Sunday, November 30, 2008

Greedy reading

I've been feeling a bit frail over the last few days, nothing major, just sore and tired, and pissed off with not being able to walk any faster than a steady hobble. Still, I must be grateful that I can walk at all, and get off the whinge wagon. It's still a treat to not have to do anything, and yesterday and today I decided to do what I've always loved doing -- lie in bed and read.

The book I chose was Wendy James's The Steele Diaries, a book that, I should openly state, was sent to me by the author, *not* as a review copy, but rather that if I liked it, could I tell my friends about it, as a kind of viral campaign. Of course! I love telling my friends about books I read, and if I liked it enough, I thought at the time, I'll blog about it.

I loved it. The link I gave above gives a great precis of the story, and is worth clicking. It's one of those books that sucks you in and doesn't want you to put it down. I read it in two big greedy sessions, only broken by sleep and a quick (and well-needed to escape cabin fever) hobble from car to seat excursion to the cinema to catch Brideshead Revisited before it finished.

Apart from the well-constructed plot, there are lovely references to figures from Australian art, shape-shifted just enough to be recognisable but refreshed, moved geographically and their familiarity used to add depth to the central premise -- the quandary that all creative women have to face regarding work vs family choices. It's a theme that has both local and international flavour in this book, but the most recognisable historical thread is that of the lives of John and Sunday Reed, Joy Hester and others of the Antipodean scene of the '30s, '40s and '50s. If you know their stories, this novel is rich with layers.

As far as Zelda's art was concerned, I could not help thinking of one of my favorite artist/illustrators, Wanda Ga'g, whose biography, Growing Pains, a lovely old hardback, was given to me years ago by a friend. Wandy wrote and illustrated 'Millions of Cats', which is a book no cat-lover should be without. I'm not sure if Wendy meant to evoke Wanda (who also did her own versions of Grimm Fairy Tales), but it was nice to be reminded.

Wendy also deals with one of my pet issues with modern literature and film and Hollywood in general, which is the nonsensical idea so beloved of creative/ beautiful types that two brains make a brainier or two people altered by plastic surgery will create a perfect looking child. It's the thing that made me throw The Time Traveler's Wife across the room and against the wall when [SPOILER ALERT - BUT YOU SHOULD HAVE READ IT BY NOW] they have a child and she's brilliant and has all the best of both parents and is able to manage time travel much better than her father did. GAH. DOUBLE GAH. And then I picked up the damn book and finished it because I just can't leave books unfinished.

Wendy spends a lot of the book exploring the pressures placed upon the child of two brilliant parents. Granted, Zelda turns out to be pretty special too, but in her own way. And that is not a spoiler. That is as it should be.

And since you and I have always been interested in book covers, it is worth waggling a finger here at Wendy's publishers, who gave The Steele Diaries a cover that visually slots it beside Colleen McCulloch novels in the Chicklit section. NO! Boo! There's a wealth of fabulous Australian art -- particularly prints -- out there that could have been used, or simulated, to create a rich, evocative cover that could have attracted quite a different readership. Never mind. Truth will out, as someone cool once said.

So yes, I'm recommending Wendy's book to my friends. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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On another note, I had a abdomen-wrenching-but-worth-it guffaw this morning listening to the Radio National News. I'll type it as I heard it:

Tributes are pouring in this morning for Joern Utzon, the man who designed the Sydney Opera House after his death at the age of 90.

Wasn't he clever!


Anonymous said...

Ooooh you're right about the jacket, which was probably very deliberate on Random's part.

And sigh re Mr Utzon...another architect Australia will laud in death, after belittling in life.

Anonymous said...

That's going on my reading list. I loved "The Orchard" and "Stravinsky's Lunch" by Drusilla Modjeska and have also read Meg Stewart's biographies of Margaret Olley ("Far From a Still Life") and her mother, Margaret Coen ("Autobiography of My Mother")

I intend to achieve many things after my death, but designing an opera house is not among them.

Mummy/Crit said...

'millions of cats' is a household favourite, as you might imagine.

Penthe said...

Actually, it gives me immense hope that I can achieve some kind of architectural greatness after my death at 90. Do you think I can leave studying architecture at uni until after I am dead as well?

fifi said...

hello lovely! hope you are feeling better!

Thank you for the recommendation, shall race out and seize that book asap. Have quite a list for summer.

I am working towards my working life post, having just responded to another. I haven't forgotten.
and apropos of Mr Utzon, he died at the very moment as I was drinking a Bellini across the harbour with a poet from York, and we were watching the opera house fading and lighting back up as the light shifted and changed.

How pretentious this sounds, but true, and I wasn't supposed to be there. Naughty.