Category Archives: Uncategorized

Movie: Colette

 

(From a few weeks back)

It’s a pity that Keira Knightly was case as Colette in this movie. She’s too well-known and I was consciously aware of that throughout most of this movie, except for one striking scene where she becomes very angry. Dominic West was very good, and disappeared better into the character. I must confess to never having read any of her work, and really knew little about her. Still, an interesting take on celebrity and marketing in the literary world of a century ago.

My rating: 3.5 stars

I’m off……again

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Did I mention to you that I’m off again? This time to Buenos Aires, Colombia and the Atacama Desert in Chile.

You can follow my adventures – and this time I hope that this rather edgy trip doesn’t have any adventures to speak of – at my other travel blog

https://landofincreasingsunshine.wordpress.com

I rather foolishly promised that I would write the first sentence of each entry in Spanish, so apologies to those who don’t read Spanish, and even deeper apologies to those who do!

‘Saltwater’ by Cathy McLennan

saltwater

2016, 314 p

If you go by the cover of this book, with its subtitle “An Epic Fight for Justice in the Tropics”, you’re going to be disappointed. There is a trial in this book, but you won’t have heard of it. It’s just one of what I suspect is an ongoing succession of trials of young aboriginal men, whose lives seemed almost doomed to incarceration by their background of alcoholism, illiteracy and aimlessness. It’s not an ‘epic’ fight for justice, and there’s certainly no victory here.

The book is a memoir written by Magistrate Cathy McLennan, who looks back some twenty years to her first graduate job with the Townsville Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service, when she was aged just 22. She is not of indigenous heritage herself, and although brought up on nearby Magnetic Island, she felt largely overwhelmed working with this indigenous organization. Other non-indigenous barristers came and went, and despite her youth, she was very much thrown in at the deep end. The clerical and administrative staff were indigenous, and she relied on the guidance of aboriginal women working in a liaison capacity.  The male indigenous administrator of the organization was less supportive.

One of her earliest cases involved four young men charged with the murder of a white grog-runner. She was initially convinced of their innocence, and feels blocked by the local police.  The police, however, are not one-dimensional.  Called out to meet with a group of aboriginal people drinking in the park, she was horrified that a very young baby was lying on glass-strewn dirt. Brought right up against the dilemma of child protection vs. fear of another stolen generation, she realized that, in this situation, the police wee just as conflicted as she is.

Running alongside her involvement in this case was her ongoing contact with Olivia, to whom the book is dedicated, an 11 year old the size of a 5 year old, who was continually being locked up for robbery, and was sexually abused repeatedly. Olivia was failed at every turn: by her alcoholic mother, by child services who could do no more than come up with ‘a plan’, and by the ‘justice’ system that was content to shunt her off to Palm Island, where Olivia was even more abused than she was in Townsville.  McLennan bridles against failure at all levels that condemns indigenous children to incarceration. She could see the problem: she had no answers.  Now, twenty years later and as a magistrate, I find myself wondering if she has found a way for the system, that she is now part of, to do better.

The book is written in the present tense, and the prose is fairly pedestrian. She certainly raises many questions, and even if the book is not as “compelling” as its blurb suggests, it does add texture and complexity to a tragic and seemingly intractable situation.

My rating: 7/10

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library.

I have added this to the Australian Women Writers Challenge database.

AWW2019

‘The Presbyterian Church of Victoria: Growth in Fifty Years 1859-1909’ by D. Macrae Stewart

PresJubilee

1909, 129 p.

This book was written to celebrate the golden anniversary of the creation of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria in 1859, combining the Synod of Victoria, the Synod of the Free Presbyterian Church of Victoria and the Synod of the United Presbyterian Church of Victoria. There was one section of the United Presbyterians who didn’t join until after 1870, but in terms of golden jubilees, 1859 was the date. (Mind you, the earlier book I read about Presbyterianism in Victoria dated the coming together of different strands of Presbyterianism to 1867 instead.)

Written as a celebration publication, the text is laid out quite beautifully, with red margins and decorated inhabited initials to mark the start of each chapter. Stewart has used a planting metaphor to organize his chapters, which are titled ‘Seed’ ‘Stem’ ‘Branching’ ‘Pruning and Grafting’ etc.

As this book goes up to 1909, it covers the Charles Strong controversy of the 1880s, which of course had not occurred with Sutherland published his earlier history of the Presbyterian Church in 1877. Charles Strong, who had been the pastor of Scot’s Church in Melbourne (probably the premier Presbyterian church in Melbourne)became the first minister of  the Australian Church in 1885 after being charged with  promulgating unsound and heretical doctrine and resigning his position from Scots Church.  I think that if I’d been alive at the time, I would have been attracted to the Australian Church.

the australian church.

The Australian Church at the eastern end of Flinders Street (near Spring Street). It seated 1200 and opened in 1887 but the Church shifted to more economical premises in 1922. The Australian Church was finally dissolved in 1957. From the Australasian Sketcher. SLV http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/258170

The book has several plates showing prominent churchmen, mainly of the past but with some contemporary men (in 1909) as well. So many beards!  There are few mentions of women, but there is a section on the Presbyterian Mission Womens Union, famous for its cookbook. I only now realize that I always called it the PMWU rather than PWMU.

The book is curiously silent about the 1890s depression. Perhaps in 1909 it was too soon to discuss such things.

 

‘The Valley at the Centre of the World’ by Malachy Tallack

tallach

2018, 352p.

I can’t remember quite why I borrowed this book when I saw it on the ‘New Books’ shelf at the library. Perhaps I’d heard good reviews of it or maybe it was its setting in Shetland that attracted me. I enjoy Shetlands on the ABC and I heard a cracking interview with the author of Vera and Shetlands, Anne Cleeves. What ever drew me to it, it’s a beautiful book that I almost didn’t want to end. It surprises me that the author is a young man. The book felt as if it were written by an older person (think, perhaps Marilyn Robinson’s Gilead or perhaps Elizabeth Strout’s work) in terms of its treatment of the relationships between people, infused with a sensitivity to place and space.

The Valley at the centre of the world is exactly that – a single valley with just five houses clinging to The Road that runs above and parallel to ‘The Burn’, the waterway that runs to the sea. The use of ‘The’ is intentional: there is only one. In its harsh but beautiful isolation, there is a timelessness about The Valley, although people are coming and going. Older man David has lived there all his life, as did his father and grandfather before him. Although he does not consciously think of it this way, he owns the valley.  His wife Mary, came there thirty years ago and their daughters Kate and Emma have both shifted away.  Sandy, a newcomer, was their daughter Emma’s partner and came back with her to the Valley but the relationship has broken up. He stayed on when Emma left, and with a respectful relationship to his inlaws (do you have inlaws if you’re not married?) and now landlords, he takes over the cottage and croft left vacant when Maggie, a very old inhabitant dies. There is Terry, a morose alcoholic single father, and Jo and Ryan, who have shifted into the Red House from the city, with Ryan a go-getter spiv taking advantage of the cheap rent. Finally, there is Alice, a crime writer (who reminded me not a little of Anne Cleeves herself) who has moved to the valley after the death of her husband. She has decided, somewhat presumptuously I think, to write about the Valley and is particularly drawn to Maggie as a character, hoping to find some secret or depth about this woman who had spent her whole life in the Valley.

The book revolves around the lives of this small group of people, who each have their griefs and flaws. It is a slow book, just as life itself in The Valley is slow. Soap opera? Perhaps, but it’s soap opera written with insight and generosity.

What is striking is the use of dialect in the conversation. There’s a glossary at the front, but it’s more the sentence construction and small words that slows you down as a reader. I don’t subvocalise or even mentally vocalise when I read, so this was a strangely auditory reading experience for me.

I really loved this book, and didn’t want it to finish.

My rating: 9/10

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

 

Looking forward: 2019

These are not resolutions- they’re challenges!

  1. To read twenty books in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019
  2. To read sixty books overall in my Goodreads challenge.
  3. To finally finish reading Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal in Spanish (it’s taken about six months so far)

Looking back: 2018 in review

This seems to be the time of year when people review their reading and viewing progress over the last year, so I’ll add my two-bits.

During 2018 I read 57 books that I reviewed on this blog (I actually read more but I’m ‘saving’ them for when I have no posts). Of these 36/57 were by women, which doesn’t surprise me. I’m involved in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, and that tends to steer me towards women writers.

I mainly read Australian works, with 35/57 being written by Australians, although not necessarily set in Australia. Of these 35, 24 were written by Australian Women, again probably reflecting the AWW challenge.

I lean towards non-fiction, with 37/57 falling into the non-fiction category. Of these 37, twenty were ‘academic’ non-fiction, both history and biography, which I distinguish from other non-fiction by the presence of footnotes and/or a bibliography.

As far as most memorable reads go, I started the year well with Phillipe Sands’ East-West Street and finished it with David Sornig’s Blue Lake.  Along the way and with hindsight, I really enjoyed Janet McCalman’s Journeyings, Sarah Krasnostein’s The Trauma Cleaner, and Judith Brett’s The Enigmatic Mr Deakin.

I saw 27 movies over the year, eight of which were subtitled. If I were to nominate a New Year’s resolution (which I won’t) then it would be to see more international films.

And that was the year that was.