Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Club by David Williamson

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I bought Australian playwright David Williamson’s The Club from an opportunity shop for 50 cents. Back in the day, this play was studied by high school students, which means that these days, every op shop in Australia always has at least three copies for sale.

The play was set in the clubrooms of an Australian Rules football club in Melbourne during the 1970’s, with the action taking place over a single evening. There are only six characters, all male, in the play; the coach, the Club President, the go-getting young administrator, a high flying new recruit, the ageing team captain and a board member who was a former player and coach.

The politics and backstabbing going on in the club’s board room is ridiculously over the top, but probably typical of many sporting clubs at the time. The board members have been angling to have the coach sacked but the team captain is threatening a player’s strike if that happens. The coach wants to drop the non-performing star recruit back to the reserves to straighten him out, and to cap things off, the Club President has assaulted a stripper at a boy’s night and is desperately trying to keep the incident out of the press. Other board members see this as an opportunity to oust the old President and bring in fresh money in the form of a new President.

Violence against women is a theme in The Club. The characters disparage other men who hurt women, but they try and buy off the stripper with $20, and in another exchange which left my jaw on the ground, one of the older characters said he once played a bad game, went home and hit his wife after she said, “I think you met your match today.” He then complained about the harm done to his playing psyche; She apologised later but by that time the damage (to him) was done.

The themes in The Club are very familiar to me, as a child during the 1970’s in a country area where the local football club was the centre of the community. Everybody knew which club members, ‘good’ blokes who would do anything for the club, went home and belted their wives. Wives and girlfriends, who turned a blind eye to regular club fundraisers in the form of stripper’s nights, tirelessly ran the canteen and washed the jumpers. The centre-half forward had his pick of local girls who all wanted the associated glamour of going out with the team’s biggest hero, and even in the under-7’s, the father’s had to drink with the coach and selection committee for their kid to get a game. Kids learned the words to Up There Cazaly at school and imagined taking a screamer in front of the crowd.

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But back to the play.

The story is set at a time when football clubs where just starting to play their players, and the club’s coach, Laurie and other players resent the club President and board members paying $90,000 for Geoff Hayward. Geoff has under-performed since joining the team and at one point during the last week’s game, was day-dreaming and completely oblivious to the ball going past him. Later Geoff owned up to Laurie that he was stoned and was watching a seagull instead of the ball, because he was afraid of failing. Laurie eventually found a way to connect with and motivate Geoff, and the reader got the sense that Geoff will play like a star again in the future.

These days, Australian Rules football is big business and the themes in The Club are still relevant. The ‘boy’s club’ mentality still exists up to a point, although women now have places on the highest-level boards and work with the players on their fitness and injuries. The media speculate on the likelihood of under-performing coaches being sacked and on ageing players being traded. The women’s league has just started and is proving to be very popular, although old men are yet to be convinced of the merits of women playing football. The biggest change however is that these days the only people who are loyal to their club are the fans. Go the Cats…

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David Williamson is best known in Australia for writing the screenplays for Gallipoli (starring a very young Mel Gibson), Phar Lap, and The Year of Living Dangerously, although Don’s Party, a play based on the 1969 Australian Federal Election, was the work which kick-started his career.

I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch a performance of The Club, but David Williamson has captured the boys club mentality perfectly.  And as a spectator, I’m a bit jaded with business of Australian Rules Football at the highest level, but I am quite happy to stand on the fence at the ground down the road and cheer on my local team team.

 

 

 

 

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The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim

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If I had to describe The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim in just one word, that word would be ‘charming.’

Elizabeth Von Arnim was born in Australia but returned to England with her parents at the age of three. Her family must have been quite well off, because she lived a glamorous life, touring Europe, marrying a Prussian aristocrat, then having an affair with H. G. Wells after her husband’s death. (I believe loads of women had affairs with H. G. Wells, but still…) Eventually Elizabeth Von Arnim re-married an English Earl, but in between marrying, travelling, bringing up five children and having affairs, she wrote 22 books.

The Enchanted April was published in 1922. The story begins with Mrs Wilkins having lunch at her club, when she reads an advertisement in The Times.

To Those who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine. Small mediaeval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be let Furnished for the month of April. Necessary servants remain. Z, Box 1000, The Times.

Mrs Wilkins is a retiring woman married to a bullying solicitor, however she immediately pictured herself spending April in Italy enjoying the Wistaria and Sunshine. Looking around her club, she noticed another woman, Mrs Arbuthnot, seemingly reading the same advertisement. Mrs Wilkins introduces herself to Mrs Arbuthnot, then in an behaviour entirely unlike her usual self, raises the possibility of the two of them renting the castle during April. Mrs Arbuthnot is initially hesitant because she is a self-denying type of person, but in a move which is entirely out of her character, contacts the owner and pays the required 60 pounds to take the castle for the month of April. Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot advertise to find another two women to come to Italy (and split the costs) and find Lady Caroline who is a beautiful young woman looking for solitude, and Mrs Fisher, a grumpy and lonely old woman.

The castle is everything that Mrs Wilkins has ever dreamed of and under the influence of its’ charms, she becomes happy, outspoken and confident. She is so happy that she invites her husband out to join her in Italy. In due course he arrives and is involved in an embarrassing incident with a temperamental bath which made me laugh so hard I woke up my own sleeping husband, who didn’t see the funny side…

Mrs Arbuthnot’s self denying behaviour has caused issues in her own marriage, after her husband became a best-selling author of scandalous stories. She felt morally unable to spend and enjoy the proceeds of her his work which caused them to live separate lives, however a series of funny misunderstandings brought them back together.

I was less enamoured of Lady Caroline’s character and problems, as it is hard to feel sorry for someone who is rich, young, well connected and so beautiful that everyone who crosses her path falls at her feet in servitude.  Mrs Fisher is also a lesser character although easier to feel sorry for than Lady Caroline, as she is bored and lonely and has no one to love. For these characters too, enjoying sunshine and wisteria during April in Italy bring them long-term happiness too.

What I most liked about the writing in this book, is that even though it was written nearly 100 years ago, the characters, their behaviour and their wants and needs are still quite real. Mrs Arbuthnot’s morals are a little dated, but the characters are likeable and believable, and I had no problem imagining them enjoying their holiday.

Mrs Wilkins argument to convince Mrs Arbuthnot to go to Italy won me too. She said over and over again that being good at home was not bringing them happiness and that they would be better off enjoying themselves elsewhere;

“Why, it would really be being unselfish to go away and be happy for a little, because we would come back so much nicer.”

Count me in. Reading The Enchanted April felt like a little holiday to me and with 22 other novels by this author I’ll be sure to have other charming little holidays soon.

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry

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Reading How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry was a lovely way to spend a cold Autumn day, tucked up all warm and comfy with chocolates at my fingertips. This book is clearly aimed at female readers who enjoy light romance.

The story starts with Emilia Nightingale, a woman in her thirties sitting by her dearly-loved father’s side in hospital as he lies dying. This story could have gone downhill from such a sad starting point, however Emilia is a generous character who is loved and respected in the tiny village where her father Julius has ran Nightingale Books since she was a baby.

The other main characters are similar to Emilia in that they are generous, loving, kind, worthy people, whose flaws seem charming, even though some are adulterers and others are thieves, who behave as stupidly and selfishly on occasion as real people. There are also characters whose bad behaviours seriously impact on other main character’s lives. Despite this, they were all so lovely that I wanted to sell up and move to this fictional village with Nightingale Books at its heart.

The book shop attracts all sorts of customers, including Sarah, a married woman who secretly loved and was loved by Julius for many years. Somehow this relationship didn’t come off as tawdry in any way, instead I felt sympathetic towards Julius and Sarah.

Sarah’s daughter Alice also has her own storyline, as she is loved by someone who works for her mother, a genuinely good bloke, however she is engaged to a complete tosser. Unfortunately Alice married the tosser before discovering something about him she could not live with, but this being fiction, Alice kicked the tosser out of their wedding reception and told him to arrange an annulment, then told her guests to kick on and enjoy the party while she took off to find the good bloke.

Another character is terribly shy, but has a thing for the fellow in the village cheesemongers shop (luckily, the shy character is a cook who loves cheese too), while another character was a model in the Swinging Sixties and was romantically scarred for life by a fling with a charismatic actor way back in the day.

Emilia has her own romance, which didn’t interest me as much as the solutions she found for the book shop’s various problems. The issues included the business losing money, a failing roof, dirty and dusty contents, and the books not being set out in a way where anybody could find anything in a hurry. Conveniently, Emilia makes friends with a customer who used to work at a house and style magazine who takes on the job of making the book shop look attractive with a new logo,  a café and creating little rooms for each section (crime has a comfy chair in front of the fireplace and cookery has a butcher’s block and cake stands).

I expect I will read other novels by Veronica Henry in future, for the pleasure of being immersed in a lovely world where every town has a book shop and delightful characters whose problems are dealt with in ways that would never happen in real life.

 

 

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The Course of Love by Alain de Botton

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The Course of Love by Alain de Botton was hard to read at times, because I kept recognising my own relationship failings in the character’s faults, not to mention those of my husbands. Only joking. Well, sort of only joking. He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers believes he doesn’t have any faults. Clearly he is Mr Right, first name Always, which annoys me enormously, and being annoyed with him for being right all the time is obviously a fault of mine.

However, this isn’t about me….

The Course of Love follows a couple, Rabih and Kirsten, from their first meeting and the early days of their romance, through their engagement and marriage, their struggles to maintain their relationship and friendship after they become parents and during hard times as they get older, which includes adultery and the death of their parents.

Rabih and Kirsten find it strange that other people only ever ask how they met, when for them, the interesting part of their story is all the days that come after that first meeting, particularly how they manage to overcome the many difficulties which are part of a long-term relationship. Both Rabih and Kirsten came to their marriage with insecurities, which of course causes issues during their marriage and it is not until many years into their marriage that either of them realise that perfection in a relationship does not exist.

Rabih and Kirsten’s story is alternated with advice relating to the relationship stage which their characters are in, offering suggestions for different ways the couple could manage their problems and/or understand each other better. The advice or essays consistently suggest that the ideal of ‘Romanticism’ as a basis for an ongoing relationship is flawed.

While the advice sections were clever and apt and use Rabih and Kirsten’s relationship difficulties as case studies, they actually became annoying and eventually put me off the story. The advice became more and more lecturing and I came to see the narrator as a holier-than-thou know-it-all. I’m fairly sure the narrator had more than a touch of Mr Always Bleeding Right about himself too.

However, other parts of the story made me sit up and think. The idea that our perfect love is that which our parents had for us when we were very small children, when we were always smiled at and made much of, with our every need anticipated and catered for is probably true. (I don’t ask for much more as an adult, just bring me some chocolate and leave me alone to read for a while).

The arguing about trivial things was familiar to me, as it would be to most people. After reading this I’m more aware that the arguments I have with people I love are not necessarily about the obvious reason. I can see that the arguments are not useful or helpful, but even with my newfound insight, will we continue to have these arguments? Probably, because I’m not perfect.

The characters in The Course of Love had plenty of trials, but it seemed to me they needed more fun times.

I expect most people could take some advice from The Course of Love and their relationships would be the better for it, but as a novel, this book didn’t really draw me in. If the advice had been less clever and the story more filling I expect I would have enjoyed it more, but it you enjoy self-help books, then go for it. As for me, I’ll stick with my normal method of sneaking off to my secret stash of chocolate when I’m feeling annoyed with He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers, who is actually lovely most of the time.

 

 

 

 

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At Risk by Patricia Cornwell

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At Risk is the first Patricia Cornwell novel I’ve read. The story was fast paced and a bit of a page-turner, but ultimately I was left wondering what all the fuss is about this author.

The hero of At Risk is Winston Garano, an investigator with the Massachusetts State Police. He is directed to investigate a 20-year old unsolved murder by his politically motivated superior, Monique Lamont. Monique is stereotypically beautiful, clever and ruthless.

Win gets his sometime girlfriend to investigate the murder, and while she is doing all the hard work, he saves Monique from being killed. Monique was tied up on her bed after being raped when Win broke into her house on a hunch to save the day.

Monique appears to be up to no good, pulling political strings all over the place in the background, as is her boss, a crooked Governor and his drug-addled son. Luckily, Win’s Nana always knows what is going on thanks to her trusty Tarot cards, and she keeps Win in the loop.

Win’s sometime-girlfriend figured out the old murder and Win figured out what is going on in the present, which is more than what I could. The plot was sometimes confusing and there were a few errors which in my opinion, particularly for an best-selling author, should have been rectified before publication.

The story was present tense too, a style which gets up my nose, but at least it was told in the third person.

I don’t think I’m At Risk of reading any more Patricia Cornwell novels.

 

 

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Of a Boy by Sonia Hartnett

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Of a Boy (published as What the Birds See outside of Australia) is one of prolific Australian author Sonya Hartnett’s earlier stories. Sonya Hartnett is best known for her books for young adults, although she also writes for children and adults. I’m a latecomer to her work having only read Golden Boys previously, but am a fan and intend to make my way through her work.

Of a Boy brought back every terrible memory from childhood, from being unhappy because of bullying, worrying about not fitting in, to thinking I was unloved and feeling frightened of being abandoned.

Sonya Hartnett’s writing is clear and simple and very, very good. Of a Boy won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize and the Age Book of the Year in 2003.

The story is set in an Australian suburb in the 1970’s, where three small children set off to their local milkbar to buy ice-creams one day and were never seen again. The children’s disappearance shocked and frightened their community, including a nine-year old boy, Adrian, who was dumped on his grandmother after his mother was deemed unfit to look after him. Adrian is the loneliest, saddest little boy around. He is in trouble all the time with his grandmother, who seems to be unable to show Adrian that she loves him. My heart went out to this poor little character.

In Adrian’s grandmother’s defense, she was grieving her husband when Adrian came to live with her. She was also looking forward to a retirement free of obligations, after looking after her sick husband for many years, so resented Adrian for tying her down again even though she knew he is not to blame for their family’s circumstances.

Adrian suffers horribly at school. He lacks confidence and struggles to find friends. Children in this story are just as cruel as children are in real life, and being different to the other children is a licence to be picked on.

Eventually Adrian makes friends with the girl who lives across the road. She has her own cross to bear in the form of a mother who is dying. The story ends with Adrian and Nicole searching for the three missing children, when things comes to a shocking and tragic end. I had to read the last pages twice, because on my first read I couldn’t take in what happened to Adrian at the conclusion of the story.

In Of a Boy Sonya Hartnett tells exactly how it is to be a lonely, frightened and sad child. This story may not be for everyone, but it is exceptionally well told.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Welcome to Rose Hopkins’ Sweet Shop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan

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Welcome to Rosie Hopkins Sweet Shop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan is the best kind of comfort read, a romance set in a village filled with hunky blokes, excellent pubs, eccentric villagers and a likeable heroine. And, best of all, as the title indicates, a lolly shop that sells all sorts of old fashioned favourites.

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I love Flying Saucers and associate them with trips to Port Fairy in Victoria, where the local lolly shop sells them from a big glass jar for 10 cents each. Plenty of Flying Saucers were eaten by the characters in this story, which starts with the heroine, Rosie Hopkins, leaving London to look after her ageing Great-Aunt Lilian who has lived in a small village and ran the local sweet shop her whole life. For those of you who have never experienced a Flying Saucer, you suck on the tasteless coloured wafer until the burst of sherbet inside explodes on your tongue. At ten cents each, Flying Saucers are great value.

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When Rosie arrives in Lipton, she realises that Lilian desperately needs help. Lilian is unable to look after herself properly any more and has been subsisting on lollies (including Lemons Sherbets) from her shop, which has been closed for several years. I have an enormous fondness for Lemon Sherbets, and have been known to suck on them until my tongue bleeds. Similar to a Flying Saucer, there is a lovely burst of sherbet in the middle, although in the case of a Lemon Sherbet, the sherbet is surrounded by a lemon flavoured boiled lolly. Yum.

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Rosie is an Auxiliary nurse who has been living with her boyfriend for eight years, although it is apparent from the first pages that he is not the hero of this book. Rosie is a city girl who loves living in London, and finds things in the country to be wetter, muddier and more complicated than she originally imagined, although after assisting the local doctor to operate on Lady Lipton’s dog, she quickly settles into village life. Rosie is a bit of an emotional marshmallow when it comes to her long-time boyfriend, who is a little bit fat and marshmallowy himself. Personally, I don’t really go for marshmallows unless they are home made using lemon juice, in which case I’ll clean up a tray of the stuff by myself.

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Rosie launches from disaster to disaster, and from hunk to hunk. At one point, she had three potential blokes on the go, including the boyfriend back in London. One by one the fellows are narrowed down so the hero can emerge, (one turns out to be gay, another is the local man-about-town and perfect for someone else, and so on). The boyfriend is also eliminated from the running after a visit to Lipton. Lolly Bananas. Hmmm. The texture is okay, but the flavour is a bit banana-ish for me. Anyway, different things for different people.

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The present story is broken up with the story of Lilian’s wartime romance with a young man in Lipton seventy years ago. Surprisingly Lilian’s acid tongue didn’t scare him away, but some people love sour lollies. I do. There is nothing like the sensation of your mouth puckering up with a combination of sour and sweet acid lollies.

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The book includes recipes for Peanut Brittle (which Lilian describes as leaving your breath smelling like a diabetic monkey’s), Marshmallows, Coconut Ice and Tablet, which looks wonderful. I can feel a sugar headache coming on just looking at the photo of Tablet above. The ingredients include a lot of sugar, sweetened condensed milk (which is basically just sugared milk) and a drop of milk. I’ll be making a tray of this sometime soon.

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Also included are excerpts from a book about lollies which has apparently been written by Lilian, with sections where she has said derogatory things about certain lollies blacked out. I laughed when I read that the only good chocolate to come out of the United States of America are Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, probably because I agree with this opinion one hundred percent. Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups are excellent, but I have yet to taste another American chocolate that is edible.

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True love eventually finds its way for Rosie, and things work out happily for Lillian too. Conversation lollies have been around forever, with sweet messages like; ‘BE MINE’ or ‘PUPPY LOVE’ but they must have updated the messages because these days they also have ‘TEXT ME.’

Jenny Colgan has written loads of other books with titles which include the words ‘Cupcake’, ‘Bakery’, ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Café,’ so there are clearly loads of people like me who enjoy sweet things to eat along with their romance. I can highly recommend Welcome to Rosie Hopkins Sweet Shop of Dreams for those of us that do.

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Oh, go on, you knew I wouldn’t finish this post without some chocolate for you all. Help yourself to a Chocolate Caramel or a Hazelnut Whirl. Enjoy. Hugs and kisses, Rose.

 

 

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The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

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I nearly didn’t read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers because it is set during my least favourite time for story-telling; the late 1930’s. Books set during the Depression obviously reflect the hardships of the time, and their characters often endure sad, joyless struggles. However, on the strength of reading The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers years ago, I sighed a big sigh, and got on with it.

Cue an eye roll over my melodramatics, because I was clearly experiencing a ‘First World Modern-Age Problem’.

The characters in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter lived through tragedies in their day to day lives, yet they mostly kept getting up each morning and living another day in their poverty stricken, lonely, unsatisfying lives. (The ‘mostly’ in my last sentence is significant. Not all of the characters in this story were able to sustain the will to live throughout their trials).

Carson McCullers was 23 years old when she wrote her first book, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Stop and think about this age for a moment. She was 23 years old.

What I want to know is, how did a 23 year old know that we all need someone to hear us? How did she know, at an age when most of us these days are still living as ‘kidults’ in our parent’s homes, that a middle aged man might not love his wife anymore, is bored with the ongoing pettiness and irritations of his marriage, and wouldn’t be devastated by his wife’s death? How did she know that this same middle-aged man might be fascinated by a very young teenage girl up until the time the girl becomes a young woman – bearing in mind that The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was published 15 years before Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita? And how did she know that a father might feel dissatisfied by his children’s lack of interest in the fight for his strongest beliefs, when 23 year olds these days are usually just starting out in their first job and are madly spending their disposable income on having a good time? How did Carson McCullers know at the age of 23, that a person can die of loneliness?

And don’t even get me started on how well Carson McCullers wrote at the age of 23. Her characters are alive, their language is distinctive and they behave in the only way they possibly could. They are all inevitable, as was their story.

The characters in this novel are all loosely joined by their connection to a deaf-mute man named John Singer. Singer shares a room with his dearest friend, another deaf-mute man. They live in a small town in Georgia in the American South until his room mate, who is showing signs of mental illness, is sent away to an asylum. Singer desperately misses his friend.

Soon after, the other characters individually gravitate to Singer for companionship. The only thing the other characters have in common is the desire to be heard and understood by someone, and in Singer, they believe they have found this. What Singer thinks about the confidences of the other characters is barely touched on, although when he visits his friend in the asylum, he comments on how strange the things that other characters tell him are. The friend who is the receptacle for Singer’s outpourings is the only character in the whole story who doesn’t seem to feel the need to be heard by anyone.

The times are harsh. Most of the characters live from hand-to-mouth and for the black people, who endure the lowest wages, servitude to white people, segregation and atrocities which devastate them, times are worst of all.

Each of the characters endure life-changing events during the telling of the story.

Biff is a middle-aged man whose wife dies early in the book. Although she and Biff shared the workload of their family business, they were never soulmates. They were unhappily married and her death had very little impact on Biff emotionally. Biff desperately wanted children and often told Singer that he enjoyed imagining that another character, Mick, was his daughter.

Mick is a strong character, a young girl who grows up during the course of the novel. She is a tomboy who ultimately takes on the responsibility of helping her family financially, even though she knows this will bring on the end of her childhood and of her dreams of becoming a musician. Mick tells Singer ( a deaf-mute) about the music she loves, and of her dreams to compose music.

Another character, Doctor Copeland, has been alienated from his family for years after physically abusing his wife. Dr Copeland is disappointed by his sons and by his black community, who will not fight for rights for their race under his leadership. Experience has taught those who he wants to lead that it is safer for them to slide under the radar, because tragedies have and will befall them when they have stuck their necks out.

The last major character is Mr Blount, an alcoholic blow-in to town. Blount is a ‘Red’ who believes in equality, although he believes that if black men were gelded, the divide between rich and poor would be minimised as a source of workers for the rich would be eliminated. Some animals are clearly more equal than other animals.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a remarkable book, and not just because a 23 year old wrote it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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