GREAT MODERN WRITERS: Virginia Woolfe, ‘Mrs Dalloway’

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Genre: Classic Fiction

I’m starting off my book challenge with an old favourite! I read ‘Mrs Dalloway’ in high school and though it had an impact on me with it’s definition of ‘the perfect hostess’ rereading the book has given me greater insight and appreciation for this classic.

To summarise, ‘Mrs Dalloway’ takes place in the space of a single day back in 1923 as Clarissa Dalloway, an upperclass English wife, prepares for a party she is hosting that evening. As the day progresses, we learn more about Clarissa’s past with the visit of an old lover Peter Walsh and we learn about her present as we’re introduced to her husband, the conservative and respectable Richard Dalloway and her adolescent daughter Elizabeth.

This is one of my favourite novellas because of its transformative power. When reading it I can see the clothes, imagine the London streets and envisage myself preparing to host a glamorous dinner party. However, with this comes a dark undercurrent of reality, realised when you read the perspectives of each of the characters.

Mrs. Dalloway is Woolf’s first complete example of what she describes as the “luminous envelope” of consciousness: displaying inside the mind as it plays over the brilliant surface and darker depths of reality.

A fascinating and subtly powerful read.

Have you read Mrs Dalloway?

Love,
Vanessa x

‘Museum of Modern Love’ by Heather Rose

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Genre: Fiction

I’m currently halfway through this sensational novel and it’s fast becoming one of my favourite books of 2017! This after months and months of out right saying ‘Nope!’ to the possibility of reading it because I thought it would just be another cheesy romance…well popular won this round-

LITERARY WORLD: 1

NESS: 0
.

‘The Museum of Modern Love’ won the 2017 Stella Prize for Fiction. This is a major literary award in Australia and is awarded to female writer’s whose work champions culture change. This is my first read of a winning piece.

But let’s get to the good stuff. Why is this book awesome.

Well

  1. It’s set in New York- yay! But not cheesy sitcom comedy NY (Sex in the City and HIIYM I’m looking at you) but the real reason New York is an icon, because it hub of personalities and styles all drawn together by the seduction of creativity
  2. The story revolves around the artist Marina Abramovic in The Artist is Present presented at the MOMA. Abramovic is a real artist, whose works of art have caused serious stir within the art community since the 70s. One of most well known works was Rhythm 0, 1974 where Abramovic placed 72 objects on a table that people were allowed to use on the artist in any way they chose- some objects were pleasurable and others inflicted pain. Throughout the performance Abramovic had to remain passive as the audience did what they pleased to her body. The artist was testing what people deem acceptable to do to one another. By the end of 6 hours Abramovic had been stripped, carried around the room, cut and a loaded gun had been pointed to her head. This and her other performances have earned Abramovic the title of the “grandmother of performance art.”

 

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The story then looks into the lives of certain audience members who are drawn to Abramovic’s latest work, “The Artist at Present”. In this the artist sits at a chair and table with an empty chair opposite her each day, all day. Audience members are encouraged to sit opposite the artist while she remain passive and silent.

The threads of lives that become intertwined and drawn to this work is why I find this book so enjoyable. It’s unexpected. It’s not a classic love story. In fact, romance is a secondary feature of the book. Heather Rose seems to be exploring a deeper understanding of what love is- particularly when we consider it beyond love simply for one another.

Highly recommend!

Love,
Vanessa

 

 

‘The Parcel’ by Anosh Irani

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Genre: Fiction

This is a new release by an acclaimed and award-winning author and playwright

Anoshi Irani was born and raised in Bombay, India until he moved to Vancouver in 1998. His novel ‘The Song of Kahunsha” was nominated for a number of awards and a bestseller in Canada, China and Italy. “The Parcel” has already been nominated for the Governor General’s Award, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.

The story is set in Bombay in the swollen, crumbling red-light district of Kamathipura. The protagonist Madhu is given the difficult task by her housemother to prepare a newly arrived ‘parcel’ for its opening- the parcel is a ten year old girl sold into the sex trade by her aunt

Madhu’s home is Hijra House- one of the last houses where ‘hijras’- people of the third sex- ply their trade. Now 40 and with her looks fading, Madhu struggles with the task she has been given as she is confronted with memories of her past and the rejection of her family

This is a gritty and powerful novel that has deep and wonderfully imagined characters. It gives a dark look into Kamathipura’s Hijra community

Hijra is the South Asian name for a transgender individual who was assigned male at birth. In many languages of India other terms are used. In 2014, in parts of Asia, governments hijras are officially recognized as the third gender. They have a long, recorded history in the Indian subcontinent

In South Asia, Hijras live in well-defined and organized communities led by a guru. These communities survive by ‘adopting’ boys who live in poverty, are rejected by or flee from their family and many work as sex workers for survival. Since the late 20th century Hijra activists have lobbied for official recognition, access to welfare and education

This story has given me a fascinating look into the everyday life of India. Irani uses powerful descriptors to imagine the heat and crowds of Bombay. Irani’s books and plays are all set in different parts of India, so it is not surprising how familiar and accurate the writing feels

This book gives accessibility into aspects of Indian communities that many readers are unfamiliar with

The style of writing reminds me of Mohsin Hamid who wrote ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ and ‘How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia’ for its candid and gritty style

This book is suited for people who want an example of well-written books and complex, unconventional subject matter

A tough but fascinating read!

Love,
Vanessa

 

 

 

‘Rich People Problems’ by Kevin Kwan

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Genre: Satirical Fiction

This is the third in the ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ series. The premise of these stories is about the exorbitant wealth and exclusive elite society of Singapore. It centres around three superrich, pedigree Chinese families.

The first book called, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ centres around the hilarious gossip, backstabbing and scheming that occurs when the heir to one of the largest fortunes in Asia brings home an ABC (American born Chinese)

Each book delves deeper into the comical lives of these families

I just finished the recently published third installment ‘Rich People Problems’. When the matriarch of the Shang-Young family (Singapore’s noblest family) is on her deathbed, members of the family rush from all corners of the globe to be by her bedside and to stake their claim on her massive fortune and her beloved Tyersall Park- a trophy estate on 64 prime acres in the heart of Singapore. This is a funny story that reveals the buried secrets of Asia’s most privileged families and their rich people problems

Kevin Kwan has been very successful with this series and with the first book “Crazy Rich Asians” to become a major motion picture. The film itself will be a game changer in its own right as the first Hollywood romantic comedy to feature an all-Asian cast

The reason these books have been so successful in the U.K., America and Australia is because they provide a crash-course into the uber-rich Asian society and such extravagance you have to question whether people actually live like this

Kwan grew up in Singapore and now lives in New York’s West Village. Having this background makes me wonder how many of the stories Kwan tells are based on first-hand experiences

Kwan also makes a point of having his characters diverse in their professions and locations: surgeons in Sydney, internet billionaires in Hong Kong, world leader conferences in Geneva to boarding schools in England. By the third novel Kwan has managed to show the reader how the other half live in every continent on earth

This is a satirical series which can easily be devoured. It is such a refreshing premse too. Kwan has tapped into a market that readers are fascinated with, and is also accessible to readers

It has an informal format and unconventional breaking of the 4th wall. Kwan uses appendices to guve further explanations and definitions to the reader e.g. when he uses Cantonese terms

People who want a funny and refreshing book will enjoy this book

Love,
Vanessa

SPECIAL EDITION! What I’m Listening To- May Edition

When I was 16, I went through a Beatles phase…didn’t we all (sigh*) and I still love them. On road trips I ALWAYS take three or four albums to listen to- CDs aren’t dead! They’re just an advanced to a luxury item (:

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In celebration of the 50th Anniversary release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (my FAVOURITE album and arguably The Beatles best) I’ve pulled out all my Beatlemania books and DVDs. The piece de resistance is the Sgt. Pepper’s record my boyfriend gave me for our anniversary in Tokyo (:

Happy 50th Sgt.

Love,
Vanessa

‘The Hidden Life of Trees- What They Feel, How They Communicate’ by Peter Wohlleben

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Genre: Non-fiction/Gardening

This book was reviewed on the ABC radio program ‘Overnights with Rod Quinn’ as part of my Christmas special. The podcast of the review is available under the ‘Podcasts’ tab if you want to hear the full review 🙂

 

It’s Autumn time here in Sydney and the landscape is spectacular. Lately, when I’ve taken my dog for a walk, I’ve also brought along my camera to chapter some of the different colours around at the moment (it may sound nerdy, but I love trees, I’ve also added some snaps just to show everyone how gorgeous it is!). I’ve been inspired to take out ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ from my bookshelf and decided to review it again.

This was an incredibly popular book and a massive seller over the Christmas period.

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The author, Peter Wohlleben, is a forester in the Eifel Mountains of Germany who has spent over 20 years studying the lives of trees and now runs an environmentally friendly woodland where he works for the return of primeval forests

Each chapter of this book delves into a different aspect of a forest- the necessity of trees surviving off one another and how “loner trees” struggle and develop dramatically differently to trees that have a mother bear companion. He also looks into the modern forestry industry and how an average person’s concept of a trees health (all the way back to what we learn in school) is not natural way a tree is meant to develop. There is also a great foreword by Tim Flannery Timothy, the renowned Australian mammalogist, palaeontologist, environmentalist and global warming activist.

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Although this book is highly anthropomorphized to the point where it feels artificial, this book does change the way you see nature and trees in your everyday environment. I didn’t love this book, it’s not an area I’ve particularly had much interest in but I do feel it’s a significant book and a wonderful to any well read person’s book collection

 I came across a woman who read this book to complement Annie Proulx’s fiction book Barkskins which is about the construction of forests in the New World. I thought this was a wonderful idea because of the way Wohlleben romantizes lives of trees and community in forests.

I came across another review of this book in the newspaper ‘The Guardian’ and loved Wohlleben’s quote,

“Beech trees are bullies​ and​ willows are loners”

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Maybe if we had a little bit more of an appreciation for trees as living organisms, would we be in such a global crisis against climate change?

Food for thought

Love,
Vanessa

COOKBOOK REVIEW! ‘I’m Just Here For Dessert’

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Genre: Cookbook

I was beyond excited when I saw this book in the post from Murdoch Publications (: I love to bake and I love to decorate but quite frankly….I don’t think I’m very good.

This book is the latest by Caroline Khoo who is the creator of ‘Nectar and Stone’ and online dessert boutique.

So to have a book that is dedicated to styling cakes was a huge attraction for me. I trialled this book for Easter lunch and attempted two different cakes; a triple layer chocolate cake and a lemon and coconut cake. Modifications from the original recipes were made because….well….I ran out of time but the end result was great!

The main modifications I made was that each layer of each cake was suppose to be different but these differences mainly were simply different measurements (which I assumed were different cake tin sizes) because I was doing the old ‘slice and stack’ I disregarded it.

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My triple-layer chocolate cake was a little bit of a disaster structurally but the wonders of ganache icing saved my bacon (METAPHORICALLY! NO BACON WAS USED IN THE MAKING OF THESE CAKES). It was incredibly rich and needed a big cup of tea to balance it perfectly….we were drinking champagne which may have been why were all couldn’t finish our slices….(:

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The lemon and coconut cake was another layered cake but a little bit simpler. Personally, this was my favourite! I had to use flakes of coconut instead of desiccated coconut because when I went to the shops to get ingredients for my lemon and coconut cake….I forgot the coconut (reality 1, Vanessa 0) but it gave the cake a crumbly texture so no harm done! My only compliant would be the icing, it required using lard which gave it a very firm, thick texture when oxidised but it was a nice change from buttercream.

This is a delicious book! I’ll be doing a few more bakes before my review on ABC radio so I’ll keep you posted!

Love,
Vanessa

‘Improbability of Love’ by Hannah Rothschild

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This book highlights the importance of a good title. In short, I hate this title. It sounds like a gushy Mills and Boons type book but romantic love plays a very small part of this book.

This book is set in London starts with an art auction house getting ready for the sale of the century, an art work that’s caused a worldwide sensation called the ‘Improbability of Love’ painted by Antoine Watteau (who is a real life artist but the actual painting is made up) I found this out after an embarrassingly long google search. You are introduced to the crème de la crème of art society and it’s a great opening. It shows you the glamourous side of the art world.

 It then backtracks to a few years earlier with the protagonist, a young woman called Annie, in a junk shop looking for a present and stumbles across this small, badly damaged painting. At the same time, Annie gets a job as a chef for a successful, yet highly secretive family run art house and soon unsuspectingly becomes a part of  into the tumultuous London art world, populated by exiled Russian expats, desperate auctioneers and unscrupulous dealers, who are all scheming to get their hands on her painting.

 

Rothschild, who has worked in the art world, chose her artist carefully. If she had chosen someone instantly recognisable like Picasso or Monet, it would have set a pretence for the type of people who are associated with those types of work. By using a virtually unknown artist, from the period of Old French Masters, Rothschild can manipulate and exaggerate the type of people who’d be interested in it. For example, there are two experts of Watteau, one an old recluse with yellow teeth and an obsessive nature and we have another, an obese woman who believes in all things French and decadent

 I had mixed feelings while I was book, it grabbed me straight away, dragged on, grabbed me again, dragged on but I did feel that the title doesn’t do it justice, we have changing settings, changing time periods, changing characters and even though that sounds hard to follow and it feels like the you know the end of the story in the first chapter, I still managed to be surprised by some of the twists. I’m surprised at how much I liked it, considering even the painting gets his own voice and I’m not a huge fan of anthropomorphisms

What I felt that this book added to the genre of art fiction is that it feels like a coffee read, something light, that’s the first impression (I actually bought this book in the morning before catching a plane in the afternoon) but actually lets you dig your teeth into the story, be carried away strangeness that art and master pieces can do to people.

This was nominated for the Bailey’s Prize in 2016

Love,
Vanessa

‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt

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The story starts with its protagonist, Theo Decker, at age 13, living in New York with his mother. Theo’s father is out of the picture, which draws Theo close to his mother. On a visit to the Metropolitian Museum of Art, the pair are involved in a deadly attack that kills Theo’s mother and leaves Theo effectively abandoned, with nothing more than a painting he took from the museum that his mother loved.

The story then follows Theo’s life as he moves between a wealthy family living on Park Avenue to the desolate and reckless life he has with his father and girlfriend in Las Vegas and eventually back to New York.
Without giving away the whole story, we see how Theo’s life is inadvertently controlled by this secret painting and how it allows passions to grow, love to eventuate and obsession to control.

This was the first book I read when I started working at a bookstore and it is still one of the best books I’ve ever read. It was a literary sensation that was highly anticipated after Tartt’s successful novel ‘The Secret History’. The Goldfinch was 11 years in the making

There’s been mixed feelings of this book. A lot of critics thought it’s profoundness was fake and that it drags on, it’s a whooping 771pgs. However, it did win the Pultizer Prize in 2014 and does have some great themes and insights

Major themes:

-Obsession

-Friendship and family in all sense of the word

-Identity and the ability to change ourselves

The writing style I think is very mixed because the protagonist is aging as we read, going through the formative years of adolescence to adulthood the writing voice matures but because we need to understand to significance of the painting

It’s been described as Dickensian because of the way it highlights the underpinnings of class within America and how it represents the young and the old and cruelty and kindness

The mood of this book can sometime be downright depressing and it’s in these sections where a lot of people struggle to finish the book but it’s worth sticking with it because you see how Theo becomes everything and nothing all at once. To be complex and so human all at once…it’s very interesting. Why does Theo keep a thing (the painting) that is giving me so much burden? Because it’s the only connection he has with is mother

Once again, I’ve chosen a book set in New York and I have no problem with that because we get to see the wealth and the organic nature of the city in one hit

What does this book add to the genre of art fiction? It shows us a very literal way of how art can have an impact on us

‘The absurd does not liberate; it binds’ – Albert Camus

Highly recommended!
Love,
Vanessa

‘Insomniac City’ by Bill Hayes

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Insomniac City is a story of New York told through the eyes of a newcomer. Bill Hayes moved to New York in 2009 at the age of 48. He moved from San Francisco after the tragic death of his partner. He bought a one-way ticket and had only had the vaguest idea of what he’d do there. The title of the book is derived from Hayes’ lifelong dealings with insomnia and in fact many of the stories from this book take place through late night strolls through the city. During his time in New York, Hayes unexpectedly fell in love with his neighbor, Oliver Sacks, the writer and neurologist popularly known for his books about his patients such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. Hayes was 48 and Sacks was 76 when they met. This relationship adds a fascinating layer of insight into the book and gives aspects of the book a lovable, mundane quality.

Bill Hayes is an author many books such as ‘Sleep Demons’ and his works are frequently published in the New York Times and his photographs often featured in Vanity Fair. He was given a grant to write this book by the American Academy in Rome, so ironically wrote a book about New York, the place he still lives, in Rome.

This book is a memoir but also could be classified as travelling writing due to the author’s detail and obvious love of New York. The major themes in this book are change, awareness of yourself and awareness of others

Insomniac City has a very soft and gentle writing style, it can be likened to a memory- it has moments of passion, guilt, sadness or even just the mundane. It’s difficult to pin down the intended audience of this book because everyone gets something different out of it. Insomniacs can relate to Hayes’ musing about being envious of his partner’s sleep, wanting to climb through his sleeping eyelids himself, for me I found the passion for New York incredibly inspiring. Hayes’ is also a photographer and will walk the streets finding a myriad range of people from all walks of life in this one city. Having moved to New York at 48 he has a child-like wonder about how much there is to do and see

Parts of the book have great critical analysis about life. His partner, Oliver Sacks, was deeply profound in how he saw the world. Sacks often removed himself from the world and instead focused on himself and life. This stems from a distaste for popular culture and certain technologies and it allows for a greater sense the bare basics of what makes us human

The themes in this book aren’t specifically developed, instead they grow through experiences but may not change e.g. the encounters Hayes’ has when he takes people’s photos. Some are forthcoming and willing to tell their stories, others want their picture taken but still crave anonymity

This book has an interesting layout which is important due to its mixed genres, content and characters:

  • Notes from his journal (I loved this aspect because it highlights the mundane but makes the book feel real and lovable)
  • Photographs capture the gentle and the striking and sometimes have a related story but otherwise just show the diversity of people in New York
  • Chapter lengths vary due to the impact this event had on the author

 

This is the type of book I’m glad to have on my bookshelf. It’s something I’ll pick up at random points just to re-experience certain parts.

He describes the current mood of the city as “exhilarating – there is a feeling of bonding and resistance to Trump that reminds me of the early days of AIDS when the government was doing nothing and activism started to happen everywhere…. We changed opinion and policy. So yeah, I’m feeling guardedly optimistic.”

One of the best books I’ve read so far in 2017!
Highly recommended!

Love, Vanessa