The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

The Dressmaker by Rosalie HamIt’s a few weeks since I finished reading The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham but it is still on my mind.  It’s a popular kind  of book with me – a straightforward tale of life in a small Australian rural town. The author has let her imagination run wild to include  many variations  of human behavior in her range of characters.

Forced to leave town as a teenager  Myrtle Dunnage, known as Tilly, returns to care for her mother who lives on a rise on the outskirts of town. The teenager has matured and become a dressmaker of couture standard, quite different to the girl who went away.  Gradually some of the town come to use her skills as a dressmaker  but do not welcome her back into the life of the town.

I smiled and  I laughed at a lovely sense of oneupmanship.   I wept when there was a death as I moved through the book.

But then  a sense of unease started to sneak into my feelings.  This book is so deceptive.  It reels you in  with its sense of humour and beautiful clothes while all the time a tragedy of classic proportions is slowly taking shape.

My friends laugh and smile when asked how they enjoyed the book.  They talk of the clothes which Tilly makes. But time has leeched the humour and the clothes from my memory of the book and all I am left with is this feeling of doom.

It is a small town.  Everyone knows everyone.  And they seem unable to face the truth about a tragic accident years earlier. Tilly was blamed  whereas the town needs to take one step further back and look at the bully who was the real cause of the accident. They seemed unable to do that. So much easier to blame the misfit than the son of a “respectable” family.

Tilly cares for her aging mother, she makes beautiful clothes for all who ask her, and she proffers well-founded advice which is rejected.  The tension is building for the townspeople to be humiliated and Tilly’s final act before leaving town has unexpected far-reaching tragic effects.

Am I reading more into it than the author  intended ? Perhaps it is the same for everyone – it is what is inside us that makes us interpret the book in different ways. But I judge a book by what remains with me after the details have leeched away and in this case it was the way the author lulled me into a warm and comfortable feeling, wallowing in the nostalgia of small town life, while all the time the destruction of a town is bubbling away underneath

But then that’s just my opinion.  And what  do I know.  But then I do know that I will be re-reading this book and that I look forward to seeing how the upcoming movie with Kate Winslett will interpret the story and how the reviewers will rave about the clothes  !



Tools of the Trade – The Housewife’s Cook Book

Bound for Australia

Once upon a time the head of the family, the husband, went out to work each day to provide for his family while the wife stayed at home and followed her trades  as a  cook, cleaner, laundress, nurse, etc.  And one of the tools she needed for her trade as a cook was a cookery book with detailed instructions on how to put those important meals on the table.

D2 Chas & Vera 1929Vera Tansey married in 1929 and is pictured here a few weeks after her wedding. She had provided herself with an Every Ladies’ Cook-Book by Miss Drake.

Mrs Drake Cookery Book Cover bAs you can see it has been well and truly used by my mother

Lucy Drake who had trained in London had been in charge of cookery classes at Swinburne Technical College in Melbourne.  Her salary when she started in 1914 was 12/6 a week.  The publishers of Everylady’s Journal decided Australia needed a…

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The Rules for Book Reviewing

One of my favorite high standard web sites  to  read is a  Melbourne, Australia based site The Conversation,  an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community and delivered direct to the public. I never fail to find something there to interest me.

Recently there was an article on   The Rules for Book Reviewing   .  which I found very interesting considering the number of WordPress posts on books which  I read each day.   They range from genuine book reviews to the more personal reactions to the book.

The writer of the article included John Updike’s rules for reviewing,

Novelist and reviewer John Updike established five useful rules which are valid today:

  1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame them for not achieving what they did not attempt.
  2. Give them enough direct quotation – at least one extended passage – of the book’s prose so the reader can form their own impression, can get their own taste.
  3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.
  4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending.
  5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author’s ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it’s theirs and not yours?

I don’t attempt to write reviews so I found myself looking at these rules in relation to the blogs I read.  My main thought is that going by these rules some reviews do give away too much of the plot.  I need just enough to know if the storyline is one which will appeal to me.

And the final statement could just as easily apply to readers as well as reviewers -is my lack of enjoyment of the book a result of my failure and not the authors.  Hmmm.   Well.

I invite you to read this article.  It particularly applies to Australian reviewers but it could be interesting to all bloggers who write about their reading experiences, to see if different countries have different cultures in their book reviewing  and to see how these rules compare with their own book blogging  experiences

The Conversation

You might even find other articles which interest you.

book reviewingWe all know a good review when we read one – but what actually differentiates a good review from a bad one? Hartwig HKD, CC BY-ND

Image from Prof John Dale’s article on the Rules of Book Reviewing.

Journey to the Stone Country – Alex Miller and ideas on Conservation

Plenty has been written about the storyline of Journey to the Stone Country.  We have a  fortyish woman who was raised on an outback Queensland station and an aboriginal man who grew up in the same area.  They meet  and when working together visit a long deserted, decaying station house

The house was left with its contents intact so we are given an understanding of what the life was like when the occupants were alive.  My interest was suddenly sparked when the question was raised about the rightness or otherwise of preserving or conserving objects from the past. exactly as they were found.

So imagine standing in the dining room of a fully furnished house whose air has not been disturbed by a human for a long while  Can you feel the previous dwellers.?  Do you feel comfortable or is there a shiver down your spine ? Do you feel that you are intruding on something private ?

Preserve 1One thing we should all treasure is our privacy. With social media this is becoming something that people have less and less regard for. We can have our discussions in our blogs but surely we all draw the line at just how much about ourselves we will reveal.  So if we preserve these objects from the past are we intruding on the privacy of the owners.

Preserve 2When we do conserve the past does that intangible atmosphere disappear ?

Preserve 3Alex Miller gives a very convincing argument which carries you along while you are reading.  In this case it was a substantial house which was the object in question. But how often when driving out in the country have you seen a clump of daffodils just inside the paddock fence, or a lone fruit tree in a most unlikely place and you realise that once there was probably a hut or home on that site

I have done a fair amount of family history research over the years and I have come across documents that have made me mentally apologize to the people for having intruded on their privacy, As far as I am concerned they will remain private.

But on the other hand look at this hut.  It is tucked away in a back yard in Castlemaine, Victoria, and you can see it by driving up the side lane.  Such a pretty little hut, or should I call it a cottage.  My McDonald great-grandparents lived  in this cottage in 1861-2 and had a couple of children there.

CottageCastlemaineI can use my imagination to try and re-create the lifestyle of Jane and Robert.  Would I have different emotions if the cottage had been allowed to fall into disrepair ? Would I feel their ghosts beside me ?  I am pleased that someone has taken the trouble to keep the cottage painted and in good repair.

Alex Miller would say that we have kept the fabric but lost the spirit.

The Oxford English Dictionary and related books

I’m posting the newsletter I got today from Barwon Booksellers in Geelong, not to advertise the shop but because I always thoroughly enjoy what they have to say.  This edition is on the Oxford English Dictionary and books related to the Dictionary, a topic which has cropped up in blogs this year, including The Surgeon of Crowthorne. There’s the information on the Compact Edition and it’s interesting to see all the books listed together.  Ammon Shea’s Reading the OED would be a different kind of read.  And I hadn’t heard of the book by Murray’s granddaughter. I hope you enjoy the Newsletter too.
Digging In The Word-Hoard – The Compact Oxford English Dictionary

Whether your finishing off that eight volume history of the wooden spoon, or your PhD exploring barnacles on the First Fleet, or just trying to clarifya moot point in a family game of dictionary, the last word in  English words is unquestionably theComplete Oxford English Dictionary, otherwise known as the OED. Famous for its native completeness and its practical method of citing the first printed usages of any given word, the OED is to the English language what rock art paintings are to aboriginal Australia.The complete version of the OED runs to some 20 rather hefty volumes but from 1971 there has also existed the Compact Edition, which, by photographically reducing each page to one half of its linear dimensions, means the entire OED is available in a much more portable 2 volume set, complete with a specially designed rectangular magnifying glass for viewing the miniscule text.

From 1991 the Compact Edition format was resized further to fit the lot into a single volume. Each page now went ‘nine-up’, meaning each leaf contained nine of the original Dictionary pages, which of course required even smaller text and thus a veritable glass-brick magnifier to view it with. As a consequence there is a school of thought that the ideal version of the Compact OED is indeed the two volume rather than the one volume version.

In over 20 years we have had the two volume edition at BB on only a couple of occasions, and now we have it again. This is the 1975 ‘four-up’ version, in its box and with the magnifying glass in its nifty little cardboard drawer. The volumes themselves are in great nick although the box is rather worn in patches. Still, the thing is rather marvelous and fetches quite the penny around the traps.

For a week we’d like to offer The Compact Edition of The Oxford English Dictionary exclusively to our newsletter subscribers for only $80. First in best dressed.

Befitting such an important work there is an increasing amount of literature surrounding the OED, most famously Simon Winchester’s biographical account of W.C.Minor, the millionaire American Civil War surgeon turned lunatic and murderer who became one of the keenest contributors to the original Dictionary from, bizarrely enough, Broadmoor Asylum in Crowthorne, Berkshire. Minor dedicated his entire cell-bound life to the Dictionary and Winchester’s account of his life and his relationship with the Dictionary’s original editor, James Murray, is a remarkable read.

We have The Surgeon Of Crowthorne in stock and also The Professor And The Madman which is Winchester’s text retitled for a U.S. readership presumably slower on the uptake. (It is always quite amusing to see how publishers dumb down book titles for the American market).

Also in stock here at BB is Caught In The Web Of Words, James Murray’s granddaughter K.M.Elisabeth Murray’s biography of the legendary OED editor.  We have a copy of Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything, in which he expands the story of the making of the Dictionary beyond the efforts of Minor and Murray, and we also have Reading the OED on our shelves, in which obsessed logophile Ammon Shea describes spending one whole year reading the 21,730 pages of the OED from cover to cover. As the flyleaf of Shea’s rather fascinating book says, Reading the OED is a feast for word lovers.

All of the books mentioned above are hardbacks in good condition at $12 each. As a nice addition we also have Oxford’s Modern Australian Usage, Nicholas Hudson’s examination of the editing and publishing issues around the evolution of English in the Australian context. Modern Australian Usage is in hardback at $15.

Lastly, may we express our sadness at the passing of one of our very favourite poets, Seamus Heaney, only a few days ago. As the natural successor of WB Yeats, Heaney himself was one of the greatest diggers amongst the word-hoard, which in itself is much richer for the many arcane gems he revived and reenlivened in the body of his work. Heaney was also of course Professor of Poetry at Oxford for a number of years. Reportedly his last words, texted to his wife Marie, were:  noli timere. Which translates from the Latin as – don’t be afraid.

The Burial by Courtney Collins

Ths was a great read.  It was this Australian author’s  first book and i wish her well for her future writing.

The burial

The Narrator is a new born baby, sacrificed and buried by the mother  The baby bears her mother no grudge but continues to monitor her mother’s life and has the ability to fill in the back story of her mother’s early years. I really enjoyed this connection between birth, life, death and the earth.

It is set in the Australian bush, away from urban living,  just after World War I It is a story of rustling, neglect, loneliness, hard livng, endurance and courage.

I enjoy her writing style, at times with a slight mystical quality. We are reminded of the the earth and all the stories its contains, giving it a living, breathing quality.  The things that are going on in the various layers of the earth reminds me of   Julian Barnes    saying ‘It’s just the Universe doing its stuff’.

Page 1 the burial

For some reason or other I kept feeling the story was set in the C19th. I kept missing  or overlooking the clues to its era. But in my mind i think I’ll keep it that way. -the horses, the mountains and caves, all the virgin country where people could hide and not be found, the scattered huts where people tended their cattle. This unrelenting country is another character in the story with, in varying amounts, her husband, her lover, the law, and reward hunters.

In my eyes this is a little gem of a book.