Thursday, 28 May 2015

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ May 2015

I’ve just finished #24 in Donna Leon’s famous series of mystery thrillers set in Venice.

I have read every single one and enjoy them immensely. This one is called Falling in Love and features Flavia Petrelli, an opera singer who was a character in Leon's first story, called Death at La Fenice, (the famous, very old, Venetian Opera House). Now, many years later, Flavia is being stalked! By someone with a great deal of money who sends enormous bouquets of yellow roses, and finally, a magnificent, priceless emerald necklace. There is a sense of doom throughout the story, not surprising as the role Flavia is playing is Tosca!

Commissario Brunetti is his usual tactful, perceptive self and we are treated to descriptions of Signorina Elletra's latest fashions and Paola's delicious lunches before the final exciting denouement which takes place onstage at the end of a performance. If you are not an opera buff you may find this a bit slow but it does allow Donna Leon to make use of her musical knowledge. I've also just discovered another book from her which arrived last month. It is called Gondola and is all about the history and the making of this most famous symbol of Venice and with is comes a CD of lovely barcaroles. I must have it!

I became all excited when I saw the books awarded Abbey's Double Reward Points included Flash Boys: Cracking the Money Code by that wonderful economics journalist Michael LewisThis was the paperback edition of the book I read in hardback last year. It was the most thrilling book I read all year and worth every penny for the hardback edition. Even if you think you are not interested in the background of the money market you can't fail to be excited by this story or fascinated by the collection of oddballs and eccentrics who take part.

I've been watching the TV series of Wolf Hall at a friend's place as I do not have Foxtel. It has proved to be a serious commitment! It is very dark, literally, as the indoor scenes were filmed using only candlelight. I find myself peering into the darkness and saying “who's that” or “what did he say” (as a lot of whispering goes on). The series also covers the second book in Hilary Mantel's trilogy Bring Up the Bodies, so there is a lot of compression. If you haven't read the books you might be quite at a loss! This explains the sudden return of Wolf Hall to the weekly bestseller list at Abbey's. I had to go home and get out my Oxford Illustrated History of the British Monarchy!

Last month there were several documentaries on TV about descendants of Afghan camel-men, the men who delivered goods from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs as the country opened up. I was reminded of a fascinating book by Hilarie Lindsay, who was one of the members of the Zonta Club of Sydney. Hilarie was the person who invited me to join the club and this is how Abbey's came to run, each year, Meet the Author events where we raised money for the Club's charities and also made an opportunity for people to meet authors. We did this for twenty five years but eventually it didn't seem necessary any more as Australian authors were now generally getting great publicity. Some customers will remember those events. Now we just have a fund-raising evening for the club members.

Amongst her many achievements Hilarie was the President of the Society of Women Writers so she was especially interested when she first read about Winifred Steger, a prolific writer, and they became regular correspondents. Later, in her seventies, Hilarie began a Ph.D. at Sydney University working on a Thesis about Women Writers but the extraordinary life of Winifred Steger took over and after completing her degree Hilarie expanded the thesis into The Washerwoman's Dream: The Extraordinary Life of Winifred Steger 1882-1981. The book was published in 2002 and has been reprinted four times. It is extraordinarily interesting, full of down-to-earth details as well as amazing adventures. Winifred Steger's childhood, in early Queensland, was harsh and unhappy until she ran away from a brutal husband to work as a washerwoman in a country pub. Here she met a kind and handsome Indian Moslem man, Ali, and with him she went to South Australia where they had a camel-string taking goods up to Alice Springs. They had three children and were poor but happy, leading a nomadic life, or living in ghantown - part of Oodnadatta. Sadly Ali died during a visit to India and the Moslem community insisted a husband be found for Winifred. This is where the adventures start!

Suffice to say Winifred accompanied her new husband on the Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, a most dangerous and difficult passage, which is described in detail. Winifred is made of stern stuff and proves a better pilgrim than her husband. While waiting to board the ship in Karachi she physically comes to the rescue of some women being badly treated by the quarantine officer, also a woman. She becomes quite famous and is named Zatoon after a Moslem Woman Warrior. In the desert they encounter the caravan of King Ibn Saud and she is invited to meet him. On the way home to Australia she is invited to stay at the Palace of the Khalifat in Bombay where she meets Ghandi, and is given special authority to report to the Khalifat about Moslem children in Australia. On return to Australia she soon realises this doesn't mean much, but she is invited to speak to the Theosophical Society in Adelaide several times and gains a contract from the Adelaide Register newspaper to send regular accounts of her voyage to Mecca. Winifred had always been writing and now she was in full flight.

Later on she is invited again to India to be the Governess for the children of the King and Queen of Afghanistan – just when they are about to be deposed! This is an amazing episode – she is fitted out with a white linen suit and a pith helmet, plus a gilt-tipped walking stick, so she can walk in the party heading for the villages on the way to Khyber Pass as a representative of the British! So that villagers will welcome them. This is a truly amazing story of an indomitable woman, finding her balance in a Moslem community despite her fierce independent views, and always finding a way to make ends meet.

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

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Abbey's Bookseller Pick ~ Autobiography by Morrissey

With Morrissey hitting our shores in May 2015 for a run of concerts at the Sydney Opera House during the VIVID Festival. Sadboys and Sadgirls who haven't yet read his Autobiography ~ what are you waiting for?!

Autobiography by Morrissey

For any Morrissey fan, this is a joy to read for the language alone. Steven Patrick Morrissey does most definitely enjoy and employ a poetic turn of phrase and indulge his passion for alliterative word play. The effect is such that you could just about take any passage from the book and, in your best Moz impersonation, sing it aloud (yes, of course I did this). More importantly it was a page turner which, for a big book with small print and no chapters(!), is a good thing.

My fandom is always focused on the art alone which in Morrissey's case is his unique vocal delivery so perfectly matched to his extraordinary lyrics. That meant I really knew nothing of Morrissey apart from the fact he came from Manchester. The first part, telling of early family life, school and the streets of Manchester, read very much like a Dickens novel - full of grim menace and florid characters. Striking observations paint the mood, such as the appearance of any man at the door being taken as a sign of danger.

We move through early music influences and the emergence of his own desire to create, and throughout the book there are instances of Moz's own fanboy impulses, nearly always and not surprisingly deflating experiences.

The Smiths. Here the battle begins. Morrissey's early artistic life seems almost entirely full of incompetence - that of label executives, managers, and also his own and Johnny Marr's. Everyone bumbles along. The young artist is easy prey. The invective is ripe.

When the book arrives at the legal battle that was to destroy The Smiths, the scar is a chasm. The bile that Morrissey spews onto the judge is infectious and I feel the rage, although I'm aware that I'm only getting one side of the story. Mike Joyce's name is mud and the possibility of a Smiths reunion seems laughable in the extreme.

The book then moves on to life post-Smiths and a gradual emergence and point-scoring against a perceived perennial snubbing by England's music press, and a succession of world tour love-ins where he finally receives the accolades and adoration he craves. I had noticed, with minor annoyance, the US spelling throughout the book. Odd for an autobiography from a person from the UK published by a UK imprint, but not so odd when we appreciate the world-wide nature of his fan-base and in particular that of the US.

Is Morrissey difficult? I guess so, but that is probably the prerogative of an artist trying to pull something out of the morass of mediocrity.

Is Morrissey happy? I guess so. Laughter is not something that features in the book and it would seem, in life his generally. If it was, could he have written the lyrics he does? Morrissey writes his life in his songs. He notes a memorable exchange with a producer who asked "Do you ever get tired of singing 'I,I,I,I,I,I,I'?" to which Morrissey replies with dripping derision, "I?"

Craig Kirchner

p.s. Sitting alongside Morrissey's glorious special edition hardback (full of interesting colour pics not included in the Penguin Black Classic edition) I spy a book titled Cowboys and Indies by Gareth Murphy. On the cover, at the bottom, is a quote by Geoff Travis, who was head of The Smiths' label, Rough Trade. Of Cowboys and Indies Travis says "If this book was a group, I would definitely sign them. It is that good." It makes me smile to think of Morrissey's response.

Available from Abbey's ~ or 131 York Street Sydney (next to the QVB and Town Hall).

Autobiography by Morrissey