When should you stop reading?

By Vita Forest


So, for a few weeks now I have been reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.

The Luminaries… winner of the 2013 Booker Prize,

The Luminaries… set in the goldfields of New Zealand in the 1860s,

The Luminaries… over seven hundred pages long,

The Luminaries… which I am now about halfway through and which I am going to stop reading.

When do you give up on a book?  I used to struggle through, grinding my teeth if I found it excruciating.  Reading on til the bitter end.  Sometimes I still do.  If the book is two hundred pages long.  But this is a brick of a book.  I think if it hasn’t grabbed me yet, it is not going to.  And I’ve given it a goodly chance.  I’ve given it a few weeks of my life, as a pile of books I want to read sit unread on my shelf…

It’s not the length.  (Although that is not helping).  I relish spending as long as possible in certain books.  And sometimes do it again and again (Possession by A.S. Byatt, or WolfHall by Hilary Mantel, The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta).  But the story and the characters have not grabbed me beyond a very limp handshake.  I can let go without feeling loss.  I don’t really care what happens…

I am supposed to be reading it for a bookish meeting you see.  This is the good and bad thing about book clubs.  The good thing – you read books you wouldn’t normally read and discover wonderful authors you may not have come across before – Wallace Stegner, Diane Setterfield, Hilary Mantel.  The bad thing is – you read books you wouldn’t normally read and discover authors you never want to read again (not naming names, but

  • there was a certain book about a certain time travelling stone that involved a lot of very badly written caveman sex…  Yes, there is such a thing.  The girl who suggested it left the country soon after, we like to think it was due to the shame of having picked such a book.
  • And the very bad vampire romance with the main characters with the hilarious names with very bad spelling.  (Actually some of the club loved this one and went on to read the series, peopled with more vampires with mothers who couldn’t spell).

So I guess I will be one of those people who go to a book club without reading the book.  Someone who can add something to the conversation about the book, just not a whole lot.

Not that having read the book always matters.  We had a very spirited and funny book club meeting last night (another book club – you can never belong to too many), where a good portion of the attendees hadn’t read the book (All the Light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr – now make sure you read that one!)

How long do you give a book?

I’m letting this one go.


This week

By Vita Forest

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

This week I have been

    • On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.  You can never read this book enough times.
  • MAKING up a dance with my buddy teacher for Year 5 and 6 dance auditions next week.
  • VISITING the beach twice this weekend.  Happy days!
  • WATCHING Labyrinth with my kids and sister Briony.  A trip back in time.
  • PRESENTING at the Parent Teacher information night for my class.
  • FINISHING covering all the class exercise books with our home-made book covers.

    Can you spot the monkeys? (QVB Chinese New Year decorations).

The end of the affair

By Vita Forest

What's wrong with a happy ending?

What’s wrong with a happy ending?

The truth is hard and tough as nails, that’s why we need fairy tales.

from Munchhausen by Hollander

While convalescing at home, awaiting the results of a whooping cough swab, with my voice deepened to a sultry level, but missing the resonance required to address twenty-three small children without it cracking into inconsistent seal yelps, I turned in consolation to literature.

As you may know, I have recently finished reading the delightful Brother of the more Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido.  Before being laid low, I had handily picked up a couple more of Trapido’s books from the library.

I have finished Juggling (not as lovely as BOTMFJ) and have launched into The Travelling Hornplayer.  Some of the characters began to feel familiar, then I realised there were favourites from the aforementioned novels, now years later, bumping into each other across the end pages of those other books.  This was not necessarily a cause for alarm.

But then it was.

“No!” I wanted to scream in my cracked voice, as my literary crush from BOTMFJ engaged in a seedy affair in a grimy flat in London while his wife pottered about in The Cotswolds.  “No, Barbara Trapido, I don’t want to know this!”

Some books do not need epilogues, do not need sequels.  I want to think back affectionately to the “closure”, to the satisfaction of everything ending how it should have.

I want Georgie giving Lu the kiss of life in the bottom of a boat after he has pulled her from a sinking plane, not reading that Tim Winton has written a play reusing these characters in which Georgie is grieving her lover who has been KILLED.

I want Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson  to live blissfully together after she throws over that cold fish Cecil, not the future mapped out in the epilogue of boredom, resentment and cheating.

I certainly don’t want to read about what happens to Darcy or anyone else after the perfect ending (particularly from someone who is not the original author…) but when it is the author – oh, they still need to be very careful.

Melina Marchetta has done it successfully (“Of course,” I hear you say, “Could you stop going on about her!”)  J. K. Rowling too.  And I didn’t mind meeting up again with Michael Ondaatje’s Caravaggio and Hana once more in The English Patient.  But I agree that A.S. Byatt didn’t need to add the epilogue to Possession and I think that Suzanne Collins could have stopped after The Hunger Games.  Don’t even get me started about Stephenie Meyer…

So I suppose I will continue reading The Travelling Hornblower but my hackles have been raised.  I do not want to fall out of love with Jonathon.

Have you ever wished an author had just stopped?


Caro’s Transit

What comes around, goes around

What comes around, goes around

By Vita Forest

I first read The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard a few years ago.  I had heard of it before then, but really became intrigued when the entire panel of The Book Club on the ABC raved about it.  Usually there is some dissent among those opinionated readers, but not this time.  They all thought is was brilliant.

It was quite an experience that first read, and subsequent readings haven’t diminished the power of this book.  Even knowing the ending – possibly even because I know what is going to happen.

Hazzard writes about a pair of Australian sisters, Caro and Grace Bell, who have moved to England, and follows them for a period of about thirty years.  The novel is about love – the characters fall and in and out of it, attraction holds them enthralled, circling helplessly in another’s orbit, before they are ruthlessly cast aside to spin away until they are caught up in some other gravitational pull.  This is true of everyone except Ted Tice.  He is a young scientist who meets Caro at the beginning of the book and holds her steady at the centre of his affections, even when separated by huge emotional and physical distances.  Despite the camaraderie that grows between them, his love is unrequited.  Caro of course, is attracted to the amoral, selfish and entirely charismatic Paul Ivory, an up-and-coming playwright.

The characters’ fortunes rise and fall, often in direct contrast to each other.  As if there cannot be triumph without failure, as if there cannot be love without heartbreak, as if there can be no happiness without grief.  The novel is about power and dominance, the shift of control in relationships.

To continue the planetary metaphors, crucial events are eclipsed by flashier, but ultimately more trivial occurrences, or are briefly glimpsed but remain obscured until years later when they are suddenly illuminated again.  Hazzard casually forewarns us of the fate of some of the key characters, in sentences as brief and clinical as news bulletins.  This means that readers can easily miss this crucial information.  By employing this technique, Hazzard manages to make the ending both transcendentally optimistic, or deeply tragic.  It all depends on how you read the book.

The novel is also full of sly humour and exquisite, impressionistic descriptions.  Each word is beautifully placed, even minor characters are given spark and wit.  There are some truly revolting characters, Dora, the half-sister of Caro and Grace, with her endless catastrophes and parasitic sense of entitlement, immediately comes to mind.

In a lot of ways it is a very brutal book.  Hazzard is not kind to her characters.  No-one is spared disappointments and heartaches.  I suppose that is her message.

P.S. When I finished, I did have to return to a bit of Melina Marchetta, to get back a sense of redemption and hope…

This week

By Vita Forest

The Japanese Gardens at Auburn

The Japanese Gardens at Auburn

This week I have been

    • The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta.  Again.  (It makes me ache, how I love this book…)
    • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling at school (up to the first Quidditch match…)
  • MAKING collages of Totoro at school.
  • VISITING the Japanese Gardens at Auburn with my class (very lovely).
  • WATCHING the new season of Homeland on TV.
  • MEETING two gorgeous friends from high school and confiding in each other about our latest ups and downs.  A shout out to two very inspiring women!
  • LISTENING to Piazzola on the radio while
  • STOPPING to watch the sunset.
  • THINKING about all those effected by the terrible recent events in Paris.


Things Vita Forest Likes

Things We Like

  1. Lemons in a blue bowl
  2. Impromptu dance parties at home
  3. A cup of Earl Grey tea with milk
  4. Rereading favourite books numerous times
  5. Evanjalin from Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
  6. My Mum’s caramel icing on sponge cakes (made specially for birthdays)
  7. The paintings of Emily Kame Kngwarreye
  8. The Marimekko Daisy print in red and pink
  9. Swimming in salt water
  10. Kate Bush’s song “Running up that Hill”

Vita Forest is a blogger.

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Danny Griggs, I’m watching you…

By Vita Forest

My Marchetta shelf

My Marchetta shelf

Some of my friends will groan when they realise that this post is about a Melina Marchetta book.  You see, in the last year, I have become something of a Marchetta fanatic, zealously preaching to anyone who will listen about how wonderful her books are.

Like many people in Australia, I knew and loved Looking for Alibrandi, but didn’t realise there were more and even better offerings from this Aussie author.  By chance, I read Finnikin of the Rock and then I was hooked. I read her whole canon in quick succession and started pressing copies onto family and friends. How is it that her other books are not so well known in this country?

Anyway, how exciting it was to discover that as well as her Young Adult novels (whatever that means – a topic for another time), Melina Marchetta had written a book for “younger readers”.  Perfect.  I could do my bit by introducing her to some younger readers I knew – my class.

The Gorgon in the Gully tells the story of Danny Griggs, a boy in fourth grade at a school in Sydney.  (“Sydney!” One of my students gasped, “That’s where we live!”)  When the soccer team’s lucky ball is lost in the gully beyond the schoolyard, Danny agrees to retrieve it, despite his fear of the Gorgon rumoured to live in that very place.  This is a story about an unlikely group of friends who work together to reach a seemingly unachievable goal.  It is set in a primary school, which caused great joy in my class as they recognised so many familiar elements.  How important it is to be able to recognise ourselves in stories.

Marchetta assembles a fabulous cast of characters who soon became favourites with my class. Without fuss or fanfare, she includes characters from a range of cultural backgrounds (including an Indigenous Australian) and living in a range of family structures.  It’s not an “issue” book, but by the mere inclusion of minorities, it is refreshing, but also normal.  There ARE kids in my class who weren’t born in Australia, who don’t live in nuclear families, and who struggle sometimes due to problems in their family lives.

For fellow Marchetta-tragics, you have probably already noticed that Danny shares the same surname as Jonah Griggs, the brooding cadet from On the Jellicoe Road. Indeed, they are brothers, and Gorgon takes place at the same time as Jellicoe, with Danny receiving advice from Jonah (when he can get mobile coverage at Jellicoe, of course).

Danny and his friends come up with a highly ingenious plan to divert their teacher’s attention and allow him to escape into the gully to find the lucky soccer ball.  It involves a strategically aimed meat pie thrown by Akbar the Fast Bowler (or Akbar TFB).  Akbar has a signature move where he points at his own eyes with two fingers then points at someone else.  My class and I practised this, and every time Akbar did it in the story, we did it too.  In fact, they loved it so much that they started a new class ritual.  Every morning when they arrived at school, a procession of children knocked on the classroom window to get my attention, gave me the “I’m watching you” action, waited for me to reciprocate, then ran off to play.

Term 3 is half over and it’s still happening.  So Melina, thanks for the fantastic stories and I hope my kids will go on to read your other books when they get a little bit older.