Tag Archives: review

Remebering Babylon – David Malouf

Beautiful book cover

Beautiful book cover

 Malouf is an acclaimed Australian author. Remembering Babylon was published in 1993 but is set in colonial Australia. Being published only 18 years ago hardly makes it vintage, as the publisher claims, but that’s neither here nor there. It deals with the common topic of prejudice and for me comes somewhere between the subtle, intricate analysis of Forster’s A Passage to India, and the brash, dictation of Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Consequently I’d give it half marks.

What I enjoyed about Remembering Babylon were the diverse characters, and the look into pioneering life.

What I didn’t like about this book was the seemingly irrelevant passages, the limited insight, and the unnecessary use of profanity. On the first point, there were a few short incidences that were, while beautifully written, seemingly irrelevant to the central theme. Malouf told single incidents from several perspectives, but he didn’t go deep enough into any one for my enjoyment. As for the profanity, I cannot stand this in written prose. Malouf could have just as easily conveyed the hardened, uncouth characters without it. Furthermore, he uses unpleasant imagery for things which are not unpleasant. For example, instead of saying Mr Frazer made his lips into the shape of an arsehole, he could simply has said Mr Frazer pursed his lips.

This is not a book for those who need a climatic ending, but Malouf poetically captures the nuances of Australian flora and conditions so it is more the journey than the destination.

What I especially loved about this re-release was the beautiful cover, which resembles Delftware, with it’s stark white cover and royal blue line-art. It was 80% of the reason I bought it.

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The Body – William Sansom

There is a bookshop opposite a hotel my grandfather used to own. The hotel was a beautiful multistorey Queenslander-style building and was long ago knocked down and replaced by a square cement TAB. I heard the store next to the bookshop caught fire a few months back and have yet to venture to see if the bookshop survived. It was the sort of shop where you didn’t know how they survived financially, let alone a fire. You could barely walk for the piles of books, you had to climb over turrets and squeeze through caverns of pages of pre-loved stories. It was an adventure ebook readers would never have. On my last trip there, I sat in a corner of the store piled with Penguin classics, surrounded by the susurrus of falling pages for an hour. I picked up about 10 books at 20 cents each, far cheaper than online.

One of these was The Body. It didn’t look much, and I didn’t read the blurb before starting. It was surprisingly a fascinating and well written insight into jealousy and aging. A persnickety, middle-age husband catches his young neighbour peeping at his wife in the shower. He then proceeds to invent an elaborate affair, creating circumstantial evidence, and reading into inconsequential happenings.  The way he imagines theoretical conversations of confrontation is something I can ashamedly relate to. I often make up imaginary arguments about why tearing down beautiful old buildings, to be replaced by cement is responsible for the degradation of Brisbane as a society. A reader will find the husband ridiculous, extreme and humerous, but are secretly counting the times they have followed this train of thought. That’s what makes this book worth reading.

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Where Angels Fear to Tread

Off the back of the thoroughly enjoyable A Passage to India, I picked up E.M. Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread. I must say, I still find the title a bit misleading at first. I expected a dark and mysterious tale in a land in the outer reaches of the empire. My interpretation of the title now would be tat of a satirical title, the ‘Angels’ being the self-important English, and the location being a common village in Italy. Of course, I could be way off.

While I found the plot quite interesting and unpredictable, I couldn’t pin down a main character, or at least one I felt anything towards.

Many times I found it a bit drab. It reminded me of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, without so much comedy and quirky characters. I suppose it was a less hyperbolic version of that type of English society, with more severe consequences.

I do enjoy, that again, Forster sheds a light on prejudice and how the behaviours of the characters could not be overcome with actions, because while they are irrational, they are instinctual. However, the inability of some characters to stand up for their beliefs, suppressed to heavily by society, would be disappointing to many an idealist or activist reader.

While I am a happy and laid back person, I can be a cynic at times. Therefore I must say, I did enjoy the ending. The characters’ desires being tangibly strong, yet unmet, were reflective of the all too realistic disappointments of life

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Picnic at Hanging Rock

Feeling guilty about not reading enough Australia or female authors, I picked up Picnic at Hanging Rock, by Joan Lindsay. My only knowledge of this book is the shrill screaming of “Miranda!” from poor renditions and drama eisteddfods.

Picnic at Hanging Rock, William Ford 1875

I didn’t like this book. The descriptions of the landscape didn’t arouse any sense of pride in my country. There we many unnecessary details of characters that I didn’t need to know. The plot was strong to begin with but then had unnecessary twists and turns added in; a short love story, a random fire, marriages, a growing mateship. It was as though the author was so set on not writing a short story that she filled it up with a lot of nonsense.

 This book epitomised why I don’t enjoy female authors. Too much predictable and excessive emotion, too complex a story, too many themes, just too complicated.

 I watched the film (circa 1970) afterwards. It was far better. It cut out all the surplus events, and just focused on the simple mystery, which is why this book is famous (in Australia). This is one of the few times I will recommend a film over a book.

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A Passage to India

 Because I found this book flawless, I didn’t know where to being when providing my review. Remembering back to school book reports for inspiration, I began…

I read A Passage to India, by EM Forster. It is a fiction book, based in India during the early British Empire…

At this point I became nauseated about how children are taught to think about a book so I deviated…

 

E M Forster

 

The main themes of this book are around prejudices and bigotry. However, A Passage to India doesn’t say “Look how bad these racist people are”. Instead it exposes deeper, instinctual feelings, and investigates the causes of such intolerance. I feel To Kill a Mockingbird is superficial, underdeveloped and obvious, compared to this masterpiece.

A Passage to India reveals that there are no true victims, because each societal group is both the perpetrator and the receiver of discrimination, and narrow-mindedness. Everyone, save perhaps the Dalai Lama, stereotypes.

In case you have not noticed from my other reviews, I like books that ask questions and pose problems, not ones which prescribe answers. Forster allows the reader to develop their own view of the characters.

The plot is fantastic. When I thought I knew what was going to happen, I was surprised. Forster knows just when to provide long, vivid descriptions, dialogue, action, and when to change the course of the story.

British India

His language is beautiful, but not too fanciful. It is intelligent, but not patronising, and doesn’t have the average reader reaching for the dictionary every few pages. He uses a set of metaphors, idioms and linguistic tools, which are not common in today’s language, but which are easily relatable and provide for interesting reading.

I could go on and on but I dislike blogs which require scrolling, and don’t wish to be a hypocrite. Happy reading!

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A Tale of Two Cities

I must look like a blundering fool, as the majority of books I have reviewed, have befuddled me. Do not expect this review to be any different. I like a challenge.

I was glad to find another Dickens novel which matched my ancient copy of A Christmas Carol. Both are leather-bound, with gold embossing, which is very fitting for an author whose name has become an adjective. I also picked up Great Expectations and a Kipling novel in this series.

I had first attempted A Tale of Two Cities when I was 12. It didn’t work out well. This was attempt number two. I dislike emphatic repetition. Needles to say, the first page of this novel was painful. ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ is a very famous line. What they don’t tell you is the whole page goes on with juxtapositions to the point where I screamed, “I get it, it was a very confusing and conflicted time!” If I hadn’t been so frustrated, I might have been more prepared for the rest of the novel.

In an attempt to create and dark sense of mystery, Dickens bombarded me with a flurry of characters, innuendo and scenic changes. Spoiler alert: There are more than two.

A Tale of Two Cities

I try to avoid any educated critiques of books before I read them so I can have a genuine response to the words. However, after struggling through half this novel, I went to wikipedia to figure out what I had just read. The second half of the novel was much easier to follow. Having said that, I find Dickens’ style of prose enjoyable for the most part. Much like attending your first ballet, I would recommend having a skeleton idea of the plot before embarking on this venture. The story is fantastic, once you catch on. I can understand why this book is a classic and would recommend it.

I still stand by my position not to read analyses before commencing a book. My favourite quote captures this idea: “If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking”, George S Patton.

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Contracts vs Rights

The Social Contract vs Rights of Man

As a fierce supporter of the books, not downloads, I will first review the aesthetics of these two books. Both works are quite light considering the heavy content. I bought these first hand, so the covers are smooth, and the pages firm and crisp. I enjoy Wordsworth Classics beige pages, which I find very easy on the eyes, compared to the reflective, stark whites of the computer I look at for 8 hours a day (plus blogging time). I enjoy the picture on Rights of Man, painting “Fighting at the Hotel de Ville” by Jean Victor Schnetz. It is very indicative of the fervour which in contained inside. However I can’t help but feel the main subject’s face seems apathetic to his victory. The image on The Social Contract, “A Review of the Guards de la Ville de Paris – the municipal militia – outside the Hotel de Ville”,  is set at the same location. It is simple, and straight to the point, but not altogether enjoyable or pleasing to the eye.

Rights of Man

Paine’s words in Rights of Man has a great intensity and fierce tone, which I suppose is fantastically enjoyable if you happen to agree with all his arguments. I, however, could barely get past his scathing remarks and snide attitude to find exactly what his case is. I would also recommend you figure out who this Burke character is, and read whatever it was he wrote that made Paine so gosh-darn angry before commencing Rights of Man.

I found Rousseau’s arguments in The Social Contract easier to follow, and thus I found it a much more enjoyable read. Rousseau is quoted because he makes is points succinctly eg Might does not make right. Rousseau sets out his theories in a logical and rational manner, though there is still enough personal emotion not to put the reader to sleep.

I found the latter read more pleasurable as  Rousseau was less prescriptive, and allows for the will of the people to choose. However, I found many of his methods for choosing a government are no longer applicable. Paine’s passion and steadfastness against certain forms of government does not allow for as much flexibility, and so I often felt like a chastised child.

Paine seems in constant fear of being caught in his own contradictions. He does not give the reader enough to credit. Several times he accuses Burke’s arguments of being so ill-founded and irrational that they do not warrant rebuttal. If the apologies and blank dismissals were cut out, the novel would be much shorter and to the point, and I would definitely be more sympathetic to his cause.

My overall winner is The Social Contract.

The Social Contract

***My interpretations of the writings are formed in isolation based solely on the words I have read***

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