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

Monday, 18 November 2013

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ November 2013

Peter Milne, our Crime Guru, now retired, recommended a newish series to me. I read The Resistance Man, number 6 in the series. They feature Bruno, Chef de Police, and are set in the Dordogne area of France. The author, Martin Walker, seems to be a retired Brit living happily in that lovely Perigot region of France. Bruno is A Good Guy. He has been a soldier in Kosovo, but now takes care of St Denis, his nice little town, as well as his horses and his various lady friends. They all enjoy a good dinner, so there is plenty of gastroporn. You can even seek out where to buy such delicious cheeses and wines on the website website (notice the English spelling). I think these novels could be called Police Procedurals, French-style. Entertaining reading.

Over the years, there have been various Reading Guides, usually compiled by book trade identities or popular authors. The sort of book which says, “If you like that, you might like this.” A truly novel approach just out is called The Novel Cure by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin. The authors call it a new sort of self-help book and recommend four or five novels each for various unhappy states – such as depression or diarrhoea, gluttony or obesity, etc. It is quite fascinating to see the titles chosen and of course it is a book for dipping into, not to read right through. Nonetheless the summaries of the hundreds of books they suggest will send you off to read some good books you have either missed or forgotten. Have fun!

I always enjoy Australian Biographies and want to especially recommend Stillways: A Memoir by Steve Bisley. You will know him more as a successful actor on both TV and screen, but he now proves he can write as well. This will be an Australian childhood classic. It is set in the 1960s around Wyong, where his parents had a small farm. A violent, unhappy father is not allowed to completely cloud good memories, while his adolescent adventures at high school will be required reading for young men, and girls as well. The story ends when he gets his first job, and I hope he will continue his memoirs.

If you are an admirer of Imre Kertesz, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize for Literature, you will be interested in Dossier K. This is a memoir translated from Hungarian by Tim Wilkinson. The book came out of his in-depth conversations with his editor, Zoltan Hafner, in 2003 and 2004. Kertesz’s book Fateless (aka Fatelessness), an account of a puzzled, 14-year-old Jewish boy taken to Auschwitz, is considered to be Holocaust recording equal to Primo Levi. I see we even have a copy of Fateless available in Hungarian (Sorstalansag) upstairs in Language Book Centre.

We have lots of fans of Historical Crime at Abbey’s, especially those written by Elizabeth Peters, who recently died. Her most famous character is Amelia Peabody, a Victorian pyramid explorer who is rather like the author, a frustrated Egyptologist. The author is also known as Barbara Michaels when she writes modern thrillers. She had to use two pen-names to avoid being called prolific, which can be rather looked down upon, but she had a talent to tell a good story with authentic background. Try The Serpent on the Crown.

Ann Leahy, a previous manager of Abbey’s and previous editor of the Abbey’s Advocate, came to see me for lunch recently. I gave her a copy of Friends in High Places, one of Donna Leon’s excellent detective stories set in Venice. Glad to hear she is now hooked. There are at least twenty-one titles and I notice we have some titles in French or Spanish upstairs in Language Book Centre.

I hardly need to remind you that Abbey’s is a special sort of bookshop, but if I did it would be proved by the fact that one of our bestsellers has been Hobbitus Ille: The Latin Hobbit by J R R Tolkien and Mark Walker. This is for old or young, and for a new student of Latin or a real Latin scholar. Everyone will get something different out of it.

Another area where Abbey’s is different is Literary Criticism. When I recently read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead before going to see the play at the Sydney Theatre, I also read a Faber Critical Guide to Tom Stoppard, which had wonderful insights and textual comparisons, as well as the text (and the same for Arcadia, Travesties and Jumpers). Our section holds large reference titles, as well as small genre notebooks and essays, followed by criticism of individual authors, including all of the Cambridge Companion to.... individual authors (and subjects too). Such as The Cambridge Companion to Moliere or The Cambridge Companion to Allegory. David tells me that there is even a Cambridge Companion to Horseracing!

View the range of Cambridge Companions in stock.

Keep well! 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