Category Archives: Print

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.

MothersMilkj

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

Review: Things That Matter: Stories of life & death

Things that matter – By Dr David Galler

If ever I am unfortunate enough to require intensive care assistance, let it by at the hands of New Zealand’s intensive care specialist Dr David Galler. That’s the lasting impression I gained from reading this book.

Without the dramas of a Grey’s Anatomy, Galler’s life/death stories are picked to illustrate the principles physicians should live by, but are equally interesting to the laywoman.

It’s an easy read. Medical terms are explained in simple language. The stories are grouped into chapters illustrating the function/dysfunction of the major organs of the body.

As well as a clear demonstration of his expertise and efficiency, Dr Galler’s humanity shines clearly through the pages.  Comments on the madness of political action or inaction creep into the narrative, along with observations about a body’s normal reaction to trauma and disease.  He’s clearly a man-of-the-people. I hope his medical students hear the sub-text of his teachings.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Review: Devotion

Devotion by  London author, Louisa Young, tackles the issue of how gradually, easily, an adoring population can accept the rise of a repressive regime. It’s a must-read, well written and crafted novel that keeps you hooked in to the end.

Image result

Young’s coming-of-age love story is set in Italy and England in the 1930s, and weaves the story of Nenna and Tom as they battle the conflicting loyalties of family and the State during the rise of Mussolini’s fascist rule.

English Tom and his family visit Italian, recently rediscovered, cousin Aldo and his family. The Italian family is Jewish by heritage, and also proud Romans. Only recently freed from the Jewish ghetto in Rome, they and their neighbours welcome and adore el Duce as a saviour and unifier of Italy and its factions. (Go here to read about the buildings and places mentioned in Devotion)

New and powerful Italy

As Aldo becomes involved as an engineer in the draining of swamps and marshes and turning the land into ideal towns for Italians, he comes to replace his commitment to Judaism with a new belief in the emerging fascist state. Whatever Mussolini decrees, good and bad, is skewed in Aldo’s mind to be necessary for the advancement of the new and powerful Italy.

Slow to dawn

Tom’s understanding of what is really going on is slow to dawn, and then leaves him desperate to save the Italian cousin’s from their fate. In Tom’s words:

“There has been a thick layer of scales over your eyes —

“When are you meant to realise?

“– and each person’s scales are stuck on with different glue, and each glue is soluble in a different moment of truth. And time passes and things add up and sooner of later you look up, you grow up, and you realise. You see how tidelines have shifted and boundaries flexed; the lighting has changed, the angles tilted …  strength became tyranny, determination became bullying, patriotism became xenophobia, self-respect became arrogance.”

World War II

Each of the credible, well-drawn characters confronts their own powerlessness, or failure to act, as the world creeps towards the inevitability of World War II.

The novel raises many issues, including the challenge of how we might choose to ignore uncomfortable truths or actions if our own nation should chip away at democracy. Is the practical benefit worth the obliteration of opposition?

Devotion is good?

One of those books that will stay in my mind for a long time. This book is the third in a series of three exploring the lives of the main adult characters: Nadine, Riley and Peter Locke.  I am certainly now a devoted reader of Louisa Young and will be searching out her previous titles.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Review: The Ninth Hour

by Alice McDermott

If you’ve watched the TV series “Call the Midwife”, then you’ll feel right at home reading “The Ninth Hour” by Alice McDermott. In fact I had to remind myself that this story of selfless nuns was taking place in Brooklyn, New York, not the south end of London after the war. McDermott’s novel portrays many universal themes of women’s oppression around that era, and the consequences of being poor and sick.

A rather bleak story, the novel offers insights into the lives of these religious women and illustrates the self-motivation required to give your life to God. With their focus on finding workable solutions for the unfortunate people they work for, occasionally they have to bend the rules. For Annie, an Irish immigrant who came to America and was widowed early, life was extremely bleak until the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor stepped in to give pregnant Annie a job in the convent’s laundry.

Annie and her daughter Sally live a cloistered life, eventually leading teenage Sally to believe that her calling is to join their religious order. The outcome of this decision demonstrates the internal struggles of boundless love for one’s fellow humans, and how challenging this can be for women in religious orders.

McDermott shows rather than tells her story, challenging the reader to read between the lines and understand the true meaning of sacrifice for these women as they struggle to improve the lives of those they serve in their community.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author