Have you read…? Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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Oh my! What a gem this book is! Beautifully realised characters each with their own distinct voice, astute observations on society and the human condition all wrapped up in an original narrative that avoids resorting to well-worn tropes. I had no idea how this novel was going to end – in a good way! I am hesitant to be too specific about what takes place because if you haven’t read it, I want you to be able to sit back and allow Eleanor’s life to unfold as you turn each page. If you have read it, then we can nod knowingly at each other, observing ‘wasn’t it lovely when […]?’, ‘wasn’t it moving when […]?, ‘how funny was it when […]?’ So here comes a very broad, non-specific review!

Eleanor Oliphant is in her early thirties, lives alone in Glasgow, and is completely fine. She has a flat, an office job, she is clean, she has food. She fills her leisure time reading, listening to the radio, buying provisions at Tesco and drinking vodka. She has a very distinct turn of phrase and manner of conversation! We are made aware that Eleanor has suffered significant traumatic events in her life which have inevitably shaped her, and these are revealed in a very organic and natural way. Eleanor’s solitary existence is disturbed when Raymond, the IT guy at work, becomes present in her life. And I want to leave it at that! What I will say is that this novel explores the power both kindness and cruelty have to shape our lives, what it is to be alone and lonely, that our lives can be enriched in ways we may not have been aware they could be, and how we can transform our lives when the right circumstances arise.

As I approached the final pages, I was in a quandary – I wanted to keep reading to know how it would end but did not want the joy of reading this book to be over. Now that it is, I am keen to re-read it, pencil in hand, and to underline the observations Honeyman has made about our society, and to highlight the expertly crafted sentences. A fabulous read. Cannot recommend it highly enough.

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Taking Stock: July ‘18 Port Fairy edition

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Hey gang! How are things? My man and I have headed to the coast for a short winter break. I love the beach at winter. The grey skies, the rolling waves, the bracing air. Blows the cobwebs away! We haven’t been to Port Fairy for years – it is a bit of a hike from Melbourne! It’s been nice to reacquaint ourselves with this quiet little town. And it’s been nice to have some time together! An interruption to the normal daily routine is the perfect time to take stock.

Making: nothing at the moment! There’s weavings at home but this week has been a ‘make free’ time for me.

Cooking: very little. Whatever is easy in our little kitchen.

Drinking: tea, coffee, cocktails!

Eating: a delicious dinner at the Merrijig Inn and yummy pizza at Coffin Sally

Reading: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine which I am LOVING! Have you read it?

Watching: Shetland season 4. We could almost see ourselves there as we gazed out at our own stormy seas and overcast sky!

Buying: coffees, magazines (an essential part of any holiday, I feel) and A Forger’s Tale

Opening: magazines for weaving inspiration.

Taking: lots of photos.

Hearing: waves, wind

Looking: at clouds, swaying grasses, sea foam

Noticing: birds are so much more interesting when you head out of the city. We’ve acquainted ourselves with the hooded plover and the pie eyed oystercatcher which my man remembered from his childhood stamp collection! Maybe we’ll become twitchers!

Pondering: the meaning of life! Breaks away always provide the space for some introspection! What brings us fulfilment? How to achieve work-life balance? What new routines could bring greater joy to life? How do we venture into a new stage of life? Not sure if we came up with answers but useful to contemplate!

Enjoying: sleep ins in a comfy bed! I find it difficult to come across a comfy bed in holiday accommodation. I often find them too soft and end up with a sore back. This one is a goody!

Wondering: why bathrooms in holiday accommodation are always so poorly lit and exhaust fans do such an ineffective job at steam extraction.

Thinking: it might be time for another cup of tea

Liking: regional holidays. There’s something very comforting about holidaying locally. It’s like pulling on a pair of comfy slippers. Not a lot of research is needed to plan the holiday nor is there the compulsion to see certain sights. There’s no anxiety about how to get from A to B, eating out customs don’t need to be understood. It’s just chill. And a reminder that there are some lovely places to see not far from home.

I hope your July has been a happy one. Maybe you are back from a break away? Or heading to one soon? Perhaps you’d like to head over to Pip’s blog and see what’s been happening to her in July!

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Have you read…? The Nowhere Child by Christian White

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I have been in a reading slump this year. Yep, I have! Not sure if it’s been me or the books. I’ve kept turning pages, but I feel like I have been DRAGGING myself through them, and by the time I’ve reached the end, the idea of writing a review has been ‘meh’! I have just finished Christian White’s debut novel, The Nowhere Child, and I think I can manage to put together some thoughts on this one!

The Nowhere Child won last year’s Victorian Premier’s Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript under the title Decay Theory. I’ve enjoyed reading previous winners’ works, such as The DryForeign Soil and Australia Day, so I was keen to give White’s novel a go.

In 1990, two year old Sammy Went disappears from her home in Manson, Kentucky. Twenty five years later, Kim Leamy, a photography teacher in Melbourne, Australia, is approached by a stranger who tells her that he believes she is Sammy Went. That Sammy and Kim are the same person is settled within the first few chapters – a little too readily perhaps? – and the remainder of the novel is concerned with how Sammy’s disappearance from Manson, and reappearance in Melbourne, came about. Was this a random child abduction? Did it have something to do with the religious cult Sammy’s birth mother was part of? How could Kim reconcile her Australian mother, now deceased, with being an international child abductor?  The need to find out these answers made this book an engaging read. But whilst these questions did keep me turning the pages, the writing, for me, was a bit of a let down.

White follows a non-linear structure with chapters alternating between ‘then’ and ‘now’. Sometimes I find this can be frustrating if a chapter is beginning to build momentum and the time frame then shifts, but for the most part, White manages to avoid this by bringing each chapter to a satisfying conclusion. Nevertheless, towards the end of the novel, three chapters in a row concluded with a ‘and then everything turned to black’ scenario which was perhaps a little too convenient. In addition, some of White’s writing fell short with his tendency to ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’. Kim’s first in depth conversation with her birth sister, Emma, for example:

It turned out Emma and I had a lot in common: we both hated it when people cracked their knuckles, had a strong aversion to feet and enjoyed Gillian Flynn novels. And we both got tattoos when we were younger that we regretted.

Some dialogue could have been used to make this point. As it is written, it lacks a deft touch. Similarly, in the final pages, when Kim is returning to Melbourne:

As the 787 descended over Melbourne, I looked out over the city. It was flat and grey, familiar yet somehow different.

This place hasn’t changed, I decided. But the woman coming back here has.

A bit clichéd?

Chopping sentences here or there, trusting that the reader would fill in the blanks, would, for me, have resulted in a more polished novel. White didn’t need to tell me, for example, that Emma was stepping inside a house when I’d already been shown that the door was opened to her and her friend, Shelley. A tendency to repeat phrases or descriptions, for me, came across as either loose writing or editing – the ‘creaking’ of the Eckles’s gate and the use of  rope for a makeshift latch didn’t need to be mentioned multiple times, for example, or ‘back in Australia’ twice in a paragraph. And horror of horrors, a minor character’s name changed between paragraphs! Eek!

There was a twist at the end which I was not expecting but aspects to the way the novel wrapped up came across as a little cute. Some dialogue in the final pages rather than the expository style used would have lifted the writing.

Maybe I am being too critical? I suppose it’s because the writing fell a short of previous winners’ books. My expectations were high. White says in his author’s note, he’s ‘only just getting started’ so perhaps I should be a bit more forgiving. As an easy to read, entertaining story, I’d give it a tick. I hope he can come up with another cracking idea and polish the writing a little more so that his next novel is truly satisfying.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

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Taking Stock: April ‘18

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Hey gang! Do you see those two small magnolia little gems? And the statice in the front? I PLANTED THEM! Yep, I did. With a little bit of help from my dad because he has a shovel. I actually found out the day after we planted them that I have a shovel too but because I garden so infrequently, I had actually forgotten I had one! Anyhoo, since the rediscovery of my shovel I have planted three more little gems and a camellia – for some winter colour. I don’t know what’s come over me but all of a sudden I feel the enthusiasm for giving the house a good sprucing up. The STUFF in the roof is being sorted, donated and pitched, the outside light my man has always disliked is being replaced, and I’m wandering around inspecting flyscreens and cupboards and *nodding* ‘hmm, that needs to be repaired.’ Maybe it’s a reverse nesting thing that happens when the big ‘M’ hits! Aah, hormones! You do keep us entertained! So, in amongst all this reorganising and beautifying of my environment, I felt it appropriate to do a bit of a stocktake of life.

Eating: homemade creamy chicken soup. LOVE!

Making: lots of cups of tea for everyone in the house. Gosh it’s taken a bit to get my head around having the family around during the week this year! My man is working from home LOTS more, the boy is doing his thesis so not many uni hours, and the girl is in and out – but I’m trying to embrace it because I know moving out days may be on the horizon.

Cooking: chicken with basil and tomatoes for dinner

Drinking: peppermint tea

Reading: Call My By Your Name for book club. I haven’t seen the movie. Have you? What did you think? And I’m flicking through Frankie and Look What We Made

Hearing: the dishwasher sloshing, the pool filter whirring

Watching: quite a lot of Harry Styles clips because my girl keeps shoving them before my eyes! Which is fine! He seems talented, and nice, and plays a good tune. She went to the Melbourne concert and touched his suit! I asked her how it felt – ‘expensive!’

Seeing: a beautiful, blue autumn sky

Noticing: the stillness of the day outside

Disliking: the mess the corellas have been making of our streets. They have been carpeted with the pecked over remains of the pods from the plane trees. And the pods themselves! Out on my morning walks, I’ve had to be careful walking under the trees as the birds are sitting up there, pecking away, sending the pods raining onto the footpath.

Cringing: at the very thought that Trump could be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize over the whole Korea thing. I was reading in the paper this morning about how his unorthodox approach may have brought the two Koreas together and persuaded the North to demilitarise – although we do have to wait to see if this actually happens.

Wondering: whether to watch season 2 of  The Handmaid’s Tale. I loved the first season and the book but now that it is going beyond the novel’s end, I’m not sure if I risk spoiling my memories by watching season 2. I did read somewhere that Margaret Atwood gave it the thumb’s up, so maybe? Have you watched it?

Pondering: ageing! Maybe it’s because of the ‘M’ thing. Maybe it’s because lots of my friends are hitting the big 5-0, and some the big 6-0. It’s weird. My body still feels the same, and I don’t think I LOOK much different, but apparently the insides are telling a different picture. One of my friends is in the process of having her cataracts attended to. Isn’t that something that happens to old people? I look at pictures of my mum when she was my age – I’d made her a grandmother by then (we were both child brides 😉) and she looked much more mature (though not old) than I THINK I look. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe people in the street are looking at me and thinking ‘oh, yep, she’s nearing the seniors club.’

Thinking: I need to sort out my trolley full of wool

Opening: my front door a lot so that I can keep putting things on the nature strip for the hard rubbish collection

Looking: at lots of pictures of the royal family. And I don’t care what anyone thinks! Okay, William and Harry have never had to contend with living in poverty, but they had some crappy family stuff to deal with at a young age and it seems to me they’ve turned out to be pretty well-balanced people. And so I’m happy to see them making their own happy families. There’s nothing wrong for feeling happy that other people are happy, is there?

Wishing: the council would do weekly green bin collections in autumn. I have SO MANY BAGS of leaves that I’ve raked up and cannot fit into my bin. Don’t get me wrong. I love autumn, and I love my colourful fallen leaves but they can get slippery underfoot so I need to have a way to be able to get rid of them regularly.

Liking: that my man is feeling better. Bit of a tummy bug over the weekend so good to have that out of the system.

Feeling: chuffed to have sold a few of my weavings! One has even made it’s way over to New York! Love thinking that some of my work is in one of my favourite cities!

How’s your April been, chicks? Has the spring/autumn cleaning bug hit you too?

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Ten good things about this weekend

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This is the second in an occasional series (that means I wrote another post like this back in March!) about what’s been nice about this weekend. I’m sure there have been other pleasant weekends in between but this one has been choc full of good stuff!

  1. Meeting new people at my friend Isabel’s book club.
  2. Eating dumplings with the same new book club buddies.
  3. Movie date with another friend. We saw Murder on the Orient Express. It was entertaining, the costumes were lovely and I liked that Michelle Pfeiffer’s face had lots of movement to it. And she still looked gorgeous.
  4. Not getting hit by a car as my friend and I jumped off the tram. Phew! That would have put a dampener on the weekend!
  5. Buying this book for next month’s book club. I think it looks super interesting.
  6. Coffee in the gardens with my man.
  7. Warming sunshine with a gentle cooling breeze.
  8. Catching up with a friend for her birthday, drinking wine and munching through a burrito bowl.
  9. Watching the second season of Happy Valley.
  10. An early finish at work for my girl which saved us from a late night pick up.

And now it’s time to settle down now in front of Postcards. It’s our traditional finish to the weekend. Yep, it’s all pretty much advertorial but it’s nice to find out about local places to visit. And there’s always the anticipation of whether Bec will do the one or two handed wave with her ‘bye, bye for now’! How’s your weekend been? Have you had some chill time? Has it been a social one? Or has some solo time allowed you to recharge for the week?

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Taking Stock: October ‘17

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Hello, my pumpkins! Happy Halloween, if that’s your thing. How’s your October been? I think mine’s been pretty tickety-boo. Here’s what’s been happening.

Making: a weaving with a bit of a mid-century vibe

Eating: steak, salad, scalloped potatoes – and mango. Yay for summer fruit!

Drinking: tea, tea, tea

Cooking: the steak and potatoes I’m eating

Watching: Jamie Oliver cook with five ingredients, Sunshine – have loved seeing some Sudanese-Australian faces on our tv screen, and it was a cracking story too

Reading: I Am Pilgrim for book group. It’s quite long and not the genre I’d usually pick but I’m giving it the thumbs up at this stage

Wearing: my dressing gown and slippers

Feeling: disgusted by the government’s treatment of asylum seekers on Manus Island

Hoping: the marriage plebiscite comes back as a resounding YES

Noticing: two political answers in a row!

Opening: an Etsy shop! Eep! I did it! You can find it over here. There’s only a handful of weavings at the moment but more will appear!

Wondering: why the seal on my milk bottles sometimes refuses to peel away easily. So annoying! And it makes me feel vaguely pathetic that I can’t lift a little circle of plastic

Wishing: they would finish the gasworks in my street soon. It’s been going on for WEEKS

Liking: that the postie delivered my copy of If You Can Cut You Can Collage today. That was a nice pressie to myself after minding a sobbing child who just wanted to ‘see Mummy’. How to make him understand Mummy was out for just a little bit? Sobbed until he fell asleep under his play table 😩

Hearing: the dog barking at the possums *sigh*. That time of night…

Hoping: my mum doesn’t need to have surgery for a hernia but thinking that’s probably not going to be the case

Bookmarking: a list of shows to watch. Mindhunter is top of the list after recommendations from my boy and some friends

Waiting: for the spring racing season to be over. I don’t get the excitement over a horse.  Why do people want to drape themselves in Winx memorabilia? I figure if the only way to enjoy the races is to dress up and drink champagne and gamble your money away then the horse racing itself can’t be very entertaining. Sorry if I’m being a bit un-Victorian saying that. I love the football!

Thinking: I should buy a bunch of flowers just cos!

Buying: wool on sale for future weavings, and a Frankie which I still haven’t got around to looking at!

Knowing: another year is drawing to a close and the ‘C’ goodies are already appearing in the shops

So there we go. October done and dusted! Did you get up to anything fab?

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Have you read…? This new Australian fiction

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Gosh, it’s been a while since a book post made it to the blog! The last one was focussed on some US titles so this time around – and thanks to my Melbourne Writers Festival book discount – I thought I’d go for some of our home grown authors!

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose Set in New York, Heather Rose was awarded this year’s Stella Prize for her novel about art and love. Centred by the work of performance artist, Marina Ambromović and her work,  The Artist is Present which was staged in 2010 at MoMA, it tells the story of a number of visitors who come to the gallery to view her work, in addition to giving voice to Marina’s own thoughts about her work and her history. The gallery visitor whose storyline we are most concerned with is Arky Levin. Arky is a film composer and lives alone as his wife, who is ill, has requested he no longer see her. During one of his visits he strikes up a conversation with Jane Miller, an art teacher who is recently widowed, and is visiting from Georgia. Other gallery visitors with whom Arky and Jane cross paths are a doctoral student, a sometime-lover of Arky’s, and an art critic. We also hear the voice from the grave of Marina’s mother. Whilst the novel could be read through the lens of ‘what is art?’ given the quite confronting pieces of performance art Ambromović has created, for me, the novel was much more about love, grief and endurance. How could Arky endure the loss of his relationship with his wife whilst she was still living, still his wife? How could Jane come to terms with the loss of her husband and move on into a world with her own identity? How did Ambromović’s parents survive war and each other? How did Ambromović endure the demands her work placed upon her, physically, and the loss of her own relationship? I wanted to love this novel, and whilst it was beautifully written and the premise was interesting, it fell a little bit short of ‘five stars’ for me. Perhaps there were a few too many characters. I enjoyed Arky’s story, and Jane’s, but I didn’t feel a great deal of affection, or interest, in the storyline of the other characters. And if I can be a bit nit-picky, I had to remind myself on a few occasions that this book was set in New York, and the characters were American. If I think back to the session at the Melbourne Writers Festival where Hannah Kent and Tracy Chevalier spoke about how they set about writing in the voice of a place and time, for me, Rose fell short. There were references to streets in Harlem that don’t exist, Americans wouldn’t offer to give their ‘mobile’ phone number, talk about ‘shareholders’, or ‘primary’ school,  and Jane’s voice failed to sing with a southern twang. The book may have been set in New York, but I didn’t entirely feel like I was there. So, verdict? It was interesting, and well-written but I enjoyed previous Stella winners, The Natural Way of Things and The Strays more.

The Choke by Sofie Laguna This one I loved wholeheartedly! Nine-year-old Justine lives with her grandfather, a survivor of the Thai-Burma railway, on three acres near the banks of the Murray River. Her mother is no longer on the scene and her father comes and goes. Her two half-brothers live with their mother nearby. Justine has few allies in her life, and those she does have – her Aunty Rita, her friend, Michael, and a teacher, Miss Frost – lack permanence. As in her previous novel, The Eye of the Sheep, Laguna explores themes of violence, misogyny, and the innocence and incomprehension of the child. There is a lot happening in this novel, and Laguna captures beautifully how Justine, who is dyslexic, senses that there is more to her family’s life than she can understand. Justine says ,”I knew shadows of things; I could see the letters but I didn’t know the order. I stole a look at Dad’s face as he drove; it was a door that wouldn’t open.” Swirling in Justine’s shadows are the circumstances of her grandmother’s death and how it changed her father; the darkness of his behaviour and activities; the scars her pop carries with him from his time in the war; why her pop shuns her Aunty Rita for being “unnatural”; and the consequences of her association with a local family, the Worlleys, with whom her own family has fallen out. She desperately needs someone to care for her, and that someone is just not there. As her ignorance determined her fate, my heart ached for her, and as she learned to stand up for herself, I cheered for her. A highly recommended read.

Ache by Eliza Henry Jones I first came across Henry Jones’ s work in an article she wrote for The Sunday Age. I can’t recall what it was about but I remember I enjoyed her writing and so was keen to read this, her new novel. Bushfires have raged through the mountains where Annie grew up. At the time of the fires, Annie was visiting home with her daughter, Pip, and became ‘the face’ of the fires as a photograph of her and Pip felling the fires on horseback was plastered across the media. In addition, her beloved nana, Gladys, died in the fires, although not as a result of the fires but because she was crushed by a falling tree. Annie and Pip are both scarred by the fires, as are all members of the Quilly community, and in an effort to heal, Annie decides that she and Pip must return to the mountain from their suburban home. In doing so, Annie is faced with issues of belonging. Does she belong “to a place, or a person”, as her friend, Rose, articulates. Does she belong on the mountain, or with her husband, Tom, in their city home? Mother-daughter relationships are also explored as she returns to stay with her mother, Susan, who is almost Annie’s contemporary, having given birth to her at the age of fifteen, and as she reflects on the relationship she and her mother both had with Gladys, and Susan’s relationship with Pip. Henry Jones is a grief counsellor and so I trust her portrayals of the grief and trauma displayed by her characters. Aside from that, I wasn’t completely sold on this book. For me, I found the writing to be a little forced: the many references to “up the mountain’, “back on the mountain”, “down the mountain”; the “small circles” of city life compared with the “big circles’ of mountain life; broken people living in a “broken house”. I felt a little “yep, I get it!” I was also perplexed as to why Annie had left “the mountain” when it was clear that this was the environment she loved to live in, and, as a vet, work in? Yes, Tom was from “the flatlands” but how and why had they made the decision to settle there? Perhaps a little exploration of this would have added depth to the “belonging” theme. And, although it was eventually explained, I wasn’t convinced as to why the town displayed such animosity towards Annie? She was a local girl, after all, not a tree changer. I would like to read Henry Jones’s first novel, In the Quiet to see how it compares. If you’d like to read an interview with Henry Jones, pop over to Karen’s blog.

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

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