February 27, 2010

The Waves - Virginia Woolf

The Waves was the fourth and final read for The Woolf In Winter Read Along and I have to say that I am glad it was not the first book chosen! I definitely found this book the most difficult of the four to read and while I found many elements within it that I loved, overall I would have to say it was my least favourite read of them all. The discussion for this book is being hosted by Claire.

The Waves follows the lives of six friends as they move from childhood into adulthood, middle age and old age. I loved the way that Woolf structured the book with each section of the book starting with a passage describing the movement of the sun - with the inference that the movement of the sun has direct parallels with the lives of the characters. I found these 'sun' passages grounding for me as a reader in terms of where the prose was heading next - without these passages I might have been even more lost at times! In the introduction to my copy of the book these passages are also likened to Claude Monet's impressionist paintings - I found this interesting as Monet is my favourite artist and it gave me another reason for why these sections of the book resonated with me so well.

Whilst I did find the book challenging to read there were elements through it that I did connect with - the feelings and thoughts of the characters as they moved through the different phases and stages of their lives - the reference to symbolic and actual life cycle events and milestones. One of my favourite scenes was where one of the female characters, Jinny was preparing to go to a party as a young woman;

'Now, too, the time is coming when we shall leave school and wear long skirts. I shall wear necklaces and a white dress without sleeves at night. There will be parties in brilliant rooms; and one man will single me out and will tell me what he has told no other person. He will like me better than Susan or Rhoda. He will find in me some quality, some peculiar thing. But I shall not let myself be attached to one person only. I do not want to be fixed, to be pinioned. I tremble, I quiver, like the leaf in the hedge, as I sit dangling my feet, on the edge of the bed, with a new day to break open. I have fifty years, I have sixty years to spend. I have not yet broken into my hoard. This is the beginning.

I could really relate to this paragraph - Jinny being so excited that this new part of her life if beginning and all the hopes and dreams she carries with her for the future. Jinny's reflections at this time are contrasted beautifully with Rhoda's who feels more apprehension and uncertainty about where she is at this moment in time;

I am not yet twenty-one. I am to be broken. I am to be derided all my life. I am to be cast up and down among these men and women, with their twitching faces, with their lying tongues, like a cork on a rough sea. Like a ribbon of weed I am flung far every time the door opens. I am the foam that sweeps and fills the uppermost rims of the rocks with whiteness; I am also a girl, here in this room.

The relationships between the characters and how these change and develop over time is another focus of the book that I enjoyed. I particularly loved this reflection from Louis;

To be loved by Susan would be to be impaled by a bird's sharp beak, to be nailed to a barnyard door. Yet there are moments when I could wish to be speared by a beak, to be nailed to a barnyard door, positively, once and for all.

I loved this reflection for what it says about the relationships we often become involved in - they might not always be the best for us but we seek them anyway!

I think The Waves is a book that I will have to go back to at some stage once I have continued my Woolf reading. I plan to move on now to reading more about Woolf herself in the hope that it will help me to love her writing even more. A huge thank you to Sarah, Emily, Frances and Claire for organising the Read Along and for introducing me to one of my new favourite authors.

February 24, 2010

Much Excitement!

I had a little moment of excitement yesterday when I discovered a writing workshop/session is being conducted by author Kirsten Tranter, whose first novel The Legacy I absolutely loved when I read it recently. The excitement was raised by the fact that the workshop is being held in my very own city! The excitement grew further when I rang up and discovered there were still places available!
My writing life is really only something I have ever dabbled in - it has always provided me with enjoyment and a sense of release and reflection and I have had thoughts about doing more with it but life always seems to get in the way. With some upcoming jobs changes I am hoping to have more time in my life to pursue creative aspects of my life - in particular writing - so I am looking forward to participating in this workshop not only to hear first hand from an amazing author but also in the hope that it will kick start my own writing practice at last.

February 23, 2010

The Year Of The Flood - Margaret Atwood

Earlier this year I read Atwood's speculative novel, Oryx and Crake and while it wasn't the type or style of book I would normally pick up I found myself totally immersed in it. I quickly went to my library to get the next novel written about the same period in the earth's future/history, The Year Of The Flood and started reading it right away but I found that I needed to spend some time out of this version of the world and move on to some other reading for a while. I came back to it this past weekend and found myself just as absorbed as I had been when I first picked up Oryx and Crake.

It has been said that you can read these two books separately and in any order but I really felt I enjoyed The Year Of The Flood more for having read Oryx and Crake first. I felt that O&C gave a more general overview of the author's created world and what was happening within it while The Year Of The Flood provided a more focused perspective.

The Year Of The Flood starts off by introducing us to the God's Gardeners - an environmental religious group who believe that all life (animal, plant and human) is sacred and to be respected. Atwood does a fantastic job of describing the group and their intricacies and beliefs and each section of the novel is opened by a speech/sermon from the group's leader, Adam One and a hymn from the groups hymn book. I have to say I found these sermons a little annoying and preachy as the book went on (reminded me too much of being in church as a child!) but maybe that was the author's intent?? However, they did perform a function of showing the internal development of the group as well as the way they were being impacted on by people and the environment around them.

The Year Of The Flood also focuses more on female characters than O&C. The two main characters that are followed are Toby and Ren - two women who have joined the God's Gardeners group for different reasons. Toby is brought into the group as a form of safety after her parents have died and she is forced to work in an abusive and dangerous environment and Ren is brought to the group by her mother when she begins a relationship with one of the groups senior members, or "Adams". I thought with this focus on female characters I would have enjoyed Flood more but I have to say that I feel O&C is my favourite book out of the two. That is not to take anything away from Flood - it is another clever and intriguing book by Atwood. I can't believe the strength and bounds of this woman's imagination! Although some would say that some of the elements described in both these books could be scarily close to coming true in our own world - particularly in relation to the environmental aspects and the destruction of whole species and their habitats.

Atwood's writing, as always, is sharp and descriptive - her characters have depth and complexity - you care about what happens to them - good or bad.

The ending of the book is deliberately open - is Atwood planning a third book?? I hope so!

February 20, 2010

The Girl With Glass Feet - Ali Shaw

When I saw that The Girl With Glass Feet was the second book in the Not The TV Book Group's reading schedule I quickly got online and ordered my copy from the UK. The description of the book sounded tantalising and both covers were gorgeous (I ended up choosing the cover pictured). Discussion about this book is taking place today over at Simon's Blog.

The Girl With Glass Feet refers to the main female character of the book, Ida MacLaird. A young woman from the mainland who, after a brief trip to the islands of St Hauda's Land and a chance encounter with a reclusive resident of the island finds that her feet are quite literally turning to glass - glass that is slowly but surely beginning to transform her whole body. Ida makes the trip back to the islands to seek a cure for the glass transformation and it is then that she meets Midas Crook - a man who has isolated himself quite effectively from almost all human contact apart from his widowed best friend and his young daughter.

I really, really wanted to like this book but (and I'm sure you can see where this is headed!) I really did not like it. I felt some of the writing was glorious and the concept of the story itself was whimsical and moving in so many ways but I am afraid I just did not connect with the main characters at all. Ida's and Midas's back stories were certainly fleshed out and described in a lot of detail but I felt that detail actually swamped the story that was taking place in present time to the point where it was hard to focus on the author's intent. I also felt there were too many characters jumping into the story at different times - I found it difficult to focus on what was important and what was window dressing.

Unfortunately this just wasn't the book for me at this time but I can definitely appreciate the imagination and thought that went into creating the story.

February 18, 2010

The Winter Ghosts - Kate Mosse

I have had a bit of a hit and miss experience with Kate Mosse's books in the past. I quite enjoyed the first book of hers I read, Labyrinth, but the second, Sepulchre was not a great reading experience for me at all.

I still thought I would give her latest book, The Winter Ghosts, a go. Partly, I will be honest, for it's gorgeous cover design (if I had a dollar for every time I got sucked into reading a book through this way...) and also because it is quite a short book so I figured if it was not great the pain would be over quite quickly.

The Winter Ghosts is told from the perspective of Freddie Watson, a man in his early 20's who was, and is, grief stricken after the death of his older brother, George, in World War 1. The book starts in 1928 when Freddie is travelling around France after the death of his parents - Freddie is still unclear as to whether he wants to remain in the world of the living himself and it is a heartbroken, destroyed man with no hope who we first meet. During his journey Freddie has a car accident during a brutal winter storm close to a village where he seeks assistance. It is here that the real "action" of the book begins when Freddie attends a village fair one evening and meets a young woman by the name of Fabrissa who shares with Freddie her own story of personal loss.

The book reads very much like a type of fairytale or moral fable - the language and story line is quite simple and even the emotions and intentions of the characters are clearly described as opposed to simply being indicated in some subtle way for the reader to ascertain for themselves.

I noticed at the end of the book that Mosse actually wrote an earlier shorter version of this book as part of the 2009 Quick Reads initiative aimed at adult emergent readers. This helped me to understand why the book had been written in the way that it was.

This book certainly didn't blow me away but it was a nice, quick read.

February 17, 2010

The Legacy - Kirsten Tranter

Don't you hate it when you read a fantastic book and it is the author's only or first novel?? All you want to do is go straight out and pick up another book by the same author to keep the magic going but you just can't!! It drives my reading mind mad! This is the exact feeling I had after finishing The Legacy.

I picked this book up a couple of weeks ago based on the wonderful cover which caught my attention and a combination of the description of the book and the praise on the book from another author I have enjoyed reading, Debra Adelaide. I was then pleased to see some really positive reviews about the book in our local media. But even with all of this I was not prepared for how much I would love this book and the writing displayed by Tranter.

The description of the book focuses on the character of Ingrid, a beautiful young Australian woman who moves to New York after marrying her art collector/businessman American husband, Gil Grey. From this description I was expecting Ingrid to be the real focus of the book - and she is in many ways - but the main character focus for me was Ingrid's friend, and the narrator of the book, Julia. Julia and Ingrid are introduced through Ingrid's cousin and Julia's friend, Ralph and the three become close friends during their university studies in Sydney.

The main action in the book takes place after September 11, 2001 when Ingrid is believed killed in the World Trade Tower attacks and Julia travels to New York a year after this event to discover more about the life Ingrid was leading once she had moved from Australia to marry and become a step mother to a child prodigy artist.

I found the writing and character development in this book brilliant. Tranter seems to move the plot and the characters without you really being aware of it as a reader - you just suddenly realise what has happened and the transition has been so smooth you were oblivious in a way. To me this is a sign of a great writer - I become so immersed in the world of the story I don't notice what the writer is trying to do - the action is seamless. The worlds of Sydney, New York and Paris were also beautifully written and described - the cities were clearly characters themselves and contributed so much to the way the human characters developed.

The characters felt solid and believable - they were rounded and full of flaws which always makes for a great story. The story itself could be read on so many different levels I think - for me it was a mystery, a love story, a narrative on the role that art, friendship and family play in our lives and a story of grief and loss but also hope.

I absolutely loved the experience of reading this book - I just hope Tranter is already writing her second!

February 14, 2010


I feel very honoured to have had two blogging awards bestowed upon me this past week. I have been hit hard by an awful summer flu so these awards and my reading have been two things to keep me smiling!

The first award was from Jane and it is The Prolific Blogger Award. The description on Jane's blog describes a Prolific Blogger as; one who is intellectually productive… keeping up an active blog that is filled with enjoyable content.
Thank you so much for this award Jane - it really means a lot to me. I feel that my blog has become a bigger part of my life this year and I have been putting more thought into my content and posting so I am glad it is entertaining you!
1. Every winner of the Prolific Blogger Award has to pass on this award to at least seven other deserving prolific bloggers. Spread some love!
2. Each Prolific Blogger must link to the blog from which he/she has received the award.
3. Every Prolific Blogger must link back to this post, which explains the origins and motivation for the award.
4. Every Prolific Blogger must visit this post and add his/her name in the Mr. Linky, so that we all can get to know the other winners.
I am going to pass this award on to the following bloggers who always inform and entertain me:

1. Jackie at Farmlane Books - Jackie has informative, entertaining and discussion provoking posts virtually every day.
2. Claire at Kiss A Cloud - I have never made a secret of the fact that Claire is one of my favourite bloggers - our reading tastes are not always the same but I love reading about Claire's passion for her reading life.
3. Frances at Nonsuch Book - Always informative, interesting and varied posts - I love dropping by every day.
4. Claire at Paperback Reader - Another great blog with entertaining posts and thoughtful reviews - I especially love the new blog site!
5. Kimbofo at Reading Matters - A great blog from an Aussie living in the UK - I might be slightly jealous!!
6. Simon at Savidge Reads - I don't know where Simon gets so much energy or so many great ideas but I love that he shares them with us through his blog!
7. Steph at Steph & Tony Investigate! - I love the variety in Steph's posts - books, movies, travel, cooking but it is her book reviews that I find particularly prolific!

My other award came from JoAnn and it is the Love Your Header award. Thank you so much for passing on this award to me JoAnn although I have to be honest and pass some of the glory to my partner who took the photo that currently makes up my header when we were in Killarney, Ireland last September.
Some of my favourite headers that I would like to pass this award on to are:

4. Claire at Kiss A Cloud

February 13, 2010

A Life Like Other People's - Alan Bennett

A Life Like Other People's was lent to me by a work colleague with the phrase "he couldn't put it down once he started it" - definite praise. I had read Bennett's fiction, The Uncommon Reader last year and loved it and this biography of his parent's marriage and the life of their family was no exception - a beautiful, haunting read.

A Life Like Other People's is the core of Bennett's memoir, Untold Stories and it's focus is really on his parent's marriage and relationship but also the increasing episodes of depression his mother experiences when Bennett himself is middle aged. Bennett's writing is honest and stark - his descriptions of events clear and vivid and his reflections of his own behaviour and thoughts around particular events are introspective and telling. The title of the book comes from the feeling that the Bennett family was always a little bit apart from other families in their area - both in action and thought. Bennett himself felt this difference as a child and reflects on it now as an adult. What I found interesting is that the Bennett family was probably very similar to many other families of the era in lots of different ways - they had their family secrets (one in particular that Bennett discovers in the process of his mother being hospitalised for the first time for her depression) just as I am sure many other families did.

Bennett's reflections on the treatment of people with a mental illness and the elderly is a particular strong point of the book:

A life varies in social importance. We set most value on the life of a child.

Aunty Kathleen's life was at its lowest point of social valuation. She was seventy-three. She was senile. She was demented, and she was of no class or economic importance.

It is Bennett's writing that turns a fairly simple family story into an addictive and compelling read. I can't wait to read more.

February 12, 2010

Orlando - Virginia Woolf

Orlando was the third read for the Woolf In Winter Read Along with this particular read being hosted by Frances at Nonsuch Book.

Woolf has described Orlando as a "Writer's Holiday" for herself and I felt it was also a sort of "reader's holiday" for me in terms of my Woolf reading. Not that I haven't totally loved and enjoyed my earlier reads but the intense focus on her characters inner lives and thoughts is draining to read - enlightening and amazing, but draining as well. I found Orlando to be an extremely entertaining read - a great story and a fascinating character to follow.

I feel this is another Woolf book where it really would have helped my appreciation of the novel to have a deeper and fuller understanding of Woolf's life and in particular her relationship with Vita Sackville-West, for whom Orlando was written. Overall though that lack of knowledge did not impede me from loving the story - and especially the freedom with which it was written.

Orlando starts life as a young boy in sixteenth-century England and moves through the ages to end up being a woman writer in 1928. The whole concept sounds so fantastical but Woolf makes it work. Before starting the book I was eager to read how Woolf would create this transformation in gender and I really liked the scene where this occurred:

We are, therefore, now left entirely alone in the room with the sleeping Orlando and the trumpeters. The trumpeters, ranging themselves side by side in order, blow one terrific blast -


at which Orlando woke.

He stretched himself. He rose. He stood upright in complete nakedness before us, and while the trumpets pealed Truth! Truth! Truth! we have no choice left but confess - he was a woman.

Woolf goes on to write:

Orlando had become a woman - there is no denying it. But in every other respect, Orlando remained precisely as he had been. The change of sex, though it altered their future, did nothing whatever to alter their identity.

For me this is one of the most important paragraphs of the novel - the premise that sex or gender is in many ways irrelevant to a person's identity and character. Quite a powerful concept for the time in which Woolf is writing.

I loved Orlando as I have loved my earlier Woolf reads but I particuarly enjoyed the slight break from the intensity that Orlando delivered - I'm ready for The Waves now!

February 11, 2010

A Fraction Of The Whole - Steve Toltz

Even though A Fraction Of The Whole had been shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize and it was by an Australian author (I like to support our home grown writers as much as possible) I was not really drawn to read this one. Then I saw the book praised very highly indeed by one of my favourite local journalists and I thought I would give it a go.

The book started out very positively for me - a striking opening paragraph to draw you in and then some funny, sharp writing to follow that introduction. The narrator of the book, Jasper Dean is in prison - for what exactly we don't know but it clear he is going to tell us eventually.

The premise of the book is that it tells the story of the Dean family. Jasper's father and uncle both become very well known identities and personalities in Australia - but both for very different reasons - and Jasper seems to be eternally caught in the middle of their fame and infamy trying to carve out an existence for himself.

The book could definitely be described as a "saga" and I don't mean that in a melodramatic, soap opera kind of way. The book covers so much in terms of time, geography and emotion. At times I thought the book was moving too fast and there was not going to be enough time to tell the whole story, but then, given that the book is 710 pages long, I admit there were times towards the end when I thought things were dragging a little.

Toltz is an amazing story teller - it felt as though Jasper was there in front of you narrating his life - there was definitely a connection and sense of empathy built even though some of the events and actions taken by the characters are (thankfully!) far outside the realm of what I would be expecting to experience in my own life!

When I finished the book my partner asked me if I had liked it and I honestly couldn't give an answer to the question because I was not sure! It was a fantastic read and an amazing story but could I say I 'liked' the story?? I'm still not sure about the answer to that one but I know that I am glad that I have read it and that I can pass it on to others. I will definitely be reading more work by this author.

February 10, 2010

Woolf Love

Deciding to participate in the Woolf In Winter Read Along has opened up a whole new literary crush for me. I never thought I would connect with Virginia Woolf's work as much as I have and I must admit (as you can see above) my book buying restricting policy has taken a bit of a beating of late thanks to my new found obsession!

I am currently reading (and loving) Orlando and will then move on to The Waves as part of the Read Along but after that I have these Woolf books or Woolf related reading to move on to:

A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf - I have heard so much about this one and even though it is only the smallest of books I have never picked it up before.

Selected Diaries - Virginia Woolf - A lot of the books of Woolf's I have been reading make reference to her diaries and letters and I am thinking they will shed more light on her writing process and the aspects of her life that contributed to and influenced her work. Also, I love the covers of these Vintage editions.

The White Garden - Stephanie Barron - I first read about this one over at Nonsuch Book and thought it sounded like an interesting read - but it was the Woolf link that clinched it for me.

Vanessa & Virginia - Susan Sellers - The reading of this one will enable me to take place in the Not The TV Book Group discussions which I am looking forward to.

A Writer's Diary - Virginia Woolf - I actually bought this one after hearing Susan Hill rave about it in Howard's End Is On The Landing.

Have you got any other recommendations I should add to my collection?

February 06, 2010

The Infinities - John Banville

The Infinities is my first John Banville read and I have to say that I am intrigued.

The book takes place over the course of one day. The Godley family have come together after the father, husband and patriarch of the family, Adam Senior, has suffered a massive stroke and has been brought home to die amongst his loved ones, his second wife Ursula and their two children, Petra and Adam Jnr and Adam's wife, Helen. The twist to the novel is that is narrated by the mythical Greek god, Hermes - clearly the funniest character in the book for me. Hermes introduces the reader to each of the human, mortal characters and in doing so also shows us how the gods intervene in the family life and the course of events of that single day.

I would normally struggle with a book set up with this premise but I jumped right into this novel with no problems at all - the way Banville constructed the world of the gods and the world of the humans and the way the two intersected so seamlessly made the reading, in that regard at least, easy for me. I did find Banville's writing extremely 'literary' in places and many times a word had me reaching for the dictionary (I admit I got a bit lazy in the end and just kept reading on when a word had me stumped) but this didn't detract from the story or the characters for me. As I mentioned earlier this book contained a lot of humour, particularly in the scenes where the gods were involved, and there were also some beautiful phrases and snippets - my favourite would have to be this description; 'the lemony sunlight of the Italian noon'.

Overall an enjoyable and reflective read for me. Do you think I would enjoy any of Banville's other novels?

February 04, 2010

The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

I actually finished The Secret Garden at the beginning of January but for some reason I have been holding off on doing my review - partly because I really wanted to love this book - but I just didn't. After reading Hodgson Burnett's adult fiction The Making Of A Marchioness last year and absolutely loving it I expected the jump to The Secret Garden would be an easy one. I gave a beautiful hard covered, illustrated edition of the book to my god daughter last year for her 4th Birthday and her father told me he had started reading it to her one night and had stopped because he felt the topic areas were a little full on for a 4 year old. Now she just looks at the pictures until she gets a little older! I can see his point - the grief and loss described at the beginning of the book is quite confronting. At the time that the book was written death and illness would have been quite common place for children to see and hear about - but in our modern society children are often shielded from this aspect of life.

I have to say that I do love my edition of the book - beautiful to look at and hold in your hands and there is a wonderful and enlightening introduction by Alice Sebold which I read last.

I have gone over and over why this book didn't work for me. I have tried to place it in the context in which it was written and to some extent that has helped - but this book is still loved and raved about today by so many. I can certainly connect with the themes of hope and growth and I can appreciate the messages that the author was conveying through the story but I just didn't connect with the characters at all - and (I feel a little awful to admit this) I really did not like Mary at all!

I think I have to make my peace with the fact that this wasn't the book for me and continue on reading Hodgson Burnett's adult fiction which I am definitely in love with.

February 03, 2010

Up In The Air

One of the things I have been trying to do more of lately is go to the movies and generally watch movies/DVD's that I want to see. I always seem to be saying "Oh, I really wanted to see that" but by the time I have gotten around to it the movie has moved on from the cinema and I then have to wait what feels like forever for it to come out on DVD.

So, my partner and I went on the weekend to see the new movie starring, among others, George Clooney - Up In The Air. I should probably first admit my bias for anything that involves Clooney - I am a huge fan of his work (and his looks!) so I was destined to like this movie anyway but I have to say I thought it was a great piece of work overall. I found the whole cast brilliant - of course Clooney stood out for me but I also thought he was outshone at times in particular by his co-star Anna Kendrick.

The movie centres around the experiences of Clooney's character Ryan Bingham, an American business executive whose job it is to fly around the country firing people. Bingham loves his lifestyle - he spends over 300 days a year in the air and away from his "home" and he has what many people would view as superficial and transitory relationships with anyone who has entered his life. I loved the scenes where Bingham is shown preparing for his trips and moving through the airport processes - I must admit I could kind of like that lifestyle too I think!

The company that Bingham works for has just hired Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) straight from college and she has some pretty radical ideas about how the company can change it's work practices and save money by moving to firing people via video link up. Needless to say Bingham is not happy about these proposed changes and sets about showing Keener just how his world operates - and why it needs to operate in the way it does - both for the employees who are receiving the news but also for himself.

The movie touches on some very real and topical issues for workers in the current climate and I thought this material was handled really well and in a way that makes the audience think about the real human and community effects evolving from economic problems. The personal lives of the characters were blended strongly with their working persona's to create complete, holistic and real characters with strengths and flaws. Totally watchable - and not just for Clooney!