Sunday, September 25, 2016

Keep the aspidistra flying

First published in 1936, this book by George Orwell is largely about money - at least money, or lack of it, in the world of Gordon Comstock. Orwell provides a clue to this at the beginning of the novel by providing an adapted quote of I Corinthians chapter XIII where the word money has been substituted for the word love.

Gordon Comstock has given up a well paid job in an advertising agency to devote his life to writing poetry. The novel is written from Gordon's viewpoint as he struggles to survive with limited pay from working in a bookshop during the day and writing his poetry at night. Gordon makes it clear that he hates money and all that it represents but he needs money to survive. He resents friends who have money though he has no qualms about borrowing from his sister who he knows will not refuse him even though she cannot afford to keep bailing him out. Gordon is a depressing character who does little to try and improve his situation. He is unkind to friends, including his girlfriend Rosemary, who try to help him. It is only at the end of the book when he is forced to make a life changing decision that he reluctantly decides to review his lifestyle.

I found this a difficult novel to read primarily as the character of Gordon annoyed me. The book is set in England during the 1930s Depression. Initially it was interesting to view his decisions and struggles but as the story progresses, his self pity increased along with his refusal to take advantage of chances to improve his situation. I had to force myself to finish reading the book.

The nature of the beast

Time has passed. Armand Gamache has retired with his wife, Reine-Marie, to live in the village of Three Pines. Isabelle Lacoste is now chief inspector while Jean-Guy Beauvoir remains an inspector in the Surete du Quebec.

One afternoon, nine year old Laurent Lepage ran into the bistro telling those present that he had seen a huge gun with a monster on it in the forest. As Lauent was known to have a vivid imagination no-one believed him. The next day Laurent is found in the forest, dead. Armand becomes involved in the investigation to discover the boy's killer. As the investigation continues it is obvious that a force of evil has been present in Three Pines but who, or what, is it?

The Nature of the Beast is the twelfth volume in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamanche series of books by Louise Penny. Once again this book is not just an investigation of a crime but is a study of strengths and weaknesses of individuals as they struggle with present and past events in their lives.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sarum

When we were in England last year a number of people on tour with us, because of my interest in history, arecommended that I should read Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd. I thank them for this recommendation.

When we visited Hobart in November for the Seniors Cricket National Championships I purchased a copy of Sarum in Dymocks Bookshop. Since then my copy of Sarum attended most of the local over 60s games that I watched last season, travelled to Launceston and Adelaide when we visited for cricket matches, and more recently has been to Port Douglas. A well travelled book.  Although this book obviously took me a while to finish this was due to a shortage of reading time and had nothing to do with the impact of the novel. In a way the structure of the book allowed me to take a periodic break from the novel as each chapter covers a succint period in English history from the time when the area around Sarum (Salisbury) was first settled until after the Second World War.

Sarum, Rutherfurd's first novel, was published in 1987. The story unfolds through the lives of the members of five families - the Wilsons, the Shockleys, the Masons, the Porters and the Godfreys, although there are variations in some family names over time. Each chapter looks at how events occuring in England at a particular period of time may have impacted upon the lives of ordinary people. However the changes in the use of landscape over time is also an important feature of the book as is the cathedral in Salisbury.

In August 2011 we visited the area of England where the book is set including Stonehenge and Old Sarum and the Cathedral in Salisbury. It was therefore, for me, especially interesting to read this novel. My blog posts (above) noted the remnants of the castle at Old Sarum built in Norman times, the foundations of the first cathedral in the region plus the deep ditches around the site including a note that this had originally been a Neolithic site before being used in the Bronze Age, Iron Age, during Roman occupation and by the Saxons. All of these time periods are covered in the novel.

My paperback edition of Sarum comprises 1344 pages so it is quite a long book however it is one that I would certainly recommend to anyone interested in reading a novel about the history of England.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Pursuit

At the end of the previous book in this series. The Scam, Nicolas Fox had disappeared. At the beginning of The Pursuit he wakes up in a coffin in Belgium after being kidnapped by members of the Road Runners, a group of diamond thieves led by Dragan Kovic. Dragan wants Nick to help him rob a diamond vault in the Executive Merchants Building in Antwerp. Nick agrees to help while waiting for Kate O'Hare to rescue him. They then discover that the diamond robbery was planned primarily to steal something deadly which was also hidden in the vault. Nick, Kate and their team have limited time to foil a plot which could threaten the lives of thousands of people.

I thought that initially the story-line in The Pursuit by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg was a little slow to develop (perhaps I am becoming used to the plotline in this series) however once the plans for the con took shape the book proved to be another lively romp - a worthy sequel in the series.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The history of Tasmania

In 1852 John West published The History of Tasmania with copious information respecting the Colonies of New South Wales, Victoria & South Australia etc. This work was republished in 1971 by Angus & Robertson. This edition was edited by A G L Shaw. This detailed work begins as a chronological study of European settlement in Van Diemen's Land followed by sections dealing with Zoology, the Aborigines and Transportation. The 550 pages of text is followed by an extensive section of reference notes, a bibliography and index. A good resource for anyone investigating the early history of Tasmania.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Silent Inheritance

This book was recommended to me by one of the patrons in the library where I work. The location for much of this work is the City of Whitehorse and nearby environs so many of the places mentioned are familiar to those living in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. A major theme of the book, the hunt for a serial kidnapper and murder of young girls, is told from the point of view of the murderer and his latest victim as well as an account of the investigation led by Detective Ross Hunter. The book also tells the story of Sarah and her daughter, Marni, especially the effect of the revelation of long buried family secrets on their relationship. This book is a good addition to Australian modern crime literature.

Closing Hell's Gates: the death of a convict station

In December 1815 James Kelly named a small island in Macquarie Harbour Sarah Island after Sarah Birch, the wife of the sponsor of his exploritory exhibition, Thomas William Birch. For eleven years between 1822 and 1833 Sarah Island, also known at the time as Settlement Island, was used as a convict station. The penal settlement was situated in a remote environment with no nearby habitation. To get to the island the boats had to travel through the narrow entrance to Macquarie Harbour referred to as 'the Gates of Hell'. The island was windswept especially when partly cleared to construct building for the settlement. Hamish Maxwell-Stewart has written a detailed study of the establishement of the penal settlment on Sarah Island and the challenges faced by the convicts unfortunate enought to be sent there.

Another book on this area has been written by Kerry Pink. Through Hell's Gates: a history of Strahan and Macquarie Harbour provides a brief history of the area from the exploration and discovery of Macquarie Harbour in 1815 to more recent times. The first European settlers in the area were there to gather Huon pine growing on the shores of the Harbour. Thomas William Birch and James Kelly had exclusive licence for cutting the timber for twelve months before others timber cutters were allowed into the area. The penal settlement is covered in one section of the book. In later years there was a mineral boom in the area, initially gold mining followed by the mining of copper from the Mt Lyell Mine. A railway from Strahan connnected to the mine. The 1980s saw environmental movements to save the Franklin River. The area is now a tourist area.