Review: In the Garden of the Fugitives

In the Garden of the FugitivesIn the Garden of the Fugitives by Ceridwen Dovey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Often when I read a novel, I find myself skimming through and then doubling back to read in more detail. Sometimes I’ll read the end chapter and then skip back and forth to bits that need more explanation. In the case of Ceridwen Dovey’s In the Garden of the Fugitives this is unnecessary. From the very beginning, Dovey lays out the story. There is no need to dart back-and-forth. However, toward the end there is a hidden, secret denouement. I read past it at first then had the “Aha!” moment. Even if you skip to the end, this moment will not be evident unless you read the entire book.

Ceridwen Dovey is a skillful, intelligent writer. She knows her subject, whether it be the archeological realm of Pompeii or the ins-and-outs of psychotherapy methods. I would venture that the two protagonists are pitted against each other in the same psych. arena. I only realised this after I finished the book and had to return to where I felt, or rather I sensed, where and when the denouement occurred. In retrospect, I realise that the timeline is not necessarily linear either.

If you do attempt this book, do not be put off by the format – letters (or emails). Be alert to the strength and significance of Dovey’s writing. It is illuminating. It is surprising. It is subtle and nuanced. It is unsettling and haunting.

This book, for me, is extraordinarily, mine.

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Review: In the Garden of the Fugitives

Writing a Thesis

I am not a dedicated blogger. Every now-and-again I think of something interesting to say – but I don’t often follow through. Usually I think to myself, “more research needed before I post this”. Of course, this is a hangover from working for six-plus years on my doctoral thesis. Indeed, after my Scholarship finished, I had to work as well as complete the thesis. I have written about this before. My GP picked up on my listlessness/ennui and, without being patronising or mansplaining, suggested I take a look at the stages of chess. He pointed out that it seemed I was stuck in the Middle Game. I am not a chess player of any skill whatsoever, so he alerted me to the final step – the End Game. The comfort zone of ‘research’ must be concluded.

I considered his advice when I returned home. Among other things associated with research, I counted that I had 27 books from the University Library. OK! I decided to return all the books to the library – bar the two that I was actually using.

The next step was to consolidate all the chapters that were in separate documents on the computer. The Bibliography took more time and I was grateful for the Endnote referencing program. I was pleased that I had religiously listed every resource in the program so tidying up the Bibliography was not too arduous. Editing the thesis took time, I couldn’t believe how many times I repeated myself! Even so, one of the examiners pulled me up on repetitive phrases.

So, after six years of being fairly isolated from ‘real life’, I completed the final draft in six weeks. It was not all clear sailing after that. There are always a few glitches to contend with. One of them nearly broke my heart – but I’m over it now. Maybe I’ll write about that one day? Maybe not.

Submitting the work was a huge relief. Waiting for the examiners reports was deadly; like waiting for a bus that never arrives. Eventually the three reports came in. As is usual with my work the reports ranged from ‘excellent, no changes needed’ (I really liked that one) through to, ‘what a terrible thesis’. One of my mentors at Murdoch University defended my thesis to the examiner (who shall be nameless) and after some rewriting it was accepted.

I received notification that I had passed three days before my 60th birthday. I was now a fully fledged ‘Doctor of Philosophy’. Fat lot of good it did me. I never use my honorific – Aussies aren’t too taken with such things plus I’m always wary of being taken for a medical doctor.

C’est la vie

Writing a Thesis

Writing about Reading

When I had been at uni for a semester or two, I was given an assignment to write a Literature Review. This made very little sense to me. I asked my anthropology tutor, “What is a Literature Review and how do you write one?”

“It’s a review of the literature on your essay topic” was the best explanation I was given. I couldn’t believe how little I knew. I have been a reader my whole life and now I discover that I have read all the wrong books. Many years later I had a similar conversation with my PhD Supervisor. “I’ve read so many books” I said, “but hardly any of them are of any use to me here.”

This is about when I worked out that a good simile for the research behind a PhD Thesis is a stack of many fat Yellow Pages directories with a thin Telephone Directory on top. The Yellow Pages support the Telephone Directory. The PhD candidate has to have all the Yellow Pages (research) stacked up before the Telephone Directory (Thesis) can be useful.

To return to my assignment Review of the Literature, I actually wrote one by mistake. Once I knew what I was meant to be doing I found I could do this thing. Writing an Annotated Bibliography was another hurdle for me. I ended up by keeping copious notes of every academic paper, every book and any other learned source that might prove to be useful. All these notes, alphabetically filed, written in pencil, are still here in my study. I need to clear them out.

Teaching tertiary students, which is where my studies eventually took me, made me appreciate the obstacles I had managed to overcome. I think lecturers, teachers, and tutors sometimes forget the ways of learning before actually grasping something. Meeting the student at the bottom of the ladder and not halfway up is probably the most effective way to teach.

Once my Thesis was out of the way, my next task was to learn to read for pleasure again. However, my critical eye will always be open and not a few books have been scrapped because of this. Deep reading is a skill that I had to learn. Sometimes reading like this is a nuisance and I have to suspend my pedantic internal reader.

At the moment there are two books that haunt me. Both are novels, one very well written the other not so brilliant but both have the power to startle me when my mind is at rest. Oyster by Janet Turner Hospital is one and the other is The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. I was warned that Oyster would cause flashbacks – and so it does. The Lovely Bones, well I don’t know. I wouldn’t recommend it. I reviewed it on Goodreads and have just managed to post it to this blog.

I have reviewed Oyster and published it to this blog but will do so again. Ironically, I decided to read Oyster for relief, to break up the intensity of The Neapolitan Novels. Well, I do some silly things sometimes and this was one of those times.

Writing about Reading

Order and disorder

The first time I saw a Twenty-eight, an Australian ring neck parrot, I asked Roland to stop the car. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There, by the side of the highway this brilliant emerald green bird pecking at grass seeds. Of course I had seen brightly coloured birds before but nothing like this. The Latin name is Barnadius zonarius. The bird is quite large. When I have found corpses of these birds, victims of road-kill, I’ve been surprised at how big they are.

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This morning I was listening to the plaintive call these beautiful birds make. I’ve heard from someone who knows, that it isn’t really “twenty-eight, twenty-eight” but rather “vingt-huit, vingt-huit”. There are a few families of Twenty-eights in our area and they are widespread throughout Western Australia. I’ve heard that when it is about to rain the birds hang upside down on the power lines and washing lines and call, “vingt-huit, vingt-huit”. I have seen them hanging upside down on my washing line but not associated this with rain.

Now I’ve got that out of the way I’ll get on with what I was planning on writing about, which is the state of disorder in my writing practice. I have a number of notebooks, journals, and other places where I write. Most of what I write begins life written in cursive in one of these notebooks. I fully intend to have some form of order: reflections in this notebook; travel notes in my Moleskine; poetry here, fiction there … and so it goes. Go it certainly does because invariably whichever notebook I pick up is the one in which I will write. I prefer unlined because lines limit me. I prefer to write with a 2B (or softer) pencil because the feel of the graphite running smoothly over the paper gives me a frisson of joy.

Blogging is the only place I am interested in publishing my writing these days. Does this make me a dilettante? A dabbler? If it does, do I care? No.

 

 

 

 

Order and disorder

Writing and Research

Thinking about what to write in this week’s blog, I mull over the events at the Lessons with Persephone Retreat at the weekend. In the quiet of the Retreat, writing came easily. At the moment, this blog is going nowhere.

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When we were talking about if, and when, we had been published, I mentioned that I had only published in a couple of academic journals and one chapter in a book. This chapter was a shared enterprise with my PhD Supervisor, Prof. Jenny de Reuck, and a colleague who was also one of Jenny’s Post Grads, Sharifa Ahjum. The title of the chapter is “The Remembrance of Things Past”: Memory and Migration as Tropes in the Construction of Postgraduate Subjectivities. (You can see we didn’t resile from long and involved titles). When I reread it now, I am struck by the clarity of the writing and the sense of community we shared.

The book is Bartlett, A & Mercer G (Eds) (2001) Postgraduate Research Supervision: Transforming (R)Elations. New York. Peter Lang. pp 233-245.

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The paragraphs that I want to bring to this blog are my own.

In the beginning my doctoral research was to follow my own background – about the women who went to Africa, not from England. That was the intention. In the event, I didn’t follow that research – a common enough story for any PhD Candidate.

In this essay, I moved to writing about Jenny, Sharifa and I – our positionality and affective ethnicity. This is what I wrote: “Where do I stand to Jenny? Where do I stand to Sharifa? How are we so inclusive of each other? It is our coming out of Africa that is our ‘affective ethnicity’. Our form of ethnicity is beyond blood and colour. We draw our connection from our African origins, shared memories of experiences from a country we have left. ‘Affective ethnicity’; meta-ethnicity! Affective pedagogy!” I drew on the work of Moshe Shokeid (‘An Anthropologist’s Work between Moving Genres’ in Ethnos. Vol 57, 1 – 4, 233- 44, 1992.)

Following this I bemoan the fact that I have such difficulty in understanding some of the texts such as Foucault and Bhabha. Sharifa can read and understand these but I battle to make sense of such abstract concepts. Here, again, I quote myself, “Is it my age that stands between me and truly understanding these readings? Has my mind closed the doors—atrophied in the cells? Am I trapped in ignorance? Sometimes I bang my fists against these closed doors, “Open up! Open up!” I call, then, “Think Woman! Think!” Who is the teacher who can lead me to comprehension? Where is the insight that I deny myself? Self-proscribed knowledge, self-proscribed wisdom.

Finally, back to the beginning.

The first entry in my PhD journal reads thus:

Some of the things I want to include:

The spiritual aspect.

The sense of self.

The sense of place.

Identity as a fragile, contextual thing … I worry about my rigidity.

Can I sustain the energy?

The essence is this, researching and writing a doctoral thesis is a lonely thing to do. It is atonement for curiosity; an exercise in humility; self-inflicted isolation. Nevertheless, this is my search for an identity in an alien space. I was never brought up to be an academic. I was never brought up to be an Australian. I catch a glimpse of myself and ask “Who are you?” or maybe, “Who do you think you are?” And then I continue—because what else is there to do?

So, I did continue and eventually, a couple of days before I turned 60, I was notified that I was through. I was now a bona fide doctor.

Writing and Research

On being a …

Friday and I haven’t fulfilled my commitment to write up my blog this week. I made some notes through the week and had some ideas. Now, most of those ideas seem weak and not worth the effort.

I thought about when I was mugged. I decided that it brought back too many uncomfortable memories so I ditched that idea.

I thought of writing about being a dotty old woman (which I undoubtably am) but my stories of thinking of something new to do everyday – one of which included getting out of bed head first (and nearly knocking myself out) may be true but may not be credible. So, I ditched that idea.

I thought of writing about earning a doctorate. That is plain boring. Ditched.

Then I thought of an amazingly wonderful trek I did in Zimbabwe some 20 years ago. Yes! Bingo! That would work, but I’m not going to do that because I can’t find the photos. It was New Year 1996/1997 and I was in the Honde Valley with my brother and sister-in-law. I will write about this, but not this week.

Watch this space

 

On being a …

After the horrendous tragedy in Manchester, United Kingdom, I find it difficult to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) for my weekly blog. The enormity of the crime brings me to tears and anything I write seems inconsequential.

I read that we are wired to focus on dangerous and fearful things. It is something about being human, about our survival instinct. According to research conducted by psychologists Marc Trussler and Stuart Soroka, at McGill University in Canada, “… it isn’t just schadenfreude, but that we’ve evolved to react quickly to potential threats. Bad news could be a signal that we need to change what we’re doing to avoid danger.”

Nevertheless, the Manchester atrocity is the stuff of nightmares and my heart goes out to all those affected. My admiration goes to the Mancunians who have stepped up to the mark to assist and strengthen the resolve of the people to rise above this act of terrorism. This is the Place is the stirring poem by Tony Walsh (aka Longfella) that he read at the vigil for the victims.