Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ May 2016

Charlotte Wood’s latest book, The Natural Way of Things has won the Independent Booksellers’ Book of the Year Award and also The Stella Prize. And no wonder.

This is not a charming story. I had to read it in short bursts. The writing is brilliant – good enough to read aloud. The story concerns a small group of young women who have been duped, captured and imprisoned in a remote, deserted and decaying outback station. They all have one thing in common. They have been involved in a sexual scandal concerning an older, powerful man. There is an electric fence around the perimeter of the valley and they are “looked after” by two men and a woman who seem capable only of derision and insults. Be sure to read this.

Each new book from Charlotte Wood strikes out in a new direction but each time she displays her incisive depiction of people and places. Her previous books include The Children; Love and Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food; The Submerged Cathedral; Animal People, and Brothers & Sisters: Anthology of Stories from some well-known Australian authors. The Submerged Cathedral was short-listed for the Miles Franklin.

I’m now reading Julian Barnes’ latest book called The Noise of Time. Reviewers have called this a masterpiece and so it seems. In this slender book, the third person narrative refers to three different periods in the life of Russian composer, Dmitri Shoskatovich, his troubled relationship with Stalin and the Communist Party, and his efforts to retain his artistic integrity. Very moving. If you know anything of the life of this famous composer you will find extra enjoyment in this. You could also read Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shoskatovich edited by Solomon Volkov.

The very best news for Helen Garner was announced recently. She is one of the recipients of the 2016 Windham-Campbell Prizes which means she is awarded a little more than $200,000 as one of the Non-fiction awards in this generous but little known prize which does not ask for entrants. Many of her readers will be pleased for her. Her three most famous books are The First Stone, This House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial and Joe Cinque's Consolation: A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law. We also have stock of True Stories: Selected Non Fiction as well as the fiction which first made her famous – The Children’s Bach, Postcards from Surfers and Monkey Grip. Her latest book is titled Everywhere I Look which Lindy Jones has described as "Drawn from articles she has contributed to different journals/papers/books over the past decade or two, and loosely organised by theme, each is a small but perfect jewel, or a quiet sip of sanity in an increasingly incoherent world."

The inimitable Robyn Williams has written to celebrate his show on Radio National. It is called In Love with Betty the Crow: The First 40 Years of ABC RN’s THE SCIENCE SHOW –a show which he describes as “a selection of compelling conversations”. Fans of the show, like me, will really enjoy this and others will be enticed to become regular listeners.

Biographer Suzanne Falkiner has chosen a better-known subject for her latest book, called Mick: A Life of Randolph Stow. She has had access to an enormous amount of letters and diaries and of course interviews with friends still living, so this is a very detailed account of the life of Stow, regarded as one of our greatest writers. He was the second winner of the Miles Franklin Award and has also received the Patrick White Award. There is a new edition of his poetry The Land’s Meaning: New Selected Poems and you will find many poems quoted in the biography. We have stock of his fiction including To The Islands, Visitants, Tourmaline, The Girl Green as Elderflower, The Suburbs of Hell, Merry-go-Round in the Sea and Midnite.

Did you read Penguin and the Lane Brothers: The Untold Story of a Publishing Revolution by Stuart Kells? If you did you will know already that Richard, one of the younger brothers of Sir Allen Lane, came to Australia as part of a scheme to train young men as farmers. They were known as the Barwell Boys, named after a Premier of South Australia, who began the scheme. And you will know that Richard is the brother most interested in writing. At only eighteen years of age he kept an excellent diary about his adventures, good and bad, in a very foreign country, which he regularly sent home to his parents in Bristol. He was in the country three years and moved from filthy shack to grand house, complete with billiard table. These diaries have now been edited by Stuart Kells and his wife Fiona, as well as Richard’s daughter and granddaughter. They prove to be a fascinating, well written account of rural life in Australia between the wars. Very enjoyable.

Did you like the Man Booker Prize-winning novel by Yann Martell called Life of Pi? If you did you will be ready for another challenge in his new book The High Mountains of Portugal which also features animals in strange places. Take the plunge for this is a beautifully written book – part ghost story, part fable, part quest.

Booker Prize winner Anita Brookner died in March, in her eighties. She seems to be out of favour as only a few of her novels appear as in stock at Abbey's but there was a time when we would have all of her titles in stock. And that might mean 23 or 24. Although she was in her fifties before she began writing fiction, after that she published a new novel almost every year. I know I waited anxiously for the next one! She was a lecturer at the Courtauld Institute, and like an art historian, she was able to tease out the meaning in her stories. The first one, called A Start in Life, began with the remark ‘Dr Weiss, at forty, knew her life had been ruined by literature.’ As soon as I saw that I knew I must read it. Her stories were mostly about middle-aged females suffering isolation or disappointment. One critic famously remarked “I could strangle her characters with the sleeves of their own cardigans”. Nevertheless I recommend these finely crafted stories. Try your library if no luck at Abbey’s. Her most famous title was Hotel du Lac which won the Booker Prize.

I was eagerly awaiting the new book from Graham Swift, author of Last Orders, Waterland an England and Other Stories. It is called Mothering Sunday: A Romance and is set in 1924. Orphan Jane Fairchild, maid in an affluent middle-class household, has nowhere to visit until she receives a secret phone call from her lover, the charismatic son of her employers’ friends and neighbour. An intense day follows as Jane visits him in his own house, which she has been instructed she must enter by the front door. As the day proceeds small hints are offered to the reader. Perhaps all is not well? Jane becomes a famous author who carefully avoids this day when interviewers ask her about her youth. This is a lovely book. Very English!

Keep well,


Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Book Launch: Novel: Educated Youth by Ye Xin

A novel that touches the heart for the children left behind.

During the Cultural Revolution over fourteen million Chinese high school graduates were sent from the cities to live and work in the countryside. They were known as zhiqing – ‘educated youth’. They fell in love, married, had children. In the late 1970s the policy changed and they were allowed to return, but not their families. Many jumped at the opportunity, leaving spouses and children behind. Ten years later the children, now teenagers, began to turn up in the cities, looking for their parents.

Ye Xin's novel Educated Youth follows five such children, who have travelled across China from a province in the south west to Shanghai in the east, only to discover that their mothers and fathers have remarried, and have new families, in which there is no room for them. Their reappearance brings out the worst in the parents – their duplicity, greed and self-interest – and the best too, as they struggle to come to terms with their sense of love and duty.


ABBEY'S BOOKSELLER PICK —— Written in the nineties and only now available to the English language reader, this classic Chinese novel provides yet another example of grand social engineering undertaken by governments, only to be dismantled in years to come, by which time their policies have left a trail of broken families and abandoned children.

This is a warm and rewarding novel with insights into Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution and how the edicts were received and observed (or not) by those it sought to control. A novel that touches the heart for the children left behind. Craig Kirchner


‘With a mix of popular storytelling, psychological insight and startling candour about his generation, Ye Xin turns a slice of recent Shanghai life into an entertaining, touching novel. It’s great to have a fine English version of this Chinese modern classic.’ Nicholas Jose

Ye Xin was born in Shanghai in October 1949. He was sent to Guizhou Province as a zhiqing in 1969 and worked on the construction of the Hunan-Guizhou railway. His novels include High Sierra in Miaoling, The Ages of Idling Away, Family Education, Love Has No Choice and Shanghai Diary. He has won many awards including the October Prize and the National Prize for Best Novel. He is vice-chairman of the Writers’ Association of China and the Writers’ Association of Shanghai, and director of the Institute of Literature of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.
Dr Jing Han is the translator of Educated Youth by Ye Xin and she received her PhD degree in English literature from University of Sydney in 1995 and her MA in English and American Literatures from Beijing Foreign Studies University in 1986. Dr Han joined SBS TV in 1996 and she is now the head of SBS Subtitling Department. Over the last 19 years, she has subtitled more than 300 Chinese films and TV programs for the Australian audience including the currently showing TV series If You Are The One. Dr Han also lectures at Western Sydney University, teaching translation studies including audiovisual translation, literary translation and accreditation studies.

More on China...

Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ March 2016

Sydney Booksellers, some publishers, customers and lots of ex staff turned out in force to remember Peter Milne on 27th January.

We found he was loved and admired by lots of people, not just our own indispensable advisor and friend. Peter's brother flew in from Perth and Fiona Stager from Avid Reader in Brisbane. Robert Milne went home with a beautiful condolence book signed by all. A fantastic photo of Peter beamed to all arrivals and in the window a huge In Memoriam poster shone out. We shall all miss him.

I've been reading The House by the Lake by Thomas Harding, which was one of our bestsellers at Christmas. This was an unlikely success. Harding is a descendant of the Jewish family which had to escape from an idyllic village on the outskirts of Berlin in the Thirties. What started as a curiosity about a home treasured in memory for his grandmother, became an overwhelming interest. He researched right back to the original estate, through various owners and tenants until finally he was able to convince the authorities that this quite ordinary house should be conserved.

Although the house is the main character, the people passing through are all interesting and tell the social history of Germany in the twentieth century. Most interesting of all is the barbed wire fence which was one day erected at the lake edge at the bottom of the garden. This eventually became the Berlin Wall! He calls it A Story of Germany, as indeed it is. Highly recommended and also, if you haven't read Stasiland by Anna Funder, I recommend you now read this fabulous account of the German Democratic Republic.

It is a happy choice that I am now making my way through John le Carré: The Biography by Adam Sisman.  It is over six hundred pages, of which fifty contain notes and then the index. Le Carrés real name is David Cornwell and Ronnie Cornwell, his father, was a consummate con-man who dominated the lives of his sons, David and Antony Cornwell. He is immortalised in A Perfect Spy, my favourite. At one point I feared author Adam Sisman had also been conquered by the charming Ronnie as the first one hundred pages are taken over by Ronnie!

This is a fascinating book. One can tend to forget the enormous success of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, le Carré's third book written while he was working in the secret services. And one can sometimes overlook just how many books Le Carré has written, and continues to write. He worked very hard, especially in the days before a word processor.

He was always diligent, revising proofs right up till the last possible moment and often contributed to the film scripts of his books and even, like Hitchcock, enjoyed a cameo part in several of the films. I think he was indeed addicted to writing. He became fabulously wealthy and very famous. The middle part of the book dealing with negotiations with publishers and film producers is gloriously full of trade gossip. He does become rather angry at the state of the world. He says he became more radical as he grew older and certainly agrees he has had a wonderful life. I think he wrote twenty three books, most of them classified as espionage thrillers, always with a political angle which often proved prescient.

A new book is due soon and his backlist is being reissued regularly as licences expire. These are the titles in his catalogue:

We also have a DVD set comprising Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People and a Spanish edition of The Constant Gardener Jardinero El Fiel. The biographer widely discusses reviews and plots of the books so you can sort out which title you can start with to dip into le Carré's marvellous catalogue.

Some of us have enjoyed the amusing novels by Michael Wilding featuring Plant the bumbling detective threading his way through bohemian Sydney. Michael has put on his academic gown again so this Emeritus Professor of English and Australian Literature has won the 2015 Prime Minister's Award for Non-Fiction for his latest book Wild Bleak Bohemia: Marcus Clark, Adam Lindsay Gordon and Henry Kendall: A Documentary.

It has also won the Colin Roderick Award. This is a book that has just evolved over the years since Michael was writing about Marcus Clark in the 70's. He has had suggestions and connections from all sorts of people who played a part in fossicking out the story of these three famous Australian authors. Everyone is pleased that it made it into print.

Keep well,


Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Colour your world in 2016

Colour your world in 2016

Like many people, the booksellers at Abbey's have watched the adult colouring book trend take off.

And we've also wondered how this arose (well, this has surely come from the US - right?) and what is all the fuss about?

Well, it turns out that there are some very real health benefits to this fad - so much so that I'm hoping it doesn't end and we might actually see some societal benefit as we all dial down the 'stress-o-meter' a notch or two. (and perhaps air-drop these and some coloured pencils into the world's war zones…)

Apparently the act of colouring moves your brainwave activity away from 'beta' towards more restful 'alpha' brainwaves and lowers your heart rate. If you're a perfectionist however, you'll probably want to stay away from colouring books with scenes. You'll just end up stressing about the correct colour of things.

But for now, the only stress you'll feel is choosing from our wonderful selection...

Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers