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Australian reads: Down Under by Bill Bryson and about A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey

July 21, 2018 36 comments

Down Under by Bill Bryson (2000) / A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey (2017)

I’m flying to Australia in a few days and I have SEVEN unwritten billets about books I’ve read. I’m going to write short posts about them mostly because I don’t want to go on holiday and leave a backlog of billets behind. Work has been in the way of my writing and updating my blog.

The first book I’d like to talk about is Down Under. Travels in a Sunburnt Country by Bill Bryson. I have read it in French and since “Down Under” is a bit tricky to translate, it’s become “Nos voisins du dessous”. Bill Bryson tells us all about a road trip he made in Australia in 2000. I enjoyed the tone of his book and its content. It’s a good mix of personal experience and everyday life during his roadtrip, fun facts about Australia but also serious historical information and informative descriptions of nature, and especially the fauna.

It’s told with a healthy sense of humour, by someone who comes from Iowa, has lived in Great Britain and loves Australia. When he makes fun of Australians, it’s always with affection.

Here’s a sample of his easy-going prose, a story-telling tone that catches the reader’s attention.

Australia is the world’s sixth largest country and its largest island. It is the only island that is also a continent, and the only continent that is also a country. It was the first continent conquered by sea, and the last. It is the only nation that began as a prison.

It is the home of the largest living thing on earth, the Great Barrier Reef, and of the most famous and striking monolith, Ayers Rock (or Uluru to use its now official, more respectful Aboriginal name) It has more things that will kill you than anywhere else. Of the world’s ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian. Five of its creatures – the funnel-web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick and stonesfish – are the most lethal of their type in the world. This is a country where even the fluffiest of caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip, where seashells will not just sting you by actually sometimes go for you. Pick up an innocuous coneshell from a Queensland beach, as innocent tourists are all too wont to do, and you will discover that the little fellow inside is not just astoundingly swift and testy, but exceedingly venomous. If you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback. It’s a tough place.”

Well, our plane tickets are nonrefundable, so I guess we’ll just have to be prudent, eh?

I read his book partly at home and partly during a work trip while waiting at the airport. My constant giggling forced me to read passages to my colleagues or they would have thought I was nuts.

His trip includes a stay in Sydney, a visit to Camberra, Melbourne, some time in Queensland and some time in the Northern Territory. It was a pleasure to follow him, learn about the places he was visiting, discover mundane everyday life details and learn about the history of Australia.

Bill Bryson points out how little we hear about Australia in our respective countries. What is true for him in America is also true for me in France.

And this came back as a boomerang when I tried to read A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey. I had read an enthusiastic review by Lisa (see here) and since I love to read books about road trips, I thought it could be a good place to start with Carey.

I began reading it full of expectations and was soon stuck with it. I knew the words I was reading but didn’t understand what I was reading. I was totally missing the subtext. I was seriously rethinking my English abilities (and Australian English can be challenging) when I read Kim’s review. (see here)

She says “I love Carey’s prose, his long, descriptive sentences and quirky turns of phrase, the Australianness (is that a word?) of it all and his ability to capture period detail so extraordinarily well.”

And it was like a lightbulb! The Australianness that had enhanced the experience for Lisa and Kim totally lost me. See here:

The sonny was named Titch although he was sometimes Zac which was what they called a sixpence and a zac was therefore half a shilling or half a bob, which was, of course, his father’s name.

I don’t think you can expect a French reader to understand that kind of sentence. I also had to google Holden because I didn’t know what it was and there were lots of random details like this that left me dumbfounded.

It was indeed a long way from my home and I gave up. Maybe I’ll try it again after spending time in Australia… That’ll be a test: did I catch enough Australianness to understand Peter Carey?

Book Club 2018-2019 : The List

July 21, 2018 18 comments

It’s that time of the year again.

Our Book Club has picked up 12 books for the next twelvemonth. We changed our ways this year and we picked countries and then tried to find one book per country. I’m happy with this new list as it will allow us to travel a bit around the world. We’re missing a book from Africa, though. Next year we’ll have to rectify that.

Here’s the list:

 

Month English title French title Writer # pages Country Year of publication
August The Secret River Sarah Thornhill Kate Grenville 310 Australia 2007
September Not found in English Son Royaume Han Han 250 China 2015
October The Ice Princess La princesse des glaces Camilla Läckberg 381 Sweden 2004
November Not found in English Canicule Jean Vautrin 331 France 1982
December Deal Souls Les âmes mortes Gogol 477 Russia 1842
January Not found in English Le poids des secrets Aki Shimazaki 500 Japan 2010
February Pavane for  a Dead Princess Pavane pour une infante défunte Min-kyu Park 325 Korea 2014
March Excellent Women Des femmes remarquables Barbara Pym 252 Great Britain 1952
April Geek Love Un amour de monstres Katherine Dunn 442 USA 1989
May The Tapestries Le brodeur de Huê Kien Nguyen 383 Vietnam 2001
June House of Splendid Isolation La maison du splendide isolement Edna O’Brien 284 Irlande 1994
July A World for Julius Un monde pour Julius Alfredo Bryce Echenique 497 Peru 1970

The book that opens the new season is The Secret River by Kate Grenville.

I find the Gogol a bit daunting, so if you’ve read it, please tell me how it was. I need a bit of reassurance. I’m looking forward to reading my first Barbara Pym. I’ve heard a lot of good things about her from other bloggers. Edna O’Brien has been on my mental TBR for a while, it’s an opportunity to finally read something by her. I’ve already read Tarzan’s Tonsillitis by Alfredo Bryce-Echenique and I’m glad to read another book by him.

We have two crime fiction books, one by Camilla Läckberg and one by Jean Vautrin. Let’s hope that the Läckberg is better than the Indridason I’ve read. I’m a bit wary of too-famous-for-their-own-good Nordic crime fiction writers. I couldn’t find an English translation of the Vautrin, let me know if there’s one.

And the books for Vietnam, Korea, China and the USA are new-to-me writers. I don’t know what to expect.

As usual, if anyone wants to join us and read one of these books along with us, feel free to do so. There’s no rule, just post your review the right month and let me know about it. And if you’ve read any of those books, what did you think about them?

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