Wednesday 30 January 2013

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

Okay, I have come to this book late. Late for the book as it was the winner of the Man Booker Prize in 1984.  And later in my life as I was much younger in 1984.
I am not a person who seeks out books that win awards. I know of people who can't wait for the awards to come out and they read them all simply because they won an award.  One hoity toity I know can bore me absolutely senseless with conversations of, "Oh yes dah-ling I read Hotel du Lac years ago. You know it won the Man Booker."  Seriously she really talks like this and she's a Tasmanian. Scary isn't it.

Anyway, I digress....I would not have liked this book had I read it when it came out in 1984.  As it is I liked it. Now.  I liked it a lot but I realise more so because I finished it.

It was on the shelf. I needed something to read for my Century of Books Challenge and as I am a slow reader/book blogger it didn't too long and it has a really appealing cover.

I see many other book bloggers whom I follow have already reviewed this book with mixed feelings and I must agree my own feelings were mixed.  Although as I have stated previously I really love books that take place in boarding houses and small hotels anywhere in the world and this one was no different.

First off I love her writing. She had some of the most beautiful passages that I reread up to three times. You will need to read this to understand.
However as other reviewers seem to concur, the story seems very dated for the time period which is quite recent to the time the book was published. We are in the 1980's. I did flip back a few times to reassure myself the time period was not in the late 1800's or early 1900's.

I thought the characters were good fun. They consisted of Edith who is the main protagonist who is a writer of books that don't really seem to set the world on fire. She has had an incident with a married man in her life named David that really sets her up for unhappiness and her friends have encouraged her to go to this hotel and sort herself out so to speak.

She befriends all of the guests. One is an elderly woman, Mrs. Pusey and her daughter Jennifer. Jennifer is extremely tied to her mother and one can easily think she's in her late teens or early 20's, a bit on the chubby side and quite doting. However we learn more about Jennifer that rounds out the imagination of the reader a bit more. I enjoyed the storyline around these two women but I did shake my head a lot at their interests. I always find it fascinating to read about people who seem to survive perfectly okay inside of a very insular bubble.

I think my favourite character was Mme de Bonneuil.  There are wonderful descriptions about her as she sits in the dining room for tea and her character and manner amused me greatly.  Although she doesn't have a large speaking role in the story she always appears to be nearby and she is quite a sad character really. I felt really happy when she actually smiled at something happening in the hotel. She has ended up in this hotel because her son's wife doesn't care for her and she has been somewhat farmed out to leave them in peace.  I thought Brookner's descriptions of her was excellent.

The character I didn't care about so much was  Monica. She is an anorexic who has no end of issues in life to deal with and is never seen without her dog Kiki who eats most of the food that Monica is served in the hotel. Although she does often gorge herself on cakes in the local cafes.

Edith slowly befriends these characters and also steps out a bit with Mr. Neville which all of the other female inhabitants find endlessly fascinating.  They have a few walks about the village and discuss all matters of relationships, past, present and it is during some of her time with him that some really good thoughts emerge. (Or so I thought).  There is a great deal of reflection upon life and relationships and how people manage or don't, and I enjoyed reading about these.

Loved those 80's shoulder pads. 
It is not a book where a great deal happens. I did wait a bit for something dramatic but though my expectations were raised a couple of times nothing really eventuated that made me grasp my throat with my hand and go, "Oh Criminy"... It just didn't happen.

It is a short pleasant read but I feel it is important to go right through it and don't drag it out as I did.  It is less than 200 pages but it did seem a bit longer than that.

I would recommend it. There are many great bits to pick out of it but don't have a great deal of anticipation for exciting adventure or revelations. It just doesn't happen. I found it to be a quiet, very comforting read on a tired day.

Applies to Century of Books Challenge 1984

If someone would like the copy of this book I am quite happy to post it out.  I have decided this year to spend time reading my own books and those I no longer need on my shelves are being released into the wild.  So let me know if you'd like this and I'll happily post it anywhere in the world as it doesn't weigh much. 

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Spending Leisurely Time in Maine With Ms. Sarah O Jewett

I remember hearing the name Sarah Orne Jewett when still in school years ago but for the life of me would not be able to talk about any aspect of her or what she wrote except that she wrote short stories.

I recently finished one of her more important works, a novella entitled The Country of the Pointed Fir.
I started it and read it in fits and starts and thought I was going nowhere with it and then put it down, read another book and picked it up again because I really wanted to finish the four stories in the book Four Stories by American Woman (Penguin Classics).
I started it from the beginning once again and gave myself a good couple of hours to really get into it and get into it I did.  Reading this story was like going on a holiday.

Sarah Orne Jewett grew up in Maine and lived during the last half of the 19th century dying in 1909 of a stroke. If a reader didn't know she was an American writer they could easily believe this is an English period novel.

It takes place in a small regional fishing village on the coast of Maine called Dunnet Landing.  The narrator spent her summer there in a local boarding house sparsely occupied. Her objective is to finish her writing. She had spent time in Dunnet Landing previously and came back this summer as she had enjoyed the spot so much.  She becomes quite distracted by all of the goings on in the household as well as the village mainly due to Mrs. Todd's apothecary practice and selling her famous Spruce beer. She rents the old school house as it is summer vacation and attempts to write there in peace and quiet each day.

This is when I got to meet the old retired sea captain, Captain Littlepage who wandered up to the school one day after a local funeral.  He tells tales of his experiences at sea that continue on a bit too long but our narrator is very good at not appearing bored though you do feel it with her until she picks the conversation up again.

I always enjoy stories that take place in old hotels or boarding houses where each room has interesting or eccentric characters.  When first published this book was described as a "series of sketches" that connect and that is exactly what it is.

She befriends Mrs. Almira Todd and eventually several of Mrs. Todd's family members.  Her mother who lived off shore on an island was my favourite character. I just wanted to bundle up for the sea winds and go live on the island with her.  Mrs. Todd is an eccentric wonderful character who spends days picking herbs and making potions to sell the village locals.  She weaves interesting tales about the other residents of the village.
I particularly like this photo of the
I found the writing gentle and although there is rarely much overt action, the descriptions of the days they share alone, with each other or with other villagers keep the pace going. I found myself loving everyone there. I really cared about the characters and their lives.  Descriptions of the village, the occupants activities and the food they eat, their conversations when they visited each other become so real I felt as though I was there living in the village with them. Everyone is so kind to each other.

I thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful, scenic idyllic place and was sad when I had to leave it.

The novella is only 140 pages long though it did feel much longer than that. Maybe because I read it slowly and savoured every word. I think the writing is very beautiful and doesn't linger too long on any one point.

The following paragraph describes the first day our narrator arrives at Dunnet Landing.

After a first brief visit made two or three summers before in the course of a yachting cruise, a lover of Dunnet Landing returned to find the unchanged shores of the pointed firs, the same quaintness of the village with its elaborate conventionalities; all that mixture of remoteness, and childish certainty of being the centre of civilization of which her affectionate dreams had told. 
One evening in June, a single passenger landed upon the steamboat wharf. The tide was high, there was a fine crowd of spectators  and the younger portion of the company followed her with subdued excitement up and down the narrow street of the salt-aired, white-clapboarded little town.

The characters are introduced as they are encountered and a tale then evolves from the meeting.  We learn much of the town's history and the family relationships from the conversations our narrator has with everyone.
Travellin Penguin particularly likes Maine Lobster.
It feels when reading it as if the reader is visiting the town, meeting these people, having tea with them and getting to know them as it would happen in "real life".  Slowly we get to know the characters more and more from continued encounters with them. I found all of the characters likeable and really enjoyed spending time with them.  I would highly recommend this novella and when finished I hope other readers feel as if they have visited Dunnet Landing and enjoyed it as much as I did. I will certainly read more by this author when I can.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Tasmania Has Been Burning

I haven't put up a blog in a bit so thought it was time.  So far Tasmanians are not having the wonderful summer they were expecting.

Fires that are happening right now.
The blue fires are ones to keep close on
that could flare up at any time
Photo source:
We have been subjected to the great Aussie Bush Fires that hit somewhere in this country quite catastrophically every summer.  Sometimes it is caused by Mother Nature with her lightning strikes, sometimes it is pure carelessness like the camper who recently walked away from his campfire and created a catastrophic result. Then there is always the rampant arsonist creating misery for people.

The fire nearest us is on the east coast of Tasmania, 60 kms down the road but much closer as the crow flies.  We could see the red glow in the sky from our front yard at night and I must say it was the eeriest thing I have ever seen.

A smouldering stump, forgotten combined with a day of 41.9 degree heat C (104 F) and gale force winds  caused it to flare and as a result more than 130 properties have been lost.  People woke up that day, came into Hobart, going about their business and learned they could not get back to the peninsula where Dunalley sits at the top.

Gone were their homes, their businesses, their pets, their flocks of sheep, their histories and livelihoods.

The Tasmanian community has certainly done more than rally.  Everyone not only from Tasmania but from around the world have sent in donations of money and one woman wanted to send a load of hay from Denmark for the animals.  Fences were cut by farmers so their animals could run.

Western Australians have sent convoys of fire fighters as well as Victoria and New South Wales.  It is simply stunning to watch the emergency services come to the fore.  All of the infrastructure for electricity and communication has been lost. Crews are working tirelessly restoring services and I know this town will rebuild.

Dozens of animal welfare groups have been out collecting any animals; farm, pets, wildlife and taking them to the veterinarians who have opened their practices up for free to these burned animals. RSPCA, Dog's Homes, Cat Centres, Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary have all been doing their part.

The view from our front yard. (Mercury Newspaper)
As for us we have been on Facebook and when someone posts up something they need we try to help out the best we can. The feeling of helplessness has been difficult for us and our friends who were not affected directly.  Though that statement is probably quite misleading. Whenever one sees suffering nearby   the normal human response is to help.

Can you imagine this in your back yard ?

A child's toy is all that remains here.
We spent a morning at the Food Bank sorting donated food, clothing and bedding and were truly awed at the amount of nice things that have been donated.

The little town of Dunalley lost their life's timber business, their shops,
service stations, bakery and the life of one Victorian fire fighter who came
down to help. Amazingly no other loss of human has been reported.
People ran from this town and took shelter in the water. Fortunately
they were on the coast.
I think I have said enough.  Although I have been reading a bit, it has been more reading online to see what we can do to help, reading magazines that require no concentration and even watching more TV than usual. Anything to escape.  To concentrate on great literature and to read blogs at the moment just seem so pointless.   People sorting their books, discussions of book stores, topics I always love have just seemed insignificant.  But I realise it is important for everyone to get back to their own structures of life that give them comfort and now the adrenaline has worn off, things are settling a bit though tomorrow is predicted to be 30's C and if it is windy again the ongoing fires will flare up.  

This little guy was rescued by a fire fighter, burns to 50 % of his
body but he is going to live though will be in hospital
for a long time. His fellow pets weren't so fortunate.
He has been reunited with his owners.
It is going to be a nervous summer because all of us live near bushland and it could just as easily be any of us.

I look at my beautiful library of close to 4000 books and think what would I do if it was us and I lost all these things. But in the end I know it is my family and my beautiful animals that I would pile into the car and take first to shelter.  Everything else can be replaced.    Times like this, as clich├ęd as it is, really does show you what is important. Next post will be about a book. I promise.

In memory of the brave fire fighter , Peter Cramer from Victoria
who lost his life working in Tasmania's fires

The fire photos were sourced from the Mercury Newspaper Hobart

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Books from A Smoky Sunday

This week has been sad. Tasmania is on fire. From the east to the north east to the north west to the south west to the south east.
More than 100 buildings have been destroyed and the air is thick with smoke. Big heavy billowy clouds of smoke.  This morning I laid in bed reading a bit and tears ran down my cheeks from the smoke burning my eyes.  I don't like it at all.

It is a catastrophe here and there are many very devastated families.  Even Julia Gillard, our Prime Minister came yesterday and was near tears standing by the school that has been destroyed in  Dunalley on the east coast at the top of the Tasman Peninsula. One small village with only three buildings left standing on their main road. The Tasman Peninsula has always had a dark history. Stories from the penal settlement of Port Arthur were dire.  The mass shooting at Port Arthur was a nightmare some people have never awakened from and now the entire peninsula is on fire.

I also learned on Saturday a dear friend of mine died from her illness she has been battling for two years. Her funeral was yesterday. However, ironically she died a few days before the house burned her home to the ground as she lived in Dunalley. Strangely enough the only thing that survived on the entire property was a tree she bonsai-ed (sp?) that was 30 years old. It was as if her spirit survived in a small way.  Like they say, "It never rains but it pours. "

So as much as I have been reading I find I am re-reading pages of the Penguin book of Four Stories from American Women. I am half way through the Sarah Orne Jewett novella and find myself having to flip back two or three pages to re-read because I am simply not concentrating.  So I am reading Michael Connelly's latest crime book, The Black Box I gave my husband for Christmas.  We like him and have read all of his books and it is really good escapism. I will continue with that as well as the Penguin Classic.

Each Sunday morning is the big market north of Hobart in Glenorchy. I often go there and have a walk around. There is a lot of junk, lots of plants that sell cheaply and quite a few books. I thought I'd get on the scooter and have a ride and do a bit of Penguin hunting as well as see if I could find anything else I just liked.
The  Sunday Glenorchy Market - runs every Sunday year round
I know this is the year I read the books I own. Well stuff that this week. I needed the book retail therapy and it worked a charm.  Found some interesting things for not much money, chatted to people everywhere about the fire, watched the police escort the idiots from the area who had left their dog locked in a hot car and generally forgot about the fires. Of course, except for the incessant smoke.

These are the books I came home with.
Island Affair by Eleanor Alliston:  This was a complete surprise. Years ago I read the first book by this couple, Escape to an Island.  It is the ongoing story about Eleanor and  John Alliston who sold everything they had after World War II, leaving England and settling on Three Hummock Island. This island is thirty miles off the north coast of Tasmania and they struggle yet survive making a new, quieter, if extremely isolated life for themselves and their family. I had no idea the story continued in a second book.
I have had Escape to an island for years, Island Affair is the sequel
I found that I didn't know existed. 
The next book is an Imprint Classic called Wild Cat Falling by Mudrooroo (Colin Johnson) It is the story of an Aboriginal Australian youth  a 'bodgie' of the early 60's, who grows up on the ragged outskirts of a country town, falls into petty crime, goes to gaol, and comes out to do battle once more with the society that put him there. It was a literary event with its publication in 1965 as it was the first novel by any writer of Aboriginal blood to be published in Australia.

A vintage Penguin book of Italian Short Stories- Racconti Italiani, Penguin number 2196 published in 1965.
Hey, it's a Penguin. Of course I would pick it up.

The next book I found was They Called Me The Wildman: The Prison Diary of Henricke Nelson by Robert Hollingworth. The inside flap of the dust jacket describes it as "Australian identity has been shaped as much by obscure minorities trying to make their way in a harsh colonial environment as by grand historical figures and events. In They Called Me The Wildman author R. Hollingworth vividly relates a previously untold fragment of this nation's history through the captivating voice of Swedish immigrant Henricke Nelsen.

I also found two books of Natural History. I always find it hard to pass by books about birds. Not so much the identification guides but a book that tells me something about finding the birds, or describing their behaviours.  This one is called Bird Wonders of Australia and looks to have interesting stories of the quirky things birds do whilst mating or nest building. Good to dip into and some nice colour photographs. Published in 1956.

How on earth and why did this bird evolve with these colours?!
Another type of book I always fall for is an old book with an old paper dust jacket about animals. This particular one is a beautiful book, undated but I would guess the 50's about Australian animals. One animal per page with description of it on the opposite page. This one is Animals of Australia in Colour by Lyla Stevens by Whitcombe and Tombs Pty. Ltd. It's one of those books that was registered at the General Post Office of Melbourne years ago and has no copy right details in it.

The final book I picked up I bought for 50 cents because it had the V of Vintage Publishers on the spine, it's not too long and it sounds interesting. Published 1995.  The Unloved by Deborah Levy is described as "set in a French chateau (in a subversion of the English country house murder mystery), it begins with an inquiry into the death of an Englishwoman during a game of Murder in the Dark. An international group of tourists has been celebrating Christmas together, an experience that has involved a great deal of brooding intensity, glimpses of skeletons in cupboards and sexual versatility...Levy attempts to convey the loneliness at the heart of human existence and the damage wrought by the absence of love. It is apparently the novelist's third book.

When I got it home and looked through it more closely I saw it has a lengthy inscription on the inside front cover. I always find inscriptions, especially long ones quite intriguing to read and this one was no different. It made me wonder about the sender of the book as well as the receiver and how it came to end up in a junky book stall at a very dodgy market. I always want to know their tales.

The inscription reads:  "My oldest and dearest friend,  The present is late, unwrapped, no longer a surprise, and pretty damn average!! I apologise for all of these things, and in doing so, have just realised that the indelible words I print on this page also mean if you hate it you'll have to learn to live with it- cos you can't return it!......sorry!
Anyway, I hope you had an excellent Christmas, and your New Year is loaded with Kick-Arse fun!
I love you, and despite the fact I'm an outcast, I hope you love back (me that is!)
May you worship James Bond eternally , king of sex and cool. Love and sexual fantasies, (her name which I blocked out) xxxx(a.k.a. Pussy Galore!)  
Lots of exclamation marks.  Well I hope you enjoy perusing this strange acquisition of yet more books to be put onto the TBR pile.  Which one would you read first??  


Thursday 3 January 2013

Four Stories by American Woman- A Penguin Classics book

As I want to get my posts up and running again after being rather slack through the Christmas season I think this book will give me the kick start I need. There are four stories, all that look interesting and I will post them up one at a time over the next week to complete the book.  The book itself will count towards the Classics Club Challenge though I will have to take one book title off my original list and put this one on it.
I think I will probably do quite a bit of this as over the holidays I have made a commitment to myself to spend the next year reading the books I own and some of the classics on my list I will need to get from external sources. So they are going to be exchanged for those books I already have in my enormous TBR pile.

I should also be able to complete the Century of Books Challenge in 2013 (fingers crossed) from the myriad of Penguin books I own as well as my many non Penguins I am really wanting to read. I have many books I want to read and then release into the wild.  I will let people know if they will be giveaways and can happily send them on. Some I will probably sell on eBay.  None of them will be vintage Penguins in the book release program.

So to start off Four Stories by American Women the first one is:

1. The Yellow Wallpaper
I have heard of many American short story writers but I confess I had no idea who  Charlotte Perkins Gilman was.  Ms. Gilman was most known for this short story of all of her published writing. The story is auto biographical in nature.  Charlotte had a most unusual life and although I could put the pieces together about her life it is much easier for myself and readers to quickly visit the very interesting highly informative Wikpedia link (here).

When Ms. Gilman (born 1860)  had her first child (1885) she became very depressed with a depression that lasted for several years.  The doctors treating her at the time believed the best thing to do for depression was to rest as much as possible and do not excite the mind in any way.  She was either actively discouraged from writing, learning or socialising or her claims were out-rightly dismissed as simply being invalid. However she did continue writing.

source: Wikpedia
The result is this story The Yellow Wallpaper.  It is a story of a young woman suffering an anxiety-depressive disorder, if not psychotic after the birth of her child and her husband takes her to a country house insisting she spend three months in the upstairs nursery high above the rest of the household activities.
She is instructed to absolutely not write anything, she is not able to care for her child and she isn't allowed to discuss anything related to her feelings or moods. There is a great deal of patting her arm and tut-tutting. Her husband in this story is a doctor, "Trust me I am a physician" are the words she hears the most. Nothing she can say to him is ever taken seriously or even listened to.

The time frame is the late 1800's when women were often described as hysterical or neurotic. As she suffers out her days in the upstairs nursery, high above the rest of the house, she comes to mentally struggle with the wallpaper which is faded and torn.  She sees a myriad of patterns eventually hallucinating to visions of sets of bars where she sees a woman, especially at night imprisoned within the walls.  As she sleeps during the day making everyone happy, as she "needs her rest," she sleeplessly lies awake at night.  This is the time when the walls come to life, going so far as to finally cause her to believe she is the woman behind the bars and she lives within the wallpaper.

I found this story very engaging yet one can't help feeling a complete sense of frustration for the way men, especially doctors, were revered knowing all that is best for their wives.

The following excerpt gives you an idea of her writing as she describes the wallpaper:

"I lie here on this great immovable bed- it is nailed down, I believe- and follow that pattern about by the hour. It is as good as gymnastics, I assure you. I start, we'll say, at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion.
I know a little of the principle of design, and I know this thing was not arranged on any laws of radiation, or alternation, or repetition, or symmetry, or anything else that I ever heard of. It is repeated, of course, by the breadths, but not otherwise. 
Looked at in one way, each breadth stands alone; the boated curves and flourishes - a kind of "debased Romanesque"with delirium tremens - go waddling up and down in isolated columns of fatuity.
but on the other hand, they connect diagonally  and the sprawling outlines run off in great slanting waves of optic horror, like a lot of wallowing sea-weeds in full chase.
The whole thing goes horizontally, too,, at least it seems so, and I exhaust myself trying to distinguish the order of its going in that direction.
They have used a horizontal breadth for a frieze, and that adds wonderfully to the confusion."

I enjoyed Ms. Gilman's writing very much and would be interested in learning much more about her. Her writing is so expressive I felt as though I was living in this room with her and feeling the same frustration as her relatives hovered around completely trying to patronise her back into the good health they know will happen. 
I won't give the ending away. As this story is approximately 20 pages long I'd happily recommend that people seek it out and have a read.  

It was a very pleasant half hour diversion from the heat we are currently experiencing in our little state here.