The second story in this volume, "Simple Susan", is set in "a retired hamlet on the borders of Wales between Oswestry and Shrewsbury. We are introduceThe second story in this volume, "Simple Susan", is set in "a retired hamlet on the borders of Wales between Oswestry and Shrewsbury. We are introduced to the main characters on May day, particularly to Susan, the twelve-year-old daughter of Farmer Price who, just shy of his forteith birthday, has been called up to the "militia" (for the Napoleanic wars, I assume) unless he can come up with twelve guineas to pay for a substitute. Susan and her father do battle with their neighbours, the Case family. Mr Case is an attorney who has hopes of becoming an agent for Sir Arthur, the new baronet, recently installed in the local Abbey; his daughter has hopes of becoming intimate with the Misses Somers, the baronet's daughters.
Case loans Farmer Price the money for a subsitute, but since Price refuses to collude with him to allow him to enclose land at the bottom of his garden which the village children use as a "play-green", Case calls in the loan, wielding a faulty lease as a bargaining chip. Price has no choice but to get the money back from the substitute to repay the loan - and face the prospect of leaving his sick wife and children without a bread-winner. His daughter Susan takes it upon herself to find the money, assuming her mother's baking for the village and the Abbey, but her industry meets with opposition from Mr Case's daughter Barbara who claims Susan's Guinea hen which "trespassed" onto the Case land. Much mayhem ensues, including a death sentence hanging over Susan's pet lamb.
Although this is a story for children, it's hard not to read it for its political message. Edgeworth appears to be using the story of the proposed enclosure of the bottom of the garden as a symbol for the enclosure of the commons; interestingly, she blames the middle class (something she also does in the story "The Basket Woman" in Volume 5), while both the industrious peasant class and the beneficent aristocrats come off well.
I stumbled across this stoy while searching for West Country stories of the early nineteenth century. Edgeworth travelled through the midlands, apparently in the early 1800s, and I'm assuming it was then that she absorbed a lot of the local colour that add such liveliness to these tales. ...more
I was loaned Promise by someone who couldn't put it down and recommended it to me highly, and I started without having read the back cover blurb or k I was loaned Promise by someone who couldn't put it down and recommended it to me highly, and I started without having read the back cover blurb or knowing anything about the story. I have to admit, I find the subject matter pretty distressing. Moreover I couldn't get my head around the main character Anna's choices (avoiding spoilers here), even with the author's creation of a strong back story/motivation. My judgement of Anna's behaviour rarely let up throughout the novel and made for an uncomfortable - if compelling - reading experience. It also meant the ending was less satisfying than it might otherwise have been. (I've been told it brought other readers to tears.) I'd be very interested to seek out Armstrong's first two novels, though, as she writes well and her debut was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin....more
Country NSW and a young woman is brutally murdered. Her sister is a local barmaid who, while still emotionally involved with her ex, has her own ideasCountry NSW and a young woman is brutally murdered. Her sister is a local barmaid who, while still emotionally involved with her ex, has her own ideas about how to conduct herself in relation to love and sex. Another young woman, a journalist, arrives on the scene to report the sensational crime. She has her own problems, personally and careerwise.
"Who did it?" is one of the last questions An Isolated Incident explores. More pressing is the question, how do women really think and behave? And what, if anything, has that to do with the epidemic of violence towards them that is gripping Australia?
This is the second book by Liz Byrski I've read. The first, In the Company of Strangers, introduced me to two women who share a history as child migraThis is the second book by Liz Byrski I've read. The first, In the Company of Strangers, introduced me to two women who share a history as child migrants from the UK who settled in Western Australia. "Friends in Western Australia" may be a niche Byrski has carved for herself, because The Woman Next Door also follows this pattern. This time the focus is on Emerald Street and the neighbours, Joyce, Helen, Polly and Stella, who have been in and out of each other's houses over a lifetime, from raising their children and pursuing their careers, to battling ill health and coming to terms with ageing, death and loss. The losses are many, including strains on marriages and on friendships.
In simple language, in a narrative where not much happens, apart from the ups and downs of daily life as the neighbours make decisions that impact on themselves and their friends, Byrski creates a powerfully emotional story. For me, the emotional core of the story comes from the friendship between two of the single characters, Polly and Stella. Polly is a writer, and her nearest and dearest neighbour is the elderly Stella Lamont, stage name of a soapie star who is showing signs of dementia. Through the course of the novel we see them as mother, sister, daughter, confidante, adviser and carer to each other - so much more than just neighbours. It is a moving portrait of a type of love that the Ancient Greeks called "philia", or deep friendship, and in the end brought me to tears.
As I looked up "philia" to check I was using the term correctly, I realised the novel also paints a portrait of three other types of love, as the Greeks termed them: "pragma" or enduring love, shared by the married couple, Joyce and her husband Mac; "agape", or love of all humanity, which Joyce displays when, after successfully fulfilling the roles of wife and mother, she establishes a late career as a volunteer teacher of English to refugees; and "philautia", or self love, which provides one of the central conflicts of the novel (which I won't elaborate on for fear of spoilers). Each of these portraits is moving in its own way and strikes me as being both psychologically and emotionally "true".
Liz Byrski is the author of eight novels and several nonfiction books. She has a PhD in writing from Curtin University and is Director of the China Australia Writing Centre. It's good to know she has a backlist of books to be explored. The Woman Next Door is highly recommended.
"Art is not about art. Art is about life." Gretchen Shirm's novel, Where the Light Falls, starts with this provocative epigraph - provocative because"Art is not about art. Art is about life." Gretchen Shirm's novel, Where the Light Falls, starts with this provocative epigraph - provocative because this is a novel which is most decidedly about art, the artist and the process of artistic creation.
A successful photographer living with his German girlfriend in Berlin, and about to hold a major exhibition in London, the protagonist, Andrew, hears news of the disappearance of an ex-girlfriend, Kirsten, back in Australia. Inexplicably, it seems, he jumps aboard the next plane and heads "home" to Sydney, jeopardising his relationship and his career in order to find out what has happened. As he delves into the past, his personality and life choices are revealed to the reader and subjected to his own forensic gaze. Guilt and self-doubt beset him as he weighs the price of pursuing his career as a photographic artist and portrait-maker. Questions arise for him, and for the reader. Is pursuing an artistic career worth the potential cost to oneself and others? What drives the artist? A desire to make sense of one's life? To express the ineffable? To connect?
At times when reading Where the Light Falls, I had the sense that I was reading a study in pathos, but only half expected a big emotional pay off at the end. Instead, Shirm held back, the emotion as restrained as the narrative. The dilemmas faced are awarded no easy solutions, but leave the reader with more than a glimmer of hope.
The sequel to Medea's Curse, Dangerous to Know continues the story of Natalie King, forensic psychiatrist. This time, Natalie is taking a break both fThe sequel to Medea's Curse, Dangerous to Know continues the story of Natalie King, forensic psychiatrist. This time, Natalie is taking a break both from the city and her practice to try a quieter life by the sea. She needs to recover from the traumatic events depicted in Book 1, and to see whether her mental health will improve with a reduction in stress. Trouble follows her, however, and once again she trips the line between madness and sanity as she attempts to unravel a mystery. There were a couple of moments when I felt the author did Natalie's intelligence an injustice (the acronym TSTL comes to mind), but that didn't stop me from turning pages or enjoying the exciting denouement. I'm looking forward to Book 3....more
My favourite was probably the penultimate story, "It is Margaret", the title inspired by one of my favourite poems, one by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Harrower is the master (mistress?) of suggestion: often conveying the emotional impact of human interactions, rather than the interactions themselves in a way that, initially, creates a sense of mystery and, later, simply admiration for her technique.
At times deliciously vicious; at times, brutal and sad, these stories are well worth reading individually or one after the other. I can see why the collection made the 2016 StellaPrize shortlist. Highly recommended. ...more
An interesting concept and a compelling read. This story gathered momentum as it progressed and, although I worked out the mystery far in advance of tAn interesting concept and a compelling read. This story gathered momentum as it progressed and, although I worked out the mystery far in advance of the climax, the supense held my attention to the end....more