February 08, 2011

Five Bells - Gail Jones

Five Bells is the latest novel from Australian author, Gail Jones. I have not read any of her previous novels but there was something about the description of this novel that captured my reading fancy. The book is told from the perspective of four characters over the course of one day as they each travel to the tourist spot of Circular Quay in Sydney for different reasons. I love books that are totally contained in one day - there is something about that narrative technique that really appeals to me as a reader.

The characters in Five Bells are each struggling with memories and experiences from their pasts - experiences that they are very much carrying with them in their present. Ellie and James knew each other as children and adolescents and they are recollecting their pasts together as they come to meet each other for the first time in years as adults. James is haunted by an accident in his recent past - an incident that he dearly wants to share with Ellie and perhaps unburden himself in some way.

Pei Xing is an older Chinese woman who emigrated to Australia with her young son after her brutal treatment during China's Cultural Revolution and Catherine is an Irish journalist, escaping to Sydney after the sudden death of her beloved brother.

This is a beautiful, lyrical novel - I wouldn't recommend it if you are a fan of lots of "action" in your books - held together by the memories and stories of the individual characters. The depth of each character is felt and each of their stories would easily make a novel on its own. In some ways the novel is an exploration of the role of past experiences in our present lives - how they impact and are carried with us - no matter where we travel or what we do.

I loved reading this book - I was carried away by each of the characters - my only minor complaint is regarding the "event" that comes towards the end of the novel that is supposed to bring the characters together in some way - I'm not sure that it was really needed and it felt as though it was just dropped into the storyline and not really built in as it might have been. But this could be just my reading of the book and I have missed something along the way! I did recognise the importance of the number five throughout the novel (in line with the title) and the importance of there being five key players instead of four.

Overall, I fell in love with Jones' writing style and characterisation and I will be keeping an eye out for her earlier novels.


Nadia said...

Sounds like a really interesting read. I love stories that are set in one day, too. It just makes for a more potent read I think. Also, I love the idea of sifting through these characters pasts as they travel on the tour boat. Great post! I'll have to add this to my TBR list.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I've not heard of this book before, but it does sound intriguing. If the prose is lyrically engaging, I can absolutely be swept away by writing such as that!

Unknown said...

I keep hearing wonderful things about Gail Jones, but she doesn't seem to have made it over to the UK. Hopefully one of her books will turn up in my library one day soon, otherwise I'll be forced to buy a copy!

Karen said...

Hi Nadia - It was definitely an interesting and intriguing read - I hope you end up liking it as much as I did!

Hi Coffee - Definitely a book to be swept away by!

Hi Jackie - to be honest I haven't heard a lot about her over here in Australia either - but this book is being highlighted quite a bit in the media at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Oh this does sound like a book i'm going to enjoy reading! The title and the setting of the book, brought to mind the famous Slessor poem of the same name. I wondered if Jones was eluding to the poem in any way?

Off to add to the TBR - thanks for the review Karen!

kimbofo said...

I'm so hanging out to read this one, but it's not due for publication here in the UK until March 10. I read her book "Sixty Lights" a few years back and loved it. I was less impressed by "Sorry" which I read in 2009.

Karen said...

Hi antipodeanowl - Yes, Jones talks about how the book was inspired by that poem. Me being the complete poetry dummy that I am knew nothing about it - but I have now been educated!!

Hi Kim - I hope the wait it worth it for you. I think Sixty Lights will be my next Jones read.

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