I signed up for the AWW challenge again this year. I chose the Franklin level, which is to read ten books and review at least six of those. That’s about what I ended up doing last year, although I didn’t sign up for that level officially.
My focus in 2014 was initially on creating Librivox recordings, but for various reasons (and none at all) I had a slow year with that. I’m going to do some more recordings this year, beginning, appropriately enough, with Miles Franklin’s Some Everyday Folk and Dawn.
I updated the ‘Books’ page to reflect this. Here’s a snippet pertaining to this year’s challenge:
I’m beginning 2015 with a renewed sense of purpose for this project, following some wonderful encouragement from Elizabeth Lheude, the founder of the AWW challenges.
I’d like to do a solo recording of Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career. At the moment there’s a collaborative recording available at Librivox, but given many listeners like a single voice–and an Australian one for Australian authors–then I want to make that available.
For now, I’m going to begin the year with the only other Franklin work available in the public domain in the US:
Some Everyday Folk and Dawn
Started: 19 January 2015
Progress: 0 of 30 sections
I’d like to complete at least one other recording this year, but I’m not sure what it might be yet. If anyone has a suggestion or request, I’m open to that. Of course, I have to comply with both Australian and US public domain restrictions, so that can be quite restrictive with what I can record.
The Engagement by Chloe Hooper
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
What a strange book; I really have no idea what to make of it.
The Engagement tells the story of Liese, an English woman who is retrenched from her job as an architect, who moves to Australia and finds work as a real estate agent in Melbourne. In this job she meets Alexander, a member of the squattocracy, a bachelor looking for a pied à terre. They have sex in one of the properties she shows him; he concludes her real estate job is a front for her prostitution and so he pays her. She sees his misunderstanding as an opportunity to pay her substantial debts and so she doesn’t disabuse him. Their relationship and the plot get murkier from there.
The blurb on the Bolinda audio edition says ‘…this is a psychological thriller for the modern age, one which explores the snares of money and love, and the dark side of the erotic imagination’. I don’t know. Perhaps. If Alexander’s desire to simultaneously hire, rescue, and punish Liese is to be believed. Liese is an unreliable narrator, and ‘psychological’ seems to mean someone–Alexander? His mother? His sister? Liese?–has a vaguely-defined mental illness that is expressed through violence and manipulation.
The Goodreads summary compares The Engagement to Surrealist Luis Buñel’s film Belle de Jour. On the one hand, there is certainly a part-time prostitute character; on the other hand, I’m not convinced that deliberate obfuscation about key artefacts, such as the damning letters and photographs addressed to Alexander and Liese respectively, is the same as the philosophical resolution to Séverine and Pierre Serizy’s intimacy issues. It just feels as though Hooper didn’t really know how to resolve the various threads she set in motion.
The audio book was read well by Jane Nolan, if with some often-distracting long vowels.
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The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I first encountered the selkie legend in the Irish-American film, The Secret of Roan Innish (Sayles 1994). The notion of seal brides all seemed terribly magical and romantic, if ultimately sad. Remembering this film was part of what attracted me to Sea Hearts (The Brides of Rollrock Island); I was intrigued to learn more about these curious brides who emerge from the sea to bear the children of men, only to become increasingly forlorn for their sea lives, land-bound as long as they are separated from their skins.
Reading Lanagan’s interpretation of the selkie legend, I found myself thinking about the origins of this fantastical creature. Was it first offered as an explanation for an unexpected dark-eyed child to hide the sin of adultery? To explain a wife’s desertion of an unhappy marriage? What are the stories of migration, slavery, and inter-racial liaisons that gave rise to selkie lore? Lanagan’s story doesn’t openly engage with any of the questions I’ve posed here, however it does pursue a story through the selkie legend that I found equally intriguing.
Miskaella is a misshapen and outcast child from a large family. While her family take turns to taunt and shun her, the old folk in the Rollrock community recognise and fear her affinity with the island’s seal population. As Miskaella comes of age and understands she is condemned to a single life, she decides to exploit her ability to summon the seals to secure her fortune and status by procuring wives for the island’s men.
Miskaella’s story is the beginning of a curve on a spiral of selkie legend, a tale of four generations of the Rollrock community that explores the lot of women as spinsters, mothers, wives, and daughters across the ages. It is sad, thought-provoking, beautiful, and hopeful.
I listened to the Bolinda/ABC audiobook edition, read just wonderfully by Eloise Oxer and Paul English.
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