‘It was, I found, the most difficult night telephone call I had ever made.’
Lloyd Fitzherbert is the police reporter with the Sydney Gazette. Each nigh‘It was, I found, the most difficult night telephone call I had ever made.’
Lloyd Fitzherbert is the police reporter with the Sydney Gazette. Each night, he rings the CIB. The night the novel opens he expects to be told of a body found in Sydney Harbour. It is the body of Irma, Fitzherbert’s lover, a beautiful young woman who fled persecution in Nazi Europe. Lloyd Fitzherbert is the narrator of this story and we know, because he tells us in the opening pages, that he has killed Irma.
Over the course of the novel, narrated entirely by Fitzherbert, we learn about how and where they met, of Irma’s flight from Europe where she had been connected with both the Communists and the Nazis. Fitzherbert tells us of how he has protected Irma within Australia from those suspicious of her difference and possible connections. It’s post-war Australia, paranoid with concern about communists and spies. Fitzherbert tells us about his friend Barbara and his teenage son Alan. The story is unfolded within some beautiful descriptions of the city of Sydney (surely a character in her own right) and the Blue Mountains.
‘One question’s answer seems merely to ask another question, until I feel I am getting nowhere.’
There’s plenty of tension in the novel for, although we know Irma has been murdered by Fitzherbert, there’s plenty of past to be navigated before we know why she was murdered. Fitzherbert is controlling the narrative, and the past is important.
What made this novel work for me was Kenneth Mackenzie’s use of language. Somehow, finding out why Irma was murdered became secondary to following Fitzherbert’s story. Yes, within a few pages of the end I had worked out why Fitzherbert murdered Irma, but somehow (by that stage in the novel) the reason for the murder seemed less central to the story than trying to understand who these people were, and why they acted in particular ways. It really shouldn’t work, this slow retracing of events, but it does. The novel is a tragedy. And by the end of it, I was wondering about the various meanings of refuge.
This novel was first published in 1954, a year before Kenneth Mackenzie died. He wrote four novels and published two books of poetry. This is the first of his novels that I have read.
‘You’re like her – an eight cylinder job, and a beauty. So I’m calling you Caddie.’
In the introduction to this book, written in 1965, Dymphna Cusack w‘You’re like her – an eight cylinder job, and a beauty. So I’m calling you Caddie.’
In the introduction to this book, written in 1965, Dymphna Cusack writes of how she and Florence James first met Caddie when they hired her as a domestic helper in 1945. Ms Cusack explains how she encouraged Caddie to tell her own story and sets out the process Caddie followed, of learning how to type, of draft and redraft of the book.
‘I’d like to write a book myself,’ she used to say, ‘but I never had the education.’
This book, sub-titled ‘The Autobiography of a Sydney Barmaid’, is Caddie’s version of her experiences of life, including during the Great Depression. Caddie is the author’s nickname. It was bestowed on her by a patron in one of the bars in which she worked. Caddie writes of her battle to maintain her respectability while, having left her husband, she supports her two children. After a brief outline of her childhood, a description of her marriage and the reasons why she left her husband, the book follows Caddie’s experiences as a barmaid (from 1924) and later as an SP (starting-price) bookmaker in the tough working-class pubs of Sydney. Caddie’s story continues until 1941, when her son Terry joined up to fight in World War II.
‘I was twenty-four when I got my first job in a Sydney hotel bar, not from choice, but because I was broke and needed the money to support myself and my two children.’
Caddie’s account of life as a barmaid – when bars were segregated on gender lines, with the barmaid being the only female in the main bar, of the ‘six o’clock swill’ – when many drinkers tried to drink as much as they could before the bar closed at 6pm, of SP bookmaking, and of the grinding poverty experienced during the Great Depression makes for an interesting account of these times. The underlying theme of the story is the stoicism and strength of a female ‘battler’. It’s difficult to know how much of this story is true and how much it has been embellished in the telling. Perhaps it doesn’t matter: we admire our archetypal heroes, and Caddie’s story enables her to fit that role.
And who was Caddie? Catherine Beatrice (Caddie) Edmonds (11 November 1900 – 16 April 1960) was born at Penrith, New South Wales. She was the second daughter and fifth of eleven children of Hugh Edmonds, a labourer from Ireland, and his Scottish-born wife Maggie Elizabeth, née Helme (d.1945). This book, after seven drafts, was first released in London in May 1953. It was not published in Australia until 1966. In 1976, it was adapted as a movie starring Helen Morse.
‘The sand was washed clean today, stretching wide at low tide.’
Rebecca Wilding is a forty-seven year old archaeology professor. Married, with two adul‘The sand was washed clean today, stretching wide at low tide.’
Rebecca Wilding is a forty-seven year old archaeology professor. Married, with two adult children away at university, Rebecca has time to pursue her interest in ancient Greek artefacts and to consolidate her career. But suddenly, things start to go wrong. Budget cuts within Rebecca’s department at the university are likely to translate into job losses, and her superior Priscilla is undermining and belittling her. Her husband Stephen has become secretive, and Rebecca wonders whether he is having an affair. Anomalies are uncovered in the university accounts Rebecca is responsible for, and she is accused of fraud.
Stephen and Rebecca travel to Greece, Italy and Paris where, around longstanding professional engagements, they’ve planned a magnificent holiday. Rebecca hopes to uncover the truth about the fraud she’s been accused of, and that she and Stephen will rekindle their love. But, while holidaying on the Amalfi Coast, Stephen goes swimming and does not return. And fresh allegations against Rebecca follow.
‘Truth was growing increasingly elusive and I was contributing; if I went down that path I could get tangled in my own lies.’
There are a couple of mysteries and many twists and turns in this novel. Has Rebecca been set up? If so, by whom and why? Why was Stephen so secretive? Was Stephen having an affair, and with whom? Has Stephen disappeared, or has he drowned?
This story unfolds at a fast pace, and I found it difficult to put down. I thought I’d figured it out a couple of times, and then had to reconsider as yet another twist added new possibilities. And the ending? Well, I wanted more.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Australia for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.
Laura and Clare Vaizey are at boarding school when their father dies, and the lives they had anticipated for themselve‘Now that your father’s gone - ‘
Laura and Clare Vaizey are at boarding school when their father dies, and the lives they had anticipated for themselves (especially Laura) are changed forever. Their mother removes Laura from school and sends her to business school to learn shorthand and typing. Laura, no longer able to dream of pursuing a career in medicine, becomes responsible for her sister Clare. Mrs Vaizey decides to return to England and, on the last ship bound for England as World War II breaks out, abandons her daughters.
Laura finds work in a factory, where the owner Felix Shaw pays attention to her. Although Laura is unsure about Felix, she agrees to marry him, partly (at least) to prevent Clare having to leave school.
‘I think you’d better just marry me, and both of you come to live in the new house. I’ll fix everything.’
Felix’s way of fixing everything is through controlling Laura. He belittles her, he manipulates her, and he crushes her. In the claustrophobic environment that Felix controls, neither of the sisters can relax. And over time, Laura begins to reflect Felix’s values.
‘She had achieved this state with much painless suffering, committing murder by proxy.’
Although Clare sees Felix for what he is, she cannot persuade Laura to leave him. Laura has almost entirely lost any sense of herself as an independent person. Can Laura be saved? Or will Clare have to abandon her in order to save herself?
For me, two tragic themes are central to this novel. The first is the warping of Laura’s spirit as, oppressed by Felix, she becomes more like him. Gone is the clever independent girl who dreamed of being a doctor, replaced by a fearful woman reflecting Felix’s views in order to find an uneasy peace in her world. The second is the awfulness and power of manipulation, where people seek (whether physically or psychologically) to impose their wills on others. Laura has been doubly unfortunate: a narcissistic self-serving mother, and an insecure controlling husband.
This is a thought-provoking novel. It is uncomfortable and confronting, raising questions about choices, and imbued with an undercurrent of malicious destruction. I am uneasy with aspects of the story, they reflect a reality I have observed.
This novel was first published in 1966, and was reissued in 2012. The setting may seem dated, the issues raised are not.
‘It is a wonder of the world to notice how fundamentally people change from one second to the next when they are given their own way.’
This, the third book in the series featuring Adam Boatwright, is set a few years after the disastrous meteor impact wh‘It would be a brave new world.’
This, the third book in the series featuring Adam Boatwright, is set a few years after the disastrous meteor impact which has destroyed so much of Earth. Those who survived are attempting to gradually restore terrestrial life. They are succeeding because of the vast collection of eggs, embryos, seeds and spores collected before the meteor struck Earth. But progress will be slow, and while restoring mammals provides a difficult challenge, the continuation of humankind will be even more difficult. The human embryo collection has been lost, adult males have been rendered infertile. Can apes help with the restorations, and how? How will Adam Boatwright and his team meet this challenge?
Reading these novels in order (there are currently five) makes it easier to follow the issues and challenges faced by the small band of human survivors on earth. Not every member of the group shares the same vision for restoring life on Earth, and the issues become more complex as scientific manipulation progresses. And what would happen if immortality became more widespread?
‘Yes, sir. Individuals must die. Otherwise species can’t change. … Evolution stops.’
I’ve enjoyed reading these novels. I am less interested in the relationships portrayed than I am in the issues being faced. Could we recover if a giant meteor hit Earth now? How?
Ginny O’Byrne and her fiancé Julian Rockliffe travel to Freycinet National Park where they’ll be staying at Devil Lodge in the sh‘Hindsight is 20-20.’
Ginny O’Byrne and her fiancé Julian Rockliffe travel to Freycinet National Park where they’ll be staying at Devil Lodge in the shadow of the Hazards. As they drive into Freycinet, Ginny finds the Hazards disquieting: both brilliant and disturbing. The colours of the landscape seem to overwhelm her, making her disoriented and dizzy. And we know, through Ginny’s musings on the drive, that she is wanting Julian to change back to the way he was up until six months earlier. Ginny and Julian have been together for over five years, and now - suddenly and insistently - Julian wants them to get married.
‘Let me tell you what happened to us here at Freycinet.’
But Julian and Ginny’s stay at Freycinet will not be restful or relaxing. Two women go missing, resulting in a massive search in which Ginny and Julian become involved. What has happened to these women, and why? And why is Ginny so disturbed by the Hazards? Is she right to suspect some of the men involved in the search? As the tension builds, as the policeman in charge seeks to make sense of the scene, Ginny struggles to make sense of what she is experiencing.
‘No-one in fairy tales has a mother, have you ever noticed?’
There are a number of twists and turns in this novel and while some aspects of it didn’t work well for me, I loved Ms Calvert’s descriptions of Tasmania. It’s difficult to say more about the story without introducing spoilers, and this is a story in which not knowing what might happen (or why) significantly increases the tension. And when you get do to the end, certain aspects will make sense, while others may make you wonder.
If you like mystery, murder with a twist, in a beautiful setting, you may well enjoy this.
‘All roads lead to Rome, as the saying goes, so the main street of the little southern Italian town of San Procopio is optimistically named Via Roma,‘All roads lead to Rome, as the saying goes, so the main street of the little southern Italian town of San Procopio is optimistically named Via Roma, and it is here that my father’s story has its beginning.’
This book tells the story of the author’s father, Francesco Borgia, who migrated to Australia in 1925 from San Procopio, a small rural town in Reggio Calabria in southern Italy in search of a better life. He was only 18 years old.
In 1937, Francesco returned to visit his family. They wanted him to stay in Italy, but by then Francesco believed that his future was in Australia. He had a dream: to establish his own business making pasta in Australia. He borrowed £50 ($100), ordered pasta making machinery in Massena, which he arranged to have shipped to Australia.
On 24 May 1938, Francesco’s factory – Borgia Brothers – began production in an old dairy at 74 Ward Street, North Adelaide, South Australia. In July 1939, he went into partnership with Luigi Crotti and the Sovrana Macaroni Company was born.
Disaster struck with the advent of World War II. Italians were considered a threat to national security and were classed as enemy aliens. On 11 June 1940, Francesco was arrested, placed in an internment camp. He spent the next three and a half years in camps at Tatura, Hay and Loveday. His plans to marry were put on hold and his business was closed.
Released from internment (7 January 1944) and married on 4 March 1944, Francesco Borgia worked hard to restart his business. Despite all of the setbacks and at times almost overwhelming obstacles, Francesco Borgia restarted his business.
The story of Francesco Borgia (6 August 1907 – 20 August 1964) is a story to which many immigrants to Australia will be able to relate. Non-English speaking migrants have the added challenge of learning a new language in addition to settling in a new country and experiencing a different culture. It’s also inspirational, and shows just what can be achieved by those courageous enough to keep trying.
I enjoyed reading Francesco Borgia’s story and learning something about the history of pasta making in Australia. Ms Borgia Griguol’s book is a fine tribute to her father, his drive and heritage.
‘The security system guarding the home of Pat Carson, patriarch of the Carson dynasty, began with a three-metre-high boundary wall.’
Frank Calder, ex-s‘The security system guarding the home of Pat Carson, patriarch of the Carson dynasty, began with a three-metre-high boundary wall.’
Frank Calder, ex-soldier and ex-cop, now describes himself as a mediator. Calder takes a phone call inviting him to the Carson family compound outside Melbourne. Here he meets Pat Carson and his sons Barry and Tom. Frank is known to the Carsons: he’s worked for them before in a situation involving hostages. So, when Tom’s granddaughter Anne, aged 15, disappears on the way home from school and the family receives a ransom demand, they turn to Calder again. Calder wants them to call in the police, but this is not the first kidnapping in the Carson family, and last time, when they called in the police things did not go well. This time around, the Carsons are keen to do exactly what the kidnapper has asked for. Once they get Anne back, they plan on dealing with the kidnapper themselves.
The family want Calder to deliver the $1 million dollar ransom. Despite his reservations, Calder agrees. But Frank wants to try to find out what has motivated Anne’s kidnapping and soon finds himself caught up in the history of the dysfunctional Carson family. Is Anne’s kidnapping related to the earlier kidnapping of Barry’s granddaughter Alice (then aged 11)? Is the kidnapping motivated by greed, or revenge? Or something else?
To try to find answers, Calder goes way beyond his brief. Which puts both him and Anne in danger. Will Anne be found alive?
I enjoyed this novel. The story moves along at a rapid rate, and Frank Calder is a very likeable character. Like many large, wealthy dysfunctional families, the Carsons have plenty of hidden skeletons in their closets. I liked the way that Calder went about uncovering these skeletons in his search for answers.
This is the third of Peter Temple’s novels I’ve read so far. The rest are on my list.
‘What is the ground of that capacity for simple delight in us on which so much complexity can be built?’
There are three parts to ‘Being There’. The fi‘What is the ground of that capacity for simple delight in us on which so much complexity can be built?’
There are three parts to ‘Being There’. The first part includes various pieces that David Malouf had written since 1965, the second part includes two previously unpublished libretti for ‘Voss’ and ‘Mer de Glace’ and the third is a translation of ‘Hippolytus.’ I enjoyed the articles, introductory essays, talks that constitute part one: David Malouf’s erudite musings about the shape and meaning of art. About what it is, and about how we (as individuals) respond. These are pieces to read, think about, and reread. And to wonder whether (and how) definitions of and responses to art may have evolved over the almost fifty years covered by these articles. I have read some of these pieces when they were originally published, but to read them as a collection invites more detailed consideration of a personal relationship with art, especially with opera and music.
‘Any activity that demands our complete attention - absorption in a task, looking hard at a painting or a piece of sculpture, losing ourselves in the reading of a story or in a play or film; doing anything, as we say, that ‘takes us out of ourselves’ - is restorative, and in a particular way.’
I enjoyed, too, the two libretti, especially ‘Voss’. David Malouf’s introduction to this section sets out the context for his writing of the libretti, and reminded me of the challenges of adapting novels for stage (and film). I love the novel ‘Voss’, and, as for other novels to which I am emotionally attached, am not interested in any movie version of it. I know (somehow) that the movie will not match my interpretation. In the ‘Voss’ libretto, though, I could recognise ‘my’ Voss. ‘Mer de Glace’ is different in that it is not a representation of Mary Shelley’s novel ‘Frankenstein’ but a depiction of the first telling of the story.
And ‘Hippolytus’? Left me wanting to reacquaint myself with Euripides.
I enjoyed this book, with its collection of different pieces, providing both a view into David Malouf’s relationship with art in various forms, and a looking glass through which to consider my own responses to interpretation and performance. About what I like, and why.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Random House Australia for an opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.
‘Thirty-nine he was when he went to the lighthouse. Not a great age by any means, but he already had the look of an old man.’
The Cape Bruny Lighthous‘Thirty-nine he was when he went to the lighthouse. Not a great age by any means, but he already had the look of an old man.’
The Cape Bruny Lighthouse, at the southern tip of Bruny Island off the south-east coast of Tasmania is the setting for Ms Wood’s novel. The main character, Essie Lewis, is an oceanographer and aspiring author who goes to Cape Bruny both to research her family’s past and to try to find meaning in her own life. In the novel, in italics, we read fragments of the book Essie is writing. Written as a first-hand contemporary account, Essie writes of her great-great grandfather’s experiences on Bruny Island in the late 1800s. Her account captures this period, with the hardships endured by lighthouse families, the isolation from others and the difficult physical environment.
‘Essie remembers that in stories it is often the silent who end up with the task of the telling.’
The current caretaker of the lighthouse is Pete Shelverton, hunter of feral cats and part-time sculptor. As children, Essie and Peter knew each other briefly, as adults they recognize each other as kindred spirits. The past holds a fascination for Essie, but what of the present, and the future? And what about Peter?
‘She knows the things that the light can’t see, the things beneath the surface that pull and suck.’
I enjoyed the setting for this novel: lighthouses have their own form of magic. While Ms Wood recreates life at the Cape Bruny Lighthouse during the nineteenth century through Essie’s writing, its significance in the twenty-first century is not lost. The light itself is automated now, but lives are still attracted by it and caught up within it. While the characters of Essie and Pete are interesting, I found myself more drawn to the past, to the constant presence and role of the lighthouse.
‘He judged men and he grew apples and it was a perilous autumn for both.’
In 1918, Charles Marden is a judge, and an apple grower in Vancouver. The Spa‘He judged men and he grew apples and it was a perilous autumn for both.’
In 1918, Charles Marden is a judge, and an apple grower in Vancouver. The Spanish ‘flu is raging across western Canada, and has claimed Mr Marden’s wife amongst its victims. When Charles Marden receives news that his son has just died, in a battle at the very end of World War One, he sets off for Belgium. Charles Marden wants to find the exact spot where his son was killed.
When Mr Marden arrives in England, he learns that his son left behind a girlfriend, pregnant with his child. Can Charles Marden find the girl as well? The closer he gets to the front lines, the closer he gets to hell. The trenches are still strewn with mines, and still reek of poison gas. And the people he meets along his journey each have their own experiences to share, and demons to avoid.
There is no glorification of war here, no attempt to justify sacrifices in the name of a greater good. Instead, there is a father’s search for a site, a place, where the loss of his son will be easier to understand. Or, perhaps, make some sense. Charles Marden’s journey is difficult both physically and emotionally. How can he make sense of it all? Are there answers?
In fewer than 200 pages, Mr Wetherell has written a powerful novel about life, loss and war. Mr Marden’s journey is challenging and difficult. World War One may have finished, but the world continues on. There is no bright shiny new beginning for most people, just a need to move into an unsettled and unknown future. War is devastating, for individuals, communities and countries.
And Charles Marden? What does his future hold?
I picked this novel up, purely by chance. It took me fewer than three hours to read it. This is one of those short novels that somehow makes its way into memory, and stays there.
‘This is the ghost train. If you’ve got the right ticket, it’ll take you all the way to the gates of hell.’
On 29 June 1951, at the Royal Ordnance Fact‘This is the ghost train. If you’ve got the right ticket, it’ll take you all the way to the gates of hell.’
On 29 June 1951, at the Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) Bridgwater in the UK, an explosion killed six men. The cause of the explosion was never identified. This event provided the inspiration for Neil Grimmett’s novel.
The novel opens with the explosion, and with one man’s knowledge that the explosion was not an accident, but murder. That man, Gunner Wade, was sent to find the shift chemist and foreman when a problem developed in the nitration house. He was the only member of the crew to survive. Fast forward to spring 1979. Byron Browning’s father Gerard was one of the men who died on 29 June 1951. Bryon’s seen the letters Gunner Wade had written to his mother over the years, stating that Gerard was murdered. Martha Browning has tried to keep the letters hidden from Bryon, but he’s seen them. And, keen to find out the truth about his father’s death, Bryon gets a job at the ROF.
‘And The Hoard still waits, its evil has grown with the passing of years. And the Triumvirate is alive and prepares to move…’
What follows is an intriguing blend of betrayal, murder and mystery. Will Bryon discover the truth, or will he become another casualty of the evil that seems to permeate this place? Several different characters tell the story, and while the production of high explosives can be both dangerous and dirty, human greed increases the danger immensely.
The story is complicated: numerous characters and technical detail about the processes serve to simultaneously slow the development of the story and to increase the suspense. Gunner Wade seems to have been driven to madness: can he be relied upon? It isn’t always easy to differentiate good from evil, or to sift truth from madness.
Because of the number of different characters and points of view, it took me a while to get caught up in this story. But I was hooked early, and found it almost impossible to put down. The description of the factory - surely one of the circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno, the manipulation of men to distort (or destroy) the truth, the destruction caused by the production of materiel even before that materiel makes its way into a theatre of war are some of the thoughts and images that accompanied me as I read this novel. Many of the characters are flawed, some are more likeable than others: a near perfect cast to tell this story.
I found this novel challenging and thought-provoking. And scary.
‘And all hell broke loose.’
My thanks to Mr Grimmett for offering me a copy of this novel after I’d read and reviewed his novel ‘The Threshing Circle’. Two very different novels, both will stay with me for a long time.