Monthly Archives: December 2009

Oranges are not the only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson


 While reading this novel I got the feeling that I’ve read it before, but I couldn’t remember what happened so I kept going.

This is the story of Jeanette, adopted and brought up by her mother as one of God’s elect. Zealous and passionate, she seems destined for life as a missionary, but then she falls for one of her converts. At sixteen, Jeanette decides to leave the church, her home and her family, for the young woman she loves. Innovative, punchy and tender, “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit” is a few days ride into the bizarre outposts of religious excess and human obsession.

This is a beautifully written story – I do like first person narratives – the characters are fabulous. What an amazing first novel. In amongst the narrative are fairy tale vignettes about the search for the holy grail and a girl Winnet escaping from a wizard trying to find the magic city. These stories within a story highlight Jeanette’s mental state.

This is a quick read and well worth the effort. I’ll definitely be looking for more of her works.

There are even SparkNotes

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Howards End is on the Landing – Susan Hill


I picked this book up from here while looking for a Christmas present for my Sister in Law (I don’t think I did very well on the christmas present).

Early one autumn afternoon in pursuit of an elusive book on my shelves, I encountered dozens of others that I had never read, or forgotten I owned, or wanted to read for a second time. The discovery inspired me to embark on a year-long voyage through my books, forsaking new purchases in order to get to know my own collection again. A book which is left on a shelf for a decade is a dead thing, but it is also a chrysalis, packed with the potential to burst into new life. Wandering through her house that day, my eyes were opened to how much of that life was stored in my home, neglected for years. Howard’s End is on the Landing charts the journey as I revisit the conversations, libraries and bookshelves of the past that have informed a lifetime of reading and writing.

It’s written in a conversational style and Ms Hill has charming anecdotes about authors she has met. She writes about what was happening in her life when she read certain books and what she thinks of them (and the author’s technique and style). This is definitely a book for readers and it makes me want to take a journey through my own book shelves – I know there is a heap of books I haven’t read and others that I didn’t read properly the first time.

As an Australian and an Austen fan, I should be outraged (she dismisses both Canadian and Australian literature – how can anyone discard Margaret Atwood? and ‘doesn’t get’ Austen) but really it didn’t matter. It made me think about reading and being a reader and what they means.

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The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery


I think I bought this book based solely on the title. Here is the blurb …

Renee is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building on the Left Bank. To the residents she is honest, reliable and uncultivated – an ideal concierge. But Renee has a secret. Beneath this conventional facade she is passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her self-important employers.

Down in her lodge, Renee is resigned to living a lie; meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid a predictably bourgeois future, and plans to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday.

But the death of one of their privileged neighbours will bring dramatic change to number 7, Rue de Grenelle, altering the course of both their lives forever.

By turn moving and hilarious, this unusual and insightful novel is now an international publishing sensation, with sales of over 2.5 million copies.

I found this novel to be quite difficult to read and very slow going. It required concentration, which is in short supply in December in a house with two small children. I had to force myself to read it rather than move onto something easier.

It was a slow moving novel – the neighbour (mentioned in the blurb) doesn’t die until half way through, so that’s a lot of scene setting. Having said that I did enjoy it (except the ending – but I won’t ruin it for anyone). This is a book that should be read slowly and savoured. Not read like I did between Christmas shopping and watching swimming lessons.

Here are more thoughtful reviews …

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Filed under Fiction - Light, Recommended

The Blythes are Quoted – L M Montgomery


I’m a keen L M Montgomery fan – so keen I’ve travelled from Australia to Prince Edward Island. When this book was released I wasn’t entirely convinced I wanted to read it – I had already read The Road to Yesterday which I believed contained all of the stories, but I read a review on the Kindred Spirits email list which convinced me I should read it. As it’s not available in Australia yet, I bought my copy from the Canadian Amazon and it arrived within a week!

It’s a book of short stories with poetry bits in between (attributed to Anne and Walter) and conversations with the Blythes. It is spilt into two parts; the first contains stories set before World War 1 and the second stories set after. There is a forward by Elizabeth Epperly and an afterward by Benjamin Lefebvre.

Here’s the description from Amazon …

Adultery, illegitimacy, misogyny, revenge, murder, despair, bitterness, hatred, and death—usually not the first terms associated with L.M. Montgomery. But in The Blythes Are Quoted, completed shortly before her death and never before published in its entirety, Montgomery brought these topics to the forefront in what she intended to be the ninth volume in her bestselling series featuring her beloved heroine Anne. Divided into two sections, one set before and one after the Great War of 1914—1918, The Blythes Are Quoted contains fifteen episodes that include an adult Anne and her family. Binding these short stories, Montgomery inserted sketches featuring Anne and Gilbert Blythe discussing poems by Anne and their middle son, Walter, who dies as a soldier in the war. By blending poetry, prose, and dialogue, Montgomery was experimenting with storytelling methods in ways she had never before attempted. The Blythes Are Quoted marks the final word of a writer whose work continues to fascinate readers all over the world.

I must confess that I don’t really like Montgomery’s poetry so I tended to skip those bits. I did like the conversations with the family members it gave you a feel for how their lives continued after Rilla of Ingleside.

I haven’t compared each story with how it appeared in the Road to Yesterday, but it seems to me that there are more Blythe references in this version (and not all positive).  To me it contained the essence of all Montgomery novels and I want to go back and read them all again. If you’re hesitating about reading this novel because you’ve read all of the stories before, I would encourage you to give it a go.

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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark


I bought this book years ago while on holiday in Sydney. I was quite keen to read it again when it was suggested at book club. Plus it’s the perfect read in the lead up to the busy Christmas season (short).

Here is the stuff from the back …

At the staid Marcia Blaine School for Girls, in Edinburgh, Scotland, teacher extraordinaire Miss Jean Brodie is unmistakably, and outspokenly, in her prime. She is passionate in the application of her unorthodox teaching methods, in her attraction to the married art master, Teddy Lloyd, in her affair with the bachelor music master, Gordon Lowther, and—most important—in her dedication to “her girls,” the students she selects to be her crème de la crème. Fanatically devoted, each member of the Brodie set—Eunice, Jenny, Mary, Monica, Rose, and Sandy—is “famous for something,” and Miss Brodie strives to bring out the best in each one. Determined to instill in them independence, passion, and ambition, Miss Brodie advises her girls, “Safety does not come first. Goodness, Truth, and Beauty come first. Follow me.”

And they do. But one of them will betray her.

I enjoyed reading this – I liked the descriptive asides about the girls … ‘Rose Stanley was famous for sex’ and ‘Eunice Gardiner […] famous for her spritely gymnastics and glorious swimming’.

It did make me think of all of the women who would have been left spinsters after World War 1 – what would they have done with themselves? They would still have been limited to ‘feminine professions’ like teaching and nursing.

I liked the writing style it was economical and yet managed to say a lot. I thought Miss Brodie was a bit sad – she had no real friends (adults that is) and she seemed to try to control the girls.

Here are some other reviews …

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