Friday, 4 May 2018

Notes from Eve Abbey • May 2018

 We're 50 this year!

I am having a bit of a kick in American History/Politics just now starting with a new book called Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life by Robert Dallek. We remember Roosevelt not only as a great President but also as a much loved and admired man with a wife who was equally admired. The author, History Professor at Boston University, has previously written, a long time ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy 1932 – 1945, as well as books about John F.Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Nixon and Kissinger. This latest book does focus more on the details of Roosevelt’s various campaigns for re-election and his mastery of consensus politics. He did, after all, serve an unprecedented four terms and died in office.

There is a new historical fiction book, not before time, about Eleanor Roosevelt and her loving relationship with journalist Lorena Hickok who became a White House fixture, known often as 'First Friend'. Franklin D. was so admired and revered by the media and by historians that no-one was willing to acknowledge this relationship, just as photographers kindly never showed Franklin’s paralysed legs. Tabloid gossip is how historians thought about Eleanor and Hick’s romance. Amy Bloom has written a fine fictionalised account of this long affair. It is called White Houses.

Remember Dickens’ (male) biographers never mentioned his mistress Nelly Ternan who remained unknown until Claire Tomalin published that terrific book The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens. There is an amusing remark quoted in Dallek’s book “Eleanor didn’t know how to be spontaneous – but then you can’t teach spontaneous can you?”

Prolific author Richard Aldous has written a revealing biography of the man known as Court Historian for the Kennedy years, especially for his famous book A Thousand Days, who was a brilliant writer and American historian. This is the story of an exciting intellectual life . It is called Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian. Don’t miss it. I am enjoying it now.

Daughter Jane is still working up on the Thai-Burma Border with the Karen Women’s Organisation. She is always looking for suitable material for the Personal Development School started years ago in the displaced person’s camp. Recently she asked for Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 1 and 2. 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women. Lindy has already mentioned these large hardback books sitting in the treasure trove of Children's books she keeps in the far left of the shop. The books compiled by Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli not only succinctly tell the story of important and famous women but the single page story is in clear simple English with a striking original illustration on each facing page. Perfect for primary school libraries or special schools.

I’ve just finished, with much pleasure, Donna Leon’s 27th book in the Commissario Brunetti series set in Venice. It is called The Temptation of Forgiveness and in it Brunetti does indeed think about advising the culprit how to avoid prosecution. Donna Leon is not losing her touch, for this is indeed a very complicated fraud and Brunetti has not been reading his Latin classics too much but he has come to acknowledge how very complicated life has become.

A few months ago a friend insisted on lending me some old DVD’s which included not only Brideshead Revisited (which I mentioned last month) but also Becket and The Lion in Winter in both of which Peter O’Toole played Henry II. I was so intriqued by these that I decided to read about Henry’s mother, the amazing Eleanor of Aquitaine who not only married the King of France(Louis VII) but also Henry II of England, was the mother of Richard the Lionheart and of King John and managed to live to eighty two when she was indeed the King Pin!

So I am reading Eleanor of Aquitaine: By The Wrath of God, Queen of England by Alison Weir. There is also a book by leading medieval historian, Desmond Seward, called Eleanor of Aquitaine: Mother Queen of the Middle Ages which I have on order.

Looking at Abbey’s website I can also see many books about Eleanor, including the trilogy written by Elizabeth Chadwick beginning The Summer Queen, then The Winter Crown and finally The Autumn Throne. Find them in Historical Fiction.

An amusing piece of trivia… I looked up Henry II who is described as red-haired, freckled, short and sturdy with bow legs from riding his horse so much. Ah yes! Just like Peter O-Toole!

Keep well,


Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Friday, 6 April 2018

Notes from Eve Abbey • April 2018

Would you like to try a piece of really original writing? Something unusual? If so, read The Town by Shaun Prescott. This is a first novel from a short story writer and it is very successful. His work is being compared to Gerald Murnane, especially to The Plains. There is a carefully controlled voice of the narrator, a writer who has moved to a Central West country town in order to write a book about the disappearing towns of the outback. The voice is dry and flat like the surrounding countryside. Is it banal? Surely something will happen? Someone will rebel? Fatalistic for sure. The Lifted Brow is the small publisher responsible for this. Take a good look.

I’ve just finished reading Tim Winton’s deeply personal book The Boy Behind the Curtains. This is a wonderful book, brilliantly written, wise and mature. In some pieces he recalls accidents that happened to his family, in others he speaks about the landscape of Western Australia and in others he recalls the important part played by church-going in his adolescence, or a visit to the National Gallery of Victoria or the euphoria of surfing or swimming with whales or the strangeness of a winter living in the gatehouse of a derelict Irish castle.

A fine book to give to a young person just awakening to the world. These autobiographical pieces are to be savoured one at a time.

The Boy Behind the Curtain has recently won the Non-Fiction Prize at the Adelaide Festival. Tim has donated the $15,000 prize to the fund for the Ningaloo Reef, one of his environmental concerns.

Since then I have read Tim Winton’s latest book, a novel called The Shepherd’s Hut. This is a very different approach. Written in the voice of an angry, poorly educated young man who has been horribly abused by his father, it is a style I would usually not enjoy reading but there are intermittent gorgeous descriptions of the Western Australian landscape as the young man escapes from society.

He stumbles across an old man, a priest who has been, for some reason, seemingly imprisoned on the edge of the huge, beautiful salt lake. Gradually, you come to understand that this is an allegory about the painful search for peace.

Winton’s writing is never dull and always has some deeper meaning. The story will stay with you.

Fans of Julian Barnes will enjoy his latest novel The Only Story, which is the curiously unemotional tale of a long love affair between a very young man and an older married woman in the suburban wilds of Surrey, England. All very circumspect and polite. I found it odd and dispiriting but nonetheless thought-provoking.

I’ve been watching a three disc set of Evelyn Waugh’s fabulous novel Brideshead Revisited. So sad. So melancholy. But thirty or more years ago no-one rang a friend on Sunday night because everyone was watching Brideshead Revisited.

The novel was a surprise departure from the famous satirical novels he had written in the thirties and described Charles Ryder’s infatuation with an aristocratic Anglo-Catholic family. It was first published in 1945 but the Popular Penguin edition which you can buy for $12.99 (who can complain about the price of books!) has some revisions made by Waugh and his Preface to the revised edition.

After Brideshead Revisited he went on to write some of best novels of the twentieth century, using his own experience as a not very successful soldier. Officers and Gentlemen, Men at Arms and Unconditional Surrender were put into one volume in 1965 under the title Sword of Honour. There is a special edition in Penguin Modern Classics as well as a Popular Penguin edition.

At Abbey’s you can usually find the backlist titles from special authors so look out for Vile Bodies, Handful of Dust, Scoop and Put Out More Flags, all of which were first published in the thirties. Enjoy yourself.

You can also find Waugh’s Complete Short Stories 1910-1962 as well as Work Suspended and Other Stories. To complete your pleasure look for Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited by Philip Eade. And what a life! Not an especially nice man but a wonderful writer with a wicked tongue.

Keep well,


Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Friday, 2 March 2018

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ March 2018

The most exciting book I have read this month is a non-fiction thriller by Nicholas Shakespeare called Six Minutes in May: How Churchill Unexpectedly Became Prime Minister. Of course Winston Churchill is very much in the news just now on account of various movies, especially The Darkest Hour, but he is only one of the fascinating characters striding across the stage, managing the resignation of Neville Chamberlain as Britain faces up to war. This is a book for people who like history, people who like gossip and people who like to watch the manoeuvres of politicians. It’s another big book, 507 pages, including more than 100 pages of notes.

Nicholas Shakespeare has had the most amazing success in his research. I think he had more than a few personal contacts. The notes explain, chapter by chapter, the sources for most of the fascinating quotations. Many come from personal anecdotes, quotes from memoirs or private correspondence. The intrigue between Lord Halifax and Baba Metcalf forms a central mystery. Halifax had been Viceroy of India, as had Baba’s father, Lord Curzon. I think I shall have to re-read Anne de Courcy’s book, The Viceroy’s Daughters. All very English.

My two favourites among the many books written by Nicholas Shakespeare are The Dancer Upstairs and In Tasmania. In his earlier life, he lived in South America, where The Vision of Elena Silves is also set, and one day he found a perfect little house on the beach in Tasmania. In 2016, he was a Visiting Fellow of All Souls. That would have been a temptation.

The Dancer Upstairs by Nicholas Shakespeare In Tasmania by Nicholas Shakespeare

I received a very nice little gift recently from one of our treasured long-term customers. He dropped in a copy of the International Edition of the Daily Express because it contained an article about the final edition of Pears’ Cyclopedia. He remembered my enthusiasm for this little marvel of information. I shall have to get a copy of this – the 126th edition. My copy is the 95th edition, which was for 1986-87: A Book of Background Information and Reference for Everyday Use. Wikipedia and Google may well have taken its place, but where else can I find on one page the answers to these questions, which may be required for my crossword - International Currencies, Roman Numerals, International Timetable and the Greek Alphabet. Page N9. You could take it to a desert island with you and lack of electricity would not be a problem.

In Spectrum this Saturday, Peter Craven, in honour of 100 years since the birth of Muriel Spark, wrote a lovely piece of wholehearted admiration for work. Hear Hear! I had a look at Abbey’s database and found nine titles in stock, plus several more reissues which are forthcoming. One of the delights to be found at Abbey’s is the presence of a deep backlist of good titles sitting beside the latest and trendiest new titles. Here are Spark’s novels, all of them remembered fondly by me: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, A Far Cry from Kensington, Mandelbaum Gate, The Public Image, Girls of Slender Means, Territorial Rights, Bachelors, Finishing School, Drivers Seat and Spark’s Europe, which contains Not to Disturb, The Takeover and The Only Problem. I’ll have lots of fun re-reading some of these. This will overcome my present difficulty in finding the right fiction to read.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark A Far Fry From Kensington by Muriel Spark
The Mandelbaum Gate by Muriel Spark The Public Image by Muriel Spark Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
Territorial Rights by Muriel Spark The Bachelors by Muriel Spark The Finishing School by Muriel Spark
The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark Spark's Europe by Muriel Spark

Have you been to see the latest Daniel Day-Lewis film? It is called Phantom Thread and is about an artist in charge of a famous haute couture establishment. When I was in the shop recently, Lindy showed me a gorgeous big book about The House of Worth, full of illustrations of wonderful dresses and information about the famous Parisian fashion house which operated from 1858 to 1956. An effort was made in 1999 to re-establish the name, but I think now it is only associated with perfumes.

Keep well,


Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Friday, 5 January 2018

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ January 2018

In November I went to a fascinating talk put on by the Jessie Street Women’s Memorial Library at the Customs House Library at Circular Quay. Have you ever called in there? It’s such a welcoming spot in the heart of the city, basking in the glory of having saved this gorgeous old building. There are meeting rooms and changing exhibitions by local artists, free wi-fi with public access to computers, and a very comfortable lounge if you want to spend a quiet ten minutes while waiting for a friend. And of course a few books, magazines, comics, DVDs and ebooks, as well as newspapers, from all over the world. There is a special room on the first floor for Asian material, and a special room on the ground floor for detective books.

The talk was by Marilla North, an enthusiastic supporter of the works of Dymphna Cusack, author of the Australian classic Come in Spinner. As Marilla says, “everyone should read Come in Spinner”. Not only is it a classic, it is startlingly readable. Despite its chequered history, it has remained constantly in print since first published in 1951, when it had to be abridged because the subject matter - including rape, prostitution and abortion - was considered too controversial. Perhaps you remember seeing the ABC television series in 1990? The story revolves around the lives of three young women working in the beauty salon of a famous hotel during the Second World War. The only drawback is it’s 700 pages, so be sure to have a bookmark handy!

Marilla North is currently working on a biography of Dymphna Cusack, but meantime she has produced Yarn Spinners, which unfortunately does not say clearly on the cover that it’s the story of three of our most famous female writers - Miles Franklin, Dymphna Cusack and Florence James. All three were early supporters of the women’s movement, social justice and human rights. Their story is told by arranging the letters between themselves and their friends from the 1930s to the 1950s. This will be regarded as Volume One of the projected biography. This is all fascinating stuff – not just literary memories – as these women were very active both socially and politically. Be sure to read this. It was first published in 2001 by University of Queensland Press. It’s another big book - 566 pages including index, end notes and a useful historical chronology of the times.

PART 1: I’ve brought home Julia Baird’s wonderful biography, Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Changed the World. This has 696 pages including index and notes. With my bookmark at the ready, I’m plunging into this very readable and fascinating account of Victoria’s life. I’m sure we’re ready for this most personal look at her life. Victoria has been in the public mind lately, what with films and TV series. Find it in history, not biography. It’s worth using a book cover for all these big books. (CONTINUED BELOW)

I recently went to see Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express at the movies. This new production by Kenneth Branagh has aroused a lot of interest, not least because at the end Poirot does not solve the crime; he just offers two suggested solutions! Very annoying, so I was led to read the book again. And guess what? The film is indeed true to the book! I have seen maybe three other versions and I guess this won’t be the last.

Easy reading and not such a big book is Bruce Beresford’s collection of reminiscences, The Best Film I Never Made: And Other Stories About a Life in the Arts (281 pages). These memories are not only interesting, they also show our famous film director to be a very courteous and kindly man, one who had a vision to be a film director all his life (even if his son, when asked to name a director with the initials BB, could only come up with Bernardo Bertolucci!).

2018 has arrived. Abbey’s Bookshop, Language Book Centre and Galaxy Bookshop all look forward to 2018 when we can continue offering you the services of a good bookshop. Our staff are ready and waiting to help you and we've had a wonderful selection of titles in-store over Christmas and into the New Year to tempt you.

PART 2: Well, I made my way with much pleasure through Julia Baird’s big biography of Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Changed the World. Although it looks daunting it is not. It is lightly written, with frequent asides to mention what else was happening in the world at that moment. You feel as if a very well-educated friend is telling you a good story. Quite fascinating. No wonder Victoria is the subject of so many films, TV series and books. I think I have to go and see the film Victoria and Abdul which I passed on before. There’s a good story there.

In my search for some good non-fiction a friend recommended Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India by Shashi Tharoor. It is incredible how the East India Company, and then the British Crown, rolled into India and destroyed a very successful medieval economy, extracted huge amounts of money, sent Indian soldiers to fight battles overseas and charged India for that, and made sure Indians were second class citizens. Tharoor tries hard to give some credit to Britain but says he finds it far easier to forgive than to forget. He pours scorn on the praise of Empire in the books by Niall Ferguson and Lawrence James, but recommends a new book by Jon Wilson called India Conquered: Britain’s Raj and the Chaos of Empire. He does delight, however, in telling us that Tetley Tea Company is now owned by an Indian company and that an Indian company recently rescued the British Steel Industry. [Editor's note: Also owned by the Indian company, Tata Motors, are two icons of British motoring, Jaguar and Land Rover]. Previously, by means of regulations about standards, the successful Indian steel industry was almost destroyed, along with shipbuilding). Oh dear! It makes me feel very guilty over the pleasure I have taken watching all those lovely British Raj stories, especially Jewel in the Crown! I was surprised and pleased to find Abbey’s has copies of the famous Raj Quartet stories by Paul Scott. They are The Towers of Silence, The Day of the Scorpion, A Division of the Spoils and Staying on. Enjoy them. Great characters including many historical figures and the very best portrayal of life in the British Raj.

Have you been watching the distressing documentaries on SBS about the Vietnam War? Journalist Neil Sheehan is one of the many people interviewed. His book Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam is regarded as the ultimate classic on this period. John Paul Vann was the American Colonel very unhappy with the progress of the war who was more than happy to leak information to a good journalist.

Over the holidays I read an excellent novel which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2014. It is called We are all Completely Beside Ourselves and is by Karen Joy Fowler. At the beginning, the voice of the college-girl narrator sounds very like Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye. However, there is a surprising twist in the middle. To tell you would spoil the surprise! Suffice to say, the rest of the novel not only concerns college-life it also concerns the activities of animal liberationists. A good choice for book clubs – there is plenty to discuss.

Were you also pleased to hear that Kazuo Ishiguro won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature? A good choice I think. Abbey’s has good stock of all his books and Language Book Centre upstairs has titles in both French and German and even a copy of Never Let Me Go in Persian! The titles in English are An Artist of the Floating World, The Remains of the Day (Gift Edition), The Buried Giant, Never Let Me Go, A Pale View of Hills, Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, The Unconsoled and When we were Orphans. Upstairs you can find Nocturnes: Cinq Nouvelles de Musique au Crepuscule, Quand Nous Etions Orphelins, Les Vestiges due Jour, Un Artiste du Monde Flottant, Lumiere Pale sur les Collins, Geant Enfoul, Aupres de Moi Toujours as well as Alles, Was Wir Geben Mussten. Set out to enjoy some really wonderful writing. Remember that there is a lift in the foyer next door to go up to level 1 to our Language Book Centre. Please ask a bookseller to show you where.

Keep well,


Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers