Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Shell” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


3.36  ·  Rating details ·  708 ratings  ·  161 reviews
“A luminous look at a city at a time of change, a time when the building of the Sydney Opera House was a reach for greatness.” —The New York Times

In this spellbinding and poignant historical novel—perfect for fans of All the Light We Cannot See and The Flamethrowers—a Swedish glassmaker and a fiercely independent Australian journalist are thrown together amidst the turmo
Hardcover, 259 pages
Published October 9th 2018 by Atria Books
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Shell, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Shell

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.36  · 
Rating details
 ·  708 ratings  ·  161 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Shell
Angela M
Oct 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
“As with all of my books, Shell was not written because I knew something. I write, always, compulsively, because I don’t know something. It is always about a question. At the end of that process I find I have no solid answers. Only possibilities, a whole new set of questions.”

I was taken by what Kristina Olsson writes to her readers in a beginning letter. It made me think that this is what good fiction should do - open up possibilities, make us think. This is exactly what this novel does. Quiet
May 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
I loved the beautiful cover and I found all the research about the Opera House and Sydney life in the sixties well done and very interesting. However I never managed to become involved in the characters or the story.

Most of all I was constantly irritated by the italicised speech. I think this was my biggest problem and it prevented me from concentrating fully on the rest. Two stars then because the book was okay, just not for me.
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: australian
“Writing about architecture is like dancing to music – a completely natural thing to do”. Wait, that’s not how that quote goes? Oh well.

The building of the Sydney Opera House marks a watershed moment in Australia’s history: symbolic of a coming-of-age for the nation, of forging a cultural identity distinct from the Britishness that had characterised the preceding era. Just think: Australia in 1965, when the bulk of Shell takes place, had the same prime minister as it did 26 years earlier in 193
It was the 1960s and Australia was on the brink of change. The Vietnam War was about to take a poke at Australia’s youth – and the Sydney Opera House was under construction. The draft for the Vietnam War was in the form of a lottery, and all the young people who were born within a certain time period had their birth dates put in a barrel. If you were lucky, your birth date didn’t come out. (My husband’s didn’t thank goodness!)

Journalist Pearl Keogh was in a desperate search for her two younger b
Jul 05, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first section was a claustrophobic reading experience for this little sailor who has been stuck on board her boat in high winds persisting for over a week with low cloud, torrential rain and low temperatures. If I didn't already have cabin fever, I do now.

Pearl is walking around in a guilt ridden haze, her mum has died, her dad is sick, her brothers are missing. A journalist by profession she has been banished to report on "the ladies pages" for being seen and photographed in an antiwar ral
Anne ✨ Finds Joy
I was drawn to this book with its beautiful cover of the Sydney Opera House & Harbor. The muted colors and softly blurred image is really appropriate for this historical fiction story. Olsson writes a tender, poignant contemplation of the atmosphere and times of 1960s Sydney, with a backdrop of events of the building of the Opera House and the Vietnam War lottery draft of young men. The story features two characters whose paths cross: Axel, a glassmaker from Sweden contracted to create sculpture ...more
Michael Livingston
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
This lyrical novel uses the construction of the opera house to explore Australia in the 1960s. It's beautifully constructed as the building that inspired it. ...more
Melissa Dee
Oct 17, 2018 rated it liked it
My feelings about this book are very divided. On one hand, I was fascinated by Olsson’s evocation of the setting; Sydney in the mid-60’s was a culture deeply divided between its past and its future. On the brink of the Vietnam war draft, with the iconic Opera House in mid-construction, Australia was a country of immigrants unsure how to deal with its diversity.

Ultimately, though, the plot moved too languidly to keep me fully engaged. I was interested by Pearl and Axel, and their back-stories, bu
Sep 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: aussie-authors
I waited a long time to receive this book, sadly I was not terribly impressed. I usually do my own research for a hard copy book purchase, this time I relied on professional reviewers and now wonder about their judgement. However, I loved Pearl, resilient and a young woman before her day.

It is written in my life's time zone and birth place during the building of the Sydney Opera House and the enforced conscription of young men for the war in Vietnam for which several of my school and neighbourho
Sep 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
An incredibly interesting book on many levels and served to highlight a big gap in my knowledge - Australia in the 1960s, its involvement in the Vietnam War and, especially, the controversy surrounding the building of the Sydney Opera House. I found it all fascinating.

The book is so much more than this, though. It features two equally sympathetic main characters, from very different cultural backgrounds. Axel, a glassmaker from Sweden contracted to create an artwork for the Opera House, and Pear
Cass Moriarty
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
From the very first pages of Shell (Scribner Books 2018), the new novel by Kris Olsson, you realise you are in the capable hands of a masterful storyteller. Not a word is wasted. Each sentence is crafted with care. Every paragraph sings from the page, like poetry, like prayer. The story is meticulously researched, and that research informs every line of dialogue, every cultural reference, all the minutiae of daily life. The characters are fully formed and multi-faceted; each has a background tha ...more
Amanda - Mrs B's Book Reviews

3.5 stars

Kristina Olsson is an Australian writer, who has written both fiction and non-fiction books. In 2018, she released Shell to great acclaim, a book that merges the personal perspectives of two people living under the construction of the iconic Sydney Opera House. Shell is a complex meditation on the ills of war, love, sacrifice, ambition and change. Defined by pensive prose, Shell is demanding novel, that meanders through a turbulent time in Australia
Nov 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Novel set in 1960 SYDNEY

It is 1960 – the Sydney Opera House is halfway through its construction and Australia has recently introduced conscription to the Vietnam war – two events that are pivotal to this novel. Jorn Utzon, the architect of the iconic building, is facing increasing criticism and the country is divided in its opinion on conscription.

Against this turbulent background, Pearl Keogh, a young journalist has been relegated to writing for the women’s pages of her newspaper after she has
Jan 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I found Shell to be an enjoyable read, I don't find myself with much to say about it on finishing. Olssons's writing is gorgeous, and I really liked Pearl's storyline.

(If anyone has any other recommendations for historical fiction set in Australia, please send them my way in the comments!)
Denice Barker
Sep 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
I don’t think there is an iconic image that identifies a place more than the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia. It wasn’t always so, it wasn’t always accepted. There was a time when was just being built and public opinion wasn’t so positive.
In the mid 1960’s everything was changing. There was a war in Vietnam and Australia was adopting a draft system that, understandably so, was not well received. Pearl was a reporter embracing the change and protesting in the streets to defend her right t
Dec 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
I would have to agree with the myriad compliments paid to Kristina Olsson about her novel Shell ; it is a perceptive, finely written work which mesmerised me from the moment I admired its beautiful cover depiction of the Opera House in an airport bookshop in October until my reading of it was completed very recently.

Descriptions of the Australian landscape with particular reference to the spectacular land and sea environs of Sydney Harbour during the construction of the iconic Sydney Opera H
Oct 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As I wrote when I posted a Sensational Snippet from Kristina Olsson’s new novel Shell, ( I have fallen in love with this book so it’s not going to be easy to write an objective review. I have mulled over the book for two days since I finished reading it, and I still feel a frisson of pleasure when I set eyes on it. It’s my Book of the Year, and it might even be the Book of the Decade, in the same way that Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance turned out to be a ...more
May 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I knew within the first few pages that I was going to love this book. I knew that I would hate to come to the end of these words which were only matched by the elegance of the Sydney Opera House. I read slowly, in order that I not miss even one small nuance, one exquisite thought.

Some novels are read for plot, some for character, and some, like Shell, for the beauty of the written word.

Axel Lindquist is a glass man from Sweden, brought to Australia by Jorn Utzon, the Danish architect of the Sidn
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
Mixed feelings about this book, I had such high hopes due to the Australian historical setting and the subject matter of such a iconic building.

I was disappointed for a number of reasons those being:
-While I loved the poetic language used to descibe the setting, time of day or actions occuring I found the book largely confusing. I actually still don't get what happened in the end partially due to the metaphorical style of writing and there are still pleanty of gaps on the I just didn't grasp.
Apr 18, 2019 rated it liked it
I would have to say that I did not enjoy this book as much I expected to, especially given the many favourable reviews. There was too much going on, and it was a bit difficult to follow the story among the many themes. I found Pearl a bit tiresome, and at times the writing somewhat melodramatic and unnecessarily abstruse. All the same, I'm glad I read the book, and I certainly came away from it feeling a bit more enlightened about the Sydney Opera House, as well as the time period of the story. ...more
Oct 13, 2018 rated it did not like it
Thanks to netgalley for a free copy of this book.

I thought Kristina Olsson's book would be right up my alley: historical fiction, Sydney in the mid 1960s, the construction of the Sydney Opera House. Unfortunately, I did not like this book at all. Olsson utilized one of biggest pet peeves: no quotation marks. Instead, all dialogue was in italics and within the paragraphs instead of separated out. In addition, I did not like the structure, which continually switched back and forth between the two
Theresa Smith
Nov 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aww2018
‘There was no Swedish word to describe this, no English word that he knew; it wasn’t as simple as ‘awe’ or even ‘love’. It was the clutch at his heart as he lifted his eyes to its curves and lines. Its reach for beauty, a connection between the human and the sublime.’

Since its release last month, in my capacity as editor for historical fiction with the Australian Women Writers Challenge, I have read quite a few reviews on Shell, with no one reviewer saying the same thing. This in itself was reas
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An exceptional glimpse into a volatile time in Australia's past that heightened by the controversy of the Vietnam War - the enforced ballot and our fears and concerns of what it meant to be involved again in a conflict on distant shores. And yet in our own country, on our own shoreline another controversy was brewing - the construction, the design, the time delays and the budget blowout of the Sydney Opera House. Two major things that put the political landscape into upheaval, the Australian peo ...more
Feb 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some beautiful imagery and an evocative glimpse of a country in its awkward teenage years fumbling to accept itself and develop a moral compass. Occasionally I was a bit overwhelmed by metaphor and description and had to reread passages to follow events but this was definitely worth the effort.
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I rated this book 5 stars not because it’s perfect but because it captures the atmosphere & the times perfectly. You become immersed in the streets, suburbs & beaches of Sydney. The Opera House going up piece by piece & the problems associated with the build are tangible. The characters are also very relatable.
Sara Vidal
May 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
I bought this book because it was recommended - I got to page 91 and abandoned it because other books were waiting and I'd grown impatient with the proliferation of imagery laden sentences that for me detracted from the rather interesting story. In considering whether to go back to it - I was puzzled that I remembered nothing of what I had read other than the point at which I'd set it aside - the meeting moment when two people first saw each other. Wanting to know how these two would fare, I pic ...more
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-top-five
I just loved this book. It resonated for me in so many ways. It took me back to Sydney of my childhood, the Opera House being built, the anti-Vietnam protests, my experiences of growing up in Balmain and that weird inferiority complex we had in Australia that fed into a real cultural cringe and fear of the new. I even have a memory of Jorn Utzen getting the sack. This is how deep it’s building settled into our consciousness.

I loved the way Olsson used light and water as a vehicle to tell the sto
Lesley Moseley
Dec 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
3 3/4 rounded up as I felt it wrapped up to quickly. LOVELY read, Sydney is the most dominant 'character', I felt. Wonderful realisation of place. and set in it's time. I felt a bit distant from the main people characters except I actually cried during a very poignant 'meeting', scene. Would definately recomend it, especially to Scandinavian readers as their countries portrayals match my memories. ...more
1966 in Sydney. The Opera House is being built and a young Swedish glass maker has arrived to produce a centrepiece in the interior. While Pearl a 32 yo journalist is frustrated with being sent to the ladies pages after being seen at an anti Vietnam march. She is also a communist.
The book is an homage to design, architecture, the artistic spirit. It also celebrates the beauty of the Opera House. This is the heart of the book and the best writing.
The book also cover the anti war movement, the sh
Mar 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
Much of this felt contrived to me; excessively floral at the expense of plot or a deep character development. At times it felt like an advertisement for tourism Australia. The first book in a long time I struggled to finish.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Aussie Readers: S&S Australia ARC August Giveaways - closes 31st August! 23 72 Sep 11, 2018 09:29PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Mother
  • The Labyrinth
  • Infinite Splendours
  • The Yield
  • Till Death, or a Little Light Maiming, Do Us Part
  • This is How We Change the Ending
  • When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife
  • Bruny
  • Devotion
  • Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray
  • The Eye of the Sheep
  • The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital
  • The Bee and the Orange Tree
  • The Cane
  • Dark as Last Night
  • The Performance
  • The Best Kind of Beautiful
  • Jacob beschließt zu lieben
See similar books…

Related Articles

Need another excuse to treat yourself to a new book this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our...
10 likes · 3 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »