Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Book Notes: 'The Valley of the Moon' by Jack London

The Valley of the MoonThe Valley of the Moon by Jack London

Others have suggested this was the forerunner to Jack Kerouac's On the Road, but this is only evident in the third book. I was surprised by a dead-end thread character who reappears only briefly to show the changes in the prize-fighting protagonist as he becomes wiser. The usual Jack London class consciousness is evident but this time he seems to highlight the false consciousness of the proletariat not as a consequence of the system per se, but as the fault of an individual's lack of imagination. Although somewhat the epic, an interesting read that gripped me whenever I picked it up. And surprisingly, no classic London macabre ending to regret, although the climax is the weaker for it.

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Monday, 18 July 2016

Book Notes: 'Animal Farm' by George Orwell

Animal FarmAnimal Farm by George Orwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I read the various characters' speeches, I was thinking of essay questions. "Read Major's speech and identify the theories of the great economic thinkers"; obviously Marx, but also Ricardo, Spencer et al. This Everyman's version contains a useful chronology outlining Orwell's life, and at each point, what was happening in literary circles and world events. Two of Orwell's (Blair's) prefaces were included as appendices. It would have been helpful to have access to (or, rather, noticed) such useful thoughts from the author in high school, but I suppose that such information would have been lost in my inexperience. The introduction by Julian Symons is concise but helpful, and now, of course, I must read Sir Bernard Crick's George Orwell: A Life.

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Sunday, 17 July 2016

Book Notes: 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' by Joan Lindsay

Picnic at Hanging RockPicnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recall seeing the movie many years ago, but apart from the mysterious scene where the young women disappear, there was no trace of a story in my memory to influence my reading. The final page left me tingling. The story is rather creepy in a fatalistic way. Yet it is very good and I am pleased to have embarked upon my journey through Australiana literature.

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Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Book Notes: 'Jerry of the Islands' by Jack London

Jerry of the IslandsJerry of the Islands by Jack London

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book captures a part of the history of the Solomon Islands (and indeed, Australia), that has been conveniently forgotten. This book should be called Jerry the Racist Dog and it is difficult to see how the author's attitudes are not racist. Nevertheless, as I was recently informed by a reliable source, Lolita did not necessarily make Nabokov a paedophile, but it is still confronting. Written in the style of White Fang and Call of the Wild, the story is from Jerry's perspective, although more than a decade later. And unlike his stories about humans, the animal stories tend to have happy endings. I found an article in an Australian newspaper that shows part of London's inspiration for the book. While I must reserve judgement until I read some more of London's work, but in the meantime, I find it difficult to rate this book too highly.

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Friday, 8 July 2016

Book Notes: 'The Great Railway Bazaar' by Paul Theroux

The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through AsiaThe Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia by Paul Theroux

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I must admit that I enjoy travel novels. While not really fiction, there is typically a story with a beginning and an end that coincides with the departure and the arrival. Sometimes factual and historical, such as Sven Hedin's Silk Road, and at other times then-contemporary snapshots of a particular period in the recent past. This book includes the first chapter of Theroux's Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, which covers the same journey as The Great Railway Bazaar but thirty years later. I must say that I am not a fan of such marketing of other books. A simple pointer to the new book would have been sufficient but now I am compelled to read this first chapter so the former book is properly "finished". I often keep my own journals when I travel, and I have several all waiting to be retyped or rediscovered. Sometimes I will keep a journal during the mundane times and write simply what happened. It is often banal. Theroux apparently wrote in the past tense as it happened, but it is his reflections and self-deprecating manner, especially towards the end of his journey, that captures how one must feel at the end of four months' train travel. I found this aspect, along with the historiographical capturing of the past viewed from the perspective of someone living in the mid-seventies, to be particularly engaging. As a consequence, this was an easy and enjoyable read and re-affirms my taste for good travel novels.

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Creative Commons License Except where indicated otherwise, Connecting the Nation by Michael de Percy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License. Based on a work at politicalscience.com.au. Background image ©Depositphotos.com/ @redshinestudio