Thursday, 25 April 2019

Tollund Man by Seamus Heaney

In my previous post, about The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, I referred to Heaney's poem about the bog man found in Denmark in the 1950's. To find out how Tollund Man and Achilles go together in my universe, you'll have to read the post.

As always, though, I'm fascinated by the stories we tell ourselves about our past and how they inform our present day concerns. Seeing the Irish Troubles through the sacrificial death of an Iron Age man is just one example.

Photo by Krystian Piątek on Unsplash


Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap.

In the flat country near by
Where they dug him out,
His last gruel of winter seeds
Caked in his stomach,

Naked except for
The cap, noose and girdle,
I will stand a long time.
Bridegroom to the goddess,

She tightened her torc on him
And opened her fen,
Those dark juices working
Him to a saint's kept body,

Trove of the turfcutters'
Honeycombed workings.
Now his stained face
Reposes at Aarhus.


I could risk blasphemy,
Consecrate the cauldron bog
Our holy ground and pray
Him to make germinate

The scattered, ambushed
Flesh of labourers,
Stockinged corpses
Laid out in the farmyards,

Tell-tale skin and teeth
Flecking the sleepers
Of four young brothers, trailed
For miles along the lines.


Something of his sad freedom
As he rode the tumbril
Should come to me, driving,
Saying the names

Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard,

Watching the pointing hands
Of country people,
Not knowing their tongue.

Out here in Jutland
In the old man-killing parishes
I will feel lost,
Unhappy and at home.

Given that it's Anzac Day in Australia, where we honour the fallen and remind ourselves about the sacrifices made by those who have gone before, 'lest we forget', this seemed like an appropriate poem for the day.

We have an entire world history of sacrificing our loved ones to the gods, to war, to causes beyond our ken. Will we ever learn the lessons?

Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness posts a lovely Poem for a Thursday each week. I'm enjoying sourcing poems from my recent reads to join in with her as I can.

It might seem sacrilegious to finish a post about war and sacrifice with football, yet surely, our love of sport, is just another example of conflict and sacrifice just played out on a smaller field and with less carnage.

So Go the Mighty Bombers!

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I'm not sure why it has taken me so long to get my thoughts together about The Song of Achilles, but sitting down to write about my response to this amazing story is probably a story in itself!

It was during my early high school days that my love of history developed. My first history class took me into the fascinating world of Tollund Man - the mummified bog body found in 1950. I was amazed at what scientists and historians were able to deduce from these remains about the world and times he lived in. There was even a Seamus Heaney poem - my first (very young) adult experience of seeing how we have always made up stories and songs to help us interpret and reinterpret our history and give meaning to our present day experiences.

Some purists and classicists may disapprove of this mode of story telling, but retelling old stories with modern sensibilities helps to keep the old stories alive. Old ideas such as hubris can be brought to life for contemporary audiences to ponder about how it might present itself now.

That's what Madeline Miller does so well here.

Using the well-known, very masculine, very war-like story of The Iliad and turning it into a romance between Achilles and Patroclus gives this old story a new lease of life. This is still a world of men and war, but Miller gives a us a chance to see this world through the eyes of Achilles goddess mother, Thetis and through the ideas of a captured Trojan girl, Briseis.

The first half of the story that fills in the childhood back story of both young men is the most interesting part to my mind. It shows the human side of Achilles before he gets caught up in his prophecy and god-like fate. I also found their first love scene to be one of the most tender, beautiful moments I've ever read.

Once we moved into the world of The Iliad proper, I felt less involved until Briseis turned up. Seeing the camp though a female lens while being reminded of how the lives of women and children were affected by this long siege was a nice touch.

I also enjoyed the scenes between Patroclus and Achilles that showed their relationship at work - how they influenced each other, how they debated, argued and compromised, how they knew each other so well that they knew what to say and how to say it to appease or enrage each other.

It is these contemporary humanising additions that allow a modern reader to reach into the old story again to find deeper meaning. Reading between the lines and filling in the gaps is the realm of all artists. Reinterpretation is a continual process, dependant on the era and experience of those doing the reinterpretation.

Homer's Iliad was just one (and possibly the first) interpretation of the events that happened on the plains of Troy to explain to those left at home and those who came after, what happened. We all seek meaning and purpose in our lives. We want to make sense of big world events. Our search for understanding, knowledge and insight is perennial.

Revisionism is a natural, organic process that occurs during, and for, every generation. The Song of Achilles is a stellar example of how that can work.

Favourite Passage:
But fame is a strange thing. Some men gain glory after they die, while others fade. What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another....We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory.

Favourite Character: Briseis - she is brave, loyal and inclusive.

Favourite or Forget: Favourite, but not likely to be a reread. Highly recommended to lovers of historical fiction, Ancient Greek retellings, or for those looking for LGBTQI themes.

Facts: Winner of the Orange Prize 2012

Poem: The Song of Achilles

Sunday, 21 April 2019

The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola

Le Ventre de Paris (also known as The Belly of Paris - a direct translation, or The Fat and the Thin
referring to one of the main ideas explored in the story) is not only an extremely visual story, but a visceral one too.

Zola's descriptions of the food markets at Les Halles are colourful, very detailed and lengthy! He leaves no basket or barrow unturned. Every smell is documented including the decaying, the over-ripe and the composted.

The political and social injustices of the times are also symbolised in the Les Halles markets and reinforced by the various natures of the people who live and work there.

Many of Zola's standard themes are explored here - moral ambiguity, excess, waste, realism, gluttony, materialism, decadence, the haves and the have-nots. Consumerism, in particular, is placed under the Zola microscope in The Belly of Paris, as is the whole idea of spying, voyeurism, surveillance and gossip. Everyone watches everyone else and everyone discusses it with anyone who will listen.

One of the curiosities, for me, in this story and the previous Zola, La Curée is the whole push & pull against the renovation of Paris by Haussmann. On the one hand there is a real sense of loss and nostalgia for 'Old Paris', yet there's also an appreciation of the improved sanitation and open spaces that the clean up achieved. Zola writes about the tension between the corruption and the dynamism inherent in this process in all of his books.

It makes me think of the current concerns many Sydney-siders feel for the major road work and light rail projects happening around the city right now. I hear lots of people bemoaning the changing face of Sydney and the loss of old Sydney and that things will never be the same again. That it will make things worse not better. As a devotee of museums and history, I know that these exact same sentiments were expressed in the 1920's when large areas of The Rocks and North Sydney were pulled down to build the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

No-one in Sydney, or visiting Sydney, could now imagine it without our beautiful, graceful bridge spanning the harbour. It is instagrammed and hashtagged on an hourly basis all around the world. Just like we now love and appreciate the beautiful, graceful boulevards and open spaces created by Haussmann in Paris. Neither city misses the slums or narrow, crowded streets that were razed to create these beautiful new spaces.

At the time, the fear of change and sentimentality stopped many of the locals from seeing the possible beauty or improved functionality that would result from the change. They could not imagine that future generations would be grateful for the sacrifice and upheaval required to update, move forward and 'future-proof' their city.

I'm not suggesting that our current west connex, north connex & light rail projects will ever be considered beautiful, charming and elegant by future generations, that might be stretching the friendship too far, but they will add (in part) a functionality to our city that is currently lacking. Sadly our particular project is not being managed by a larger-than-life character like Haussmann. His bold vision is sadly lacking in Sydney. But then a large factor in his work was to make it easier for governments to police the city and stop the barricades - a practical, controversial consideration that upset many at the time. Yet the Champs Elysee was born. And who could now imagine Paris without the Champs Elysee?

Une Boutique de Charcuterie (1873) by Edouard Jean Dambourgez

To get back to Zola's main theme in The Belly of Paris, though, let's start with Claude Lantier (the artist based on Paul Cezanne) during his 'Battle of the Fat and the Thin' discussion,

In these pictures Claude saw the entire drama of human life; and he ended by dividing everyone into Fat and Thin, two hostile groups, one of which devours the other and grows fat and sleek and endlessly enjoys itself.
'Cain', he said, 'was a Fat man and Abel a Thin one. Ever since that first murder, the big eaters have sucked the lifeblood out of the small eaters. The strong constantly prey on the weak....Beware of the Fat, my friend!'
Gavard is Fat, but the sort that pretends to be Thin....Mademoiselle Saget and Madame Lecœur are Thin, but the kind to beware of - Thin people desperate to be Fat. My friend Marjolin, little Cadine, La Sarriette, they're all Fat. They don't know it yet, because they're so young and innocent. It must be said that the Fat , before they get older, are charming creatures.

Zola not only sees the modern trend in a division between the haves and have nots, the takers and the givers, but relates it back to the very beginning of human story. Since the beginning of time, we have been creating stories to bring to light our differences; what does it say about us, I wonder, that we are still telling the same stories thousands of years later?

Are we slow learners? Do we never learn from the lessons of history? Does every generation have to re-invent the wheel? Or are we just eternally interested in ourselves and our stories?

References to Les Halles are everywhere throughout the story and read like paintings. Fortunately many, many artists have painted these scenes, including the one chosen for the cover of the Oxford University Press edition by Victor-Gabriel Gilbert, The Square in Front of Les Halles 1880.

Brian Nelson in his Introduction explains that Zola 'combines the vision of a painter with the approach of a sociologist and reporter.' Below are a few of my favourite examples.

Les Halles 1895 by Léon Lhermitte
The opening to the Rue Rambteau was blocked by a barricade of orange pumpkins in two rows, sprawling at their ease and swelling out their bellies. Here and there gleamed the varnished golden-brown of a basket of onions, the blood-red of a heap of tomatoes, the soft yellow of a display of cucumbers, and the deep mauve of aubergines.

Les Halles
That church is a piece of bastard architecture, made up of the death agony of the Middle Ages and the birth pains of the Renaissance....There it is with its rose windows, and without a congregation, while Les Halles keep growing next to it.

Les Halles 1879 by Jean Beraud
A huge arcade, a gaping doorway, would open to his gaze; and the markets seemed to crowd up one on top of the other, with their two lines of roof, their countless shutters and blinds...a vast Babylonian structure of metal wonderfully delicate in its workmanship, and criss-crossed by hanging gardens, aerial galleries, and flying buttresses.

Les Halles and St Eustache by Eugene Galien-Laloue
The giant markets, overflowing with food, had brought things to a head. They seemed like some satiated beast, embodying Paris itself, grown enormously fat, and silently supporting the Empire.

Still Life with Cheese 1870's by Antoine Vollon.
The warm afternoon sun had softened the cheeses; the mould on the rinds was melting and glazing over with the rich colours of red copper verdigris, like wounds that have badly healed; under the oak leaves, a breeze lifted the skins of the olivets, which seemed to move up and down with the slow deep breathing of a man asleep.

Favourite Character: Maybe not my favourite character, but certainly, for me, the most memorable was La Belle Lisa 'she was a steady, sensible Macquart, reasonable and logical in her craving for well-being.' Quietly ambitious, determined, hard-working, voluptuous. Lisa embodies the bourgeoisie sensibility of looking out for oneself and turning a blind eye to the larger problems within society as being none of her business and beyond her control to do anything about anyway.

Favourite or Forget: As I slowly read Zola's books in chronological order for Fanda's #Zoladdiction each year, they all become forever burnt onto my memory. The abundance of food descriptions and Zola's play with homographs (trifle, ripening, fruit, sweetly etc) made this one a fun read. I think this particular OWC cover is my favourite of all the Zola covers.

FactsLe Ventre de Paris was serialised in the daily newspaper L'État from 12 January to 17 March 1873. It's the third book in Zola's Rougon-Macquart series.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Starting a New Book...

So I've just started reading Siri Hustvedt's latest novel, Memories of the Future.

I'm inclined to anticipate enjoyment of Hustvedt's work thanks solely (so far) on my experience with What I Loved. I feel sure that I will be in for an intelligent, literary treat.

The first chapter has not disappointed.

Metafiction is the name of this game as Hustvedt's story explores a 61 yr old woman looking book on the journal written by her 23 yr old self when she first moved to New York to write.

In a curious, personal, twist of fate, there is a Don Quixote connection right from the start.

Within the journal of 23 yr old S.H. is another story about Ian Feathers (I.F.) - a man whose real 'life was lived in books, not out of them.' A man who took his passion for mystery, unsolved crimes and murder too far. A man who 'lived in a world built entirely of clues.' A man who wanted to live his life through the 'splendid' example of Sherlock Holmes (another S.H.). All good heroes need a sidekick - I.F.'s 'all-important confidante, his Sancho, his Watson,' was/is Isadora Simon (I.S.).

I love it when my book worlds collide, or perhaps, more elegantly, when serendipity steps in to allow one bookish experience to inform the next.

Memories of the Future is also ripe with books within books, or more accurately, poets and their poems.

John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Barbara Guest and Frank O'Hara. And The Great Gatsby, Balzac, Proust, Gogol, Baudelaire, Laurence Sterne and Plato just to name those referenced in the first 32 pages. But the one that has made several appearances and will obviously play a bigger role as the story unfolds is the Dada-poet/performance artist, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.

Who? I hear you ask.

According to the Poetry Foundation, she was a 'German-born avant-garde poet. Known for her flamboyance and sexual frankness, the Baroness was a central figure in Greenwich Village’s early-twenties Dadaism'.

Wikipedia describes her as 'breaking every erotic boundary, revelling in anarchic performance'.

Her friend Emily Coleman saw her as, 'not as a saint or a madwoman, but as a woman of genius, alone in the world, frantic'.

I'm very curious to see how Hustvedt will thread the Baroness' life into the rest of her story.
Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven by Holland Cotter

Fruit Don’t Fall Far
By Elsa Von Freytag-Loringhoven
Translated by Jill Alexander Essbaum

From Daddy sprung my inborn ribaldry.
His crudeness destined me to be the same.
A seedlet, flowered from a shitty heap,
I came, the crowning glory of his aim.

From Mother I inherited ennui,
The leg irons of the queendom I once rattled.
But I won’t let such chains imprison me.
And there is just no telling what this brat’ll...!

This marriage thing? We snub our nose at it.
What’s pearl turns piss, what’s classy breeds what’s smutty.
But like it? Lump it? Neither’s exigent.
And I’m the end result of all that fucking.

Do what you will! This world’s your oyster, Pet.
But be forewarned. The sea might drown you yet.

Not my usual poetic fare, but from what I have seen so far, a fair example of the Baroness' writing. And as S.H. says on pg 53, 'I returned to the sputterings of the Baroness because I regarded her as my archival rescue job, almost annihilated back then, and I wanted to protect her from oblivion with my voice.'

Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness posts a lovely Poem for a Thursday each week. I enjoy sourcing poems from my recent reads to join in with her as I can.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Classics Club Spin #20

It's time for another CC Spin over @The Classics Club.

I have participated in ALL 19 spins. Let's make it 20!

Photo by Lysander Yuen on Unsplash

The rules are easy: compile your list of 20 books by Monday - the 22nd April.

On that day a number will be randomly selected.
That's the book you read.

You have until the 31st May 2019 to finish your book and review it.
Yes, you read that date correctly!

Join in the fun by visiting the other players and commenting on their lists.
It's a great way to meet like-minded bloggers and explode your TBR classics wishlist!

CC Spin #20.

If you spot a match with your list, please let me know before the magic number is selected on Monday, I can then tweek my list to suit.

  1. Night and Day by Virginia Woolf                   shared read with Jessie @Dwell in Possibility
  2. Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather                    shared author with Reese @TypingsLisbeth @The Content Reader & Relevant Obscurity
  3. A Dance to the Music of Time: Spring by Anthony Powell    
  4. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens                    shared author with Jean @Howling Frog
  5. Coonaroo by Katharine Susannah Prichard
  6. Red Sky at Sunrise by Laurie Lee  
  7. The Wonder Child: An Australian Story by Ethel Turner
  8. Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee                shared author with Emma@Words and PeaceReese @Typings & Jessie @Dwell in Possibility
  9. 1788 by Watkin Tench
  10. The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki
  11. Petersburg by Andrei Bely
  12. Letters on Life by Rainer Maria Rilke
  13. Lives of the Caesars by Suetonius
  14. Basil by Wilkie Collins                       shared author with Book Tapestry
  15. Elizabeth Gaskell by Jenny Uglow              shared author with Emma@Words and Peace
  16. Hiroshima by John Hersey                shared read with Anne @My Head is Full of Books
  17. Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee              shared author with Reese @Typings & Lisbeth @The Content Reader
  18. The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura                 
  19. Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
  20. The Cardboard Crown by Martin Boyd  

My Previous #CC Spins:

Most of my spins have been successful and/or enjoyable. 
I've also made my own fun by trying to read my books with other Classic Clubbers during many of the spins.
So far I have read:

CC Spin #1 (2013 #14) The Magnificent Ambersons with Cat @Tell Me A Story.

CC Spin #2 (2013 #6) Tess of the D'Urbervilles with JoAnn @Lakeside Musings & Several Four Many.

CC Spin #3 (2013 #4) My Cousin Rachel - hope to watch the movie soon.

CC Spin #4 (2014 #10) The Brothers Karamazov - I was flounderng about halfway through this chunkster, when I lost it during a move...serendipity, I say!

CC Spin #5 (2014 #20) The Odyssey with Plethora of Books - This one was a bit of a cheat as I had started it for another readalong, but was struggling to finish it. I added it to my cc list to motivate me. When no. 20 spun up it seemed like the gods had decreed it so!

CC Spin #6 (2014 #1) No Name by Wilkie Collins with Melbourne on My Mind.

CC Spin #7 (2014 #17) Silent Spring by Rachel Carson with Karen @Booker Talk - my first classic non-fiction spin.

CC Spin #8 (2015 #13) Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh - my one and only dud Spin read so far. Satire is not my thing.

CC Spin #9 (2015 #2) The Great World by David Malouf - my first Australian classic spin.

CC Spin #10 (2015 #5) A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark.

CC Spin #11 (2016 #19) So Big by Edna Ferber with Christy - we both experienced the joy of rediscovering a forgotten award winning classic.

CC Spin #12 (2016 #8) Dubliners by James Joyce - too depressing and hopeless for my state of mind at the time.

CC Spin #13 (2016 #15) The Catherine Wheel by Catherine Harrower - my second Aussie #ccspin classic.

CC Spin #14 (2016 #1) The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnet

CC Spin #15 (2017 #12) Out of Africa by Karen Blixen - a disappointment in the end. The movie was better.

CC Spin #16 (2017 #4) The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield - a book that grew better with reflection & the passing of time.

CC Spin #17 (2018 #3) Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy reading with Tasheena @Dear Reader

CC Spin #18 (2018 #9) The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch - a curious choice with many, many layers and themes to explore.

CC Spin #19 (2019 #1) Eden's Outcast by John Matteson - a long journey, that I was ultimately glad that I had taken.

CC Spin #20 (2019 #19) Jamaica Inn

Happy Spinning!

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Stories & Shout Outs

What I'm Reading Right Now:

After a week of headaches and busyness, I needed some comfort reading, and I needed it fast. Maisie Dobbs #14 To Die But Once by Jacqueline Winspear has been the perfect choice. Familiar and easy to read, like spending time with an dear, old friend. I'm feeling soothed and at ease in her company once again.

Cloud Boy by Marcia Williams is my current lunch time read. I suspect some sadness will be coming my way!

New to the Pile:

City of Trees by Sophie Cunningham
Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin
Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

What I'm Struggling With:

Changes are on the horizon and we're currently existing in a weird middle zone of anticipation, waiting and wondering. This has been going on since about September last year. I'm exhausted with marking time.

Keeping My Eye On:

Mr Books rampart Easter egg purchases!

He turns into a chocolate fiend at this time of the year and I keep finding stashes of eggs all round the house.

Read But Not Reviewed:

The Belly of Paris by Èmile Zola
Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo - the final book about Raymie, Louisiana and Beverly.
DiCamillo says in her 'Dear Reader' letter at the front of this book,
Now that I've written all three books, I can see a connection among them. Raymie Nightingale is about the saving grace of friendship. Louisiana's Way Home is about deciding who you are. And Beverly, Right Here is about acting on that knowledge of who you are. They are all stories of becoming...the power of community - the grace of someone opening a door and welcoming you in, and maybe most of all, having the courage to walk through that door once it is open.

How do you not love a story with such big, bold, beautiful themes? I really must go back and read Raymie's story to see how it all began.

The Monsters We Deserve by Marcus Sedgwick - read during last week's readathon, because I thought it might be a light, easy read at the end!

Should have known better with Sedgwick - he is never light and easy.

A bit slow to start, but a riveting, thought-provoking piece of meta-fiction about Frankenstein...and always nice to find a kindred spirit who is also less than enamoured by this much-loved classic horror story.

On My Radar:

Two of the literary prizes that interest me the most announced their shortlists recently. The International Dublin Literary Award narrowed their HUGE longlist down to the books in the image below.

I've read, and loved, Home Fire, Lincoln in the Bardo and Exit West. I was less convinced by Midwinter Break.

And my all-time favourite prize, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction announced their shortlist, below. Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller was a firm favourite of mine from last year and I have Warlight on my TBR pile. I suspect the other four are not far behind!

Shout Outs:

From the 22nd - 28th April Simon and Karen will ask readers to read books published from one particularly year. This time it is #1965club. I'm not sure if I will be able to fit it into my schedule but I have Dune by Frank Herbert and Stoner by John Williams on my TBR pile. Perhaps Dr Seuss' Fox in Socks is a more realistic goal!

My Weekend:

Dinner with my parents last night, the season launch this morning of the soccer season with Mr Books (aka as the President of our local football association), a Pokemon community day in the park this afternoon and the penultimate, season 7, Game of Thrones episode tonight. To be followed by the final episode tomorrow night in anticipation of the season 8 start on Monday (Sydney time). It's a very tricky few hours for us, as the live world wide screen time is our lunch time...we have to wait until we're all home on Monday night to watch it together and somehow avoid all social media spoilers in the meantime #canwedoit ?

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting by Judith Brett

From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage by Judith Brett was a surprise bestseller at work in the week leading up to the recent NSW state elections. I'll be curious to see if it has the same surge during the weeks leading up to our Federal elections in May.

Brett has written a fascinating and informative book about the history of voting in Australia. It's a bit dry in places, but the slimness of the book made it a quick, easy read. 

I loved all the facts and stats that Brett listed in the her introduction. Which I will include below because I want to have them to hand. The rest of the book basically expanded on and explored in detail, the points below.

Voting is compulsory in 19 of the world's 166 electoral democracies and only 9 strictly enforce it.
People from our sister democracies are often astonished that Austraians are compelled to turn up to vote: it seems an affront to freedom. We in reply are appalled at their low turnouts and the election of leaders and governments by a minority of voters.
In Australia registration has been compulsory since 1911. Turnout in Australian elections is always above 90 percent of registered voters, and in the high eighties of those eligible to enrol.
Australians wanted their governments to have the support of the majority of electors, they preferred their elections to be orderly and they were happy for them to be run by government officials.
The US and Australia were both settled by people from the British isles, who brought with them political traditions and ideas of their home country, but they were settled in different centuries. 
Where the US favours liberty and rights over democracy and majorities, we favour democracy and majorities over liberty and rights.
The early settlers to America left Britain when parliament was still struggling to wrest control of government from the monarch and when individuals were persecuted for their religious beliefs. America's informing spirit is the seventeenth century English philosopher John Locke.
By the time the Australian colonies were establishing their political institutions, in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the British parliament had well and truly defeated the autocratic monarchs...the foundational thinker...for Australians...was the philosopher and political reformer Jeremy Bentham. 
He argued that rights are created by law; that without government and law there are no rights. 
The federal government did not tax income until 1915, when it needed to raise money to fight the Great War. By then settler Australians' view of government as a major source of benefit rather than a circumscriber of freedom was entrenched.
Preferential voting is as distinctively Australian as compulsory voting. Both ensure that the governments we elect have the support of the majority of voters.

I knew most of this stuff in a very general sort of way. What was useful was having it all in one place and written in such a readable, quotable style.

But the one fact that really got me thinking and wondering was the name of our foundational thinker - Jeremy Bentham - who?

I've heard of John Locke, America's political 'informing spirit'. Why haven't I heard about the guy who inspired our political system before? 

What did he believe? Who was he? Why did he matter to Australia?

Brett covers off a lot of this in her book, but I wanted more.
So I googled.

Jeremy Bentham was born 15 February 1748 in London to a wealthy Tory family. He was considered to be a child prodigy - reading as a toddler, learnt Latin at three and played the violin at seven.

According to wikipedia he was,
sent by his father to The Queen's College, Oxford, where he completed his bachelor's degree in 1763 and his master's degree in 1766. He trained as a lawyer and, though he never practised, was called to the bar in 1769. He became deeply frustrated with the complexity of the English legal code, which he termed the "Demon of Chicane".

He wrote a Short Review of the Declaration that was published with John Lind's rebuttal to the American Declaration of Independence. He was a firm critic of the revolutionary idea of 'natural rights' independent of law, calling them "nonsense on stilts". He claimed that it described how things ought to be rather than how things actually were; about wishes and beliefs rather than facts and reality.

Bentham believed that rights were created by laws, and that all laws and rights require government. If and individuals rights cannot be interfered with, it then implies that rights must also be enforceable.

He argues that the concept of the individual pursuing his or her own happiness cannot be necessarily declared "right", because often these individual pursuits can lead to greater pain and less pleasure for a society as a whole. Therefore, the legislation of a society is vital to maintain the maximum pleasure and the minimum degree of pain for the greatest number of people. (wikipedia)

The trick of course, for all governments, is to legislate "good laws".

Bentham was very concerned about the idea of "sinister interest" or how the vested interests of the powerful conspire against the wider public interest.

He was a firm atheist and an advocate of secular positivism, which has been described on wikipedia as,
information derived from sensory experience, interpreted through reason and logic, forms the exclusive source of all certain knowledge. Positivism also holds that society, like the physical world, operates according to general laws. Introspective and intuitive knowledge is rejected, as are metaphysics and theology because metaphysical and theological claims cannot be verified by sense experience.

His most famous idea though was the "greatest-happiness principle". Where one must always act to produce the 'greatest aggregate happiness among all sentient beings, within reason' (wikipedia). The philosophy of Utilitarianism evaluates actions based on their consequences and whether or not these actions cause pleasure or pain. The moral status of these actions is classified by the "happiness factor" of 12 pains and 14 pleasures.

Bentham's political position included arguments in favour of individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the abolition of slavery and of physical punishment (including that against children), the recognition of animal rights, the right to divorce, the promotion of free trade and usury and the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Bentham died on the 6th June 1832 in London. He left his body to science for dissection and preservation as an auto-icon (a word that Bentham coined to describe the process of dead body being "preserved, clothed, and displayed as though still living, as a memorial to the deceased"). (OED)

Who knew?

Saturday, 6 April 2019

24hr Readathon

Once again it's time to gather your books, find a cosy reading nook, organise your family and friends to leave you undisturbed and read, read, read!

All the details for how to join in are over at Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon
The rules are very relaxed, join in as little or as much as you like. 
Read for all 24 hours or fit in as much reading as you can, when you can.
The idea is to read as much as you can with a supportive, fun group of bookish friends.

Any Australian readathoner's who'd like to keep in touch, especially during the long dark-night time of the northern hemisphere (ie our Sunday afternoon) when it feels like we're reading all alone, use the #readathonaussie tag on twitter and say 'hi'.

I'll be using this post to update my reading stats and join in any memes or quizzes.

My Books:

The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola
Starting page: 142

The Feel Good Guide to Menopause by Dr Nicola Gates
Starting page: 102

Jokes For the Gunman by Mazen Maarouf
Starting page: 32

Becoming by Michelle Obama
Starting page: 174

Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo
Starting page: 50

Plus a stack of kids books to be determined from the pile below.


Opening Meme:

1. What part of the world are you reading from today?

I'm in Sydney, Australia.
Which means my start time is 11pm Saturday - most of my readathon will actually fall on my Sunday 7th April. Thanks to day light savings ending here this weekend, I will finish at 10pm on Sunday.

2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

I like to use the readathon to help me finish those half-read books that have been lurking by my bed for too long - it's very satisfying to finally finish a few of them. And when I get tired late Sunday afternoon, I love jumping into a few kids books. 

3. Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Hot cross buns and chocolate Easter eggs!

4. Tell us a little something about yourself.

Sydney is having, probably it's last hurrah summer weekend.
Beautiful temps of 27-28℃ are predicted so hopefully a lot of my reading time will be outside in the fresh air and sunshine.

My family have been rewatching all the Game of Thrones episodes in the lead up to the final season start on the 14th April (although it will be lunch time the 15th April in Australia so no social media spoilers until our Monday night when we all get home from work to watch it together okay!)

The one flaw in our plan is that we still have 12 episodes to go!!
Saturday evening/night we plan to binge watch 3-4 episodes.
There will then be a lot of pressure on me to abandon my readathon on Sunday night to do another 1 or 2 before bed.

5. If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?

Every time I promise myself not to get distracted by external things like twitter and instagram and every time I do.
My plan is to limit SM time to 10 mins at the end/beginning of each hour.
I also need to go for regular little walks to clear my head.



11pm - 11.30pm
Finished off the final episode of season 6 of GoT

11.30pm - 12.30am
Read 18 pgs of The Belly of Paris
(FYI: an OUP classic with very small, close-set type!)

12.30 - 8.45am
Remembered that day light savings finished last night, so it's now only 7.45am!

7.45am - 8.30am
Breakfast & showered
Read 6 more pgs of The Belly of Paris

8.30am - 9.30am
Discussed GoT theories with Mr Books.
Who is Tyrion's dad? Which Targaryen is Jon's dad?
Can you turn white walkers (esp a white dragon) back like Uncle Benji was returned by the Children of the Forest? But who would want Benjen's undead, inbetween kind of life anyway?
What role has Gendry still to play in all of this?
Lots of queens now seem to be on the throne or leading armies (Daenerys, Cersei, Sansa, Yara Greyjoy, Olenna Tyrell, Ellaria Sand...but still no peace and harmony in sight).

9.30am - 12.30pm
Morning walk, coffee stop and pokemon raids (finally caught my first absol and new forme giratina!)
Read 35 pgs of Beverly, Right Here

12.30pm - 1.00pm
Finding it very hard to read when it's such a beautiful day outside....

1pm - 3.30pm
Fell asleep on the lounge...
Read 156 pgs and finished Beverly, Right Here

3.30pm - 6.30pm
Afternoon walk in the lovely, lovely sunshine....lots of distractions, but I'm reading way more than I normally would on a Sunday, so that's a good thing.
Started reading Marcus Sedgwick's The Monsters We Deserve,
pages read so far - 120

6.30pm - 8.30pm
Dinner with Mr Books
Read 142 pgs and finished The Monsters We Deserve

8.30pm - 9.30pm
Read 76 pgs of The Feel Good Guide to Menopause

9.30pm - 10pm
Read 50 pgs of The Feel Good Guide to Menopause

Running Total:
603 pgs read

Finished 2 books

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Putney by Sofka Zinovieff

Putney was a spontaneous lunch time read last week, when I suddenly realised that I'd left my current book at home. Normally a book with a front cover like this, and a blurb that says,

Up-and-coming composer Ralph is visiting Edmund Greenslay at his riverside home in Putney to discuss a collaboration. Through the houses's colourful rooms and unruly gardens flits nine year old Daphne - dark, teasing, slippery as mercury, more sprite than boy or girl. From the moment their worlds collide, Ralph is consumed by an obsession to make Daphne his.

would be enough to put me off.
Yuk! Right?

Yet by the end of my lunch hour, I had devoured several chapters and couldn't wait to read more! It was exactly as Fiona Melrose said on the back cover, 'you will be seduced, regret the seduction, swap sides, feel complicit, question yourself and the characters...yet never feel manipulated.'

I'm not going to give too much away, except to say that Putney ended up being quite a roller-coaster ride or outrage, disgust and confusion.

It's fairly easy to imagine the why's and wherefore's of my outrage and disgust, but the confusion is harder to pin down.

Part of the success of the Zinovieff's story is when she reveals how maturity, experience and knowledge can change our perspective on the things that happened to us as children. I've always enjoyed stories that explore the fallibility of our memories and the power of the stories we tell ourselves, regardless of how factual they are. Putney gives us this in spades. But it adds to the confusion. Whose memories do we trust?

I was also somewhat confused about the purpose the story. What do we actually learn from Daphne's 'emotional archaeology'?

Is it justice versus mercy?
Forgiveness versus revenge?
Hope versus despair?

Big themes indeed!

Even though the sections towards the end, on modern day Greece and the refugee and economic crisis, felt like a bit of an add-on, I still found them intriguing. Perhaps they served to remind us of even bigger injustices and even more wide-scale despair than this personal tale of three voices?

Or maybe Zinovieff was highlighting the Greek tragedy elements at play in her story?

It's hard to see Ralph as a tragic hero, essentially good and admirable, but we do feel some confused pity and fear for him (thanks to our early knowledge of his impending death) as his fatal flaws are revealed. Ralph's hubris and transgression of a moral law are the driving force of the story.

Our characters visit Thebes (which link the story to Oedipus' flawed humanity and the idea of free-will versus destiny) as well as Pelion (the home of Achilles and again the idea of a fatal weakness with the possibility of homosexual love).

Jane, Daphne's best friend, is not only the witness, the chorus and the Fury, but she is also the nemesis wreaking vengeance throughout the story.

Ralph finally experiences anagnorisis (doomed comprehension & insight) while Daphne gets to enjoy a sense of catharsis (emotional cleansing) at the end.

Without realising I was doing it, I may have written myself into Zinovieff's raison d'être. After a quick google refresh of my high school Ancient Greek class, it now seems so obvious to me that everything about Putney is a Greek tragedy. I wish I had worked this out earlier, but it does explain the lasting impact and power of the story. And I am now even more impressed at Zinovieff's very modern, masterful and subtle handling of a very ancient tale.

It's also why I love blogging about the books I read, for these moments of connection, deeper understanding and revelation! It was Pelion that did it. The book I was reading, but had left at home, the fateful day I picked up Putney, was The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I was struck by the coincidence of reading two books at the same time that refer to the same small town in Greece.

Putney wont be for everyone. Grooming and child sexual abuse are not easy topics to recommend. But here I go telling you just how extraordinary Putney is anyway, and if this is not a trigger topic for you, then please don't be put off by the idea of a story about paedophilia. It's worth the ride. It's certainly a book you won't forget in a hurry.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

I'm loving Japanese literature more and more. The modern stuff in particular, appears deceptively simple, but as you read, and for weeks afterwards, you become aware of layers of meaning.

The Convenience Store Woman is no exception. On the surface it appears to be a light tale about the life of a young woman who has been a convenience store worker for 18 years. But underneath is all this stuff about Japanese culture, societal expectations, belonging, purpose and how we cope with people who are different from the 'norm'.

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

It's obvious, although undeclared that Keiko is probably on the autism spectrum. She has major issues with empathy, routines and socialisation. Her family have always wanted to 'cure' her. She has spent her life keeping her 'mouth shut' and trying to be 'normal'.

The convenience store is a place where Keiko feels like she belongs. She follows the manual assiduously and learns from (copies) her colleagues in the way they dress, talk, do their hair etc. Routines are her big thing though. She judges weather conditions to perfection so she knows when to stock/promote hot food or cold, she lines up the food in perfect rows, carefully lining up flavours and labels and sorting oldest to newest. She is the model employee and loves her job, finally feeling like she is 'normal' and functioning member of society.

But sadly, society still does not see her as 'normal'. A new employee who pokes fun at the store routines and manual upsets the rhythm of her life and she learns from her sister that, "ever since you started working at the convenience store, you've gotten weirder and weirder."

Keiko's one brief attempt at a relationship shows her what 'normal' might be like, although there was nothing usual or typical about her time with Shiraha in the end. It was an eye opener for her to realise though, that her family and friends were more comfortable with her in an unhappy, dysfunctional relationship and unemployed rather than being happily single and working in a job she loved and was good at. You begin to wonder who the odd people really are after all.

Her attempts to be 'normal' didn't worked. Certainly the scene with her sister and crying baby nephew shows us, the reader, how far from normal human reaction Keiko really is. Her thought processes at this moment are rather startling and concerning; I would certainly not be leaving my baby alone with her!

And this is where Murata has cleverly left it open for us to sometimes feel fear of Keiko and her robotic, almost psychopathic tendencies, but mostly we feel concern for her and just want her to be accepted for who she is. In the end, we're on her side, just wanting everyone to stop dumping their issues about 'normal' on her, so she can be happy in her work.

The convenience store is where Keiko belongs, and when she finally realises that her "very cells exist for the convenience store," we know that she will be as okay and as happy as she possibly can be. She knows what she is and she's content with that and no longer cares what anyone thinks. In the end this is a love story - a love story between a woman and her convenience store!

Favourite Passage:
For the human me, it probably is convenient to have you around, Shiraha, to keep my family and friends off my back. But the animal me, the convenience store worker, has absolutely no use for you whatsoever.
Go girl!

Favourite or Forget?
I loved this slim story a lot. It has given me a lot to mull over about society, appearances and conformity. It was weirdly comic with a dark, almost gothic edge to it. It's a favourite but I will not be rereading it. I will pass it on to my fellow book club members to read for our April meeting.

The Convenience Store Woman won the 2016 Akutagawa Award.
Won the Foyles Book of the Year for Fiction 2018.
Picked as one of the New Yorker's Best Books of 2018.
It was Murata's tenth novel.
Throughout her writing career, Murata has worked part-time at a convenience store in Tokyo.

Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
Portobello Books 2018
First published: 2016
pages: 163

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Stories & Shout Outs

A heads up.

Google+ is about to go. This may affect your ability to interact with blogs, emails and other social sites that you use Google+ to log in with. Here in blogger-land we've been getting loads of emails and messages about how to get ready for this. I've now reactivated my blogger profile account and have crossed all my fingers and toes for a smooth transition.

I know that many of you find commenting on blogger blogs a difficult and frustrating process. It is certainly not a phone or device friendly platform. And I'm grateful to all of you who persist.
If any wordpress bloggers know of a way to import my nearly ten year's worth of blog posts with ALL the hyperlinks intact, then I would move over in a heartbeat.

Now that the house-keeping chores are done, let's sit down with a cuppa and a hot-cross bun and enjoy a bookish chat.

What I'm Reading Right Now 

Putney by Sofka Zinovieff (wow, what a disturbing, thought-provoking story!)
Jokes For the Gunmen by Mazen Maarouf (a 2019 Booker International longlist contender).

What I'm Struggling With 

The clutter in our house...

New to the Pile 

...not helped by adding more books to the pile!
Fortune by Lenny Bartulin
Zen and the Art of Happiness by Chris Prentis

Keeping My Eye On

The SHADOW JURY for this year's Man Booker International longlist.

Read but not Reviewed

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (an amazingly good retelling/interpretation with one of the most tender love scenes I've ever read.)

On My Radar

Zoladdiction in April with Fanda.
Dewey's 24 hr readathon - 6th April - don't forget to sign up if you're planning on reading along, even for just part of the day.
April is also the month that Ruth @A Great Book Study has decided to read A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft. If I can read it around Zola's The Belly of Paris, I will. After reading a bio about Mary and her daughter, Mary Godwin Shelley last year, I've been keen to finally read this early feminist work.
The Count of Monte Cristo chapter-a-day readalong - 9th May - with Nick.
Daphne du Maurier Reading Week -13th - 19th May - with Heavenali.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Musings of a Very Idle Reader

One of the reasons I love readalongs is how they help me to get through a challenging book. They keep me focused and give my reading a purpose. The support of my fellow readalongers is an integral part of the process. But sadly, none of this is helping me get through Don Quixote.

It reminds me of my attempts to read Catch-22. The humour is amusing and clever to start with, but by the the half way mark (if not before), it just becomes tedious in it's repetitiveness. So many of my good friends LOVE Catch-22 and so many of my blogger friends LOVE Don Quixote along with a large number of authors that I respect and admire. What have I missed with both of these books?

I like to think that I'm an intelligent person, who is reasonably well-read and not afraid to tackle some of the heftier books when the mood strikes. So I saw the satire and the cleverness in both books, I appreciated the intentions of the authors, I enjoyed some of the set pieces and the themes but, ultimately, they didn't move me, engage me or entertain me. They left me scratching my head in bemusement.

With Don Quixote, I kept waiting for something different to happen, for some growth or insight. It never happened - well it certainly didn't happen in Part One.

I had heard that Part Two was a better read, with all sorts of exciting 'pre-post-modern metafiction'so imagine my disappointment when I quickly discovered that it was more of the same, but with parody...and more even poems!

The whole time I was reading DQ, I kept seeing and hearing The Cisco Kid and Pancho - the characters from a 1950's TV show that I watched in reruns during my 70's childhood. Every time Quixote said Sancho's name I heard Cisco's famous "ohhhh Paaaaaancho" in my head instead!

Just like the TV western, Don Quixote is episodic and full of copious amounts of frame stories...not my favourite form of literature. Perhaps I should have read one chapter a week, spinning each episode out with an anticipatory break in between?

I enjoyed the brief glimpses into life in rural Spain and watching the very first odd-couple literary pairing in action. But I failed to find much humour - there was ridiculousness and absurdity and some slap-stick, but nothing to laugh out loud about. Don Quixote was sad and mad, and Sancho ignorant and trusting, not figures I could poke fun at, or find it amusing to see others do so.

So reluctantly, and with some regret, I abandon the readalong and leave Don Quixote and Sancho to continue riding around the Spanish countryside in search of adventures and injustices to right. According to Goodreads, I made it to the 52% mark, which I think is giving it a fair go, in anyone's books!

Over the years, a number of authors have adapted elements of Don Quixote into their own work. These include Madame Bovary, The Idiot, The New York Trilogy and The Moor's Last Sigh. I attempted but did not like or finish Madame Bovary but I was sucked into Auster's mad, sad world in The New York Trilogy. I even read somewhere that Che Guevera modelled himself on the bumbling, grandiose idealistic knight as well!

Rushdie obviously loves it so much, he's having a second go at a Quixotic story. His new novel, due to published in September, is an even more obvious nod to his favourite novel, than the previous.
 The Jonathan Cape blurb says:

 Quichotte, an ageing travelling salesman obsessed with TV, is on a quest for love. Unfortunately, his daily diet of reality TV, sitcoms, films, soaps, comedies and dramas has distorted his ability to separate fantasy from reality. He wishes an imaginary son into existence, while obsessively writing love letters to a celebrity he knows only through his screen. Quuihotte's story is narrated by Brother, a mediocre spy novelist in the midst of a mid-life crisis, triggered in part by a fall-out with his Sister. As the stories of Brother and Quichotte ingeniously intertwine, Salmon Rushdie takes us ona wild, picaresque journey through a world on the edge of moral and spiritual collapse.

While The Bookseller, 8th March 2019, reveals that,
Quichotte tells the story of an ageing travelling salesman who falls in love with a TV star and sets off to drive across America on a quest to prove himself worthy of her hand. “Quichotte’stragicomic tale is one of a deranged time, and deals, along the way, with father–son relationships, sibling quarrels, racism, the opioid crisis, cyber-spies, and the end of the world.”

Rushdie has previously spoken of his enthusiasm for Cervantes’ Don Quixote, which was published in two parts in 1605 and 1615. 
In January 2018 he told the Guardian of his re-reading of the text: “On the one hand, the characters of Quixote and Sancho Panza are as beautifully realised as I remember them, and the idea of a man determinedly seeing the world according to his own vision, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, feels strikingly contemporary. 
“On the other hand, how many more times are the Knight of the Dolorous Countenance and Sancho going to get beaten up and left in pain in various roadside ditches? The ‘greatest novel ever written’ – I voted for it myself once – turns out to be just a little bit repetitive. To make the reading easier, I’m breaking it up and reading other books by other authors after every couple of hundred pages of Cervantes.

I was rather thrilled to read, that even though Rushdie voted this the best book of all time, he still considers it repetitive and difficult to read. Sadly, even though I unknowingly used Rushdie's approach of reading Quixote by reading other books in between, it only served to make me feel more and more reluctant to pick it up this monotonous tome each time.

Honoré Daumier

It's not to late for you though.

If my miserable failure should inspire you or goad you into trying for yourself, please visit Nick's blog for details around the chapter-a-day readalong or Silvia's blog to enjoy the company of someone who could read Don Quixote every year and never get tired of it.

My earlier, more hopeful, Quixote posts.
Musings of an Idle Reader

I'll leave Don Quixote and Cervantes now, with little regret. My curiosity to experience the first modern novel remains unmet, or at least, unsatisfied.

Catching clouds would have been more amusing.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

The Song of Achilles - a poem

I'm currently reading and loving The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and wanted to honour the story somehow. A Poem for Thursday seemed like the perfect way, especially when I discovered The Song of Achilles fanpage on Tumblr. Hannah has encapsulated the tone and feeling of Miller's story just so with this tender little offering.

Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness posts a lovely Poem for a Thursday each week. I'm enjoying sourcing poems from my recent reads to join in with her at the moment.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

The Skylarks' War by Hilary McKay

A couple of weeks ago I listed The Skylarks' War by Hilary McKay on my post about books read but not reviewed in an attempt to remove the backlog of reviews bogging me down. But I always knew that I would have to return to this book. And thanks to Lenny's Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee winning the Indie Book Award for Children's Fiction yesterday and rereading my gushing review, that time is now.

So let me tell you about my journey with The Skylarks' War.

My rep gave me a lovely looking ARC at the end of last year. He knows of my love for historical fiction, but in the lead up to Christmas it got put on top of the pile by my bed...and forgotten. I confess the blurb, that reveals that this is yet another WWI story, turned me off a little. We've been inundated with war stories the last five years and I wondered how on earth something new and fresh could be said about this time.

So it languished.

In January, I then noted that it had not only been shortlisted for The Costa Children's Award, but had also won its category award. However, it took a hot, hot summer weekend in mid-Feb when I was feeling blah about everything, including all the books I had half-read on my bedside table, that I flicked through my kids TBR pile.

Over the years I have discovered some real gems on the Costa Book Award list, books I may not have turned to otherwise (Pure by Andrew Miller, the author Marcus Sedgwick and Andrea Wulf's, The Invention of Nature to name a few). So even though this was another war story, I decided it would be light enough to fit my weekend mood.

The first page changed everything though.

More than one hundred years ago, in the time of gas lamps and candlelight, when shops had wooden counters and the streets were full of horses, a baby girl was born. Nobody was pleased about this except the baby's mother. The baby's father did not like children, not even his own, and Peter, the baby's brother, was only three years old and did not understand the need for any extra people in his world....
Clarry was three days old when her mother died. Many things were said about this great calamity, and some of them were regretted later, when people had calmed down and there were fewer tears and more worried frowns in the narrow stone house where the baby had so inconsiderately arrived and her mother had so inconveniently departed

I quickly realised why this book had won The Costa and was amazed it hadn't won more - yet.

Clarry, Peter and their older cousin Rupert are characters to take into your heart forever. Told through the innocent childhood eyes of Clarry, McKay is able to tackle some heavy issues. Family dysfunction, bullying, sexism and feminist issues, homosexuality and the hardships of war are all in this book. McKay hints at stuff, leads us up to a point, but she never tells us or explains. She leaves us to work it out and make the connections ourselves, as all the best stories do.

The Skylarks' War will make you laugh and cry. I found myself hugging it to my chest several times and wondering how many people I could make read this book asap.

Part of the success of this story is Clarry's voice. She is believable and feels real.

McKay's writing is the other big plus. She does not condescend or talk down to her child audience. She writes intelligently and like all the very best children's writing (think Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, The Hobbit, The Silver Sword, Lenny's Book of Everything) it is a book that can be read by children and adults alike with an equal amount of pleasure and enjoyment.

The Costa judges described this “as perfect a novel as you could ever want to read." I think they may have understated just how extraordinary and wonderful this story really is.

McKay includes a bibliography in the back of the book and one of the books that informed the authenticity of this story was Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth. Enough said really.

The bittersweet heartbreak is there, but so too is the hope.

The Skylarks' War is a keeper. You should read it now.
You can thank me later.