Scrublands by Chris Hammer | Comments and an excerpt.

Before I begin this post I just want to say that I will be missing off and on between now and September 1st. My daughter is getting married and we’re in the throes of organizing everything. At least the shops are open again so myself and family can look for something gorgeous to wear. It’s all great fun!

Now, Scrublands. This is another one of those very atmospheric books; this time an Australian novel. I haven’t read many book set in Australia so this one appealed to me, maybe because I’m very fond of Australian cinema.

The characters are terrific and so memorable. The dialogue, the prose, the pace and shape of the book – all so good. I seem to be attracted to stories set in very hot places – perhaps because I’m here in Dublin; it’s ten degrees and raining, near the end of May – which is officially Summer!

The book begins explosively with a shooting outside the local church; the shooter is the priest. A year later, a journalist, Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write an article on the anniversary of the tragedy; he interviews several witnesses and hears all kinds of different versions of the story. He decides to solve the mystery for himself.

“Martin Scarsden stops the car on the bridge leading into town, leaving the engine running. It’s a single-lane bridge – no overtaking, no passing – built decades ago, the timber milled from local river red gums. It’s slung across the flood plain, long and rambling, desiccated planks shrunken and rattling, bolts loose, spans bowed. Martin opens the car door and steps into the midday heat, ferocious and furnace-dry. He places both hands on the railing, but such is the heat of the day that even wood is too hot to touch. He lifts them back, bringing flaking white paint with them. He wipes them clean, using the damp towel he has placed around his neck. He looks down to where the river should be and sees instead a mosaic of cracked clay, baked and going to dust. Someone has carted an old fridge out to where the water once ran and left it there, having first painted a sign on its door: FREE BEER – HONOUR SYSTEM.”

“It’s darker and cooler, much quieter, out of the wind. The boy is not here. Instead, up near the front, in the second line of pews, a woman is kneeling, perfectly still, praying. Martin looks around, but he can see no memorial to the shooting inside the church, just as there is none outside. He sits in the back pew, waiting. He recognises the woman’s piety, her supplication, but can’t remember how. How long is it since he felt anything remotely similar, experienced anything approaching grace? Codger thinks there was something holy about the priest, as does Mandy. How could that be, a man who shot things, who killed small animals and murdered his parishioners? How could that be when Martin, who just the day before had saved the life of a teenage boy, feel so much like a husk? He looks at his hands, places the palms together as if to pray, and stares at them. They don’t seem to belong to him, and he does not belong in this place.”

I begrudged time away from reading this book. I hope you find this as engaging as I did.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt – some thoughts . . .

I saw the movie of this book a long time ago, and recently took a notion to read it. Something must have sparked it off, perhaps something I read here on WordPress. If so, thanks to whoever it was. I’m enjoying it so much, and will write a proper review when I’m finished. I should say here, that it’s a non-fiction book about an antiques dealer, but it reads like fiction.

I have never before been so drawn in to the atmosphere of a book. Even when I’m not reading, I feel like I’m in Savannah. Here are a few words:

‘There was ample evidence in the records of the historical society that in Savannah’s palmier days it had been a cosmopolitan city and its citizens an unusually worldly sort. Mayor Richard Arnold, the man who had sweet-talked General Sherman in and out of town during the Civil War, was typical of the breed. He was a physician, a scholar, an epicure, a connoisseur of fine wines, and a gentleman who took his social obligations seriously. He wrote in one letter, “Yesterday, I entertained the Hon. Howell Cobb at a sociable dinner party. We sat down at 3 o’clock and got up at half-past nine.” Mayor Arnold’s six-and-a-half-hour dinner lent weight to what I had been told about Savannah’s fondness for parties, and it put me in mind of the genteel merriment going on nonstop in the town-house down the street from me at 16 East Jones Street.

My casual surveillance of the house paid off one day at noontime. A car drew up to the curb and screeched to a jolting stop. At the wheel was a neatly dressed elderly lady with white hair as neat as pie crust. She had made no attempt to parallel park but had instead pulled into the space front end first as if tethering a horse to a hitching post. She got out and marched to the front door, took a ball-peen hammer out of her purse and methodically smashed all the little panes of glass around the door. Then she put the hammer back in her purse and walked back to her car. The incident didn’t seem to make any difference to the people in the house. The piano went right on playing, and the voices went right on laughing. The panes of glass were replaced, but not until several days later.’

Does that give any idea of the very strong flavour of this book? I seem to be totally subsumed into Savannah!