Elemental – Amanda Curtin
This was recommended by a member of my Victorian book study group – their recommendations are always good.
Here is the blurb …
Nearing the end of her life, Meggie Tulloch takes up her pen to write a story for her granddaughter, Laura. It begins in the first years of the twentieth century, in a place where howling winds spin salt and sleet sucked up from ice floes. A place where lives are ruled by men, and men by the witchy sea. A place where the only thing lower than a girl in the order of things is a clever girl with accursed red hair. A place schooled in keeping secrets. Thirty years after her grandmother’s death, Laura receives her notebooks and discovers the painful past that Meggie spent a lifetime trying to forget. Moving from the north-east of Scotland to the Shetland Isles to Fremantle, Australia, Elemental is a novel about the life you make from the life you are given.
I really enjoyed the sections written from Meggie’s point of view (about the first two thirds of the novel). Her voice was compelling. Her life was described in rich detail – the painful salty holes, the cold, the wind, the smell of fish guts, her awful grand father, the smell of biscuits baking. It was all wonderfully evocative. I didn’t find the last section, narrated by Laura and Avril, to be as effective. It might be because I liked Meggie’s voice so much I didn’t want it to end.
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The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan
I was keen to read something by Richard Flanagan after seeing him on a documentary about Paul Kelly! I wasn’t disappointed his writing is beautiful. He writes about Australians and Australia without sentiment (the word strueth wasn’t used at all!)
Plot summary …
What would you do if you saw the love of your life, whom you thought dead for the last quarter of a century, walking towards you?
Richard Flanagan’s story — of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor haunted by a love affair with his uncle’s wife — journeys from the caves of Tasmanian trappers in the early twentieth century to a crumbling pre-war beachside hotel, from a Thai jungle prison to a Japanese snow festival, from the Changi gallows to a chance meeting of lovers on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Taking its title from 17th-century haiku poet Basho’s travel journal, The Narrow Road To The Deep North is about the impossibility of love. At its heart is one day in a Japanese slave labour camp in August 1943. As the day builds to its horrific climax, Dorrigo Evans battles and fails in his quest to save the lives of his fellow POWs, a man is killed for no reason, and a love story unfolds.
This novel is confronting. Malnutrition, disease and brutality are all depicted. The narrative is told from various perspectives and this does mean the inhumane treatment of the POWs is more understandable. The novel is about the human spirit – what it can endure, but also what it can inflict. There is love in many guises – for family, for friends, for fellow human beings, for literature and romantic love (although – spoiler alert! – the woman Dorrigo loves is not his wife). This is a complicated story that requires concentration from the reader – the characters are complex and flawed, the narrative shifts around in time (however, it is always nice to know in advance that the hero survives the POW camp).
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