Tag Archives: Books

Growing People, Plants & Novels

A grainy picture of flowersDear Blogosphere,

It’s been far too long. I won’t regale you with tails of woe and excuses as to why I haven’t written for the better part of a year. Let’s just put it down to the following, logical, equation:

Family + IVF + Pregnancy + Work + Uni + NaNoWriMo + Maintaining Sanity = Something’s Gotta Give.

You, my dear bloggy space, were de-prioritised.

But, let’s not dwell. Let’s move into a new season – one that will hopefully include more blog posts, but will DEFINITELY include: NaNoWriMo, a feat I am loving; Stephen King novels; Christmas; births and birthdays! Lots of wonderful happenings to enjoy!

Whilst I’ve been growing a person, eating my weight in dry biscuits and writing essays, I have managed to read a few books. I finally finished Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 – an interesting story, though if it weren’t for the sheer size of the thing, I’m not sure I would have hung in there. That doesn’t sound right, I know, but once you’ve committed so many hours of your life, there doesn’t seem to be an Exit Stage Left anymore. The only way out is through. In this case, it was worth it for the simple fact that the world Murakami paints is interesting and I enjoy his quirky writing, though the story wouldn’t make my top 10 and I’m pretty sure I’m disappointed in the ending (though I’m still percolating on that). I’d be interested to hear what anyone thinks of 1Q84?

I’ve also passed the time with some great authors who weave a good yarn. Tom Clancy (rest in peace), Patricia Cornwell and John Le Carre to name a few. I’ve been looking forward to getting into SK’s Joyland and Dr. Sleep, but have been savouring those until I can really sit down and enjoy them. Watch this Space.

You may recall a post in which I talk about my life-long desire to write. Well, I’ve taken the plunge and delved head first into NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. I’ve never participated before, but am really excited to be giving it a bash. For some reason, I have this crazy notion that being forced to sit down and write 50,000 words in one month will somehow forge an innate connection to Stephen King. Haha, stalker much? “Cray cray” as the hipsters say? I’m heading down that track, I know, but it’s true! I have loved his books for so long and they have been such a huge part of my reading life, to be writing one of my own does feel like something of a tribute.

Finally, my world has consisted of some fairly intensive gardening. I once started a blog called “Sheco Blog” FYI it no longer exists, but was meant to document my escapades of seeking a more sustainable lifestyle. Well, Shecoblog or not, H and I have been foraging our way through this new terrain, slowly trying to figure out what it means to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle – and how to do it. It’s slow going, but lots of fun. I’d like to keep you posted on that stuff, it’s a big part of our lives.

Well, thanks dear readers. It’s so great to have the head space to blog again. I hope I can keep it up!

Shan

Leave a comment

Filed under Books

The Shifting Fog, Kate Morton

awwbadge_2013

I love the sensation of freshly read novels percolating away in my mind. Like a deliciously brewed coffee, time and concentration filter away extraneous details as themes and flavour strengthen, simmer and crackle. One of the many stories on the stovetop of my mind at present, is The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton.

I’ve been curious of this particular author for a while. In the summer of 2011-12, my little trio road-tripped across the Nullarbor with our camper trailer, a few tonnes of water and books – the essentials. I distinctly remember seeing the audibook of The Shifting Fog at every roadhouse we stopped by. Finally, I decided to give the debut novel a go to kick off my participation in the Australian Women Writers challenge.

And you know, I enjoyed this novel. Let me tell you about it.

The Shifting Fog

The Shifting Fog is told from the perspective of Grace, a 98 year old woman who recounts her life as a young maid at Riverton Manor during a turbulent time where a famous war poet, Robbie Hunter, committed suicide. In the present day, a movie is being made about the tragic death, and the sisters Hannah and Emmeline who witnessed it. When approached by the director, Ursula, for an interview, Grace, who has spent a lifetime forgetting the events, is plunged once again into her youth and the events that darkened and shaped her life.

Ultimately, to me, the story was about Grace and her relationship with Hannah, the grandaughter of the lady of Riverton, whom Grace serves. Though there relationship is unequal, it is the bearer of secrets, and pivotal in shaping the events that transpire in the early 20th century.

Set in 1920’s England, the two eras are juxtaposed: the 1920’s aristocracy, propriety and naive belief that society will never change; to the early 21st century: where love and marriage are no longer a given, women aren’t as bound to their positions, technology continues to change the ever-changing world, and war is no longer shrouded in glory.

The gothic novel is fairly predictable, it’s not too hard to piece together the events that transpired at the lake at Riverton Manor. Having said that, I enjoyed this story, I enjoyed Grace’s narration – though I’m not sure it can be trusted. Even if the memory of a 98 year old woman wasn’t fragile, time and guilt have a way of warping events, don’t they?

Thematically, there are many issues touched on, though not delved into deeply. Nothing I wouldn’t have expected to be present: class, economics, pre and post-war ontologies and particularly women, marriage and the roles of both in an aristocratic society.

One aspect of the novel that struck me, and I imagine this is highly intentional, is the motif of secrets and inheritence. The most significant heirlooms passed down through generations are not always objects, but ideas, beliefs and secrets. Grace was born into a world of secrets, bearing her own, carrying them for others, and discovering some along the way. Secrets serve almost as a roadmap, the most ancient of GPS systems, navigating and dictating the life-paths on which to take – whether one wishes to, or not.

When all the details filter away on the bubbling stovetop of my mind, the question I am ultimately left with is this: did any of the main characters, Grace included – with their varying positions and opportunities in society, actually live the life they wanted? And if so, was it worth the price? Today, I would suggest not, tomorrow, I might feel differently. Read the book for yourself and let me know if you disagree.

I liked The Shifting Fog and am keen to explore more novels by Kate Morton.

Let me know what you think!

2 Comments

Filed under Books

New Books!

This morning, I walked into the most delicious sight I could imagine – books, so many books! There they waited, piled & scattered across kitchen tables at work, begging to be taken, to be loved. So, I did, at $2 each, I bought 5 of them (rather restrained if you ask me). I love them already.

Best start to the day. Ever.

20130215-091633.jpg

6 Comments

Filed under Books

A Mad Hatter Tea Party

For my 30th birthday, I decided to go down the rabbit hole.

Oh, what a Wonderland I found!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

6 Comments

Filed under Books

Dear Virginia Woolf,

Virigina Woolf

 

Dear Virginia Woolf,

Greetings and salutations from the warm summer months of the year 2013. I am writing to discuss with you a rather personal matter – that of my 2012 Reading Goals, in which I did you a terrible disservice, dear Virginia.

Having been deceased these past 72 years, you are most likely unaware of
my resolution to read five of your works throughout the year of 2012. An honourable, realistic challenge, one would surmise. I had other reading goals, of course which I won’t discuss here, but am pleased to have achieved them – more or less .

As I reflect on my reading year gone by, I am filled with a sadness. And, something else, perhaps it is regret. You see, Virginia, my real failure, my greatest reading mistake was to leave my Woolf goal too late. I spent most of the year assuring myself that Time, devious as she is, was on my side. I was wrong, of course, as one often is in a head-to-head against Time. October appeared out of nowhere, tearing her way through my front door and into my life, underdressed, uninvited and without apology before I had read any of your novels.

All I could do was begin. I chose to read Mrs. Dalloway – and what a wonderful choice it was.

I had previously thought that streams-of-consciousness writing was not really my style, finding it a tad uncomfortable to read. However, the day of Clarissa Dalloway’s party was, what is the word? Entrancing. At times I was lost, wondering who or what was being described and how I’d arrived there. At other moments, I found myself swimming in the text, drinking in the way each word, considered with care and lyricism, knitted into narrative. I enjoyed drifting in and out of the minds of several characters, all preparing for the party at Clarissa’s house, all submerged in their own private worlds, with private thoughts and longings. It was a sadly-beautiful experience, if you understand what I mean. I was most confronted by the storyline of a man mid-battle for the remaining shreds of his sanity. In fact, I wonder how it came to be that you should have such an understanding of mental health issues? What had your experience of it been?

Dear Virginia, I found your writing excquisite, delicate yet robust, honest and unapologetic. I loved it, I adored it. But, it was not something I could so easily submerge myself in again so quickly.

I realised that to rush through another four of your novels would:
a/ probably not be possible given the late hour at which I had started my task; and
b/ would be disrespectful. Your novels require something, don’t they? Not just the usual sacrifice of time, laid willingly at the altar of Art by any lover of books. No, your writing requires an investment of another kind. Emotional safety, perhaps. You burrow deep, and deep you must burrow. Into the depths of humanity, into the soul, into what it means to exist and co-exist with others, relating, feeling, experiencing life in the shades granted by context and time.

So, given the above reasoning, I chose not to burl through four more Virginia Woolf works. Thus, I did not complete my reading goal and more importantly, I underestimated you, I underestimated what your writing would cost me – and what it was worth.

For that, I am deeply sorry.

I am so very grateful to have been acquainted with you through your writing, Virginia Woolf. I will read more of your works in future. I will not declare a number, nor will I vow to a timeline, but I need not do so – it’s not within my power to resist the gentle call of your prose. I look forward to where it will take me, and who I will encounter along the way.

Until our next meeting.

Your Reader,

Shan

2 Comments

Filed under Books

2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge

awwbadge_2013In 2012, I endeavoured to become more acquainted with Australian literature. This year, I have taken one step further and signed up for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2013.

Born from the outcry against the gender bias that sees male Australian authors more likely to be read and reviewed than female, the challenge was established to “support and promote books by Australian Women”. Fair play.

So, my challenge is this: I have entered in at the Stella stage. I will read four books  written by Australian women and will review three. 

This is a great challenge, as it will not only broaden my literary education, but will force me to stretch my reviewer legs, which is a challenge I could do with.

So, where will I find these elusive women writers, you ask? Good question. The AWW do have a couple of pages on writers from diverse backgrounds, such as Indigenous and Asian-Australian. As good a place to start as any, I reckon.

Anyone want to join me?

3 Comments

Filed under Books

On Writing, Living & Legitimising Expletives

At age 12 I swore I would be a writer.

I would pen the next great novel sitting at my desk by the window, fireplace crackling nearby, bookshelves inquiring over me. Teacups and teapots would be scattered across my workspace like a legion of colonial ships, preparing the rape of a newfound, ancient land. I would write, and if the ghosts of literature’s past weren’t too heavy and intimidating, I would write well. I would write and I would say “fuck” a lot, because it was an artistic right not often afforded to 12 year olds. I would be a writer.

teapot

After a few attempts at quasi crime/ supernatural thriller in which the protagonist says “fuck” a lot, I thought, at the valiant age of 12, perhaps what I needed was some life experience. Then I could be a writer, then I would have something to say, then I would have earned my artistic credentials to say “fuck” a lot. Yes, I would have some life experiences. I would wait to write.

So I waited. And I waited. Time went by. I managed to finish high school (if you knew me at the time & my proclivity for self-destruction, you will understand the wonderment associated with me completing VCE). I had one or two dramatic religious conversions. I fell in and out of love, though in hindsight, it could have been “daddy-issues inspired co-dependence”, or a heavy mixture of both. An alleged sister popped up out of the wind like an episode of The O.C., sticking around just long enough to ensure the maximum emotional damage was achieved before disappearing into genetic mis-matched oblivion. I lived in China. I lived in China. I gave myself time to scoop up as many pieces of my shattered heart and dreams before carrying them home to Oz. I found myself pregnant. I found myself pregnant, alone, with a new sense of purpose and zeal for life. I entered the world of single mum-dom: a sacred, difficult, sorely misunderstood place. I almost died. My son was almost orphaned only minutes after he entered the world. My knight in shining armour did come along, riding an unfinished EH to carry me over the threshold of the warrantee-free contractual relationship that is marriage, with a bonus 30 year mortgage. Together, we are building a life. Together, we are learning about the rabbit hole that is IVF. Together, we laugh. Together, we negotiate the emotional terrain that comes with marriage, with friendship, with life. I have experienced deep shades of community and support that have forever impacted my perception of faith, humanity and community. I’m completing post-grad studies. I read. I read a lot, and then I read some more.

I wait. Almost 30, I wait to write.

I wish I could go back and tell the valiant 12 year old not to wait for life to happen. To just write. Write, write, write. Write quasi preternatural- thrillers with no real plot & weak characters whose only contribution to the narrative is the creative use of profanities. Write badly, write bloody. Just write.

Now, 18 years later, I start all over again. I no longer aspire to pen the next great novel, but the bookshelves inquire, the fireplace exists, teacups are scattered and teapots are ready to conquer the new creative space. The backlog of pent up emotion and experience is ready to be exploited in the name of art. Now, I just need to find the balls and make the time to write. Write, write, write. Write badly, write bloody, but for fuck’s sake, just write.

colonising teapot

13 Comments

Filed under Books

Bookclub: Australian Literature

bookclub

The classic Australian story is a different kind of beast from your average novel. My limited exposure to Australian literature has shown me that sense of place and the lives of ordinary people far outweigh a strong plot. Would you agree?

This year one of my reading goals was to read more Australian lit, so I dabbled in the likes of Tim Winton, Ruth Park and Helen Garner.  A good start to Aussie literature, I reckon!

I’ll share my reflections on Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South, though some of my thoughts could probably be applied to my experience of Australian novels more broadly.

The cover of The Harp In The South, Ruth Park. Read by Kate Hood

Earlier this year I read The Harp in the South via audiobook. Have you read it? Published in 1948, The Harp in the South is the second within a trilogy that follows the Darcys, a Catholic-Irish Aussie family who live in Sydney’s suburban slums. If you can get your hands on the audio version read by Kate Hood, do it! She’s a fantastic narrator.

Here are some things that struck me about The Harp in the South:

  • The story is a snapshot of Australian history wrapped in fiction. By zooming in on one family and their daily lives in the slums, it tells a larger narative about post-war life in Australia.
  • It reminded me of Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. I imagine Ruth Park’s literature was a significant influence on Tim Winton and other Aussie authors.
  • The descriptions of characters and surrounding environment are vibrant, detailed and quite funny.
  • It felt like the whole world existed within the small hub that contained the Darcy’s life: school, pub, the prostitute-lined street, the market and the fish and chip shop.
  • The struggles each family member faced were raw and honest. From gambling and alcohol problems; finding love in a time where marriage was still a survival strategy; finding a sense of identity; facing illness and soul-scarring grief, all lathered with the Aussie-battler aversion to dwelling on the things you just can’t change.
  • The Harp in the South is beautiful, sometimes uncomfortable and definitely a must read.

So, dear Bookclubbers, what are your thoughts? Have you read any Ruth Park? Are there any particular Aussie novels you’d recommend? Any characters or authors that tickle your fancy? I’d love to hear your thoughts, just pop them in ‘Comments’ section below.

I look forward to chatting with you further in bookclub!

Cheers

6 Comments

Filed under Bookclub, Books

Quote: Stephen King wants your attention

I’m a confrontational writer. I want to be in your face. I want to get into your space. I want to get within kissing distance, hugging distance, choking distance, punching distance. Call it whatever you want. But I want your attention.
– Stephen King

washingtonpost.com

5 Comments

December 9, 2012 · 11:22 am

From Book to Film: Stephen King’s ‘A Good Marriage’

Stephen King, author of A Good Marriage.
Source: hollywoodreporter.com

What would you do if you discovered your spouse was a monster?

Hi! Anyone read Stephen King’s novella A Good Marriage? Well, it’s set to be released on film late 2013.

A Good Marriage was published in Full Dark No Stars, a dark collection of stories themed around retribution.

A Good Marriage is a good read. I liked it the most out of all the Full Dark, No Stars stories.  It’s like a novella mash up of a Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series with an episode of Criminal Minds, both of which I am a huge fan. It definitely has all the makings for a GREAT psychological thriller film.

Joan Allen
Source: hollywoodreporter.com

Tell me, what would you do if you discovered your spouse was a monster? Joan Allen from The Bourne series has been cast as protagonist, Darcy Anderson who is faced with this question. The short story revolves around her response to discovering her husband’s nasty secret. It will be interesting to see what that looks like on screen, particularly as Stephen King has written the screenplay.

Hopefully A Good Marriage will be released in 2013. I CAN’T WAIT!

Baby, Can You Dig Yo’ Adaptations?

Book to film adaptations can be tricky, particularly Stephen King books! Films made from his stories range from cult classic such as Stand By Me and The Shining, to the disastrous Creepshow and Sleepwalkers. It could just depend on the size of the wallet bankrolling the production, or the calibre of actors & director that determine whether it shifts well into film, though I doubt it. Hearts in Atlantis & Bag of Bones lost something significant in their book to film adaptations (in my opinion), and they are modern productions with a great casting and relatively healthy budgets. Perhaps its just that the wild and wonderful mind of Stephen King doesn’t translate well on screen when it dives too far down the rabbit hole. Whatever the case, some movies haven’t thrived in the transition across mediums.

Hey you with the cynicism, enough already!

OK, I know… despite my cynicism, I am optimistic about A Good Marriage translating well into film. Besides, there have been some fantastic adaptations of Stephen King books. Some of my favourites are:

  • The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me. Both films are based on short stories from Different Seasons and they are outstanding.
  • The Green Mile is another one that I thoroughly enjoyed, but with Tom Hanks as leading man, what’s not to love?
  • The Stand and IT were also good TV mini-series (for their time), though I’d like to see them rejigged and revived – as long as they kept Tim Curry as Pennywise, of course.
  • The Shining & Misery both had powerhouse performances from Jack Nicholson (“Heeeeere’s Johnny!”) and Kathy Bates as the scariest fan ever in  Misery.

Yep, I’m backing A Good Marriage to be a hit! What do you think? Come on, argue with me 🙂

What’s your favourite Stephen King film adaptation? Do you think A Good Marriage can be pulled off as a film? Tell us in comments below.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books