Tobias Hill is a poet of some distinction in Britain, and also a fine writer. What Was Promised, is a beautifully constructed trip down memory lane, beginning in post war London, and ending in a somewhat different world in 1988. This quote 'Six years of war, nine of rationing, and everywhere feels the pinch', is the authentic voice of the East End, and accurately represents the lives of three costers, Solly, Michael, and Clarence, and their families who struggle to survive in poor accommodation and crowded conditions. The children, however, create their own imaginary lives on bomb sites. The one constant in all their lives is change, and some adapt better than others. Not all the endings are happy, yet Tobias Hill demonstrates very convincingly, the resilience of the human spirit and our need to belong in a place we can call home.
The Natural Way of Things, by Charlotte Woods, has been variously described by critics, as a 'masterpiece of feminist horror, and a 'virtuoso performance'. We disagreed. The novel is supposed to be an exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, in which ten women are imprisoned in a remote area, and subjected to every kind of abuse, as punishment for perceived sins. Yolande and Verla, the two main protagonists, are sympathetically and sensitively portrayed, and develop new personas to cope with a hostile environment, but the others remain deliberately shadowy. One horror follows another, but the writer's remorselessly angry tone means the novel loses clarity and focus. She is just too angry, and this is a pity, as she is a fine writer.
Magda Szubanski is well known as one of Australia's top comediennes, but A Reckoning: A Memoir, establishes her reputation as a gifted writer. Words leap from the page as she describes in intimate detail, her often fraught relationship with her father, and the emotional turmoil she experiences as she struggles with her sexual identity. Her very best writing stems from her vulnerability as she attempts to fit into new environments. We can laugh as she becomes a 'sharpie', sympathise when her tennis career fails, and then rejoice when she finds her niche as an actress. This autobiography, tender, funny, brave, and compassionate, we hope, will not be her only work.
PS: Don't forget to bring along your ideas for new titles for next year's list at our next meeting on Tuesday, July 4.
Lucy Treloar's Salt Creek is an impressive first novel. She has succeeded in creating an authentic colonial voice in her description of the Finch family, who, in 1855, are forced to move from Adelaide to distant wetlands with few resources, and surrounded by Indigenous people who regarded them as intruders. If there is a stand out theme, it is struggle: Hester struggles to preserve her independence; her father fights to make a living and ensure a future for the family, while Addie and Tully battle to keep their child and have a life together. It may well be that the past and its people are unknowable, but the author's respect for history, and her fine interpretation of one particular family, allow us at least a partial glimpse of the past.
We were captivated by Our Souls At Night, by Kent Haruf. Above all, this novel was an exploration of the possibilities of life, and a celebration of the everyday small events which can shape and transform us. Our ordinary heroes Addie and Louis, live in the perfectly, unremarkable fictional town of Holt in the American mid- west. Mutual loneliness brings them together, until town gossips and their own families, almost succeed in driving them apart. This doesn't happen, and therein lies the success of this wonderful novel. Their tenacity, bravery in the face of obstacles, and memories of shared tender moments, ensure a future, maybe not quite as they envisaged, but a quiet happiness nevertheless.
Eat, Pray, Love, our March book, is an account of Elizabeth Gilbert's struggle to resurrect her life in the aftermath of a marriage breakdown, supposedly providing inspiration for many women in a similar predicament. It became an immediate bestseller, but we were not impressed. If the object of her forays into Italy, India and Indonesia was to encourage physical and spiritual regeneration, then evidence of this kind of progress wasn't apparent to the reader. Ultimately, it all became a competition: how much food she could devour in Italy; how long she could endure the discipline of meditation in India, and, finally, how she could be the very best lover in Indonesia. If there's a moral here, it is to avoid best sellers. Helen
We kicked off the year with the cult classic Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. This account of the trials and tribulations of a hapless young lecturer in a redbrick university in the provinces, became an instant hit when it was first published in Britain in 1954, and has been popular ever since. Jim Dixon's own ineptitude and lack of confidence inevitably set him on a road to destruction, and he catapults from one disaster to the next. He doesn't like his boss or his manipulative female colleague. Then his luck changes: he's offered a new position, and meets the delectable Christine. We enjoyed the vaudeville aspects of Jim's dilemmas, and were intrigued by the central theme of the nature of luck. All in all, this is a fine novel in the best traditions of English satire.
E Book Group meets again on December 6th at the Library at 10am. Please bring something festive for morning tea, and those with Kindles, please bring them.
There were great expectations of our latest novel, The Strays, by Emily Bitto, which is a fictional account of a colony of artists based on the 1930's, the Heide group in Melbourne. At the heart of the story, is Lily, the first person narrator, befriended by Eva Trentham and her family. It's through her eyes that we witness the gradual breaking up of the group, the resultant anarchy and the inevitable tragic results for 'the strays'.
Sadly, the narrative fails to sustain interest in what was after all, a momentous time in the history of Art in Australia. Much like the social experiment it describes, it just fizzles out. We were all a little disappointed.
There is no November meeting. We meet again on December 6th at the Library at 10am. Please bring something festive for morning tea, and those with Kindles, please bring them.
Helen, Stephen and Shirley - the last to leave in October!
Variously described as 'fast paced' and 'suspenseful', The Girl On The Train, a psychological thriller by Paula Hawkins, should have been engrossing, but, for us at least, it didn't live up to the hype.
The novel is mostly about Rachel, a depressive and an alcoholic, who sees something unexpected from her train window, which shatters her illusion of the perfect couple. Megan, the woman in question, goes missing and is later found dead, and so begins Rachel's obsessive desire to find the killer. Is it her ex-husband Tom, his wife Anna, Megan's husband Scott, or perhaps the psychotherapist? In spite of red herrings and withheld information, it becomes clear to the reader 'whodunnit', but by the end of the novel we simply don't care. There are many eminent writers in the crime genre, but sadly, Paula Hawkins isn't one of them.
Nowadays, tourists fly over the continent of Antarctica on a regular basis, but not many will know the intimate details of Douglas Mawson's historic 1911 Australasian Antarctic Expedition.
A recent study of the subject Flaws in the Ice: In Search of Mawson by David Day. Based on meticulous and extensive research, the author reveals the enormous challenges of a journey into uncharted territory and makes some controversial claims about Mawson's ability as a leader, his conduct on the trek leading to the death of his two companions and his status as a hero.
However, it's easy to debunk a hero from a distance but Mawson was a man of his time and his contributions to the study of geomorphology, hardly acknowledged by David Day shouldn't be ignored. The real interest in this novel was not in heroics but in the description of the small but significant everyday routines of the team members and their skills in improvisation e.g. building a stove that worked and using it to prepare special meals for Xmas and birthdays. All in all a comprehensive study of an interesting subject.
Our latest novel was The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George. This was translated from the German and was on best seller lists in 2013. Despite rave reviews from many critics, we were not impressed by this offering, proving yet again that 'best seller' status can be illusory.
We are asked to believe that the central character, Jean Perdu, lived in seclusion for 21 years, as he believed his lover had abandoned him. An unread letter reveals a different story, and so he sets out in pursuit of the truth, accompanied by some other less than credible characters on their own quests.
The best writing comes from the author's lyrical descriptions of French countryside.
Sadly, this isn't enough to save a novel too heavily reliant on co-incidences and an insubstantial plot.
The next meeting of E Book Group is scheduled for Tuesday 5th July at 10am in the Benalla Library.
Our novel for May was The Harp in the South by Ruth Park, first published in 1948. The edition we had on our Kindles included the three inter-related novels: Missus, The Harp in the South, and Poor Man’s Orange. These follow the lives of the Darcy family from the Outback to the inner urban slums of Sydney. Filled with intriguing characters and beautiful writing which describes the family’s relationships and struggle to find their place in a world of poverty and violence, they are great novels in the social realist tradition.
Our most recent title was The Good Greek Girl by Maria Katsonis. This novel is, in many ways, the standard account of the growing pains of a young woman in a Greek culture. Maria is a high achiever, who fulfils every expectation, except the one most important to her father: wife and mother. When she informs her parents she's gay, her father reacts violently towards her, and this triggers the mental breakdown which becomes the focus of the novel.
Maria's time in a mental hospital describes beautifully the horrors of incarceration and the difficulties of re-adjustment to a normal life. Yet for all this soul searching, readers may well feel that it's not so much her gay status that's the problem, but an inability to face her very real problems of a lack of empathy towards others in the midst of a high profile job.
There are many accounts of those contemplating life in a new country. One that stands out is Dreamwheeler by Deb Hunt, the story of Jane Lambert, who moves from her familiar world in London, to a little known region in France. But Jane's not just anybody. She's no longer young, she's in a wheelchair, and speaks not a word of French. The obstacles should be insurmountable, but, incredibly, are not, due to her persistence, determination, and belief in herself. She makes numerous friends, establishes the most beautiful garden, and finds Rene, the love of her life. In Jane's world, the word “can't” doesn't exist. She pushes the boundaries in every direction, and demonstrates just how joyous and fulfilling life can be.
This novel provoked a lively discussion about the many challenges faced by the not so young, equally determined to live life to the full.
Our last session for the year was a memorable one, finishing our list with Cloudstreet by Tim Winton - a fitting finale for a great year of books.
Post discussion, Steven downloaded Kindles with the books for 2016, chosen after much consideration by the group over the course of the year. We then tucked into some goodies, and reminisced about books read (not on the list!), and those we propose to read, in what promises to be a great year ahead. We have expressed our appreciation to library staff for providing such a wonderful venue for our meetings, and look forward to continuing in the
library next year.
We look forward to seeing our book group members next year, and of course, new members are always welcome.
This month, we enjoyed My Brother Jack, by George Johnston. In this saga about the growing up years of David Meredith, and his larrikin brother Jack, Johnston beautifully evokes the claustrophobia and the quiet desperation of suburbia, as seen through the eyes of David. Daring to question the hallowed Anzac tradition, the author outlines in spare and brutal detail, the horrors experienced by the returned servicemen, many maimed mentally and physically. Some of these men, with nowhere to go take up semi-permanent residence in the Meredith household. David Meredith, however, rises above this oppressive atmosphere to become famous as a war correspondent, while Jack's dream of serving overseas ends after a tragic accident. This novel is a breathtaking achievement on every level: as a social history, as a chronicle of war, and as a description of rites of passage.
PS: Can I remind those with Kindles to bring them, fully charged up, to the November meeting.
(in the Meeting room of the Library building, 9.45am)
Our most recent book was 'the curious incident of the dog in the night time', by Mark Haddon. Fifteen year old Christopher Boone is a very unusual narrator. He has Asperger's Syndrome, and because of it, has no emotional connection with people, not even his parents. However, he is also a brilliant mathematician, who uses his analytical skills, in the manner of Sherlock Holmes, an idol of his, to solve the murder of a dog. His second mystery, is to reconstruct the life of his mother, having found out through a series of letters that his mother had not died, as his father had told him. The pivotal part of the novel springs from this lie, which leaves Christopher deeply distrustful of his father, and motivates him to navigate his way through some formidable obstacles to find his mother in London. Described as stark, funny, and original, this novel is all that and more. It is a journey of self-discovery for Christopher, but it is also ours, as we come to question the meaning of 'normality', and the nature of family. The ending appears neat, as Christopher is reunited with his family, yet the gulf between him, his parents, and the reader is still immense and therein lies its poignancy.
Our book for next month is ‘My Brother Jack’.
PS: Please remember to bring your book selections for 2016 to our next meeting in October
‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ by Richard Flanagan was our ebook for July. Starting with his old age, five stages in the life and loves of the main character, Dorrigo Evans, are interwoven. He is a flawed hero, committed to Ella, but when his regiment is shipped out he is deep in adultery with Amy, his uncle’s wife.
The central event of the novel is an extended atrocity of the Burma Railway death railway as it is being constructed by hundreds of thousands of slaves, including 13,000 Australians. Dorrigo Evans as a colonel and a surgeon, is the acknowledged leader of the Australian prisoners after the fall of Singapore.
At every opportunity Dorrigo Evans tried to reason with the Japanese to improve conditions for the Australians. Flanagan wants nobody to be under any illusions about what went on and in this he succeeds brilliantly. Group members had widely differing about this book. Judith Borthwick
Our most recent novel was Fly Away Peter, by David Malouf. In this shimmering work of imagination, one of Australia's most honoured writers conjures a single still moment on the edge of the 20th century in which two unlikely people share a friendship. When Ashley Crowther returns to Australia to manage his father's property, he discovers a timeless landscape of kingfishers and ibises; he also meets Jim Saddler, the young naturalist who becomes Ashley's guide to his inheritance. Together they discard the differences of personality and class to enter a partnership of wonder. But when war breaks out in Europe, Jim and Ashley are drawn into the obscene enterprise of the trenches, where death falls from the sky and burrows out of the earth. In telling the story of these men, Fly Away Peter combines overwhelmingly sensual imagery with an unblinking consciousness of the worst that history can inflict to produce a novel of lyrical beauty. It concludes with the image of the surfer, captured for one fleeting timeless moment, both a hint of the future, and the realisation by Imogen that 'life just is.'
Our May book was The Year of Living Dangerously, by Christopher Koch. The year is 1965, and against a background of growing political instability in Indonesia, two characters stand out: journalist Guy Hamilton, newly appointed to Jakarta, and his cameraman, Billy Kwan, who also happens to be a dwarf. At first their relationship flourishes, but as Sukarno's grip on power falters, so too, does their friendship collapse, as Billy's hold on reality slips. The situation is further complicated by Jilly Bryant, who is loved by both men, but unsure of her personal or political allegiances. As their personal drama plays out, violence escalates, culminating in Billy's death, and ultimately, the slaughter of thousands of Communists, as Suharto stages a coup. Nowhere is Koch's brilliance in greater evidence, than his symbolic use of the famous Hindu puppet play, to demonstrate the duality of love/hate, good/evil and the nature of illusion, Finally, his creation of the tortured, deluded Billy Kwan, marks him out as a genius
Our book this month was The Stencil Man, by Garry Disher. The novel is based on a period of Australia's war time history, now long forgotten, in which thousands of people were interned as security risks, simply because they had come from Italy, Germany or Japan. Our fictional central character, Martin Linke, had been a model citizen for seventeen years, but suddenly found himself behind barbed wire, guarded by soldiers with bayonets. Faced with abuses of power, and bullying by hard core Nazis in the camp, he became increasingly bitter and introspective. Finally, driven to desperation by two failed appeals, and anxiety about his children, he escaped from the camp, into an uncertain future. The clear themes of this novel, anxiety, fear and alienation, are echoed in our present political landscape, in which many asylum seekers in detention centres, have become the new outsiders, denied freedom and due process.
Our group was surprised to discover that there had been a POW camp for Italians in Whorouly.
Don't forget our new meeting place is at the Library, June 2 at 10-30 am. It was suggested at last meeting that members of the group might like to bring their own mugs.
Our book for March was ‘Craft for a Dry Lake’, a memoir by first time author Kim Mahood. Kim Mahood takes us to the Australian Outback of her youth in this award-winning memoir. She explores her relationship with her father, her art and the places where she grew up, examining how a settler population relates to history and to land. An interesting discussion took place with different opinions being expressed but all enjoyed her evocative descriptions of the country.
Because The Centre was not available on the day our group met in the library.
Our next meeting will be held at the library on Tuesday 5th May at 10.00 am. Please arrive a little earlier so that our discussions can start at 10.00 sharp.
About the E-Book Group
Our E-book group is a forum for discussion of books, ranging from classic to contemporary fiction. To access the monthly book choice, participants are welcome to use their own E-readers/tablets, or borrow books from the library (when available). New members are always welcome, and will enjoy the atmosphere of lively debate, morning tea, and a general get together.
10 am to 12 noon
Convenor and contact details
Developed and maintained by our members, this website showcases U3A Benalla & District.
Photographs - acknowledgment to U3A members;
Weebly 'Free' images and Travel Victoria's
gallery of photographs of Benalla