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.