Friday, 31 August 2012

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ September 2012

Last month Greg Sheridan wrote a nice piece in the Australian Weekend Review declaring that George Eliot’s Middlemarch was the perfect novel, imploring you to read it before you die. Good Advice. We have four editions in stock – three in paperback (Penguin Black Classic, Oxford World’s Classic and Vintage Classic) and a hardback Everyman Library edition – so if you are going to take his advice you can buy a copy for as little as $9.95. This is one of the treasures of Abbey’s – our huge run of Classics which are in stock all the time. Such a great place for browsing.

I want to remind you of two important poetry editions. First, The Complete Poems of Philip Larkin, which is 768 pages in hardback, published by Faber. Remember “Complete” means it has those new poems published since the Collected Edition. And also Rosemary Dobson – The Collected Poems published by University Queensland Press in paperback.

Philip Roth’s The Ghost Writer, first published in 1979, had a sudden surge in popularity and I discovered this was because Jeffrey Eugenides (author of Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides) took it to the First Tuesday Book Club in June as his favourite book. It’s a long time since I first read the wonderful books of Philip Roth and it took me a moment to appreciate how fiercely funny and sadly cruel was this view of a talented, idealistic young Jewish writer sitting at the feet of a master!

Roth may be an acquired taste and, like all acquired tastes, can be too much in one sitting. I was glad The Ghost Writer was only 180 pages! Nonetheless I’ll soon be reading the rest of the Zuckerman trilogy – Zuckerman Unbound, The Anatomy Lesson and The Prague Orgy. You would need to special order these titles as they are only available on indent, which means the local distributor does not keep stock. You can get a hardback copy of all four titles (I know, I know, it is called a trilogy, but it also has an epilogue) called Zuckerman Bound. Roth is the only living American writer whose work is being issued in hardback by the Library of America in what is called A Definitive Edition. Probably his most famous book, American Pastoral, is available as a Vintage Classic and is much easier to find. A great writer, but not an easy man to live with. I remember reading Claire Bloom’s memoir Leaving the Doll’s House (now out of print) in which she told of the psychological horrors experienced during her marriage to Roth.

Some especially good news in the world of prizes - Gillian Mears’ wonderful book Foal’s Bread won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award, Favel Parrott’s Past the Shallows, which was on several shortlists, won the Dobbie Encouragement Award and Gail Jones’ Five Bells won the Nita B Kibble Literary Award. I recommend all three of these books, especially Gail Jones, who has just missed out on several Miles Franklin Awards. Look for her other books, Sorry and Sixty Lights and Dreams of Speaking.

Margaret Mahy, New Zealand author of many, many loved books for children, has died. Lindy tells me the Margaret Mahy Treasury and the Great Piratical Rumbustification (with illustrations by Quentin Blake) are two of her most popular. Lindy is never far away from her famous Children’s section in the far corner of Abbey’s, ready to give you good advice if you need it.

Fremantle Press are publishing more Australian fiction and have sent me a copy of If I Should Lose You by Natasha Lester, one of their emerging writers. This is a beautifully written story with an unusual setting, although perhaps not for everyone. Camille is a young mother whose first child has a chronic illness and is awaiting a liver transplant. Camille herself is a nurse who specialises in supporting families trying to decide whether to donate the organs of dying relatives. Her own mother, who died when Camille was very young, was a famous transplant surgeon. Camille’s hopes and fears, whether about her children, or her husband’s seeming lack of empathy, or of memories of her mother’s two lovers, are vividly portrayed.

I had to get a copy of Richard Ford’s new book Canada for a friend who is a great fan of Ford, especially his famous Sportswriter. The new book is once again set in Great Falls, Montana and begins “First I’ll tell you about the robbery our parents committed. Then the murders which happened later.” A great start and all true! The story is narrated by Del, a young teenager trying to cope with all the changes in his family life as his feckless father is often transferred to new places as a member of the Air Force. After the murders, his twin sister runs away and only reappears for a moment at the end of the book, while he is shuttled secretly across the Canadian border to be left in the hands of yet another strange man with a strange past. Weird things go on in small towns.

I had much pleasure reading Deltroit and the Valley of Hillas Creek: A Social and Environmental History by Nicola Crichton-Brown. Published by Melbourne Books, which seems to be a newish publisher concentrating on country topics. The background to the story is almost as good as the story. The author was a successful lawyer in London specialising in marine and commercial litigation, then a successful student at the Courtauld Institute when she married the Chief Executive of Lumley Insurance. Although she had some idea he had a farm in Australia, she got a big surprise when he decided to actually take her to live there - in a beautiful homestead far far away from the city! She found a project for herself - to write a history of the famous farm where she now lived. She decided to start right at the beginning in 1860 when the Robertson Land Acts came into force, to try to clarify the position of squatters. The Richardson brothers first followed the Wiradjuri Tribe in this beautiful part of the Riverina and their descendants continued to farm the land, which became famous for their Shorthorn herd. In 1963, the King Ranch from Texas bought the property to add to their already substantial holdings. Fortunately, by 1979, the station was again privately owned - by the Barr-Smith family from Adelaide, then by Anthony Crichton-Brown who had plans for a more holistic system of farming. This is a fascinating story of interlocking families and lots of social history, with especially beautiful illustrations of the countryside. It will appeal to many people with experiences or memories of country living.

The wonderful Robert Hughes died in August. Perhaps it is time to re-read The Fatal Shore or the first volume of his autobiography, Things I Didn’t Know. Another volume is due, but it may be a long time now. You can savour his zest for life, culture and art if you read Rome: A Cultural History or Barcelona, two of his books that pay homage to these great cities.

There is a good exhibition in the galleries of the State Library of NSW until 28 October on The Life of Patrick White.

The Australian Book Review is again running the Peter Porter Poetry Prize ($4,000 to the winner and $400 to the shortlisted books). Closing date 30 November 2012, so you have time. More information at

Our ever-helpful Christopher Scott is retiring on 11 September. He’s been a bookseller for thirty years – fifteen of them here at Abbey’s. We shall miss him and hope he enjoys some more painting expeditions now he has the time.

For more information about any of the titles I’ve mentioned here, remember to just click on the title!

Keep well, Eve

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