Review: Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth

61816951With her satire on Anglo-Irish landlords in Castle Rackrent (1800), Maria Edgeworth pioneered the regional novel and inspired Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814). Politically risky, stylistically innovative, and wonderfully entertaining, the novel changes the focus of conflict in Ireland from religion to class, and boldly predicts the rise of the Irish Catholic bourgeoisie.

I can see why this book is so important in the history of women writers and political satire, however, I just found it quite a boring book. At least it’s a short boring book. There was little to interest the modern reader, and Thady Quirk was really not the most interesting of unreliable narrators.

Maria Edgeworth herself is a very interesting woman, and one whose works I would like to explore with more detail, in the vague hopes that it will be more interesting than this novella. Her writing really hasn’t translated well to modern life, and I think someone who was not familiar with the practice of rack renting and the absentee landlord system in place in Ireland during the 18th and 19th centuries would find this book completely boggling without further context.

Thady tells his story with quite a dull narrative voice, though there are parts where he is comically thick. The story of his son’s rise to riches is pretty implausible, though I kind of felt like he was one of the more reasonable characters, since he didn’t seem like a total idiot… money snatching and devious, but not as thick or cruel as others.

Regardless, I was glad to get this book over with, which didn’t take too long, since it’s only around 100 pages long, with extensive footnotes. I felt like there could have been magic there, but it fell pretty flat in comparison to less heavy handed satires of society at the time.

2/5 stars.

Review: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

154510581 Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and one of the most inspiring leaders in the world—now tells a story she has never told before, a candid account of how her early years led her to live an on-the-road kind of life, traveling, listening to people, learning, and creating change. She reveals the story of her own growth in tandem with the growth of an ongoing movement for equality. This is the story at the heart of My Life on the Road.

I had never heard of Gloria Steinem before this book was featured as the January pick for Emma Watson’s “Our Shared Shelf” book club, but I saw the book at work and thought it looked interesting, so decided to give it a solid shot.

I did not expect to love it half as much as I did. I didn’t expect to learn new things and find it incredibly inspiring and enriching to my long stifled feminism. I feel that I’m okay to loudly and proudly say that I am a feminist, as I don’t believe that the movement is solely about shutting men down- far from it, I have no problem with most men. I have problems with a certain type or group of men, but I have similar problems with certain women. But anyway, I digress.

“Feminist” has become a pretty dirty word to a lot of people. I’ve had people who don’t even know me talk down about “man hating, ugly feminists” and expect me to agree with them. My ex boyfriend repeatedly told me he would dump me if I ever said I was a feminist, for heaven’s sake… now I wish I had, but it’s a long time ago now.

Gloria discusses these ideas of feminism and breaks down the attitudes that have brought them about. She also discusses wider topics, such as the civil rights movement, indigenous rights, advocacy, her nomadic childhood, mental illness and politics with great sympathy and great anecdotes. Her storytelling throughout the book is phenomenal- for example, she talks of her most interesting experiences with taxi drivers, and I really didn’t want it to end!

The book is strangely organised, but I didn’t have a huge issue with it. I felt some parts would have been better slotted into other chapters, or some chapters would have slotted in better before or after others, but in general I thought it was fine. I didn’t really like that she assumed the reader was American, but perhaps she didn’t expect the book to gain the global readership that it has attracted.

The book details Steinem’s achievements as an organiser and advocate, but focus is often shifted to those that have inspired her throughout her journey. A chapter about her amazing friend, Wilma Mankiller (what a name!), was beautiful and truly inspired me to try and be as calm and patient in my own bodily suffering as she was.

I took quite a long time reading this book, as I felt the need to stop frequently to digest ideas and wrote all over the margins, underlining and commenting on ideas and thoughts. My copy now looks rather manky, but luckily the dust jacket is still there to cover up my sins…. and regardless, I will be keeping this book to read over again, to pick up and reinforce ideas and to contemplate.

So my first ever book club pick has been quite the success, though I read it a month late. I probably won’t read The Colour Purple, which is February’s pick, right now as I just don’t have the time at the moment. It doesn’t help that I couldn’t get a copy through work either! The OSS people seem to have wiped out the supplier’s stock! Well done!

I’d seriously recommend this book to anyone wanting an inspirational and enlightening book, to any woman wanting to read more about feminism without it being too “radical” (definitely no bra burning in this one, and no man hating either!) and those interested in contemplation of a nomadic lifestyle.

4.5/5 and Leo with a wine glass, not an Oscar.

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Review: The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

25666052As the Titanic and her passengers sank slowly into the Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg late in the evening of April 14, 1912, a nearby ship looked on. Second Officer Herbert Stone, in charge of the midnight watch on the SS Californian sitting idly a few miles north, saw the distress rockets that the Titanic fired. He alerted the captain, Stanley Lord, who was sleeping in the chartroom below, but Lord did not come to the bridge. Eight rockets were fired during the dark hours of the midnight watch, and eight rockets were ignored. The next morning, the Titanic was at the bottom of the sea and more than 1,500 people were dead. When they learned of the extent of the tragedy, Lord and Stone did everything they could to hide their role in the disaster, but pursued by newspapermen, lawyers, and political leaders in America and England, their terrible secret was eventually revealed. The Midnight Watch is a fictional telling of what may have occurred that night on the SS Californian, and the resulting desperation of Officer Stone and Captain Lord in the aftermath of their inaction.

Told not only from the perspective of the SS Californian crew, but also through the eyes of a family of third-class passengers who perished in the disaster, the narrative is drawn together by Steadman, a tenacious Boston journalist who does not rest until the truth is found. The Midnight Watch is a powerful and dramatic debut novel–the result of many years of research in Liverpool, London, New York, and Boston, and informed by the author’s own experiences as a ship’s officer and a lawyer.

This is one of those books that grabs you by the throat and won’t let go until you’re staying up way past your bedtime just so you can keep reading it.

I started reading this, feeling I needed a break after reading quite a few tough books in a row, and wanting something a bit fun and interesting. I’ve been obsessed with the Titanic ever since I first learnt about it way back when I was little. My little brother and I would pore over great big books about it, read any kids books featuring the disaster, watched all the documentaries and went to see several exhibitions on the ship. I visited the Titanic museum in Belfast and cried, buying my brother all the merchandise and books I could carry; if you’re ever in Belfast and have even a smidgeon of interest in it, I thoroughly recommend the museum!

Anyway, this book was going to be mine once I saw it on the ARC shelf and work, and it did not disappoint me at all.

I was instantly grabbed by the reporter, Steadman’s, introduction, which captivated me and dragged me straight into early 20th century Venezuela, and then Boston. I enjoyed his point of view immensely, though I wish it hadn’t been the sole POV through the whole 2nd portion of the novel. I enjoyed the switching between him and members of the crew of the Californian, who were experiencing the disaster on the water, whilst Steadman unearthed it from the offices of Cunard shipping.

Lord, the enigmatic captain of the Californian, remained a very difficult person to understand. I still don’t really understand why he acted the way he did that night, but that’s the point. His actions were thoroughly reprehensible, despite his suave exterior. You never see the disaster from his point of view, but only that of the people around him. He’s the destabilising feature of the novel as much as the wreck of the Titanic is.

The final section is told from the fictional perspective of Titanic passengers during the disaster. I do like how it is brought into the story, though in some ways I feel it could have been woven through it before a final reveal. Regardless, I was moved to tears and lay there contemplating the ending for hours… needless to say, I didn’t sleep much that night!

This book should be released in March or April, depending on your region, and I really do recommend getting your hands on it. I am really glad I took the chance and read it, because it would have been a shame to have it laying there unread any longer!

5/5 stars and a different Leo… because this is Titanic, not Gatsby!

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Thank you to Penguin Australia for the ARC. This review is entirely my own opinion and is in no way affected by the fact that this is a review copy.

Review: Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovich

Peter Grant—cop, magical apprentice, and Londoner to the core—is being forced out of his comfort zone and into the English countryside. His latest case involves the disappearance of children in the small village of Herefordshire, and the local police are unwilling to admit there might be a supernatural element involved. Now Peter must deal with them, local river spirits, and the fact that all the shops close by 4 P.M.

Apologies for my silence recently! It’s been very busy.

Foxglove Summer is as close as this series has gotten to a stand alone novel, and whilst it was very good, I really really missed Leslie and Nightingale, who are both relegated to the background for different reasons. I do like Beverly Brook, as well as Peter’s new mate Dominic, but Lesley and Nightingale are just wonderful.

The mystery disappearance of the girls went in directions that I hadn’t expected, but I can’t say I was overly satisfied with the ending. It was kind of like Peter being taken hostage was either tacked on as an afterthought, or had been pared right back to the point of near pointlessness. The whole handover could have been done without it, or with the consequences being a larger feature. I feel like there was a major missed opportunity here… did the publishers just worry about the length?

However, in saying this, these are criticisms that I’ve thought of afterwards (though the whole rescue from fairyland bit was odd at the time), I did really enjoy the book and came out of it happy and wanting the next in the series to happen RIGHT NOW. Alas, until June we wait.

I did like the move from London to the country, and felt that Aaronovitch handled it perfectly. I love London as Peter’s setting, but I agreed with Nightingale- after the experiences of Broken Homes, he needed to get away and get distracted. Dominic was a perfect placeholder for Lesley, and I’m pleased that something is finally going on with Beverly and Peter! Also, that Lesley wasn’t entirely cut out, and their relationship is dented, but still respectful. Peter’s pain at her loss was so raw, and I loved that he understood why she did it and took it reasonably well.

So… now to wait for The Hanging Tree, which had better be awesome or Aaronovitch may have a legion of bloodthirsty fans waiting at his door… myself included.

Review: Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovich

9970042It begins with a dead body at the far end of Baker Street tube station, all that remains of American exchange student James Gallagher—and the victim’s wealthy, politically powerful family is understandably eager to get to the bottom of the gruesome murder. The trouble is, the bottom—if it exists at all—is deeper and more unnatural than anyone suspects . . . except, that is, for London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant. With Inspector Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, tied up in the hunt for the rogue magician known as “the Faceless Man,” it’s up to Peter to plumb the haunted depths of the oldest, largest, and—as of now—deadliest subway system in the world.

At least he won’t be alone. No, the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah—that’s going to go well.

I’ve had a self imposed, almost year long, break from the PC Grant series, but I’ve let myself have a quick binge of the books over the last week or so!

Rivers of London was one of my favourite books in 2015, and while Moon Over Soho was good, it didn’t live up to its predecessor. However, Whispers Underground did not disappoint one bit!

I love everything to do with London, and I’m fascinated by the famous London Underground. Whilst it was a terrifying experience in peak hour, I found it far more interesting and easy to use than my own rail system in Sydney! The Underground has much to offer the imagination in real life… ghost stories, major accidents, secret tunnels, closed off stations and much much more. Aaronovich adds some even more freaky things in there in this book, and god damn, I loved every word.

Peter Grant is your typical bloke… he’s a beer swilling copper, but he also does magic. His amazing partner in law enforcement, Lesley May, is still recovering from the trauma of Rivers of London, but she’s absolutely kick arse and I adore her.

I know many people have a problem with Peter’s take on the women he meets, and as a feminist… I don’t see it. Sure, he looks at women and thinks they’re hot. So what? Every guy does it. Hell, lots of girls do it too. It’s a basic human reaction to seeing an attractive person, and you’re seeing this all through the eyes of an average man. He doesn’t treat women with disrespect, he thinks the world of Lesley and never attempts to “go there” with her, even when he would freaking love to.

I laughed out loud frequently throughout the book, read out bits to anyone who would listen and even went back to read over my favourite sections again. There’s a bit where Peter is trapped in the Underground with the ghosts of the many people who have died there, and it sent chills down my spine whilst reading it late at night!

I love all the references to geek culture throughout the series, and they sent me into fits of giggles on the regular. So many Lord of the Rings quotes! It’s partly why Peter is one of my favourite modern literary characters- so sassy, so geeky and doesn’t take shit from anyone. Except maybe Lesley, but most of the time he deserves it.

The actual crime itself is riveting, and draws in the FBI and a high profile US Senator. There is also the overarching problem of the Faceless Man who started causing problems in Rivers of London, and there is a very intense chase through a deep sewer. Nightingale is as hilarious and badass as ever, and I was pleased to see a fair amount of Molly, the resident creepy housekeeper, involved in this book.

I think this is definitely on par with Rivers of London, and is a book I’m bound to read again! I immediately bought Broken Homes and I’m hoping it’s as awesome as this was!

 

5/5 Stars

Blog Tour: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

Warning: once you let books into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…

This is a book about books. All sorts of books, from Little Women and Harry Potter to Jodi Picoult and Jane Austen, from to Stieg Larsson to Joyce Carol Oates to Proust. It’s about the joy and pleasure of books, about learning from and escaping into them, and possibly even hiding behind them. It’s about whether or not books are better than real life.

It’s also a book about a Swedish girl called Sara, her elderly American pen-friend Amy and what happens when you land a very different kind of bookshop in the middle of a town so broken it’s almost beyond repair.

Or is it?

The Readers of Broken Wheel has touches of 84 Charing Cross Road, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Chocolat, but adds an off-beat originality and intelligence all its own.

I saw the ARC of this book on Netgalley a while ago and requested it, but forgot to read it. I then saw a copy at work, and thought that it still came across as cute, and since I was in need of a lighthearted read to wind down from some more intense reading, I opened it up and began it the next day. It kind of strikes me as very similar to Charlaine Harris’ novel style, only with books instead of creatures that want to eat you. I honestly don’t know which formula I prefer!

This book could certainly never be accused of being heavy, despite it being nearly 400 pages long. I’d put this in the fluffy chick-lit kind of category, though it is very obviously intended to be for and about bookworms. At first, I was a bit hesitant to get too into it, since I’ve picked up and dropped quite a few easy reads over the last week or so, but something about this kept me going. Perhaps it was the author’s thinly veiled swipes at “idiot America” and small town politics. Perhaps it was the warm-heartedness of the book as a whole. Maybe it was because of the bookish discussions, though I disagreed with many of the author’s opinions on classic literature. But I think it was mainly because of me finally finding a chick-lit heroine who didn’t make me want to scratch her eyes out.

Sara is a girl who lives her life almost entirely in the world of books, quite literally with her nose constantly in one. She worked in a bookshop, though has been recently made unemployed by its closure (been there, done that… thank god I’m back in one now!) She’s shy, quiet and very nervous around strangers, which I am as well. She honestly prefers books to people, which for the most part, I entirely understand.

The book is well paced and the translation is very well done. I do see some aspects of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society here, but I don’t think it was as well executed, as too many of the situations seemed too improbable and contrived. It was also extremely predictable, to the point that the moment the love interest walked into Sara’s house, I knew what would happen. Though the darker side of Broken Wheel is discussed, it isn’t really explored, such as the supposed meth lab in the abandoned school. It would have been good to have discussed that flip side, like Guernsey did, but it just skimmed over them to focus on a very idyllic view of small town America.

I think that this book would offend some of the more conservative readers, particularly Americans- so let’s just say that if you’re particularly religious or are contemplating voting for Donald Trump, give this book a miss. Bivald is very typically Swedish, and very liberal minded, and her shots fired at religious fundamentalism, racism, non-readers and general idiocy made me giggle. There be sex in this here town, but it’s not explicit, more implied and thought about afterwards, which is generally how I prefer it.

Yes, it gets a bit saccharine sweet in parts, and for a fairly realistic novel, it gets a bit outlandish in parts, but the characters are loveable, the bookish references are fun and the overall effect is a good read. I don’t think it’s a particularly memorable book, but I definitely enjoyed it! I really want to open up my own awesome bookshop after reading this!

Thank you to SourceBooks for including me in their blog tour!

3.5/5 Stars

 

*This was sent to me as a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: Eavedropping on Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Leslie Adkins

21216297A cultural snapshot of everyday life in the world of Jane Austen

Jane Austen, arguably the greatest novelist of the English language, wrote brilliantly about the gentry and aristocracy of two centuries ago in her accounts of young women looking for love. Jane Austen’s England explores the customs and culture of the real England of her everyday existence depicted in her classic novels as well as those by Byron, Keats, and Shelley. Drawing upon a rich array of contemporary sources, including many previously unpublished manuscripts, diaries, and personal letters, Roy and Lesley Adkins vividly portray the daily lives of ordinary people, discussing topics as diverse as birth, marriage,  religion, sexual practices, hygiene, highwaymen, and superstitions.

From chores like fetching water to healing with  medicinal leeches, from selling wives in the marketplace to buying smuggled gin, from the hardships faced by young boys and girls in the mines to the familiar sight of corpses swinging on gibbets, Jane Austen’s England offers an authoritative and gripping account that is sometimes humorous, often shocking, but always entertaining.

If you’re interested in the 18th Century, I’d totally recommend this book to you. I was surprised by how accessible and fun this history book was, though I felt like it’s titular connection to Jane Austen was somewhat lacking.

Jane Austen is mentioned every so often, though not as much as other 18th century diarists and writers, who were fascinating in their own right. It covers a great many topics, which made for varied and interesting reading, which I’ll probably go back and learn more about some of the sections in the future. I’m planning on reading my way through the 18th-20th century, through both history and literature, in preparation for my PhD. I feel like I’m missing quite a lot of background knowledge and want to find out more about the literary interests and influences of certain authors. Jane Austen, Fanny Burney and George Eliot are frequently mentioned as influences, so learning about their lives and time period is imperative.

I’ve already found that reading Evelina has been helped by the knowledge gleaned from this book! From parts of dress to places and activities, I understand more of the cultural references in the book. I see that as quite a success!

I feel like the Napoleonic wars could have been further covered in this, though I believe the authors have another book out about it. They actually say that it is an extremely important event in this period, but don’t go on to elaborate much further, other than to talk briefly about the (terrible) behaviour of those in the army and navy. I was shocked to discover that Navy “press gangs” could conscript people to become sailors simply by seeing them in the street or sitting in their house and dragging them down to the docks, with no warning, and often never to be seen again!

Other than that very minor quibble, I found this book astounding and really enjoyable. I didn’t feel it bogged down in details too often and it moved along at a good pace. It was a perfect cultural introduction to a period of history so well known, but so little understood. The past truly is another country, because they really did do things differently there!

5 stars

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Review: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

18300270Elinor is as prudent as her sister Marianne is impetuous. Each must learn from the other after they are they are forced by their father’s death to leave their home and enter into the contests of polite society. The charms of unsuitable men and the schemes of rival ladies mean that their paths to success are thwart with disappointment but together they attempt to find a way to happiness.

I have been wary of tackling this book for years, because I love the Emma Thompson movie version (Alan Rickman will forever be Snape and Colonel Brandon to me! Bless his soul.) I really didn’t want to be disappointed in the book, and had kind of tiptoed around beginning it at all. At Christmas time, however, I had a craving for Austen and thought that it was the perfect time to take on this book, leaving only Emma and Mansfield Park on my unread Austen pile. I’m frankly not looking forward to those two, because Emma seems like a character who will be really annoying and everyone seems to think Mansfield Park is the worst of the bunch.

This was reaaaaaaally slow for the first third, and I was having major trouble staying focussed on the book, which is so unlike me with an Austen! I was feeling pretty negative about it all, and disappointed in the flow of the book, so I limped along for a few days.

Slowly, I was totally immersed and couldn’t put it down! I was giggling at bits, reading out sections to my poor fiancee, who had no prior knowledge of the plot and the social etiquette being broken by the passage. It was absolutely hilarious at points!

Marianne was a difficult character for me to like, because she could be so rude and cruel to those who were kind to her, simply because she disliked some aspect of their character; mainly, that they offended her romantic view of the world. However, as the novel progressed, she became far more measured in attitude, especially after her climactic illness.

“And Marianne, who had the knack of finding her way in every house to the library, however it might be avoided by the family in general, soon procured herself a book.”

I don’t generally frequent homes with libraries, but I feel I would be the same!

Elinor was a far more relatable character for me, though I really wished in the beginning that she’d grow more of a backbone. She puts up with so much from her mother, sister and other relations, it’s no wonder she really wanted to get married and away from it all!

Austen has left the prolonged felicity of the couples in doubt, ending the book at a point that implies that the future is not necessarily stable. I like this about Austen, as she manages to combine the fairytale endings with stark reality, leaving there enough mystery for the future to get the reader thinking. I’d love to know how Marianne and Brandon got on, and whether Willoughby’s wife’s behaviour improved.

Overall, because of the slow start, i’d rate this book at the 3.5 star point. It’s far better than Northanger Abbey, but not as good as Pride and Prejudice. I felt like it was about on par with Persuasion, which I also very much enjoyed. Now I’ll have to go on to read the last two relatively soon, as I’m reading my way through the important classics from the 18th Century onwards!

 

Review: Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson

5290266The storyline of Miss Buncle’s Book (1934) is a simple one: Barbara Buncle, who is unmarried and perhaps in her late 30s, lives in a small village and writes a novel about it in order to try and supplement her meagre income.

 

For the first third of the book, I enjoyed it and found it charming, but easily forgettable. I dropped it for many weeks, almost forgetting that I hadn’t finished it, until on Christmas night I found myself lacking a book to read. Kindle at the ready, I took myself off to bed to read for a while. That “while” ended up being several hours, at which point the party I was avoiding ended, and I finally went to sleep. The next night, I again found myself up until 4 o’clock in the depths of finishing this book!

It was the perfect book for a laid back, Christmassy mood. No one wants to be slogging through the Russian greats when all your belly can do is grumble for another serving of ham and you’re pouring yourself your third Baileys (which for me is about 2.5 too many!) The premise is simple, the characters are funny and the story charming.

Miss Buncle is a rather quiet heroine, whom nobody suspects could possibly be clever enough to write a novel, let alone one so astute that could rock a little town to its core. She’s a smart cookie, and watches the townspeople with a keen eye. They have absolutely no idea that what they’re doing is feeding her content for her next book by acting like complete fools in regard to the first one, the aptly named Disturber of the Peace.

The leader of the band of naysayers is Mrs Featherstone-Hogg, a woman so caricatured that she manages to be exactly relatable to someone you know. She’s in the realm of the perpetually outraged. She literally wants the author of Disturber of the Peace to be horse whipped once she gets her hands on them. Obviously, this is the main antagonist of the novel, though she has her willing sidekicks ready to leap on the person who so truthfully depicted them in all their glory… or in some cases, evil.

Stevenson manages to touch on three rather interesting and important themes; domestic abuse, lesbianism, education and spinsterhood. There is a lesbian couple in this book, skirted around and never stated outright, but they are there, and they are sympathetically rendered by all. Women’s education is touched upon, as several women who could have been intensely clever are left without an education because of their father, or family’s, patriarchal opinion that smart women are an abhorration. There is a woman who is pitied by the more sensitive women in the community, who is married to a man who treats her and her children with disdain at best. She literally goes to ask a friend what to do because he was nice to her at breakfast. Her children are described as “mice”, who are timid and tiptoe around their house, and are unable to relate to other children. She also deals with the perils of spinsterhood, the lack of money that it can entail, and how women feel it is better to have a mediocre husband than none at all.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a light read that touches on some heavy topics with grace. It was laugh out loud funny at several points, and I’m definitely going to be keeping it for future comfort reading!

 

4/5 stars

#CCWomensClassics Review: Bush Studies by Barbara Baynton

15832465Barbara Baynton’s short-story collection Bush Studies is famous for its stark realism—for not romanticising bush life, instead showing all its bleakness and harshness.

Economic of style, influenced by the great nineteenth-century Russian novelists, Baynton presents the Australian bush as dangerous and isolating for the women who inhabit it.

‘The terror Baynton evokes,’ Helen Garner writes in her introduction to the book, ‘is elemental, sexual, unabashedly female.’

Oh, dear. What a disappointing collection. It had so much promise, so much potential to be wonderful, but it failed. I have had a run of bad luck with Text Classics books, which I’m sure is not indicative of their value, but of my hopes and desires. They are all great examples of Australian Gothic literature, but are deeply flawed and uneven in quality.

If all the stories in this collection were as good as the last one, I would have enjoyed the experience and recommended it. “The Chosen Vessel” was gripping and frightening, and had me well within its clutches. Swagmen are an essential part of Australian colonial culture, and are almost always depicted as a jolly nuisance that one must feed, give work and tolerate. Baynton flips this on it’s head and turns him into a figure of terror. The “heroic” stockman is a figure of idiocy and religious fervour, not the lighthearted saviour of the usual kind. The villainy of the patriarchy is on show, from the husband who sneers at his wife’s fear to the swagman who feels he has the right to not only take her body, but her life.

Baynton knew too well the horrors of living alone in the bush, and how frightening it could be for a woman. Each woman in the stories is a different archetype, from the masculine Mary in “Squeaker’s Mate” to the timid governess in “Billy Skywonkie”. All face a myriad of terrors, not only in the stories, but before and after them. Baynton is not optimistic or positive about life in the bush for a woman, setting the role of a bushman’s wife as a hellish experience, contradicting the typical 19th century ideas of life on the land.

However, Baynton’s storytelling technique is at points nigh on impenetrable, her dialogue a complete mess and the narration confusing. I found myself backtracking over and over, having missed what on earth was going on, and jumping back to find my question is inexplicably unanswered. I’m not sure if Baynton actually intended this, or if it’s just me, or her fault as a writer. Action scenes were hard to follow, and I ended up skim reading stories like “Scrammy ‘And” because I simply couldn’t work out who was who and what was happening.

The dialogue is stilted and makes very little sense at times, even with reading it aloud and having a pretty decent knowledge of Australian slang, accents and older terminology. In her attempt to depict language as it sounded, Baynton has completely muddled it and made it far more difficult for the reader than necessary. The better stories are those with little dialogue, namely the first half of “Squeaker’s Mate, “The Chosen Vessel” and “A Dreamer”. The others are dialogue heavy, making them confusing and unenjoyable.

“I know who yer thort ’twas, Warder!” They were sitting side by side, yet he spoke very loudly. “Scrammy ‘and, ehm?” He had guessed correctly. “An’ yer thort yer see ‘im lars’ night!” He was right again. “An’ yer thort ’twas ‘im that ‘ad bin ramsakin’ the place yesterday, when we was shepherdin’. An’ yer thort ‘t must ‘ave bin ‘im shook the tommy!”

(Scrammy ‘And, pg.28)

That’s a pretty standard set of dialogue, which does make sense, but takes a little bit of interpreting. That, set over the length of a story, (and it does get worse) then over several stories, gets old really quickly. I don’t even mind a bit of phonetic dialogue, but Baynton has taken it too far.

Helen Garner, in her introduction, is tough but fair on the collection. She raises many of the points that I have, and critiques Baynton’s attitude towards the bush and humanity. I enjoyed the introduction more than half the stories, which is a first for me!

If you would still like to read them, and I do recommend the three that I mentioned as good earlier, you can find them here for free. I wouldn’t spend too much money on them, though they are published by Text Publishing, so a free pdf is a good idea, and one I wish I’d known about before purchasing the book.

These are a grim set of stories, but unfortunately I will not be recommending more than three of them and regret buying this. But hey, you live and learn and there are plenty more books on the shelf!

2/5 stars