The year’s favourite books: Ursula Dubosarsky

Today it’s my pleasure to welcome Ursula Dubosarsky to my blog, to write about her favourite book of the year.

Effi Briest by Theodore Fontane (1895)

A friend bought me this Penguin edition of the classic German novel as a gift in a second-hand bookshop after we’d had lunch together a few months ago. I read it quickly, that same night.   It’s frequently classified as another great nineteenth century novel about adultery, along with Madame Bovary, The Age of Innocence or Anna Karenina.   But I found it much more disturbing than any of those and I’m not sure why – I don’t usually analyse my responses to books too much. But I remain very upset by it.  Perhaps because despite the apparently genial and civilised milieu, it’s far closer to the savagery of the murderous adultery of Therese Raquin –  and yet the characters seem not to notice it right to the devastating end, including Effi herself.  I see that Rainer Fassbinder made a film of the novel in 1974 (which I haven’t seen) and gave it this title: Fontane Effi Briest or Many People Who Are Aware of Their Own Capabilities and Needs Just Acquiesce to the Prevailing System in Their Thoughts and Deeds, Thereby Confirming and Reinforcing It.     Hmm.

 

Ursula Dubosarsky is a multi-award winning Australian writer of over 50 books for children. Her website is at https://ursuladubosarsky.squarespace.com/

The year’s favourite books: Susanne Gervay

Today I’m delighted to welcome author Susanne Gervay to my blog, to talk about her favourite book for the year.

Glass Walls, edited by Meenakshi Bharat and Sharon Rundle, 2019, published by Orient Black Swan ISBN 978 93 5287 679 2

The stories in this anthology  are hilarious at times, moving at other times, and make you reflect on who you are. It opens discussion on all sorts of prejudices, even when we think we don’t have any.  It’s those little prejudices that can develop into major prejudices impacting on us and the world.  Oscar Wilde wrote – ‘Most people are other people.’ We’re the other people. The writing is so good, from Australian and Indian authors. You just have to read the new story by Bruce Pascoe about fatherhood and identity. It was funny and real and emotionally powerful. There are stories by David Malouf, Roanna Gonsalves, Libby Sommer, Debra Adelaide. It’s a feast of stories.

Susanne Gervay lives and loves the author life of sharing story to adults and kids. Her latest books are Shadows of Olive Trees and a picture book The Boy in the Big Blue Glasses. Connect with her on social media – FB – sgervay; twitter – sgervay; Instagram – susanne gervay; website – www.sgervay.com

The year’s favourite books: introduction

Today I’m starting a new blog series, The year’s favourite books, in which authors and illustrators contribute guest posts about a favourite book (or books, if they can’t choose just one!) which they read this year. The books don’t  have to be new (though it might be, of course!) or in any particular genre, or for any particular age group–just books that my blog guests enjoyed reading and/or that are special to them in some way.

I’m kicking off the series with two of my own favourites this year (yes, I couldn’t choose just one and even two was hard to keep to!), one for adults, one for children: the adult one by an eminent Australian author whose books I’ve always enjoyed; the children’s book by a Canadian author-illustrator I’ve only just discovered, despite his having published several immensely popular and award-winning books.

So here they are:

The True Colour of the Sea, by Robert Drewe

This beautiful, gripping and evocative collection of short stories, that came out in mid-2018 but which I didn’t catch up with till early 2019, shows Robert Drewe’s light yet precise touch at its most masterly. The sea, in all its simplicity yet mystery, has been at the centre of much of his writing, and this collection is certainly no exception, with stories set on islands and on the coast, and at different periods of time, with the sea always more than a mere backdrop to human dramas, comedies, crimes and mysteries, but in fact often a trigger, a catalyst, for them. I just loved this book, which I read over several days in summer. Beautiful writing, unpredictable twists, vivid characters and a satirical eye that is never misanthropic: these are some of the great pleasures of this collection, which is one to savour over the holidays.

 

I Want My Hat Back, written and illustrated by Jon Klassen

I first came across this picture book(originally published in 2011) by chance one day this year, browsing in a city bookshop for a present for a certain beloved little person. I was startled and gripped by the story and by Klassen’s unique style of illustration, which combines sophistication and simplicity. The cumulative text, around a bear who has lost his hat and is looking for it everywhere, shows those twin aspects too, and its ending has quite a twist–what exactly, well, you’ll have to see for yourself! In an interview in 2016, Klassen mentioned that the publisher had wanted him to change the ending, but that he’d stood his ground. When you read the book, you can see why there’d been that initial nervousness(though the book went on to be hugely successful). In our family, I Want My Hat Back aroused quite a bit of discussion, with different opinions expressed as to the underlying theme: and that ending! (Mind you, the little person for whom it was intended just enjoyed it unreservedly).

 

 

 

A serendipitous meeting and a discovery about a treasured manuscript

I was really delighted yesterday to meet the wonderful Dr Joko Susilo, world-renowned dhalang (master of traditional Javanese shadow-puppetry, the wayang kulit) , who’s been Artist in Residence at UNE  for the last few weeks. An eighth-generation dhalang from Cenral Java, Joko has been based in New Zealand for some time, and travels around the world to give performances, talks and other presentations.
I contacted Joko to show him one of my family treasures: a rare, handwritten Javanese-language ‘Boekoe Pedalangan’ or ‘Book of Puppetry’, which my French parents, who were very interested in the wayang kulit and Javanese culture generally, bought when they were living and working in Java in the late 50’s and early 60’s (and where I was born). I’ve always been in awe of this book, and was thrilled when my father gave it to me a couple of years ago, but I have  wanted for a while to ask someone who knew what they were looking at to let me know me more information about the book. Well, Joko was absolutely the perfect person, as he is not only a practitioner but also a respected scholar of the extraordinary and magical art of wayang kulit.
He was very interested indeed in the manuscript and I learned quite a bit about it from him as he leafed through it: that it came from the Central Javanese city of Solo(which like Yogya is at the heart of Javanese traditional culture), that it was written in High (literary) Javanese by a professional dhalang, someone well-educated and highly-literate–not very common at the time, Joko thought it might possibly have been someone who worked within the kraton, the palace, of Solo– and that it contains the full script, including narration, instructions to puppeteers and gamelan orchestra, as well as actual gamelan notation, for a famous epic wayang kulit play which goes on all night (at least 9 hours long).
As well as that, there is a shorter section at the back, which Joko revealed is actually an unusual collection of traditional Javanese magic charms and spells. The charms are for all sorts of purposes including one, Joko was amused to discover, against sleepiness (sleepiness being an occupational hazard of course for dhalangs who are performers of all-night plays!) He confirmed that this is indeed a very rare book, especially given its excellent state of preservation(my parents having very carefully looked after it for decades, ever since they first got it and of course I’ve done the same). So fantastic to learn more about this treasure–and Joko is keen to transcribe the book in its entirety at some stage, which is wonderful!