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.