Who doesn’t like a good read? Some that I read this November were:
Autumn Laing by Alex Miller
Miller thought he was going to write a book about a famous Australian artist, Sidney Nolan, which would have included his relationship with Sunday Reed. Sunday, with her husband John, owned land on the banks of the Yarra River in Melbourne. Their home, ‘Heide’, became a centre for artists who were pushing the boundaries of Australian art. They were looking for a way to tell the Australian story and not just follow the European one.
However, the voice of Autumn Laing, who is loosely based on Sunday Reed, dominated Miller’s mind and then his story. At the beginning of the novel Autumn is a feisty, farting old lady, who is furious to find that she feels the need for redemption. She begins to write the story of her affair with emerging, powerful artist, Pat Donlon (again, loosely based on Nolan), and the impact it has on her husband Arthur and Donlon’s wife Edith, as well as their friends.
I think Miller has two strengths. Firstly his ability to create characters. I enjoyed the way he wove his descriptions through the book and even the minor characters, such as Stony, have solidity and interest.
The second strength is the way he has the philosophical discussion about Australian art through the book. There is no polemic, but Miller looks at the issue from a range of different view points, from Edith’s to Louis’, and especially Donlon’s — don’t talk about it, just do it. And then there is Autumn’s realisation as she flies above inland Queensland
“Scrawled lines of green and gold and deep brown, random silver foil meanders, broken and uncertain in their courses, and white sky windows through to the world on the other side of this world. Australia was revealed to me as an elaborate, multicoloured etching; the vision of an unknown artists’s eye. A portrait of my country, unfamiliar to me, wrinkled and crumpled, scratched and scoured. Broken with abrupt shifts of tone and form, stains and inexplicable runs of colour one into the other, purple and rose madder, vast swathes of grey and fierce angry dragon spots of emerald green.” (p389-90)
It was our Book Club book for the month and our discussion was lively as we tried to come to grips with creativity, Australian art and truth — accompanied, of course, by glasses of champagne, a cheese platter and a yummy orange cake. Thanks for suggesting the book Marie!
A castle in Spain by Matthew Parris
There are many books about Englishmen and women buying and renovating derelict houses in Mediterranean countries. Parris’ book is different because it is largely about the house, l’Avenc and the surrounding Catalan countryside, rather than the trials and tribulations of builders and red tape.
L’Avenc is high on a cliff in the Collsacabra area in Catalunya (Catalonia), the hinterland of Barcelona. The house was partly Gothic and then added on to in the Renaissance. When it was bought by Parris, his sister and brother-in-law it had been deserted for decades. Rebuilding it took time and money, and skilled labour from local craftsmen.
I have become fascinated by the Pyrenees after a trip to south-west France earlier this year. This book fueled my interest in this area south of these magnificent mountains. He describes a landscape of rugged beauty and villages carved from stone, of walking tracks that take you along cliff tops and through gorges. An area to wander through and enjoy. And all of this just a short drive from the Costa Brava coast.
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
Just when I thought I had read all the Prachett books in my library, another one jumps out at me from the shelf. This continues the fabulous Discworld series. Like the others, it kept me amused!