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Book review ~ Burial rites

Title: Burial rites

Author: Hannah Kent

Published: 2013 by Picador, Australia

Adult fiction/ historical fiction

Burial Rites is a very popular book, on the book club circuit, at my library. This made reserving the book difficult due to its popularity. In my mind, I needed to read this book and once a copy became available I grabbed it. The expectations were confounded further upon discovering it is the first novel written by Hannah Kent, translated to over 20 languages, optioned for a Hollywood film and boasts an impressive list of awards as follows;

  • Shortlisted for The Stella Prize
  • Shortlisted for The Guardian First Book Award 2013
  • Winner of Indie Awards 2014
  • Winner of Victorian Premier’s Literary Award People’s Choice Award 2014
  • Winner of FAW Christina Stead Award 2014
  • Winner of ABA Nielsen Bookdata Booksellers’ Choice Award 2014
  • Shortlisted for NiB Waverley Award for Literature 2013
  • Shortlisted for Voss Literary Award 2014
  • Winner of ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2014
  • Winner of SMH Best Young Australian Novelist 2014
  • Winner of ABIA/Booktopia People’s Choice Award 2014
  • Shortlisted for Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014
  • Shortlisted for Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction 2014
  • Shortlisted for ALS Gold Medal 2014
  • Shortlisted for National Book Awards 2014
  • Winner of Davitt Awards Debut Fiction 2014
  • Winner of Davitt Awards Reader’s Choice 2014

(Source: http://www.panmacmillan.com.au/9781742612829 )

Hannah Kent spent some time in Iceland, on an exchange as a teenager. During this time, she learnt of Agnus Magnusdottir, the last woman to be executed in Northern Iceland, for her part in the murders of two men in 1829. This historical moment/story inspired Hannah Kent to go back, later in life, with intent to research the story and write this novel. The detail of the research process is outlined in the back pages of the book. At the beginning of the book is an outline of Icelandic genealogical passing on of names based on patrilineal heritage. Sometimes genealogical links can become unclear depending on social circumstance, position in the household and desires to keep infidelity hushed up. This provides an insight into relationships.

When I first started reading the novel, I found it difficult to become fully engaged. Even though the writing was great and I enjoyed trying to map names and relationships, it seemed somewhat held back. I discussed this with a friend who felt that the language was too contemporary for the period it was set in and thus detracted from the work, for her reading pleasures. Whilst I understood her point, I can’t see how the language could have been written differently. It may have made it even less accessible. Even though I was enjoying the read, I put it down for a week only a third of the way into the story.
When I picked up the novel again, I found I became more enthralled with each revelation in the story. At the outset of the novel Agnus barely spoke, as if her words could not be heard even if she tried. The language snippets suggested the power of society was how her story was being told and she had resigned herself to there being no point in trying to be heard. This concept of storying became something that needed to be questioned. As Agnus started opening up and storying, I became engrossed wanting to learn about her character, to understand her, to see the injustice in her in life. I became engrossed in examination of power relationships, the complexities of social and economic power and how women were intertwined with power, disempowerment and a process of finding power in the gaps that presented themselves.
Once engrossed, I wanted to keep reading. When I finished, I wanted more. By the end, I realized the sophistication of the story, the research and the capturing of power relations. I fell in love with the writing of this story. It is fiction yet somehow resonates a truth.
When you finish reading a book and you want to reread it again, because you may discover something overlooked in the first reading, is when you know how great the storying is.
You may be interested in the following review on Burial rites:
Fire and ice – written by Steven Heighten and published September 27, 2013 in The New York Times

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2015 in 094 ~ Printed books

 

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Book review- The Convent

Book review- The Convent

Title: The Covent

Author: Maureen McCarthy

Published: 2012 by Allen & Unwin  

 Young Adult fiction

In the Author notes, to The Convent, Maureen McCarthy shares a note written to herself from 1991. This note outlines a desire to find out more about her mum’s past, and her life as a ward of the state at the Abbotsford Convent. This is the seed that Spurs her extensive historical research in the development of a novel spanning four generations of women and their connections to The Convent over time. McCarthy declares ‘Like no other book I’ve written The Convent feels like mine’, highlighting the personal connection felt for the stories being told in the fictitious weaving of lives and interactions. 

The Convent covers the lives of four generations of women who have had connections with the Abbotsford Convent. Sadie, Ellen, Cecelia and Perpetua. Sadie’s three year old daughter Ellen is forcibly taken from her and raised at the Convent during the 1920’s. Ellen’s daughter Cecelia becomes a nun at The Convent during the 1960’s and Perpetua works in the cafe at The Convent after it has been reopened as an arts precinct with studios, cafes and galleries in contemporary times.

The intersection of stories is mapped through each of the women, their connection to each other, to The Convent and the connection with Perpetua (Peach) who is at the centre of these intersecting stories as the heart of the novel. 

The structure of the novel aids the delivery of the complexity of character and story development over an historical timeline spanning a century. This is easily achieved with each chapter in the novel titled by the characters name; from which the perspective is to be delivered. As historical moments shift in narrative, dates are provided to indicate moving back and forth in time, revealing situations, life changing incidents and the impact of social forces on the lives of women at different points in time. 

For me, the strength of this novel is its ability to capture the strength of the stories of women, despite hardships, different social mores in different socio-historical time periods, and the choices made impacting on lives lived. These choices are either by self or imposed by others contributing to life paths travelled. In some ways the stories in this novel capture the complexity of female empowerment and disempowerment at the same time across the different periods of time that is mapped.
I will definitely reread this novel!

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2015 in 094 ~ Printed books, Library, Literacy

 

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Review ~ Woman’s World: a graphic novel

Woman’s World: a graphic novel
By Graham Rawle
Atlantic Books London, 2005
ISBN: 9781843543688

Transitioning from reading for study purposes to reading for leisure has been a challenge these past few months and it has taken time to move into the world of fiction and reading for fun. However, Woman’s World is the first read that I have enjoyed.

Woman’s World is constructed entirely with found text from women’s magazines in the 1960’s. The author wrote the outline of the story and over five years replaced his written outline with text found and cut out from magazines. The author used a traditional cut and paste method to create the pages that were then scanned to make the final work.

This technique, in constructing a story, initially drew me to this novel. I was curious as to how it would read and whether it would work effectively without being disjointed. I wondered about the content of women’s magazines, from a particular time period, and whether it would create a context and culturally shape the world of the fiction created.

This method of constructing a novel, from text found in women’s magazines in the 1960’s, added to the layers of the story in a way I hadn’t considered. References to clothing, appearance and cleaning added meaning to the plot and contributed to character development and interactions.

With found text Rawle has created a work that captures the world of these magazines and a world of the characters in this novel. As ‘he do the police in a differnt voice’, a blogpost on IF: the future of books states “Rawle stitches phrases and words together to create something new’.

I didn’t know anything about the story before I started reading and I was pleasantly surprised with the ease I felt in losing myself in the storying. Suspense came into play and the emotional journeys took shape. My consciousness of the text from women’s magazines, was strongly present throughout my reading but this did not detract from the storying. Instead it proved crucial to the overall development enhancing the reading of the novel.

…I will not share the plot here as the thriller moments are best discovered by oneself. Enjoy.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2014 in 029 ~ [Unassigned]

 

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Book Review ~ The Promise: The Town That Never Forgets

The Promise: The Town That Never Forgets/Noublions jamais lAustralie by Derek Guille, illustrated by Kaff-eine, translated by Anne-Sophie Biguet, ISBN 9780987313959, One Day Hill. Hardback $24.99

The Promise

This non-fiction book depicts a century old relationship formed between a town in France, Villers-Bretonneux and Australia. The commitment to never forget the help provided by Australians, who saved them in World War I is expressed. Australia helped rebuild the town by providing some funds raised by school children in Victoria. Almost a century later, the people of Villers-Bretonneux returned help to Victorians after the bushfires that ravaged country towns. The article, ‘Bound by history, French children honour their debt’ in the Australian, provides information of the children from Villers-Bretonneux raising money to help rebuild the Strathewen primary school, and this is the event that forms part of the book.

Nelson Ferguson, a cornet player and artist, was a stretcher-bearer from Australia in Villers-Bretonneux, during World War I and suffered injuries. His grandson was inspired to travel on this journey and learn more about the town and the history. He invited musicians, from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) to form a brass band to play a private memorial at the Australian War Memorial, located just outside the village. Geoff Payne was amongst the musicians on this journey. Beyond the historical basis, of the connection between the two places, the book conveys a personal and emotional journey by Musicians from the MSO during a 2007 tour accompanied by the journalist and author of the book Derek Guille. It is the personal story of Geoff Payne that resonates with emotion in this journey. Whilst there, he discovers a photograph in the Memorial depicting his great uncles grave. The emotional impact of this discovery transfers to his ability to perform later that same day at the memorial.

I came to this book via a passion for the street art by the Artist Kaff-Eine. The artwork beautifully conveys the emotions depicted in the true story of the journey by musicians from the MSO in 2007 and it is the emotional connection that resonates. When Geoff Payne discovers a photograph a sense of feeling the shattering moment is captured in the artwork. The actual playing at the memorial heightens the emotional moment and affirms the enduring connection of the two countries. The artwork, by Kaff-Eine, is poignant in depicting the moments of emotion. The beautiful water-colour illustrations convey the story with a gentleness and contribute to the humanisation of this story about the harsh realities of tragedies and how they extend to affect people today.

This book was acquired for the school library and was placed on the display shelf as part of the lead up to ANZAC day. It is a bi-lingual book with the English story written on the top half of the page and the French translation written directly beneath. This contributes to relevance for Languages other than English (LOTE) programs in school, particularly if French is a subject studied. It is a great inclusion when exploring diversity and world connections with other cultures too.

Most non-fiction books, about history and war, in our collection depict prosaic iterations of history and its events. There aren’t many resources providing personalised perspectives, nor mapping a connection between Australia and another country over a significant period of time.

The Promise: The Town that Never Forgets, does not depict actual war experiences in detail, however moments are intertwined within the story of a modern day journey of musicians revisiting a town in France to play music at a private memorial. In the end it is a celebration of a connection formed during times of extreme situations. It’s a celebration of human bonding across borders and helps to make the world a somewhat smaller and friendlier place. It provides a faith in human capacity to provide support at times of greatest need.

Being able to review books, whilst working in a school library, contributes to greater knowledge of the library collection and assists in ability to provide recommendations to the school community about specific resources that are relevant to the curriculum. This book provides a fantastic avenue to explore the historical events mentioned by connecting with other available sources. Considering, History is now compulsory in the Australian Curriculum from Year 3 upwards, an evaluation of resources available in the library to support the curriculum is vital.

 

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