John Clanchy’s brilliant new novel ‘In Whom We Trust’

December 12, 2019 at 7:22 am | Posted in Australian novels, Finlay Lloyd, Historical novels, John Clanchy | Leave a comment
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The best historical novels vividly evoke the past while illuminating the present. Award-winning writer John Clanchy’s new novel In Whom We Trust exemplifies this. Set in a country town in Victoria just before and during World War I, the plot is narrated through the viewpoints of Father James Pearse and two orphans who came to Australia from England, Thomas Stuart, formerly a London chimneysweep, and Molly Preston, at thirteen or fourteen, a few years older than Thomas.

Father Pearse’s housekeeper Mrs Reilly (who even irons his newspaper for him) tells him one evening that a mysterious visitor came while he was out walking. He is intrigued, and so are we, as Mrs Reilly in her infuriatingly vague way continues ‘ladling out this miserable stew of half-facts’ about the visitor.

Later that night Pearce discovers that it is Thomas Stuart, who lived at St Barnabas’ orphanage where Father Pierce was chaplain for a couple of years. Father Pearce recalls Brother Stanislaus ‘and his austere band of Brothers’ there. Thomas, who is now (just) old enough to enlist for the First World War, has something to tell Pearse. Continue Reading John Clanchy’s brilliant new novel ‘In Whom We Trust’…

Thinking women, hope and regeneration

June 12, 2019 at 6:56 am | Posted in Andrea Goldsmith, Australia behind, Australian novels, Democracy, Living creatively, Movies, optimism, Toni Jordan | 2 Comments
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 Am I advocating escapism?

It’s been hard to find anything uplifting to say in the last few weeks. The last time I read John Milton (1608-1674) was in English (Hons) many years ago. But I just came across a quotation from Paradise Lost that seems like a sanity-saver in the world we’re enduring now.

‘The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.’

I can imagine a certain homeless lad I see often, camping endlessly outside Dickson Woolworths, waiting for a Government flat to come up – or any of those poor, skinny, desperate blokes on Manus Island or Nauru who find themselves simultaneously in Hell and in Limbo – saying, ‘Yeah, that’s easy for him to say!’

And yes, Milton had his books and his house, music and writing, and his wife (a succession of three) and children.

But everyone has his own trials and Milton was blind when he wrote Paradise Lost, and of course when writing poignant poems like ‘When I consider how my light is spent’. His first two wives died, he also lost a son and a daughter, and he had a strained relationship with his remaining daughters.

Continue Reading Thinking women, hope and regeneration…

Brave books about love

October 20, 2016 at 7:01 pm | Posted in Australian memoir, Australian novels, Democracy, English journalism, Father/son memoirs, Writing | Leave a comment
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unexpectedelementsI’m back after an orgy of reading. I was still putting piles of library books in the basket of my Trek bicycle and racing home to devour them when I suddenly got another writing job. Before that, one of the many authors I read was the person everyone’s talking about: Liane Moriaty and her recent Truly, Madly, Guilty.

I was a bit annoyed at that title, derived as it is from a favourite Anthony Minghella film, Truly Madly, Deeply (1991; you can watch it on You Tube though of course you’ll get more out of it on a big screen). It’s a film I loved and which could be categorised as Blithe Spirit meets Night of the Living Dead, in other words, a bereavement film told in a truly original voice. Continue Reading Brave books about love…

John Tesarsch – sophisticated and uplifting

March 3, 2016 at 12:17 am | Posted in Australian novels, Books, Writing | 1 Comment
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John Tesarsch's brilliant novel

John Tesarsch’s brilliant novel

John Tesarsch’s The Last Will and Testament of Henry Hoffmann (Affirm Press, 2014) is a masterpiece. I’ve reviewed a lot of books in the past twenty plus years, (in local magazines and 85 for The Canberra Times, and more recently in this blog) but I have never described a novel like that. This one deserves it. I simply could not put it down and I am in awe of the author’s mastery of the form.

The novel deals with the theme of death as a catalyst for examining life – the past life, in this case with its extraordinary secrets, and life in the present for the survivors, who include the three children of Henry Hoffmann. When Henry unexpectedly dies they must deal with his idiosyncratic will.

The eldest of Henry’s progeny, Eleanor, very bright like her father, is teaching at a boys’ school and trying to find the time to do her PhD. Sarah used to be a concert pianist and now simply immerses herself in her music, after suffering debilitating stage fright. Robbie is the black sheep whose real estate deals and secrecy have led him into financial woes and made his wife Carla very unhappy.

Tesarsch’s first novel The Philanthropist (Sleepers, 2010), also a story of family secrets, was very readable and competent but this second one is lifted to another level. With its engaging and increasingly compelling plot The Last Will and Testament of Henry Hoffmann moves through the settings of Melbourne and to its north during the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, to Vienna during World War II and to contemporary San Francisco. The plot moves at a fast pace while simultaneously we gain a deeper knowledge of the characters.

Continue Reading John Tesarsch – sophisticated and uplifting…

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