“Tess of the d’Urbervilles” by Thomas Hardy (1892)
audio book narrated by Anna Bentinck
I have really enjoyed listening to books this year, especially since my increased commute in May. However, choosing audio books has been quite challenging. I have 138 books on my waiting to be read shelf and over 100 books on my want to read list, so there’s no shortage of choice, but a lot of books aren’t audio books and I don’t want to buy audio books when I already have them as real books.
So, a couple of weeks ago I asked each of the teachers in my faculty what book they had read that had stayed with them, that had a real impact on them. The list is very interesting. And it starts with this one, Renee’s choice.
“Tess of the d’Urbervilles” is a miserable book. I was sad the entire time I listened to it. It reflects a time when women were damned to lives that limited them in every way. It tells the story of a poor girl in impoverished times. It explores a story of less than perfect morals and the outcome is painfully obvious almost from the outset.
I totally understand why this book has stayed with Renee. The characters are complex and engender sympathy. I’m glad I read this book.
“Go Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee (2015)
If you read the press leading up to the release of this novel, you, like me, might have been dubious about reading it at all. I felt sure Lee’s best interests were not protected in the decision to publish and made up my mind not to obtain it…
Then my old school friend, Jon, decided to save me the final decision by very kindly posting me a copy as a gift. Now I don’t feel so guilty about reading it, as I didn’t personally contribute to its profits.
Much has been written and said about this book. It is not, as is often cited, a sequel to “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Rather, it is the first draft of a novel that ended up becoming “To Kill A Mockingbird”.
The plot, or what there is of one, centres around adult Scout’s return to Maycomb for a holiday and her ‘discovery’ that Atticus is not the paragon of virtue with whom we all fell in love in “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Rather, he is a voice of reason and measure in complex, racially divided times. Anyone who tells you that this book reveals Atticus as a racist and a bigot hasn’t really read the book. It is perfectly logical that an adult daughter will see her hero-dad has, to varying degrees, feet of clay. So it goes.
The book is a messy lump of a novel, full of plot holes, voice change and weak textual integrity. So it should be. It was a first draft. A much better novel came from it. An old lady has been taken advantage of, and it is a sad state of affairs indeed.
Please don’t buy this book.
“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage” by Haruki Murakami (translated to English 2014)
Translated by Philip Gabriel
Audio book narrated by Michael Fenton Stevens
Recently, I read “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Murakami and it inspired me to explore his fiction work. By coincidence (or fate, depending on your point of view), “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage” was on sale on audible.com.au so I bought it without reading a blurb or knowing anything about it. The title was certainly appealing and immediately made me think of Paulo Coelho, whose books have brought me pleasure over many years. I have since realised that I have Murakami’s book, 1Q84, waiting to be read on my shelf. It has been there for several years. It is a very big book so has been relegated over and over as it is an unappealing size for bedtime reading. It is now a lot more appealing, given how much I enjoyed this book.
“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage”, as the title suggests, is the story of Tsukuru Tazaki. He is 36 and reflecting back on the consequences of being ostracized by his friendship group in his first year of college. The journey he takes to make peace with his past is told in an engaging and meaningful way. The narrative is quite lyrical and presents an opportunity to understand Japanese culture and practices in a way I didn’t expect. The characters are interesting and well-developed and I cared deeply for Tsukuru and his future.
My instinct about Murakami’s writing similarities with Coelho were well founded. This is a book I highly recommend.
“The Great Gatsby” by F Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
Audio book narrated by Jake Gyllenhaal
A few weeks ago I was motivated to buy some books on sale from audible.com.au. The incentive was a $20 voucher which I managed to forget to use before it expired. Sigh. One of the bargains to be had was The Great Gatsby, one of the very few books I have read many times.
This particular edition was attractive because of the narrator. There are two main reasons for this. First, I have found well-known narrators to be reliably impressive. Second, as I have previously blogged, first-person novels being narrated are extra lovely.
On the off chance that you are not already familiar with The Great Gatsby, it is the story of an enigmatic man, Jay Gatsby, told to us by his neighbour, Nick Carraway. In essence, it is a story of decadence. Of the frivolity of the rich. Of a summer where nothing much happens and everything changes.
I first read this book as a pre-teen, or perhaps only just a teen. It captured my imagination because it was a world so far removed from my reality. The idea of parties on the lawn and an endless summer and love lost… perfect fodder for an overly romantic girl.
Since then I have found comfort in reading it perhaps once every five years or so. I might not have bothered again except that it is now on the HSC Prescriptions list, set for study in Advanced Module A in Comparative Study of Texts, Elective 2: Intertextual Perspectives. It is set as a text to be studied beside a collection of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnets. Sonnet 43 is the most famous of these and there is a very obvious link between the tone of consuming love in the sonnets and Jay Gatsby’s obsessive love for Daisy Buchanan.
I enjoyed listening to Gyllenhaal narrate and it was lovely to listen to a story I knew well. Maybe one day I might even consider teaching what has been described as ‘the great American novel’.
“Make Me” by Lee Child (2015)
Jack Reacher is my favourite thug. This is about the twentieth book or something. It’s holiday reading fun. This one involves less bashing and lots more killing. And some action between the sheets. This book’s topic was pretty gruesome but also very topical. I enjoyed it. And if you love Jack, I expect you will too.
“The Restaurant at the end of the Universe” by Douglas Adams (1980)
Audio book narrated by Martin Freeman
I actually finished this book weeks ago but blogging about it has been one of those things on the to do list that just kept getting put off. It’s not because I didn’t enjoy the book. I did. But I didn’t have a burning motivation to write about it. When I really love a book I want to tell the whole world. Same when I hate a book. But when a book is just, well, you know, doing its job, keeping me entertained from beginning to end, well, there’s just not that much to write about.
This book is described as the second book in the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, but it is, in fact the second book in a series that spans 5 or maybe 7 books, depending on your point of view. It picks up the story of Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Trillian and Zaphod Beeblebrox as they escape the planet Magrathea and get attacked by a Vogon destroyer. The rest of a summary would sound as foreign and meaningless as the above, so I won’t go…
Look, these books are silly. They are a whole level of silly beyond anything else silly I have read. I’m not sure I’ll keep reading the series, though. It’s a bit like the sixth season of a TV drama that might have stayed with you forever if they’d stopped at one season, or maybe two. The silliness all just got a bit much.
“The Lieutenant” by Kate Grenville (2008)
Audio book narrated by Nicholas Bell
I read “The Secret River” several years ago and “Sarah Thornhill” earlier this year. They are clearly a story and its sequel. Interestingly, this book is considered part of a trilogy – but it has no connection to the story of the Thornhills featured in the other two books. The common theme across the three books is that they are all based on historically accurate events from Australia’s colonial past.
The story is based on a real life friendship between Lieutenant William Dawes, a soldier with the First Fleet, and a young Aboriginal girl, Patyegarang. Dawes set out to learn the language of the people of Sydney Cove, the Gadigal. His notebooks begin with lists of nouns and verbs and grammatical forms, but gradually abandon that approach for a more human one: Dawes recorded entire conversations that took place between him and Patyagarang. Between the lines of the converstations it’s clear that they developed a relationship that was mutually respectful, that they were friends. The friendship, sadly, brought Dawes on a collision course with the authorities and eventually he had to choose between his relationship with Patyegarang and her people, and the military reality of his life.
This book is a fictional drawing out of this story. Grenville goes to great lengths to ensure that her readers understand that she made lots of this up… but it is as close to historically accurate as the records will allow.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend all of Grenville’s work. She has a lyrical quality to her writing, especially with regards to the Australian landscape and a deeply moving engagement with the atrocities committed against the first people of Australia.