Tuesday 15 November 2016

Brona's Salon

Brona's Salon is a new meme which aims to gather a group of like-minded bookish people 'under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.'

I will provide a few prompts to inspire our conversation.
However please feel free to discuss your current read or join in the conversation in any way that you see fit.
Amusement, refinement and knowledge will surely follow!

What are you currently reading?

In honour of #AusReadingMonth I will highlight my latest Aussie read.

A group of visitors to the Salzburg Festival, brought together by chance, decides to mark time by telling tales. 
Their fantasies, legends, tragedies, jokes and parodies come together as The Salzburg Tales.

Dazzling in their richness and vitality, the tales are grounded in Christina Stead's belief that 'the story is magical . what is best about the short story [is] it is real life for everyone; and everyone can tell one'. 

Originally published eighty years ago, these are thoroughly modern stories that invite comparison with Boccaccio's Decameron and Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.

The Salzburg Tales are published here with a new introduction by Margaret Harris, Challis Professor of English Literature Emerita at the University of Sydney, and literary executor for Christina Stead.

Christina Stead (1902 - 1983) was Australian born and wrote a number of her novels and short stories set in Australia, but she lived most of her life overseas and just as many of her books are set elsewhere. My current read is one of those.

Stead spent most her childhood in Watsons Bay with a houseful of half-siblings and a domineering father. Her unhappy childhood was fictionalised in probably her most well-known novel The Man Who Loved Children. Sadly she never won any major literary award, and it has been said that she only returned to Australia in 1974, after the death of her husband, because she had been denied an award due to not being Australian enough.

On her return, she was awarded the inaugural Patrick White Literary Award, which awards established writers for their body of work.

She died on the 31st March, 1983 in Balmain (where I now live) which has now made me curiously even more curious about this very curious woman.

How did you find out about this book?

Why are you reading it now? 

I 'discovered' this book thanks to Lisa @ANZLitLovers LitBlog who is hosting a Christina Stead Week on her blog. I decided this was too good an opportunity to miss out on during #AusReadingMonth and since I had never read any of Stead's books before, I decided to start at the very beginning.

First impressions? 

I struggled at the start.
The writing seemed very dense and almost impenetrable.
But I was attempting to start this book late at night when I was really tired already.
I knew nothing about it (I don't read Introductions in case they contain spoilers) so I was going in completely cold.
After two nights I was beginning to think this book was not for me.

But I was determined not to fail!

Saturday morning saw me with coffee and pencil in hand, fresh faced and wide awake, ready to get stuck in.

With careful reading and judicious underlining, I found my way in.

My immediate surprise was that this is not really a short story collection.
It's a novel told as stories within a story, just like The Canterbury Tales (which I attempted to read at too young an age). This is Stead's homage to Chaucer and Boccaccio.

The narrators share a common place - The Salzburg Festival (which Stead attended in 1930) but it's too soon to see what other links or common themes might exist.

Which character do you relate to so far?

All the characters/narrators are introduced in the second chapter.
Some get two pages of description whilst others barely get two paragraphs.
So far, I'm curious to hear about what The Viennese Conductor, The School Teacher and the Danish Woman will have to say in their stories.

Are you happy to continue?

I'm intrigued to see how well the various stories will link up or flow together.
It feels like an ambitious effort for a debut author.

Where do you think the story will go? 

I'm not sure if all the stories will somehow relate back the the Salzburg Festival or whether each narrator will provide the impetus for the next story to continue instead.

I am once again curious to tackle The Canterbury Tales.


  1. Anonymous15/11/16

    I jumped over from your comment on Lisa's (ANZLL) review of The Beauties and the Furies. I'm glad you see The Salzburg Tales as a novel because I'm planning to read it soon and I had the impression from her biography that they were more cohesive than just a collection of stories, as is generally stated.
    - Bill.

    1. This is very much a frame story Bill with all the narrators coming together at the start, for the purpose of telling stories.

      I'm now trying to see what (if any) links exist between the stories and the narrators. She is also exploring different genre writing in the stories - a short story and a shaggy dog story so far!

  2. I'm currently reading "Yeah Yeah Yeah" by Bob Stanley, which is a history of pop music from the first 7" to the first single not to come out on a 7". I heard about it through various people I know in the music writing world who had raved about it, and found it in an Oxfam shop in February. I've been hooked (with a head full of earworms) ever since the first page. It's a biggie, so it's my meals-and-downstairs book - I currently have Woolf's "The Common Reader Vol 2" as my bedside book.

    1. I have a colleague who would love this book - he regularly has ear worm problems - which he passes on to the rest of us!!

      I love that you have a downstairs/meal book & a by-the-bed book - I also have an in-my-work-bag book just in case!

    2. Ah, yes, tell him about this book! I do have an in-my-bag book too but as I work from home that tends to be something chosen by size for a journey, unless I happen to be reading a smallish paperback that will not be damaged by my handbag at the time!

  3. Anonymous15/11/16

    Bravo for your 'stick-to-it-tive-ness'. Some books are hard nuts to crack...but once you do
    there could be a delicious reward inside! I do read introductions of in he book. It helps me.
    I ordered a 'suprise' Aussie book (coming from Germany...) so I have to decide what to read in the meantime.
    Still thinking ( on an empty stomach!)

    1. Ohhh can't wait to see what your surprise is 🤗

  4. Good for you, for not giving up.

    So you attempted Canterbury Tales when you were young? Impressive. I've read numerous versions with my kids, but I look forward to finally reading the unabridged version one day soon. (I think it is on my poetry list of TWEM.)

    1. By young, I meant 19 or 20 and I jumped straight into the unabridged version!

      It was too much and I put it aside for later - much later :-)

  5. I applaud your determination... and it sounds like you have been rewarded so far. A novel told in stories is appealing to me. Somehow I always think of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.

    1. Ahhhh of course, I was trying to think of a modern example of a frame story, and Olive is fairly close. But closer still world be Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

      To be a traditional frame story there needs to be the setup where all the characters who tell the story come together with the purpose of telling stories.

      It's a fascinating way to tell a story...

  6. Anonymous16/11/16

    I really didn't know much about this except its title so I'm interested to read your description of its form. I do like such books, if well done, and hers is sure to be.

    As for reading when tired, I hear you. Some books you just can't start when you're tired. Once you're into them they may be fine but not at the start. Good on you for persevering.

    1. My current chapter appears to be a heroic tale featuring the legendary Don Juan - swashbuckling fun with a crisis on the horizon, but I was too tired last night to finish it :-/

  7. Anonymous17/11/16

    It is wonderful that your determination payed off so nicely.
    I like the layout of this meme. I have gotten a lot of information from reading these few questions. I may have to join in in the very near future.

    1. I hope you do Toady.

      I really enjoy how my post for Brona's salon unfolds each month. I use it to delve a little deeper into the book I'm reading at the time. I'm always surprised and pleased with what I find and what others contribute.

  8. The premise sounded exciting, but knowing that the writing is a struggle to get through makes me decide against keeping an eye open for it. I prefer writing that sparkles, that moves forward without losing its beauty.


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