Friday, 6 April 2018

Notes from Eve Abbey • April 2018

Would you like to try a piece of really original writing? Something unusual? If so, read The Town by Shaun Prescott. This is a first novel from a short story writer and it is very successful. His work is being compared to Gerald Murnane, especially to The Plains. There is a carefully controlled voice of the narrator, a writer who has moved to a Central West country town in order to write a book about the disappearing towns of the outback. The voice is dry and flat like the surrounding countryside. Is it banal? Surely something will happen? Someone will rebel? Fatalistic for sure. The Lifted Brow is the small publisher responsible for this. Take a good look.

I’ve just finished reading Tim Winton’s deeply personal book The Boy Behind the Curtains. This is a wonderful book, brilliantly written, wise and mature. In some pieces he recalls accidents that happened to his family, in others he speaks about the landscape of Western Australia and in others he recalls the important part played by church-going in his adolescence, or a visit to the National Gallery of Victoria or the euphoria of surfing or swimming with whales or the strangeness of a winter living in the gatehouse of a derelict Irish castle.

A fine book to give to a young person just awakening to the world. These autobiographical pieces are to be savoured one at a time.

The Boy Behind the Curtain has recently won the Non-Fiction Prize at the Adelaide Festival. Tim has donated the $15,000 prize to the fund for the Ningaloo Reef, one of his environmental concerns.

Since then I have read Tim Winton’s latest book, a novel called The Shepherd’s Hut. This is a very different approach. Written in the voice of an angry, poorly educated young man who has been horribly abused by his father, it is a style I would usually not enjoy reading but there are intermittent gorgeous descriptions of the Western Australian landscape as the young man escapes from society.

He stumbles across an old man, a priest who has been, for some reason, seemingly imprisoned on the edge of the huge, beautiful salt lake. Gradually, you come to understand that this is an allegory about the painful search for peace.

Winton’s writing is never dull and always has some deeper meaning. The story will stay with you.

Fans of Julian Barnes will enjoy his latest novel The Only Story, which is the curiously unemotional tale of a long love affair between a very young man and an older married woman in the suburban wilds of Surrey, England. All very circumspect and polite. I found it odd and dispiriting but nonetheless thought-provoking.

I’ve been watching a three disc set of Evelyn Waugh’s fabulous novel Brideshead Revisited. So sad. So melancholy. But thirty or more years ago no-one rang a friend on Sunday night because everyone was watching Brideshead Revisited.

The novel was a surprise departure from the famous satirical novels he had written in the thirties and described Charles Ryder’s infatuation with an aristocratic Anglo-Catholic family. It was first published in 1945 but the Popular Penguin edition which you can buy for $12.99 (who can complain about the price of books!) has some revisions made by Waugh and his Preface to the revised edition.

After Brideshead Revisited he went on to write some of best novels of the twentieth century, using his own experience as a not very successful soldier. Officers and Gentlemen, Men at Arms and Unconditional Surrender were put into one volume in 1965 under the title Sword of Honour. There is a special edition in Penguin Modern Classics as well as a Popular Penguin edition.

At Abbey’s you can usually find the backlist titles from special authors so look out for Vile Bodies, Handful of Dust, Scoop and Put Out More Flags, all of which were first published in the thirties. Enjoy yourself.

You can also find Waugh’s Complete Short Stories 1910-1962 as well as Work Suspended and Other Stories. To complete your pleasure look for Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited by Philip Eade. And what a life! Not an especially nice man but a wonderful writer with a wicked tongue.

Keep well,


Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

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