Category Archives: drama

A Plague Among Us

The Black Plague is not a thing of the middle ages, as I had imagined. It is still claiming the lives in many countries as I discovered after doing some research following my reading of Geraldine Brooks’ novel Year of Wonders.

My research uncovered for me this article showing the active areas of the world where new plague cases are recorded:

https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/865581/Black-Death-Madagascar-plague-Congo-Peru-United-States-bubonic-pneumonic

Apparently the plague is as deadly as ever, if not recognised and treated by antibiotics early. Part of its viciousness is the bacteria’s necrotising (flesh rotting) effect. This is graphically portrayed in Brooks’ well-researched novel of a village that sacrifices itself to contain the disease and protect those in the surrounding areas.

Based on real events in the village of Eyam, which can be uncovered here: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-35064071, Brooks has created some three-dimensional characters, but other real people listed among the dead, appear in the novel under their real names, including the first victim (above) tailor George Viccars, who is presumed to have contracted the disease from fleas contained in a bolt of fabric received from a stricken area of London.

Brooks, a former war correspondent, has an easy to read, compelling writing style that sweeps you along with the tale.  As she writes about the reality of life in draughty stone cottages, with water that had to be fetched and heated over open fires, and sleeping in bedding of hay, she also reveals many of the beliefs of the Middle Ages. We see the women who were village herbalists being persecuted as witches and the wealthy dismissing loyal servants without thought of them having human needs.

The glimpse into Medieval times and living conditions makes one realise how “soft” we are in our Western lives.  But my thanks go to those scientists, like Alexander Fleming et al, for discovering antibiotics and rescuing us from leeches and blood-letting.

Heather Sylvawood
Amazon Author

King Rich–by Joe Bennett

Review by Heather Sylvawood

A daughter aches to find her missing father – a father whom her mother has blamed and bad-mouthed most of her remembered childhood.

The trigger for the search?

The 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

Annie returns from Britain and begins her search under first the guidance of her cynical nursing friend, Jess, and later her father’s old friend Vince, uncovering along the way the underbelly of a powerful family intent on protecting the family business.

KingRich

Alongside this story Bennett reveals a man, beset by demons of his own making. Apparently not a likeable character, yet as the story progresses we gain a sneaking regard for the broken alcoholic.

Familiar streets and events

Readers who know Christchurch will recognise familiar streets, familiar sites, familiar people and events. In fact, I found some of his characters so close to known people that I wondered if they might have been speed-dialling their lawyers. But then, would they bother objecting to such fiction?

Bennett’s writing is clean and crisp, and his observation of human reactions is succinct. He resists the Hollywood ending, while tying the ends comfortably together. A good read especially for those for whom the memory of the broken city of Christchurch touches the heart as much as it does mine.

Book: King Rich, by Joe Bennett, published by Fourth Estate, www.harpercollins.co.nz

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Welcome to the Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club

The Fairvale Ladies … by Sophie Green

Don’t be put off by this extraordinarily long title  – there is much to recommend it for its glimpse of the authentic lives of women in the outback of Australia.

This novel, set in the late 1970s, weaves together the lives of five outback women through the unlikely excuse of meeting to discuss various books. As they discuss well-known novels their lives unfold and friendships develop between these dissimilar women.

The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club

It’s an interesting tale of life in the Australian outback, where the wet and dry seasons weave circumstances that impact on each of the women through the four years over the duration of the novel. If I was to pinpoint my lasting impression from this book it would be the skilful portrayal of the environment of the Northern Territory.

Characters are a bit too nice

I felt few of the characters developed into three-dimensional beings and that their beliefs and outlook was ‘’’told’ rather than demonstrated by their actions. The character of Della, in particular for me, did not develop any roundness or believability as a young, diffident Texan who falls in love with an Aboriginal stockman. They were all such ‘nice’ people, even the emotionally abusive husband reforms near the end of the tale.

The book’s saving grace is the brilliant portrayal of the harsh realities of outback life. So if you’re looking for a novel with an unusual setting, then join the Fairvale ladies as they handle what life throws them in their outback corral.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Review: Mother’s Milk

A few pages into Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn, and I was well aware that this is a challenging novel. St Aubyn juxtaposes child characters on the edge of believability with adults who struggle with the realities of relationship changes. It demands that you “suspend your critical eye” until you reveal the gems within.

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Edmund White from the Guardian is quoted as saying in a review: “Mother’s Milk is a dazzling exploration of the troubled allegiances between parents and children, husbands and wives …” and that sums up the novel for me. Despite the child characters who seemed far too perceptive for their ages, the novel exposes the rocky landscape of relationships in moments of brilliant truism.

It begins with laugh out loud caustic wit such this example of the father commenting on situations and dialogue related to parenthood.

The nanny instructs the new parents: “Give him plenty of water, dear. It’s the  only way to cool them down. They can’t sweat at that age.”

“Another amazing oversight,” said his father. “Can’t sweat, can’t walk, can’t talk, can’t read, can’t drive, can’t sign a cheque. Foals are standing a few hours after they’re born. If horses went in for banking, they’d have a credit line by the end of the week.”

As the book progresses through the realities of the characters’ experiences this humour disappointingly ebbs. It’s as if the strains of fatherhood wear the father, Patrick, down and smother his light-heartedness.

Told through the eyes of first-born Robert, and later his father Patrick, we’re introduced to Robert’s feelings about his mother’s absorption in second son, Thomas, his eccentric grandmothers, and the relationship between his parents. At times his perception feels too old for his years.

Yet there are gems of dialogue throughout, including this in the last pages of the novel:

“Am I being childish?” asked Thomas, approaching his father.

“No,” said Patrick. “You’re being a child. Only grown-ups can be childish, and my God, we take advantage of the fact.”

I can see why Mother’s Milk was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2006. What I didn’t realise was that it was Book 4 in a series about the Melrose family. That aside, I suggest you read it and be prepared to feel a sense of personal déjà vu from St Aubyn’s clever pen/computer/writing.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Gossip-end of the Grapevine

Heather Sylvawood, www.writegear.co

I have lived in small towns or villages in New Zealand for most of my life, and I have been amazed to find that I’m the last to hear the latest in gossip. At one time I commented to my partner: “We need to put up a sign – The End of the Grapevine.”

A grapevine is a wonderful illustration of how news travels in small communities. The tendrils snake into the smallest crevices and cling tight, and then the flowers that the tendrils support blossom and develop into fruit.

grapevineBlog

Looking for evidence

Like grapevines, gossip sneaks into minds and our minds look for evidence to validate what we’ve been told (true or false). We rarely look for evidence to refute the gossip, just to substantiate it.

When we’re intent on seeing what we’re looking for, more evidence that supports the gossip appears. At this stage our minds are headed in one direction: “the news is true”. When it’s based on a misinterpretation of something, these creeping Chinese whispers can cause irreparable harm.

A modern twist on gossip

We tend to think of gossip as titbits of news passed on from person to person as opposed to being broadcast through accepted media – television, newspapers, news websites etc.  Prior to the invention of printing presses by German Johannes Gutenberg around 1440, however, word-of-mouth or letters were the only way to disseminate information, person-to-person. Nowadays our gossip comes through more sophisticated sources, yet it’s really no more than an expanded version of person-to-person chat.

Our ability to observe and translate what we see, is the basis of all news. Reporters see violence and in a split second translate this, based on the evidence around them, into a report that purports to be the truth of the  matter. The next step in their process is to corroborate their observations before jumping into print or broadcast. Yet even these trained observers can sometimes get things wrong. 

But is gossip all bad?

Individuals are not held back by the constraint of hard evidence. They see something, translate it, and tell others. The ‘others’ add this information to knowledge they already have and hey presto the news flows. If something really is happening that needs to be in the public eye, gossip will do it. The fear of causing gossip is a natural constraint to keep most of us honest.

“Reputation systems promote cooperation and deter antisocial behavior in groups,” according to The Virtues of Gossip: Reputational Information Sharing as Prosocial Behavior by Matthew Feinberg, Robb Willer, Jennifer Stellar, and Dacher Keltner. 2012.

The researchers claim that when an individual observes or experiences antisocial behaviour, they are generally compelled to share it with other potentially vulnerable people. As the information spreads, the perpetrators of the antisocial behaviour are likely to be ostracized and brought into line with accepted community behaviours.

That works well unless the individual who first passes on the information is not telling the truth, or embroidering the information to enhance their own reputation.  But on the whole, gossip gives us new ideas, alerts us to wrong-doing, and makes us feel we’re a trusted member of the group. Not “at the end of the grapevine”.

Heather Sylvawood, www.writegear.co