Thursday, 18 September 2014

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ September 2014

There has been much discussion about a book from a French economist named Thomas Piketty (which doesn’t sound very French) called Capital in the Twenty First Century.

It is being compared in importance to Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and The Last Man after the fall of communism. Perhaps free markets will not solve all our problems, especially as we witness the growing inequality in our society. I’m not quite up to reading all 692 pages so I am quoting from a review in August's Australian Book Review by Mark Triffitt, previously Director of Strategic Communications for the Business Council of Australia. In essence, capital is saleable financial assets such as stocks and bonds and property which return rent, dividends and interest. Returns on capital grow at faster rates than normal economic outputs such as workers wages. The logic of capital, and the free markets it lubricates, is such that it can only ever drive major disparities in wealth.

I was a reluctant reader of Donna Tartt’s latest big novel The Goldfinch, winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize. I think you are either a Donna Tartt fan or not and I’m always reluctant to start a book with more than 600 pages. This has 864 pages. Theo Decker is a thirteen year old New Yorker, son of a devoted mother and absent father. His mother is killed in a terrorist blast at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Goldfinch is a miraculous little medieval painting which Theo takes with him when he, also miraculously, escapes unnoticed from the chaos after the blast. The book is devoted to his life and the life of that painting. It is a very New York book, with a sojourn in the abandoned suburbs of Las Vegas. The story wanders between High Society, dodgy Antique Dealers and Russian gangsters, and is filled with sumptuous detail. The narrative is terrific but for me the detail was too much – I wanted to find out what was happening.

Last year when the Tour de France was filling the screens of SBS we sold many many copies of Peter Smith’s lovely children’s story, Monsieur Albert Rides to Glory and this year the paperback is out and we’ve sold lots more. There’s a hush in the crowd as the Mayor lifts his gun, then an earsplitting bang and the race has begun... What's more, Peter is a bookseller at Abbey's! Famous Australian illustrator Bob Graham has done the witty drawings. It’s just one of the many, many children’s books waiting for you at the far corner of the shop.

I’ve recently been in hospital to have an operation I swore I would never have – a full knee replacement. I took along a new book from a wonderful Australian writer, Joan London, with me. It is called The Golden Age.

I’m home recovering well now and must tell you that The Golden Age is a beautiful book. As it is set in a hostel for children recovering from polio it was probably not the best choice to take into hospital with me but it turned out to be perfectly lovely. Beautiful prose presented on good cream paper with a nice type face and well set out.  The tender, observant story concerns two very different families. One a Hungarian refugee Jewish family, whose thin young son Ferenc (or Frank) is grasping life and struggling to be a poet, while Elsa, a graceful, beautiful young woman is the daughter of a bank clerk. Elsa and Frank are the two oldest patients and find solace in their friendship. Frank is the first person Elsa has met who talks about his emotions. The story is set in Perth in the 1950’s so there are some superb vignettes of episodes such as the Royal Visit of the Queen and “her sailor husband” during the polio epidemic, or a school concert featuring Ida, the refugee from Budapest. There are some interesting character portraits and there is a quietly satisfying conclusion. Read this perfect little book with pleasure. Joan London’s other books are Gilgamesh and The Good Parents. Both of these books have won awards.

Keep well,


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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