Thursday, 2 August 2018

Notes from Eve Abbey • August 2018

 We're 50 this year!

I am very happy to tell you that Michael Ondaatje’s new book Warlight is wonderful. Full of fascinating characters and wandering off in many directions. The story seems to be a tale of secret service agents and secret wars. The sometimes unlikely narrative becomes a vehicle for Ondaatje’s lucid, sparkling writing. There is a rivalry in the book between the voice of the narrator and the voice of the author. Enjoy!

His 1992 novel, The English Patient, has just been chosen for the Golden Man Booker - the best Booker Prize winner of the past fifty years. Disregard the fact that Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children was removed from the running by one of the judges.

Long-time readers of my blog will remember that daughter Jane has been working on the Thai Burma border with the Karen Women’s Organisation for many years, 24 to be exact. There are many Karen people now living in Sydney and Perth and some country areas who will be interested in a romantic interpretation of their recent history. Charmaine Craig is the daughter of a Karen woman and an Anglo-Indian Jewish businessman who was closely involved in the setting up of the Karen Union. The book is called Miss Burma and her beautiful mother did indeed become Miss Burma. The book was longlisted for the American National Book Award for fiction. The Karen people are still struggling for independence from Burma.

Another unusual book you will find in Asian History General is Air Battle for Burma: Allied Pilots’ Fight for Supremacy by Bryn Evans, a British military history writer now living in Sydney. Historical accounts of the various battles in Burma during WWII have always taken second place, so it’s fitting that this book, taken from vivid personal accounts written by some of the pilots, is now available. Ex-airmen will also enjoy this.

Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig Air Battle for Burma by Bryn Evans

Danielle Clode, a science writer from Victoria, seems to have made a leap from adventure to contemplation. Her most famous book is Voyages to the South Seas, about French explorers searching for the mysterious land that was Australia, while other titles include Killers in Eden: The Story of a Rare Partnership Between Man and Whales and Prehistoric Giants: The Megafauna of Australia and Prehistoric Marine Life in Australia’s Inland Sea.

Voyages to the South Seas by Danielle Clode Killers in Eden by Danielle Clode
Prehistoric Giants: The Megafauna of Australia by Danielle Clode Prehistoric Marine Life in Australia's Inland Sea

Clode is now offering a beautifully produced biography of a forgotten 20th century Australian naturalist. It is called The Wasp and the Orchid: The Remarkable Life of Australian Naturalist Edith Coleman. This suburban housewife and prolific nature writer became famous by solving the mystery of orchid pollination, which had evaded Darwin. The book includes many examples of Coleman’s lyrical nature writing and will appeal to many people happy to immerse themselves in peaceful times.

I recently had a very cosy day inside, tucked up by the heater, reading Appointment in Arezzo: A Friendship with Muriel Spark by Alan Taylor, a journalist and well-known literary figure in Scotland – deputy editor of The Scotsman, managing editor of Scotsman Publications and on all sorts of judging panels and committees. This is a terrific little book, 173 pages. If you’re one of the many people who loved Muriel Spark’s books, this is a charming introduction to some of the 22 books she published, now being reissued by Polygon Books to celebrate 100 years since her birth.

Coming out between November 2017 and September 2018, these are small hardbacks at a very good price – about $22.99. Some are also available in paperback in Popular Penguins or Random Classics, so have a look around. I’ve been reminded of several I want to read, including The Mandelbaum Gate and The Hothouse by the East River.

Appointment in Arezzo by Alan Taylor The Mandelbaum Gate by Muriel Spark
The Hothouse by the East River by Muriel Spark The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

Everyone remembers The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which had a famous entry to the world. For the first - and possibly last - time, the New Yorker Magazine devoted an entire issue to publish this comic and tragic story of the charismatic schoolmistress manipulating her students. This is the time when Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh both declared their admiration of her writing. This sharp and unsentimental writer was both a critical and commercial success.

Alan Taylor’s memories of their long friendship are based around visits to her home in Italy where she lived with Penelope Jardine, another Scot. He makes it very clear this was not a lesbian relationship, just a very helpful friendship. Polygon is of course a Scottish publisher. Alexander McCall Smith is another of their published authors.

Now that Abbey’s is fifty years old, you may be interested to read some of our history in the booklet we published when we turned forty. Find Forty Memories at About Abbey’s on our website.

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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