Some years ago I had the Termite Man come and check the house for termites – a big problem in Western Australia. He was a pleasant person and we made friendly conversation as he checked the house, tapping the door and window frames, and the other things that termite inspections demand.
Our house was built up on limestone blocks so there was underfloor space. Termite Man asked me how he could check this space. I knew there was a trap-door in the spare room, under the ancient pink carpet. I showed him where it was. He carefully peeled back the carpet and lifted the trap. I was standing behind him watching him work. He had his head down and his bum up. Termite Man asked, “Have you been here long?” Well, I don’t know what I was thinking, I shrieked, “Is there someone down there”? Termite man was laughing so hard he bumped his head as he popped up out of the trap.
I’m still wondering why I thought there was someone living under the floor in our house. One of the mysteries of my life.
I’m pleased that I persevered, tiny print and all. It got to the stage where I didn’t want the story to end. Yes, there is a lot of violence and cruelty as there is in most mythology. I recommend to those readers who are interested in another perspective of Greek Mythology.
I found it difficult to engage with the first half of the story. I was on the point of giving up but decided to carry on by using some judicious skipping. I’m glad I did continue because I enjoyed the final two thirds of the book. I am now driven to reread Hamlet – with, maybe, a different perspective.
This is a story to stimulate memories. It has a complex plot with an edge of fantasy, possibly myth, or maybe allegory? For this reader it was deeply personal narrative. While reading A Year of Marvellous Ways, my own dreams became more lucid and drew me into another realm. In this way Sarah Winman has drawn me back into the creativity that has deserted me over the years. I am grateful for this.
I understand that this is not the book for many readers. Perhaps we need to be in a certain frame of mind to enter into Marvellous Ways’ world?
This morning, when I saw the ocean, I remembered how excited we used to be to see the sea – the Indian Ocean. The long, long drive of over 2,600kms (1,600 miles) from the farm in Zimbabwe, south to Fish Hoek near Cape Town. Some years there were four children in the back seat. My mother would be in the front next to my father who did all the driving. This meant the car was quite squashy. Sometimes one of us was allowed to sit in front. The journey took three or four days because, not only was it a long journey, but not all the roads were sealed.
The first overnight stop would be in Louis Trichardt (now called Makhado), not far from Beit Bridge – the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa. I can’t really remember the other stops, although we usually stayed in the same places each trip. I do remember Parys because, apparently, that is where I managed to push over a massive wardrobe looking for Father Christmas. The crash was heard throughout the old hotel. Of course, my parents came running. Thinking I was in, or under, the wardrobe, they struggled to lift it. I was hiding under the bed knowing I was in deep trouble. Fortunately, I’ve forgotten what happened next, I was only about five years old.
If he could, Dad would bypass Johannesburg but would stop in to see friends in Pretoria.
Once we were in the Western Cape, past the surreal landscapes in the Karoo, we would start to recognise the landmarks. The countdown had begun. The Hex River Pass; De Doorns in the Valley of the Vines (do you remember the book by Joy Packer?) then Paarl, named for the huge pearl-shaped rock above the town, meant we were not far off. We were never allowed to climb around on Paarl Rock. There was the sad story of a young boy who slipped down in one of the fissures in the rock and could not be saved. How true it is I don’t know.
Coming from a landlocked country, the ocean was the most wonderful thing for us. The first view was cause for much shouting! “I saw the sea first!” But it was usually Mum or Dad who saw it first.
All my life I wanted to live within sight or sound of the sea and now I do. Yes, still the Indian Ocean but on the Australian side. I live walking distance to the beach and can hear the breaking waves when the wind is in the right direction.
Ring neck parrots are also called‘twenty eights’ because their excited call sounds like ‘vingt-huit’ – French for 28. I don’t think it does, but then again what do I know.
The first time I saw one of these birds we had just crossed the Nullarbor from East to West in our little blue Ford Laser. The hatchback loaded up with all our worldly goods. The stuff you carry when you migrate between countries for whatever reason.
“Stop the car!” I yelled out when I spotted the parrot. Roland was concerned, “What’s the matter?” “That bird, sitting by the side of the road, it’s emerald green.” And so they are! Bright green. I still, after all these years, get a thrill when I see them, even when a flock of them decimate the apricots on our tree.
To be honest, I did not want to read this book and I did not want to write this review. However … it was the last book I had to read while our library was closed (due to Covid 19). I did start a few times before I buckled down and read the whole book.
In Scratched, Elizabeth Tallent has exposed herself with such intimacy and candour it is difficult to read more than a few pages at a time. There is complexity in the autobiography that makes for demanding reading. Occasionally, I found myself asking, ‘who was she married to then?’ or, ‘when did her mother allow her back into the family?’ Things like that. Yes, her story advances but in a turned way – linear it is not! So, my usual (bad) habit of reading a book backwards didn’t work at all.
In the event, I had a clear view of Elizabeth Tallent: her physical appearance, her complete desire for perfectionism – to the detriment of her happiness for much of her life, and that she sees as ‘home’. Her personal narrative of depression made me weep. Her experience of psychoanalysis, and how she bares her soul right there.
I discover, on finishing the book, that, if I could write like her I would write a lot more than I do.
At first I thought there were echoes of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts. In fact it is nothing like Fermor’s book. Benjamin Myers uses copious amounts of adjectives and likes to show off his expansive vocabulary. Sometimes the writing verges on purple prose, “It was a dark and stormy night …” and this nearly put me off reading past the first few chapters. Nevertheless, I persisted and I’m glad I did.
This story of a young man from the coal mining town of Durham is a gentle read. Robert sets out on his travels and finds that post-war England is more than the grimy, soot covered home he’s always known.
My call is that this is a good book to read on holiday.