I can’t think of when I first heard of this novel – a review in The Australian perhaps? It has been short listed for the Miles Franklin award, so I might have read about it in that context.
Here is the blurb
Some things collapse slow, and cannot always be rebuilt, and even if a thing can be remade it will never be as it was.
Salt Creek, 1855, lies at the far reaches of the remote, beautiful and inhospitable coastal region, the Coorong, in the new province of South Australia. The area, just opened to graziers willing to chance their luck, becomes home to Stanton Finch and his large family, including fifteen-year-old Hester Finch.
Once wealthy political activists, the Finch family has fallen on hard times. Cut adrift from the polite society they were raised to be part of, Hester and her siblings make connections where they can: with the few travellers that pass along the nearby stock route – among them a young artist, Charles – and the Ngarrindjeri people they have dispossessed. Over the years that pass, an Aboriginal boy, Tully, at first a friend, becomes part of the family.
Stanton’s attempts to tame the harsh landscape bring ruin to the Ngarrindjeri people’s homes and livelihoods, and unleash a chain of events that will tear the family asunder. As Hester witnesses the destruction of the Ngarrindjeri’s subtle culture and the ideals that her family once held so close, she begins to wonder what civilization is. Was it for this life and this world that she was educated?
I have been suggesting this novel to a lot of people – I found it extremely interesting from a historical point. Despite being Australian (an educated in Australia), I know very little about interactions between indigeneous australians and early (mostly white) settlers. I found it fascinating particularly how the settlers usually bring disease and disaster with them (although they feel they are ‘civilising the natives’).
There is a menacing feel to this novel – we know something happens because Hester (who is narrating the story) is living in England. The family structure is destroyed and they scatter to various parts of the globe. The scenes set in the Coorong are the best – you can feel the isolation, the coldness and the threat of brutality as well as the beauty of an (originally) unspoiled landscape.
Have you ever had one of those days, weeks, months when everything is hard work? That’s where I am right now – hence the lack of posts. Books are being read and enjoyed, but the ability to sit down and write about them seems beyond me and then by the time I do find the motivation I have forgotten most of what I thought in the first place.
Anyway, The Scarlet Letter has always been one of those books I thought I should read, but somehow never got around to it. My historical book group chose it and I was quite pleased to be finally forced to read it. It was quite hard to find a copy I think I eventually got one from the book depository (I like the penguin editions because I can read the introduction and get a better idea about the book).
Here is the blurb …
Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, this tale of an adulterous entanglement that results in an illegitimate birth reveals Nathaniel Hawthorne’s concerns with the tension between the public and the private selves. Publicly disgraced and ostracized, Hester Prynne draws on her inner strength and certainty of spirit to emerge as the first true heroine of American fiction. Arthur Dimmesdale, trapped by the rules of society, stands as a classic study of a self divided.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect the story (or at least the plot) is very much part of popular culture – I even watched Easy A, but the writing and style were an unknown quantity.
I hated the first section, about working in the Customs House, but once the story got going I was hooked. I was amazed at how modern it felt – Hester was a woman born out of time she wanted the freedom to live her life on her own terms. Dimmesdale just annoyed me – a dithering coward who couldn’t face up to the consequences of his actions and allowed Hester to bear the ‘shame’ alone. It really highlighted for me the tyrannical effect religion can have on some people. And the effect strict, joyless communities can have on the individual members of the group – not a lot of christian charity going on.
I think this is well worth reading – you just need to push on past the Custom House chapter (although I believe some editions don’t have that chapter, so maybe find one of those).
I went to a talk at my local library given by Joan London. There was a book signing afterwards, so, of course, I had to buy a copy. It then languished on my book shelf for several months before I finally decided to read it – it was great I enjoyed all of the Perth references.
Here is the blurb …
This is a story of resilience, the irrepressible, enduring nature of love, and the fragility of life. From one of Australia’s most loved novelists.
He felt like a pirate landing on an island of little maimed animals. A great wave had swept them up and dumped them here. All of them, like him, stranded, wanting to go home. It is 1954 and thirteen-year-old Frank Gold, refugee from wartime Hungary, is learning to walk again after contracting polio in Australia.
At the Golden Age Children’s Polio Convalescent Hospital in Perth, he sees Elsa, a fellow-patient, and they form a forbidden, passionate bond. The Golden Age becomes the little world that reflects the larger one, where everything occurs, love and desire, music, death, and poetry. Where children must learn that they are alone, even within their families.
Written in Joan London’s customary clear-eyed prose, The Golden Age evokes a time past and a yearning for deep connection. It is a rare and precious gem of a book from one of Australia’s finest novelists.
I found this story fascinating – the social history, medical practices in the ’50s, damaged people recovering from the horrors of World War 2, music, poetry, love and families. This novel is beautifully written – understated, but creating quite an impact. It is a quiet story about a forgotten part of Perth’s history, but covers an enormous amount of human experience and emotion.
I have never read anything by Robert Dessaix and I am not sure if I would have sought him out on my own, but this was a gift, so I gave it a go and I am very glad I did.
Here is the blurb …
Witty, acerbic, insightful musings from Robert Dessaix, one of Australia’s finest writers.
One Sunday night in Sydney, Robert Dessaix collapses in a gutter in Darlinghurst, and is helped to his hotel by a kind young man wearing a T-shirt that says F**K YOU.
What follows are weeks in hospital, tubes and cannulae puncturing his body, as he recovers from the heart attack threatening daily to kill him. While lying in the hospital bed, Robert chances upon Philip Larkin’s poem ‘Days’. What, he muses, have his days been for? What and who has he loved – and why?
This is vintage Robert Dessaix. His often surprisingly funny recollections range over topics as eclectic as intimacy, travel, spirituality, enchantment, language and childhood, all woven through with a heightened sense of mortality
This book has a lovely conversational style – I always enjoy hearing people’s stories and when it is as eloquent as this, then it is a joy to read.
I came across this novel in a second hand book store in Albany. As I loved Olive Kitteridge, I had to get this one (and it was only $5!).
Here is the blurb …
Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan—the Burgess sibling who stayed behind—urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten himself into a world of trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.
With a rare combination of brilliant storytelling, exquisite prose, and remarkable insight into character, Elizabeth Strout has brought to life two deeply human protagonists whose struggles and triumphs will resonate with readers long after they turn the final page. Tender, tough-minded, loving, and deeply illuminating about the ties that bind us to family and home, The Burgess Boys is Elizabeth Strout’s newest and perhaps most astonishing work of literary art.
I have been battling my way through The Scarlet Letter (although that has picked up now I am passed the Customs House chapter) and I decided to have a break and read something that I wanted to read and not something that I had to read for one of my various book clubs. The Burgess Boys had been sitting on my book shelf for a few months and I decided to leap in. I read it in a couple of days. What Ms Strout does well is make unsympathetic characters sympathetic (almost). These characters are hard on themselves and each other – they’re strong on duty. Susan, in particular, seems to deny herself any of life’s comforts – her home is cold and unwelcoming. Although she seems to thaw a bit in her interactions with her elderly lodger. Jim has escaped Maine and does not want to be dragged back (and in fact his presence just makes thing worse for Zach). However, Jim’s seemingly perfect life starts to unravel and it is his much belittled brother and sister who come to his rescue. Bob seems a bit lost – couldn’t take the pressure of the court-room and divorced – he is kind though although not particularly pro-active. Zach’s crime is the catalyst that sets things in motion for the Burgess family but also for the Shirley Falls community. This is a beautifully written story about family and community, about compassion and treating people with kindness and respect.
This took me a long time to read despite not being particularly long. This is the start of what I think of the descent into Hardy grimness – Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd are both lighter with what I like to think are happy endings.
Here is the plot summary from Wikipedia
The novel takes place entirely in the environs of Egdon Heath, and, with the exception of the epilogue, Aftercourses, covers exactly a year and a day. The narrative begins on the evening of Guy Fawkes Night as Diggory Venn is slowly crossing the heath with his van, which is being drawn by ponies. In his van is a passenger. When darkness falls, the country folk light bonfires on the surrounding hills, emphasising—not for the last time—the pagan spirit of the heath and its denizens.
Venn is a reddleman; he travels the country supplying farmers with a red mineral called “reddle”, a dialect term for red ochre, that farmers use to mark their sheep. Although his trade has stained him red from head to foot, underneath his devilish colouring he is a handsome, shrewd, well-meaning young man. His passenger is a young woman named Thomasin Yeobright, whom Venn is taking home. Earlier that day, Thomasin had planned to marry Damon Wildeve, a local innkeeper known for his fickleness; however, an inconsistency in the marriage licence delayed the marriage. Thomasin, in distress, ran after the reddleman’s van and asked him to take her home. Venn himself is in love with Thomasin, and unsuccessfully wooed her a year or two before. Now, although he believes Wildeve is unworthy of her love, he is so devoted to her that he is willing to help her secure the man of her choice.
At length, Venn reaches Bloom’s End, the home of Thomasin’s aunt, Mrs. Yeobright. She is a good woman, if somewhat proud and inflexible, and she wants the best for Thomasin. In former months she opposed her niece’s choice of husband, and publicly forbade the banns; now, since Thomasin has compromised herself by leaving town with Wildeve and returning unmarried, the best outcome Mrs. Yeobright can envision is for the postponed marriage to be duly solemnised as soon as possible. She and Venn both begin working on Wildeve to make sure he keeps his promise to Thomasin.
Wildeve, however, is still preoccupied with Eustacia Vye, an exotically beautiful young woman living with her grandfather in a lonely house on Egdon Heath. Eustacia is a black-haired, queenly woman, whose Italian father came from Corfu, and who grew up in Budmouth, a fashionable seaside resort. She holds herself aloof from most of the heathfolk; they, in turn, consider her an oddity, and some even think she’s a witch. She is nothing like Thomasin, who is sweet-natured. She loathes the heath, yet roams it constantly, carrying a spyglass and an hourglass. The previous year, she and Wildeve were lovers; however, even during the height of her passion for him, she knew she only loved him because there was no better object available. When Wildeve broke off the relationship to court Thomasin, Eustacia’s interest in him briefly returned. The two meet on Guy Fawkes night, and Wildeve asks her to run off to America with him. She demurs.
Eustacia drops Wildeve when Mrs. Yeobright’s son Clym, a successful diamond merchant, returns from Paris to his native Egdon Heath. Although he has no plans to return to Paris or the diamond trade and is, in fact, planning to become a schoolmaster for the rural poor, Eustacia sees him as a way to escape the hated heath and begin a grander, richer existence in a glamorous new location. With some difficulty, she arranges to meet Clym, and the two soon fall in love. When Mrs. Yeobright objects, Clym quarrels with her; later, she quarrels with Eustacia as well.
“Unconscious of her presence, he still went on singing.” Eustacia watches Clym cut furze in this illustration by Arthur Hopkins for the originalBelgravia edition (Plate 8, July 1878).
When he sees that Eustacia is lost to him, Wildeve marries Thomasin, who gives birth to a daughter the next summer. Clym and Eustacia also marry and move to a small cottage five miles away, where they enjoy a brief period of happiness. The seeds of rancour soon begin to germinate, however: Clym studies night and day to prepare for his new career as a schoolmaster while Eustacia clings to the hope that he’ll give up the idea and take her abroad. Instead, he nearly blinds himself with too much reading, then further mortifies his wife by deciding to eke out a living, at least temporarily, as a furze-cutter. Eustacia, her dreams blasted, finds herself living in a hut on the heath, chained by marriage to a lowly labouring man.
At this point, Wildeve reappears; he has unexpectedly inherited a large sum of money, and is now in a better position to fulfill Eustacia’s hopes. He comes calling on the Yeobrights in the middle of one hot August day and, although Clym is at home, he is fast asleep on the hearth after a gruelling session of furze-cutting. While Eustacia and Wildeve are talking, Mrs. Yeobright knocks on the door; she has decided to pay a courtesy call in the hopes of healing the estrangement between herself and her son. Eustacia looks out at her and then, in some alarm, ushers her visitor out the back door. She hears Clym calling to his mother and, thinking his mother’s knocking has awakened him, remains in the garden for a few moments. When Eustacia goes back inside, she finds Clym still asleep and his mother gone. Clym, she now realises, merely cried out his mother’s name in his sleep.
Mrs Yeobright, it turns out, saw Eustacia looking out the window at her; she also saw Clym’s gear by the door, and so knew they were both at home. Now, thinking she has been deliberately barred from her son’s home, she miserably begins the long, hot walk home. Later that evening, Clym, unaware of her attempted visit, heads for Bloom’s End and on the way finds her crumpled beside the path, dying from an adder’s bite. When she expires that night from the combined effects of snake venom and heat exhaustion, Clym’s grief and remorse make him physically ill for several weeks. Eustacia, racked with guilt, dares not tell him of her role in the tragedy; when he eventually finds out from a neighbour’s child about his mother’s visit—and Wildeve’s—he rushes home to accuse his wife of murder and adultery. Eustacia refuses to explain her actions; instead, she tells him You are no blessing, my husband and reproaches him for his cruelty. She then moves back to her grandfather’s house, where she struggles with her despair while she awaits some word from Clym.
Wildeve visits her again on Guy Fawkes night, and offers to help her get to Paris. Eustacia realises that if she lets Wildeve help her, she’ll be obliged to become his mistress. She tells him she will send him a signal by night if she decides to accept. Clym’s anger, meanwhile, has cooled and he sends Eustacia a letter the next day offering reconciliation. The letter arrives a few minutes too late; by the time her grandfather tries to give it to her, she has already signalled to Wildeve and set off through wind and rain to meet him. She walks along weeping, however, knowing she is about to break her marriage vows for a man who is unworthy of her.
Wildeve readies a horse and gig and waits for Eustacia in the dark. Thomasin, guessing his plans, sends Clym to intercept him; she also, by chance, encounters Diggory Venn as she dashes across the heath herself in pursuit of her husband. Eustacia does not appear; instead, she falls or throws herself into nearby Shadwater Weir. Clym and Wildeve hear the splash and hurry to investigate. Wildeve plunges recklessly after Eustacia without bothering to remove his coat, while Clym, proceeding more cautiously, nevertheless is also soon at the mercy of the raging waters. Venn arrives in time to save Clym, but is too late for the others. When Clym revives, he accuses himself of murdering his wife and mother.
In the epilogue, Venn gives up being a reddleman to become a dairy farmer. Two years later, Thomasin marries him and they settle down happily together. Clym, now a sad, solitary figure, eventually takes up preaching.
I never noticed the first time I read Hardy (like many of you at school) how evocative and atmospheric his settings are – the descriptions of the heath, the noise the wind makes through the trees and grasses, how dark it is at night …
Once again, there is a love triangle or an over-lapping love triangle – Eustacia, Wildeve, Clym and Thomasin. Eustacia and Wildeve are lovers, however, she only loves him because there are no worthier suitors available. When she drops him he begins to court Thomasin, which, of course, re-ignites Eustacia’s passion for him. They plan to run off to America together, but the Clym returns from Paris a succesful diamond merchant bringing all of the glamour and allure of Paris and Eustacia is smitten (even before she meets him). I think you get the picture. Clym has no plans to return to Paris, but plans to start a school to educate the poor of Edgon Heath. Eustacia believes once married she will be able to convince him to return to Paris and her true life will finally begin. However, her plans (as they often do) go awry and from there things get worse for our characters.
Eustacia is a woman out of time and place – she wants excitement and action – but she lives in a very isolated and lonely place with only her grand father for company. The only way she can see her life changing and improving is to find a lover who will take her away and thus she brings about her own misery and despair. I have been thinking about Hardy’s purpose with this novel – is it to highlight the restrictions on women’s lives and the effects of social isolation or is Hardy implying that if Eustacia had been ‘a better woman’ or ‘a good women’ she would have been content?
This novel has a lot of literary things going on (are the locals like a Greek chorus? All that imagery – Hardy is a poet after all) and you can certainly read it for the skill of the author. However, I can’t say I enjoyed reading it although I am glad I did.
My historical book group read this novel. I have to say I was surprised when I saw the cover!
Here’s the blurb …
After her father’s sudden death, fifteen-year-old Eleanor is quickly crowned Duchess of Aquitaine and betrothed to King Louis VII. When her new husband cannot pronounce her given name, Alienor becomes Eleanor, Queen of France.
Although Louis is enamored of his bride, the newly crowned king is easily manipulated by the church and a God that Eleanor doesn’t believe in. Now, if she can find the strength to fight for what she wants, Eleanor may finally find the passion she has longed for, and the means to fulfill her legacy as Queen.
There is no doubt that this was a bodice ripper, but I found Eleanor fascinating and I want to read more of her and her time. Therefore, this novel is a good starting of point and I think the history was reasonably accurate. My plan is to move onto some of the novels written by Elizabeth Chadwick (like The Summer Queen), or finish Alison Weir’s biography. Ralph V Turner has a biography as well.
I rescued this from the second-hand book stall at my daughters’ school fete. I have read a few Brookner novels and always found them quite melancholic – this was no exception. Beautiful, but definitely melancholic.
Here’s the blurb …
Naïve and undemanding, Harriet Lytton expects very little of life and that is what she receives. Married to a respectable man old enough to be her father, Harriet’s only taste of passion comes when she meets Jack Peckham, the unruly, attractive husband of her friend Tessa.
Tessa and Harriet have for many years been bound together by their childhood friendship and the imposed alliance of their two daughters, Imogen and Lizzie. But events conspire to shatter the gentle rhythm of Harriet’s life. Tragically restrained by her own cautious choices, she faces the cruellest losses of all: those of hope and desire.
This feels like a slow moving novel, but actually covers quite a bit of time most of it covered in retrospect. Harriet marries a man old enough to be her father (in fact he is one of her father’s friends) because it seems to be expected of her and he can’t provide her a comfortable life. She seems content with her lot (although she wasn’t something much different for her ‘perfect daughter’) until she meets Jack Peckham (the rakish husband of her condescending friend Tessa). They share one chaste kiss, but Harriet is enthralled by him. However, she doesn’t do anything about it. The closest she gets it befriending his daughter in the hope she will cross paths with Jack. People die around her and still she can’t bring herself to do anything.
Despite this being a beautifully written novel and the characterisation of Harriet (her in-action is incredibly frustrating) and Lizzie (so self-contained) are brilliant, I will need a bit of a pause before tackling another Brookner.
I was standing in the line to buy my copy of Take Six Girls: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters at the Writers Festival when I saw this one – the cover is quite eye catching, which had been recommended by a friend. I, of course, bought this one as well (in large format even though I am trying to buy novels digitally to save a bit of space).
Here’s the blurb …
Fates and Furies is a dazzling examination of a marriage, it is also a portrait of creative partnership written by one of the best writers of her generation.
Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.
At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed. With stunning revelations and multiple threads, and in prose that is vibrantly alive and original, Groff delivers a deeply satisfying novel about love, art, creativity and power that is unlike anything that has come before it. Profound, surprising, propulsive and emotionally riveting, it stirs both the mind and the heart.
I had no pre-conceived notions when I started reading this novel – knew nothing about it or its author at all. It was fabulous. It tells the story of a (seemingly) happy marriage from two different perspectives – first the husband and then the wife. The difference is astounding and quite shocking: the husband’s version is happy, almost boastful and then, in the wife’s version, we read terrible of secrets and betrayals.
The characters are beautifully written – Lotto, Mathilde, Antoinette (the former mermaid who finds religion and food), Chollie (Lotto’s unattractive friend and hanger-on). The writing is magnificent – for example, a bus letting of passengers ‘knelt the passengers off like a carnival elephant’.
I liked both the plot and writing of this novel – it was surprising and clever (and certainly not predictable, which seems to be the case with most novels these days).
It is school holidays here at the moment, which means there is a high degree of mayhem in my house. The youngest one has a friend over – this seems to involve shouting and jumping about and the older one is sewing (which means I am sewing or at least threading needles and unpicking). I did manage to get this novel finished before holidays started. The only Truman Capote novel that I have read is Breakfast at Tiffany’s, so knew nothing about his life.
Here is the blurb …
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator’s Wife comes an enthralling new novel about Truman Capote’s scandalous, headline-making, and heart-wrenching friendship with Babe Paley and New York’s society “swans” of the 1950s.
Centered on two dynamic, complicated, and compelling protagonists—Truman Capote and Babe Paley—this book is steeped in the glamour and perfumed and smoky atmosphere of New York’s high society. Babe Paley—known for her high-profile marriage to CBS founder William Paley and her ranking in the International Best-Dressed Hall of Fame—was one of the reigning monarchs of New York’s high society in the 1950s. Replete with gossip, scandal, betrayal, and a vibrant cast of real-life supporting characters, readers will be seduced by this startling new look at the infamous society swans.
I did enjoy reading this – it was gossipy and scandalous (who doesn’t like a story about celebrities behaving outrageously?) – I do wonder if all of the main ‘actors’ are dead? For me this novel was all about the content – it was meticulously researched, but not obtrusively so (the ideal of historical fiction). I feel I have learnt something and I enjoyed the journey.