Saturday, December 24, 2011

The White Earth by Andrew McGahan

Part gothic melodrama, part national allegory, The White Earth is a sweeping story of history, politics, settlement and racism. 

Published in 2004 by Allen and Unwin, this amazing Australian novel has won worthy praise:

The Age Book of the Year
The Courier Mail Book of the Year
Commonwealth's Writers' Prize for SE Asia and South Pacific Region
Miles Franklin Award 2005

This was quite a complex novel, with lots of themes, and yet it flowed really well. I enjoyed this book immensely, and don't understand we it is not more popular. Maybe is was a few years ago, and I missed it. I'm certainly glad I found it!

   The thing I loved most about this novel was how Australian it is. It is so tangible and real. McGahan obviously knows and loves the Darling Downs. His characters feel deep pulls to the land, and I think McGahan could only write about land if he has felt the same way. Unfortunately, the pull that his characters feel to the land are their ultimate downfall. It sends John McIvor crazy. It sends William's mother crazy.
   I have mixed feelings about John McIvor. I have come across similar people in regional Australia - people who are obsessed with the continuation of their line through heirs, and being able to keep a piece of land in their family even once they're dead and buried. John's views of protecting his land attracted bigots to him, because they thought his underlying motivation was racism. I don't think he was a racist. John just wanted his claim to his land to be ultimate. Property ownership has gone to the extreme with John.
   John was also very proud. He had doubts about his father, but could not abide his father's behaviour, but would not admit to his feelings in front of other people. He had his goal, and he wanted to achieve it, no matter how many people he burned along the way. He was a lonely, bitter man. I am sympathetic because he drove everyone away, and yet I know I would have left too because of his behaviour.
  I don't think this novel should be labelled into a pigeon hole: 'gothic', 'family saga', 'fairy tale'. It's none of those things, solely. It stands alone and surpasses those genres. There is no lesson to be learnt, but the reader certainly travels the same path as Ruth at the end. She learns a lesson, and the reader comes along for the ride. I also really enjoyed the historical context, and the political element.
   Overall, one of the best novels I have ever read.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

2012 Classics Challenge

My second challenge for 2012: I have joined up for the Classics Challenge, hosted by November's Autumn.

The aim is to read seven works of classic literature in 2012. Only three of them may be re-reads.

What is considered a classic? A work that transcends time. Usually it's well recognised but there are many lesser-known gems too.

Here's my planned reading list for this challenge (please let me know if you don't think they're classics, and I'll try a bit harder!):

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

None of these are re-reads. I can't wait to get into them!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Winner of Book Giveaway

I announced a book giveaway for followers of my blog a couple of weeks ago. It is now time to announce the winner:

Mlle Slimalicious is the winner of a copy of "Foal's Bread" by Gillian Mears.

Congratulations, and enjoy!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

In Cold Blood

I picked up Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood' last week. I finished it on the train this morning. It left me a bit numb, to be honest. I didn't know what the outcome was going to be. I was not familiar with the story, at all. I thought that it was going to be more blood thirsty, and that the murders would have been more shocking or sadistic. I thought I would be far more disturbed than I was. What I ended up feeling was shock at the capital punishment, rather than the murders themselves. I think it was because Capote made the killers' flaws known. He made them vulnerable, and you couldn't help but feel some empathy or compassion for them.

   Capote didn't build suspense through the novel. It was only really like a fiction piece because of the extent of the character development, and the skill that Capote has at description. Otherwise, I felt like I was been told a story, rather than being shown a story, or rather than a story being unwound around me. I didn't like the long monologues, or the big slabs of criminal/police information.
   This book is also about the loss of innocence that was occurring in many communities around the world at the same time. The middle of the 20th century seems to be when people gradually became less trusting, less willing to let their children roam freely, and more likely to lock their doors.
   The killers, I believe, were both sane. I think they had personality disorders, but they certainly were aware of what they were doing - they just didn't care.
   I don't think that this book makes the criminals heroic, or gives them any particular unwarranted attention. What this book does is stop people forgetting about one of many murders that occur every year. It reminds you of the wider affect that murder has on a community, or even a whole state.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge

Now is the time to start looking for challenges to participate in during 2012.

The is the first that I have chosen to join: the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Objective: This challenge hopes to help counteract the gender bias in reviewing and social media newsfeeds that has continued throughout 2011 by actively promoting the reading and reviewing of a wide range of contemporary Australian women's writing.

There are various levels of participation. I am not going to limit my genre, so will be a Devoted Eclectic. I will read  6 books by Australian writers in 2012, and review at least 3 (hence, the 'Miles' challenge level). It shouldn't be too hard. I've already got five authors in mind: Lisa Heidke, Rosalie Ham, Geraldine Brooks, Judy Nunn, and Belinda Alexandra. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bereft by Chris Womersley

An amazing Australian novel. If you haven't heard of it before now, you have been told - you should read this!

Winner of the ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2011
Winner of the Indie Award for Fiction 2011
Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award 2011
Shortlisted for the Age Book of the Year Award
Shortlisted for the ALS Gold Medal 2011
Shortlisted for the Nielsen BookData 2011 Booksellers Choice Award
Shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction
Longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2012

'Bereft is a dark, brooding story of war, family secrets and a man's search for justice. Chris Womersley knows how to shine light into the darkest corners of rural Australia' - Malcolm Robotham.

Blurb: It is 1919. The Great War has ended, but the Spanish flu epidemic is raging across Australia. Schools are closed, state borders are guarded by armed men, and train travel is severely restricted. There are rumours it is the end of the world.
   In the town of Flint, Quinn Walker returns to the home he fled ten years earlier when he was accused of an unspeakable crime. Aware that his father and uncle would surely hang him, Quinn hides in the hills surrounding Flint. There, he meets the orphan Sadie Fox - a mysterious young girl who seems to know more about the crime than she should.

I never believed that Quinn was guilty of raping and murdering his sister. He is a soft, easily led, a-sexual kind of man. With a topic like the rape and murder of a young girl, this novel is not set up for a happy ending. I don't think that the achieving of revenge makes for a happy ending. It isn't justice. Everybody suffers and lives are destroyed.
   Quinn is physically and mentally damaged from the Great War. Despite the shell-shock he is experiencing, and the never-ending grief from the death of his sister, I don't think and never thought that Sadie Fox was a figment of his imagination. Some of her traits (her similarities to his sister) Quinn certainly projected onto her. She also seemed mentally damaged, and developed coping skills such as her own form of magic.
   The image of central New South Wales is a stark and beautiful one - harsh and rugged. I could almost smell the dust and feel the heat. The prose was unique and conjured vivid sensory reactions as I read it.
   The novel also addresses spirituality, and Quinn's struggle to believe that God hasn't forsaken him. He doesn't like people questioning God, yet he does so himself. He is both repulsed and drawn to the occult, to a medium who channeled his sister, and to Sadie's trinkets and spells.
   This is a novel that I could read a few times and get something different from it every time. It would also be a great novel to discuss as part of a book club, because of its subtlety and the variety of issues it raises. Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Book Giveaway

This is my first book giveaway. I have a copy of the new Australian novel Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears to give away to one of my followers. I participated in a read-along with an uncorrected proof of this book throughout October 2011. I now have a lovely jacketed copy of the published version to give away. The winner will be announced on 18th December 2011.

    The blurb from Foal's Bread:
Set in hardscrabble farming country, and the high-jumping circuit that prevailed in rural New South Wales prior to the Second World War, Foal's Bread tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and their fortunes as dictated by fate and the vicissitudes of the land.
   It is a love story of impossible beauty and sadness, a chronicle of dreams 'turned inside out', and miracles that never last, framed against a world both heartbreakingly tender and unspeakably hard.
   With luminous prose and an aching affinity for the landscape, Foal's Bread is the work of a born writer at the height of her considerable powers. It is a novel of remarkable originality and virtuosity, which confirms Gillian Mears' reputation as one of Australia's most exciting and acclaimed authors.

As for my own writing, it has been non-existant. I joined NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and didn't participate or write a word. November has been the busiest month. Working 12 hours a day. I also had an exam in my first subject in my Graduate Diploma of Applied Law, and I had an exam in my third-to-last subject in my Accounting degree. One weekend in November, I ran the Geelong fun run (12 kilometres, which I did in 1hour and 3 minutes). I also had a Christmas party in Melbourne on the last weekend in November that took the whole weekend to get to and back. So, no writing!
   I'm going to try to have my whole novel writing month this December - so be witnesses to my pledge - the bones of my novel will be finished by the new year.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wuthering Heights

Keeping with the theme for trying to read broadly, and reading the classics to improve my own writing, I decided to read Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights.

I didn’t have an expectations when I began reading Wuthering Heights, except that I had heard people talk it being a great love story. I don’t know why people consider it a great love story - it certainly is a fantastic story, but it’s not a romance!

I think it is a novel of despair and redemption. There are a lot of ‘what ifs’ raised during the reading of it. I remember hearing someone saying that if Heathcliff had not left the kitchen when Catherine said that she couldn’t lower herself to marry him, and actually heard how much she loved him, it would have turned out very differently. Certainly, there would not have been so much despair and redemption if Heathcliff had married Catherine. However, he still seemed set on bringing Earnshaw down. He may have done that anyway. Also, Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s personalities were such that they would have caused a lot of trouble for everyone if they teamed up.

The narration of the story is very interesting, going from Mr Lockwood to Mrs Dean, and even Cathy and Heathcliff’s house-keeper have a role in narrating. They all tell the story consistently, and stay true to things like Joseph’s accent. It wasn’t very believable that each would narrate in the same way.

I considered Mrs Dean to be very culpable in the events. She was always helping couples meet, which caused everything to go wrong in the first place. If she had not conspired with the young people, but been faithful to her masters in each circumstance, things could have turned out very differently.

Bronte was able to create fantastic, unique characters. Even the setting was a character, in a way - the lonely moors, the isolation, the cold. Heathcliff’s character is one of the most unique and interesting characters that I have ever discovered in a novel. Is he evil, or a product of his circumstances? I think he is evil. Certainly, his circumstances were horrible - tortured and loving a woman who he couldn’t have. But many people and characters have experienced those things. It is the way he reacts, and systematically goes about bringing down everyone that he hates. He takes everything off them and makes them miserable, and drives them to death. All for revenge. He doesn’t need the money, and in fact, when he finally succeeds in owning everything and controlling everyone, there’s nothing left for him to do but go crazy and kill himself. I don’t feel any pity for Heathcliff.

I think it was a very satisfying story, in that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and good prevailed over evil in the end. The weather and the landscape all seem to contribute to the good feeling at the end of the novel, as well. Spring, new growth, warmth, and the beginning of new happiness.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Stella Makes Good

I was lucky enough to get the chance to read and review an uncorrected proof copy of Lisa Heidke's new novel "Stella Makes Good", soon to be published by Allen & Unwin.
   Blurb: Stella Sparks is on good terms with her ex-husband, Terry, despite the fact he left her for another woman. Stella's philosophical - the marriage had run its course, they remain friends and the wellbeing of their kids is central to both of them.
   Stella's two closest friends, Carly and Jesse, envy her togetherness and wish they could emulate it. Jesse's husband, Steve, is a control freak who's driving her crazy, but she has two small children and can't see a way out. Carly, meanwhile, suspects her husband is having an affair and isn't sure what to do about it.
   Stella's life takes a distinctly upward turn when she meets a handsome, apparently single - no ring, anyway - father at her son's school speech night. For Carly and Jesse, however, the search for happiness and fulfilment proves more elusive ..
   With a healthy dose of humour and romance 'Stella Makes Good' is about the games we play, the secrets we keep, the unpredictable nature of life and the importance of female friendship.

This was a really smooth, easy read. A light-hearted escape. The characters came alive through their thoughts and dialogue. The issues they dealt with will resonate with many Australian women, whether they are married with children or not.
   Each of the women was very unique. Carly really annoyed me. She was very superficial. She seemed to associate lust with love, and if the sex wasn't wild then there was no love. She also thought that she needed to be a stay-home mother for her teenage children, as if they wouldn't survive (and probably be better rounded people) if she went back to work. She also encouraged Jesse, the most troubled character, to have some 'freedom and adventure', when what Jesse needed most was 'respect and stability'. Carly also became very worried that her son was gay, which is very politically incorrect.
   Jesse was the most interesting character. She was almost crippled by her husband's emotional domestic violence. But she had such inspiring moments of strength and courage that this saved her from being insipid.
   Stella (I'm not sure what she made good, or that she even had to make good) is the balanced character, or at least appears that way to her friends. She is actually fairly scared of a new relationship. But she is very generous, conscientious and the friend that everyone wants to have. She is independent, and she accepts her teenage children for who they are. I liked her a lot.
   The change in tense used in the novel was interesting - the story was written in first person when Stella was the central narrator. Then a more removed third-person narrator took over when either of the other women was the central character of a particular section.
   The story was mainly driven by dialogue and thought. There was minimal descriptions offered, and I struggled to visualise the characters, they were just blurry outlines in my mind, except for June, Stella's mother-in-law who is very vivid. Because of the lack of description, there were a few awkward places where time seemed to jump: one moment they were in the car talking, and the next minute they were entering the hospital ward in the same conversation. There were a couple of other places where time seemed to be wrong, such as the story was supposed to be set around the end of January and start of February, but one of the children was talking about exams.
   The only other criticism I have is that there are too many modern references that the book is going to date very quickly. It refers to current movies and TV series, current video games and social media games. I don't think they're necessary - they just annoyed me, like Lisa was trying to prove that she was up-to-date enough to know that these things are around. They are not important to the story. The main characters acknowledge that they are not up to speed with everything their kids are into - it should probably just have vague references to what the kids are up to, since their activities are not central.
   Overall, great read. Look out for this book in January 2012.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cross Stitch

It has been a while since I have read a book that I couldn't put down. Diana Gabaldon's Cross Stitch was that book. It was on the book list from the book club that I was in last year. Otherwise, I never would have picked it up.
   Then, I find out that under another edition, this book is also called Outlander, and is part of the Outlander series. I am torn. I could spend a good few months just reading these books. But my aim is to read widely, and to read classics. I have decided that I will be putting this book back in my book shelf to pick up in years to come, when I can dedicated months to reading the whole series.

Historical romance, fantasy, chic lit ... whatever genre you choose, it was a page turner.
   I don't think that the writing is particularly fantastic, but the pace of the story is great, and it wasn't predictable. Also, the main character, Claire Randall, is not the perfect woman that so many romance novels contain. She is older, she is not particularly thin, but is very curvy. She is confident about her professional - she's a nurse.
   There are two lovers in this book - the first husband, and then the second husband after she's travelled back in time. I didn't really feel the relationship or the chemistry between Claire and her first husband. But the new husband is certainly the typical good looking, muscular and sensitive hero from typical romance novels. You can't help but fall in love with him yourself.
   I don't want to spoil too much with this one, and there aren't any issues to analyses. The book is a pure get-away. Don't think, just enjoy!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Catcher in the Rye

Continuing with my aim to try to catch up on classics that I haven't read, and to improve my own writing by reading literature instead of pop, I recently finished The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
   I can see why this book is on the reading list for so many teenagers in the USA. It reminded me a lot of The Bell Jar, but a male version. The voice was much more powerful in this book that in The Bell Jar. But I was just as bored reading this book as the other.
   I dislike teenage angst a lot - maybe because I had a lot of it, and got over it, that I just want to scream at these teenagers to get over themselves too.

   Both Holden Caulfield and the main female character in The Bell Jar become mentally ill. Holden goes on and on about being depressed. He recognises it, which is odd for someone who's mentally ill - usually they deny anything is wrong with them.
   The book is based over about 48 hours. Holden doesn't develop over that time, but he does deteriorate. He is always going on about people being 'phony', and seems to want to connect with someone. This seems to be a combination of immaturity and mental illness. He thinks everyone is phony, to the point of over doing it. He doesn't seem capable of being open to the intimacy that he wants, and mistakes someone reaching out to him as a sexual advance, or vice versa.
   His little sister, Pheobe, is someone he admires and loves greatly. She is also his link to his earlier, happier life. He wants to be a child, and being with her reminds him of the years gone by. She doesn't recognise that he is not well, but is probably the ultimate reason why he gets help.
   I'm glad this was a short book, but I really didn't have much time for Holden. He bored me, annoyed me, and the lack of anything actually happening made be want to put the book down.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears - Read-along 4th and final part

Thank you, so much, Danielle from The Book Nerd Club for hosting this read-along, feature Gillian Mears' new novel, Foal's Bread. Participating in this read-along has been a great experience. I would have been much more blase about this book, and perhaps less critical as well, if I had not participated in this read-along. It has forced me to be a better reader. I have looked closer at the writing, and at the issues behind the novel than I would have otherwise. I have also done research into Mears, the book and the characters, and looked up other blog entries on this book. I would not have done any of those things if I wasn't participating in this read-along.

   Foal's Bread will be a controversial book, with readers either loving or hating it. It is subtle, but raises a lot of issues. The writing is clunky (I keep referring to it that way, because it doesn't flow well) because of the way the characters talk, and the fact that the narrator also takes up their style of speech and expression.
   I'm not going to comment too much more, because I don't want to spoil the ending. But, I will say, that this last quarter was very powerful and tragic for many reasons. Look back over Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, if you haven't already read them.
   Please, if you pick up this book, persist.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Rule of Three: Finale

Final week, and this week's post ties the three previous stories together. To refresh your memory, please read the previous parts: One, Two, and Three.
   This week, there is a new arrival in town, and the misfortune is accepted (the two prompts that I'm using), all in 557 words.

The whole town gathered under the golden arches for the opening. The controversial new development was finished, and this was its first day of trade. Although previously the franchise's arrival had divided the town, it now appeared that everyone accepted its presence. McDonalds had come to Renaissance.
   At 10:30 in the morning, with the whole population gathered around, Peter P. Petersham cut a large red ribbon over the glass double doors. The new owner, Daniel Crawford, grinning and shaking hands. He was new to town and wanted to meet everyone at the opening, whilst spirits were hight.
Caitlyn Mollison, along with all the other mothers, lined up to get Happy Meals and helium balloons. Children went running off around the vinyl floors and throughout the plastic playground, screams of happiness echoing. Occasionally a scream would have a distressed pitch to it, and a mother would scurry off to find her sobbing child who had been pushed off the slide, or stepped on.
   Peter P. Petersham ducked behind the playground after the official opening, knowing it was the last place that his wife or girlfriends would find him. They were all at the opening, as as soon as he could, he ran back to his empty take away show to consider all his former customers who would prefer McDonalds to his Burger With The Lot.
   Dr Adele Divine had agreed to make an appearance, at the insistence of her husband. She now absently listened to old Thelma Hardy talk about how she expected the salt in the fries would flare up her scorisis. Her husband stood with a group of young men, just outside the entrance. They were waiting for the queue of mothers to ease before ordering their Big Macs and Quarter Pounders.
   After Caitlyn Mollison had plonked herself into a plastic chair with three Happy Meals for her triplets, she was joined by her uniformed husband. He had stopped by to ensure that law and order prevailed at the opening. He needn't have worried - with the ease of service and the entertainment that the restaurant provided to her girls, Caitlyn wondered why she ever thought McDonalds would be a bad idea for Renaissance. 
   Daniel Crawford gradually got around the meet everyone, his grin plastered on his face. Noon came and went, the festive attitude prevailed, and the kitchen was humming as people kept eating.
   It was mid-afternoon when the first child vomitted. The embarrassed mother gathered her child up and muttered something about eating too much and running around. Soon, however, a few more children were projecting vomit over the plastic play equipment. A couple of adults with sympathetic involuntary reflexes also chucked.
   A few minutes of confusion and embarrassment ensued, until almost simultaneously, cramps set in to the entire restaurant. Many vomitted. Some collapsed, moaning. A few ran for the toilets.
   Amid stomach cramps, a headache and a dry mouth, Dr Adele Divine recognised food poisoning when she saw and felt it.
   In the days that followed, it was discovered that a batch of green potatoes had caused solanine poisoning.
   Daniel Crawford never recovered his business. No locals would return with any frequency. An occasional tourist passing through the town was not enough to sustain him. Daniel closed his franchise after three months, moving back to Sydney. 
   The mayor's take away shop boomed.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears - Read-along Part 3

Hosted by The Book Nerd Club, this week those participating in the read-along read from Chapter 14 to Chapter 19 of Gillian Mears' new novel, Foal's Bread. So, I feel almost like I've been playing a team sport. We're at the end of the third quarter, and all quite exhausted. But determined to finish, and looking forward to the sense of achievement when the the final page is turned, win or lose.
   You can find the first quarter here, and the second quarter here.

I have to admit, I think I'm a lazy reader. I've promised to work hard, and not fail as a reader with this novel. However, I don't like working hard! I like the writing in a book to be beautiful, smooth and flowing. Then, I can focus on the characters and the story and the issues. With Foal's Bread, the writing is clunky - that's the word I've used before, and will continue to do so. Last week, I explained that I think I've overcoming the clunkiness by reading slower. Reading slowly just frustrates me.
   However, this week, with physical and conscious effort (which is why I am panting with exhaustion as I write this blog), I ignored the writing and focused on what I think Mears is trying to do. It really helped me to read some other reviews of this book, and to do some research into Mears herself.  I can now appreciate the subtlely. Although the characters still irritate me, I can have more insight into why they are the way they are.
   Spoiler alert
   I can't feel a happy ending coming. If Noah somehow deals with her abuse issues and emotional distance, gets over her loneliness and jealously, and everyone lives happily-ever-after, I will be very disappointed.
   The mother-in-law Minna continued to think that the sun shone out of her son's you-know-what. When he died, her bitterness and hatred towards Noah is palpable. She's isolating Noah, treating her like a working animal, or worse. She even says to Noah that it should have been Noah that died, not Roley.
   Noah's behaviour is unforgivable, though. I understand what's driving her to drink, but I don't understand why she's taking out the anger and disappointment she feels for herself, on her daughter, who appears to be the only one left who loves her. It was also interesting how Mears barely mentioned Noah whilst Roley was deteriorating, bed-bound, and dying, except when she was suggesting getting some arsenic into him, or was forcing open his jaws to force feed him whilst he was trying to starve himself. Noah's cruelty is also getting worse, and she continues to tie her son up on a running rope, like a dog.
   My favourite parts this quarter were:

  • The 'irresistible glee of betrayal' that Ralda felt when dobbing Noah into Minna, was described as 'stalking in under her apron cord'.
  • When Mr Cousins says to Minna 'love your own but respect everybody else's'.
  • When Roley dies, to radio works for a couple of seconds even though the batteries are dead. Roley's dog is jumping up and down into the air, as if to greet him. And a ring of light ascending into the sky is seen by Lainey and Minna, and Lainey gets the feeling that her father is galloping on horse back.
  • Getting George's pony into the truck by linking arms behind its rump. I remember having to do something similar whenever a horse wouldn't go into the float. A bit of pressure applied to its rump, by either linked arms or a rope, works a treat.
  • Lainey referring to dressage with distain - 'circles and riding neat figures of eight on the flat'.
  • Lainey taking off the spurs, and realising she doesn't have to be exactly like her mother.
  • Lainey learning that the 'impossible becomes possible when the valley inside your belly lays itself open': what a beautiful concept.
  • Noah's jealousy being described as a front hoof crack.
  • All hope at One Tree is gone and symbolised through the cracking of the 'hope on, hope ever' plate.
Although I did some searching, I don't know what Wizard Lighting is. It seems like some kind of piped gas system.
   Also, I'm not sure what Chalcey and Chalcedite means. Was it the name of the original family that bred this particular kind of horse or colour?
   And what rhyme went Flackety-Flack?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Rule of Three: Part 3

Refresh your memory by re-reading Part 1 and Part 2 before delving into the third part below. Also, get acquainted with our hosts, and link through to other Rule of 3 Blogfest participants by clicking the button below.
   The main character's relationship is unravelling, this week, and I also have her laughing/snickering at the mayor's misfortune, although it hasn't really come to pass it is expected that the mayor's business will fail with the new arrival (543 words).


Sitting at her kitchen table in the fading evening light, Dr Adele Divine was spiralling down into a pit of her own thoughts.
   She was coming to terms with the realisation that she resented Renaissance, regretted her move here with her new husband, and was struggling against the constraint she felt closing like a fist around her throat.
   All the things she had at first loved about this town, now ground her to her bones. She couldn't quite admit to herself, yet, that it was the same with her husband. When she had first met him, he seemed so unique. His old-fashioned manners. His values and ideas. Now, it all seemed backwards.
   She shared a small medical centre here with another General Practitioner. She could admit that she would never be a partner in a practice anywhere else this quickly. Between them, they shared the entire population of 333 townspeople. The income was fine because the patients were regular and loyal, and there was no competition. The nearest emergency department, let alone full operational hospital, was nearly an hour's drive away. But where was the challenge? Dealing with old Thelma Hardy's psoriasis every fortnight, and hooking Edward Gladstone up to dialysis a couple of times a week for the rest of her life did not appeal.
   Initially, she had been intrigued by the town's history. She had spent weeks in the library before starting work, and discovered that gold had brought the first settlers to the area nearly 200 years ago. Renaissance was called Eaglevale in those days, and had been the site of a number of uprisings amongst the gold miners and the officials, who were corrupt and charging outrageous licence fees.
   Later, gold mining became coal mining under the Main Gauche and Minor Gauche. This was to be the beginning of the end of booming Eaglevale. Nearly all the men in the town worked in the mines. An explosion killed over half of them. The explosion ignited a coal seam fire which decimated the semi-tropical rainforest now referred to as the Culdees. The coal seam fire also released so much mercury into the local ecosystem that the remaining population who hadn't left after the death of their husbands, brothers and fathers, slowly died.
   After substantial decontamination, the ghost town was reestablished within the last 50 years as Renaissance. A small, closed community with new-comers having to meet certain ridiculous prerequisites. 
   Her husband had been born and raised here, though his family had since left.
   With a few exceptions, none of whom she could think of now, every person in this town was ridiculous. All headed by their ridiculous mayor who ran the local take-away food shop, and who maintained a wife and two girlfriends that everyone knew about.
   Adele gave a bitter chuckle, to think of what was about to become of the mayor's business now this international franchise was coming to town. The development that had divided the town, and caused such a stir over something so seemingly trivial.
   Sighing, she heard her husband's car pull into the driveway. He had been playing squash tonight. She pushed herself up from the table, flicked a light on and began the daily routine of preparing dinner for two.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Doctor Zhivago

I feel like I have accomplished something massive. It did take me a while. I've read three-and-a-half other books whilst reading this. But, I finished Doctor Zhivago today - yes, the classic by Boris Pasternak.
   The first half was difficult. I flew through the second half.

   The language is beautiful. It must be absolutely amazing in its native language - I'm not sure how much was lost in translation.
   The history is captivating. The twists, and how the characters are linked together over the years, is very skilfully done.
   Yuri, the protagonist, is annoying. He's still loveable. This is a great love story. But it's a story of sacrifice and standing up for what you believe in.
   I am still absorbing it all. I definitely think that I need to read it again. I can't articulate how this book has made me feel. Like I said, I'm still absorbing.
   Please, please, please, if you haven't read it - READ IT!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears - Read-along Part 2

Time already for the second instalment of our Read-along hosted by The Book Nerd Club, reading Gillian Mears' new Australian novel Foal's Bread.
   If you didn't already read the first part that I published last week, here it is. This week, we read from chapter 7 to chapter 13, inclusive. Beware that the following may spoil the novel/story for you, if you want to read this novel later.

I've got to say; I'm still struggling with this book. But, I will not fail as a reader. I think I've even changed my reading style to allow for the clunky writing. I'm reading more slowly, so that I don't have to reread passages that are written in the strange language that the characters speak in (has anyone noticed that the characters always leave out a 'the' in front of nouns?).
   There are some wonderful moments of writing, and when I come across something I particularly like, I quickly put a little star or scribble in the margin, so I can repeat some here:

  • After the foal is born, and they are worried that the mare is too old to survive the birth, Noah and Roley talk about poddies;
  • From Lainey's point of view, when she's remembering how much she loved their hand-reared Lamby, but then they all ate him with mint sauce;
  • The information that Phar Lap means lightning, or 'sky flash' (I haven't looked that up, and wonder if it's true?);
  • The description of Noah shoeing a horse, with the knife, then the nippers, then the rasp, so that the hoof will be neat and tidy and fit into the shoe when she hammers it on. This reminded me of watching the farrier who used to come and shoe my mother's horses. He wore the leather chaps and had the nippers and the rasp. The hooves always ended up so neat;
  • When the horse takes off and it holds its 'tail out like a flag'. What a great image, because they do hold their tails up when they are playful and frisky;
  • Noah being tender for once with the mare's 'beautiful nostrils the size of teacups', and the image of them breathing into each other's faces;
  • The metaphor of Roley's panic being like the 'little urgent marching feet' of the hens; and
  • Finally some jumping! Lainey in her father's saddle and the old gelding chewing on his bit - I got very vivid imaged during that scene as well.
Otherwise, like I said above, I am struggling. That is, until I sat down to write this post this morning, and I received an email from ANZ LitLovers LitBlog who had just reviewed Foal's Bread too. Lisa Hill, the blogger, writes that she also struggled with the book, and that it's not a book to 'enjoy', but may well be one of the most talked about novels this year. Her article articulates some of the deeper issues of the characters really well. The novel glosses over this too much, and Lisa suggests that Mears often assumes that her allusions would be understood.
   I still can't relate to the characters, although I am beginning to feel close to Lainey. The characters frustrate me. Both Noah's aunts and Roley's sisters merge into one character for me, because they are so similar. But after reading Lisa Hill's post at ANZ LitLovers, I can at least understand them a bit better, even if I can't feel any emotion for them (I didn't even get emotional when Roley was beating his useless legs and crying).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Rule of Three: Part 2

Wow! Already time for the second post. If you didn't read the first post, find it here. Look out for all the 'rule of three' references: the three men at the entry of the first scene, the three women in a relationship with the mayor, the three mobile phones that the mayor operates, and finally the mayor's name: Peter P Petersham! I also used two of the prompts from last week: an argument, and the fear of an impending misfortune.
   This week I'm using the prompt; 'a relationship becomes complicated' (563 words).


Bright colours and bold emotive messages bounced all around her. She grasped the wooden stake that her own placard was attached to, and continued to bounce it up and down to the chant.
   "What do we want?"
   "Support locals," she cried out with the other thirty people protesting.
   "When do we want it?"
   Caitlyn Mollison had worked herself up into a moderate state of rage for the first time in her life. She was nearly beside herself that the Council had voted to allow this monstrosity to be built and soon to open in their lovely Renaissance. Now they were protesting in front of the fenced construction site.
   The decision would effect the health of the community, especially the health of their children, and it would generate excessive amounts of litter that no one would take responsibility for.
   In joining the Community Action Against External Development Group, Caitlyn had been thinking of her girls - triplets, Katherine, Karla and Kylie. They were six years old, and so impressionable. They would be easy prey for the advertising and Caitlyn cringed in anticipation of the nagging she would face. 
   She wasn't so absorbed that she didn't see her husband pull up on the other side of Villein Road in his blue and white checkered vehicle. Still focusing on the chant, she slyly watched his lean body unfold from the front seat. He was all crisp and shiny in his uniform as he leant on the bonnet of his car, squinting into the sun to watch the protestors. 
   He hadn't been happy when she joined the Group, but had so far kept his disapproval to himself because she hadn't publicly displayed her opinion. Her presence here today would complicate their relationship. 
   Senior Constable Mollison grabbed his two-way radio from his belt and appeared to listen to it intently before snapping a quick reply. He then started to cross the four lanes of empty street. Caitlyn thought he was glaring at her, so re-doubled her effort in bouncing her placard.
   She had just turned away from his as she followed the others in their slow circular march, when she felt a firm grip on her elbow.
   "The girls have just called the station," came her husband's low gruff voice in her ear. "Someone's thrown a rock through the front window. We need to get home."
   Caitlyn gaped, panic starting to rise in her like a boiling pot of water. She instantly thought of one of the punk teenagers that her husband often had run-ins with.
   But her husband moved away to speak to Dianne, the Group's leader and then to some of the other members.
   When he came back to her, gently guiding her with a hand on her lower back, they crossed back over the Villein to the police car.
   "The girls are ok," he said eventually, as they buckled into the front seats.
   "Good," Caitlyn nodded, looking out the passenger window, wishing not for the first time that her husband would change his career.
   "Someone's not happy with your Group. Nine houses in total have been targeted. Dianne's and some of the others here today. The mayor, too. I guess the owner has some local friends after all."
   Again, Caitlyn gaped. Then felt a stab of guilt in the pit of her stomach. This attack was brought on her family by her.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears - Read-along Part 1

Thanks to Danielle at The Book Nerd Club, the host, and Allen and Unwin, the publisher, for allowing this read-along to occur. There will be four posts throughout October, as those participating in the read-along make their slow (frustratingly so, I might add, because I like to inhale a book once I start it) progress through the novel.
   We have been provided with uncorrected proof copies of the novel to read throughout the read-along, but I believe that the book is now published.
   This week, we read from the preamble to chapter 6.

I am getting into the story, maybe for no other reason than I want to know where it's heading. I don't think that I'm emotionally invested in the characters, yet. I don't know enough about them. The character development is fairly light-on. They are almost one dimensional - the way they talk is the only thing that stands out about them, at this point.
   I made a note to myself that the preamble doesn't work. It's unnecessary. It doesn't create a sense of suspense. It is too vague for the reader to understand what it is supposed to be eluding to. There was a very vivid image which almost turned me off - almost dingoes eating out the fetlocks of a new-born calf. If the preamble is going to stay, then I think the whole second paragraph should come out - it doesn't add much. Overall, though, I think the book would be better without the preamble. (It's not a preamble if you need to read the story to translate the preamble.) It is very lyrical, but I think that it's trying too hard in some points - because I'm also reading Doctor Zhivago at the moment, no other lyrical writing, prose, or metaphors can compare.
   Spoiler: In the first chapter, our protagonist, a young girl called Noah, is traumatised. We find out about her rape, and the odd love (unrelatable) she has for her rapist uncle. She miscarries his child, by herself, in a creek. It is alive when it's born. Instead of drowning it, she sets it into a butter box and sends it down the creek. This gives an indication of Noah's strength of character, that she could go through that by herself and continue on like nothing happened. She feels guilty, and the living baby haunts her. I don't think this is emphasised enough. I think this is the most interesting thing about Noah. Nothing else is really described, so I feel like I don't know or understand her properly (her relationship with her husband seems shallow, her love and determining to ride and show-jump seems to disappear once she's a mother, her father has disappeared from her life, she's got no drive to live independently from her husband's family).
   I like the pony metaphors in the first chapter - it shows that Noah relates everything back to horses. But these disappear in later chapters.
   For a book that is supposed to be about people obsessed with high-jumping, there has been hardly any of it so far. The second chapter is based at a country show - I thought the description could have been done better. The show ring wasn't described - it wasn't described how a country show is all centralised around the events in the show ring. It didn't describe the smells of the show (the junk food and animal shit), it didn't describe the noise, or even how important such an event is for the whole region.
   The dialogue in this novel is very unique. The characters miss out a lot of words when they talk. It's ok to do this whilst the characters are talking or thinking, but I don't like that the style continues in the general prose. It makes the writing clunky. It doesn't flow well, and I'm often having to go back to reread a sentence.
   What I'm hoping is that there will be a lot more focus on the high-jumping, or that it actually feels like their live centre around the high-jumping. I hope that Noah has to step-up to move the family forward, as her husband declines. I hope that the down-syndrome kid becomes a high-jumping champion!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Rule of Three: Part 1

And so, the saga begins (ok, so maybe it's going to be way too short to be a saga, but it will take a month to consume). I been developing my three characters in my head over the last couple of weeks, as well as the story behind the town, Renaissance. 
   I quickly visited Flash Fiction to grab the button again ... and guess what?!? Her first character is the mayor of Renaissance too! Still, our stories will be very different. Here's my first instalment (608 words):
Rule of Three Blogfest

Three men exited the Council building, one holding the heavy glass door for the others. The building was a squat, 50’s-style, unassuming understatement, set back from the corner of the Targe and Kris streets, behind native shrubs that overwhelmed it. The men, all dressed in dark grey variations of the same suit, wandered out onto the yellow grass to continue their conversation. 
   “I could still veto the decision, you know,” Peter P. Petersham, the mayor of Renaissance declared provocatively. “I just don’t think you’ve got the best interests of this town at heart.”
   “Come on, Pete. It’s called progress. We can’t stay stuck in the dark ages forever,” said Allen, a fellow councillor and the owner of the local shoe shop.
   “It will be good for the town. Tourism will improve, the local kids will have jobs, and it might start attracting more business to the area,” this was Carl, the owner of the newsagency.
   One of Peter P. Petersham’s three mobile phones chirped like a cricket, causing him to jump and fumble for the right one. It was common knowledge to the other 330 of the town’s residents that Peter P. Petershawm carried a phone for each of the women in his life: the wife, and two girlfriends who were oblivious of each other.
   Mumbling as he typed some pleasantry to keep the woman of the moment happy, the mayor had soon dealt with the distraction and returned his thoughts to the impending misfortune of Renaissance. “You both seem to forget the very reason why you moved here in the first place, along with most of the rest of the town: to get away from the corporate greed and seek a better life. Renaissance has been an almost closed community for over 50 years. We are all prosperous because we look after each other, and everyone stays local. I don’t want our small businesses to be threatened - our very way of life threatened - by large corporate franchises coming in and taking over. Not to mention the rubbish that will be generated.” He gestured wildly whilst he spoke, brining his hands to rest when he had finished by hooking his thumbs into his belt and rocking forward on his toes like an exclamation mark.
   “This is not going to open some flood gate. Every development application will still have to come through us. You’re acting like this is the worst thing in the world. It’s still going to be owned by a local,” Allen began to move away, tired of the conversation. Some of the other councillors were now leaving the building, and skirting around the three men on the grass - some even skirting around behind the native shrubs - to avoid listening to their mayor.
   “Let the decision rest. Get used to the idea, because it’s coming,” Carl wanted to say “suck it up”, but turned and stalked away quickly to avoid another half an hour of the same arguments they had all heard before.
   Peter P. Petersham watched as all his councillors deserted him. He felt empty and lost as all the cars pulled away and the main street seemed to quickly become desolate and abandoned. Another of his phones chose that moment to thrill, awakening him from his melancholy. After seeing that it was his wife, he decided to ignore it. He was heading home anyway.
   Turning north on Kris Street, the mayor started his short walk home. The last of the autumn light was fading, seeming to soften the very air and a haze hung in the distance. He was disappointed in the evening’s outcome, and fearful for the future. Particularly his own.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday's Five II

I really enjoyed looking back on the books I had read when I did my last Friday's Five. So, I visited Steph's Stacks again this week, and thought "I must do another Friday's Five". Here's another list of five must-read books:

The Tea Rose and The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelley.

I wrote a note to myself after reading The Tea Rose, that it was a very smart book, in the way it combined a couple of historic events into the background of the novel. Ultimately, thought, this is a great love story. The love story spans over the two novels, so don't stop at the first one. The characters are so perfect, and can do no wrong, and seem to go from strength to strength (which can get annoying, and a little Mills and Boon). But who doesn't like a good romance?

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows.

Ok, forgive me. Another love story in a historic setting. This book is very unique - written in letter form. It is also quite educational - about the occupation of Guernsey by Germany during WWII (which I knew nothing about). It kept me running to do research online. A worthwhile read.

Eucalyptus by Murray Bail.

An Australian novel. Like a fairytale. It is even more unique in the way it's written, and is a way of the author showcasing a lot of little short stories and fables that he has written. It is a strange love story - maybe because it's not written in a traditional sense, but is expressed very differently. The girl is a beauty, but is kept secluded by her father. Her father advertises that whoever can name all the eucalyptus trees on his property can marry his daughter. She is distraught by this, and eventually falls into a depression ... and only the man she loves can save her!

The Roving Party by Rohan Wilson.

Another Australian novel, this is the latest Vogel prize winner. This is not a love story. This is a story about humanity, about what men are made of, about the best and worst in us. It is about a roving party in early Australian settlement, who are formed to hunt and kill Aboriginals. The main character, though, is an Aboriginal himself, raised by white men. Really interesting character study of him, and how he doesn't fit in to either world, and his torn loyalties and mixed beliefs.

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones.

This is set in Papua New Guinea during their civil war in 1990. It is about a school of young children whose teacher runs away, and all the school books are destroyed. A local white man (the only white man left on the island, in their view) takes on the role of the teacher and reads Great Expectations to them. The children can escape the atrocities around them by going into their English world which is so different from their reality, and they love Pip.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rule of 3 Blogfest #REN3

As part of my mission to keep myself writing, inspired, and also to challenge my writing, I have joined up to participate in the Rule of 3 Blogfest!

The rules are simple. We've been given a fictional location. Once a week we need to add to our tale, one character at a time, for three weeks. On the fourth week, the story culminates: the three characters' lives intersect, or not, into one last tale. Any genre, any time period.

So come back next Wednesday for the first instalment, and stay tuned for a whole exciting month of October!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

We Need to Talk About Kevin

A while ago, I suggested that we pick up certain books in our lives when we need them. What message is 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' by Lionel Shriver trying to send me?
   My husband and I are just starting to warm to the idea of having a baby (the thought of pregnancy, and losing my identity terrifies me), and I read about this couple who didn't want children, then decide to have a baby, and he turns out to be psychotic. This book obviously raises a lot of other issues, such as trouble teenagers, and gun control in the USA. But ultimately, it's a mother questioning whether she was a good or bad mother.

   Again, before I read this book, I had been forewarned that it was a woman writing to her husband about their son, who had completed mass murder during a School Shooting.
   The mother is so depressed, I wonder how much of her depression is tinging all her memories. Hindsight is also generally clearer than during the moment. I don't really trust her version of events. So, was she really also apprehensive about her son? Did she really think there was something wrong with him? Was he really born with a wicked her?
   I think the mother had an aversion to having a baby in the first place, so when she got post-natal depression, she believed that the baby hated her back just as much as she resented him. I don't think she ever loved him unconditionally, or at all, and he picked up on that. In fact, she never even likes him - and that is a deep secret that most people would never share. Is it so uncommon that parents dislike their children?
   She then blames him for a lot of nasty things, including the lose of his younger sister's eye to acid. She always suspected Kevin, and often vocalised this to her husband, causing fights. However, I think she was right. I do think that Kevin killed his sister's pet, I do think Kevin destroyed everything his mother created, and I do think that Kevin rinsed his sister's eye with acid.
   During the book, I was wondering whether the mother was actually sending these letters to her husband. At one point, I thought they separated long before Kevin's School Shooting. Then, I thought he was killed in a car accident and never came home. Then, I thought he was still alive and that they separated after the School Shooting and the husband took the younger daughter to live with him. It is this story that kept me reading. The mother's self-deprecating descriptions were dragging on me, and occasionally I did skip through whole paragraphs to try to pick up the story of her and her husband again. She really loves him, and wants him to come home. Should I spoil it for those who haven't read it? No.
   But I'm turned off having a baby.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Friday's Five (on Saturday)

I just visited Steph's Stacks and loved her blog on Friday's Five. It will be difficult to nominate five great books, so I'll limit my selection to what I'e read in the last 12 months.
1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

This was so well written. It was recommended to me by a friend, who said she had taken a long time to read it because she was really disturbed by it. Although I did find it confronting, I powered through it and found it fascinating and even hopeful. It is about 'the man' and 'the boy'. Neither are named, probably because names have become irrelevant in the post-apocalyptic world they live in. The book never says what happened to the world, and never says how long ago it happened. But it was within the man's lifetime. The boy is born after the event, and his mother kills herself because it's all too hard. Everything is dead because the sun doesn't get through the ash in the atmosphere. Some humans have turned to cannibalism. The man is travelling the road with the boy, and it's a glimpse into their fight to survive.

2. Breath by Tim Winton.

I have struggled with a number of Winton's books in the past, but this one flowed very well. He doesn't use traditional punctuation, particularly talking marks, which makes it very difficult to flow when someone is speaking or isn't. It is based around a 50 year old man looking back on how his adolescence shaped the rest of his life. He became an adrenalin junky, as a surfer. He was also taken advantage of by an older woman, and has strange lasting sexual desires. She liked to asphyxiate herself during sex, and got the boy to choke her. She was also pregnant, so he became to associate pregnancy with sexuality. Later, the man's marriage breaks down and he becomes a voluntary mental patient. He eventually finds some stability in a career as a paramedic, and returns to surfing.

3. The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

This is an Australian 'gothic' novel. It is brilliant. The characters come right of the page. The humour is very black. I won't say much more, because this is a book that everyone should pick up and discover for themselves.

4. Water for Elephants by Sara Green

Try never to watch movies based on novels. They just don't compare. This is about an old man reflecting on his life as a vet in a circus. Ultimately, it is a love story. It really is superb.

5. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

This is another Australian novel, but a must read for those who like contemporary literature/classics. When I bought this book, the lady in the bookshop told me that she hated all the characters in this book - she literally said they were assholes! She wasn't wrong. I can't believe there are people out there that think like these characters do. But there probably are. This book is about to be made into a movie too. It's about a man who slaps a child at a friend's barbecue lunch. The child is not his own. From my point of view, the child deserved the slap, but no one else had the guts to do it. The parents couldn't discipline their own child, but when the child finally got what it needed, the police get involved.

Thanks for the idea, Steph!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

   This book by Mark Haddon is so unique and fresh. I can see that it may be confusing if someone didn’t know this book was written from the point of view of a boy with autism. But, I’d been fore-warned. It was very convincing. It was a real insight into an autistic brain ... not that I’ve had anything to compare it to, so how authentic is it, really?
   Christopher is a teenage boy with autism, attending a special school and living with his single father. His father is very patient, and seems to do very well with Christopher. He allows Christopher to be who he is, and doesn’t expect anything. 
   I really sympathise with Christopher’s father, too. He was really hurt by his wife, and wanted to protect his son. He didn’t know what affect his mother leaving would have on Christopher - he is such an unknown quantity. He started the lie because he was hurting, and he continued it because he didn’t know how to do anything else. He didn’t want his life to be any more difficult than it was. I’m glad that Christopher and his father have started to heal by the end of the book. The
ending was satisfying, because the book has a lovely afterlife. You can imagine Christopher’s parents working closer together, and Christopher’s relationship with his father continuing to improve, and then Christopher going off to university with one or both of his parents.

   Christopher’s mother doesn’t cope very well. She’s not patient. She doesn’t understand Christopher, and she doesn’t seem to try to. She runs away, because it’s all too hard. I find her weak and frustrating. It’s easier for me to forgive his father than his mother. I think she’s unworthy. Her son is very special, and she couldn’t put in the time.
   The tangents in the book were really refreshing. They were well timed, and the topics were brilliant. They gave another dimension to Christopher and his thoughts and intelligence.
   This book is going to have a long-lasting effect on me.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Alchemist

Wow! I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and I don't know why I haven't come across it before. This was more of a fable then a novel, and it was so uplifting. I've vowed to read it each year.
   Do you think that books find us when we most need to read them? It certainly felt that way whilst I was reading The Alchemist.
   I was a bit let down by the ending, because it wasn't the 'happily ever after' ending that I wanted. It was a bit unexpected, but it was still the right ending, I think.
   This is a coming of age story. It is a story about wisdom. It is a story about nature, love and humanity.

   In the prologue, the alchemist reads a version of the story of the death of Narcissus, where the lake mourns his death because she can no longer see herself in the reflection of his eyes. What a brilliant beginning! Is there an element of narcissism in pursuing our own dreams and goals?
   The Alchemist suggests that those who truly love you will support you in search of your dreams and goals, regardless of the guilt that you might feel for being selfish. Is it even selfish, if ultimately you and everyone around you are happier? Or is this one case where the end justifies the means: if you are successfully in pursuing your dreams then everyone is happy, but if your dreams waste away your life and savings it is resented.
   This simple little story is a lesson in the intimacy between the spiritual and material worlds, evolution and love.
   Read it!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cold Comfort Farm

This is another book that the First Tuesday Book Club put me onto. I picked it up as a Penguin classic, by Stella Gibbson. This is a gem!
   It is a take-off of rural novels being written at its time (1930s). This woman can write comedy, but her language is still so full of imagery and the characters are very well developed. I was laughing out loud in so many places. And, I was always searching for a pen to underline tiny pieces of brilliant writing!
   The heroine, Flora Poste, finds herself orphaned at 19 years old, and broke. But she's not too concerned, because she hardly knew her parents who were always travelling, and she was off getting the best education that money could buy. Instead of getting a job, she decides to impose upon distant family members, and takes up an offer from her cousin Judith Starkadder to come and stay at Cold Comfort Farm. Intrigued by Judith's letter which speaks of 'her rights' and the promise that she will 'atone' for the wrong done to Flora's father, Flora, armed with a copy of the Higher Common Self, makes her way to Howling, Sussex.

 Flora meets her distant family of country hicks, determined to improve everyone's life. Her cousin Judith is depressed and manic, her God fearing husband is gruff, there is jealous Rueben, and over-sexed son Seth, and young lovesick dryad Elfine. All of whom are ruled over by the reclusive matriarch Aunt Ada Doom, who saw something nasty in the woodshed and holds her family at bay with the threat of her insanity.
   It is a hilarious tale of Flora optimistically taking each family member, approaching their problems calmly and without fuss, and changing their lives. She is always commenting on how people are portrayed in novels, and how people who lead 'rich emotional lives' react in certain circumstances - 'they read all kinds of meanings into comparatively simple actions, especially the actions of other people, who do not live intensely and with a wild poetry. Thus you may find them weeping passionately on their bed, and be told that you - you alone - are the cause because you said that awful thing to them at lunch.'
   The cows are called Graceless, Pointless, Feckless and Aimless, and the bull is called Big Business. The elderly farm hand 'cletters' the dishes with a thorn twig, rather than wash them. When Flora buys him a mop on a stick to wash the dishes, he loves the mop so much, and thinks it is so pretty, that he hangs it on the wall never to be used!
   Flora never finds out what Aunt Ada Doom saw in the woodshed, she never finds out what wrong was done to her father, and she never finds out what her rights are. But, she achieves so much that she leaves satisfied and exhausted, with everyone's life fixed.
   Highly recommended.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Braiding Time

It's been a while, but I've done another writing exercise to post. Again, this is from the Now Write! collection. This exercise is helpful in deepening and authenticating character, exploring in particular how a character thinks. It can also be useful in learning to weave exposition deftly into a story.
   We all live within a complex weave of three strands of time: the present, the past, and the future. At any given moment our minds are shifting from the focus of the moment to what we anticipate might come next, to incidents from the recent or deep past that still preoccupy us. It is the unraveling of a character's relationship to all three elements of time, the writer becomes more deeply acquainted with his or her character.
   So, the exercise involves choosing a character to work with, and write four paragraphs. The first paragraph, the character must be involved in some present ongoing action. In the second paragraph, keeping the character still engaged in the ongoing activity, the character is imaging what s/he will do in the future. In the third paragraph, still using the present activity as a starting point, write about something from the past that the ongoing action is prompting the character to remember. Finally, the fourth and final paragraph, use the elements of forward-looking and backward-looking as the character continues with, or completes, the action. Working on making the transitions between time frames feel continuous and smooth.
   Here's my attempt:
The sun dropped below the rolling peaks of the hills as they descended into the valley. Relieved to no longer be squinting into the blinding globe, Harry began to take in the familiar surrounds. The drooping gums, the dry rocky creekbed, and the narrow track over which he had rode many times. His dog jogged along behind, mindful of rocks flicked up by hooves, ears flickering backwards and forwards alert for all sounds in the bush.
   Bill shifting in his saddle, easing himself into a new position, and allowing for the effects of his weight on his horse's progress down hill. He lead a second horse, carrying basic provisions and the mail that he had collected from Talbotville that morning. He was visiting the new manager of Wonangatta before heading to his own hut the following day. He had met Jim before, at various cattle and horse sales, but hoped this visit would cement an understand between the neighbouring properties.
   As the open plains of the valley spread out before him, he restrained himself from arching to look for the homestead. Many times had he descended this path, longing to catch a glimpse of Margaret before she knew he was there. Her natural, unobserved movements about the farm had caused him to yearn for her in those quiet moments. As soon as she knew he was present, or as soon as her family members were around, her self-conscious, brusque behaviour returned, determined to keep everyone at arm's length.
   But the family had left the homestead, the original settlers, his own father included, all long dead. Wonangatta had stood empty these last months, the furniture all covered in linen, until the rights had been sold to men from Mansfield. Jim's appointment as manager was the first news uttered from anyone's mouth, after appropriate greetings, in Talbotville that morning. Harry hoped that he was the first to call on the new manager, so that he could convey to Jim just how things should be.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Welcome September - Welcome Spring

I missed the last Book Blogger Hop, but I'm going to participate in the current one.

Book Blogger Hop

The questions to answer is: “What are you most looking forward to this fall/autumn season – A particular book release? Halloween? The leaves changing color? Cooler temperatures? A vacation? (If your next season is other than fall/autumn, tell us about it and what you are most looking forward to in your part of the world!)”

Well, for me it's not autumn - I've just escaped winter and am enjoying the warmer days and looking forward to a long, hot summer. September brings spring in Australia, along with the growth  in my vegetable garden, and longer days. I can't wait until daylight savings starts. That's what I'm looking forward to the most: longer days. I hope that I will get home before it's dark each night, and I can walk my dogs and start to feel more alive again.