‘Ruth woke at four in the morning and her blurry brain said, ‘Tiger’. That was natural; she was dreaming.’
Elderly and widowed, living on her own in an‘Ruth woke at four in the morning and her blurry brain said, ‘Tiger’. That was natural; she was dreaming.’
Elderly and widowed, living on her own in an isolated house on a beach on the east coast of Australia, Ruth Field senses a tiger prowling around her house. She rings her son Jeffrey in New Zealand to tell him. This may only be a flight of fancy, or is it a harbinger of greater danger ahead?
The next morning, a woman appears at Ruth’s home: ‘My name is Frida Young, and I’m here to look after you.’ Frida has, she says, been sent by the government as a carer to help Ruth with cleaning and cooking. Jeffrey, on the telephone from New Zealand, is wants to see the paperwork but is delighted about what he considers to be a good use of taxpayer funds.
And so Frida, who arrives each morning with a different hairstyle (and sometimes colour) brings Ruth back from an essentially solitary life, providing help and companionship. Frida looks Fijian to Ruth, and this reminds her of her childhood with her missionary parents in Fiji, and of her first love: Richard. She gets in touch with Richard, and invites him to visit for a weekend. When Richard visits, Ruth discovers that Frida has moved into her spare room: the room that her son Phillip once used. Ruth doesn’t remember inviting Frida to move in, but Frida is adamant that she did.
It’s clear that Ruth’s memory is worsening, and while her memory of the past is clear there are gaps in her memory of the immediate past and holes are developing in the present. Is Frida changing, or is it Ruth’s perception of her? Is Frida protecting her, or exploiting her?
‘There’s some sense in not going back. That way, you preserve it.’
Frida is a larger than life character who works hard to earn Ruth’s trust. But there’s a sense that Frida is not what she seems, and Ruth is very vulnerable.
I could not put this book down. Even though I had a fair idea of what might happen, the ending is heartbreaking. Ms McFarlane does a wonderful job of creating two very different characters: the vulnerable Ruth and the seemingly confident Frida, of reminding us how fragile connections can be. It also reminded me that the elderly are particularly vulnerable when they live alone. This is the kind of discomforting novel which you admire for its writing rather than enjoy for its content. And which may dwell in your mind long after you’ve finished it.
‘There’s times in here I have to check I ain’t just gone and died already. All I’ve got is a pile of hours, and hours ain’t what people think they are‘There’s times in here I have to check I ain’t just gone and died already. All I’ve got is a pile of hours, and hours ain’t what people think they are.’
Usually, a 14 year old orphaned gypsy girl and a 26 year old widowed governess would not have much in common. Usually. But in 1842, when Miriam Booth is convicted of burglary and Rose Winter is convicted for the theft of fourteen silver knives and forks and one ring, both are sentenced to seven years transportation. Both will sail on ‘The Marquis of Hastings’ to Van Diemen’s Land.
Miriam has lived by her wits in the Newcastle slums, until she became involved in house-breaking. Rose, once much higher in society than Miriam, became a governess when she was widowed with three young children of her own. Her father has been imprisoned for slave trading (a prosperous but by then illegal trade) and Rose’s position in society suffers as a consequence.
Conditions aboard the ship are appalling, although women with money to spare or willing to be ‘wife’ to one of the sailors can secure a better passage. Rose, who is accompanied by her youngest daughter Arabella, is able to share a cabin while Miriam is stuck in the hold where she is befriended by Ma Dywer, a former brothel-keeper travelling to join her convict husband already in Van Diemen’s Land.
After they arrive in Van Diemen’s Land, Miriam and Rose are hired by the Reverend Sutton to work at his nursery for convict babies – an alternative which seems much better than working at the Cascades Factory for Women.
‘But I was coming to see for myself how there was a lot of difference in this world between the Christian way of thinking and the Christian way of acting.’
Alas, the Reverend Sutton is a hypocrite, and while he frequents the brothel next door and also takes advantage of some of the women who work for him, any evidence of sexual transgression (and especially pregnancy) is to be condemned. Miriam, who falls in love with the Reverend Sutton’s son John, becomes trapped.
‘I am arresting you for the crime of being advanced in pregnancy.’
And Rose? Her daughter Arabella has been taken from her, and while she takes good care of the convict babies she longs to look after another child.
I found it difficult to put this book down. Rose and Miriam tell their stories with their own distinct voices. Miriam’s reflects her much lower class upbringing: much more direct and full of grammatical error. Rose has more control over what she says and how she says it. As a consequence of their two distinct voices and different perspectives, I felt that I obtained a more complete view of their lives, the times and society in which they lived. While we start with a fair knowledge of Miriam’s life and circumstances, Rose’s story unfolds during the course of the novel. By the end of the novel I felt particularly sorry for Miriam: so young, so vulnerable, so trusting.
**spoiler alert** ‘You keep thinking nothing will surprise you in this job.’ Then something like this comes along and all you can do is scratch your h**spoiler alert** ‘You keep thinking nothing will surprise you in this job.’ Then something like this comes along and all you can do is scratch your head.’
It’s 1947 in Britain, not long after the end of World War II. While some hikers and a shepherd see a slightly built man in a red sweater approach Oswald Gibson while he fishes a stream near Lewes in Sussex, no one witnesses his execution-style murder, and the slightly built man appears to have vanished. Scotland Yard sends Detective Inspector Billy Styles to the scene because of the report of an earlier and similar killing in Scotland. The possibility that the two murders might be connected needs to be explored.
At Oswald Gibson’s home, Styles finds a letter that Gibson was writing to Scotland Yard enquiring about the whereabouts of John Madden, the former detective from whom Billy learnt his trade. While John Madden, now retired, does not recognise Oswald Gibson from the photographs he is shown, it becomes clear that the two murders are linked. Identical bullets were used in both cases. And then a third murder occurs.
‘The executioner has spoken. By now you must know what a cowardly business it is.’
Discovery of a cryptic entry in Oswald Gibson’s diary provides the link John Madden requires to remember a tragic event in the past, and the realization that others will be murdered unless the murderer can be identified and stopped.
This is the fourth of Rennie Airth’s novels to feature John Madden. It’s an interesting role for John Madden: as a retired police officer he is not the official investigator, but his past knowledge – both before and after his police career - becomes critical. I also found the small domestic details of the lives of John Madden and his family satisfying. I felt at times like I was visiting with old friends, and through them appreciating the impact of two world wars on communities and individuals.
This is a well-written, fast moving and thought provoking novel that really made me think about justice, about reckoning and retribution. It would be possible to read this as a standalone novel, but I’d really recommend reading the novels in order.
Yes, former big-city journalist and ‘English language doctor’ Jimm Juree is still in exile at the Gulf Bay Lovely Resort a‘It’s how I earn my living.’
Yes, former big-city journalist and ‘English language doctor’ Jimm Juree is still in exile at the Gulf Bay Lovely Resort and Restaurant in Maprao on the south coast of Thailand. Not much seems to happen here, but Jimm has almost managed to retain her sanity courtesy of an occasional online assignment, while writing to Clint Eastwood about her dream screenplay. Jimm’s still with her family: Arny, her musclehead brother, her Grandpa Jah and her idealistic mother Mair.
‘Please leave your values at the front desk.’ (country hotel)
Jimm is asked by the local paper, the Chumphon News, to interview Conrad Coralbank, a well-known crime novel writer who lives in the area and is immediately swept off her feet. Grandad Jah and the flamboyant local policeman, Lieutenant Chompu are suspicious of Coralbank, and start watching him. It seems that Conrad’s wife has gone missing, as has a local doctor and Jimm becomes involved in trying to find out where they both are. In the meantime, Mair, despite being prone to seasickness, goes on a trip in the bay with Captain Kow, just as a storm starts to brew.
‘Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.’ (hotel sign)
Oh, and just to add to the tension, we readers have access to anonymous diary entries that appear to be from a very descriptive, and determined, serial killer whose initials seem to be C.C. Will the reader work out who the serial killer is before anyone else is murdered? Jimm has access to some formidable resources: her (former brother, now) sister Sissi can track down almost anyone and anything online. But Jimm is just a little distracted by Conrad Coralbank, and her search for the missing doctor becomes interesting. It appears that the doctor had been protesting against the aggressive marketing of baby formula and may have trodden on some corporate toes.
‘It is forbidden to enter a woman even a foreigner if dressed as a man’ (Buddhist temple)
So, will Jimm find true love (or just fulfilling lust) with Conrad Coralbank? Who’s the hot man Nurse Da is seeing? What is Mair doing with Captain Kow? Who has threatened Jimm with an axe, and why would someone try to poison the family’s dogs?
‘I had visions of mad dinosaurs queuing up at the 7-Eleven.’
This is the third in Colin Cotterrill’s Jimm Juree series, and while I don’t (yet) like them quite as much as his Doctor Siri series, Jimm and her amazing family and friends are growing on me. I enjoyed the humour, and was drawn into the mystery.
A book has been commissioned about Currawong Manor, once the home of Rupert Partridge, a famous artist. Elizabeth T‘Fate can be a dangerous mistress.’
A book has been commissioned about Currawong Manor, once the home of Rupert Partridge, a famous artist. Elizabeth Thorrington, a renowned photographer, and Rupert’s granddaughter, has been invited to the house to take photographs of it and of some of the people that used to live there. The book, to be written by true crime writer and former musician Nick Cash, is intended to celebrate Rupert Partridge’s life, and to showcase his talents.
‘But there’s still time to leave, my girl. There’s always a choice of path – and sometimes it’s wise to take the less exciting one.’
But Currawong Manor, in the picturesque (Australian) Blue Mountains, with its own history and secrets, was the place where a great tragedy occurred in the 1940s. In the space of a single day, Rupert‘s wife Doris and their daughter Shalimar died separate tragic deaths. The only member of the family who survived was Elizabeth’s mother. Rupert himself disappeared. Elizabeth meets Dolly Sharp, who was a child living at Currawong Manor in the 1940s, and Ginger, one of her grandfather’s ‘Flowers’ as the three young women who lived with the Partridge family and posed for Rupert’s paintings were known.
Ginger has agreed to be interviewed and photographed, but she does not seem particularly enthusiastic. Elizabeth realises that both Ginger and Dolly know more about the mysteries of Currawong Manor than they seem prepared to share. Elizabeth is keen to find out more about her family’s past and to uncover the truth (or truths) behind the tragedy. Her own mother wants nothing to do with Currawong Manor, and warned Elizabeth against going there. So, what is the truth behind the tragedy? And will Ginger and Dolly tell Elizabeth what they know?
What is the truth of Owlbone Woods, and does a gathering of currawongs signal impending death?
‘Are you up for an adventure?’ The story of Currawong Manor and its previous inhabitants unfolds as we move between Elizabeth’s present and Ginger’s past. If you like dark, brooding, atmospheric novels, this is one to savour. Secrets abound, and while some may appear obvious to the reader, others take time to be revealed.
‘Revenge is a lit match in a summer bush- you destroy everything around you as well as yourself.’
I confess that I did not like this novel as much its predecessor, ‘Poet’s Cottage’. The story is well written, the setting well described but at times it was a little too dramatic for me. Perhaps I prefer not to have the loose ends tied up quite so completely.
‘I tell him the in-between bits of my life, the bits that are available.’
The novel opens with Jake Whyte living alone with her sheep on an unnamed iso‘I tell him the in-between bits of my life, the bits that are available.’
The novel opens with Jake Whyte living alone with her sheep on an unnamed isolated island off the British coast. She has isolated herself from her past in Australia, and as the story unfolds we get some understanding of what, and why. Jake’s present life, on the island, unfolds as a straightforward narrative and is interspersed with scenes from her life in Australia, which proceed from nearest to the present to distant past.
In the present, Jake is trying to protect her sheep. She and her dog, Dog, had fifty sheep but something (or someone) is killing some of them. Jake doesn’t know whether it is the local kids, or a fox or some other creature from the woods. A man named Lloyd turns up on her doorstep, and despite thinking he may have something to do with the slaughter of her sheep, Jake lets him stay. Lloyd has his own mysteries.
‘If you have wheels, I realise, you are free.’
We meet Jake in Australia working as a shearer in the outback where the men around her consider her ‘a bloody good bloke’. Jake has a boyfriend, and for a while things seem okay. But Jake’s past intrudes, and she moves on. The reader has to be patient: we only know what Jake shares with us, and while the story is largely black and bleak, I’m not convinced it is complete. It’s hard to read but so well written I found it impossible to put down.
‘We’re not dependent on this. It’s a life choice.’
I found this novel challenging to read, both because of its content and its presentation. I found I had to really concentrate in order to make sense of Jake’s earlier life, to try to appreciate how she became who she is. I finished the book wondering how Jake’s life could have been different (and wishing it was) as well as wondering about her future. I admired the writing, and became entangled in the story despite myself. This is not a novel to read for any pleasure in the story (although there is plenty of pleasure to be had in the novelist’s crafting of it), it’s a novel to experience and endure, perhaps as a reminder that choices and opportunities are sometimes only words.
‘.., but the light outside was bright and all the birds were singing.’
‘My fees are negotiable’, said Strike, ‘if I like the client.’
This is Robert Galbraith’s second mystery novel to feature private investigator, Cormora‘My fees are negotiable’, said Strike, ‘if I like the client.’
This is Robert Galbraith’s second mystery novel to feature private investigator, Cormoran Strike and his capable assistant Robin Ellacott. This novel is set a year or so later than ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’, and business has clearly improved for Strike after his successful resolution of the Lula Landry case. Strike has a steady stream of work: mostly divorce cases, with an occasional piece of work for a tabloid journalist. And then, just as one client is being particularly aggravating, Strike is approached by Leonora Quine with a plea to locate her husband – Owen Quine. Owen Quine, a notorious writer who has struggled for years to create the success of his first novel, has gone missing before. Leonora needs him home, and thinks that locating him should be a straightforward task for Strike.
It soon become clear to Strike that there is a lot more to Quine’s disappearance. Quine’s just completed the manuscript for his latest novel ‘Bombyx Mori’ which is considered unpublishable by his agent Elizabeth Tassel and other members of the London literary community. The manuscript portrays many of the significant people in Quine’s life in an unfavourable and unpleasant way, and could ruin lives if it was published.
So, in short, there are a number of people who might want to see Quine silenced. And when he is found murdered in a particularly brutal and bizarre way, Strike is keen to help the police find the murderer. Alas, while the police do not want his help (he already showed them up in the Landry case), Strike is certain that they have the wrong suspect.
I really enjoyed this novel: as much for the further development of the characters of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott as the actual mystery they were working on. There are a lot of twists and turns in this story. At the end I thought I should have realised earlier who the murderer was (there are clues, gentle reader) but I’m glad that I didn’t. Cormoran Strike, with Robin Ellacott’s assistance, solved the case. I couldn’t put this novel down and I’m looking forward to the next novel already.
'ASIO’s ability to influence people’s lives without them even being aware of its actions should be a concern for all Australians.'
In 1970 or 1971, my'ASIO’s ability to influence people’s lives without them even being aware of its actions should be a concern for all Australians.'
In 1970 or 1971, my father was horrified when I told him I intended to march in a Vietnam moratorium rally. He advised me to reconsider (I didn’t) on the basis that ASIO would photograph all protestors, and I’d never be able to work for government as a consequence. Was his concern justified, or was he being paranoid? As it happens, I went on to work for over thirty years for the government with appropriate levels of security clearance. But my father’s concern was not unfounded and was a consequence of the fact that members of his family were active in the Communist Party from the 1920s onwards. And ASIO was keenly interested in members of the Communist Party: I see 15 volumes of security and intelligence files listed against my late great-uncle’s name between 1950 and 1978 alone.
‘It is rather scary to realise that those who took different views from the government on issues of human rights, and on the independence and democracy of other countries or colonies, were regarded with suspicion as possibly subversive.’
This book, edited by Meredith Burgmann, covers the period from the early 1950s to the 1990s, when the New South Wales Special Branch was closed down by the Carr Labor Government. ASIO’s main focus for much of this period was on the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). Given that ASIO’s main role ‘ is to gather information and produce intelligence that will enable it to warn the government about activities or situations that might endanger Australia's national security.’, this focus is not surprising. It was suspected that CPA members might have strong links to the USSR, and could be spying for the KGB. AS the Petrov Affair in 1954 showed, there were Russian spies in Australia seeking access to UK and US intelligence shared with Australia.
In twenty-six chapters, the experiences of twenty-eight different people targeted by ASIO are shared. Some were members of the CPA, or had some involvement (however fleeting or nebulous) with a member of the CPA. But any movement for political or social change, anything that questioned the status quo seems to have also been viewed with suspicion: including anti-Vietnam movements and entities like Save Our Sons and the Moratorium marches; Aboriginal land rights and Indigenous equality platforms; feminist groups like WEL and women’s liberation; the Sydney Libertarians; the Worker Student Alliance; gay rights; and women’s refuges.
‘The young students, Christians, mothers, and unionists of the anti-Vietnam movement, land rights campaigns, gay rights action and so on, were never a danger to the government.’
From reading the various personal accounts in this book, it’s clear that ASIO’s ability to collect data was not equalled by its capacity to extract and analyse information. Quantity over quality.
I found this book interesting, both as a reflection of the intelligence gathering processes described and as an insight into the lives of those being scrutinised so closely. I found David McKnight’s chapter ‘How to Read Your ASIO File’ particularly helpful, and am tempted to spend more time on the National Archives site seeing just how many members of my own extended family might have security and intelligence related-files. No, actually, this form of voyeurism does not appeal. Any inaccuracy would irritate.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the purpose and operations of a secret national security organisation. These records are historical (files are closed for thirty years, so records more recent than 1984 are not yet available). We may find some of what is described in the past as faintly ridiculous and some of the points of focus as amusing, but what level of surveillance is acceptable in a free, democratic society? If anything, security concerns have increased and, I assume, that surveillance in its various forms has as well. Surveillance may be, as many in the book have noted, ‘boring’ but surely to some degree it is necessary. Who is being watched these days? And has the definition of ‘subversive’ changed?
‘In the parallel world of spydom the distorting mirror is, it seems, the only reality.’
This book is focussed on the period between the discovery of gold at Ballarat in 1851 until the aftermath‘The women of Eureka have always been there.’
This book is focussed on the period between the discovery of gold at Ballarat in 1851 until the aftermath of the Eureka Stockade in 1854. Dr Wright also provides a domestic and international context for the events in Ballarat as well as referencing other instances where women became politically mobilised (such as during the French Revolution). When I first learned about Eureka at school almost half a century ago, the only names used were male, the only pronouns masculine. The events at the Eureka Stockade were, we were told, the beginning of Australian democracy, a recognition that there should be no taxation without representation. The Eureka Stockade is the only Australian example of an armed rebellion leading to reform of unfair laws. The term `digger' was later adopted by the ANZAC soldiers in World War I. The wording of the resolution passed by the diggers on the 11th of November 1854 still echoes in my memory: that it was `the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called on to obey, that taxation without representation is tyranny.' It didn't occur to me then to wonder where the women were.
`Women were there. They mined for gold and much else of economic value besides. They paid taxes. They fought for their rights. And they were killed in the crossfire of a nascent new world order.'
Dr Wright's research led her to discover there were 5165 women in Ballarat in December 1854, and 6356 children. And at least one of those women died during the Stockade.
This book provides an engrossing account of the events leading up to, and immediately after, the Eureka Stockade. The accounts of lives lived (and lost) on the muddy goldfields. Women as agitators, fund-raisers and petitioners. Women as wives and mothers. Women conducting business and mining for gold. A number of women become the book's main characters. Those women include: Martha Clendenning, the storekeeper and doctor's wife; Margaret Johnston, the young wife of Assistant Gold Commissioner James Johnston; actress and theatre-manager Sarah Hamner; and Clara Seekamp, who acted as publisher of the Ballarat Times.
I found this book fascinating: it made me think about aspects of the Eureka Stockade I'd never before considered (including the role of women and the dispossession of the indigenous inhabitants). It also reminded me of the relative recency of representative democracy in Australia, and the continuing struggles over land ownership and use. I'd recommend this book to anyone seeking to look at the Eureka Stockade from another perspective.
`It's what happened after the surrender that really matters.'
Dr Clare Wright won the 2014 Stella Prize for this book.
‘Everybody has dreams about the life they might have led.’
This novel is about the relationship between a young Australian soldier, Arthur Wheeler, and‘Everybody has dreams about the life they might have led.’
This novel is about the relationship between a young Australian soldier, Arthur Wheeler, and a young Japanese prisoner of war, Stanley Ueno, from their youth to old age. Their love can never be acknowledged and for Arthur in particular as he recounts his story, it raises a life time of questions about what might have been in different circumstances and in different times.
Arthur is seventeen years old in 1945. He is a guard at Tatura, an internment camp for enemy aliens. World War II is finally drawing to a close: the allied bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still in the future, just a few months away. We meet Arthur in the infirmary, where he is recovering from a nervous disorder and still smarting from his dismissal from the Air Force at the end of 1944.
One night in the middle of May, he meets Stanley, a Japanese teenager from a family of circus performers. Arthur is immediately attracted to Stanley’s beauty and bearing.
‘In an instant I’d been converted to a new faith, which said beauty was a rare thing and something to be worshipped unreservedly.’
We see this relationship entirely through Arthur’s eyes. Stanley largely remains an enigma: one minute he embraces American traits, the next he discusses Japanese literature. He torments Arthur, but reveals little of his own feelings. But Arthur never stops longing for Stanley, even though they spent only a very brief time together. Arthur’s inability to let go of his desire to reunite with Stanley destroys any capacity he might have to embrace any other relationship. Arthur abandons his young wife May and their son Stuart in order to try to prevent Stanley being deported from Australia.
Reading this story as recounted by Arthur half a life time later, reminds me how much store we can place on memories and how it can be possible to be trapped in the past, longing for an ideal. How much more complicated this can become when love is caught up in struggles between nations, as well as struggles with sexuality and expectations.
I found this novel thought-provoking and very moving.
‘This is the quest to regain sovereignty over my own brain.’
This novel is set in Australia in the future: around the time of the third centenary, in a‘This is the quest to regain sovereignty over my own brain.’
This novel is set in Australia in the future: around the time of the third centenary, in a world fundamentally altered by climate change, and where – following an Army Intervention - Aboriginals are living in a fenced camp alongside a stinking swamp containing the refuse of war.
It follows the life of a mute young woman called Oblivia Ethylene. Oblivia is the victim of gang rape, who lives on a hulk in a swamp surrounded by rusting boats and thousands of black swans. Oblivia is plucked from this displaced community to be married to Warren Finch, soon to be the first Aboriginal president Australia, and confined to a tower in lawless, flooded southern city.
‘Swans mate for life: that was what she thought.’
And what does the future hold for Oblivia in this novel? Oblivia’s world, with its swans, with its caste of amazing characters such as Aunty Bella Donna of the Champions, the Harbour Master, three genies (Dr Snip Hart, Dr Edgar Mail and Dr Bones Doom) and a talking monkey called Rigoletto. Who defines what is real, and how it impacts on the world? What does it mean to be homeless and dispossessed? In a world drastically turned upside down by climate change, where mass movements of refugees around the world are a consequence of cities drowning, local Aboriginal governments exist alongside high-ranking national Aboriginal politicians.
‘Should angels be eaten, even one, by so many hungry people?’
Oblivia may have been transported to a new world, but she is still part of her old world. The past, present and future are equally important. The swans are an integral part of all aspects of Oblivia’s world. Oblivia may be mute, but her mind is unrestrained. There is both great humour and (at times unexpected) humour in this novel. It is rich in metaphor and full of wonderful storytelling and difficult constructs.
‘A crescent moon moved so low across the swamp that its reflection over rippling water looked like the wings of a magnificent white swan.'
So, what did I make of this book? There is not one definitive conclusion: ‘The Swan Book’ is one of those novels that has made me work hard in order to try to understand it, and will continue to occupy space in my consciousness. Is it about love? About climate change? About dispossession? About myth, culture and reality? ‘The Swan Book’ defines any attempt at simple categorisation, and it is not meant to be read and put aside. I enjoyed it, and I hated it, I laughed and I cried. And above all, I’m thinking.
‘Her mind was only a lonely mansion for the stories of extinction.’
Alec, a retired librarian has recently been widowed. He heads off to a coastal village in North Norfolk ‘I was in search of silence and tranquillity.’
Alec, a retired librarian has recently been widowed. He heads off to a coastal village in North Norfolk with his small dog Watson in search of peace. But one night, while searching for mental stimulation, he opens his laptop and starts looking through a folder entitled ‘Roger’ which a former colleague had sent him. Inside that folder are files in which a man called Wiggy tells the story of his acquaintance with Roger – a talking cat, who sounds like Vincent Price. In a story that spans decades, Roger tells of how he learned to speak. Alec becomes part of the story, caught up in a world that contains a mysterious cat called Captain, kidnapping, murder and satanic cults. And yes, some cats really do have nine lives.
‘Purring was the way they sent people into a trance, you see – and then, when their prey was sort of paralysed and helpless, the cats would set to work with their claws.’
The story moves at a quick pace, and I found the first half much funnier than the second. In the second half, well, things get frenetic and a little dangerous. It’s a combination of humour and horror that doesn’t always work, although I won’t be adding a cat to my household anytime soon.
I’d recommend reading this in one sitting if possible.
‘Libraries can be much more than simply places to store books.’
This book provides an architectural history of library design, from ancient Mesopotamia‘Libraries can be much more than simply places to store books.’
This book provides an architectural history of library design, from ancient Mesopotamia to the modern world. The text and the glorious accompanying photographs trace the development of libraries in response to the way information was created and stored, the needs of scholars and readers, and the practical and aesthetic aspects as well.
The book includes exploration of library needs from the clay tablets and scrolls of antiquity, through medieval European libraries where manuscripts were chained to shelves or desks, the different requirements of libraries in medieval Asia, as well as the lavish and intricate baroque and rococo designs of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the (usually) more utilitarian spaces of the 20th and 21st centuries.
‘One element that sets libraries apart from most other architectural spaces is the primary importance of their furniture and fittings.’
Most of the libraries included are beautiful and grand places, not much like the late 20th century libraries I am familiar with. Some of them are (or were) very sensibly designed spaces for the storage of books but not really practical for readers. Others look more like art museums than book repositories. All of them look like places I’d like to visit.
‘Books are only part of the problem. The main spaces of libraries, the reading rooms, often present considerable structural challenges.’
I enjoyed the information that James Campbell included in the text, including: the fact that colonies of bats are used to control pests in the 18th century libraries in Coimbra and Mafra; the fact that a Korean library in the Haeinsa Temple has safely stored the wooden printing blocks of the Tripitaka Koreana for almost 700 years; and the fact that ‘better, modern, climate-controlled buildings’ purpose built in 1972 proved unsuitable, and the blocks were returned to the original buildings.
‘Libraries have been in a state of continual change for centuries.’
Librarians and those who study information and its repositories will find the book interesting and informative. Those who admire libraries and are interested in their history will enjoy the book, as will those who enjoy beautiful photography of glorious spaces. I love this book.