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.

From Sea and Sardinia by D H Lawrence | an excerpt

Some days, in an idle moment, I stand at my bookcase and run my eyes over the shelves, and very often I take down this book and open it at random. I have posted excerpts from Sea and Sardinia before, but I find the whole book irresistible so I hope you will excuse another one!

The lovely dawn: lovely pure, wide morning in the mid-sea, so golden-aired and delighted, with the sea like sequins shaking, and the sky far, far, far above, unfathomably clear. How glad to be on a ship! What a golden hour for the heart of man! ah if one could sail for ever, on a small quiet, lonely ship, from land to land and isle to isle, and saunter through the spaces of this lovely world,, always through the spaces of this lovely world. Sweet it would be sometimes to come to the opaque earth, to block oneself against the stiff land, to annul the vibration of one’s flight against the inertia of terra firma! but life itself would be in the flight, the tremble of space. Ah the trembling of never-ended space, as one moves in flight! Space, and the frail vibration of space, the glad lonely wringing of the heart. Not to be clogged to the land any more. Not to be any more like a donkey with a log on its leg, fastened to weary earth that has no answer now. But to be off.

To find three masculine, world-lost souls, and world-lost saunter and saunter on along with them, across the dithering space, as long as life lasts! Why come to anchor? There is nothing to anchor for. Land has no answer to the soul any more. It has gone inert. Give me a little ship, kind gods, and three world-lost comrades. Hear me! And let me wander aimless across this vivid outer world, the world empty of man, where space flies happily.

The lovely, celandine-yellow morning of the open sea, paling towards a rare, sweet blue! The sun stood above the horizon, like the great burning stigma of the sacred flower of day.

Reluctantly I must put the book down now to finish this post. I hope some of you enjoy it as much as myself.

A review of “Never Let Me Go”

I hardly know how to rate this book. It’s a great book but – I didn’t like it. It cast an atmosphere over me every time I picked it up, and even appeared in a dream or two. And it left me with several questions.

The premise is this: Children/Clones are bred for the sole purpose of donating their organs when they reach thirty or so. They are brought up in special schools with Guardians and Teachers. They have  no contact with the outside world other than seeing delivery men, gardiners, postmen etc. When they are very young they are told of their future – and not told. They know – and they don’t know:

Since I went to a boarding school myself (but no boys) I could identify with the intensity of every little thing; the way every word and rumour is scrutinised for meaning and consequences; the importance given to the unimportant; the groups forming and re-forming, the conspiracies. At lessons the emphasis is on creativity; drawing and writing being particularly encouraged – why? This question, at least, is answered eventually. All the children read literature and philosophy and spend hours discussing these topics.

The main characters are Kathy and Ruth, best friends from their earliest memories which seem to begin when they are five years old. And later on, there’s Tommy, who forms the apex of a triangle which dominates their lives. When the book begins, Kathy is caring for Ruth who has just become a doner. The narrative goes back then to their childhood, and is riveting! This book is a page-turner for sure. Kathy is like Darrell Rivers in “Malory Towers” (if anyone else remembers that far back), a good, caring girl with a big heart. Ruth is devious and controlling, and Tommy needs a good shake, but each in her, or his, own way is loyal to the others.

When they grow into teenagers they are moved to other homes, in smaller groups; they know what is coming but they never speak of it.

“By that time in our lives, we no longer shrank from the subject of donations . . . but neither did we think about it very seriously, or discuss it.”

Apart from the fact that they are sterile, they are the same as other young people, although sex is treated in a very matter of fact way; no coyness, no mystery, no romance, no future either. Relationships form, break-up and begin again.

Right from the beginning there is an undercurrent of uneasiness, an unspoken fear which works its way into the readers minds. It did to mine anyway! And you care about these characters. Is there no way out of their terrible future? Have they no choices? This book is a great read and, of course, the writing is impeccable. I love Kazuo Ishiguro and I am obliged to give it full marks even though I didn’t like it.

The first page of Catch 22 by Joseph heller, to remind everyone how wonderful it was, and still is, with the best first line ever!

It was love at first sight.

The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.

Yossarian was in the hospital with a pain in his liver that fell just short of being jaundice. The doctors were puzzled by the fact that it wasn’t quite jaundice. If it became jaundice they could treat it. If it didn’t become jaundice and went away they could discharge him. But this just being short of jaundice all the time confused them.

Each morning they came around, three brisk and serious men with efficient mouths and inefficient eyes, accompanied by brisk and serious Nurse Duckett, one of the ward nurses who didn’t like Yossarian. They read the chart at the foot of the bed and asked impatiently about the pain. They seemed irritated when he told them it was exactly the same.

“Still no movement? the full colonel demanded.

The doctors exchanged a look when he shook his head.

“Give him another pill.”

Nurse Duckett made a note to give Yossarian another pill, and the four of them moved along to the next bed.

Well, you would just have to keep reading wouldn’t you?