My Reading and Writing

Personal reviews, writing and appreciation of literature.

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Dark Paradise: Norfolk Island by Robert Macklin

DarkParadiseDark Paradise beings with Macklin’s scathing opinion of British colonisation and their successful propaganda as a means of justifying their actions. He continues with Captain James Cook’s discovery of Norfolk Island in 1774, which was uninhabited at the time. His reports lead to the settlement of Norfolk Island by Lieutenant Philip Gidley King in 1788 as a penal colony, with just “15 convicts … and seven free men” (p. 20). What follows are detailed accounts of the brutal treatment of hundreds of convicts encountered at the hands of one sadistic commander after another over nearly a century. What was an idyllic location with arable land and a beautiful landscape, became a nightmare for convicts, and at times their overseers. It is mind boggling that humans could treat other humans with such contempt and torment – many for petty crimes – although Norfolk Island became reserved for those convicts deemed the worst. The convicts themselves staged a number of failed breakouts over the decades and violence and sodomy amongst each other was also rife.

The island housed up to 2,000 convicts in vile conditions before it was vacated in 1856 to be resettled by 194 Pitcairners, who were of the false assumption that they would be “granted a new homeland” (p. 228). This lead to the struggles of the islanders to assert themselves and live by their own ways up to the present time. Macklin also reveals the story of the mutiny of the Bounty crew and how Fletcher Christian and eight of his loyalists came to settle on Pitcairn Island with a number of Tahitians. The history of Pitcairn was one marred by murder, the activation of a sill which introduced the islanders to liquor, causing further trouble, and incestuous relations and illegitimate children due to the disparity between the number of men and women.

The population of Norfolk Island grew, particularly when it became the base of a Melanesian mission, yet it always fell under some form of British or Australian governance or administration. The book is concluded with the murder of Janelle Patton in 2002 and subsequent investigation, then sadly details an island cursed by alcohol, drugs, an ailing economy, waning tourism and a stubborn populace.

I happily snapped up Dark Paradise from a sale table recently as my husband has ancestors from Norfolk and Pitcairn Islands (his mother being born on Norfolk Island) and was keen to learn about his heritage. I found the history that Macklin details to be fascinating and it prompted me to undertake further research. The impact of colonialism on Australia was also brought home with the number of names mentioned throughout the text which are familiar as being Australian townships, rivers, landmarks and so on. At times the repetitive nature of the historical facts became a little monotonous and I had some difficulty keeping track of the many individuals introduced throughout. Macklin also does little to showcase the beauty of the island and the opinions of its current inhabitants.

Publisher Synopsis
“Aren’t remote South Pacific islands supposed to be paradise? Perhaps, from a distance, Norfolk Island looks a peaceful place lush with tall pines. But look closer and that idyllic façade is shattered.

For all of the 220 years we have known it, Norfolk’s story has been one of darkness, pain, rage and horror. Long-buried bones and axes hint at the violence before Captain Cook arrived and claimed the place for England. And then the horror truly began. From its earliest days, the isolation of life on this rocky outcrop took its toll.

Robert Macklin, author of bestselling SAS Sniper, tells the vivid, bewitching story of how a unique lifestyle and culture evolved amongst the almost two thousand inhabitants. From a brutal penal colony, a refuge for descendants of the Bounty mutineers when they outgrew Pitcairn Island in 1856, to the murder of Janelle Patton in 2002, Norfolk Island is exposed like never before. A place full of shadows and wrongful deaths, its history is a mesmerising tale all the more powerful because it is true.”

ISBN: 9780733628603

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Cat Out Of Hell by Lynne Truss

CatOutOfHellI spied Cat Out Of Hell at my local library and was drawn by the title, cover design and author. I have a weakness for cats and have been keen to read something from Lynne Truss’ repertoire for some time.

The novella begins with a retired librarian taking a holiday to ease his grief following the death of his wife. While away, he receives an email from a former colleague containing a folder of electronic documents. Through his perusal of these documents we learn about ‘Wiggy’, an actor summoned by his sister to look after her cat Roger, only to find she has mysteriously disappeared. What follows is the revelation of a talking cat, whose mannerisms are superbly depicted. Truss decodes the characteristics of felines and plays on the idea that they are villainous and evil. Roger the cat is also highly intellectual, a fun contrast to the not so intelligent Wiggy.

Truss’ human characters are meticulously yet subtly portrayed and she weaves a clever mystery with murder and intrigue. Although I found the denouement rather implausible, Cat Out Of Hell is an amusing and lively novella which can be read in a short amount of time. Truss keeps the narrative interesting with the incorporation of screenplay, email and first person accounts. I also appreciated her occasional intertextual references.

All in all Cat Out Of Hell is an entertaining read, particularly for cat fanciers who like the notion of giving voice to our four legged friends.

Publisher Synopsis
“The scene: a cottage on the coast on a windy evening. Inside, a room with curtains drawn. Tea has just been made. A kettle still steams.

Under a pool of yellow light, two figures face each other across a kitchen table. A man and a cat.

The story about to be related is so unusual yet so terrifyingly plausible that it demands to be told in a single sitting.

The man clears his throat, and leans forward, expectant.

‘Shall we begin?’ says the cat …”

ISBN: 9780099585336

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Peyton Place by Grace Metalious

peyton-placePeyton Place is a fictional small town in northern New England whose residents thrive on gossip, harbour secrets and consider anyone without a generational history in the town to be an outsider. Metalious explores life, death and religion through the eyes of the citizens of Peyton Place and seamlessly moves from the differing points of view of men, women and children.

Peyton Place is a little like a soap opera, but Metalious brings depth and richness by providing intricate details of the town and its inhabitants. She showcases the traits of her characters, some of whom are sympathetic, but many of whom are vile, manipulative, self-centred or abusive.

Originally published in 1956, Peyton Place still has an impact with its themes of alcoholism, madness, paedophilia, murder and unwanted pregnancy, many of which were taboos of the time but still resonate today. Together with the general angst of teens and keeping secrets, she also portrays a distinct division in class. Interestingly, there are no African American or indigenous characters in Peyton Place (with the exception of the town’s namesake) and the town predominantly comprises white people. The impact of World War II is also underplayed by Metalious, considering the book spans this turbulent time in history. In writing of strong female characters, career women, single mothers and ambitious girls Metalious displays subtle feminist critiques, especially in contrast to other, less endearing characters who epitomise the stereotypes of mid twentieth century mothers and housewives.

Taking into consideration the era in which the novel was written and overlooking some of the generational attributes, I delighted in Peyton Place and was keen to follow its characters through the 1930’s and 1940’s.

ISBN: 9788087888674

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The Flanders Panel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

FlandersPanelThis novel was recommended to me by a Spanish friend who advised Pérez-Reverte is a renowned author in Spain. The Flanders Panel begins with Julia who, in the process of restoring a fifteenth century painting, discovers a hidden inscription and a five hundred year old mystery. As she becomes embroiled in murder and threats against her own life, Julia seeks aid and support from her antiquarian father figure César, frivolous friend Menchu and the reserved chess mastermind Muñoz. Pérez-Reverte vividly describes each of his characters, including ruthless art dealers and their curious clientele.

The author’s talent in merging medieval history with a contemporary setting is admirable. He plays on history in such a way that I had to check whether the painter, artworks and dignitaries written about were factual or fictional.

Sadly, the intertwined chess references were lost on me as I have never developed an interest (or ability) in the game and I found myself glossing over paragraphs and diagrams which focused on the contest.

I would have liked Pérez-Reverte to elaborate on the uniqueness of Madrid a little more, especially given his wordiness throughout other aspects of the novel which I found hampered the suspense of the story. The Flanders Panel is a very intelligent piece of writing however and the ending took me by surprise.

Publisher Synopsis
“The clue to a murder in the art world of contemporary Madrid lies hidden in a medieval painting of a game of chess.

In the fifteenth-century Flemish painting two noblemen are playing chess. Yet two years before he could sit for the portrait, one of them was murdered. Now, in twentieth-century Madrid, Julia, a picture restorer preparing the painting for auction, uncovers an inscription that points to the crime. Quis necavit equitem? Who killed the knight? But as she teams up with a brilliant chess theoretician to retrace the moves, she discovers the deadly game is not yet over.”

ISBN: 0099453959

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Joss Whedon: Geek King of the Universe by Amy Pascale

JossWhedonPascale’s biography starts off with a very brief foreword by Nathan Fillion, star of Whedon’s Firefly and Serenity, however it’s hardly worth the mention on the book’s cover given its length and lack of expression. Once the story kicks off though, we are given a history of Whedon and his creative family, along with the seeds of his love of film, comics and musicals. Joss’s own experiences are likened to later scenes in his writing, showing how he draws on these in the creation of his work.

Joss is shown to have an aura of self-assurance in his craft throughout this biography, even if he wasn’t as confident in other facets of his life, such as his romantic encounters, although he finds a wife and soulmate in Kai Cole who supports his endeavours wholeheartedly. The bonds with the women in his life such as his mother, wife and mentor Jeanine Basinger of Wesleyan College are featured strongly throughout the narrative, along with the familial ties he forms with the cast and crew who work with him over the years.

Given her passion toward her subject and his work, Pascale does provide a somewhat biased account of Whedon and doesn’t particularly portray him as taking responsibility for his failures and the not so successful start to his career, pinpointing difficulties on other parties. Perhaps I am being cynical, but it seems that Whedon can do no wrong and no one has a negative opinion of him. That being said, this is undoubtedly not a book you would read if not a fan of Whedon’s work so this is not of significant concern.

Most notably known for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Whedon was a forerunner in utilising the internet to connect with his very loyal and devoted fan base. Pascale charts his popularity along with the highs and lows of his career, from his early days writing for Roseanne, through to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. She also encompasses his forays in writing, directing and producing. I enjoyed reading how some of his signature programs, episodes and movies came about and the additional insight Pascale afforded these. The book also provides a fascinating insight into the art of screenwriting and the film industry.

Publisher Synopsis
“Joss Whedon is a male writer whose most famous creation is a girl-power icon; a geek who deals in classic themes of love, betrayal and redemption; and one of the first people in the entertainment industry to have harnessed the power of the internet to engage directly with his fans.

Amy Pascale became one of those fans when Buffy Summers enrolled at Sunnydale High in 1997. She has followed Whedon’s career ever since, marvelling at his ability to reimagine seemingly hackneyed genres as heartfelt human drama.

In this revealing biography she seeks out the source of that imagination, exploring his artistic liberal upbringing in New York and teenage years at an elite English public school, before tracing his journey from a bruising start in television to his status today as a blockbuster writer and director whose every new project is pored over online by millions of loyal geeks.

Using extensive original interviews with many of Whedon’s key collaborators – as well as Joss himself – Amy presents candid behind-the-scenes accounts of the making of ground-breaking shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly, and considers Whedon’s distinctive contribution to cinema through movies such as Toy Story, Serenity and superhero epic The Avengers.

The result is an intimate portrait of the man who re-wrote popular culture and gave it a heart.”

ISBN: 9781845137199

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The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl by Belle de Jour

IntimateAdventuresOver the eight month period of her journal, de Jour (nom de plume of Brooke Magnanti) provides an insight into her career as a high-class call girl, working through an agency to source clients whom she most often meets in hotels. She shares details of her various encounters, the dos and don’ts of the escort world, her preening rituals and obsessions with lingerie, whilst also delving into her relationships and social life.

I personally found Belle comes off a little conceited and judgemental. She turns her nose up at administrative work, of which I have made quite a reasonable living out of. At twenty-seven years of age (which is the age to which she alludes herself being) she primarily socialises with men (most of whom are ex-boyfriends) – make of that what you will. Whilst it’s refreshing that she doesn’t have any qualms about her choice of employment and often promotes safety, she doesn’t elaborate on what I imagine is the seedier side of the business nor any dangerous situations she may have found herself in, which led me to feel that she was perhaps not being totally honest or wanted to portray her role as more glamorous than it was. I expected a grittier novel than the one that I found.

To me the book was a bit of fun but I won’t be rushing to read her subsequent work. De Jour delivers wit and entertainment, even with the lingering doubts as to the credibility of her tale. If you think you’d like reading a raunchier version of Bridget Jones’s Diary then this book is for you.

Publisher Synopsis
“Belle de Jour is the nom de plume of a high-class call girl working in London. This is her story.

From the summer of 2003 to the autumn of 2004 Belle charted her day-to-day adventures on and off the field in a frank, funny and award-winning web diary. Now, in her Intimate Adventures, Belle elaborates on those diary entries, revealing (among other things), how she became a working girl, what it feels like to do it for money, and where to buy the best knickers for the job. From debating the literary merits of Martin Amis with naked clients to smuggling whips into luxury hotels, this is a no-holds-barred account of the high-class sex-trade, and an insight into the secret life of an ordinary woman.”

ISBN: 9780753819234

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The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do

HappiestRefugeeThe Happiest Refugee is Anh Do’s story from his childhood years, through to his foray into comedy and beyond. His memoir begins with his harrowing escape from Vietnam, with forty family members and friends on a small fishing boat. Surviving five days at sea where they battled death, pirates and the elements, his family were rescued and sent to a Malaysian refugee camp where they spent three months before arriving in Australia in 1980.

On arrival in Australia, Do expresses his family’s delight at the welcome they received and it is uplifting to read that he experienced little racism during his life in Australia. Do upholds his Vietnamese culture which is embraced by the many friends in his life. Throughout the book, he expresses his admiration and respect for his hardworking, resourceful and entrepreneurial family, who make their way in their new home through a series of endeavours such as sewing and duck farming. Do touchingly describes his father’s decent into grief and alcoholism following a failed venture, their years of estrangement and eventual reconciliation.

Do writes in a matter of fact style, with a series of short narratives compiled together to make up his colourful life. Scattered throughout is his adorable trademark humour, whilst the reader is also privy to his down to earth, genuine attitude whilst sharing in his gratitude for those who have made an impact on his life. Throughout his life Do and his family experienced financial hardship, yet he relentlessly pursued his dreams whilst working hard to support his mother, brother and sister without complaint. His story is inspiring and a delight to read.

ISBN: 9781742372389