Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ May 2016

Charlotte Wood’s latest book, The Natural Way of Things has won the Independent Booksellers’ Book of the Year Award and also The Stella Prize. And no wonder.

This is not a charming story. I had to read it in short bursts. The writing is brilliant – good enough to read aloud. The story concerns a small group of young women who have been duped, captured and imprisoned in a remote, deserted and decaying outback station. They all have one thing in common. They have been involved in a sexual scandal concerning an older, powerful man. There is an electric fence around the perimeter of the valley and they are “looked after” by two men and a woman who seem capable only of derision and insults. Be sure to read this.

Each new book from Charlotte Wood strikes out in a new direction but each time she displays her incisive depiction of people and places. Her previous books include The Children; Love and Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food; The Submerged Cathedral; Animal People, and Brothers & Sisters: Anthology of Stories from some well-known Australian authors. The Submerged Cathedral was short-listed for the Miles Franklin.

I’m now reading Julian Barnes’ latest book called The Noise of Time. Reviewers have called this a masterpiece and so it seems. In this slender book, the third person narrative refers to three different periods in the life of Russian composer, Dmitri Shoskatovich, his troubled relationship with Stalin and the Communist Party, and his efforts to retain his artistic integrity. Very moving. If you know anything of the life of this famous composer you will find extra enjoyment in this. You could also read Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shoskatovich edited by Solomon Volkov.

The very best news for Helen Garner was announced recently. She is one of the recipients of the 2016 Windham-Campbell Prizes which means she is awarded a little more than $200,000 as one of the Non-fiction awards in this generous but little known prize which does not ask for entrants. Many of her readers will be pleased for her. Her three most famous books are The First Stone, This House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial and Joe Cinque's Consolation: A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law. We also have stock of True Stories: Selected Non Fiction as well as the fiction which first made her famous – The Children’s Bach, Postcards from Surfers and Monkey Grip. Her latest book is titled Everywhere I Look which Lindy Jones has described as "Drawn from articles she has contributed to different journals/papers/books over the past decade or two, and loosely organised by theme, each is a small but perfect jewel, or a quiet sip of sanity in an increasingly incoherent world."

The inimitable Robyn Williams has written to celebrate his show on Radio National. It is called In Love with Betty the Crow: The First 40 Years of ABC RN’s THE SCIENCE SHOW –a show which he describes as “a selection of compelling conversations”. Fans of the show, like me, will really enjoy this and others will be enticed to become regular listeners.

Biographer Suzanne Falkiner has chosen a better-known subject for her latest book, called Mick: A Life of Randolph Stow. She has had access to an enormous amount of letters and diaries and of course interviews with friends still living, so this is a very detailed account of the life of Stow, regarded as one of our greatest writers. He was the second winner of the Miles Franklin Award and has also received the Patrick White Award. There is a new edition of his poetry The Land’s Meaning: New Selected Poems and you will find many poems quoted in the biography. We have stock of his fiction including To The Islands, Visitants, Tourmaline, The Girl Green as Elderflower, The Suburbs of Hell, Merry-go-Round in the Sea and Midnite.

Did you read Penguin and the Lane Brothers: The Untold Story of a Publishing Revolution by Stuart Kells? If you did you will know already that Richard, one of the younger brothers of Sir Allen Lane, came to Australia as part of a scheme to train young men as farmers. They were known as the Barwell Boys, named after a Premier of South Australia, who began the scheme. And you will know that Richard is the brother most interested in writing. At only eighteen years of age he kept an excellent diary about his adventures, good and bad, in a very foreign country, which he regularly sent home to his parents in Bristol. He was in the country three years and moved from filthy shack to grand house, complete with billiard table. These diaries have now been edited by Stuart Kells and his wife Fiona, as well as Richard’s daughter and granddaughter. They prove to be a fascinating, well written account of rural life in Australia between the wars. Very enjoyable.

Did you like the Man Booker Prize-winning novel by Yann Martell called Life of Pi? If you did you will be ready for another challenge in his new book The High Mountains of Portugal which also features animals in strange places. Take the plunge for this is a beautifully written book – part ghost story, part fable, part quest.

Booker Prize winner Anita Brookner died in March, in her eighties. She seems to be out of favour as only a few of her novels appear as in stock at Abbey's but there was a time when we would have all of her titles in stock. And that might mean 23 or 24. Although she was in her fifties before she began writing fiction, after that she published a new novel almost every year. I know I waited anxiously for the next one! She was a lecturer at the Courtauld Institute, and like an art historian, she was able to tease out the meaning in her stories. The first one, called A Start in Life, began with the remark ‘Dr Weiss, at forty, knew her life had been ruined by literature.’ As soon as I saw that I knew I must read it. Her stories were mostly about middle-aged females suffering isolation or disappointment. One critic famously remarked “I could strangle her characters with the sleeves of their own cardigans”. Nevertheless I recommend these finely crafted stories. Try your library if no luck at Abbey’s. Her most famous title was Hotel du Lac which won the Booker Prize.

I was eagerly awaiting the new book from Graham Swift, author of Last Orders, Waterland an England and Other Stories. It is called Mothering Sunday: A Romance and is set in 1924. Orphan Jane Fairchild, maid in an affluent middle-class household, has nowhere to visit until she receives a secret phone call from her lover, the charismatic son of her employers’ friends and neighbour. An intense day follows as Jane visits him in his own house, which she has been instructed she must enter by the front door. As the day proceeds small hints are offered to the reader. Perhaps all is not well? Jane becomes a famous author who carefully avoids this day when interviewers ask her about her youth. This is a lovely book. Very English!

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

No comments: