Adelaide and a new Barbara Vine

April 15, 2013 at 6:20 am | Posted in Books | Leave a comment
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After a few days of Conference early mornings and late nights, organising interviews for rural health experts and liaising with them and journalists, I realised yet again how much I love the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission to you lovely people from Canada, the UK and the US who discourse with me about my blogs). Their journalists and producers invariably take the time to learn the facts and get to know the important things before interviewing the person.

I was in Adelaide doing this for my work Conference, as mentioned in last blog. But a couple of years ago I did many radio interviews about my book Creative Lives. With the very short ones (through no fault of the journalist some were just too short) I found it hard to compress 18 months of research and writing of 22 people’s lives and careers into convenient sound bytes; whereas the longer interviews were much easier and I was able to convey something of the complexity and nuance of the task and the subjects, as well as establish some sort of relationship with the interviewer, which is essential in any conversation.

Theodore Zeldin writes that conversation is an adventure ‘in which we agree to cook the world together and make it taste less bitter’ (Conversation, 1998, p.6). This of course is what blogs can do too.

After the Conference I had a few days off, and moved to a hotel I could afford and which I had booked online. Having no real knowledge of Adelaide apart from seeing the Festival, the Hills and the beaches a couple of times over 15 years ago, I discovered that I’d booked a hotel in the Kings Cross (Sydney) of Adelaide: the Plaza in Hindley Street. The people were nice and I had a big bathroom and sitting room, but it was all very shabby, noisy and grubby. The corridors smelt of chain-smoking and the streets rang into the early hours with the noise of endlessly repeating bass notes, fist fights and traffic.

I saw friends, had lunches in vineyards, caught the Turner exhibition (can never resist) and didn’t want to wait till it comes to Canberra. I saw most of that collection often before at the Tate but find new things every time. I’d forgotten how abstract many of his works were – and so early! I love Adelaide’s Markets and went there twice. And I bought a copy of the new Barbara Vine: The Child’s Child. It’s a psychological thriller ‘book-ending’ a historical novel also having thriller elements, and both plots dealing with the changing moral and legal landscapes in England surrounding illegitimacy and homosexuality.  I can hardly put it down.

At the wonderful ‘Flights of the Mind’ conference at the National Library of Australia 24-25 October 2009, author Geraldine Brooks said that historical novels contain more than facts: ‘they contain emotional truths’. Her books certainly do, and Barbara Vine’s do too. (Ruth Rendell, as you probably know, writes her psychological thrillers under the name Barbara Vine.) I haven’t finished The Child’s Child but two-thirds of the way through I’m finding it fascinating. Her language has the clarity of Simenon but more depth, and her psychological insights are profound, but her real genius is in plotting. It was so hard to unpack and do domestic things when I was desperate to finish that novel. In fact, I still am. That’s what I will do right now.

If you haven’t read any of Barbara Vine’s there are about 14. So if you read one and like it you’re in for a treat: 13 more to go! More actually, if she continues to write them for a few more years. I love them because I’m interested in psychology and human nature; I rarely read detective novels and the ones with all the focus on the forensic details. I’m just not that interested in that aspect of life.

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