Marking Time

Journal: 068

Ok, I’ve been away. After six years I still haven’t got a handle on this blog while you work thing. In fact, each iteration of my employment over that time has seen me doing more driving/fussing around with my truck and paperwork and less time reading and writing. And then there’s not being in iso, and having a social life, which is where last weekend went.

Milly made it clear why she keeps me hanging around by sending me out for a ute load (about a tonne) of soil for her vegie garden, which has grown since the picture above. Of course she was cunning enough to say ‘just dump it here and I’ll spread it out with a bucket’ and so I spent an hour shovelling premium vegie mix from the ute into her various garden beds. At least I didn’t have to put it in a barrow and wheel it out the back. And then I didn’t get fed! It was Saturday, I had already asked her out.

We went to our local Italian, Bravo’s in Vic Park. There had been a mini-Covid outbreak in the morning, the big football match of the week was being played in front of a crowd of zero, no need to worry about our booking, we were the only ones there until later in the evening (seafood risotto for me, walnut and cream gnocchi for her, and a bottle of Italian pinot grigio if you were wondering).

Sunday it was a week since my last post but Gee and the kids were at Milly’s for the afternoon and so was I. Monday I had three trailers to unload – I got in from Melbourne late Friday – so here we are at Tuesday.

My other problem is Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian which I am determined to finish. That’s not to say I’m not enjoying it, but the writing is so ornate, so dense, that I am proceeding very slowly. The story itself is good, a genuine action thriller. So we will have to make do for another week with some audiobooks. First a couple of Australians.

The Women in Black (1993), Madelaine St John. The story of a young woman coming to a major Sydney department store in the 1950s to work in women’s cocktail frocks and gowns. The story was made into the movie Ladies in Black by Australian director Bruce Beresford in 2018. Beresford provides an Introduction to the Bolinda audiobook version (which of course, in complete disrepect of the author, is named after the movie). He knew St John at Sydney Uni, in the drama club, in the late 50s and describes seeing her, mouse-like in the wings while her more illustrious fellows – himself and Clive James – held centre stage. He holds her up to ridicule for using the pronunciation Sinj’n for her name when all her family use Saint John (yet I remember her father, Edward St John insisting on Sinj’n in Parliament in 1969). He catches up with her before her death in 2006, when she was poor and in ill health, and mocks her not once but twice for dying her hair to its original colour, and praises himself for taking her out to dinner. I’m still angry at having to listen to this nonsense. The book itself is pleasant enough. Like Beresford, I’m surprised to learn that St John claims not to have had any work experience in one of those old fashioned department stores like David Jones or Grace Bros. Read Whispering Gums (here) for a proper review.

The Year of the Farmer (2018), Rosalie Ham. I had it in my mind to dislike this, I don’t like farm stories much, don’t trust city writers to tell them, but here I am, nearly at the end, and enjoying it. The big, big problem is Caroline Lee’s reading. Her Australian screech suits YA but is totally destroying this, which requires more nuance.

It took me a while to catch on but I think Ham is attempting something unique, attempting to capture a whole small country community in a just slightly over the top romp and taking at the same time the opportunity to skewer Australia’s corrupt water trading industry. With a couple of chapters to go (I hope I get some work soon so I can listen to the end), will the (married) leading man end up with his childhood sweetheart? Will the wicked witch of the waterworks end up in jail? Will (I forget her name), the third in a threesome end up with a guy of her own? Has one of you already reviewed this, I’m sure you have. First up in DuckDuckGo is Theresa Smith (here). The comparison I spring to, of course I do, is Miles Franklin’s Old Blastus of Bandicoot. A similar country setting, the same over the top ness.

Clock Dance (2018), Anne Tyler. Liz Dexter’s #AnneTyler2021 project led me to pick up this one. As Liz is working through Tyler’s oeuvre (there’s a word I hate having to use) it’ll be a while before she gets to it, so I won’t say much. Liz wrote recently (about Earthly Possessions, 2004), “I’m definitely starting to see patterns in Tyler’s preoccupations and themes as I work my way through them – a very pleasing aspect of reading all of an author’s works in order. Here we have the tropes of multiple siblings, each with their oddity, the woman alone with her odd family, photographers, the runaway wife, the young and seemingly attractive but pretty useless drifter guy, and the small town (not Baltimore again), as well as the house full of STUFF.”

Do these patterns persist up to Clock Dance? [insert: the following sentence is actually a summary of Sarah Cornwell’s What I had before I had You. How embarrassing! I really should stop the truck and take notes.]

There’s certainly a “woman alone with her odd family” whom we see over two timelines, one as an awkward adolescent living alone with an often absent mother, and ‘today’, after leaving her husband with two adolescent children of her own and returning to the town where she grew up.

I look forward to Liz’s review later in the year. Next up in #AnneTyler2021 I think is Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, which I’m sure we have all read (though do I retain even the slightest memory?).

[Another insert: I’d better listen to Clock Dance again and remind myself what it actually was about]

This Perfect Day (1970), Ira Levin. If you check the list below, starting from Jasper Fforde, you’ll see I had a very SF-ish last trip. All just alternate or slightly futuristic versions of our own world, nothing to frighten the horses. Levin’s was very much in the strain of Brave New World, people being engineered to be all the same colour and size, and all their choices made for them by a central computer. They are drugged monthly to keep them compliant and are made to inform on each other for any variations from norm. The protagonist is admitted into a small society of malcontents who are able to reduce their drug intake.

One effect of the drugs is to reduce their sex drive to one casual encounter per week. The malcontents have very active sex lives but the protagonist becomes fixated on the leader’s girlfriend who has bigger breasts and paler skin. Eventually he kidnaps her and begins forcing himself on her. I thought, this is going to end soon, and Levin will draw a moral. He doesn’t, the rape is described in some detail and I’m sure Levin’s intention is to have the woman swoon in admiration at our protagonist’s forcefulness. I did not, could not, read on to find out.

Marking Time? No, I’m not become a teacher like my son, I’m waiting to get The Italian out of the way and to start reading again.


Recent audiobooks 

Rivers Solomon (x, USA), An Unkindness of Ghosts (2017) – SF [Solomon identifies as non-binary]
Amor Towles (M, USA), A Gentleman in Moscow (2016) – Hist.Fic.
Lilja Sigurdardottir (F, Ice), Snare (2015) – Crime
Natacha Appanah (F, Fra), Waiting for Tomorrow (2015)
Gillian Flynn (F, USA), Gone Girl (2012) – Crime
Madeline St John (F, Aust/NSW), The Women in Black (1994)
Christos Tsialkos (M, Aust/Vic), Merciless Gods (2014)
Jasper Fforde (M, Eng), Early Riser (2018) – SF
Anne Tyler (F, USA), Clock Dance (2018)
Sarah Cornwell (F, USA), What I had before I had You (2014)
Alex Scarrow (M, Eng), Reborn (2017) – SF (no ending – you’re expected to buy #3)
Sarah Fine (F, USA), Uncanny (2017) – YA/SF
Charles Lambert (M, Eng), The Children’s Home (2017) – Fable?, SF-Dystopian
Ira Levin (M, USA), This Perfect Day (1970) – SF (DNF, attempts to justify rape)

Currently reading

The Australian Military Forces (M, Aust), Stand Easy
Jessica Gaitán Johannesson (F, Eng), How We Are Translated
Ann Radcliffe (F, Eng), The Italian

43 thoughts on “Marking Time

  1. Oh dear, too many things to comment on here. Can I remember them all.

    One, I’m glad you know your place re Milly! Good on her for getting you to do the work AND take her out to dinner. She’s clearly not silly, not that I ever thought she was.

    Two, thanks for linking to my “proper” review of The women in black! I do think it has a lot that’s serious to offer as well as being entertaining. I think Beresford was genuinely fond of St John, but I agree that his tone (I remember it from reading his “memoir”) can be off-putting. Being a Sydney-sider, I remember St John being Sin’jn too. I think that was the first time I heard that name pronounced that way.

    Three, your comments about Ham are interesting. I’d really like to read this book because of its subject matter. I remember hearing her interviewed and saying she was writing an “irrigation novel” which she thought not many had done. (A bit like Kate Jennings writing a business one, though as she says herself there is a tradition for that.) However, that’s not why I thought your comments interesting! No, I’m talking about your comment about her trying to do something unique. It reminds me of reading her novel The dressmaker which has an unusual sort of “mixed tone”, and that sounds like what your are finding here. I think you are right, that she’s trying to do something unique, because I think someone said that the follow up Dressmaker novel is similar (but don’t quote me).

    Four, Anne Tyler. Well, I wish I could join that challenge (or whatever it is.)

    And, here I’ll end.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Year of the Farmer deserves (from me) a full review. It’s a long time since I read The Dressmaker but it’s still sitting up there on the shelf behind me, so there’s nothing, EXCEPT TIME, stopping me reviewing that too.. I started off thinking TYOTF was just another rural romance, but the elements Ham injects into it make it much better than that and I need to try and identify them.

      As for Tyler, Liz of course would like other reviews as she goes along, but at least for readers who are interested in Tyler to read one or more and to participate in Comments.

      Liked by 1 person

      • WG yeah, it’s a very loose “challenge”; I am always very forgiving and informal in my readalongs. I’m reading all of Anne Tyler’s books in order of publication, re-reading most of them although I haven’t really remembered them so far. I’m encouraging other people to read one or more, whatever they fancy, and then either linking to my project in their review or letting me have a link (incl. Goodreads reviews of course) in the comments to my review, or just commenting with their thoughts. I am pulling all the links to reviews together in a project page but I’m not fussy about when people read the books, and hope I will continue to get comments going on through the years, as I do with my previous Iris Murdoch one. Hope that explains things for you and would be lovely to see you there in the comments and links if you have time!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Lots of thoughts, but will keep it brief as I’m just about to begin uni for the afternoon/ evening (which is why I haven’t been blogging much!).

    Firstly, Ladies in Black – I’m glad I didn’t have to listen to that audio introduction, but I did enjoy the movie. That said, I enjoyed the musical version, done originally by Queensland Theatre Company with a musical score written by Tim Finn, the most – an absolute treat and if it returns to Melbourne, I’ll be going again.

    I very much enjoyed Year of the Farmer (I didn’t mind Lee as the narrator, but in general, I do enjoy her work). I was probably predisposed to enjoying this book because it a novel about water entitlements (part of my previous job) is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I reviewed it here:

    Don’t rush for Ham’s latest (The Dressmaker’s Secret) – no nuance, just too much of the ‘over-the-top’ stuff.


    • Back when I knew Tim Finn – no I’m only joking but I did once have to listen to Split Enz practice and play every day for three weeks. Not my sort of music but I was impressed by the band members’ music school backgrounds. They were very thoughtful and innovative.

      I listen to Caroline Lee or Humphrey Bouwer every bloody trip and I’m sick of them. They try too hard to read clearly. Yes I know, the reverse would be offputting too. I didn’t mind the water entitlements. I follow the machinations of the Nats and Liberals as they undermine any possibility of the Murray and Darling receiving environmental flows. And I see plenty of irrigation channels along the way. Twenty years ago I should have entered an open water swim in one (near Shep.) apparently the ‘downhill’ speeds were tremendous.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. On re-reading, something about Clock Dance didn’t ring true. I checked Wiki’s summary and sure enough I was thinking of the wrong book. Hence –
    [insert: the following sentence is actually a summary of Sarah Cornwell’s What I had before I had You. How embarrassing! I really should stop the truck and take notes.]

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That director’s introduction sounds foul – how incredibly rude!

    And that’s funny about Clock Dance. Maybe those are just universal themes and don’t only apply to AT’s novels (well, I knew that, I am just pulling out her constant preoccupations). I’m glad you enjoyed it, at least! And yes, I think we’re all read Dinner at the Homesick, doesn’t stop me being unable to remember it, however!


    • What’s really funny is that Cornwell’s protagonist is a photographer, and she’s a “runaway wife”, though I was struggling to come up with a handsome drifter guy. I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t remember books. In the truck I try and switch between male and female readers, Europe and USA and so on, but it doesn’t always stop them running together.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I wouldn’t worry about trying to fit blogging in… I do one post a week. I honestly can’t keep up with blogs that post daily or more than twice a week.

    I love The Ladies in Black. It’s the book I most regularly give out as a gift as it’s the sort of feel good novel that appeals to a large audience. The film is pleasant viewing. Would love to see the Tim Finn musical at some point because I think you already know about my Brothers Finn obsession.

    I’m a long time Tyler fan but can’t remember if I read that one. I read most of her work in my 20s, but have read a handful of her more recent novels in the past 5 or so years. I find her very reliable… you kind of know what you are going to get when you read them… ordinary people / families grappling with an extraordinary experience or event that’s turned their life/lives upside down.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like to post twice a week, but I agree it’s sometimes hard to keep up with blog reading let alone blog posting. You must give presents to lots of different people. I think if I had to give just one book it would be … Miles Franklin’s My Career Goes Bung.

      I’ve been driving round (in the rain) and thinking about Clock Dance. I’ve got it pretty well straight in my head now – the first few chapters are episodes in a woman’s life, from 9 to 60ish, then a year when she leaves her upper middle class comforts and goes to live in a working class community caring for a girl while her mother is in hospital. And then she stays on, and on … It’s an interesting exploration of what you really want out of life. You may have seen it flash past as a new release in 2018.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Forgot to say I tried to watch The Dressmaker film recently. What a load of rubbish. Cliched in very respect. I didn’t last beyond 25 minutes. I’d never read the book now 🤷🏻‍♀️


    • Oh, I think you missed something there kimbofo! There’s something very tricky about Rosalie Hamm. I know why you thought this, but in the end I thought it had something deeper and more clever going on than it looked on the surface.


      • We’ll have to agree to disagree. ☺️ I thought it was all terribly overacted, full of cliches and cringe-worthy. It was a bit am-dram. I was looking for something light hearted and fun to watch because I was under the weather, but this was disappointing. It was trying too hard to create something “arty” but falling short of the mark, IMHO.


      • Ah now there’s the thing. It’s actually not light-hearted… So if that’s what you were looking for its probably just as well you pulled out. I do understand your perspective… It is an odd book and has an odd tone.


  7. I’ve only heard Caroline Lee as an audiobook narrator for Liane Moriarty’s books – I do like her for those but find that I have to speed the books up quite a lot, which I don’t normally do with audiobooks. And the last couple of Moriarty books I listened to didn’t work for me so I think it will be a while before I try another one.

    I’ve never read anything by Anne Tyler – she’s one of those authors who has now published so much that I don’t quite know where to start, so I will be interested to read your comments about her work as you get to it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Just to jump in, I’d start with one of the two I’m doing this month, The Accidental Tourist or Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, as they’re considered her finest older works.

      Liked by 1 person

    • What Liz said.

      I think Caroline Lee must have been the narrator for the Tomorrow When the War Began series, which was almost my introduction to audiobooks. It’s a YA SF/survival series and well done (Australia has been invaded by a northern neighbour and only a mob of country teenagers can save us). I read/reviewed two Moriarty’s – a bit too formulaic for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. “this blog while you work thing” caught my eye Bill. I’ve been struggling to keep on top of reading and blogging and visiting other blogs lately. I still have The Pea Pickers to review from a month ago, but simply cannot find a couple of hours to sit down to do it justice (when I’m not dead tired that is).
    I try to post a review a week with a one or two stocking fillers (like a poetry post) to pad out the week, but even that has been a challenge lately. Oh, well, can’t complain. The reading part is going along nicely, although nothing like your impressive list of audio books.

    I found Ham too over the top for me. I’m positive I read The Dressmaker, but I obviously chose not to write a piece about it. I love The Women in Black but have only read the recent Text edition. BB is a regular in my bookshop, I’m tempted to take him up about his comments about St John!

    I had hoped to reread Homesick Diner for Liz this month, but I can see that The Mirror and the Light will take up all my time this month, so I may just have to repost my old thoughts. I’ve read The Clock Dance and found it more mellow (less angsty) than her earlier works.

    You may only have time to post weekly or so at the moment, but they’re worth waiting for 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s very nice of you to say so, Bron. I find I write best when I get up fresh in the morning, having to make time in the evenings wouldn’t suit me at all. I’m not sure your poetry posts are “fillers” (for you to see them that way you must find them relatively quick to write up) as we don’t get much poetry and so, for me at least, it’s a way of keeping up. I still have Guwayu – For all Times to write up but it will probably slide into Lisa’s Indig.Lit Week.

      For BB, Michelle has more grist for your mill below. I always disliked Clive James for his contempt for lesser beings and it seems Beresford is in the same mould.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve met BB a couple of times, and know well and good friend of his. I don’t really think he’s in that mould at all. Perhaps more just a not totally reconstructed male (if that makes sense.) As I think I said, he was, I believe, fond of St John. She made him her literary executor (I’m pretty sure I’ve remembered that correctly.)


  9. The Women in Black is one of my faves, and should rank as an Australian classic (but it’s about women, so of course it doesn’t…) Watched the film recently and enjoyed it, but not as much as I enjoyed the book. I’m not surprised by Beresford’s snark – I suspect he and Clive James were pretty unkind to St John back in their uni days, although once she’d published this masterpiece they came round. Clive James recalled those days: ‘I had absolutely no idea she was such a writing talent…she was a writer, a real one. But at that stage she hadn’t written anything, so perhaps we can forgive ourselves for not spotting that there was a genius in our midst.’ Nope, she hadn’t ‘written anything’ yet was the editor of the university newspaper, Honi Soit. Perhaps they’d have been more inclined to spot her genius if she were prettier…?


    • I could write a post on classics in Aust.Lit. Of course I would start with Such is Life (barely a woman in sight) but I would surely include My Brilliant Career and Come in Spinner. I wouldn’t have included The Women in Black and now I’m going to have to think about why you do. I read somewhere that it was a relatively immature work compared to The Essence of the Thing (not available on Audible, so I’ll have to read a paper copy). Do you have Helen Trinca’s “Life”?

      What was so astonishing about the Beresford Intro was that he basically said just that, ‘Not pretty enough’. It’s interesting that those guys, Beresford, James, Hughes etc regarded themselves as the Sydney Push which in its 1920s iteration was totally misogynistic.


      • Gosh, now I have to think about why I do, too! Rank it as a classic, that is. I think because it so beautifully captures aspects of Australian life beyond the usual bush and bloke stereotype. It’s urban, suburban, pro-migration and focussed on women and fashion. Or maybe I just love it because, for once, I could see my own life sort of reflected back at me (and yes, I did work at Myer for a while). If it was a book that was rural, remote, racist and focussed on men and sport it would be a best-seller. Oh, hang on, that’s what I’m writing now, LOL. Fingers crossed for best-sellerdom!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I can’t believe your current work is racist. About racism maybe. In fact it will be interesting to see what you (two) say. Australian working men on the whole are intensely racist about people of colour (Indians are the big bugbear in trucking at the moment) and yet easygoing with their Black workmates. The current Collingwood controversy shows this easygoingness for the sham that it generally is.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I’ve read and reviewed Trinca. I must check out that BB intro. I think I read the Text version and I would have read the Intro but I don’t recollect feeling about it the way you do, so … did I miss something?


    • Yes, I think that’s right, Michelle, they came round.

      And I agree with you about the book and film. The film was pretty good, but didn’t quite have what the book had. The musical was fun. But the book, again, was better.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve not read The Women in Black book but enjoyed the movie as general entertainment. I’m lucky if I can post something every 2 weeks. Just too busy. I’ve yet to read Anne Tyler but remember my mother enjoyed her books. Just too much to read, write about and keep moving with everything else. Enjoyed your post.


    • And I enjoy your photography. It’s something everyone thinks they can do. But it takes effort and study to do it well. And I’m learning about Hobart, which I will get to one day. Interestingly, Liz, who’s doing the Anne Tyler readathon, puts up a photo a day on Facebook from her runs around Birmingham (UK), so there’s another place I’m learning about, which I almost certainly won’t get to.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Ah Pam, then that’s why you need to read the book, as it’s more than “general entertainment”. It offers quite a commentary on Australia – and particularly Sydney – at the time. The racism against “continentals” and “reffos”, the sexism (and lack of opportunity for girls and women), in particular. St John tells this story wrapped up in an entertaining plot.


  11. I remember the work/blog life being challenging when I was still teaching because teaching is a job you never turn off. When I’m not at the library, I’m not working, and that has helped me. I also know that I’ve got a leg up on things because I used to teach review writing. I’ll get overwhelmed if I’m behind on several reviews, but then I’ll take a Saturday and bang them all out after doing some brainstorming. I never start a review without brainstorming if it’s been a bit of time between reading/listening and reviewing. I also found that creating a schedule is helpful. If I miss a day, it’s fine, but more importantly I’ve prevented myself from scheduling too much as soon as I write a post and then going for ages with nothing on the blog. I believe we’ve talked about that before.

    Milly sounds quite tricksy! Just a “small” little task and then next thing you know you’re working in the yard and taking the lovely Milly out for dinner! I need to read the email you sent me, because I think there may be more there.

    That introduction that picks at the author sounds more like a lazy Facebook post. In what way did this man actually introduce the author, other than to set readers against her? It reminds me of the biography I read of Shirley Jackson, which often focused on what she ate and weighed when it had nothing to do with the content. Many readers noted this was an issue in their Goodreads reviews. Basically, it was beyond talking about the author’s health or eating habits as a way of fully discussing the author and something that got dumped in all over the place randomly.

    I have Gone Girl on my list and am eager to read it. I found the movie compelling. Rosalind Pike wasn’t forced into a sexy vixen role that would be unnecessary for the story, and she was powerful and clever. I used to teach a passage from that book, the one about the “cool girl,” although now I can’t remember in what context I would teach it….


    • You’ve caught me at the beginning of another trip. I’ll try and give your comment the attention it deserves. But briefly! I can’t review a book except immediately I’ve finished reading it – as you can see from me mixing up plots here – and preferably with the book right beside me so I can look stuff up.

      Milly has my measure, what my can I say.

      Interesting that my attitude towards Beresford was validated by other readers (not that Sue would ever express herself so strongly). To me, he was making a pretence of being warm and friendly while all the time slipping in this other stuff to demonstrate St John’s inferiority.


      • Certainly you can review the book immediately if that’s how your mind remembers and processes things (I can’t remember much from a TV show the next day myself), but what I mean is schedule your post out so they’re spread out and you don’t have to be caught in the constant hustle.

        I’ll email you back today!


      • Yes, agree with you and Melanie. I need to review a book promptly, but I will often schedule it to space it out. My last one, I reviewed straight after doing my Monday Musings but I knew I wouldn’t post again until at least this weekend so I scheduled in for early Thursday morning.

        Haha, re BB … no, I probably wouldn’t!


  12. I love books set in stores and shops so I hope to read the St. John before I watch the film that everyone’s been on about. It does sound like great fun.

    And I hear you about The Italian…not that I’ve read it (only Lady Audley’s, which I loved) but I know that feeling of actually loving the long and overstuffed sentences but something about my brain is hitching up on all that fancery, and it just takes soooo many minutes to move through a single page that it starts to play with my focus (because I am usually reading contemporary fiction and non-fiction alongside, so it’s just too much of a shift for me).


    • BIP, why don’t we just accept that I am a bugger at replying to comments and that I will get to you eventually. I gather that there are other ways of accessing comments, but I mostly just answer the emails as I receive them. Except yours. Yours I come upon randomly as for some reason or other – vanity mostly – I am re-reading my own posts.
      Is there a setting I could say I enjoy above others? I don’t think so. What comes into my mind first as a response to ‘department store’ is Are you being served?
      I remember you saying that about Lady A’s Secret. I’ll have to ask my therapist what’s going on.


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