Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 4, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation, from Atonement, to …

I enjoyed Kate’s post at Books are my Favourite and Best for this month’s #6Degrees but I had to get out my reading journal to see what I thought of it.  I read Ian McEwan’s Atonement first in 2002, and an audiobook edition in 2005, and I liked even more the second time round because I really liked the narration by Isla Blair.

My favourite audio book of all time is Campbell Scott’s narration of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve listened to this.  I borrowed it two or three times from my library, and then bought a copy so that I could listen to it with an iPod on long haul flights.

Long haul flights are a test of any reader because as the hours roll by one tends either to nod off or to become brain dead from lack of sleep.  What’s needed is something that either you know very well (as in the Hemingway) or some author who – without being an insult to one’s intelligence – recycles the same plots over and over and makes no demands on memory or comprehension.  I have also found Penny Vincenzi perfect for long boring trips bouncing over rough roads in the Australian outback, because the print is large…

Bouncing over rough roads is really not my thing, but it is worth it to get to the Hunter Valley.  One of my best holidays ever was when we stayed at a cottage out of town, where I spent almost the entire blissful week reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall punctuated only by The Spouse coming back home from reconnaissance trips to find nice places for lunch.  This was necessary because we had no dishwasher.  Or TV, or phone reception.  Uploads to my travel blog had to be done in Cessnock.  Bellbird Cottage is as close to roughing it as I am prepared to go.

Now you might think that this lack of enthusiasm for roughing it in the bush makes me ‘unAustralian’ but I am proud to share this quality with one of my favourite Indigenous authors, Anita Heiss.  In her memoir ‘Am I Black Enough for You?’ she jokes that when she is tackled about her distaste for camping, she replies that ‘Five stars are the only stars I want to sleep under’, and that’s exactly how I feel too.

Talking of five stars, this is a good time to mention a five-star book.  I am mean with my five stars, I reserve them for spectacular books like James Joyce’s Ulysses and Patrick White’s Voss so I didn’t rate anything with five stars last year even though I really, really liked many of the books I read.   But this year I rated The Beat of the Pendulum by Kiwi author Catherine Chidgey as a five-star read and I was really disappointed when it didn’t make it past the longlist of the Ockhams. I thought it was a brave, innovative and thoroughly engaging book… which just shows you that I am sometimes out of step with the judges who make the decisions about these things.

I really hope I’m not out of step with this year’s Miles Franklin judges, because I am hoping that Gerald Murnane wins some long overdue recognition with his Border Districts. This year there’s a really strong shortlist as indeed was the longlist but since Murnane says that this is his last work of fiction, it’s our last opportunity to acknowledge his world-class body of work.  Whereas all the other authors have years of producing great work ahead of them, and two of them, Michelle de Kretser and Kim Scott have won it before.  Not that winning before should exclude a writer, others have won it multiple times, but this year is probably Murnane’s last chance.  Unless we are lucky and he decides to write something else!

We will know soon, the winner will be announced later this month.

So there you are… #6Degrees done again, and thanks to Kate for hosting:)



  1. You always give me ideas as to what to read next, although I will be a while away from anything new as I tread slowly through The Seventh Cross.
    Wolf Hall is on my list, but I loved the television adaptation and that is often the kiss of death of a book for me, I have such a difficult time trying to forget the actors :(
    Atonement was another one unfortunately, as was The English Patient, both the screen adaptations were so beautiful that I couldn’t reconcile the original written work (mind you the latter was such a horrible book that I was amazed the film was so compelling).

    • Thanks, Jenny:)
      I know what you mean about film before book, it can indeed be the kiss of death, in both directions. I can’t stand the adaptations of the Austen books.

  2. I love Ian McEwan’s novels and I’m a big fan of Gerald Murnane too – he was my first writing teacher which I know I’ve mentioned before:)

    • I bet he would be proud of you, Marie, and all that you have done with the skills he taught you:)
      (I bet he’s never been awarded Citizen of the Year!)

  3. Oh yes, Gerald Murnane for ‘Border Districts’. I DO hope so!

    • Well we three (you, me and Mairi) are going to sulk big time if he doesn’t win.

  4. How funny that you had to look up what you thought of Atonement. That is one book whose impact we never forgotten, along with a Couple of other McEwans.

    I enjoyed your linking by travel. More and more now I use movies to pass the time – now that we can choose our own from a big selection. As for roughing it, I’m not into that either. Arnhem Land was roughing it in terms of the actual bumpy roads, but the vehicle was in beautiful condition, and our accommodation wonderful – our own en suite cabins or very fancy (5 Star!) tents, with floors, balconies and queen or often king-size beds. I have never done a true camping holiday since a student days one in NZ,

    Oh and I laughed about having to go out for lunch because no dishwasher. You sound like Mr Gums!

    • Ah, I should have explained. When I looked up Atonement at Goodreads (to get a cover image of it) my eye fell upon the top-rated review by ‘Violet’ which began with the words “Atonement is a post-modernist interpretation of historical fiction. How historical fiction is a kind of double fiction, a fiction within a fiction” (See
      Gosh, I thought, did I think that (or anything like it) when I read it?
      Well, no, #EpiocFail I didn’t. Not the first time I read it nor the second time when I listened to it on the daily commute. What I remembered was the tragedy of the child ruining the man’s life, and that is what I wrote about in my journal!

      • Haha, I see. There was that tricksy part of the book – I remember it well because a member in my reading group absolutely hated that aspect of it, but I loved it, and the idea that Briony saw writing the story as a way of atonement – but my overall impression was and is that of immense sadness for a child’s misreading a situation and creating such havoc as a result. Sad for them all.

        • I found it devastating…

          • It was – I use the word gutwrenching for books like this.

  5. I laughed too at eating out bc no dishwasher. I agree about the stars. Not many 5 star books for me and I too enjoy sleeping under 5 stars though that is as rare as those 5 star books.

    • One load of dishes a day is enough for a dame on holiday. You should be aware too that when The Spouse did/does the cooking he is profligate with saucepans &c because the deal is that he shops and cooks and I clean up afterwards. (Unlike any sane woman, he does not clean up as he goes). So, trust me, these activities are roughly equivalent, except that guests always gush (with justification) about his wonderful cooking but never tell me how good I am at stacking the dishwasher or scrubbing out the pans by hand…
      PS Last night we had Sashi’s Prawn Sambal for dinner, the recipe that won MasterChef. It is divine, and not too difficult at all. (Except that the pan the prawn heads were cooked is *still* soaking.) See

      • Very funny. My husband won’t let me near the kitchen during the whole dinner and clean up. I am relegated to the kitty litter clean up or the garden🐧🤠

        • Now that sounds like a deal!

  6. So, first – you can read whilst in the car?! Lucky you. I get carsick just at the thought of reading in the car.

    The whole Miles Franklin thing is something I vacillate over (& other awards) – is about honouring a body of work or the one work on show that particular year?
    The Plains was one of the most extraordinary reading experiences of my life, & I’m amazed that Murnane has been ignored by the whole awards process. But I’ve just finished Taboo, and I was once again treated to an extraordinary reading experience. It’s a tough call.

    • It is indeed a tough call. Last year was a stellar year for OzLit – and don’t forget that Richard Flanagan refused to have his book entered, so that was one less terrific book for the judges to wrestle with.

  7. I’ve read some of your books for a change, Atonement to help a daughter with an assignment and I agree with you about Murnane. I’ve always avoided Hemingway, but have listened to Wolf Hall. I’d have to think about a favourite audiobook but I’ve listened to a couple of beauties read by the author.

    • Ha! Now I’m on a mission to encourage you to listen to For Whom The Bell Tolls on one of your long trips. I do not think that there’s any risk that you might hate it and write up an excoriating review.

      • Now I wouldn’t dare.

        • If it doesn’t make you feel intense compassion for the doomed Republicans, I’d be very surprised.

    • Read by the author always adds an element I reckon – they know where the emphasis needs to be! I listened to Flanagan reading Narrow Road and it was just brilliant. That said, I recently started listening to Toni Morrison reading Beloved and I’ve had to switch to the book – her writing is so, so dense and that combined with her very even, gentle voice made it difficult to distinguish the action from the detail if my attention drifted.

      • It’s a crucial choice, the choice of narrator. Some authors might know where the emphasis should be but they are no good at reading aloud.
        I had to take something back to the library recently because I couldn’t stand the flat, emotionless reading of it.

  8. Your Penny Vincenzi link made me laugh. Like you, I am one of the lucky people that can read in the car. My husband prefers to drive, so obviously we have the perfect arrangement :-) I do look forward to our biennial trip to Canberra because I read a whole book on the way there and another on the way back.

    I will have to hunt down that version of For Whom the Bell Tolls. A good narrator makes or breaks an audio book. Last year I read Glorious Heresies (and gave it five stars) and then backed it up by listening to the audio version. The superb dialogue was even better with Irish accents and I will certainly listen to the book again.

  9. I had to laugh at your lack of enthusiasm for roughing it in the bush. I actually love roughing it but I’ve never been able to read in the car for extended periods. Sounds like I should try a large print edition – it might do the trick. I struggled with Atonement, and never actually finished it, but with all the positive reviews, I’m thinking I should give it a second go.

  10. What a varied list! Certainly travels far and wide.

    • It’s such fun doing this… I wonder which ones you would choose…

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