Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review: Bereft by Chris Womersley

I am very excited about this novel by Australian author Chris Womersley.  It is several days since I finished it, and an echo of the story haunts me still.

Bereft opens at the completion of WWI, with Australian soldier, 26 year old Quinn Walker returning to his home town of Flint in rural New South Wales.   Quinn, now a decorated soldier, has not set foot in Flint for ten years.  When Quinn was 16, his 12 year old sister Sarah was brutally murdered in the small town, and Quinn was accused of the crime.  The Spanish influenza epidemic is also reaping many victims in Australia at the time of Quinn's return, including his mother, who is dying.  Quinn is dazed and desperate after his unspeakable experiences in the trenches in Europe and the unresolved turmoil over his sisters death.  Quinn returns to Flint looking for answers.

This is an extraordinary novel that works on multiple levels.   It is about trauma and its aftermath.  The devastation caused by killing is explored on the individual level and also the level of the family and township.  The murder of Sarah Walker devastated Quinn and his entire family.  No one recovered.   Womersley also powerfully depicts the impact of trench warfare on the returning soldier, in this case Quinn.  His body and spirit are well and truly broken as he stumbles into town determined to try and make sense of things.

Womersley writing is faultless, direct and punchy.  At just 264 pages the novel struck me as a refreshing change from the "more is more" length of much modern fiction.

The atmosphere the author creates is spine tingling.  The hard, hot and remote Australian bush masterfully evokes a sense isolation and discomfort.  The story is engaging and creepy.  I am not in a book club, but I think Bereft would make the perfect selection for a discussion as it is not only a powerful story, but covers a range of themes that are difficult to tackle, and the ending is deliberately ambiguous.  An uncertain ending will not be everyone's idea of a good time, but I found it haunting and satisfying in this case.  I am thoroughly impressed by this original work, and might even have to read it again before too long.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Review: The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende

The House of Spirits is the first of many popular novels written by Chilean novelist Isabel Allende, and the second I have read from her.  It is epic in its conception.  Set in an unnamed South American country the novel spans four generations of the Trueba and del Valle families.

The novel begins with the del Valles and the story of two beautiful sisters, Rosa and Clara.  Rosa is tragically killed when mistakenly poisoned.  The story then follows her fiance, the very troubled Esteban Trueba, as he builds his life around accumulating power and vengeance.  He marries Rosa's sister Clara and has three children.  Esteban's furious and unforgiving nature shapes the lives of all in the family.

The novel also traces social changes in this South American society as colonialism is replaced by socialism and  ultimately a military coup which has disastrous consequences for the whole family.

I really enjoy Allende's language and writing style.  She writes long languid sentences that turn into very long paragraphs.  The sentences draw you into the drama and emotion of the family's story.  She writes with a real earthiness or lust for life.  The women in the novel carry most of the story and most of the readers sympathy.  Clara, is the dominant force in her family, despite the fact that her husband Esteban is ferocious in his appetites and lust for power.  Clara has clairvoyant and telekinetic powers.  She opens the doors of their luxurious home to a host of spiritual, artistic and free thinking types.  Her many charitable works and causes form a legacy that her daughter and granddaughter continue. 

The novel does seem a bit long at times, but while encompassing so many lives, it remains perfectly coherent.  All of the characters are distinctive and are developed believably.  The ending is dramatic, very moving, and for me, more than made up for, what felt like at times, too many pages.  I will continue to work my way through as many  Allende novels as I can.  She is an imaginative storyteller whose writing is beautiful and passionate.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Broadening my horizons: sketching fun and poetry.

Well May is turning out to be a curious month for me on the reading/ recreation front.  I have started sketching, and no one could be more amazed than me, I have also bought a set of pastels, which I am having fun experimenting with.  These new activities have seriously cut into my usual reading time. 

I have not altogether abandoned novels, but feel like I am taking a little holiday and I have found myself reading poetry.  I stumbled across a lovely collection of love poems by Nikki Giovanni, which I think anyone would be impressed by.   Here is a little taste from one of her poems, "The Way I Feel"

most time when you are around
i feel like a note
roberta flack is going to sing

I am also working my way through a Sylvia Plath collection of poetry: Sylvia Plath Poems selected by Ted Hughes. These are requiring alot more concentration. 

 I am not entirely sure what has gotten into me, I am busier at work, including more travelling with work, so perhaps needed a change in diversions.  Also Autumn has arrived in my town, and we are currently enjoying all the beautiful colours that go with this time of year.

The books about pastels that are firing my imagination, albeit with dubious and amateurish results are these: Raw Colour with Pastels by Mark Leach and Exploring Pastel with Barry Watkin.  As well as being interesting and helpful, these art books look like works of art themselves.