Saturday, 19 January 2019

Don Quixote - Marcela

I love this chick!
A lot.

Marcela rocked the #metoo movement 500 years before the first hashtag even existed! After reading chapter XIV and Marcela's marvellous take down, I feel sure there are reams of essays and opinions about feminism and Cervantes out there, and if I ever feel up to searching them out and reading them, I'll let you know!

But for now, let me give you an abridged version of Marcela's speech at Grisóstomo's funeral. It has been said that Grisóstomo, a shepherd, has died of a broken heart after being grievously spurned by the beautiful but cruel Marcela.


Heaven made me, as all of you say, so beautiful that you cannot resist my beauty and are compelled to love me, and because of the love you show me, you claim that I am obliged to love you in return. I know...that everything beautiful is lovable, but I cannot grasp why, simply because it is loved, the thing loved for its beauty is obliged to love the one who loves it....
According to what I have heard, true love is not divided and must be voluntary, not forced. If this is true, as I believe it is, why do you want to force me to surrender my will, obliged to do simply because you say you love me...?
I was born free, and in order to live free I chose the solitude of the countryside....Those whose eyes have forced them to fall in love with me, I have discouraged with my words. If desires feed on hopes, and since I have given no hope to Grisostomo or to any other man regarding these desires, it is correct to say that his obstinacy, not my cruelty, is what killed him....
If I had kept him by me, I would have been false; if I had gratified him, I would have gone against my own best intentions and purposes. He persisted though I discouraged him....
Let this general discouragement serve for each of those who solicit me for his own advantage...; let him who calls me ungrateful, not serve me, unapproachable, not approach me, cruel, not follow me...; I am free and do not care to submit to another; I do not love or despise anyone. I do not deceive this one or solicit that one; I do not mock one or amuse myself with another.

Marcela is no-one's damsel in distress, she's not interested in courtly love or tradition. She is no virgin goddess or shrinking violet. She is not bountiful Mother Earth or a tart. She does not need to be tamed or live up to (or down to) societal expectations.

The men in Don Quixote have created their own version of an 'ideal woman' - one not based on any fact or reality - their 'ideal woman' has become another fictional construct in a book full of fictional constructs. Is Don Quixote the first example of metafiction I wonder?


As I read this passage, I was reminded of Jane Austen in Persuasion when Anne Eliot says, “Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. The pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything”.

Overnight I've been thinking about why a woman would chose a life of solitude in the mountains. tending sheep.

Lots of possibilities came to mind.

It could have been the life she was born into, therefore it's what she knows. Family tradition and duty and coming to love this way of life as an adult thanks to it's closeness to nature might also play a role in making this lifestyle choice. Marcela may naturally be an introvert who prefers her own company, and that of her family, most of the time. Perhaps, though, her excessive beauty has been the cause of much unwanted and inappropriate male attention all life and she has felt the need to withdraw from this intense, demanding gaze. To protect her virtue and her liberty, she has sought a life of solitude and peace away from the critical gaze, surrounded by the natural beauty of Mother Nature.

Like most life decisions, though, it is probably a complicated web, drawing in many threads of thought, emotions and unconscious desires. Bravo to Cervantes for painting such a strong, independent woman and bravo to Marcela for standing up for herself and creating her own life on her own terms.

#GoGirl

My previous post about Don Quixote:
Musings of an Idle Reader

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

I suspect I'm going to be the lone dissenting voice when it comes to Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton.

This is a debut Australian novel garnering a HUGE amount of attention and rave reviews. In the lead up to our Christmas rush at work last year, this is the book many, many locals were asking for. Customers were returning to tell us how much they ADORED the book and every second book club, including mine, seemed to pick it for their summer holiday read.


I was thrilled that I was going to have a good excuse to make time for this book and I couldn't wait to get stuck into it.

To start with what I loved:

  • The cover - just gorgeous, vibrant and psychedelic. The blue wren makes sense once you start reading.
  • The writing - Dalton took my breath away in the early stages of the book. I was completely and utterly WOWED.
  • The protagonist, Eli Bell is a wonderful narrator. His voice is believable, charming and unique.
  • The introduction of ex-con Slim Halliday as Eli's babysitter added a quirky touch.
  • I loved the themes - a young boy looking for a 'good man' to love and model his life on, brotherly love and protection, a young boys fierce need for mother love.
  • Early on I also began to suspect that this book was also heavily embedded in real life events.
  • Slim Halliday was a real criminal who did his time in Boggo Road Gaol.
  • How much else was real?
However around the 50 page mark, the underbelly criminal stuff started to take centre stage. Drugs, drug running and drug lords took over the story. Because I now suspected this was a based on a true story (I hadn't googled at this point) I made myself keep reading even though, every single extra sordid drug reference and act turned me off more and more and more. 

I believe that if someone actually had to LIVE through something ghastly, the very least I can do from my safe, white, middle class home, is read about it with understanding and compassion and a huge dose of gratefulness for my very ordinary upbringing.

True crime is not my usual genre, but I have been known to be fascinated by the occasional story. We watched the second season of Underbelly that starred Matthew Newton which was centred around the murder of Donald Mackay in Griffith in 1977, but I haven't been able to watch any of the other seasons. I also haven't got into Breaking Bad, The Sopranos or Orange is the New Black.

However, I got to a point, about 100 pages in, where the amazing writing and the affection I felt for the two brothers, wasn't enough to sustain me through the relentless criminal activity. 

I admire Dalton for finding such an incredible way to process the trauma from his childhood. There is so much love for this story 'out there', that I'm sure it will pop up in most of the Australian book awards this year. It deserves it too, the praise being heaped on it, is worth it, but the content is just not my thing. There are so many books, about topics that I have way more interest in, waiting for me to read them, that I don't want to give too much time to one of those that just fails to fit the bill...for me.

Boy Swallows Universe has just been shortlisted for the Indie Debut Fiction Book Awards.

I've labelled this with the Did Not Finish tag, but it was more a case of skim reading the last three quarters of the book before slowing down to read the last chapter properly.

Monday, 14 January 2019

In the Mist of the Mountains by Ethel Turner

Thanks to Bill @The Australian Legend's Australian Women Writer's Gen II Week I have read my very first ebook from start to finish.

As with almost everything in my life at the last moment, I left it to the minute to prepare for Bill's Gen II week, even though I've known about it for months. I really enjoyed reading my first Ada Cambridge story, Sisters, for last year's Gen I event, so I didn't want to miss out. But with only days to spare, I realised that I had no unread AWW Gen II books on my shelf. Anything I did select would have to be easily sourced and a short story if I was going to have any chance of reading & reviewing it in time.

Normally I hate reading novels on a screen. My one attempt with an eReader a number of years ago, was nothing but an exercise in frustration. However, last week, it dawned on me that the ipad I inherited from my father-in-law, might actually be an okay device to read on in a pinch. As this was now an emergency reading situation, I searched Project Gutenberg for the authors on Bill's Gen II list. I downloaded a few, but the one that jumped straight out at me was an Ethel Turner story.

I confess that I thought that she had only written Seven Little Australians plus a sequel or two. Imagine my delight to discover, whilst holidaying in the Blue Mountains last week, a book by Turner called In the Mist of the Mountains. Serendipity at work I say!


For a full discussion about the Bush Realism that defines this period of Australian writing (roughly 1890 - 1923) please read Bill's post via the link above.

It seems to me that the mythology that evolved about life in the bush at this time in history, came from white men living in an urban environment (Paterson, Lawson, Kendall etc), conscious of their role in creating a unique Australian identity. White settlement was just a hundred years old and many of these men (and women) were the first generation to be born and raised in Australia. Nostalgia for Mother England was something they grew up with, but it didn't necessarily fit in with life as they knew it. Australia was their home and they were looking for something they could be proud of, that they could call their own. The wilderness, the untamed bush landscape, so alien to their parents, was something familiar, unique and heroic to this new generation. A sense of journey or exploration featured in this type of writing and those that took the journey into the bush were admired for their courage, fortitude, practicality and resourcefulness.

To say that I have now became intensely curious about how women writer's fit into this myth making process and how they tackled this topic, is an understatement!

Penleigh Boyd (1890 - 1923, Australia) Blue Haze. 1919

In the Mist of the Mountains may not be the perfect example of Bush Realism, but it was very definite in it's choice of setting and very proud of this unique bush environment.

By 1908, the Blue Mountains was becoming (as it is now) a halfway place between the city and the bush proper. In this short, romantic story, Turner shows us the meeting of city and bush types. We see the locals - the baker, the butcher, the shoe repairman who inhabit the small villages dotted along the train track through the mountains and we see the urban folk who clamber up the misty November slopes to escape summer in the city. We also get to know one young larrikin, Larkin, a lad of fifteen or so who works for the local grocer.

He grew up on the other side of the mountain, on a 'wretched selection where his father...his mother and six or seven children younger than Larkin, fought the losing fight of the Man on the Land.' He dreams of being able to save up his commissions to 'put "a bit of stuff" on the Melbourne Cup...."then mother and the old man shall chuck up that dirty selection..., and the kids can go to school, an' I'll get Polly an' Blarnche a pianner."'

The Lomaxes are a large family belonging to a Sydney judge. The children are holidaying in the mountains to recover from a bout of whooping cough with a governess, while their parents vacation in New Zealand. 'Unlike many Australians, (they) respected the hand of Nature even when it had traced Australian rather than English design on their land.'

Down, down they went into the exquisite gorge; greener and still green grew the way as the path wound farther and farther away from the sunburnt lands overhead. Giant tree ferns grouped themselves together in one place and in another guarded the path in sentinel-like rows. You looked up and sheer walls of rock towered thousands of feet above your head - brown, naked, rugged walls here- and there, where the waterfall dripped, clothed in a marvellous mantle of young ferns. Here a huge, jagged promontory stretched across your way, and the diplomatic path, unable to force a way through, simply ceased its downward bent, and with handrails and steps led you up again.


I really enjoyed reading such obvious love for the Australian environment and particularly admired the judge's desire to create a native garden rather than an English garden in their mountains home.

As a newbie to Project Gutenberg I found myself reading all the details provided including the licensing agreement and the cover page details (below).

Ethel Turner (Mrs H. R. Curlewis)
1908 published by Ward Lock & Co London
Illustrations by J. MacFarlane
Project Gutenberg Ebook 4th Feb 2008

To H.R.C
"They that have heard the overword
Know life's a dream worth dreaming."
Henley.


I realised from this that I knew next to nothing about Ethel Turner's life.

A quick check of the Australian Dictionary of Biography revealed that Ethel Mary Burwell was born in Yorkshire on the 24th January 1870. Her big sister was Lillian Wattnall Burwell (1867 - 1956). Sadly their father died not long after Ethel's birth. Their mother, Sarah Jane Shaw, remarried in 1872, a widower with six children of his own, Henry Turner (sounds rather like the family in Seven Little Australians!) Sadly he also died not long afterwards, in 1878, leaving the family in financial difficulties.

Mrs Turner decided to emigrate to Australia with her two daughters in 1879. In Sydney, she married Charles Cope at the end of 1880 and had a son with him, Charles Rex.

The girls went to Sydney Girls' High School and started a school magazine called Iris, to compete with their friend Louise Mack's Gazette. When the sisters left school they 'co-edited a sixpenny monthly, the Parthenon', while Ethel also contributed to children's pages in various papers until 1919.

In 1894 she published Seven Little Australian, and in 1896 she married Herbert Raine Curlewis, a young Sydney barrister. They had a daughter (Ethel Jean Sophia) and son (Adrian Herbert), living most of their married life at Avenal overlooking Middle Harbour.

The biography claims that,
Her writing showed a continuing tension between her enjoyment of popular and commercial success and her wish to break free from the restrictions of juvenile fiction....A recurring theme in the Turner novels is that of the conflicting demands of the creative and the domestic life.

Both these tensions were on display In the Mist of the Mountain. Part children's summer holiday romp, part rom-com and part literary diversion. I was pleased that this simple summer holiday story morphed into a gentle romance between two ageing characters - the governess and the writer, escaping to the mountains to rediscover his muse. Turner's publishers rebuked her for using Australian slang in her stories, but I'm so glad she ignored them and continued to give her characters a local vernacular. Young Larkin's enthusiastic speech was a delight to read.

Turner wrote thirty-four volumes of fiction, three of verse, a travel book, plays, and miscellaneous verse and prose before her death on the 8th April 1958. She also left behind journals and letters that have been published in 1979 and 1982. According to wikipedia, In the Mist of the Mountains was originally published in 1906.

Ethel Turner posing in the window of her study at her Mosman home, ‘Avenel’ 1928 (Cazneaux)

Friday, 11 January 2019

Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales

It's hard to sum up what an extraordinary read Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales really was. I started off a little sceptical, doubtful that Sales would find the right tone to keep me interested, but I was wrong. Very wrong. 


I thought I knew what the book would be about thanks to the generous media and online coverage it had been receiving in Australia in the lead up to Christmas. I also had Nancy's unequivocal admiration for the book ringing in my ears. I was expecting to read about some of the (sadly) well-known names in Australia who had survived tragedies such as the Lindt Cafe siege, the Port Arthur massacre and the Thredbo disaster; I wasn't expecting to read about an acquaintance of mine though.

Any Ordinary Day was a riveting read. Heart-breaking at times, but so full of compassion, kindness and a desire for genuine understanding, that it melted my cynical side completely. But when I reached Chapter 6 and suddenly realised that this section was Leigh's interview with Hannah Richell about the surfing accident that took the life of her husband, Matt a few years ago, I was pulled up short.

Suddenly it felt very personal and very close to the bone. 

As Sales' said early on, the idea behind this book was to explore how we cope with not being 'exceptional' when we discover that we're as 'vulnerable as the next person' to being blindsided by life and death moments. Matt's accident, and Hannah's extraordinary blog about her journey with grief and sadness, have left me pondering this idea often. How do we develop resilience? How do we learn to let go the idea that we have complete control over our lives? How do we cope with the randomness of life? Can we become a better person for having gone through something so traumatic?

Sales' spends some time within each interview discussing these ideas, as well as bringing in various facts and stats from current research findings. Every interview was thoughtfully conceived and executed. She discussed the personal as well as the bigger picture stuff. She considered why it is that we're all fascinated by these traumatic events and why we participate in mass displays of grieving like those that happened after Princess Diana died and the floral tributes in Martin Place after the Lindt Cafe siege.

The role of journalists, media and social media are explored, as well as the negative and positive outcomes experienced by individuals caught up in this kind of craziness when they're at their most vulnerable.

Sales says,
because we don't have enough conversations about the big stuff, about life and loss and fear, we end up approaching death with morbid fascination, like it's some dark awful secret or some big heroic event.

This book is all about reminding us that the big stuff can happen at any time and that we should remember to be grateful for, a savour, the everyday, ordinary moments, for 'they're not so ordinary, really. Hindsight makes them quite magical'.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

The End!

How on earth do I sum up in mere words such a magnificent, majestic, momentous story?! Les Miserables is a story full of pathos, compassion, extravagance and just a few flaws. Fortunately these flaws of logic and historical truth don't get in the way of Hugo's grander themes about love, redemption and sacrifice.

I struggled to accept Hugo's premise for the forward march of humankind with the promise of inevitable Progress towards some greater point. This belief, that all progress and evolution is good, was common among many writers, politicians and thinkers of the time, a belief which still infects many people today. However his ideas about the positive outcomes for universal education, suffrage and abolishing slavery felt spot on and admirable.


In his Introduction to my Penguin edition of the book, Norman Denny, explains that although
he was masterly in the construction of his novel, (Hugo) had little or no regard for the discipline of novel-writing. He was wholly unrestrained and unsparing of his reader. He had to say everything and more than everything; he was incapable of leaving anything out.

Which is a shame, because some basic editing would have made an easier journey of it, for this new-to-the-story reader in particular. I powered through the Waterloo diversion and enjoyed Valjean and Cosette's sojourn in the convent, but the soppy love story between Marius and Cosette and then the barricades nearly did me in!

The student uprising, with their youthful idealism, the creation of the barricades, the endless pontificating, the senseless waste of life that just kept going on, and on, and on, chapter after chapter. So much detail and importance assigned to a little remembered, little known footnote in history.

Although, perhaps that was Hugo's point.

All our lives are filled with moments significant and important to us, but of little consequence to future historians. Smaller moments within bigger historic periods, like the French Revolution and Empire, get swallowed up by time. Only the events that allow historians to draw a narrative line that suits their agenda get included (and we all have an agenda when it comes to creating the story of our lives, even historians).

It was only after finishing the book, that I went back and read the Introductions in all three books. In the Rose edition, Adam Thirwell has written a very thoughtful piece about Hugo's intentions for this epic book. He notes that,
What is relevant?....How can you know what fact will emerge, and destroy you?....We all live our lives so blissful in our ignorance of an infinity which could invade us at any moment....The true story is chance.
Hugo said that the poet's duty was to elevate political events to the dignity of historical events....he was interested in transforming politics into history, and rewriting history so that it included the unknown, the ignored, the forgotten....to show how far history is fiction.

Donougher also noted that Hugo believed that 'classicists wanted art to improve and idealise reality, while he insisted it should 'paint life', with its confusion of the good, the bad and the absurd.'

Hugo himself was a romantic, a liberal, a poet. He used his fame to promote his political views. He wrote a story that, according to David Bellos (The Novel of the Century) showed that 'moral progress is possible for all, in every social sphere' without reassuring us with a 'tale of the triumph of good over evil, but a demonstration of how hard it is to be good.'


Throughout the year I read/referred to three different translations of Les Miserables - the Denny, the Rose and the Donougher. I started the year with the Denny, so that ended up being the main one I stayed with the whole time. I developed a strong affection for it and the lovely hardcover design by Coralie Bickford-Smith. I really enjoyed his language choices. I found it easy to read and it flowed well. But Denny did edit and make changes to Hugo's work - he also put two whole chapters into an appendix at the back.

The other two versions became my comparison reads when I had the time or inclination.

I can safely say that the Rose version will not be staying with me beyond this readalong. I disliked many of the word choices she made, especially the modern colloquial that jarred within the pages of a book so obviously set within a specific time.

I really liked the Donougher though, when my copy finally arrived in February. The deckled edges tickled my fancy every time I picked it up and the soft cover book was much easier to travel with (for weekends away).

Next time I read Les Mis, this will be the version I will read the whole way through.

At various times throughout the year, I would get fixated on translation choices. I found this fabulous summary of ALL the Les Mis translations by R. Plunket from Scotland on his VERY extensive review about the book here.

Below are his abridged comments, from that review, about the various translations:

Now onto the translation. First a little bit of translation history. American Charles Wilbour was the first to translate the novel and his version was published by Carleton in 1862 just months after the novel was published in Brussels. The fact that Wilbour, at the age of just twenty nine, completed the translation so quickly is astounding. The translation is very close to Hugo's French and is highly regarded.... An abridged version of Wilbour's translation was released in the UK by Catto & Windus in 1874. The unabridged version was finally released in the country in 1890. 
The only downsides of Wilbour's translation are that it contained no footnotes and French verse parts were not translated. This was rectified in 1987 by an updated translation by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee, released by Signet. The vocabulary is more modern so the translation will appear more readable to someone who finds 19th Century texts difficult. This is the most common paperback version in the USA and has the musical logo on the cover. It is unabridged like the original Wilbour, has full place names instead of dashes (so you get Digne instead of D-, this was a revision Hugo himself made to the text in 1881) and French verse parts are translated into English in footnotes. 
Sir Frederic Charles Lascelles Wraxall's translation was the first to be released in the UK and appeared in 1862, just before the release of the last volume of Wilbour's translation in America. Wraxall's translation was the only one to pay copyright to the publishers. It was advertised as the most "literal" translation. It is abridged as it deliberately misses chapters and books (Wraxall gives his reasons for this in the preface). The text was even further abridged from the fourth edition onwards. The omitted parts were translated in the USA by J Blamire for the 1886 Deluxe Edition by Routledge and this same text was used for the 1938 Heritage Press release with illustrations from Lynn Ward. Little Brown also supplemented the Wraxall text in 1887. Later reprints by various publishers, such as Allison & Co, supplemented the text using Wilbour. Even with the supplementations, the Wraxall version is still very poorly regarded. Hugo himself even voiced his disapproval. 
The Wraxall translation was also heavily plagarised by others. The translation by William Walton et al. (actually a pseudonym of John Thomson of the Philadelphia Free Library), released in 1892 by the publisher G Barrie, borrows heavily from Wraxall.
Isobel F Hapgood's translation first appeared in 1887 and was published by Thomas Crowell. Hapgood's translation was generally very well regarded at the time, although some of the language used has become outdated. Hapgood's main defect is that she misses out the Cambronne section. This omission was restored by a handful of publishers in the early Twentieth Century including John Wannamaker, Dumont and Century Co. Crowell continued to publish a copyright version without the supplementation so it is clear that Hapgood did not approve of such additions....
 
The early years of the post war era was mainly filled with adaptations and abridgments of Wilbour's text (a famous abridgment by James K Robinson reduced Wilbour's text to under 400 pages). 
Norman Denny was the first person to offer a new translation in the Twentieth Century. This is the most common version available in the UK, released in 1976 by Folio Press (with bizarre illustrations) and by Penguin as a paperback in 1980. Highly readable but Denny takes great liberties with Hugo's text and a lot of material is omitted. Two sections are moved to the end of the book as appendixes. Penguin continues to print this but thankfully they have now released this superior translation by Christine Donougher. 
Finally in 2008 an unabridged translation by Julie Rose was released by The Modern Library in the US and Vintage in the UK. The main criticism of this translation is that the vocabulary is very modern and at times feels awkward. For instance Rose uses the term "slimy spook" to describe Javert in one section. I have never heard this term before and I cannot imagine it being a good translation of the French term Mouchard. I do respect Rose for translating such a difficult text. Her translation just didn't click with me. 
So now we come to the new translation by Christine Donougher. So why is this translation superior to the others? It is complete and unabridged, unlike Denny, Wraxall and Hapgood. It doesn't feel like the language has been dumbed down, unlike Rose. It has excellent notes and footnotes, unlike Wilbour and the updated versions of his text. The text flows well. I would say the closest translation to Donougher in terms of style is probably Hapgood. It is certainly as readable as say Denny.... 
In summary Christine Donougher's translation of Les Misérables is the best version available in English and I would advise all fans of the novel to buy it. Well done to Penguin for publishing this splendid edition.

Finally, a big thank you to Nick for keeping us on track and motivated (especially via twitter) all year. Slow reading my way through this monumental story was a magic way to do it, even if I didn't manage to maintain the schedule the whole year.

Final posts by host & some of the participants:



(please let me know below if I've missed your final post, so that I can add it in.)

My Les Mis posts throughout the year:



#lesmisreadalong

Saturday, 5 January 2019

#6degrees January

#6degrees is a monthly meme hosted by Kate @Books Are My Favourite and Best.

Oftentimes I haven't read the starting book for this meme, but I can assure you that I only play the next 6 books with ones I have actually read. 
If I've read the book during this blogging life, then I include my review, otherwise, you just have to take my word for it!

This month the starting book is The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles.
Are you game?

Old image alert - Kate @Books Are My Favourite & Best now hosts #6Degrees but this is a good refresh of the rules.

Starting a brand new year discussing one of my favourite books feels promising.
The French Lieutenant's Woman is a book I read and loved many, many years ago. I was inspired by it to visit Lyme Regis on my last trip to the UK in 2007. So I will take the easy and obvious connection here and pick Jane Austen's Persuasion as my next link in the chain.


One of the key episodes in Persuasion also occurs in Lyme Regis, when Louisa Musgrove falls down the steps of the Cobb. This action changes the course of the story not only for Louisa, but several of the other key players as well.

Katy's fall off a swing in What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge also had dramatic, life-changing consequences for Katy.


As a child I was fascinated by this story of chance and adversity. It also spawned a couple of follow-up books, What Katy Did at School and What Katy Did Next. Even as a child I was concerned by the gender stereotyping and prescriptive behaviours promoted in these books. As a modern, young feminist 70's kid, I was grateful to be living in such enlightened times!
It was in part, the restrictive dresses and clothing worn by the characters in many of my favourite childhood classics, that influenced me in my decision to not wear dresses in my everyday life (except for compulsory school uniforms) from the age of 8 to about 30!

The waste of time and pain of looking after long hair was another childhood fixation that I've never really outgrown. Which is why I adore the scene in Little Women when Jo cuts off all her hair. I always wished that she had embraced the freedom of her new style and kept it short from then on.


The best short, pixie-style, haircut ever, belongs not to a book character, but to a fictional TV character. This may not strictly be within the rules of the meme, but any chance to revisit my love for Janine Turner's hairstyle in Northern Exposure is worth breaking a few rules for!


Which then also allows me to jump easily and naturally into Alaska with Eowyn Ivey's To the Bright Edge of the World. Her fascinating, moving and slightly magical story blends fact and fiction about the early exploration of the Alaskan landscape.


One of the curious facts that captured my imagination at the time, though, was Eowyn's name. Her parents were fans of Lord of the Rings and named her after one of Tolkien's main female characters. Fortunately, they didn't have a boy - Bilbo would be a hard name to live up to!

Today I've travelled from Lyme Regis to Ohio and Massachusetts, through Alaska and all the way to Middle Earth to bring you my six degrees of separation! Accidents, women's issues and baby names were my main links.
Where did you end up?

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Musings of an Idle Reader

Yikes!
Poems.

I didn't know I would have to read poems to get through Don Quixote!

I'm not averse to poetry; in fact, I love many, appreciate even more and adore a special few. But I've always struggled when authors insert poems, odes and songs into their work.

The songs throughout The Lord of the Rings bore me to tears and I cannot tell a lie, when I finished the Prologue in Don Quixote and turned the page to start the story proper and saw seven pages of sonnets, I nearly threw the book across the room!


So why do I persist?

Firstly, I've always wanted to read Cervantes 'best work of fiction in the world'*. I knew it would be challenging, so I had to wait until the right time to read it.

That time is now, thanks to Nick @One Catholic Life who is hosting a chapter-a-day readalong of Don Quixote starting on the 1st January 2019.

Secondly, the translator notes in my edition of the book claim that,
Cervantes' book contains within itself, in germ or full-blown, practically every imaginative technique and device used by subsequent fiction writers to engage their readers and construct their works.*

As an avid reader, why wouldn't I want to know more about the story that started it all!
She also enthuses about the writing, 'it gives off sparks and flows like honey.'* Wow, right?

Thirdly, Cervantes himself, in his Prologue, encourages his idle reader to,
say anything you desire about this history without fear that you will be reviled for the bad things or rewarded for the good that you might say about it.

Cervantes wants us to discuss his work, for good or bad.

Fourthly, he's having a cheeky go at us right from the start. He tells us, in his prologue, that he wants to tell a simple 'plain and bare' story,
unadorned by a prologue or the endless catalogue of sonnets, epigrams, and laudatory poems that are usually placed at the beginning of books.

Finally, and most importantly, thanks to Nick & co's support, I will not give up at the first hurdle. I will convert this hiccup into a learning experience instead. Nick has put up his first encouraging #Quixotereadalong post to help those of us wondering why on earth we agreed to do this!

* quotes from the Translator's Notes to the Reader in my 2005 Vintage edition of Don Quixote by Edith Grossman.

So far I have learnt that all these early poems are written by fictional characters to honour Cervantes own fictional character. Urganda the Unrecognised, Amadis of Gaul, Don Bellanis of Greece, Lady Oriana, Gandalin, Squire to Amadis of Gaul, Donoso, an Eclectic Poet, Orlando Furioso, The Knight of Phoebus, Solisdan and Babieca are all literary characters from some of Cervantes favourite chivalric stories.

Charlemagne killing Moorish Prince Feurre.
From Speigel Historiael by Jacob Van Maerlant, copied in West Flanders in 1325 to 1335.

Amadis the Gaul was first published in Spain in 1508 (author unknown). It is considered to be a 'masterpiece of medieval fantasy. It inspired a century of best-selling sequels in seven languages and changed the way we think about knights, chivalry, damsels in distress, and courtly life in castles.' Amadis the Gaul also has it's very own blog devoted to it here.

Don Belianis of Greece is another chivalric romance novel from Spain, often published in English as The Honour of Chivalry (author unknown).

Orlando Furioso also known as The Frenzy of Orlando, or Raging Roland is an Italian epic poem by Ludovico Ariosto which first appeared in 1516. According to Wikipedia, it is a poem 'about war and love and the romantic ideal of chivalry. It mixes realism and fantasy, humour and tragedy.'

The first poem is from Urganda the Unrecognised:
a personage in Amadis of Gaul somewhat akin to Morgan la Fay and Vivien in the Arthur legend, though the part she plays is more like that of Merlin. She derived her title from the faculty which, like Merlin, she possessed of changing her form and appearance at will. The verses are assigned to her probably because she was the adviser of Amadis.

(from John Ormsby's 1885 translator notes)

He also believes all the poems:
should he preserved—not for their poetical merits, which are of the slenderest sort, but because, being burlesques on the pompous, extravagant, laudatory verses usually prefixed to books in the time of Cervantes, they are in harmony with the aim and purpose of the work, and also a fulfilment of the promise held out in the Preface.

Do you know what 'versos de cabo rato' are? I do!
The first poem from Urganda is written in this form, where the final syllable is missing from the end of the each line. I believe the point is humour!
There are various online forums (especially in Spanish) devoted to creating the endings for this poem if you dare.

I dared.

Cervantes doesn't believe that poetry should be limited to the humans in his story either. The faithful horses also get a chance to honour each other. Babieca was the steed of real-life, folk-hero El Cid and from him we learn that Don Quixote and his steed, Rocinante will probably spend most of the story being hungry.

So now that we've got that hurdle out of the way, it's time to jump into this picaresque, road-trip novel proper. Let the journey begin.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Another Year Over...

almost...and a new one just about to begin!

So it's high time I sat down to write my 2018 summary post.

2018 was an odd year for me, full of personal challenges. I juggled, I compromised, I got on with it, I fell apart, I tried again, I reassessed, I held on tight, I let go. Through it all I lived, and loved and learnt.

I'm sure we all have years where things don't necessarily go to plan. Those years where we spend most of our time coping with the fallout from change, death and stress. It's one of the reasons why I love celebrating NYE. The new year promises a psychological reset, a do-over. It's a chance to reflect on the old year, then start again.

I've lived through enough NY's now to know that resolutions are very rarely kept and that changes almost never happen miraculously. But I still find it a time of hope. A chance to look forward.

But before I can do that, I need to review my year in books!


Today I'm in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, sweltering away thanks to a breathless 30℃ day. The promise of a storm is on the horizon and I'm counting down to a quiet NYE beer on the balcony with Mr Books.

According to Goodreads I have read 107 books this year. I gave 6 books a 5-star rating, 2 books a 2-star rating with everything else falling in between (except for the 20-odd books that I haven't finalised reviews for!)

My favourite and most memorable books for the year were Normal People by Sally Rooney, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry and Shokoofeh Azar's The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree.

Azar's book also won my favourite cover of the year award!


My best feel-good, spark-joy book for 2018 goes to both A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and Angela Thirkell's Northbridge Rectory.

I reviewed 85 books on my blog - 49 by female authors and 36 by men. Twenty-four of these books were written by Australian authors and twelve were books in translation. I read eighteen non-fiction titles. I lost count back in February of the number of picture books I read for work!

My longest book, at 1232 pages, was Victor Hugo's Les Miserables.

After 365 days, I have come to the end of my Les Miserables chapter-a-day readalong with Nick @One Catholic Life. It was an adventure as well as an exercise in patience and perseverance. A full review will be penned sometime in the NY.

Hopefully I will also finish David Bellos' The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Miserables tonight as well. If I can achieve this I will have completed my Goodreads challenge of 110 books - although I also need to work out how to add multiple editions of books as being 'read'. I not only read the Norman Denny translation of Les Mis, I also referred to the Rose and Donoghue editions throughout the year. But right now I cannot make this happen on Goodreads. I have to assume that it's a weird time zone glitch. In Goodreads land it is still the 30th December, yet I marked my Denny edition as 'read' on the 31st Dec (which is what the date is here right now). My review notes exist in my time but not yet in Goodreads. I'm hoping that after 7pm (my time) I will be able to add the two other editions of Les Mis to my 'read' stats.

As a newbie to Les Mis, much of it was a fresh surprise. But I was amazed at how many ideas and half-truths I had formed about the story from simply being a member of the human race that interacts online, reads voraciously and loves a good meme/gif.

So I don't think I will spoil it for anyone else by jumping straight to the end.

I'm sure I will have a lot more to say about the tragedy and majesty of Jean Valjean's life in posts to come, but for now, I hope that when my time comes, that I can share Jean Valjean's simple epitaph - she lived. She loved.

It happened of itself, in the calm way
That in the evening night-time follows day.


But that is not the end after all!

Because tomorrow is a brand new year and Nick is kicking off a brand new chapter-a-day readalong. We voted and decided that we couldn't manage another 365 chapter book in 2019 (my War and Peace reread will have to wait for another year!) so instead we will be reading four books that add up to 365 chapters (bravo Nick for doing the maths!) 

The 2019 Chapter-a-Day Read-along looks a little like this:

  • Don Quixote: January 1 to May 8 (126 chapters plus 2 prologues = 128 days)
  • The Count of Monte Cristo: May 9 to September 2 (117 chapters = 117 days)
  • Lilith: September 3 to October 19 (47 chapters = 47 days)
  • The Old Curiosity Shop: October 20 to December 31 (73 chapters = 73 days)
I currently have Don Quixote and The Count of Monte Cristo on my TBR pile, so I will definitely join in for the first two books. The final two will depend on how my year is travelling and whether or not I have acquired a copy of the books in the meantime.

I'm rather nervous about Don Quixote as I have heard many mixed reports about it, but I hope that reading it with Nick & co will keep me going during any tough patches.


An hour after starting this post, Mr Books has finished water-blasting our sandstone pavers, the storm is still threatening to arrive and it is now beer o'clock on New Year's Eve in Australia.

Happy New Year one and all and let's do it all again in 2019!

Saturday, 29 December 2018

A Maigret Christmas by Georges Simenon

A Maigret Christmas contains three very different stories by Georges Simenon - A Maigret Christmas, Seven Small Crosses in a Notebook and The Restaurant near Place des Ternes - yet they all share a similar sense of melancholy and loneliness.


In Simenon's world, Christmas is not a time for goodwill and cheer, so seasonally well-adjusted readers beware! Instead, in these three stories, we visit long, cold night shifts, suicides and lonely prostitutes. The title story (first published in 1950) is the only one that features Maigret though. The other two are set in his world, his time and his place and provide an interesting backstory or subtext to his other stories.

The descriptions of Christmas Eve in all three were evocative of the season, but the paragraph that has stuck with me is the image of the two Maigret's carefully avoiding a certain topic all day,
He didn't feel depressed exactly. It was just that his dream - which he still could not remember - had left him with raw nerves. And anyway maybe it wasn't the dream but Christmas itself. He was going to have to tread carefully all day, weigh his words, just as Madame Maigret had calibrated her movements as she got out of bed, for she too would be a little more prickly than usual...But enough of that! Don't even think about it! Don't say a word that might bring up that subject. And later on, don't look out on to the street too often when the kids came out of doors and started showing off their toys.

If you love Maigret and his ever patient wife, then this little titbit about their personal circumstances will break your heart. That this particular case involves a young girl, who by the end, will be in need of care and guardianship for a while, is a bittersweet outcome, that sees Maigret saying to Madame Maigret,
"Not ours to keep, no. Just on loan. I thought it would be better than nothing and that you'd be happy."

Seven Small Crosses was first published in 1951 and first translated into English in 1976. It features Lecoeur, one of the night shift 'owls' manning the police control room, taking emergency calls and patching through information to all the stations around Paris.

Lecoeur is hard-working, dedicated and very meticulous. These days he may even be diagnosed with high-functioning autism. A late-night strange set of incidents begins to take on a sinister and very personal meaning when he realises that his young nephew may have witnessed a murder and is on the run. Normally police procedural stories leave me cold, but the personal elements in this one, that were revealed gradually, created a great deal of tension and suspense.

The final, very short story (also referred to as A Christmas Story For Grown-Ups) begins with a suicide and ends with a drunken brawl between a prostitute and a young women attempting to get on the game. The older cynical prostitute guesses what is happening when she witnesses two men slowing getting the young ingenue drunker and drunker in a bar. She intervenes, even though she's not quite sure why. Perhaps it's because they come from the same small village outside Paris? Or perhaps it's because everyone should 'want to be Father Christmas' just once in their life.

'Just imagine if, once in their lives, everybody behaved like Father Christmas...Just imagine it, right?...Just once...And when you think of how many people there are on this earth...'

Yes, just imagine.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Merry Christmas



Wishing you all a peaceful, joyous holiday season, however or wherever you celebrate this time. 
Thank you for all your visits, comments and fellowship throughout the year.
It has not been an easy year for me & my time in blogger land has helped me get through some trying days. Blogging & reading keep me sane even when they add to my to-do list! 
I look forward to your company in 2019, but until then,
Merry Christmas from beautiful, sunny Australia! 


C. J. Dennis ‘A Bush Christmas’

The sun burns hotly thro' the gums, 
The chirping of the locusts comes 
 Across the paddocks, parched and grey. 
 "Whew!" wheezes Father. "What a day!" 
 And sheds his vest. 
For coats no man had need. 
Then Rogan shoves his plate aside 
And sighs, as sated men have sighed, 
 At many boards in many climes 
 On many other Christmas times. 
 "By gum!" he says, "That was a slap-up feed!" 

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Rusted Off by Gabrielle Chan

Rusted Off: Why Country Australia is Fed Up by Gabrielle Chan didn't quite live up to my expectations, or to her marvellous Introduction. In fact, the rest of the book was little more than an extended version of the fine points she made early on.


I've spent most off my life in rural Australia; this last decade in Sydney has been a complete change of pace for me. Therefore I have my very own deeply rooted, nuance awareness of what life in small country towns looks likes and feels like. Reading Rusted Off, in the end told me nothing I didn't already know and I'm not sure that my city based born and bred friends will see any more value in country life than they already do, after reading this.

One of the main values in country living is how every single strata of society is right there in front of you. City living has become so insular with certain socio-economic and cultural groups tending towards one suburb or another, that most Sydney suburbs are basically a mono-culture. It takes a determined individual to seek out differences and diversity. Living side by side with families who look and sound just like you makes it easy to forget and hard to understand when someone holds diametrically opposed views, or experiences hardship or privilege beyond anything you have every experienced yourself.

Not that country living is a paragon of virtue or an ideal arrangement either. Prejudices still abound and it's not always easy for newcomers to ever feel like they belong or are fully accepted. I miss my country lifestyle, even though Chan's book reminded of all the reasons why I was often uncomfortable, alone or dissatisfied with my life there.

Although I'm not sure if I learnt anything new, Chan's account of country life, certainly got me thinking about where I belong and where I feel most comfortable. I love the wide, open space of rural life, the big blue skies and the connection to country that I struggle to see and feel in Sydney. But I love the cultural advantages of city living - the diversity of restaurants, galleries, parks, theatres and other cultural events. I live in a suburb that has a very real village atmosphere, a place where I can walk down the street and run into people I know, where I know most of the shop keepers by name and the local barista knows how to serve my coffee without me even asking.

Mudgee, NSW

It seems to me that both country folk and their city cousins are completely fed-up with politics and the way our politicians have been carrying on. So what I did find inspirational was hearing about the small and large community projects that Chan's particular small country town had instigated all on their own. Instead of waiting for politicians to decide about climate change or funding for educational, social and health related programs, they had just got in a started making plans to protect their towns and the citizens themselves.

Chan obviously loves her small country town, and I understand why. I also completely understand how it can frustrate her at times. Perhaps the secret to wherever you live, is being present and accepting with gratitude the joys and pleasures (as well as the niggles and annoyances) that abound in any place, with as much good grace and mindfulness as you can manage.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Junior Fiction - the rest!

Following on from my recent post featuring several fabulous Australian junior fiction titles, I thought it was time to venture further afield to see what the rest of the world (or at least the US, UK and Japan) were doing in this field.

The Afterwards is a new story by U.K. poet A. F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett, the well-known picture book illustrator. Like so many books for kids these days, the story explores friendship, death and loss. It is quite dark at times and some children may find the 'other world' that our young protagonist is able to visit quite creepy in much the same way that Neil Gaiman's Coraline's 'other mother' is creepy. But the ending is positive with a focus on living in the moment, honouring those you loved and being present.


Dear Professor Whale by Megumi Iwasa and Jun Takabatake (illustrator) wasn't quite as sweet and charming as Yours Sincerely, Giraffe, but it still highlighted the importance of friendship, kindness and belonging via the old-fashioned means of communication, letter writing.

The action centres around the reviving of the Whale Point Olympics. The older Olympians are honoured and revered while the youngsters are encouraged to engage in friendly competition and teamwork rather than winning gold medals at all cost.

The empathy message may have been laid on a bit thick this time round, but it's hard to take offence when it's so well-meaning and good-natured.


Front Desk by Kelly Yang is for the older end of the junior fiction spectrum - probably 10+ and is loosely based on her own experiences as a new immigrant to the States in the early 1990's. Yang wanted to tell her son about how she grew up and what it was like being an immigrant. In a letter at the front of the books she says,
I grew up in a motel. I didn't have any toys or nice clothes. My parents were struggling...and life was very, very hard for us; it was hard for everyone in our motel, from the immigrants we hid at night to the guests who stayed by the week, folks who got mistreated by the police and were stuck in the same sad cycle of poverty.
I had been searching for a way the right way to tell my son all of this, a way that didn't scare him, but inspired him....Draft after draft, I dug deeper and deeper until the shame and pain and joy of my childhood were so open and exposed, it scared me.

For such a hard won story, it reads lightly and easily. Diversity is celebrated, as is a strong sense of family and friendship. Belonging, perseverance and hard work are standards held up for admiration. Disadvantage and racism are sadly also on show and not just from the American population, Yang also subtly shows the tensions between mainland Chinese immigrants and Taiwanese Chinese.


One of my new favourites though is Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo. Her writing is stunning as always and Louisiana is a delightful, spunky creation. Suddenly, without explanation, Louisiana is on the run with her Grandma. What follows is a journey of major self discovery as Louisiana learns some painful home truths and discovers just how strong and resilient she really is.

We all, at some point, have to decide who we want to be in this world. It is a decision we make for ourselves. 

Forgiveness, hope and courage are DiCamillo's calling cards - they shine very brightly in this tender, bittersweet story. And it wouldn't be a DiCamillo story if we didn't also learn about the kindness of (some) strangers (although don't get me started on the grandmother!)

Perhaps what matters when all is said and done is not who puts us down but who picks us up.


I'm starting to loose track of ALL the princesses-turned-monster-fighting-superheroes in The Princess in Black series by Shannon Hale but #6 and the Science Fair Scare is still full of all the fun, derring-do, go-girl attitude of the earlier stories.

It's hard NOT to be charmed by these sassy young things with their alter-ego monster-fighting persona's. But I guess at some point, I'd like to see these girls (& the dashing young Goat-Boy) come out from behind their masks and let the world see who they really are all the time.

Book 6 feels like a transition point. Everyone now seems to be 'in' on the secret and it would be nice if the girls didn't have to pretend to be pretty, prim princesses in public any more.


I love junior fiction at this time of year. It's entertaining, easy reading. But they're not always light on topic or emotional impact. These books feature BIG themes with BIG heart. They are books that can be enjoyed by adults just as much as the younger people in their lives. There is way more to junior fiction than the Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries, and I for one, am very grateful for that!

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

2019 here we come - ready or not!

I mean really!
Where did 2018 go?

In some ways this has been a hard slog of a year. Personal challenges abounded, lots of change and compromise at every turn and a very hectic schedule. I'm pretty tired and run-down right now.

The thing that keeps me going though, through good times and bad, are my good friends, books. When all else fails, there's a book waiting to be discovered or an old friend waiting to be reread.

I'm starting to see posts about reading challenges for next year as well as the 2018 in review posts, but it was Fanda's recent post that got me motivated to write something myself. Next year, Fanda is embarking on a no plan reading year. I heartily support this!


I've been a no challenge blog for two years now and feel so much freer for it. As much as I loved the community chatter and discussion that surrounds the making of new year reading plans, I never, ever followed through all the way to the end of the year.

In the end they became another thing I HAD to do. They began to feel like a chore.

But I do love this book blogging community and I do love a readalong. And that is where my focus no lies. Because I have no reading challenges to get through by the end of the year I can join in or even create random readalongs at short notice. Just for fun!

Readalongs:


Fanda reminded me that I had proposed a Moby Dick readalong for 2019 and that is still in the works. It will probably be February before I get it up and running, but I would like to combine reading a chapter of the book with listening to a chapter of the Moby Dick Big Read podcast. At the moment my brain is only coming up with rude hashtags for the readalong, so I welcome your thoughts!

I still have two more Iris Murdoch books ready to go for Lizzy's #IMreadalong in 2019 (The Sea, The Sea and The Book and the Brotherhood) and I always look forward to Fanda's Zoladdiction in April.
Reading an Austen in August is now a lovely habit and something to look forward to rather than a challenge and I will always read three or four classics a year thanks to the Classics Club Spin.

The closest I will come to a reading challenge is this lovely Agatha Christie one that I spotted recently, hosted by Robin @Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks. I have caught up on all my cosy crime series, so some Agatha Christie's will be my stop gap measure until Jacqueline Winspear and Sulari Gentill write their next books.

There may or may not be some kind of combined Classics Club and Rachel @Hibernator's Library Shakespeare readalong to look forward to in 2019 as well.

TBR:


My TBR pile is a constant, threatening to topple over and smother me in my sleep at any time! I don't/can't/won't keep track of how many of them I'm reading each month or over the year, but I love any prompt that helps me to read another one.

Readathons:


Well, yes. 
I love the Dewey 24 hr Readathon - I will attempt as many as they dare to host! The next one is due for 6th April 2019.

Special Events:


Thanks to my on-going editor's position at the Australian Women Writers Challenge (as well as my job in an Indie bookshop), I will always be lookin for a chance to read more Australian authors. If you're keen to read more Aussie books yourself, feel free to browse our database or join in the yearly challenge to be posted soon.

Paris in July and Non-Fiction November are the other two big book blogging events I look forward to every year as well. They do nothing to help my expanding TBR pile, but they're such a lovely social gathering I cannot resist.

I will also join in Shelia's annual First Book of the Year meme.

Currently Reading:


I'm in the middle of both the Michelle Obama memoir, Becoming and Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales. I'm loving both for their positive attitudes and hopefulness.

My summer holiday reading stack includes Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton (my next book club book) and my CC Spin book, John Matteson's bio on Louisa May Alcott and her father, Bronson, Eden's Outcasts. My stand by book is Bridge of Clay by Marcus Zusak and the little light relief option is A Maigret Christmas by Georges Simenon.



Finally, a blogging curiosity.

Last week, the Google doodle was in honour of Nobel prize winning poet, Nelly Sachs. Two years ago I wrote a post about Nelly, including some of her poems in translation.

Last week my stats went wild.
My Nelly Sachs post suddenly appeared in my 'popular post' sidebar at #3 with a whopping 1298 views in just 24 hours. So thank you to Google and German/Finnish artist, Daniel Stolle for highlighting a little known, mostly forgotten award winning female poet.

Good luck with your 2019 reading plans, whichever way they work for you and please let me know below if you'd be interested in joining in a Moby Dick readalong early next year.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

The ones that got away...

At this time of year, more than any other time, I abandon books at a rate of knots.


So many books don't make it past the first cull (cover design and back cover blurb). The second cull occurs at the end of the first page when a huge number of books simply get put back on the shelf for someone else to be tempted by.

A number of books come my way thanks to word of mouth and interesting reviews - these books still have to pass the first page test. Sometimes I know that the writing is just fine and the story intriguing enough that it might work for me, if I was in the right mood for it, but that mood is not right now.

Then there are the ones that take me along for the ride...until about the 50-100 pg mark.

These are the books I want to like for various reasons, but it gradually dawns on me that they're just not working. I continue a little further to see if it's a temporary glitch or not. And then I abandon ship.

Life is too short, and there are too many books I really want to read, to waste my time on one that's not getting me there.

Books that didn't make it past the first cull

  • Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks (I always think that I should like Faulks' work because of my love of historical fiction, but the back cover blurbs never tempt me and my one foray into Faulks' territory, Charlotte Gray, left me cold).
  • A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne (another author I feel that I should like, but I prefer his junior fiction for kids).
  • two old men dying by Tom Keneally (great cover, except for the uncapitalised title, but the back blurb - meh).


Books that didn't make the second cull

  • The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (sounded intriguing, but the first few paragraphs failed to capture my attention or mood).
  • The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser (maybe, one day).
  • Milkman by Anna Burns (will need to be in the right mood for this one).
  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer (the first few pages left me sighing and not in a good way).
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers (too wordy for my mood on the day I tried).
  • So Much Life Leftover by Louis de Bernieres (I loved an adored Captain Corelli's Mandolin so much way back when that I keep hoping one of his other books will do the same. They never have, although I've heard promising things about Birds Without Wings).

The 50 pg cull

  • An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim (I wanted to like this book & it started off fine, but I eventually realised that I was on the side of the mega-time travelling corporation rather than the annoying, whining protagonist!)

Should I give any of these books a second go in the new year, if the right circumstances or mood comes my way?