Posted by: sallycripps | November 17, 2008

BBRLM October 2008 (Sally)

Brief reviews by Sally Cripps.

* Small World by David Lodge – 7/10
I was expecting a campus novel and got a sex romp. Yes, hard to tell the difference sometimes, but this tale of lecture circuit junkets frequently made me feel like I was reading a Mills and Boon, more than the exploration of ideas I was after. It started off well – lots of dog-eared pages referencing characters with writer’s block, quoting Freud to explain an obsession with reading, and the laying out of reading as endless encoding and decoding, in quite a funny and satirical manner. Characters are introduced enduring a ghastly literature conference at one of England’s redbrick unis. Apart from naive Persse McGarrigle, who lackes the posturing of the others, it became a cast of thousands for me, all with the initial R in their name, making them even harder to differentiate. Lodge then decided to wind a few different genres – romance, thriller, comedy – into the story to make a point, but I thought it was contrived. He also introduced an irritating “wheeee” at intervals to describe, firstly the speed at which the characters travelled the world by plane, but also the vacuousness and small-mindedness of the academics in their small world. Having networked at a few conferences myself, there were some gems in Lodge’s work, and I loved looking back at the ease of air travel in the 1980s. I just found the story verging on slapstick at times.

* Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital – 8.5/10
A genre bender of the first order – thriller, magical realism and good literature – a fascinating reimagining of the Greek myth of the muse who went to the underworld to beg for his lover back. In this case it’s Southern mathematician Leela in search of her lover Mischa Bartok, in more ways than one. The background to these characters – Leela’s upbringing by a strict Baptist minister, Mischa’s Jewish refugee family snuggled in Queensland’s Daintree rainforest, along with the troubled presence of childhood friend Cobb, who’s living with the demons of a father scarred by Vietnam – brought a whole other dimension to the story. The love story between the two, set at Harvard, is shaken by terrorist explosions in which Mischa seems to be implicated. Leela is troubled by his disappearances and what he’s not saying. We live in a time of mistrust and Hospital uses that to unwind a tale occurring between the US, Beirut, Australia and Iraq. Flashbacks, varying points of view and dream sequences are all used, giving the book a dreamy, gentle quality despite its gross interrogation scenes. Very much a moral story, looking at being true to one’s roots, to sorrow at the horror of three wars, and to always question points of view and what we think we know. Very moving and thought-provoking.

* Almost French by Sarah Turnbull – 8/10
A very pleasurable look at French culture and their often perplexing ways, made especially relevant by the author’s Australian perspective. “Sarah’s like me,” this reader thought, “so this will be something I can relate to.” And indeed I could, especially as she seems to share many of my character traits – a casual approach to entertaining, open and friendly to all, irreverent, valuing equality in relationships, and of course, a journo. How interesting it was to follow not only Sarah’s makeover into someone “almost French”, but her desire to do so. I truly cannot imagine myself giving up all that I value about being Australian for the formality that comes with centuries-old tradition – the not-talking at dinner parties, the female rivalry, the attention to looks and the outer self – but then, I could never imagine wanting to do more than visit the country. Becoming an expatriate is something I couldn’t contemplate but something Sarah had to commit to, to be comfortable. I’m still not sure I understand why Frenchwomen insist on such stifling rigidity but at least I can see it’s deeply ingrained. I imagine that being a journalist gives Sarah a keen eye, and she had a light touch with her words. I sometimes found myself wishing I could know Frederic a little better but I guess it wasn’t actually a biography.

NB The Australian Copyright Act 1968 (the Act) allows 10% of the number of words on this website to be reproduced and/or communicated by any Australian educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or the body that administers it) has given a notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under Part VB of the Act. For details of the CAL licence for educational institutions contact: Copyright Agency Limited, Level 15, 233 Castlereagh St, Sydney NSW 2000 Ph 612 93947600 Fax 612 93947601 Email: info@copyright.com.au Except for personal use or as permitted under the Act (e.g. for the services of the Crown or in reliance on one of the fair dealing exceptions i.e. a fair dealing for the purposes of research or study) no part of this website may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, communicated or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission. All inquiries should be made to the copyright owner Sally Cripps at w.sf.cripps at bigpond dot com


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