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Five Bells

3.30  ·  Rating details ·  914 ratings  ·  140 reviews
On a radiant day in Sydney, four adults converge on Circular Quay, site of the iconic Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Crowds of tourists mix with the locals, enjoying the glorious surroundings and the play of light on water.

But each of the four carries a complicated history from elsewhere; each is haunted by past intimacies, secrets and guilt: Ellie is preoccup
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Paperback, 218 pages
Published February 1st 2011 by Random House Australia
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3.30  · 
Rating details
 ·  914 ratings  ·  140 reviews


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H H
Feb 19, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: tammy-2
I’ve never read a more convoluted piece of rubbish in my entire life. I have so much to say but I will try to keep it brief, as every moment I think about this godforsaken book I lose the will to live. In particular there were 3 areas of concern;

1) Descriptive Language
Although imagery is usually pleasant in creating an image for what’s happening in a text, Gail Jones used an overwhelming amount of descriptive language, causing so many confusing images to flash within my mind it gave me the liter
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Jodie
Jun 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011, favourites
A very literary read with astonishing prose. The book is so poetic and there is not a single turn of phrase or paragraph that is wasted. It is a relatively short read, but it feels much longer, and I mean that positively. It is fantastic that a writer can make us feel and understand her characters in such a short book. I found myself re-reading a lot of the paragraphs, I had to, to absorb the beauty of the words. On page 12 there is this description from Pei Xing one of the four characters in th ...more
Canadian

Reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s MRS.DALLOWAY and evoking Joyce’s story, “The Dead”, Gail Jones’s stunningly beautiful literary novel follows four characters as they move about near Sydney Harbour’s Circular Quay on a glorious January Saturday. Prospective readers who relish the plot-driven novel should be forewarned that given its lack of significant external action, FIVE BELLS is likely not the book for them; rather, it is a work for readers receptive to a meditation on memory and the inner lif
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Brenda
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
This is my first read of a Gail Jones novel, and while the setting was well known, the story seemed all over the place to me.

For each of the four participants of this story, Catherine, James, Ellie and Pei Xing, their lives both in the past, and in the ‘here-now’ were told over the period of one Saturday on a summer day in Sydney. The four of them were each travelling, separately, but by train, to Circular Quay. Ellie to meet James, as they had known each other as children, but hadn’t seen each
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Pat
Aug 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The riches and richness of this book were almost too much to bear. Well before the last page I realised that this would be a book to savour, many times over. Gail Jones uses language in such a way that it opens all your senses to the images, ideas and emotions she describes. The single, glorious summer Sydney day is one I have experienced myself and was startled time and again throughout my reading by the jolts of recognition that I shared with each of the characters. However, this was no mere n ...more
Tia
Feb 18, 2017 rated it did not like it
Where the hyuck do I even start with 5 Bells. I only ask for two things in the books I read: a plot and at least one interesting character. 5 Bells had neither. I was forced to read it for English, and it has to be the most self indulgent piece of work I've ever read. It seems to be driven not by plot, or actual interesting characters, but by the authors sheer will to force a story to happen.

The plot was almost non-existent. A bunch of people spend the day at Sydney Harbour reminiscing about th
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Len
Jun 06, 2014 rated it did not like it
I don't remember much and I would like to keep it that way.
Shelleyrae at Book'd Out
Gail Jones begins Five Bells with an evocative depiction of a sunny day in Sydney's Circular Quay. I felt as if I stood in amongst the ebb and flow of the crowd, feeling the sun on my face, scenting the salt air, hearing the chug of the ferry and the squeal of a slowing train. From the corner of my eye I can almost see Ellie gazing at the water, Pei Qing exchanging a few dollars for an ice-cream, James frowning absently at the crowds, Catherine shading her eyes against the sun to watch the climb ...more
Daisy Bell
Nov 13, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: never-finished
I had to read this for English, and it was a basic bitch of a book. Apparently she's won awards?? I can't see why with quotes like this:
"she saw the bowl of bright water, swelling like something sexual"
"Circular Quay... she knew from the lilted words it would be a circle like no other, key to a new world"
"she was filled with corny delight"
"the sight of Miss Morrison's firm calves always soothed and reassured her"
honestly, the countless sexual references reminded me of a little kid trying to prov
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Steve lovell
Nov 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The start of my timidity came that day on the beach; it marked the time from which my reduction had its beginnings. At least it does in my mind. Perhaps it was also age creeping up on me, but the surety I had prided myself on slowly started to dissipate from that event on, gathering momentum markedly in my last few years. But it could have been so much worse – it could have turned out as with James in Gail Jones' remarkable 'Five Bells'.

By that time I was in my fifties – and the final decade of
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Kellie Van
Jun 19, 2011 rated it did not like it
Earth shatteringly depressing book. Flowery prose fails to disguise the utter pointlessness of this book!
Robert Lukins
May 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Completely gorgeous, as Jones' prose seems always to be.
Emma
Jan 21, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: school
Well this book was a waste of time. The stuff it talks about on the blurb doesn't happen until the last ten pages, but it's not like they had anything else to put on the blurb because nothing else happens in the book. Plus the chapters are like fifty pages which is far too long and was really annoying.

The majority of the book was random stuff about the lives of four people I didn't even care about. And the ending felt so rushed, we didn't even get any closure. There was one point in the book whe
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Kasa Cotugno
We enter public places almost every day of our lives and pay scant attention to those circling around us. As this wonderful novel notes in one place, people congregate seemingly randomly at monuments such as the Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate Bridge or in this case, the Sydney Opera House on Circular Quay. Four people are singled out and given inner lives that are driven by their past lives. This deceptively slim book packs a wallop in terms of characterization, plot and literary vision. There are in ...more
Sharon
Feb 02, 2013 rated it did not like it
I have to say this was one of the worst books I have read. I bought it for sentimental reasons because I loved Slessor's poem of the same name.

I didn't find Five Bells lyrical at all. The characters were two dimensional, annoying and unlikeable. I found the descriptions of Sydney to be more akin to what you'd find on the back of a postcard. No effort was made to provide anything other than a video picture for the reader. Anyone could go to Circular Quay and provide the same description.

It took m
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Susan Johnson
Mar 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The action of this beautifully written novel takes place on a summer day by the Harbour in Sydney. Four people cross paths at Circular Quay in the shadow at the great Harbour Bridge and the spectacular Opera House. Their memories stretch back into their various pasts. A Chinese immigrant imprisoned under Mao; an Irish woman mourning her dead brother and a couple who shared a teen-age romance in a remote town in Western Australia.
This book is a reminder of Australia's present day multiracism whil
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Annabel Smith
This book was just too slow to hold my attention. The set-up for action/interaction took too long to grab me. I also struggled to stay abreast of who was who as it switched back and forth between characters.

Gail Jones was one of my lecturers at university and I was in awe of her vocabulary and the exquisite language in her short story collection The House of Breathing. I also enjoyed Sixty Lights very much. In this novel she seemed to be working in a more contemporary urban realm and I did not f
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Felicity
Jun 19, 2012 rated it did not like it
To be fair, I didn't actually finish the book so I'm not sure I can really rate it. But seventy pages in to a two hundred page book, I still had no idea what the book was about or what was happening. I think we have established well and truly on Goodreads that I like things like narrative and plot. I do make exceptions, but generally modernist and postmodernist writers aren't really my favorites. I really wanted to like this book, and it's possible that had I stuck with it...I might have. But it ...more
Sue
Mar 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Loved the concept and the characters – a great snapshot of the diversity of people on any one day around Sydney harbour - but was disappointed with how quickly and with the way the book finished – it felt abrupt and incomplete. I would have liked the book to be longer as I felt I was just getting to know the characters and wanted to get to know more of the “now” of their lives and have that developed.
Overall though I really enjoyed her writing style and will be actively searching out more of her
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Jocelyn
Feb 07, 2014 rated it did not like it
Oh my lord...every sentence had at least 5 adjectives describing every facet of the landscape, people and thoughts. No room for any plot or point
Anne Fenn
Jan 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I read this in a slightly fragmented way, interrupted by circumstances. Never mind, the separate stories of four people on one day around Circular Quay and Sydney opera house were very worthwhile following. The link is just a whisper of an image. Each character is created to produce a variety of background, experiences and personality, but they share threads of sorrow, loss, change. Lyrical, poetic descriptions of the surroundings are one of author Gail Jones' strengths. Another book that makes ...more
Gina
May 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
I enjoy reading books written in different countries. This book is written by an Australian about a group of people who all happen to be in the same area of Sydney on the same day. I do not want to give too much away but you learn about each person who are varied and have led interesting lives. Each yearning for someone or something they have lost. The city of Sydney and it's beautiful harbor are an added character in the story.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story and was sorry when it was over.
Annalie
Dec 16, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: aussie-author
Quite an enjoyable read and a good advertisement for our gorgeous Sydney Harbour scenery.
The book started really well but ultimately failed to live up to the initial promise; too repetitive (the author keeps revisiting previous scenes - did she underestimate her readers' memories?) I think it would have made 3 really good short stories (if the repetitions were edited out), because the connection between all but 2 of the 4 main characters was flimsy and superficial.
James Tierney
May 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
A rich, well imagined novel that was a pleasure to read. And yet...
As a fan of Patrick White, Gail Jones currently lacks both the weight & corporality of White's work and so seems to lack a deep knowledge about her characters.
Is it fair to compare her to White?
Perhaps not, but the surety of so much of her imagery makes me wish, like for a dear friend, that things were better.
Steve Dow
Mar 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing


This is sublime, evocative writing. Several seemingly disparate characters carry the weight of their past, paths finally cross at the intersection of the loss of a child and the reunion of childhood sweethearts. This is a book about hidden depths, but it draws out the spatial architecture of Sydney so beautifully. Picked this book up on a whim and glad I did.
Sean Kennedy
Aug 07, 2016 rated it it was ok
Updated 6/8/18
I picked this book up again, totally forgetting I had read it previously. During the whole time I slugged through it, none of it rang a bell with me. It really must have been that forgettable.


A 'day in the life' book, a genre that I normally quite enjoy, but this was meandering and I didn't really connect with the characters.
Kelly
Aug 18, 2013 rated it did not like it
This was like 4 short stories running together. The story never led anywhere and the 4 characters never really came together except for a few brief points. The story seems to go nowhere and spends most of the time in the individual pasts. The ending was lame.
Susan
Aug 24, 2012 rated it did not like it
Only read the first chapter and decided I can't stand her style. She needs to make up her mind whether she wants to write poetry or prose. What overburdened metaphors! What a bore!
Liz
Jul 11, 2015 rated it did not like it
Such a slow moving book with no real direction. It tells the story of four people but that's it...it jumps between their stories and in the end, the only thing they have in common is Circular Quay.
Ashley
May 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
Spent the whole book waiting for something to happen...
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Gail Jones is the author of two short-story collections, a critical monograph, and the novels BLACK MIRROR, SIXTY LIGHTS, DREAMS OF SPEAKING, SORRY and FIVE BELLS.

Three times shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, her prizes include the WA Premier's Award for Fiction, the Nita B. Kibble Award, the Steele Rudd Award, the Age Book of the Year Award, the Adelaide Festival Award for Fiction and th
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“With a trampoline heart she saw the Bridge to her left: its modern shape, its optimistic uparching. Familiar from postcards and television commercials, here now, here-now, was the very thing itself, neat and enthralling. There were tiny flags on top and the silhouetted ant forms of people arduously climbing the steep bow. It looked stamped against the sky, as if nothing could remove it. It looked indelible. A coathanger, guidebooks said, but it was so much grander than this implied.” 1 likes
“How many scenes of blasted terrain, or medics rushing headlong with a stretcher on which lay a figure beneath a sheet, too small, too anonymous, and too deathly still? How long would they mean? Ellie thought of the Japanese photographer, Hiroshi Sugimoto, who photographed movies inside the cinema. He left the shutter of the camera open in the dark auditorium and the film exposed for the entire length of the screening. The result was not a wildly complicated superimposition of images, but simple white-out, pure light, a flare of nothing. Too many images, layered together, left only a blank.” 1 likes
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