely to need copyright permissions under this definition of fair dealing.

Most book blogs would probably fall into the 'critcism and review' fair dealing category.
Key words (from the copyright act) that indicate a review or criticism are - passes judgement, genuine, strongly expressed or humorous, does not have to be balanced!

But it does have to be 'fair'.
A court would look at how much was reproduced, any adverse affects on the author, motives of the blogger and how the market for the product has been affected.

So now you know!

Most of my information came from the Queensland University of Technology: Faculty of Law - Blog, Podcast, Vodcast and Wiki Copyright Guide for Australia (available here).

For information about how to get permission for copyrighted works you can also check out the Australian Copyright Council.

Lorraine @Not Quite Nigella writes a food blog.
Last year Jessica wrote this informative piece for Lorraine about blogging & copyright for anyone interested in what happens when someone copies your blog or your work.

The main thing for bloggers to remember is to always identify, credit or acknowledge quotes & pictures because it's the right & moral thing to do. If in doubt, ask permission or don't use it.
'Fair dealing' has lots of shades of grey. But this works both ways.

Treat other people's creative work as you would like others to treat your blog and you'll be off to a fine start.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I is for If She Rings by Dorothy Porter

Christmas, New Year and our summer holidays got the better of me.

I missed a couple of Alphabe-Thursday posts in my Aussie Author Challenge *tsk tsk!

And now we're up to the letter I...eek!
To make this letter work for me I've had to stretch my rules a little to find an Australian author that I've actually read.

Therefore this week I give you Australian poet Dorothy Porter and her poem, If She Rings.

Dorothy Porter was born in 26th March 1954 in Sydney. Her parents were Jean & Chester Porter. Chester was the QC who defended Lindy Chamberlain.

She attended Sydney Uni, graduating in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts (English & History). One of her teachers was poet, writer & essayist David Malouf.

In 1993 she moved to Melbourne to be with her partner, writer Andrea Goldsmith. They shared a cat called Wystan, named after WH Auden.

In different articles and interviews over the years, Porter cited Emily Dickinson, Basho, Raymond Chandler & Dorothy Parker as important influences on her work.
According to friends, 'lucid' and 'feral' were her two favourite words.

Dorothy Porter: " Music has been the key for me since I was a teenager ... I wanted to tap into that dark potency of rock'n'roll, and I still write to music every day."

 "The poetry scene in Australia is small, querulous, and has always been distinctly unglamorous. The advantage I had early on was that I studied acting, and I was a very good performer at a time when poetry was basically mumbled. I could dramatise and that got me noticed."

"I'm longing for poetry that just smacks me across the head."

Andrea Goldsmith:  "Her work is romantic without being sentimental; it’s lyrical, insightful and emotionally resonant. And it is sharply contemporary in its honesty, its imagery, its unwavering grasp of the jugular. Most of all it illuminates love, which is, after all, the most powerful of human experiences."

David Malouf:  "She had such a vitality and a grasp of life, I think you see that in the way she made her poetry work, in very spare tight verse ... she had enormous energy."

Tim Finn:  "She was a very real person, with no bullshit, and this raw honesty. You would want to meet her on that level. Her work was streetwise and sensuous. She could write with heightened language, and never be waffly or precious, and there was always the unexpected image. She was a really great writer."

Michael Brennan:  "Porter is a defiant voice against the obscure and effete in poetry, unafraid to see poetry as a popular art form in the twentieth century, a feast open to all, immersed in the sweat, blood and tears of contemporary life, its hum-drum realities and headlong rush."

Porter died of breast cancer on the 10th December 2008. At the time of her death, she was working with Tim Finn on a rock opera - I would have loved to have seen (and heard) that!

Porter was one of the few Australian poets fortunate enough to actually make a living from her work.

Poetry collections
  • Little Hoodlum (1975)
  • Bison (1979)
  • The Night Parrot (1984)
  • Driving too Fast (1989)
  • Crete (1996)
  • Other Worlds: Poems 1997–2001 (2001)
    Dorothy Porter by Rick Amor (2001-2002)
  • Poems January–August 2004 (2004)
  • The Bee Hut (2009, Posthumous)
  • "Love Poems" (2010, Posthumous)
  • The Best 100 Poems of Dorothy Porter (2013)
Libretti (with composer Jonathan Mills)
  • The Ghost Wife (2000)
  • The Eternity Man (2005)
Verse novels
  • Akhenaten (1992)
  • The Monkey's Mask (1994)
  • What a Piece of Work (1999)          shortlisted for the Miles Franklin
  • Wild Surmise (2002)          shortlisted for the Miles Franklin      
  • El Dorado (2007)            shortlisted for the inaugural Prime Ministers Award
Fiction for young adults
  • Rookwood (1991)
  • The Witch Number (1993)

A film of The Monkey Mask starring Susie Porter & Kelly McGillis was released in 2001 (thank you wikipedia).

I have read The Bee Hut and The Best 100 Poems (compiled after her death).
It has been wonderful to have an excuse to browse through them again for this post.
Reading Porter's poems is a very sensual, earthy and heart-wrenching experience. Repeat visits are a must.

I don't find it easy to review a book of poetry as I never read the poems in one sitting or in order. I pull out the pieces that speak to my mood of the moment. I return to favourites, I circle verses, underline words & asterix whole sections.
I love spotting a heavily marked poem that obviously meant a lot to me on one reading, but now I go 'meh'!
Rereading my books of poetry would be a quick, easy way to view my emotional growth & life journey (if only I dated my scribblings!)

But for now I will leave you with a few of Porter's 'I' poems.

If She Rings (from The Best 100 Poems)

she said
she'd ring in a week

two weeks ago

we were walking along
Balmoral Beach

we were almost
holding hands

we were watching

our salty lips
her nervy hand
skipping chips
through the sand

she said
she was marking essays
she said
she'd ring in a week

two weeks ago

this morning
I'm not witing by the phone

this morning
I'm packing my bags

if she rings in an hour
I'll be on the train

if she rings later
I'll be on the plane

if she rings tonight
I'll be in Brisbane

at least a hundred beaches

IV: I Touch  (Poems from the Verse Novel El Dorado)
I touch her lovely wild

I've been here before.

The white beach.
The glistening trees.
The staring savages
on the shore.

Imagination  (from The Bee Hut)

Sung with hypnotising allure by a counter-tenor
dressed in very dirty black silk pyjamas

I'm your real world

I'm your bottomless pool
of sucking
black mud

trust me 
trust me
I'm so soft and warm

and dirty

trust me
trust me
you can sink
so sweet and safely
right to the calling
and calling
of me

I prmoise
I'll make the journey 
worth you while

trust me
trust me
the dark and fabulous
you'll learn and know
from the dissolving roots
of your hair
to the soft slow burn
of your lost lost

the dark and fabulous
I'll show
will never leave you
will never let
you go

I'm your real world
your bottomless pool
of black and sucking

I'll seep right
through you
I'll change forever
your bones, soul
and blood

I'm your real world

trust me
trust me
I'm so soft and warm
and dirty

trust me
trust me
take my journey
take the plunge

you can sink
you can sink
so sweet and safely
right to the calling
and calling 
of me.

I've always loved how Porter's poems stir & disturb my conservative emotions, but typing up these three poems, one by one, word by word, has been extraordinary. 

Her words got right under my skin, they sunk in, black & sucking, soft and warm until they felt a part of me.I suddenly felt lucid...and well, a little feral!
How glorious that someone else's words can have such an immediate & physical effect.

I really must read one of her verse novels soon.

This post is part of Alphabe-Thursday as well as being my very first post for the AWW2015 challenge.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Top Ten Books I Meant To Read in 2014

I'm struggling to get back into the groove (of just about everything!) now that the holidays are over and the working year has once again begun.

I spotted Louise @A Strong Belief in Wicker's entry for this week's Top Ten hosted by The Broke and the Bookish & I thought "ah ha! that's what I need - a tried and true meme to get me blogging again!"

I have a stack of 2014 books on my TBR pile that fit this category easily. The hard part was keeping it down to 10!!

Without any further ado I give you my Top Ten Books I Meant to Read in 2014...

1. England and Other Stories by Graham Swift

2. The Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

3. My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

4. Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud

5. Euphoria by Lily King

6. The Children Act by Ian McEwan

7. In Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower

8. A First Place by David Malouf
9. The Writing LIfe by David Malouf

10. Delicious Days in Paris by Jane Paech

A lovely mix of fiction, short stories and non-fiction - International and Australian titles. I hope to tackle some of these books sooner rather than later...but the 2015 new releases are tempting me already...the hazzards of being a book seller!

Friday, January 9, 2015

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (discussion #1)

I'm reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (1810 - 1865) with It's All About Books, Jenni Elyse & Kami's LIbrary Thoughts.

Discussion one covers chapters 1-18 (although I started late & I only got to chapter 12 this week).

Many events from Elizabeth Gaskell's own life story made an appearance in North & South.

Gaskell's father, William Stevenson (1772 - 1829), was a classical tutor at Manchester Academy for a time. He then preached for a short time as a Unitarian minister at Failworth before resigning his position on "conscientious grounds" (wikipedia).

In North & South, Margaret's father leaves his position as minister of Helstone vicarage with "doubts", for "conscience' sake" and as a "Dissenter." (I'm assuming Helstone is another fictional town, as Gaskell refers to the New Forest area of Hampshire twice when Margaret was talking to Mr Lennox, which doesn't match the real town of Helstone in the wild & woolly climes of Cornwall).

Dissenter: (wikipedia) "In the social and religious history of England and Wales it refers particularly to a member of a religious body who has, for one reason or another, separated from the Established Church or any other kind of Protestant who refuses to recognise the supremacy of the Established Church in areas where the established Church is or was Anglican."

Margaret then moves to Milton-Northern with her parents - a fictional industrial town in NW England, but apparently based on Manchester where Gaskell lived with her husband from 1832.

William Gaskell (1805 - 1884) was also a Unitarian minister from a family of well-known Rational Dissenters:

"In the eighteenth century, one group of Dissenters became known as "Rational Dissenters". In many respects they were closer to the Anglicanism of their day than other Dissenting sects; however, they believed that state religions impinged on the freedom of conscience. They were fiercely opposed to the hierarchical structure of the Established Church and the financial ties between it and the government. Like moderate Anglicans, they desired an educated ministry and an orderly church, but they based their opinions on reason and the Bible rather than on appeals to tradition and authority. They rejected doctrines such as the Trinity and original sin, arguing that they were irrational. Rational Dissenters believed that Christianity and faith could be dissected and evaluated using the newly emerging discipline of science, and that a stronger belief in God would be the result." (wikipedia)

The section in North & South concerning Mr Hale's resignation was a little confusing. I couldn't understand why he had to leave the church. I've used Gaskell's personal history (& google) to try and work out what she was trying to imply.

Mr Hale then took up a position as "private tutor".

The Mr Lennox romance was also interesting - a writerly device perhaps to show that Margaret knows how to say 'no', knows her own mind and has definite opinions about the life she wants to lead?

Margaret was aware of "points of difference" between them & she used the words "disagreeable", "annoying", "disdain" & "repelled" to describe her feelings in a few short paragraphs. This all gives us faith in Margaret that she will make the right decision when a more suitable suitor does appear.

I hope to make time this weekend to really get stuck in.

When commenting please remember that I have not read North & South before or seen any of the TV series - all I know is what I have read on the back cover of my Penguin English Library edtion...

Elizabeth Gaskell's compassionate, richly dramatic novel features one of the most original 
and fully-rounded female characters in Victorian fiction, Margaret Hale. 
It shows how, forced to move from the country to an industrial northern town, 
she develops a passionate sense of social justice, and a turbulent relationship with 
mill-owner John Thornton.

North and South depicts a young woman discovering herself, in a nuanced portrayal 
of what divides people, and what brings them together.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

Vile Bodies was my Classics Club Spin #8 book.

In the past I have read and loved Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One and Brideshead Revisited.

The Loved One was a school read that I came to enjoy thanks to our class discussions.
Brideshead Revisited I discovered thanks to the wonderfully lush BBC TV series from the 80's. The series was very faithful to the book.

Both these books are very different from each other though. BR has an epic, family saga feel to it. TLO is more contemporary & edgier.

I was expecting Vile Bodies to be more like The Loved One - edgy satire but set in the 1920's.

Sadly I struggled to engage or even care about any of the characters in Vile Bodies.

The second half of the book was more amusing than the first (esp the Mr Chatterbox columns), but I still couldn't get past how ridiculous it all seemed. I got tired of the joke names (Mr Outrage, Judge Skimp, Lady Metroland), the weekly change of Prime Ministers and the on again/off again love affair between the two main characters.

I understand that the book is meant to be a satire on the vacuous, alienating nature of 1920's England. I can also appreciate Waugh's enjoyment in the use of language.
But perhaps this book is (or was) funnier and more biting if one had an intimate knowledge of the real people who populated this world, so that one could appreciate who was being sent up & charicatured?

I, for one, obviously missed the point completely!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Mademoiselle Coco Chanel & the Pulse of History by Rhonda Garelick

This is now my third bio on Chanel. And I'm still trying to work out what my fascination is with her.

The first bio I read was written by Chanel's friend Edmonde Charles-Roux, followed by Justine Picardie's one two years ago.

Edmonde knew Chanel personally and her bio (as I remember it 20 yrs later) had a slightly romantic, reverant feel to it. She trusted most of the stories that Chanel told her, although Edmonde's questioning did lead to an estrangement between the two of them for a while. The book is filled with personal photos and anecdotes from various friends.

Picardie's book explored the places associated with Chanel. She visited the homes, the workspaces & the clothes to try and find the essence of Chanel.

Both books & authors were undeniably in awe of the Chanel myth. They were both aware of the fictional nature of much of the story as well as some of the more dubious affairs that Chanel got involved in, but still they approached their books with undisguised respect & were very careful not to tarnish the myth.

Garelick needed a new angle to bring fresh life into this story. Her approach was to explore Chanel within the context of historical periods - how was Chanel influence by the historical events of her time & how was history influenced by Chanel?

Garelick admitted that "no-one writing about Chanel proves completely immune to this seductive force of hers (Chanel)". But Garelick made a pretty good effort, especially in the first half of the book.

There is no doubt that Chanel's early life was full of hardship & unhappiness. She suffered personal tragedies & heart break. And she used the determination & strength derived from these hard times to make her one of the world's most successful & well-known women.

At the same time there is no doubt that she was also a very difficult woman. She lied about everything and manipulated whoever she needed to. She played people one off against the other. She seduced & charmed until she got what she wanted & then she dumped them. She had a huge ego and an extremely fragile personality. Chanel never doubted herself and nothing was ever her fault. Her only loyalty was to herself.

Garelick's careful choice of words makes it clear that Chanel had a Narcissistic personality and probably some form of Borderline Personality Disorder. No-one has ever used these terms in anything I've ever read. It is simply a matter of ticking off the DSM-IV checklists for these two disorders as you read through the bio's.

Chanel's death scene as described by Garelick skirts around the nature of thiese disorders..."there come first the ripples of reaction through the closest circle...which tend to reflect the tenor of the deceased's personal interactions in life. In the case of Coco Chanel, her death predictably launched a series of bitter accusations, shifting stories and misrepresentations."

Perhaps I'm fascinated by the old, old tale of great riches & success that fails to provide happiness?
But I think, for me, it's more the time and place.

Coco Chanel lived and worked through a period of French & European history that I'm endlessly fascinated with. Paris, women's lib, two world wars, the roaring twenties.
She mixed with the who's who of the twentieth century - from Winston Churchill to Pablo Picasso, Grand Duke Dmitri Romanov to the Scott Fitzgeralds and the Duke & Duchess of Windsor to the Rothschilds.

A remarkable woman; an admirable woman, but I'm grateful that I didn't have to work for her or live with her.

I'm also fascinated by the choice of book covers.

The Australian cover (above) shows an older Chanel in a darker, fussier setting.
The US cover (middle) is much cleaner, crsiper & younger looking.

And I'm simply grateful they chose not go with their inital cover (left)!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2014 - The Year That Was

My summer holiday is over - another working year looms.

The days are hot and sticky, but luckily we live near the harbour, so every evening our house cools down with a lovely sea breeze.

Perfect reading weather.

I take my book to the pool where I do laps. As I dry off in the dappled light of the Mortan Bay fig, I read a chapter or two.

At home, when it's too hot and sticky to do anything outside, I park myself in front of a fan...and read another chapter or two.

In the evening, after some quality time with our holiday jigsaw puzzle, I lie in bed, enjoying the sea breeze & another chapter or two.

Today I also took the time to tally my 2014 reading habits.

In 2014 I wrote 216 posts, celebrated 5 years of blogging & reached the 500 post milestone.

125 of my 216 posts were book reviews. The rest were meme entries, readalongs, entries about blogging or other book related events. 7 posts were poems (yay me!)

105 of the book reviews were fiction; 20 were non-fiction.

76 were book reviews by female authors; 49 by men.

63 books were International authors; 62 were Australian.

A few of the stand-out book moments for me this year were 'discovering' Australian author Sonya Hartnett, reading The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay & reading my first David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks.

Other book related highlights include meeting our former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard at a Random House function earlier in the year and meeting US blogger Melissa from Avid Reader's Musings when she visited Sydney.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone from Paris in July & I had a ball with my first ever Dewey's 24 hr Readathon in October. Angela Carter reading week with Delia & Caroline was also an amazing reading experience. And a special thank you to Ali at Heavenali for introducing me to Willa Cather.

2014 reinforced my love of reading events & the joy I get from being part of the blogging community.
Year long challenges don't always work so well (I lose momentum), but a serendipitous selection of readalongs throughout the year are perfect. They suit my free-range reading habits exactly.

I've already declared my 2015 intentions for my TBR pile with Adam, Karen's Back to the Classics & Behold the Stars' Reading England Challenge.

I can now also officially sign up for the the Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge (AWW). Judging from last years stats, I feel confident in aiming for the Franklin level - 10 books & 6 reviews by Australian women writers.

And just quietly, between you and me...this is my 600th blog post :-D

Thursday, January 1, 2015

First Books of 2015

Happy New Year!
Here's to a 2015 full of many bookish delights & blogger bliss!

Sheila @ bookjourney is hosting a first book of 2015 meme - this is the holiday snap of me with my books that I have submitted.

I never read just one book, especially when on holidays.
I like to have a fiction and non-fiction choice plus a spare. This year I chose a book of short stories.

Mademoiselle is fascinating. Chanel was a driven genius in her field, who reinvented herself numerous times over. She treated family & friends terribly but struggled to understand why she was left on her own. Being rich, famous & glamorous doesn't buy you love, happiness or loyalty in the end! 

North and South is my first readalong for the new year. I hope to start it tonight if I'm not too tired from a day at the theme parks with the kids!

Only The Animals is gorgeous stuff. Three stories in and wondering where Dovey will take me next.

I hope you're all enjoying the first day of 2015 with clear heads & a good book too!

Happy Reading from the beautiful, sunny, sultry Tweed River District. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fire and Ice by Robert Frost

Robert Frost is on the 2015 HSC poetry list.
My eldest stepson is studying 6 of his poems (rather reluctantly) with his class.
The major theme they're exploring is discovery (or self-discovery).

On the surface of Fire and Ice (1923) we see man struggling to some to terms with the end of the world.

Fire and ice both have lots of symbolic meanings in our culture.

He offers us a contrast - two options - a contradiction.
The choice is universal and individual.
Both both choices can be experienced (& survived) & both choices can end in destruction.
Is this really a choice? Or is it a sign of how to live with complexity? Duality? The shades of grey?
Should we avoid desire (lust & greed) AND hate (cruelty)?

"From what I have tasted" leads us to view what Frost has discovered about life, love & death.
Is it better to go down in ball of flames, passion, love, desire & heat?
Or is a more calculated, cold hearted, reasoned approach best?

Once again Frost is highlighting man's isolation from his environment and from others.
Is he trying to warn us about our worst traits? The traits that could lead to our downfall? Greed & hatred?

Such big themes for such a small poem!

What did YOU discover as you read through this poem?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Home Burial by Robert Frost

He saw her from the bottom of the stairs
Before she saw him. She was starting down,
Looking back over her shoulder at some fear.
She took a doubtful step and then undid it
To raise herself and look again. He spoke
Advancing toward her: ‘What is it you see
From up there always—for I want to know.’
She turned and sank upon her skirts at that,
And her face changed from terrified to dull.
He said to gain time: ‘What is it you see,’
Mounting until she cowered under him.
‘I will find out now—you must tell me, dear.’
She, in her place, refused him any help
With the least stiffening of her neck and silence.
She let him look, sure that he wouldn’t see,
Blind creature; and awhile he didn’t see.
But at last he murmured, ‘Oh,’ and again, ‘Oh.’

‘What is it—what?’ she said.

                                          ‘Just that I see.’

‘You don’t,’ she challenged. ‘Tell me what it is.’

‘The wonder is I didn’t see at once.
I never noticed it from here before.
I must be wonted to it—that’s the reason.
The little graveyard where my people are!
So small the window frames the whole of it.
Not so much larger than a bedroom, is it?
There are three stones of slate and one of marble,
Broad-shouldered little slabs there in the sunlight
On the sidehill. We haven’t to mind those.
But I understand: it is not the stones,
But the child’s mound—’

                             ‘Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t,’ she cried.

She withdrew shrinking from beneath his arm
That rested on the banister, and slid downstairs;
And turned on him with such a daunting look,
He said twice over before he knew himself:
‘Can’t a man speak of his own child he’s lost?’

‘Not you! Oh, where’s my hat? Oh, I don’t need it!
I must get out of here. I must get air.
I don’t know rightly whether any man can.’

‘Amy! Don’t go to someone else this time.
Listen to me. I won’t come down the stairs.’
He sat and fixed his chin between his fists.
‘There’s something I should like to ask you, dear.’

‘You don’t know how to ask it.’

                                              ‘Help me, then.’

Her fingers moved the latch for all reply.

‘My words are nearly always an offense.
I don’t know how to speak of anything
So as to please you. But I might be taught
I should suppose. I can’t say I see how.
A man must partly give up being a man
With women-folk. We could have some arrangement
By which I’d bind myself to keep hands off
Anything special you’re a-mind to name.
Though I don’t like such things ’twixt those that love.
Two that don’t love can’t live together without them.
But two that do can’t live together with them.’
She moved the latch a little. ‘Don’t—don’t go.
Don’t carry it to someone else this time.
Tell me about it if it’s something human.
Let me into your grief. I’m not so much
Unlike other folks as your standing there
Apart would make me out. Give me my chance.
I do think, though, you overdo it a little.
What was it brought you up to think it the thing
To take your mother-loss of a first child
So inconsolably—in the face of love.
You’d think his memory might be satisfied—’

‘There you go sneering now!’

                                           ‘I’m not, I’m not!
You make me angry. I’ll come down to you.
God, what a woman! And it’s come to this,
A man can’t speak of his own child that’s dead.’

‘You can’t because you don't know how to speak.
If you had any feelings, you that dug
With your own hand—how could you?—his little grave;
I saw you from that very window there,
Making the gravel leap and leap in air,
Leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly
And roll back down the mound beside the hole.
I thought, Who is that man? I didn’t know you.
And I crept down the stairs and up the stairs
To look again, and still your spade kept lifting.
Then you came in. I heard your rumbling voice
Out in the kitchen, and I don’t know why,
But I went near to see with my own eyes.
You could sit there with the stains on your shoes
Of the fresh earth from your own baby’s grave
And talk about your everyday concerns.
You had stood the spade up against the wall
Outside there in the entry, for I saw it.’

‘I shall laugh the worst laugh I ever laughed.
I’m cursed. God, if I don’t believe I’m cursed.’

‘I can repeat the very words you were saying:
“Three foggy mornings and one rainy day
Will rot the best birch fence a man can build.”
Think of it, talk like that at such a time!
What had how long it takes a birch to rot
To do with what was in the darkened parlor?
You couldn’t care! The nearest friends can go
With anyone to death, comes so far short
They might as well not try to go at all.
No, from the time when one is sick to death,
One is alone, and he dies more alone.
Friends make pretense of following to the grave,
But before one is in it, their minds are turned
And making the best of their way back to life
And living people, and things they understand.
But the world’s evil. I won’t have grief so
If I can change it. Oh, I won’t, I won’t!’

‘There, you have said it all and you feel better.
You won’t go now. You’re crying. Close the door.
The heart’s gone out of it: why keep it up.
Amy! There’s someone coming down the road!’

You—oh, you think the talk is all. I must go—
Somewhere out of this house. How can I make you—’

‘If—you—do!’ She was opening the door wider.
‘Where do you mean to go?  First tell me that.
I’ll follow and bring you back by force.  I will!—’

Robert Frost is on the 2015 HSC poetry list.
My eldest stepson is studying 6 of his poems (rather reluctantly) with his class.
The major theme they're exploring is discovery (or self-discovery).

So, what are we disovering in Home Burial (1914)?

We have here two very different ways of grieving and communicating. 
There is a power struggle between the couple as they try to make each other understand how they're feeling. 
The death of their child has revealed things about each other that they are finding hard to reconcile.
Will this also mean the end of their marriage?
Can they find it in themselves to be understanding & accepting?

Gender stereotyping appears in the way that the man and the woman express themselves & talk about grief.

The home is also a source of ambiguity - fear and/or comfort?
Perhaps the home has become the parent's grave since the death of their child?
There is a sense that they are both trapped or enclosed by the home. They are confined within the space as well as by their unspoken feelings.

Frost's usual themes of loneliness & alienation also appear in Home Burial.

Robert Frost knew all too well what it felt like to lose a child. 
His first born son, Elliott, died age 8 of cholera. His daughter, Elinor also died just 3 days after birth in 1907.
This poem was obviously a way for him to work through his own grief.

Home Burial is an incredibly sad poem.
The tragedy that is the death of a child is compounded in this case by poor communication & a lack of empathy.
We can see the grief and sorrow oozing from both parents, but sadly, they cannot see it in each other.

We discover in Home Burial how important open communication, listening and accepting difference is in maintaining healthy relationships. 

What else did you discover?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

F is for Stella Miles Franklin

The Miles Franklin Literary Award is named after Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin who was born on the 14th October 1879 on Talbingo station in southern NSW.
Franklin's family moved a little to the east to Brindabella Station when she was a child. 

She was the eldest daughter of two Australian born parents (which is noteworthy for the time as most of the population were new immigrants). In fact, one of Franklin's great-great grandfathers was a convict on the First Fleet.

Franklin's most famous novel, My Brilliant Career, is a coming of age story about a feisty, rural, feminist Sybylla. Franklin wrote this during her teenage years loosely based on her own life. 

It was published in 1901. 

Many of Franklin's family & friends were upset by the publication of the book as they felt that she was parodying them in the book.

In 1902 Franklin's family moved to a property near Penrith as they struggled with downward mobilty & declining fortunes.  

In 1906, Franklin moved to the US and worked as a secretary for a number of years before suffering ill health & spending time in a sanatorium.

In 1915 she travelled to England, then Europe, engaging in war work as a hospital cook.

Back in London after the war, Franklin worked for the National Housing and Town Planning Association. In 1924 she organised the women's international housing convention.

In 1931, Franklin's father died and she returned to live in Australia.

Franklin struggled to live up to the success of her first novel. She published several books under other names to avoid recognition and comparison, but sadly, poor reviews dogged her later years.

Franklin died on the 19th September, 1954 in Sydney. 

Her will set up an annual literary prize awarded to "a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases".


  • My Brilliant Career (1901)
  • Some Everyday Folk and Dawn (1909)
  • Old Blastus of Bandicoot (1931)
  • Bring the Monkey (1933)
  • All That Swagger (1936)
  • Pioneers on Parade (1939) – with Dymphna Cusack
  • My Career Goes Bung (1946)
  • On Dearborn Street (1981)

Under the pseudonym of "Brent of Bin Bin"

  • Up the Country (1928)
  • Ten Creeks Run (1930)
  • Back to Bool Bool (1931)
  • Prelude to Waking (1950)
  • Cockatoos (1955)
  • Gentleman at Gyang Gyang (1956)


  • Joseph Furphy: The Legend of a Man and His Book (1944)
  • Laughter, Not for a Cage (1956)
  • Childhood at Brindabella (1963)

The Canberra suburb, Franklin is named in her honour. 

A movie was of My Brilliant Career in 1979 directed by Gillian Armstriong & starring Judy Davis. 

The new Stella Prize celebrating Australian women's writing is also named in her honour.


Miles Franklin in America: Her (Unknown) Brilliant Career by Verna Coleman (1981)
Miles Franklin Her Brilliant Career by Colin Roderick (1982)
Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography by Jill Roe (2008)

It has been many years since I read My Brilliant Career or watched the movie. 

I confess that both annoyed me at the time. The teenage Stella came across as a whining, demanding, OTT brat. 
Sadly, I recall nothing about the quality of the writing or the other details of the we all know what that means! It's time for a reread!

Have you read anything by or about Stella Miles Franklin?

 This post is part of Alphabe-Thursday & Authors by Alphabet.