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Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living

3.35  ·  Rating Details ·  396 Ratings  ·  71 Reviews
In this sensual, witty, and startlingly original first novel, Jean Finnegan searches for her place in a tumultuous world wracked by the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II. Carrie Tiffany captures the frailty and beauty of the human condition and vividly evokes the hope and disappointment of an era.

Billowing dust and information, the government "Better Farmi

Paperback, 256 pages
Published 2005 by Picador
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Jan 10, 2009 Sonya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the best books you've never heard of. It came to my attention via my editor, who is also Carrie Tiffany's editor. The book won accolades and awards throughout the Commonwealth, but never quite found an audience in the US.

The story takes place in rural Australia in the 1930s. I picked up the book during a time when I was having trouble finishing books, my mind just wasn't getting traction anywhere. This one drew me in immediately, and I read it in a few days. When a novel which is
From Publishers Weekly:
“The dusty farms of 1930s Australia are the backdrop for this rich and knowing debut novel about science, love and the limits of progress. The "Better-Farming Train," commissioned by the Agricultural Department of the Province of Victoria, travels throughout the country educating agricultural communities. Behind "[f]ourteen cars of stock and science and produce" is the women's car, home to Sister Crock, stern infant welfare teacher; Mary Maloney, cooking lecturer; and Jean
May 20, 2013 Ange rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is a modest, quiet book. But it is also harsh and tragic. Almost more than any other author I've read recently, Carrie Tiffany has a way of getting right at the nub of an issue with her beautiful writing. She draws you in, making you feel as if you are trundling along on the train with Jean, Robert, Mary, Mr Ohno, the cows and chickens, and then suddenly hits with something unexpected. She uses phrases and sayings I haven't heard for so long, and then there is an instant recognition of someth ...more
Moses Kilolo
Certainly not an easy read. In the beginning the book drew me in, but with advancement into the work, I found myself struggling to get a clear understanding of Australia's rural life in the 30s.

I do not say that it is badly written, no. There were portions I copied out and reread for the sheer beauty of the text. But mostly I just dug my way through, made worse by the multiple interruptions of life, where the reader has to attend to many things and his reading is in sparse, little times in betw
Feb 24, 2012 Robyn rated it it was amazing
Being a total city girl, I don't often relate to books set in the countryside. But I've read both books by this writer now, both set in rural Australia, one in the 1930s and one in the 1950s and absolutely loved them both.

She has an unusual narrative style, great sense of her characters and the fragile relationships between them (especially her subtle portraits of Aussie farmers) and uses language beautifully. And you may even learn something that you would never normally come across - such as
This book was an utter disappointment. In Saeed Book Bank, there is a shelf that has books, which are thought-provoking, different and critically aclaimed. I often find myself attracted towards it and that is where I found Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living.

I spent a good amount of money on this book, only to find that it really did not belong with its neighbours.

It was a dry journey into the experimentation of Robert and Jean Pettergree. One was interested in his religion of soil and the o
Aug 20, 2008 Andrea rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this for my book club while I was on vacation. It's a quick read but I still think about the characters from time to time, amazed at their resilience.
Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany is a gentle and slim novel that was shortlisted for numerous awards including the Orange Prize, the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Guardian First Book Award and the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, and won the Dobbie Award for Best First Book (2006) and the 2006 Western Australian Premier’s Award for Fiction. I read it for my book group and it was lovely to read something set in Australia, by an Australian author. The book starts in 1934 o ...more
Oct 31, 2009 g rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to g by: The Second Pass (
Shelves: writers-to-watch
Jean Finnegan and Robert Pettergree meet on the Better-Farming Train, a government-sponsored educational program that travels around Australia, several years before World War II: she is a seamstress; he is a soil expert. Their attraction is immediate, inexplicable, and intense, in spite of Finnegan's mutual flirtation and fascination with Mr. Ohno, a Japanese chicken sexer.

Finnegan is quiet, "dark," and watchful: she listens to the conversations around her, embroidering them into a veil that
Oct 15, 2016 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very enjoyable and unique short read. Set in Depression-era, drought-ridden time in southern Australia during 1930's.
Aug 18, 2014 Caitlin rated it really liked it
I have a real soft spot for little Australian books that should be better known and more widely read - although this has been in my TBR pile (pffft pile - of course I mean bookcase. Bookcases) for so long that Tiffany has since won all sorts of awards for her more recent work, so I can see why people might chase this book up to see her work as an emerging writer.

Indeed this book won an unpublished manuscript competition - and I found it falls very much to the form of many Australian books writte
Mar 10, 2011 Merry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
I picked this up in the library, based on not an awful lot more than the cover (which I would love to show you but I can’t make Amazon do iframes on this blog… I’m calling for IT support!) and on the basis of it having a “Short listed for the Orange Prize” sticker on the spine. These are two commendable reasons for real books and libraries any way. Since it had the prettiest cover, I read it first out of my pile of ‘real books for this month’ and I think it is probably a good job I did, since it ...more
Natasha Hurley-Walker
Heartfelt, evocative, and tragic. I think any Australian or anyone who has read about early farming in Australia would see from the outset how this was going to end. Early on, I was very frustrated by the way the characters referred to Australia as "empty" and how the soil would be perfect for farming if only tortured into production by adding enough chemicals. But I realise it's a period piece and that is genuinely how people thought. They really didn't know that they had wiped out the biggest ...more
Monica Lee
Feb 04, 2015 Monica Lee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some books transcend one's consciousness and haunt one's dreams.

Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany is like that.

It's a novel set in 1930s Australia about a seamstress who makes the best of a marriage to a soil scientist.

The story is filled with oddball characters, steamy sex scenes and tragedy.

The writing and descriptions are wonderful but first, I thought I didn't like the story. I couldn't figure it out. What was the point? Then I started dreaming about it. My subconsciou
Aug 07, 2014 Eva rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quirky & charming but ultimately unsatisfying little novel. Although it is packed with colorful little details of the place and time period, the characters never came to life for me. The story follows a group of people traveling on a train whose job it is to introduce the populace of Australia to a strictly scientific method of living, with the belief (backed by the national government) that it will improve their lives and turn them into farmers, even if they essentially live in a desert. ...more
Aug 04, 2012 Tina rated it liked it
Dryly rich and richly dry like the land it describes.
The naivety and foolishness of men.

By the end, there was a numbing effect.
It was sadder and bleaker than I expected, though I guess the times might have predicted that, the 1930's.
How can science help?
Especially if you don't know the land well enough.
Sad realities of farmers hard hit with intolerable weather conditions and looming war.
How many fronts must they fight on?
Today, wars continue and economy takes its toll.
Perhaps we understand the l
Yvann S
Set mostly in the Mallee (the dried-out plains of north-western Victoria in Australia), this little book tells the story of Jean’s time working as a dressmaking instructor on the Better Farming Train in the late 1920s and early 1930s, before the depression came to Australia and farmers were starting to realise the potential of “modern” farming methods, and of her life as a farmer’s wife in the Mallee during a horrendous drought which eventually drove the farmers off their land.

We read along with
Dec 06, 2014 Eliatan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: australian
A love story from a different time, a time between world wars when optimism was high and science was the answer. Australia was a wide and untapped country ready to be revolutionized by technological advancement.

The disparity between the city boy desperately trying to prove his his science in the reality of drought and the tenacity of his country bred wife and her 'folly' cow, with her acceptance of the way things were was very touching. But it was a marriage doomed to failure from the beginning.
Dec 20, 2015 Val rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wpff-main
The Mallee is an area of Victoria where trees often don't grow properly.
Much of the soil away from the river basins is poor, salty sand and rainfall is unreliable. It is not an easy place to make a living as a farmer.
In 1934 a government train is travelling around Victoria teaching farmers more productive farming techniques. Robert and Jean meet on this train, marry and start a farm in a spirit of scientific optimism. Few people at that time were questioni
Mia Boddington
I picked this out at a charity shop on a whim; normally I wouldn't have read it and maybe I should read the blurb closer before I read things in the future.

This book was fairly mediocre -- it follows the journey of Jean, who works on the Better Farming Train in Australia in the 20s before attempting to live off the land after marrying. The context was what attracted me to the book however it barely featured and when it did, not for very long. It mainly focused on the couple's crops, which I coul
Apr 23, 2008 Caroline rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: australian
This is not a romance, nor is it a story that ends happily. It's not what I'd consider a tragedy, rather, it is a reflection of real life, of farming life in a time of minimal prosperity. There are many references to towns that I know, and I appreciate the research that had to have gone into crafting this novel. Even the dust storm that swept through the mallee reminds me of images from old newspapers, and brings the taste of dust to my lips from dust storms that swept through my home town in ye ...more
Melissa Pouliot
Jan 03, 2014 Melissa Pouliot rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Carrie Tiffany, this is one of my all-time favourite books and I have read it several times since attending its launch in Melbourne in 2005. It is difficult to pin down your writing style in a simple sentence. I love the way you connect your characters so strongly to their surroundings and to the natural environment. I not only picture but feel every emotion and experience your characters are going through. You are also very courageous in your descriptions and it is clear that you are striving f ...more
Jul 26, 2007 Beckie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2006
i'm still not sure how much i liked this book. i think i was expecting better, given that it's nominated for the orange prize. it's about a young woman who demonstrates sewing on a train that travels the australian bush to educate the locals on farming and domestic science, before marrying one of the men on the train and living on a farm (it's set in the 1940s). one of the themes seemed to be the limits of scientific progress and i didn't really appreciate the way that developed, since the thing ...more
Jul 26, 2007 Lucy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2006
i'm still not sure how much i liked this book. i think i was expecting better, given that it's nominated for the orange prize. it's about a young woman who demonstrates sewing on a train that travels the australian bush to educate the locals on farming and domestic science, before marrying one of the men on the train and living on a farm (it's set in the 1940s). one of the themes seemed to be the limits of scientific progress and i didn't really appreciate the way that developed, since the thing ...more
Margarette Nguyen
I cannot describe how much I love this book that I picked up in my school library!!! You can FEEL the harshness of the Aussie landscape just from the way Carrie Tiffany writes. I get a real Aussie vibe in the protagonist's narration - humorous even during sad times, honest..I mean what's not to love about this book?? How clever was the use of images, reports, lists, etc!!! Being a city girl in Australia, I surprisingly could relate to the characters; I guess it all comes down to what traits and ...more
Dec 16, 2008 Alicia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in Australia, this spare novel follows the progress of the "Better Farming Train" that travels around the country teaching men and women the agricultural and domestic arts during at the start of the Great Depression. The narrator, Jean, is drawn to a scientific, scholarly agrostologist who can identify soil by taste. Together they embark on an experiment in farming that is almost as difficult to navigate as marriage is for these two unusual characters. In turn hopeful and heartbreaking, this ...more
Jul 06, 2011 Carrie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
fine, but just ok. The writing was good, but felt strangely distanced from the characters and the book didn't hold together. It felt like a first book by someone who can write, but just hasn't written fiction yet or who maybe has written short stories but never a novel. i did like the inclusion of a japanese chicken sexer, which is always an interesting and fascinating bit of biology (that it's so hard to tell the sex of a chicken pre-appearance of an egg) and history (that one school in japan p ...more
Jun 30, 2013 Amanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a gentle, often melancholic book of unfulfilled ambitions and lost dreams.

Jean, a sewing teacher, meets Robert, a scientist, on the 'Better Farming Train' which travels around Victoria in the 1930s, teaching farmers how to farm, and their wives about housekeeping. The train is its own small community with a number of lonely characters on board.

Jean and Robert marry and buy a farm in the Mallee, where Robert seeks to put his scientific theories into practice. Unfortunately, they find tha
Jan 27, 2011 Lane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: foreign-setting
I thought this was a charmer. Interesting approach/device...with the train, instruction "book", etc....I enjoyed being taken to Australia at that particular point in time, just after WWII, when science was just getting a foothold in the lives of "regular people," and held such promise. (Today we know the bitter and dark side of science: Monsanto, Bhopal, Gulf oil spill, etc.) And I came to care about the various characters a lot, thought they were diverse, complex without being too over the top. ...more
Feb 23, 2008 Kirsten rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Kinda dry, slow read. I just never felt that connected to any of the characters, even Jean. And Robert?! I realize he had a very messed-up childhood, but he drove me nuts. It seemed as though he had no feelings or emotions at all. I just couldn't understand how Jean could love him. If it was love.

I knew the ending before I read it, and the only time I was really motivated to read this book was to see how it happened. I must say, I like the Jean at the end of the book a lot. I would enjoy gettin
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English-born Australian author. Born in 1965, she emigrated to Australia with her family in the early 70s and grew up in Perth, WA. Carrie Tiffany spent her early twenties working as a park ranger in the Red Centre and now lives in Melbourne, where she works as an agricultural journalist.
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