Monthly Archives: June 2013

‘Loving’ by Henry Green

loving_henrygreen

229 pages, 1945 (my version 1965)

Apparently Time magazine listed this book as one of their ‘100 Best English-Language Novels from 1923-2005’.  I must admit that I had never heard of it, or the author, until Lisa wrote a glowing review of Loving several days ago.  “Goodoh!” I thought,”a book set in an Irish Country House during WWII – that’s the book for me!” anticipating a mixture of Elizabeth Bowen, Sarah Waters (as in The Night Watch) and Molly Keane.  I have to admit to being disappointed.

Eire was neutral during WWII, and so those Irish with loyalties to Britain had mixed feelings about their place in the war: aware of the Blitz and the hardships suffered across the sea; relieved not to be part of it; guilty that they felt such relief; fearful of the Germans and fearful of the Irish Catholics who would not resist a German invasion.  There’s a sense of ‘meanwhile’ and unreality that pervades the book, with the war going on ‘over there’, heightened further when Mrs Tennant, the mistress of Kinalty, a large Irish Country house, leaves the servants to keep things going while she slips over to England to visit her son. In her absence, in spite of coal rationing,  the servants (most of whom are also English) relax in front of the fires roaring in the grates to keep the pictures on the wall in good condition.  They eat well; they play hide-and-seek in shut-up wings of the house that enclose rooms built as reproduction Greek Temples, and they loiter around the dovecote built as a miniature Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Nothing much happens in this book.  There is a lost ring, jealousies and spitefulness between servants, and a love story that emerges probably more from proximity, convenience and lack of other opportunities than any great sweeps of passion.  Those ‘upstairs’ are vapid, languid and hypocritical, and probably more reliant on the continued employment of their servants than the servants are themselves.

To be honest, I found the book really hard to follow.  I thought that perhaps it was because I was reading it last thing at night after some fairly draining days.  The dialogue is rapid-fire, and there is much of it, often without identifying the speaker.  Scenes would change from sentence to sentence, without even a paragraph break, and there are no chapters to speak of- just a slightly larger white space on the page. It brought to mind a radio play, where the listener has to do the work in distinguishing one character from another, and there are no visual cues to a change of setting or speakers.

But then I started to wonder if the writing itself was just bad.  Take this paragraph, for example, which I had to re-read several times (and yes, I have checked that I haven’t omitted any words or punctuation):

When a few days later as she lay in bed Miss Swift was paid a call by Miss Burch she was able to cut short the thanks having expressed what was necessary on the first of two visits of sympathy Miss Burch had already paid. But on the subject of her symptoms she left nothing out.  (p. 118)

I found it quite hard to distinguish the characters, who seemed to come in pairs, and having two characters called Albert only added to the confusion.  It was all rather a muddle to me.  Nonetheless, many others including Rachel at Booksnob, Lorin Stein at the Los Angeles Review of Books,  Sebastian Faulks is a big fan,  A Penguin a week liked it and there are several links on Stu’s Dad’s blog as park of his Henry Green Week that alerted Lisa who alerted me!

But I’m not completely alone: Lit Matters didn’t think much of it, and there were both glowing and dismissive reviews on Goodreads.

However, I must admit that after reading a truncated chapter of The Big House: Reality and Representation through Google books, there are symbols and observations here that I missed completely.  I don’t think, though, that I want to re-read the book to admire them better.

My rating: 6.5/10

Sourced from: La Trobe University Library

Read because: Lisa at ANZLitLovers wrote a review that interested me.

Happy 200th birthday Redmond Barry!

Oooffggh! I’m all “Barry”-ed out after celebrating Redmond Barry’s birthday on Friday 7th June (well, 200 years on) by visiting the exhibitions and attending a symposium to celebrate one of Melbourne’s worthies.

IMG_4847

First stop, the exhibition at the Supreme Court.  This display is a chronological account of Barry’s life and is mounted along the length of a long corridor in the Supreme Court building, with further historical artefacts along adjoining corridors.  I entered from William Street, where you need to go through airport style security, but once in you can wander around the corridors quite freely. The display is clear, well-laid out, and probably gave the best overview of his life of the exhibitions I saw.

I’d never been inside the Supreme Court building and I’d always assumed that the dome visible from the street covered the courtrooms inside.  I was wrong: the domed building is actually the Supreme Court library and what a beautiful building it is.  You can go in (despite the gold lettered sign on the door that says that you can’t) and it’s spectacular.  Their website has information and a brief history of the library.

Redmond Barry was instrumental in establishing the library which was, and still is, funded by the fees that lawyers pay to be admitted to practice in the Supreme Court.  The library he established was situated in the old, since-demolished Supreme Court building on the present site of the old City Court (now owned by RMIT)- (the court that Judge Willis was so proud of but never sat in because it opened just after he left the colony).  So, too, although Redmond Barry was deeply involved in the design of this library, he didn’t get to see it, because he died before it opened.

Next stop the State Library to see their ‘Free, Secular and Democratic’ exhibition, which is on display until 2 February 2014.  The library was initially established as the Melbourne Public Library, and unlike many other libraries of the time, there was no vetting process and “every person of respectable appearance is admitted, even though he be coatless…if only his hands are clean”.  Redmond Barry was the driving force in establishing this library too, which at the time consisted of the Queen’s Reading Room at the Swanston Street frontage, designed in the style of the libraries that Redmond Barry had frequented in Ireland and England before coming to Australia.  The display has a heavy emphasis on the architecture of the “The Institution” which eventually came to include the library, the museum, the National Gallery of Victoria. The exhibition explores the idea of ‘display’ more broadly, with a section on Exhibitions as well- a real cultural phenomena of industrialised nations, empire, patriotism and competition.  There’s a good slideshow on the SLV site.

I bid farewell and ‘Happy Birthday’ to the man himself out in forecourt and caught a tram up Swanston St to Melbourne University for the symposium in the Baillieu libarary

IMG_4850

There were four speakers at the symposium, each exploring a different facet of Redmond Barry.  Stuart McIntyre,  Ernest Scott Professor of History, University of Melbourne started with an exploration of Redmond Barry as the inaugural university chancellor.  He portrayed him as a hands-on administrator, with a strong ceremonial presence.  He made the study of the classics compulsory for all student, which was rather old-fashioned at the time, but as the basis of a broader curriculum in the professions like law and medicine.  He battled with the professors and with the university senate, and insisted  that the professors not comment on religion, and later politics, for fear of sectarianism.

John Waugh Honorary Senior Fellow, Melbourne Law School spoke of Redmond Barry’s contribution to legal education. In England  (and in many other places throughout the empire)  at the time, a  legal education was part of being a gentleman, but it was not professional training as we know it.  Lawyers would undertake an apprenticeship with other lawyers and undertake self study. Barry derided the practical, technical nature of this system, although he was later to exhort law students to simplicity and logic in their arguments- something rather at odds with his own love of rhetoric.  In 1857, in his dual role as chancellor and sitting first puisne judge, he ensured that law students from the University of Melbourne were exempt from sitting the examinations of the Board of Examiners. In 1872 university education was made compulsory for barristers, thus in effect delegating entry to the profession to the universities: a very unusual practice that was found only in South Australia.

The Chief Justice, Marilyn Warren spoke about Barry as a Judge.  She noted that Barry’s reputation as a harsh, conservative judge is dominated by the Ned Kelly trial.  She described him as a detached, black letter lawyer, who was a judge of his times.  She suggested that in the Ned Kelly trial, he saw Kelly as symptomatic of an ignorant, ungovernable youth culture that needed to be stamped out.  In other cases, e.g. the Eureka case, he was more liberal. She noted that contrary to popular belief, he was only ever first puisne judge and never Chief Justice. He had good reason to believe that he would be appointed to replace William a’Beckett when he retired, but he was overlooked.  She suggested that this was because he aggravated people; the government could not be quite sure of how he would act in the position, and because his long-term liaison with Mrs Barrow was a matter of scandal.

Finally, Sue Reynolds, Senior Lecturer in IT and Logistics at RMIT spoke of Redmond Barry’s contribution to the four main libraries that he has been associated with: the Supreme Court library, what is now the State Library of Victoria, the Parliamentary Library, and the library at the University of Melbourne.  She has written a book about the early years of the Supreme Court  library called  Books for the Profession.  Barry was a prominent member of the board for each of these four libraries, and very much involved in the sourcing and  purchasing of books and production of catalogues. Being so involved in each of them, he was able to guide the development of their collections to reflect the unique purpose of each one and its relationship with the others.

And so, talks presented and cakes eaten, it was time to head home. On the way out of the Baillieu library, I stopped to look at their display which was drawn from their own archives and which reflected Barry’s wide range of interests.

Time for one more- the small display in the Law School library situated- how appropriately, on the corners of Barry and Pelham Streets in Carlton.

IMG_4863

Ye Gods! What is this excessively palatial university building???  (Not from the outside- go inside to the foyer.) I’d seen the beautiful Supreme Court library that day, and I’ve been into Queen’s  Hall at SLV and they too are lavish buildings in their pompous, 19th century way, but this one just seemed too slick, too “look at us-we’re world class”, too corporate- especially compared with the often overcrowded and primitive accommodation given to other faculties.  Needless to say, when I arrived home and saw the three ‘begging’ letters from the University of Melbourne addressed to the three Melbourne Uni alumni who reside at this house, they went straight into the bin.

I wonder what Redmond Barry would make of the building?  I really don’t know. Anyway, happy birthday Sir Redmond.

‘Brooklyn’ by Colm Toibin

brooklyn

2010, 320 p.

There are spoilers in this review

There used to be an online bookgroup called “Who chose THIS book?”, the wail set up after a bookgroup has read a book that members didn’t like much.  When I met Kay from my bookgroup in the supermarket, she didn’t have to ask the question because everyone knew that, yes, I had chosen this book.  And no, they didn’t think much of it.

I had heard good reviews of it and had read Toibin’s “The Master” about Henry James.  I must confess to getting mixed up between Colm Toibin and Colum McCann (whose book This Side of Brightness I absolutely loved) so, yes, perhaps I was confused when I selected this book.

Personally, I didn’t think that it was too bad.  It is set in the  dank, depressed 1950s in Dublin when young Eilis is encouraged by her older sister Rose to emigrate to Brooklyn where there are more employment opportunities.  She goes and lives in a boarding house in Brooklyn, finds a job in a department store and gradually overcomes the homesickness that, even though she doesn’t recognize it for what it is, hollows her out.  She meets Tony, an Italian plumber and becomes swept up into his large, impoverished and noisy family.  When she receives sad news from home, she marries Tony before returning.  He fears that she will not return, and so they marry as a guarantee that she will come back.

Tony was right to fear.  Once she returns to Ireland, it is as if she has never left.  Even though she has been changed by the vitality and relative prosperity of America, bit by bit it all drops away from her as she slots back into the social life of the village.  Employment seems to find her this time (with the help, perhaps, of her mother who wants her to stay), and she starts going out with Jim Farrell.  No one knows that she is already married to Tony, back in Brooklyn.

The book is told in a very Henry Jamesian fashion.  There is no back story; small events are told simply and in detail; every little act is described by a narrator who seems to be hovering up in the corner of the room, watching everything.  There is no interiority, only action, and they are the domestic, quotidian small actions of ordinary life.  In spite of this- even perhaps because of this?- I found myself swayed, just as Eilis was, by the slow unfolding of a good-enough life.  At first I was angry at her family and friends at home for wanting her to stay in Ireland: by the end of the book, I didn’t know whether she should leave or not.  I felt sad no matter which way she moved.

So, even though I enjoyed the book and was moved by it, certainly the rest of my bookgroup didn’t feel the same way.  It was too long, they said; nothing happened, they said- and both these things are true.  But “who chose THIS book?” Well, I did.  Given another chance, I might not have chosen it for a bookgroup, but I’m glad that I read it for me.

My rating: 7.5/10

Sourced from : Council of Adult Education book groups

Read because: I had read good reviews (and I got a bit confused….)

Sydney Review of Books

As a rule, it takes me until Sunday night to finish reading The Age that arrives on Saturday. My favourite section is ‘Life and Style'( which used to be A2) but it seems that the life and style- the restaurants, the interviews, the film tie-ins etc-  are nudging the book reviews into a smaller and smaller space. It will barely worth the anticipation soon.

I used to look forward to the Australian Literary Review that came out at the start of each month with The Australian but it seemed that the reviews increasingly became just a platform for the right-wing stance of the The Australian generally.  So, when it no longer appeared, it was no great loss either.

I subscribe the the Australian Review of Books but to my shame, I often don’t get round to reading them until months later.  My son would eye the unopened magazine covetously (along with the similarly unopened-yet The Monthly, Griffith Review and Quarterly Review) saying “Oh, come on, I just want to read….” but no, I paid for it, so I’m going to open it in my own good time thank you very much.  I subscribed to the London Review of Books, lured by a very tempting  no-obligation introductory subscription price.  But- oh dear- such long articles; so much reading- each one took almost a week! And six month’s worth of London Review of Books have been added, unopened, to the ‘one day’ pile and the subscription has been allowed to lapse.

And now here’s another one- the Sydney Review of Books.  It is edited by James Ley, and here’s what it has to say about itself:

The Sydney Review of Books is an online journal devoted to long-form literary criticism. It is motivated by the belief that in-depth analysis and robust critical discussion are crucial to the development of Australia’s literary culture. We decided to embark on this project because of our concerns about the reduced space for serious literary criticism in the mainstream media, and the newspapers in particular, given their uncertain future. We intend the Sydney Review of Books to be a venue in which Australian writers and critics can engage with books at length, a venue in which to rediscover the intimate connection between the art of criticism and the art of the essay. The Review’s focus is Australian writing, but it also considers the work of significant overseas authors.

Sydney Review of Books has been developed with the support of the Writing and Society Research Centre at the University of Western Sydney. It is also supported by grants from the Australia Council and Copyright Agency Limited. It has been conceived as a free online publication, in order to maximise its reach. We publish new essays and reviews on a weekly basis and, in offering a selection of high quality criticism by some of the best critics and writers in the country, we hope to enlist your support as readers to ensure that the Review can continue as a dynamic contributor to our literary culture.

 

It looks good.  And it doesn’t have to sit on a pile, wrapped in a cover, shaming me.

Redmond Barry Bicentennial coming up

BarryHeader

Big celebrations over the next few weeks to commemorate the birth of Sir Redmond Barry (1813-1880).  It looks as if 6th and 7th of June are the big days and I’m thinking I might go along for some of it at least.

The official site is here.

EXHIBITIONS:

Redmond Barry Bicentennial Exhibition – Supreme Court Library

210 William St Melbourne 17 May -11 June 2013. Free admission  Mon-Friday 8.30 -6.00  (5.00pm. on Friday)  Inquiries 96039197

You can read about Redmond Barry’s role in the establishment of the Law Library here.

Redmond Barry and the Melbourne Law School Exhibition

Melbourne Law School Library, Level 3, 185 Pelham St Carlton South

18 May- 22 June 2013  Free admission  Inquiries 8344 6177

You can read more about the teaching of law in Melbourne at the Melbourne Law School’s site here.

Evidence of a fruitful life: Redmond Barry and the University of Melbourne exhibition

Ground floor, Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne

4-10th June 2013 Free admission

Sir Redmond Barry was founding father and first chancellor of the University of Melbourne.  There’s a rather clever interactive timeline of the history of the university here.

Free, secular and democratic: building the Public Library 1853-1913

Keith Murdoch Gallery, State Library of Victoria

30 May 2013- 2 February 2014  (so no hurry for this one….) Free admission.

There’s several guided tours during June listed here.

A BICENTENNIAL WALKING TOUR

Friday 7th June 9.30-12.30 starting at the Supreme Court and finishing at Melbourne General Cemetery.  Conducted by Isobel Simpson. $25.00  Inquiries 8344 2016

EVENTS

Redmond Barry: visionary or scoundrel?

Chaired by Damien Carrick from Radio National, the panel includes Justice John Smallwood, historian Robyn Annear and barrister Ken Oldis.

Thursday 6th June 6.00- 7.15 followed by drinks and canapes until 8.30 p.m. Book by Monday 3 June $35 full/ $30 concession/$25 SLV member. 9884 7099.

Redmond Barry symposium

Baillieu Libary University of Melbourne, Friday 7 June 1.30-4.30 p.m. Free admission but RSVP essential – http://go.unimelb.edu.au/6d6n

So much Barry!!! Let’s see- I could do a couple of the exhibitions on Thursday afternoon, then go to the Panel Discussion at the library that night and eat canapes; get up bright and early on Friday morning for a walk around Melbourne to walk off the canapes; then go to the symposium that afternoon.

redmond_barry_statue