Book reviews

My re-read of Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray was a delight from start to finish.

Thackeray was a writer who knew what made people tick. The characters in Vanity Fair had hopes and dreams and ambitions, they loved and hated without reason, sometimes they were foolish and at other times wise, some were known for their kind hearts and generosity while others were renowned for their greed and selfish behaviour. They took their revenge on those who slighted them, cheated each other without remorse and every single one of them wanted more than what they had, be it affection, money or a higher position in society.

The subtitle of Vanity Fair is A Novel Without a Hero, but Becky Sharp is the character I most associate with the book which made her the book’s hero for me. When the narrator wasn’t observing and commenting on what Becky was up to the story followed Becky’s fellow characters, including the pretty but sappy Amelia Sedley and her philandering husband George Osborne, faithful Captain William Dobbin, Becky’s handsome but dopey husband Rawdon Crawley or various other minor characters, but regardless of whose story was being told at any particular time I was always wondering what Becky was up to.

Another way to look at the novel’s subtitle is to focus on the word hero, which is defined by Wikipedia as follows:

A hero is a real person or a main fictional character who, in the face of danger, combats adversity through feats of ingenuity, courage, or strength.

By this definition, all of the main characters could be considered to be a hero.

Amelia loved her husband George with a heroic strength, despite him not being worthy of her faith in him. After George’s death Amelia sacrificed herself to do the best for their son and for her parents, who had been ruined financially and socially by George’s father.

George, despite asking Becky to run away with him just six weeks into his marriage, died heroically on the battlefield at Waterloo.

Captain Dobbin secretly provided financially for Amelia and her son despite his love for her not being returned and he was a brave soldier and a good man, in other words; an unsung hero.

Becky’s husband and partner in crime Rawdon Crawley was also a brave soldier, who found the courage to separate from his wife when he realised she would never put his or their son’s interests before her own.

And then we come to Becky, who always did what she needed to do to survive and better herself. When it came to achieving her goals for herself, Becky was ingenious, courageous and strong, all of the traits the dictionary said made someone a hero. The flip-side of these characteristics was that Becky was also grasping, self-serving and cruel.

The story began with Amelia and Becky finishing and leaving school together. Amelia was pretty, rich and a friend to all, but Becky, as the orphaned daughter of the school’s art teacher and a French dancer was a charity case, and despised for her sly ways and sharp tongue by everyone except Amelia, who always believed the best of everyone.

Initially Becky was only to spend a few weeks with Amelia and her family before becoming a governess for Sir Pitt Crawley and his family, but it didn’t take long for Becky to recognise an opportunity and try to form a connection with Amelia’s older brother, Joseph Sedley. Through no fault of her own, Becky couldn’t quite manage to get Joseph to propose to her.

I was amused when Mr Sedley’s recognised and commented on Becky’s intentions towards Joseph and by Mrs Sedley’s motherly outrage in anyone thinking themselves good enough for her son. I was less amused by Mr Sedley telling his wife that Becky would be more acceptable to him as a daughter-in-law than a black woman, which he thought might happen if Joseph wasn’t caught by Becky, but I also recognise that these opinions were typical of the times when the book was written. For readers who are outraged by racism, there is plenty of it in Vanity Fair. I would also like to point out though, that Thackeray at least included black people in his books. Most other writers of this time didn’t.

After failing to snare Joseph, Becky left the Sedley household under a cloud and travelled to Queen’s Crawley where she became governess to two little girls, and invaluable to the elderly, cantankerous and wealthy Sir Pitt Crawley, despite his wife’s presence.

The only time Becky cried real tears in this entire story was after Lady Crawley died and she had to refuse Sir Pitt’s offer of marriage because she had just secretly married Sit Pitt’s second son Rawdon, who was expected to inherit a fortune from his fabulously rich aunt after her death.

Unfortunately for Becky and Rawdon, Rawdon was disinherited by his aunt when she learned of their secret marriage. Their straightened circumstances led the newly-weds into a life of constantly striving to keep up socially without any financial means.

The story then moved to Brussels with the British Army, where Becky and Rawdon met up with George Osborne and his bride of six weeks, Amelia. George and Amelia had married even though George’s father had financially ruined Amelia’s father and forbidden his son to marry Amelia, even though their parents had planned their wedding in George and Amelia’s childhood. Amelia’s whole heart belonged to her husband, but George’s heart only belonged to the image he saw reflected in his mirror. I found it hard to understand why Amelia loved George, but that’s the thing about love, sometimes who loves who just doesn’t make sense.

The Osborne’s constant companion was Captain William Dobbin, who had been George’s friend and protector since they were in school together.

When George died in the Battle of Waterloo before he and his father were reconciled, Amelia was left penniless to bring up their young son alone and take care of her destitute parents. Amelia’s only true friend was William Dobbin, although she didn’t know it or value him as she should have.

Meanwhile, Becky and Rawdon returned to London to live the high life on credit. As a team they were successful, Becky enticed gullible men into their circle for Rawdon to fleece at cards. In due course Becky rose to the top of London’s society by virtue of her good looks, her wit and her charm, and with the help of an influential admirer.

Eventually though, Becky pushed her luck too far and the whole house of cards fell down.

I loved the narrator’s voice throughout this whole story. He saw everything; was both judgmental and admiring of his characters, who he described as his marionettes. His voice was heard on every page of the story. He was often particularly hard on Becky but if I could argue with him, I’d say that in her defence, she did what she had to do to survive and improve on her situation.

While the story was a re-read for me it has been around thirty-five years since I’ve read Vanity Fair. I was surprised by how much of the story and the characters that I remembered. My definition of a classic is a story that is remembered long after it has been read and think this would have been true of this story the day it was written.

My copy isn’t the edition with the beautiful cover that I’ve used to head this post, but an old copy that I bought at a second-hand bookshop in a small country town in south coast NSW many years ago. During my lunch break in my first job I often went across the road to this bookshop to spend my pay packet on books.

I read Vanity Fair as part of a review-along with FictionFan and a number of other bloggers. I’ll post links to their reviews below as they are posted.

Vanity Fair was book thirty two in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2022.

I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Australian author Jane Harper and The Survivors was no exception. I’m writing this review after sitting up until 1.30am to finish the story so have spent my Saturday feeling tired and sluggish. If my spelling is wrong and my words are in the wrong order, blame Jane Harper.

This story was set in a small coastal town in Tasmania where everyone knew everyone else. There were a few blow-ins to Evelyn Bay each summer but for the rest of the time, the locals had the place for their own and that’s how they liked it. The town had one cafe and one police officer, although when the story began the police station was on the verge of being closed and the service relocated to the next big town. When Bronte, a young artist who was staying in Evelyn Bay for the summer was found dead on the beach, everyone in town became a suspect in her murder.

The main character in this story was Keiran, a young man living in Sydney with his partner Mia and their baby Audrey. They had returned to Evelyn Bay to help Keiran’s mother pack up the family home as Keiran’s father’s dementia had worsened to the point that he had to go to a care-home.

The shock of Bronte’s death dredged up an enormous amount of anger and suspicion, much of which had been lying dormant since a terrible storm twelve years ago when Keiran’s brother and his best friend died in an accident at sea while trying to rescue teen-aged Keiran who had gotten himself stuck half way up a cliff. During that same storm a young local girl also went missing and had never been found.

Keiran’s guilt about the death of his brother and his friend hung over every moment of every day of his life. Keiran’s return to Evelyn Bay stirred up his own emotions, as well as those of his parents, who never actually said that they blamed Keiran for his brother’s death, but never said that they didn’t either. Keiran’s presence also troubled other locals who had been impacted by the two deaths and by the other girl’s disappearance.

I felt very connected with the story’s setting and loved the remote, wild, coastal Tasmanian location. I also enjoyed the various mysteries, which kept me guessing until the author revealed exactly what had happened to Bronte and to the others during the storm twelve years ago.

The only problem I had with The Survivors was that there was a cast of thousands and by the end I still couldn’t remember exactly who was who. To sum up, there was Keiran, Mia and their baby Audrey, and Keiran’s parents, Brian and Verity. Then there was Keiran and Mia’s friend’s Ash, Olivia and another bloke whose name I’ve forgotten, the local cop who had a crush on Olivia, the missing girl’s mother, plus a famous writer from the mainland.

Looming over the rest was Keiran’s brother Finn and Ash’s brother Toby (who died in the storm), Olivia’s younger sister Gabby (who went missing during the storm), another bloke whose name I’ve also forgotten but he owned the cafe and had married Toby’s widow, the cop who had a bit of a thing for Olivia (oh hang on, I said him already, I told you I was tired) and Toby’s son Liam, who was the stepson of the bloke who owned the cafe. Liam desperately resented Keiran for being the cause of the accident that killed Toby, who had been his father.

I’m already looking forward to Jane Harper’s next novel, and am guessing at where it might be set since each of her books have been set in vastly different locations.

My purchase of The Survivors by Jane Harper continues to meet my New Year’s resolution for 2021 to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of this year (October).

Classics Club Spin #28

The Classics Club are spinning again.

I haven’t taken part in the last few spins because my library is closed due to COVID restrictions, which has limited my access to books on my list.

However, I’m joining in Spin #28 with a list of books from my own shelves. The spin is to be spun today, with whichever book number the spin lands on to be read by December 12, 2021.

  1. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  2. Villette by Charlotte Bronte
  3. The Mill on the Floss by George Elliot
  4. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  5. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  6. The Iliad by Homer
  7. The Odyssey by Homer
  8. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  9. Pamela by Samuel Richardson
  10. The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton
  11. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  12. Villette by Charlotte Bronte
  13. The Mill on the Floss by George Elliot
  14. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  15. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  16. The Iliad by Homer
  17. The Odyssey by Homer
  18. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  19. Pamela by Samuel Richardson
  20. The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton.

Trio by William Boyd

Trio by William Boyd was unlike anything I have previously read by this author.

The story was set in Brighton in the late 1960s and followed a group of people working together to make a film.

The novel’s main character was the producer, Talbot Kydd. Talbot was rich, kind and a gentleman. The day to day irritations of Talbot’s job involved keeping the ego and mad ideas of the film’s director in check, ensuring the film’s stars turned up to work and stopping crew members from stealing film to make pornographic movies.

The director’s wife, renowned author Elfrida Wing was a barely-functioning alcoholic who hadn’t written anything in ten years. When Elfrida came up with an idea for a new novel based on Virginia Woolf, who Elfrida’s own writing was often compared to, Elfrida bailed up Woolf’s husband Leonard in his own garden and asked him about the events of the day his wife suicided. I don’t think I’ve ever cringed more while reading a novel.

The third main character was Anny Viklund, the star of the movie. Anny was a victim of her own stupidity when it came to men. During her time on the film she had an affair with her co-star, a sweet English pop star who took Anny home to meet his parents, but was at the same time assisting her terrorist ex-husband who had escaped from jail and trying to please her current lover, a French philosopher.

None of the character’s private lives crossed over into each others’, although their stories co-existed comfortably. Each of the characters had secrets and problems to endure. Talbot was secretly gay and had a life his wife and son knew nothing about (nothing sordid, more a secret life), Anny was secretive about her drug use and juggling her various relationships, while Elfrida was hiding alcoholism and the fact that she knew her husband was having an affair with the film’s scriptwriter.

When I think about Trio in future I expect I’ll recall Elfrida’s obtuseness during her conversation with the fictional Leonard Woolf. This made me wonder if authors are so single-minded when they are immersed in writing a novel that they don’t consider or care that their research may potentially be offensive, or if William Boyd used this scene to make fun of real authors or even of himself.

Trio wasn’t my favourite of Boyd’s novels, but the Elfrida-Leonard Woolf scene might make it the most memorable.

Field of Poppies is the first novel I’ve read by Australian author Carmel Bird. The author’s bio says she has written 11 novels and eight short story collections, been short-listed three times for the Miles Franklin Award and won the Patrick White Literary Award. I can’t think why I haven’t read anything by her before.

The story is narrated by Marsali Swift, who with her husband William moved to the fictional town of Muckleton in central Victoria from Melbourne in what is popularly known in Australia as a ‘tree-change’. In Muckleton, Marsali and William lived in a grand old house called Listowel and immersed themselves into the community, even though the locals know that anyone from the city are just blow-ins. To be a local people’s parents, grandparents and preferably their great-grandparents had to have lived in the area too.

First of all, Muckleton. If that place isn’t real, then it should be if only for the name alone. I kept saying Muckleton over and over again as I was reading, just because I like how the name sounds. I have a mental image of Muckleton and think it must be similar to the central Victorian town of Castlemaine, which has an enormously grand Post Office that was built on the promise of gold, gold and more gold being found in the district. Also, there is also a small town called Muckleford just a few kilometres from Castlemaine. Close enough?

Sigh. I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole. This isn’t surprising because Marsali’s narration was a succession of anecdotes which hopped from one to another. Some of Marsali’s stories were about Muckleton residents, places or events, while others were based on discussions of novels from Marsali’s book group who read Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland after a local Muckleton woman named Alice Dooley disappeared. Marsali’s version of events were occasionally interrupted by William’s Wise Words, where he chimed in to add to the story with interesting and detailed facts.

A great many of the anecdotes were related to Claude Monet’s painting The Poppy Field, or a copy of the painting which was made by Marsali’s Aunt Clarissa, who was a talented copyist artist.

One night, when Marsali and William had driven to Melbourne to attend an opera (La Traviata) at the Arts Centre, Listowel was robbed. The thieves were two local men whose vehicle hit a kangaroo while they were leaving town with the loot. One of the men died in the accident but the other was charged with theft then went back to his Real Estate business, without any loss of business by the locals. Marsali and William’s antiques and collectables were returned to them along with the copy of The Poppy Field, but how they felt about Muckleton changed.

The disappearance of Alice didn’t help, but when a Chinese gold mine started up, bringing jobs and noise and dust to the town and to Listowel in particular, since the road to the mine went past their back door, Marsali and William upped stumps and moved back to a high-rise apartment in Melbourne (in the Eureka Tower, mind you. I’ve been up to the skydeck to look at the view over Melbourne and it is sensational. The Eureka Tower was named for Australia’s own Eureka Stockade, where gold miners took on the English authorities who were taxing them out of existence).

I loved the rambling, inter-connected story-telling style of Field of Poppies. I loved Muckleton and its community. I loved the idealism of the tree-changers. I loved the opinions of the book club’s members of the books they read. I loved the coincidences and the randomness of the anecdotes. I’ll definitely be reading more of Carmel Bird’s stories in future.

Switch Bitch by Roald Dahl

Switch Bitch is a collection of four short stories for adults. Each story is a perfect showcase for Roald Dahl’s talent for entertaining readers by creating nasty characters who behave in nasty ways.

The Visitor is an extract from the diary of the fictional Oswald Hendryks Cornelius when he was tom-catting around the Sinai in 1946 at the age of 51. Although Oswald didn’t look dangerous (he wasn’t tall, dark or handsome), he could seduce any woman he wanted with his fascinating voice and a flare of his nostrils. Once the conquest had been made, Oswald moved speedily to his next challenge.

Unfortunately for Oswald, his expensive and glamourous sportscar, a Lagonda, broke down in the desert as he was fleeing his latest victim. Luckily a stranger with an exceptionally beautiful wife and daughter took Oswald in for the night.

For those who are interested, the following photos shows a Lagonda. I was more smitten by the car than by Oswald.

The Great Switcheroo tells the story of two married men who came up with the idea of swapping beds for a night without telling their wives who they would be sleeping with. Moral qualms, anyone? The Great Switcheroo is effectively a story about two men raping each other’s wives.

The main character in The Last Act was a widow who loved her husband dearly. After he died the woman’s doctor put the idea into her head that she would never be happy again until she found herself another man. Despite the doctor’s ridiculous advice the woman eventually moved past the first stages of grief, took a job and found that life was worth living again, until she met up with an old boyfriend who took his revenge on her for having dumped him many years ago.

Bitch was another extract from Oswald Hendryks Cornelius’ diaries. In this account Oswald invested in a perfume which sent men into a frenzy, in the way of a male dog in the vicinity of a female dog on heat. Due to a series of unfortunate incidents all except one sample of the perfume was destroyed, but Oswald managed to save the last sample with the intention of using it to bring down an American President.

The stories all have a nastiness about them but happily most of the darker characters got their comeuppance except for those The Last Act, which was a particularly cruel story. The other three stories were at least amusing, despite the moral questions they raised.

I admire writers who aren’t afraid to write stories that offend or disturb their readers, although I don’t always want to read these types of stories. I suspect this collection won’t be for everyone but for anyone who appreciates dark and twisted characters and doings, it’s hard to go past Roald Dahl.

Infinite Splendours is Australian author Sofie Laguna’s most recent novel (published in 2020).

I’ve previously read The Choke and The Eye of the Sheep by this author. Both told the story of a child or teenager living in very difficult family circumstances.

Infinite Splendours also began with a child as the main character, although this story took on a different direction to The Choke and The Eye of the Sheep by continuing to following Lawrence’s story until he reached middle age, showing how the traumatic events of his childhood affected the rest of his life.

Lawrence and his brother Paul grew up on a 40-acre property at the bottom of a mountain in the Southern Grampians, near Hamilton in Victoria. The small town they lived in, Hughton and their mountain, Mount Wallis were fictional, but as I read I was reminded of Mount Sturgeon which looms above the small town of Dunkeld in the Southern Grampians. I feel sure that Dunkeld and Mount Sturgeon inspired the locations for the book.

The boy’s father died in World War Two and they were raised by their mother, who sadly wasn’t the only war widow in the district. The boys always called her ‘Mother’, never ‘Mum’ or ‘Ma’. Their mother never showed Lawrence or Paul that she loved them in either her words or by physical affection, nor did they often receive praise, although she was proud of Lawrence’s academic achievements. In return, Lawrence and Paul’s behaviour was unfailingly formal, respectful and polite towards their mother.

Despite their mother’s lack of affection towards them, Lawrence and Paul were very fond of each other, and both were caring, kind children.

Lawrence and Paul were quite different to each other in their interests and abilities. Paul was a good sportsman who was mechanically-minded, while Lawrence was an academic and a naturally gifted artist. Lawrence’s school teacher recognised his talent from an early age and encouraged him to draw and paint, although his mother did not value his art.

Their mother worked hard and provided for the family but she saved all of her love for her brother Reggie, who hadn’t been seen since they were teenagers.

When their uncle wrote to say he was coming for a visit, their mother was overjoyed. Lawrence was pleased too, although Paul was not, perhaps sensing that their uncle would come between him and his brother.

Lawrence took to Uncle from the beginning and trusted and liked him. Paul, who had more street-smarts than Lawrence, did not. Uncle groomed Lawrence with attention and presents, and eventually raped him before leaving the district the next morning. Paul guessed at what had been done to Lawrence by Uncle but by then the damage was done. Lawrence suffered a nervous breakdown while Mother was none the wiser as to what had taken place.

Lawrence grew up to be a stammering wreck of a man who suffered physically and emotionally for the rest of his life. He pushed Paul away and was unable to form relationships with other adults. For a short while Lawrence worked at a dairy in nearby Hamilton but left even that after he was beaten up by his co-workers who were suspicious about the nature of his friendship with one of their young sons. By this time Paul had moved into town, leaving Lawrence alone on the property after their mother’s death.

The story then jumped ahead many years to find Lawrence a middle-aged man, still living in isolation on the family property and dependent on Paul for his food and art supplies. Lawrence had spent his years painting Mount Wallis and his immediate surroundings. He was content and nothing would have changed in his future except that a noisy young family moved into the long-vacant house next door to his, shattering his peace.

I didn’t enjoy Infinite Splendours as much as I have Sofia Launa’s other books, because the subject matter made this a particularly difficult read. I hated that Lawrence was abused as a boy and throughout the second part of this story, felt increasingly horrified and distressed wondering if Lawrence as an adult might do the same thing to another child. The question of whether predatory behaviour by adult men towards children is a result of their own childhood experiences and how much sympathy we should feel towards men in this situation loomed uncomfortably over the story, too.

I’ve written and rewritten that last sentence. Is the answer some, or none? I can’t decide. If I feel sympathy for a predator who was a victim himself does that make me a monster too? Feeling no sympathy for a victim whose learned behaviour made him a possible predator seems wrong, but so does feeling sympathy towards him.

While I felt angry that Lawrence was the victim of a predator, I also (and I acknowledge that this is completely unfair) felt annoyed that this was the story of a male victim when so many girls are victims too. I suppose the difference is that female victims of abuse generally don’t seem to perpetuate the abuse they received when they become adults, which means that this story had to be about a boy.

As per all of Sofia Laguna’s books, I loved her actual writing style and felt very connected to the Southern Grampians setting. I also enjoyed reading about Lawrence’s art and appreciated the ongoing joy he received when looking through a book depicting the work of the world’s greatest artists.

My purchase of Infinite Splendours by Sofie Laguna continues to meet my New Year’s resolution for 2021 to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of this year (September).

Both of You by Adele Parks

I raced through Both of You by Adele Parks.

I doubt that I will remember the plot in years to come but I enjoyed the story while I was reading it, despite guessing who did what and why in this mystery-thriller.

The story began with a woman imprisoned in a bare room by an unknown person, before going back a few days to introduce Leigh, the wife of Mark and stepmother to Oli and Seb. It transpired that Leigh and Mark had married ten years ago, within a year of the death of Mark’s first wife. Leigh couldn’t have children of her own and felt lucky to have snaffled Mark and the boys. Leigh was something of a superwoman, running their family like clockwork and managing a high-powered job which took her all over the UK.

When Leigh didn’t come home from a work trip when expected, Mark called in the police.

The story then introduced glamourous Kai, who was married to the irresistibly rich, handsome Daan. When Daan reported Kai was missing after a visit to her mother, the same police officer was called in to investigate her disappearance. She recognised that there was a link between the two missing women.

To write more about the plot would spoil it for other readers.

None of the characters were perfect, although I liked some more than others. The main characters, Leigh and Kai had secrets they were hiding from their partners, families and friends. Their partners, Mark and Daan had secrets of their own. Family friends of Leigh and Kai had secrets, too.

Interestingly, the ‘now’ part of the story was set in London in March 2020 as the world went into the first COVID-19 lockdown. No doubt there will be many more novels set in COVID-19 times to follow, but this was a first for me.

Both of You was the author’s 21st novel. I would read another of her books in-between more serious reading.

My Brilliant Career was Australian author Miles Franklin’s first novel, written when she was a very young woman and published in 1901 when she was just 21 years old. Prior to publication the author wrote to Australian writer Henry Lawson asking him to review her manuscript and provide her with advice, which he did. Lawson went on to write the preface to My Brilliant Career where he described Franklin as “a little bush girl” who had “lived her book.”

The story was told in the first person by Sybilla Melvyn, who was a sixteen-year old living with her parents, brother and sister at Possum Gully, a small farm near Goulburn in New South Wales when the story began. The family had been living at Possum Gully in poverty since Sybilla’s father had taken to drinking after losing almost everything from speculating in stock. Sybilla, who remembered happier times when her father had owned three stations in the Tidbinbilla Ranges, was homesick for the family’s old life in the mountains and was desperately unhappy and bored with the never-ending drudgery of farm and housework at Possum Gully.

Like many relationships between teenage girls and their mothers, Sybilla and her mother failed to understand each other’s character and butted heads constantly, so when Sybilla’s grandmother asked her to stay with her at Caddagut, her mother’s family home in the mountains, Sybilla was delighted.

Apart from wishing she was pretty and knowing that she wasn’t, tomboyish Sybilla thrived at Caddagut, where she was surrounded by books and music, loved and made a pet of by her grandmother, her aunt, uncle and the community in general. It wasn’t long before Harold Beecham, the richest, handsomest and most eligible man in the district fell in love with Sybilla and proposed marriage to her.

Sybilla wasn’t in love with Harold and wanted a brilliant career of her own, as either a writer, singer or as a performer, but she agreed to marry Harold on the proviso that they keep their engagement a secret and wait until she turned 21 to marry, in the hope that Harold would fall in love with someone else before then.

When Harold lost all of his money and property Sybilla felt honour-bound to remain true to him, despite Harold offering to release her from her promise to marry him. Then, when Sybilla’s father’s finances went from bad to worse (I can’t be the only person to have noted that a high proportion of the men in this story are terrible business men), Sybilla was obliged to work as a governess/housekeeper to the dirtiest, most illiterate family that ever lived, far from either Caddagut or Possum Gully. After eventually suffering a mental breakdown in service Sybilla returned home to Possum Gully.

Harold, who was possibly the luckiest bloke this side of the Murrumbidgee, inherited a pile from a woman who had loved his father back in the day, so he bought his station back and went in search of Sybilla at Possum Gully, who, despite being terribly unhappy and not seeing anything better in her future, took the opportunity to tell Harold as offensively as possible that she didn’t want to marry him.

The story ended without any hint of what Sybilla might do next, or with any hope that she would be able to escape the monotony of life at Possum Gully, although many years later a sequel, My Career Goes Bung was released.

My Brilliant Career should be required reading for all teenage girls. Not only was Sybilla’s story enormously entertaining, as she was an impulsive and headstrong character who as a result was constantly having to apologise for her dreadful behaviour, but she was also funny and clever and true to herself. She wanted what she wanted and wasn’t prepared to settle for less. Miles Franklin is celebrated as a feminist but there is a message in this character for everyone.

The story was written by Miles Franklin to entertain her own friends. It isn’t perfect, and it is easy to see that the story was written by a very young woman, one who liked melodrama and fun and excitement.

However, the settings are written so truly that I could see and smell and touch Sybilla’s beloved Caddagut, as well as her detested Possum Gully. The excitements of bush life were described so well that I felt a part of them, whether it be the thrill of seeing a snake on the road, the smell of smoke and the haze from a bushfire threatening the district, or the interest that comes from being part of a wider community with all sorts of things going on from the excitement and fun of attending bush races, to having a chat with everyone you know after the weekly church service or lively conversations and cups of tea with neighbours and friends who wouldn’t think of passing by without stopping in.

Modern readers will recognise the racism in the book. Aboriginal people are described using derogatory terms and have negative qualities attributed to them, as are Chinese, with one character suggesting to Sybilla that his casually offensive comments wouldn’t offend a Chinese man as the Chinese man didn’t have any feelings to be hurt. The story is a product of its times, although Sybilla at least disagreed with the character who said that the Chinese man didn’t have any feelings.

The author went on to endow the Miles Franklin Literary Award, an annual prize given for literature about Australian life in any of its phases. Recently the Stella Prize came into being as an annual award given to a female Australian author.

It has been far too long since I’ve read My Brilliant Career or any of Miles Franklin’s other works.

My Brilliant Career was book thirty one in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2022.

April Lady by Georgette Heyer

April Lady by Georgette Heyer was a delight from start to finish.

The story of beautiful and young Lady Nell Cardross whose family were known for being gamblers and wastrels, and her relationship with her older, masterful husband after a series of miscommunications left them doubting each other in every way was always going to end with a kiss, but how they got from the start to the finish of this story was fun.

After enjoying a comfortable arrangement for many years with a lady who wasn’t a lady, Lord Giles fell in love with seventeen-year old Nell at first sight, paid off the worst of Nell’s father’s spectacular gambling debts and married her. However Nell, who had also fallen in love with Lord Giles, was unfailing polite and amiable towards her husband but never showed him how she truly felt after her mother warned her not to in case she bored him.

Nell had no idea of how to manage money so spent a ridiculous amount of the generous allowance Giles made to her on dresses, hats and reticules, then against her husband’s explicit orders gave her brother Dysart a large sum to tide him over when he got into trouble.

On learning that Nell hadn’t been paying her bills Lord Giles called her to task before settling her accounts, leaving Nell feeling embarrassed and ashamed of herself, much like a small child who has gotten into trouble from their parent.

When Nell later received a staggeringly large bill for a court dress that she had forgotten to tell Lord Giles about, instead of telling her husband the truth she asked Dysart and his rackety friend to help her to raise the money, which allowed the story to leap from Nell almost going to the money-lenders (shocking!), to Dysart attempting a hold-up so he could steal the Cardross family jewels then sell them so Nell could pay her debts (even more shocking!)

Having caught Nell in several little white lies Lord Giles began to suspect that Nell had only married him for his money and, feeling humiliated and broken-hearted, was increasingly civil and cold to poor little Nell.

The supporting characters added enormously to this story. As well as Nell’s brother Dysart they included Lord Giles’ headstrong younger sister who was madly in love with a young man without any money and Lord Giles’ cousin, Mr Felix Hethersett, who acted as if he were Nell’s lover but was in reality her strongest supporter. Felix’s comments on fashion, particularly when providing advice to the female characters were priceless.

April Lady probably isn’t one of Georgette Heyer’s better stories, but even so, it was fun and there is no one like this author for historical romance, plus I’m a sucker for a happy ending.

Tag Cloud