Monday, January 13, 2014


The central character in the latest novel by Tim Winton is Tom Keely, an environmentalist who has lost his job and his wife and is living in a small apartment on the 10th floor of a building in Freemantle. Tom is down on his luck. His health is deteriorating and despite the encouragement and concern of his mother and sister he refuses to do anything about it. He has friends who ask after him but he has done his best to isolate himself from his past connections. One day he discovers that a neighbour on his floor lived in the same street as his family when they were both growing up. Gemma Buck looks after her six year old grandson, Kai, and despite his best intentions Tom reluctantly becomes involved with the lives of Gemma and Kai.

Location and environment are important in Tim Winton's novels. In Eyrie the description of the rooms where Tom and Gemma live and the surrounding streets of their part of Freemantle are described by Winton in detail as is the view of the water and the wharves from their balconies. The sea features regularly throughout the book and it is really only when swimming in the sea that Tom finds relief from the pressures of life. Meeting Gemma again brings back memories of their early childhood when Tom's family protected Gemma and her sister from an abusive parent. Gemma remembers Tom's parents, especially his father, as heroes and tells Kai stories about them. This creates additional pressure on Tom who feels he should also protect Gemma and Kai but is not sure that he has the willpower or strength to do so.

This is largely a novel about relationships - about Tom's relationship with his mother and sister; his relationship with Gemma and Kai plus his relationship with the memory of what his father may have done. Gemma also struggles with her attempts to bring up her grandson and to protect him from his parents. Memories of her past life contrast with the reality and challenges of her present life. The characters usually attempt to do the right thing but often it is not clear what the right thing to do really is.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Moving among strangers

In 1965 the book, To the islands by Randolph Stow was on the Matriculation reading list. I had never read a book like this before and was particularly fascinated with the descriptions of the Australian outback and the moral issues faced by the characters. I thank my English teacher for her enthusiasm for the book and for introducing me to the works of Randolph Stow. I later read and enjoyed Tourmaline and years read Stow's children's book, Midnite: the story of a Wild Colonial Boy, with my children. Unfortunately Randolph Stow has become a neglected author in Australian literature.

I was therefore interested to read this book by Gabrielle Carey which has the subtitle, Randolph Stow and my family. Carey's mother had been a friend of Stow and the discovery of a few letters prompted the author to discover more about the life of Randolph Stow, his relationship with her family and in consequence discover much about the history of her family. To a large extent the book is about uncovering family stories that have been hidden over time. It also demonstrates the importance of not taking one person's version of events as necessarily being the truth. In her search Carey meets members of her family in Western Australia that the previous generation would have nothing to do with and that meeting provides a different interpretation of the family story. Conversely in England she needs to speak to many people who knew Stow to try and piece together the later years of his life in exile away from Australia.

After reading this book I now want to reread To the islands and Tourmaline and also another title by Stow, The merry-go-round in the sea. I also need to find our copy of Midnite so that our grandchildren can read it when they are older. The book however is also a useful example of how one can uncover the stories that are important to understanding how a family has evolved over time and actions that have affected actions of family members.

The real macaw

The real macaw is the thirteenth book in the Meg Langslow series of books by Donna Andrews. Meg wakes one morning to the sound of animals that appear to be in her house. Going downstairs she discovers a collection of animals from the local animal shelter that her grandfather and father have'rescued' and brought to her home for temporary protection. A short time later it is discovered that one of their colleagues has been murdered. To add to the complexities of life the town is facing final difficulties and many of the public buildings are about to be taken over by a financial company. Meg also discovers that a number of properties in the area may be forcibly acquired and sold. As the mother of two four month old twins Meg does not really need these additional challenges but with the help of numerous family members and friends at least some of the mysteries can be resolved.

Although it is not essential to read the books in order the later titles do contain a continuing story.  I read this title out of sequence and now have the answers to events that occurred in the next two books in the series. The wide range of characters in the Meg Langslow books always provide an entertaining read.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Gentlemen formerly dressed

The fifth book in Sulari Gentill's Rowland Sinclair series is set in England in 1933 after Rowland and his friends have escaped from Germany. In London Rowland and his brother visit Lord Pierrepont in the hope that they could persuade someone in the British government to listen to Rowland's story about atrocities occurring in Nazi Germany. Unfortunately when they arrive at his rooms they discover that he is dead and his niece who also acts as his assistant is suspected of murdering her uncle. Rowland and his friends attempt to prove the innocence of Allie Dawe and in so doing find themselves in a world of spies and that their lives are in danger. The book is set in London in the time when appeasement with the Germans was paramount. As with her first book Gentill weaves a fictional story with historical fact providing an outline of mistrust and events occurring in the 1930s.

I have not read numbers 2 to 4 in this series but it was still possible to follow the plot, however it probably would be a fuller reading experience to read all the books in the series as published in sequence in order to fully follow the story.