Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Stranger’s Child (eBook of the Month)

Alan Hollinghurst is a gifted English author, whose work I’ve only just discovered. I need your help for recommendations – which of his other books should I read next? The Stranger’s Child, his latest novel, impressed me with its clearly-articulated themes: what it means to be English, the place of literature in our lives, the vagaries of memory, the changes in social attitudes to gay relationships.  Continue reading


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Medieval Bookbinding

NYR Event Medieval Bookbinding for beginners

Payneham Library and Community Facilities Complex, 2 Turner Street, Felixstow SA 5070

In this workshop you will learn the basics of binding, how they get those ridges on the spine and the delight of making something majestic. So come and join Samantha Winston over 4 fantastic sessions and make a Medieval book. Monday May 28th, $th June, 18th June & 25th June, 4 x 4hr sessions. Cost $20

What a brilliant way to celebrate The National Year of Reading: learning to bind beautiful, real books (Payneham Library, Adelaide)

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French fiction

To conclude the May theme with the origin of the phrase ‘Mayday’ (Venez m’aider – help me), we’ll look at some French fiction. Here are five  must-read gems from one of the most beautiful languages in the world.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782)

What the French do best: sex and scandal.  Laclos’ novel is written as a series of letters, giving each character their own distinctive voice and their own perspective on the strange events that unfold in some very, very dangerous liaisons. If the plot sounds familiar when you read it, that may be because you’ve seen one of the film versions – think Michelle Pfeiffer and John Malkovich, or Reese Witherspoon in Cruel Intentions. Try this translation.

Madame Bovary (1856)

Flaubert’s most famous novel, about a very unhappy woman in a very unhappy relationship.  Emma Bovary is a wonderful creation, the archetypal desperate housewife seeking love and luxury outside a dull marriage.  The real gift of the novel is how the author manages to make this silly, greedy, overly-romantic character  into one of the great tragic heroines of literature. Inevitably, it all ends in tears – the reader’s as well as Emma Bovary’s. Try this translation.

L’Etranger  (1942)

Camus’ existential novel opens with one of the most famous lines in literature: ‘Aujourd’hui, maman est morte. Ou peut- être hier, je ne sais pas.’  (Today my mother died.  Or maybe it was yesterday.  I don’t  know.)  Meursault is one of life’s outsiders ; his lack of feeling is incomprehensible to most of the people he meets. When he commits an apparently motiveless murder, he is put on trial for what he is rather than for what he has done. (Remember that Lindy Chamberlain made the mistake of appearing  cold and unemotional , too.) Try this translation.

Eugénie Grandet (1833)

One of Balzac’s most famous and beautiful novels,  part of his magnificent series, La Comédie humaine. Eugénie is a gentle, good-natured country girl who is mistreated by the two men who should protect her: her father and her cousin.  Grandet is extremely miserly ; he even begrudges his daughter a candle to light her way to bed. And the girl’s adored cousin Charles is fickle and selfish, unworthy of the affection that she lavishes on him. A poignant story, exquisitely written. Try this translation.

Le Silence de la Mer (1942)

Another novel about intimacy and mutual incomprehension, this work by ‘Vercors’  is set in a France that is ravaged by World War II. A German soldier is billeted in a French family’s home; the owner and his niece despise him, but slowly learn that he is like them – a human being trying to come to terms with the changes that war has brought into his  life.  Very powerful, very moving – and, for me, very nostalgic (it was on the school syllabus, one of the first French novels that I read!) Try this translation.

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Patrick White in the Library

‘Library of the Month’ is the National Library of Australia, celebrating both the National Year of Reading and the centenary of the birth of one of Australia’s greatest writers: Patrick White. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973  – for an epic and psychological narrative art which has introduced a new continent into literature – White wrote many beautiful novels, including Riders in the Chariot (1961), Voss (1957) and The Aunt’s Story (1948). Strangely, much of his world-renowned work has been out-of-print in Australia until recently, and the National Library’s contribution to the renewed interest in his novels is a significant one.

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The Handmaid’s Tale

Mayday has a very specific meaning in Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale (1985): it is the name given to the underground resistance movement opposing the totalitarian regime  in the Republic of Gilead. Essentially, Mayday is a cry for help : the ‘republic’ is a powerful theocracy that violently oppresses its people, especially its women. Whereas the citizens of Oceania in Orwell’s 1984 are suppressed for political reasons, the people of Gilead are subjugated by a fundamentalist reading of the Bible.  Continue reading

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Hitchcock’s Rebecca

There are many ways of celebrating books and reading in the National Year of Reading  and this is one of them : last Friday’s Adelaide screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s famous black-and-white film Rebecca (1940). Based on Daphne du Maurier’s best-selling 1938 novel,  Rebecca is a classic of  twentieth-century Gothic fiction. Continue reading


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1984 was written in 1948, and it’s included in the May Day collection because of its ties to socialism.  The well-known English author, George Orwell, was a political activist as well as a writer, and his most famous works were driven by his profound opposition to totalitarianism. Just as Joseph Heller gave us the expression Catch-22, George Orwell presented us with Big Brother.

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