Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Ghost's Child by Sonya Hartnett

Most of you are already aware that I am now an evangelical Sonya Hartnett fanatic.
The Ghost's Child does nothing to change that!

I do wonder, though, if I would have enjoyed her books as a teen.

 "She'd weathered the bafflement of her childhood, and her bleak school years."

I tended to prefer girlish series and romances back then. Occasionally a librarian or teacher would challenge me with something like Animal Farm or To Kill a Mockingbird or A Merchant of Venice & I would get a taste of the big, wide wonderful world of adult literature ahead of me. It's just that I wasn't in any rush to get there.

I'm not sure if Hartnett's beautiful fable about love & loss, beauty, happiness & honesty would have caught my eye.

"It would be a shame to give up. Every journey must be finished."

Which is a shame, because The Ghost's Child has so much to say about life & death & the journey of growing up that happens in between.

"...but the truth is that memory is hardly ever good enough to console a heart."

Hartnett uses the usual magical elements associated with fairy tales to describe the unusual childhood & life of Matilda. Her use of language is simply glorious; lusher than Steven Herrick's (see review below) but equally as complex & nuanced.

This is a slim book with a lot to say about feminine power, freedom & truth.

I'll leave you with a few quotes...if I can decide, that is, which few to pull out!

"She had missed the hills when she was away, their bushfire smell and crackliness, the still air between the trees. She'd missed seeing lizards vanish under stones, missed hearing bellbird calls link the eucalypts like silver neck chains."

"The nargun had no sense of humour, so it never laughed at her; she told it what she dreamt and feared, and it took what she said very seriously. It folded her secrets against its solid black heart and carried their weight for her."

(NB: The Den of Nargun is found on Woolshed Creek in the Mitchell River National Park, Gippsland region, Victoria. Legend has it that the nargun was a fierce half-human, half-stone creature. It had the ability to deflect back to the thrower any weapon used against it. This story was used as a cautionary tale by local tribes to stop children from wandering too far away from the camp. 
The Den of Nargun was actually a sacred site for women's initiation and learning ceremonies. Hence Hartnett's use of the nargun legend in this story.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A is for Thea Astley

Suzie @ Suz's Space recently put out the challenge for Australian book bloggers to follow her example with Authors by Alphabet.
Her focus is science fiction writers.
Susan @ Reading Upside Down has chosen Australian children's authors.

And I decided to do Australian (adult) authors.

However two weeks have now gone by & I have failed to get started.
Mostly because I got bogged down by what I wanted to do. But also in how I was going to fit another challenge into my AusReading Month schedule AND my State by State project (see tab above).

It took a visit to Jenny's Alphabe-Thursday meme (that I join in occasionally) to finally get me motivated.
I saw that she was, for the ninth time, coming to the end of the alphabet. And she has, despite ill health, decided to continue with Alpabe-Thursday for the tenth time.

I hope that Jenny and friends wont mind me hijacking their favourite meme with my own Aussie Author Challenge.

I plan to alternate between male & female authors & I will endeavour to choose authors that I have read so that I can add a personal touch to the bio's.

So let's begin at the very beginning...

Thea Astley

Born August 25th 1925 in Brisbane
Died 17th August 2002 Byron Bay

She studied arts at University of Queensland & also completed her teaching training.
In 1948 she married Jack Gregson & moved to Sydney.
She taught in various highschool & tutored at Macquarie Uni until 1980.
Astley then retired to Kuranda, North Queensland with her husband, to focus on writing full time.
She also lived near Nowra for a time & Byron Bay.

Novels

  • Girl with a Monkey (1958)
  • A Descant for Gossips (1960)
  • The Well Dressed Explorer (1962)                     Miles Franklin winner
  • The Slow Natives (1965)                                    Miles Franklin winner
  • A Boat Load of Home Folk (1968)
  • The Acolyte (1972)                                             Miles Franklin winner
  • A Kindness Cup (1974)
  • An Item from the Late News (1982)
  • Beachmasters (1985)
  • It's Raining in Mango (1987)
  • Reaching Tin River (1990) 
  • Vanishing Points (1992)
  • Coda (1994)
  • The Multiple Effects of Rainshadow (1996)        Miles Franklin long/shortlist
  • Drylands (1999)                                                   Miles Franklin winner

Short stories

  • Hunting the Wild Pineapple (1979)
  • Collected Stories (1997)

Susan Wyndham writes that
"in person and in print, the chain-smoking Astley was unsentimental, wickedly funny and yet had a deep kindness and a loathing of injustice towards Aborigines, underdogs and misfits."

Kerryn Goldsworthy:
"I love its densely woven grammar, its ingrained humour, its uncompromising politics, and its undimmed outrage at human folly, stupidity and greed.... Her body of work [over four decades] adds up to a protracted study in the way that full-scale violence and tragedy can flower extravagantly from the withered seeds of malice and resentment ... The perps in Drylands are all her usual suspects: racists, developers, hypocritical gung-ho civic go-gooders, and assorted unreconstructed male-supremacist swine."

Thea Astley by Michael Clayton-Jones
Helen Garner wrote
"Great story, great characters ... Stylistically, however, this book is like a very handsome, strong and fit woman with too much makeup on ... This kind of writing drives me berserk."

Delys Bird:
"Astley's novels and stories typically present a sceptical view of social relationships among ordinary people, one often coloured by her former Catholicism, and directed through the struggles of her self-conscious protagonists to find an expressive space within their uncongenial surroundings."

I've only read the one Astley novel, A Descant for Gossips. It was recommended to me by a friend who was an English Highschool teacher.

It was quite a while ago.

I remember loving the descriptions of Queensland & the sense of forboding that hung over the characters and the town. I was a teacher in a small country town myself & the difficulties and problems felt real enough & possible. I remember feeling rage at the manipulation & lies of the main character.

I also remember struggling with the flow of the language. It was not an easy read or a happy read.
I guess, the fact that I've never hunted out any more Astley novels, would suggest that I didn't love it enough to dig deeper.
But, neither, am I adverse to reading another one of her books.

Which is just as well, since one of my aims is to read my way through the Miles Franklin winners...eventually!

Have you read any of Astley's work? What did you think?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick

I read my first Herrick last year when I fell in love with Pookie Aleera. I knew I would have to read more.

The Simple Gift is an older teen read, written in verse. (Please, please, please do not be put off by the fact that this is a verse novel. Herrick writes so simply and cleanly that you quickly forget that you're reading a verse novel.)

Billy is growing up tough. An alcoholic, abusive father and neighbours who don't give a shit. He decides to run away.

The Simple Gift is his story on the road...or to be more accurate, on the tracks.

He hitches a ride on a freight train, meets with kindness from strangers, works things out for himself & repays the kindness to others.

With very few words, Herrick packs an emotional punch. We enter into Billy's world completely for an enriching, nuanced story about belonging, self-discovery, kindness, generosity & love.

The story does contain some sex scenes & sexual references (appropriate for 14+ readers).

My only beef with Billy's story is the heart-warming, happy ending.
Anyone working with runaway youths would know that most of the real-life stories don't end out as well as Billy's did.

The Simple Gift was shortlised for the 2001 CBCA & NSW Premier's Literary Award.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach by Alison Lester

Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach is a follow up book for Alison Lester after the success of Noni the Pony (2011).

Lester has been writing and illustrating children's books for over 30 years.

She was born in country Victoria, growing up on a farm overlooking the sea.

Horses have always been a passion for her, which is especially evident in her two Noni books.

Combined with fun, rhyming text, happy, friendly animals and a story that focuses on friendship and enjoying our natural environment, Lester has successfully transmitted her passion to the page and into our hearts.

Lester's illustrations flow gently across each page to the next. There is a graceful exuberance in these simple drawings that makes your heart feel good.

Noni & her friends exemplify simplicity & joie de vivre!


Noni the Pony was nominated for the 2011 CBCA shortlist. 

Noni the pony is friendly and funny.

Her shimmering tail is the colour of honey.

She lives on a farm at Waratah Bay,

and likes eating apples and carrots and hay.

In 2012, Lester was chosen, along with Boori Monti Pryor, to be Australia's first Childrens Laureate.

 "Her picture books mix imaginary worlds with everyday life, encouraging children to believe in themselves and celebrate the differences that make them special. Alison is involved in many community art projects and spends part of every year travelling to remote Indigenous communities, using her books to help children and adults write and draw about their own lives."

They spent two years travelling around Australia 

"inspiring young people to tell their own stories and be part of an active literary culture for enjoyment, 
well-being and success in life."

Other Alison Lester books that I have reviewed: 

Monday, November 17, 2014

It's Monday! Again!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? has rolled around once again.

This week I have a few books left from last week plus a few newbies.

I'm still working my way through Adam Spencer's fabulous Big Book of Numbers. But I haven't started the Malouf or Best Australian Science Writing 2014 (tch, tch!)

Instead I read a wonderfully engaging free-range read about Sydney (see review below).

Sunday evening usually sees me playing around with book choices for the week. I try a few bits and pieces & see which one sticks.

This week we have these contenders....

The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick (Australian/teen/YA/verse novel)
(2000)
Shortlisted CBCA Book of the Year Award 2001 & The NSW Premiers Literary Award 2001.


Weary of his life with his alcoholic, abusive father, sixteen-year-old Billy packs a few belongings and hits the road, hoping for something better than what he left behind. He finds a home in an abandoned freight train outside a small town, where he falls in love with rich, restless Caitlin and befriends a fellow train resident, "Old Bill," who slowly reveals a tragic past. When Billy is given a gift that changes everything, he learns not only to how forge his own path in life, but the real meaning of family.

The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender by Marele Day (Australian, crime)
(1988)
 
Mark Bannister, writing 'the bestseller of the century' is dead at his computer, a murder so perfect that Claudia Valentine smells a rat and wants it caught. The chase leads deep into the murky underworld of Sydney. Bright, tough Claudia must play a deadly high-tech game of cat and rat with a corrupt menacing crime lord.

A Few Right Thinking Men (Rowland Sinclair #1) by Sulari Gentill  (Australian, crime series)
(2010)
Shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book.

Rowland Sinclair is an artist and a gentleman. In Australia's 1930s the Sinclair name is respectable and influential, yet Rowland has a talent for scandal.

Even with thousands of unemployed lining the streets, Rowland's sheltered world is one of exorbitant wealth, culture and impeccable tailoring. He relies on the Sinclair fortune to indulge his artistic passions and friends ... a poet, a painter and a brazen sculptress.

Mounting tensions fuelled by the Great Depression take Australia to the brink of revolution.


The Ghost's Child by Sonya Hartnett (Australian/Teen/YA)
(2007)
Winner CBCA Book of the Year Older Readers Award (2008)
  
The sky was pitch, and gashed by lightning; loutish waves rose and slumped heavily as mudslides. At a moment when she was filled with desperation, Maddy opened her mouth and yelled for Feather. And half-expected him to appear, because she wanted him so much.

Maddy yearns for life to be mystifying, to be as magical as a fairy story. And then one day, on the beach, she meets the strangest young man she has ever seen.

The Ghost's Child is an enchanting fable about the worth of life, and the power of love.

  
The Classics Club spin was spun last Monday...and this time around it's lucky number #13.
Which means that I will be reading Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh before Jan 2015. 

Until then, happy reading! 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sydney by Delia Falconer

Sydney was not on my TBR list for this week, or for my AusReading Month.
But my free-range reading habits kicked in on Wednesday...& Sydney by Delia Falconer was the result.

I was heading into The Museum of Sydney for the Harry Seidler Painting Towards Architecture exhibition, when I realised I didn't have a book for the ferry trip (or the coffee shop I planned to stop at en route!)

I wanted something small that I could cradle in my hand.
I wanted something that would fit into AusReading Month.
I wanted something non-fiction for Non-Fiction November.
I wanted something historical, something Sydney.
And I wanted something lush & gorgeous to help lift me out of an irritable mood (don't get me started on the topic of back pain and sinus headaches!!)

I have several of the City series of books from NewSouth Publishing on my TBR pile, but have only read Adelaide so far.

I did start Sydney over two years ago.

It stayed in my backpack for the days I took an excursion into the city to check out an exhibition or stroll the Botanic Gardens. I had made my way throughthe first few chapters when a household clean-up at some point, removed the book from my backpack onto a bookshelf....where it languished forgotten, until Wednesday.

It was the perfect accompanionment.

I thought I would just glance at the previously read chapters to remember where I was up to. But instead, I found myself poring over every single page, devouring Delia's stories with relish (& a good coffee from The Governor's Table).

My trip to the Harry Seidler exhibition will appear on my other blog (eventually). For now let me rave a little more about Sydney.

Falconer is of a similar age to myself - her Sydney - her generation is also mine.

I did not grow up in Sydney, but we lived on the Central Coast for most of the 70's.
I also have a sister who required ongoing medical & dental treatment from 6mnths of age. This meant we had regular trips into Sydney to visit doctors and dentists. We usually travelled by train.
I never tired of that amazing moment when Sydney Harbour finally came into view - the bridge, the Opera House & Luna Park out the other window.
Some visits were quick in & out trips - harried, hurried trips with prams and babies, negotiating the forbidable smells in Wynard Station, dusty Martin Place crowds & the intimidating Georgian arcitecture of Macquarie St specialists.

But other times we explored. We took ferry & hydrafoil trips across to Manly, we walked through the safe end of Hyde Park to enjoy the cool shade under the avenue of trees, we strolled through David Jones admiring things we could never afford & occasionally, on those very special trips, we found an old milkbar with speckled mirrors & long booths & pictures of the old country to enjoy a creamy milkshake.

Over the years we dodged flashers in the park, drunks in Martin Place and homeless men in the echoey, smelly caverns that were our underground train stations. We spotted politicians & news readers.

Our visits often coincided with special events (I wonder now if mum planned them that way?)
As teenagers we witnessed the grand re-opening of the Queen Victoria Building. We watched the Queen offcially open Darling Harbour. We went up CentrePoint Tower within months of it opening. We rode the monorail to nowhere.

My knowledge of Sydney is not as intimate as Falconer's, but we share a love of jacaranda's, Sydney sunsets, the Rocks & the (once) grimy, dangerous Inner West suburbs.

Early on, she reflects,

"Ask anyone who lives in a large city to describe 'their' town and it will probably be the city of their early twenties, when their generation seemed to own it."

Twenty-somethings all around the world, in big cities and small villages probably feel the same thing. The place where you come of age is significant. It becomes a part of your personal story. It means something.

That's the beauty of what Falconer has produced here. A personal, meaningful memoir that doubles as a homage to this city of "such staggering beauty and richness."
A homage that embraces the grimy, the dodgy & unsavory elements 

"for every golden dusk, or street of flowering gums, there will be a factory or endless run of discount liquor barns, fast food joints and car yards."

Falconer also helps us to see Sydney through the eyes & words of her artists, poets and authors. 
Watkin Tench, William Dawes, Kenneth Slessor, Ruth Park, Patrick White, Harry Seidler, Brett Whiteley, Peter Solness & Peter Carey are all referenced and placed in situ.

Sydney was a rich, rewarding excursion into my childhood & Falconer's.
It is also a wonderful history & cultural exercise written by someone who loves this city, warts and all.

"The thing about this city is that you always feel the dark pull of the earth, along with the urge for sea & sun."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Ugly Ducking performed by Justine Clarke

This is The Ugly Duckling song made famous by Danny Kaye in the 1952 movie Hans Christian Andersen (okay...I'll wait for you to finish singing it...)!

The lyrics were originally written by Frank Loesser, but now we have a lovely Australian picture book with Playschool host, Justine Clarke, singing this very familiar song.

The illustrations by Nathaniel Eckstrom are soft, earthy water colours with the animals dominating each page. The entire book has a lovely warm, nostalgic feel.

I found it impossible to read through this book without breaking into song myself!

Included is a CD which allows you to sing along with Justine or you can simply play the instrumental version and do it all yourself.

A lovely tale about image, belonging & self-discovery.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Year in Non-Fiction

Non-Fiction November is a fabulous meme hosted by Sophisticated Dorkiness et al.

The initial join up post asked about our favourite non-fiction reads for the year so far.

I felt that I hadn't read much NF this year, so I planned to skip this question in favour of focusing on AusReading Month.

However, thanks to a huge storm this afternoon, I've had more inside time than planned...so I decided to see what NF I actually had read in 2014.

I was pleasantly surprised to find 13 adult titles and 8 children's books under my non-fiction/biography tags.
7 were written by men; 14 by women. 14 were written by Australians; 7 by International authors.

I had several favourites this year.

parenting


travel


memoir/true crime 


psychology


children's


All of these favourites are Australian titles except for Le Road Trip, What I Talk About & All Joy and No Fun.

 ********************************

My most recommended non-fiction book (written by an Australian) of all time is True Pleasures by Lucinda Holdforth.

 "Meet the dazzling women of Paris: from Colette to Nancy Mitford; Marie Antoinette to Coco Chanel; 
Madame de Stael to Pamela Harriman; Napoleon’s Josephine to Edith Wharton. Rule-breakers and 
style-setters, demimondes and diplomats, these women were utterly diverse, 
yet all shared one common passion — Paris, the world’s headquarters of femininity.

At a turning point in her life, Lucinda Holdforth journeys to Paris and takes a very personal tour 
through the lives, loves, and losses of its celebrated women."

I also had the pleasure of meeting Lucinda a few years ago. We shared a memorable night discussing France and literature - happy times.

Meet the dazzling women of Paris; from Colette to Nancy Mitford; Marie Antoinette to Coco Chanel; Napoleon's Josephine to Edith Wharton.

Rule-breakers and style-setters, these women were utterly diverse, yet they shared one common passion - Paris, the world's headquarters of femininity.

At a turning point in her life, Lucinda Holdforth journeys to Paris and takes a very personal tour through the lives, loves and losses of its celebrated women. - See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/lucinda-holdforth/true-pleasures-a-memoir-of-women-in-paris-9781740512893.aspx#sthash.8y4gF7B4.dpuf
Meet the dazzling women of Paris; from Colette to Nancy Mitford; Marie Antoinette to Coco Chanel; Napoleon's Josephine to Edith Wharton.

Rule-breakers and style-setters, these women were utterly diverse, yet they shared one common passion - Paris, the world's headquarters of femininity.

At a turning point in her life, Lucinda Holdforth journeys to Paris and takes a very personal tour through the lives, loves and losses of its celebrated women. - See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/lucinda-holdforth/true-pleasures-a-memoir-of-women-in-paris-9781740512893.aspx#sthash.8y4gF7B4.dpuf
Meet the dazzling women of Paris; from Colette to Nancy Mitford; Marie Antoinette to Coco Chanel; Napoleon's Josephine to Edith Wharton.

Rule-breakers and style-setters, these women were utterly diverse, yet they shared one common passion - Paris, the world's headquarters of femininity.

At a turning point in her life, Lucinda Holdforth journeys to Paris and takes a very personal tour through the lives, loves and losses of its celebrated women. - See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/lucinda-holdforth/true-pleasures-a-memoir-of-women-in-paris-9781740512893.aspx#sthash.8y4gF7B4.dpuf
Meet the dazzling women of Paris; from Colette to Nancy Mitford; Marie Antoinette to Coco Chanel; Napoleon's Josephine to Edith Wharton.

Rule-breakers and style-setters, these women were utterly diverse, yet they shared one common passion - Paris, the world's headquarters of femininity.

At a turning point in her life, Lucinda Holdforth journeys to Paris and takes a very personal tour through the lives, loves and losses of its celebrated women. - See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/lucinda-holdforth/true-pleasures-a-memoir-of-women-in-paris-9781740512893.aspx#sthash.8y4gF7B4.dpuf
Meet the dazzling women of Paris; from Colette to Nancy Mitford; Marie Antoinette to Coco Chanel; Napoleon's Josephine to Edith Wharton.

Rule-breakers and style-setters, these women were utterly diverse, yet they shared one common passion - Paris, the world's headquarters of femininity.

At a turning point in her life, Lucinda Holdforth journeys to Paris and takes a very personal tour through the lives, loves and losses of its celebrated women. - See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/lucinda-holdforth/true-pleasures-a-memoir-of-women-in-paris-9781740512893.aspx#sthash.8y4gF7B4.dpuf
Meet the dazzling women of Paris; from Colette to Nancy Mitford; Marie Antoinette to Coco Chanel; Napoleon's Josephine to Edith Wharton.

Rule-breakers and style-setters, these women were utterly diverse, yet they shared one common passion - Paris, the world's headquarters of femininity.

At a turning point in her life, Lucinda Holdforth journeys to Paris and takes a very personal tour through the lives, loves and losses of its celebrated women. - See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/lucinda-holdforth/true-pleasures-a-memoir-of-women-in-paris-9781740512893.aspx#sthash.8y4gF7B4.dpuf
Meet the dazzling women of Paris; from Colette to Nancy Mitford; Marie Antoinette to Coco Chanel; Napoleon's Josephine to Edith Wharton.

Rule-breakers and style-setters, these women were utterly diverse, yet they shared one common passion - Paris, the world's headquarters of femininity.

At a turning point in her life, Lucinda Holdforth journeys to Paris and takes a very personal tour through the lives, loves and losses of its celebrated women. - See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/lucinda-holdforth/true-pleasures-a-memoir-of-women-in-paris-9781740512893.aspx#sthash.8y4gF7B4.dpuf
My most recommended International non-fiction titles of all time are The Hare With the Amber Eyes & The Paper Garden.

 "The Paper Garden is unlike anything else you have ever read. 
At once a biography of an extraordinary 18th century gentlewoman and a meditation on late-life creativity, 
it is a beautifully written tour de force from an acclaimed poet. 
Delicately, Peacock has woven parallels in her own life around the story of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788) and, in doing so, has made this biography into a profound and 
 beautiful examination of the nature of creativity and art."

In the future?
For balance, I would like to read more non-fiction from & about other countries again. I would also like to add more science & psychology to the mix to round out my preference for history & memoir titles.


I'm hoping that between Non-fiction November & AusReading Month I will finally finish The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka and The Biggest Estate.

I also have 3 other Aussie non-fiction titles to peruse this month (time willing) - Adam Spencer's Big Book of Numbers, Sydney by Delia Falconer and The Best Australian Science Writing 2014 edited by Ashley Hay.

*************************************************************************

Ooops! Another 5 days have gone by & I haven't finished this post.

So I will merge the 2 weeks and apologise profusely for posting such a big fat non-fiction rant.
I thank you and applaud you if you have made it this far!

*****************************
Week 2 of Non-Fiction Novemberr is being hosted by Lu at Regular Ruminations.
This weeks question is about experts - being an expert or asking an expert.

Firstly, let me say how wonderful it is reading and exploring all these new non-fiction titles & authors. The extra special added bonus of course, is finding a whole stack of new-to-me blogs to explore as well.

I'm not sure that I am an expert in any one field of non-ficiton as my interests take me into so many areas, but....

During one of my many Holocaust phases I discovered Gitta Sereny. 
Her most riveting & telling bio is called Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth. I cannot recommend this one highly enough. Sereny established a trust relationship with Speer from which to probe and push him to finally face the truth about what happened. It's an extraordinary account of how the people involved were able to ignore what was going on; how they deluded themselves & shifted responsibility.

If like me, you're constantly trying to understand this atrocious time in history in an attempt to come to terms with man's inhumanity to man, then try Australian writer Inga Clendinnen's Reading the Holocaust. Some of her essays are very confronting, but she challenges you to think for yourself and to really see and feel what happened in the hope we will never let it happen again.

For an insider's account of the Holocaust, you can't go past Primo Levi. All his work is insightful & gracious, but If This is a Man is truly one man's search for his own humanity.


To move to a completely different, but slightly related topic - Coco Chanel.

I've read, enjoyed & highly recommend Chanel by Edmonde Charles-Roux & Chanel: The Legend and Her Life by  Justine Picardie. 

These two books not only reveal Coco Chanel warts and all, they also show us about life in France from the 1880's through to the 1970's. For anyone with Francophile tendencies, Chanel's bio's embrace a fascinating period of French history and culture.

On my TBR is the latest bio by Rhonda Garelick called Mademoiselle; Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History as well as Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel, Nazi Agent by Hal Vaughan.


I will stop here at the risk of overwhelming us all!
Please let me know of your favourite Chanel bio or your most enlightening Holocaust read. 

But for now, let me wish you all a very merry non-fiction goodnight.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson

I used AusReading Month as an opportunity to tick off another book from my Classics Club challenge by reading The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson.

Henry Handel was the pseudonym of Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson.

She was born in 1870 in Victoria. Her family was fairly well-off in the early days, but fell on hard times, after her father died. She attended the Presbyterian Ladies' College in Melbourne from age 13 - 17.

The Getting of Wisdom was written in 1910, but was set in 1890's Melbourne & loosely followed Richardson's own experiences at boarding school.

Curiously none of the girls (or women) in The Getting of Wisdom are very likeable. They're mean, snobbish, selfish & bitchy. Even Laura, who you empathise with at the start, never learns from her mistakes. And in fact, her self-deception, lying, cheating & self-absorption at the expense of others grew worse with time.

 "...the usual fate of the robust liar had overtaken her: she was beginning to believe her own lies."

At the end, I was left wondering "wisdom, what wisdom?"

Richardson did have some interesting things to say about conformity, creativity, moderation, honesty, integrity & the status of women in Victorain society, via her characters. 

"But what is truth, anyhow?" asked Laura.
"The Bible is truth. Can you do away with the Bible, pray?"

"Of course not. But M.P....The Bible isn't quite all truth, you know....whales don't have big enough throats ever to have swallowed Jonah."

"Little girls shouldn't talk about what they don't understand. The Bible is God's Word; and God is Truth....Truth has got to be - and honesty too. If it didn't exist, there couldn't be any state, or laws, or any social life. It's one of the things that make men different from animals, and the people who boss us know pretty well what they're about."

And her descriptions were gorgeous. 

Richardson was writing during a time in Australian history & culture when we were starting to be proud of our unique heritage and environment.

The Goldrush era of the mid 1850's produced a burst of independence and self-sufficiency in the Australian psyche. The result of this was a flurry of proud, new Australian writing and art.

Richardson waxes lyrical about the Australian bush and coast as only one who has grown up in it can.

"The sea was a blue-green mirror, on the surface of which they swam. The sky was a stretched sheet of blue, in which the sun hung a very ball of fire."

She writes about the towns and regions with the expectation that we will know where and what she is talking about. For the first time we were reading stories about us.

"Then the boat stood to sea again and sailed past high, grass-grown cliffs, from which a few old cannons, pointing their noses at you, watched over the safety of the Bay—in the event, say, of the Japanese or the Russians entering the Heads past the pretty township, and the beflagged bathing-enclosures on the beach below. They neared the tall, granite lighthouse at the point, with the flagstaff at its side where incoming steamers were signalled; and as soon as they had rounded this corner they were in view of the Heads themselves. From the distant cliffs there ran out, on either side, brown reefs, which made the inrushing water dance and foam, and the entrance to the Bay narrow and dangerous: on one side, there projected the portion of a wreck which had lain there as long as Laura had been in the world. Then, having made a sharp turn to the left, the boat crossed to the opposite coast, and steamed past barrack-like buildings lying asleep in the fierce sunshine of the afternoon; and, in due course, it stopped at Laura's destination."

For anyone who has spent time in Melbourne and the Mornington Penisnula, these places are instantly recognisable - the cannons at Williamstown - the bathing sheds at Brighton Beach- the Black Lighthouse at Queenscliff - the barracks at Point Nepean, the back beaches of Sorrento including Cheviot Beach where the SS Cheviot floundered on the reef 19th Oct 1887 (the very same beach where our former Prime Minister Harold Holt went missing, presumed drowned in 1967).


The Getting of Wisdom was a thoroughly enjoyable read as I was reading it. But I am now left with doubts about the purpose of the story. Wisdom, self-awareness and understanding seemed to elude every single character.

I cannot, in good faith, call this a coming of age story, as no-one experienced personal growth, especially not our OTT, lying protagonist, Laura.

Perhaps, this story was simply a cathartic purge on Richardson's behalf about her own childhood boarding school?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett

I finished Golden Boys over a week ago.

Since then I have been all tangled up in how to write a review that would do this lovely, disturbing book about childhood and dysfunctional family justice.

After lots of false starts and editing, I've decided, like Sonya Hartnett, to keep it simple.

Golden Boys is a wonderful, touching, upsetting story about the end of childhood.
It follows the lives of a group of young 'golden' neighbourhood boys and one girl. But life, for them, is less than golden; and their familes are far from golden.

The golden boys are the statues on top of Colt's running trophies. They signify image, success, winning. They're stylized, idealised and symbolic. All that glitters is not gold. Appearances hide all kinds of perversions. Turning a blind eye doesn't mean that bad things don't happen.

Harnett implies much, but nothing is definitely declared. Things are hinted at, suggested & ignored. Tensions & suspicions build. Contradictions abound as the children grapple with the messiness & murkiness that is their parents' lives. A sense of foreboding hangs heavy.
What could be worse than a dad who is a violent drunk?
Unfortunately, there is a lot worse.

"You can't do anything except learn from his decisions, so that you'll be wiser about it when it comes to making your own. Perhaps that's one of the unsung gifts a parent gives a child: lessons in what not to do."

My only disappointment was the ending that didn't resolve or explain enough. I don't need everything to be wrapped up in a tidy little bow at the end, but I do need to feel that something has been resolved or someone redeemed. I like an ending that I can remember.

Instead I remember the beautiful language & imagery. And the glorious way that Hartnett evokes our shared Australian childhood environment.

"He rides in the centre of the vacant roads, the streetlights repeatedly finding him and letting him go."

I am a big fan of Hartnett's, & this, her first foray into adult literature, simply confirms my opinion.

This post is part of AusReading Month.

Monday, November 10, 2014

It's Monday!

It's time for me to leave our lovely, lovely weekend behind.

It's time to gather my thoughts for the coming week.

Therefore it must be time for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Since last week, I have discovered a wonderful month long meme to complement my AusReading Month plans.
Hosted by Kim @Sophisticated Dorkiness - I give you Non-Fiction November.

This inspired me to finally finish The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka and to hunt through my TBR pile for more Aussie non-fiction.
First up is a newbie by Adam Spencer called Big Book of Numbers: Everything You Wanted to Know about the NUmbers 1 - 100.

"An hilarious, enlightening romp through the world of numbers with one of Australia’s best-loved broadcasters.
Why do people get freaked out by Friday the 13th? Where does a ‘dozen’ come from? Who was Erno Rubik? And how do you become a master at Sudoku?
In 100 bite-sized chapters, mathematician, broadcaster & comedian Adam Spencer unlocks more of the secrets of the world of numbers.
If you’ve ever wondered about the ‘fourth dimension’, why spider monkeys have so many bones in their hands, which numbers are truly narcissistic, or how on earth you play ‘Buckyball’, Adam Spencer’s Big Book of Numbers will set you straight."

Since my week in review featured the words 'narcissistic' and 'spider-monkey', I really couldn't go past this one!

The Best Australian Science Writing 2014 is edited by Ashley Hay - a new favourite author of mine thanks to her wonderful story The Railwayman's Wife, which I read & reviewed earlier in the year.

"The annual collection celebrating the finest Australian science writing of the year.

Why are Sydney’s golden orb weaver spiders getting fatter and fitter? Could sociology explain the recent upsurge in prostate cancer diagnoses? Why were Darwinites craving a good storm during ‘The Angry Summer’? Is it true that tuberculosis has become deadlier over time? And are jellyfish really taking over the world?

Now in its fourth year, this popular and acclaimed anthology steps inside the nation’s laboratories and its finest scientific and literary minds. 

Featuring prominent authors such as Tim Flannery, Jo Chandler, Frank Bowden and Iain McCalman, as well as many new voices, it covers topics as diverse and wondrous as our ‘lumpy’ universe, the creation of dragons and the frontiers of climate science."

I also have David Malouf's, A First Place, demanding to be read & loved.

A collection of personal essays and writing from David Malouf to celebrate his 80th birthday.

Topography, geography, history. Multiculturalism, referendums, the constitution and national occasions. Parental and grandparental romances, the sensual and bountiful beauty of Brisbane, the mysterious offerings of Queenslander houses, and leaving home. The idea of a nation and the heart of its people. Being Australian and Australia's relationship to the world. Putting ourselves on the map.

All these subjects, and more, are explored from the generous, questioning and original perspective of David Malouf.

At the heart of these pieces is the idea of home, where and what it is. What they illustrate is the formation of a man, an Australian and one of the best writers this country has produced. - See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/david-malouf/a-first-place-9780857984050.aspx#sthash.YHqBnFus.dpuf
"A collection of personal essays and writing from David Malouf to celebrate his 80th birthday. 

Topography, geography, history. Multiculturalism, referendums, the constitution and national occasions. Parental and grandparental romances, the sensual and bountiful beauty of Brisbane, the mysterious offerings of Queenslander houses, and leaving home. The idea of a nation and the heart of its people. Being Australian and Australia's relationship to the world. Putting ourselves on the map. 

All these subjects, and more, are explored from the generous, questioning and original perspective of David Malouf. At the heart of these pieces is the idea of home, where and what it is. What they illustrate is the formation of a man, an Australian and one of the best writers this country has produced."
A collection of personal essays and writing from David Malouf to celebrate his 80th birthday.

Topography, geography, history. Multiculturalism, referendums, the constitution and national occasions. Parental and grandparental romances, the sensual and bountiful beauty of Brisbane, the mysterious offerings of Queenslander houses, and leaving home. The idea of a nation and the heart of its people. Being Australian and Australia's relationship to the world. Putting ourselves on the map.

All these subjects, and more, are explored from the generous, questioning and original perspective of David Malouf.

At the heart of these pieces is the idea of home, where and what it is. What they illustrate is the formation of a man, an Australian and one of the best writers this country has produced. - See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/david-malouf/a-first-place-9780857984050.aspx#sthash.YHqBnFus.dpuf

I'm about 3/4's of the way through The Getting of Wisdom (& loving it.)
I'm a free-range reader which means that I have no idea what piece of Australian fiction I will move onto next. Thankfully, I have oodles of non-fiction to tide me over & a TBR pile that caters to all my moods & whims!

In the next few hours I will also find out what my next Classics Club Spin book will be - if one of my Aussie classics wins out, it could solve the 'what to read next' dilemma.


What are you reading this week?

A collection of personal essays and writing from David Malouf to celebrate his 80th birthday.

Topography, geography, history. Multiculturalism, referendums, the constitution and national occasions. Parental and grandparental romances, the sensual and bountiful beauty of Brisbane, the mysterious offerings of Queenslander houses, and leaving home. The idea of a nation and the heart of its people. Being Australian and Australia's relationship to the world. Putting ourselves on the map.

All these subjects, and more, are explored from the generous, questioning and original perspective of David Malouf.

At the heart of these pieces is the idea of home, where and what it is. What they illustrate is the formation of a man, an Australian and one of the best writers this country has produced. - See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/david-malouf/a-first-place-9780857984050.aspx#sthash.YHqBnFus.dpuf

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Clare Wright

Winner of the 2014 Stella Prize, Wright's non-fiction reworking of the famous Eureka story, was a pleasant surprise.

It clearly announced that this new award, celebrating Australian women writers, was not going to be pigeon-holed by expectation or genre.

The size of The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka initially put me off, but inside was an immensely readable narrative about early Australian life.

Wright freely uses letters, diaries and official records to piece together how a variety of women ended up on the goldfields of Victoria.

Her aim, declared in the Preface, was to challenge the "myth" generated  by William Withers in 1870 in his popular History of Ballarat. He claimed that

"the diggers were young and wifeless for the most part, to see a woman was an absolute phenomenon
the diggings were womanless fields."
 
The very early gold fever years at Ballarat may have looked like this, but by 1854, the year of the Eureka Stockade, this 

"rough and ready outpost of bachelors out for a quick buck (had changed to) a heterogeneous and largely orderly community of 'working families' intent on building a new life of freedom and independence."

Wright has taken it upon herself to remind 

"the cultural gatekeepers that women were there too, and that their stories are just as vital, just as valid and just as vibrant as the stories of men."

The first half of the book is a fascinating account of how all these women came to Australia - their reasons for immigrating, who they came with, who they met on the way, the conditions on board ship, their hopes and dreams, what they found in Melbourne on arrival, how they travelled to the goldfields, fears for their safety and well-being, their impressions of the diggings & tent life and how they lived & worked side by side with their husbands, brothers and cousins in the search for that elusive gold nugget that could change their lives forever.

Wright shows us how many of these women added 'civilising' elements to the gold diggings.

They opened shops & became publicans. They wrote newspaper articles, opinion pieces & poems & petitioned govenments for better conditions. They opened theatres to provide entertainment & they offered child-care facilities so everyone could attend. They provided sexual services to lonely diggers, they married, had babies and cared for the ill and injured. They went to dances, balls and public meetings. They loved, they worked and they died alongside their male compatriots.

This is a timely and very worthy effort to put women back into our early colonial history. For any history that excludes or ignores half the population will always be the poorer for it.

Wright has not just written a version of herstory; she has created a platform from which to discuss ourstory.

This post is part of AusReading Month and Non-Fiction November.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Six Degrees of Separation

Emma & Annabel host this fascinating meme each month where we are challenged to connect 6 books to the same pre-selected starting book.

This month the starting point is Joy Fowler's We Are Completely Beside Ourselves.

As it is AusReading Month I will attempt to make all my 6 degrees Australian!

I have yet to read We Are Completely Beside Ourselves, but from reviews I've read I know that the story features a chimpanzee. This instantly brings to mind the amazing, provocative, startling story, Wish, by South Australian author Peter Goldsworthy about an ape.

Another South Australian Goldsworthy, although no relation, I believe, is Kerryn Goldsworthy. She wrote a nostalgic, informative memoir called Adelaide as part of the NewSouth Books City series.

Over the years Kerryn has been on the judging panel for the Miles Franklin Award and more recently, for The Stella Prize. As the chair of the Stella Prize, she had this to say about this year's winner Clare Wright, for The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka.

"A rare combination of true scholarship with a warmly engaging narrative voice, along with a wealth of detail about individual characters and daily life on the goldfields, makes this book compulsively readable. It has a highly visual, almost cinematic quality, with vivid snapshots and pen-portraits of goldfields life. It also moves briskly from one scene or character to the next, with variations in pace and mood, in a way that heightens anticipation and suspense even though we know about the violence that will eventually explode as the tensions between the miners and the forces of officialdom increase to a point beyond containment."

This non-fiction narrative about the life of women in the Victorian goldfields leads me to my current classic fiction read, The Getting of Wisdom, by Henry Handel Richardson.

Set in the late 1800's in Victoria, our young protagonist, Laura Rambotham is sent to a private boarding school in Melbourne. As Laura leaves her country town she describes the view from the coach window...

"The very last house was left behind, the high machinery of the claims came into view, 
the watery flats where Chinamen were for ever rocking washdirt in cradles."


Another private boarding school story - set in more modern times though - is the heart-warming but tragic Looking for Alibrandi by Marlena Marchetta. This is a tender coming of age story decidedly & proudly set in Sydney's Inner West.

Which leads me to my last Australian book, also set in the heart of Sydney's Inner West - St Peters. My Place is now a modern day classic picture book by Nadia Wheatley that depicts the history of a house & its inhabitants from 1788 until 1988.


It's always fascinating to see where everyone else's 6 degrees has led them as well as being a great way to send your TBR pile spiralling out of control!

The December starting point is Richard Flanagan's, Booker Prize winning book, The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Classics Club Spin #8

In the past I've carefully collated my Classic Club Spin to include connecting links to other bloggers reading the same book.

However, it is AusReading Month during November so this time around I wanted to highlight as many Aussie classics as possible.
I only have 5 left on my classics club list as I read quite a few during last year's AusReading Month.

I've also cheated a little by only picking small sized classics.
I definitely do not need another chunkster in my life right now!

My previous spins have been mostly successful and/or enjoyable:

 

#1 The Magnificent Ambersons with Cat.

#2 Tess of the D'Urbervilles with Lakeside Musings & Several Four Many.

#3 My Cousin Rachel.

#4 The Brothers Karamazov with Bree who also read a Dostoyevsky novel for this spin.
I'm still reading this chunkster...very slowly...and with lots of breaks. A good editor would have been helpful :-)

#5 The Odyssey with Plethora of Books.
This one was a bit of a cheat as I had started it for another readalong, but struggled to finish.
I added it to my list to motivate me to finish it.
When no. 20 spun up it seemed like the gods had decreed it so!

#6 No Name by Wilkie Collins with Melbourne on My Mind.

#7 Silent Spring by Rachel Carson with Booker Talk.

So without any further ado...here is my list with a twist for CC Spin #8.

Australian

1. The Dig Tree by Sarah Murgatroyd
2. The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson
3. The Great World by David Malouf (reread)
4. Swords of Crowns and Rings by Ruth Park
5. The Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrower

American

6. A Good School by Richard Yates
7. The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck
8. My Antonia by Willa Cather  (shared author with JoAnn @Lakeside Musing)
9. Stoner by John Williams
10. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

UK

11. Dubliners by James Joyce          (reading with Sandra @That is the Day)
12. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell         (reading with Melissa @ Jayne's Books    
13. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
14. A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark
15. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte   (reading with Melissa @ Jayne's Books - Melissa for some strange reason I am unable to leave comments on your blog. I've tried filling in the boxes but it never lets me click on the wordpress or intensedebate options. Help!)

European

16. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
17. Corinne, or Italy by Staƫl
18. The Dream by Emile Zola    (shared author with Cleo @Classical Carousel)
19. Out of Africa by Karen Blixen
20. Death in Venive by Thomas Mann    (shared with Andrew @Book Heathen)

On Monday 10th, the Classics Club will do their magic mumbo jumbo and the lucky spin number will be revealed!
What will you be reading?

Monday - The lucky spin this time around is the unlucky 13!
When I get to number 13 in Big Book of Numbers I will be able to tell you why 13 is considered unlucky.
But for now I have Vile Bodies to read by January 5th 2015.