Friday, 29 November 2013

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ December 2013

Heaven Forbid! One of Donna Leon’s latest books turns out not to be a Commissario Brunetti mystery. I fell into this trap when I chose her new novel, The Jewels of Paradise. In this story about a musicologist employed by two jealous cousins to find the real heir to Agostino Steffani, a now-forgotten baroque composer, Donna Leon is having lots of fun. She indulges her enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, baroque music, and lets off some steam about faith and greed and Italian governance.  After all, Leon’s very first Brunetti story was Death at La Fenice, set in the famous Venetian Opera House. She has also written, amongst other non-fiction and essays, Handel’s Bestiary: In Search of Animals in Handel’s Operas. However, I hope it’s not the beginning of a new series as Brunetti and partners are hard to replace.

Fortunately there is another new title, The Golden Egg, #22 in the series, in which Donna Leon makes some modernising moves. There is now a female Commissaria (and Brunetti is worried how Signorina Eletra will accept her) and Ispettore Vianello is moving upwards.

Language Book Centre, upstairs, has some Donna Leon stories in German and Spanish, such as Cuestion de Fe or Testamento Mortal, and I noticed a DVD, Libranos del Bien, in Spanish. It is worth browsing there. The fiction in other languages is very reasonably priced and much cheaper than you might expect. Certainly not what I found to be true about English books in Paris.

There have been several brilliantly written books by young Australian women this year, not least Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. This unlikely bestseller is about a crime committed several hundred years ago in Iceland. Don’t miss it.

Now we have The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane. This is a fable and a psychological thriller, and a very sensitive portrayal of old age. Ruth, now a widow, is living alone near a South Coast beach. She imagines she hears a tiger in the lounge room at night and a large, efficient woman arrives to take care of her. Neither of them are what they seem. Perfectly written. Every word falls neatly into place.

I went to see the anthology of short films made from Tim Winton’s book of short stories, The Turning. I thought it was terrific and I’m sure it will encourage many people to go back and re-read the stories. In a way, the wonderful images have hijacked Winton’s wonderful words so that they work very well as films. You just have to remember they are indeed short stories, so don’t look too hard for continuity. It doesn’t hurt to read the short resumes before each film, but as you don’t get the booklet until you enter the cinema, you may need to read them by the light of your mobile phone!

Colin Friels reads T S Eliot’s poem Ash Wednesday at the start of the program. It is interesting that another of Australia’s great writers, Steven Carroll, also references T S Eliot. Carroll’s novel The Lost Life imagines two young lovers visiting a country house where Eliot and his wife stayed earlier in their lives. A World of Other People is set in blitz-bombed London in 1941, where the heroine is on firewatcher duty with T S Eliot on top of the Faber publisher’s building when they both witness a plane coming down. The young woman, and future writer, later meets and loves the Australian pilot, whilst one of T S Eliot’s poems about this plane crash becomes famous. Both recommended. I am also a fan of Carroll’s series set in Melbourne in the 50s, 60s and 70s - The Art of the Engine Driver, The Gift of Speed, The Time We Have Taken (which won the Miles Franklin Award in 2008) and The Spirit of Progress (longlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin). Of course you will also find T S Eliot’s Complete Poems and Plays in stock at Abbey’s.

I re-read Elizabeth Harrower’s The Watch Tower, first published in 1966. My edition is the Sirius edition from 1987. Text Publishing have republished two of the four novels from this great Australian writer, with The Long Prospect also now in stock, as is Down in the CityThe Catherine Wheel will follow later. Don’t miss any of these absorbing, psychological stories full of observation and memories. The Watch Tower depicts two motherless girls trying to find their way in Sydney just after the war. They fall into the clutches of a seemingly kind, but nonetheless ruthless, dictator who delights in dominating them. It is not an easy read, but you can’t bear to miss a word. I doubt he could do it today!

Enjoy. Eve

Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

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