Friday, 19 February 2021

Book Review: The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith by Thomas Keneally

I read this for one of the book groups I attend which is this year (2021) reading Australian and New Zealand novels. I also watched the 1978 movie directed by Fred Schepsi which closely follows the book . The book is Keneally's fictionalised account of the true story of Austalian bushranger (outlaw) Jimmy Governor (1875-1901) , who is also the subject of a poem Poem "The Ballad of Jimmy Governor" by Australian poet Les Murray . 

It is a short book (178 pages) but challenging. Keannelly attempts to tell Jimmie's story from growing up a mixed race child, taken under the wing of Rev and Mrs Neville at the Mission station and brought up with European/white values to better himself through hard work. And although he is a good worker, competant, reliable, thorough others treat him badly, don't pay him. He doe snot get a reference from one farmer he works for because the farmer cannot write, Jimmie can. He marries a pregnant white girl in good faith believing he is the child's father. He sees this as another step up, but upon its birth the child is clearly not his. When farmers refuse to pay Jimmie and his family are running out of food his life turns on its head. After his massacre of the farmer's wife, daughters, and woman boarder school teacher, Jimmie, wife, and his brother go on the run. 

Keneally seeds this story with titits about the birth of the Australian Federation, the Boer War in South Africa and the life of the executioner. 

Reading this today this book raises questions about the fictionalisation of factual histories, the clash of cultures then and now, the role of the author in these. 

Not particularly a book I would recommend to snuggle down with during COVID lockdowns, but it is a provocative book club read, and it will I feel remain with me in years to come.


Thursday, 21 January 2021

Book Review: Voss by Patrick White

VossVoss by Patrick White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have feelings about this book all across the spectrum from bad to great!
The first couple of chapters are difficult stylistically but this eases with perserverence. On the whole I am really glad I read this book, I loved the story line, the characters, the auor's use of language. It is a complex book, which thoroughly warrants a second close read if I was someone who did second reads. The story has two strands - on one side the author's deft comic rendering of polite Sidney society in colonial times, with its shades of Jane Austen and the like, its preoccupation with finding good matches for its women, with Laura Trevelyan the young woman living with aunt and uncle, she is on the edge of society, a contained rebel, an intelligent, education , beautiful woman in a society where the first two characteristics are not valued. On the other side another person at the periphery, Voss, the German explorer of the Australian outback. *****SPOILER ALERT *****There's is an unlikely meeting, catalysed by the fact that Laura's uncle is the expeditions's sponsor. To me they are soul mates who meet but briefly,start a correspondence which sadly never materialised into other than their letters most of which never reach their intended, and who dream and fantasize about the other. The book swings back and forward between the comforts of Sydney life and the perils for white men in the unknown outback. Their stories form a beautifully crafted, dreamlike, spiritual, intertwining, mixing the real and the unreal, often a little bit too fluidly for this reader to maintain a connection with on one reading or this slightly overlong book. But that did not distract from a feeling of satisfaction at completing the reading. A challenging read, very suitable for book group discussions who like to delve deep.

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Book Review: Freshwater by Akweake Emezi

Freshwater Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A most intriguing read.

The author is on my list of Nigerian writers to read and I wanted to start with her first novel which this is. Akwaeke Emezi is Igbo/Tamil, raised in NIgeria, living in USA. She won the 2017 Commonwealth short story prize for Africa with her short story Igbo cultural cosmology. This book is the story of a young woman, abused to the point of self disintegration and the multiple personalities as they would be called in the North which materialise as she struggles through her youth, spiraling out of control through disastrous sexual encounteres and self mutilations. The author tells the young woman's story through her various voices, showing the reader how these difering daemons play out in her rollercoaster of a life. They are written as if they were spirits, gods in her body, trapped within the marble of her mind from which sometimes one, sometimes another and sometimes the girl herself are to the fore in her daily life.

A bit of context is useful to understanding this - The Igbo use the term ogbanje to denote an essentially evil spirit, the "children who come and go" which from birth to puberty cycle through death and return causing much grief to the family. Female circumcision is thought to get rid of them. The high female god Ala is the goddess of earth, fertility, mortality who holds the deceased in her womb, is the guardian of women and rules the underworld. Her messenger on earth to the living is the Python. Tributes to her are paid during the annual Yam Festival.

Ada has been named after the Python, and the spirits inside her, the personalities are obanje. This is a survival story, the story about coming to terms with the trauma of abuse and finding who you are after it.

It is an incredibly ambitious first novel. Does it work, does Emezi bring it off? To a certain extent yes. She clearly is an imaginative, highly creative writer or budding talent. For me the novel was a bit too long and I felt the story could have been improved by a compression. But yes she does give you an insight into the young women's mental state without it being bathed in the usual jargon and metaphors. The struggle for control is there, the despair, the need for escape, to blot out the unidentifiable trauma, the desperation. I most certainly will read more by her.