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Salonika Burning – Gail Jones

Salonika Burning – Gail Jones

This novel was recommended to me by several friends and then I bought a copy as a gift for another friend, so I decided I should read it myself. I read Sixty Lights way back in 2009 and enjoyed it.

Here’s the blurb …

Greece, 1917. The great city of Salonika is engulfed by fire as all of Europe is ravaged by war.

Amid the destruction, there are those who have come to the frontlines to heal: surgeons, ambulance drivers, nurses, orderlies and other volunteers. Four of these people—Stella, Olive, Grace and Stanley—are at the centre of Gail Jones’s extraordinary new novel, which takes its inspiration from the wartime experiences of Australians Miles Franklin and Olive King, and British painters Grace Pailthorpe and Stanley Spencer. In Jones’s imagination these four lives intertwine and ramify, compelled by the desire to create something meaningful in the ruins of a broken world.

Immersive and gripping, Salonika Burning illuminates not only the devastation of war but also the vast social upheaval of the times. It shows Gail Jones to be at the height of her powers.

I knew nothing about Salonika or the Macedonian front during WW1, and amongst the four protagonists I only knew about Stella. Hence this novel was interesting just from the historical perspective – when the frozen rabbits from Victoria arrived (to a place with no refrigeration), I laughed out loud. Such a symbol of well-meaning, but ultimately useless action.

What I really enjoyed was the interleaving of the stories; one of the characters would describe an event – say swimming in the lake, and then you would get a different person’s perspective on the same event. The ending was unexpected and shocking, and we are left wondering what happens to all of these people after the war?

A review.

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Filed under 4, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Paper

Sixty Lights – Gail Jones


My book club chose this book because the author is Western Australian and it was reviewed as being one of the ‘must reads’.

It had a lovely visual quality and the writing was simple, but eloquent.

Here is the publisher’s blurb …

‘Photography has without doubt made her a seer; she is a woman of the future, someone leaning into time, beyond others, precarious, unafraid to fall…’

This is the story of Lucy Strange, a photographer, while the art is in its infancy, in the 1870s, who exists in an extraordinarily heightened state of seeing and imagining. Her tale is told in sixty illuminated parts – using candlelight, flames, lightning, gas-lamps, mirrors, magic lanterns and, most mysteriously, lit faces and bodies. In a contracted, almost modernist form, SIXTY LIGHTS tracks Lucy’s life from her childhood in Australia, to her stormy adolescence in England and India and finally to her death in London at the age of twenty-three. It is a life abbreviated, but not a life diminished: she is a remarkable character, forthright, gifted, passionate and canny. SIXTY LIGHTS plays powerfully with Victorian tropes and texts – orphans, inheritances, Great Expectations – setting them against the technological revolution in seeing that is inspired by photography. Written with astute imagistic precision, the story is deeply layered, fluctuating between past, present and future. This is an impressive UK debut from a prize-winning Australian author.

There are sixty chapters – hence the title Sixty Lights – each chapter is like a photograph or still life – little snippets from Lucy’s life, which together make a compelling and interesting story.

I’ll definitely be looking for more of her work.

Here are some other reviews …




Here is an interview with Gail Jones


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Filed under Recommended, Serious