Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Woman of Independence

As part of my commitment to the 2012 Australia Women Writers Challenge, I picked up A Woman of Independence by Kirsty Sword Gusmao.
   Kirsty is the young Australian wife of the first president of the world's newest country - East Timor.
   This was a very informative book - I was interested in it intellectually, but I had to force myself to read it. Unfortunately, I didn't find the story-telling to be very engaging. The reason I persisted is because my husband was in the INTERFET peace keeping force in 1999, and again involved in 2006 during the second presidential election.

The book was published in 2003, so it didn't detail the years of Kirsty and Xanana Gusmao's lives during Xanana's presidency. I would have liked to know how they dealt with the problems in 2006, and Xanana's transition from president to prime minister.
   I was more interested in Xanana's story, and that of his imprisonment. The relationship that developed between Kirsty and Xanana (whilst he was in an Indonesian prison) was interesting, with their struggles and their joint passion and drive for East Timor. Now that the country has settled, I'd also like to know how their family has grown and what their sons want to make of their lives.
   The book also awoke a desire in me to visit East Timor as a tourist, and try to help their country in some small way. Maybe in the next couple of years I will get there for a holiday.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Five Greatest Warriors

As part of my commitment to the 2012 Aussie Author Challenge, I read another book by Matthew Reilly this week. I read The Five Greatest Warriors.
   It's my second Matthew Reilly book, since I read Scarecrow earlier this year.

Reilly's books are very easy to read, involve little thinking, and they're fast paced.
   I didn't realise that The Five Greatest Warriors was the final book in a trilogy - but it didn't matter. The story stood alone, and had enough references and explanations to what had happened in the past to be able to read on. Like I said above, Reilly's books are not complex, and don't involve much thought.
   This story could have been filled with exactly the same characters as Scarecrow. Reilly is not god at character development. They are cardboard cut-outs. But there is so much action that there is not much time to get to know the characters anyway - they are just parts of the action. The lack of character development, though, causes the reader to have no emotional connection with them.
   Unlike when I read Scarecrow, however, I had an emotional connection with the theme of this story. It was much more interesting than an international bounty hunt. The Five Greatest Warriors was an elaborate 'game' to save the world, involving ancient artefacts, links to religion and ancient civilisations, meteorology and astronomy. It would have taken Reilly some time to research.
   This book played like an action movie in my mind, with characters with unreal weapons and technologies, and amazing displays of speed and strength.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Last week I finished reading the classic novel Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, published in 1938, as part of my commitment to the 2012 Classics Challenge. I had not heard of this novel until I saw a review of it on First Tuesday Book Club. They are very careful not to give away too much of the story, and the story certainly exceeded my expectations. In fact, it's been one of my favourites this year!

Rebecca is the name of the first wife of Maxim de Winter, who is dead. The narrator is the young second wife, whose name we never learn.
   The story beings with the second Mrs de Winter telling how she and her husband live a quiet, secluded life, avoiding their acquaintances and virtually hiding from the past. It seems like they are afraid.
   Then the second Mrs de Winter goes back to tell of her meeting Maxim de Winter and returning with him to his estate, where she lives in the shadow of the dead first wife, and seemingly can't live up to the expectations of her.
   Because it is narrated by the second Mrs de Winter, we are thrust into her adolescent emotional turmoil, and see the story from her point of view until the whole thing unravels before her, and then we learn the truth when she does.
   Mrs Danvers, the main housekeeping and Rebecca's former maid, is exceedingly jealous that her mistress could be replaced, and sets out to undermine the new Mrs de Winter and play mind games with her. Mrs Danvers is a great character.
   The novel is more of a suspense story than a romance, which I wasn't expecting. It could even be considered a ghost story, although there is no physical presence of the ghost. It is quite clever, and the writing is lovely.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

September Prompt - Classics Challenge

I read Anna Karenina last month, and for the September Prompt of the Classics Challenge is to select a piece of music that reflects the book.
   I cheated a bit. I first thought that the music would have to be classical, because of the period in which the story was set. Then I thought maybe an opera piece would be perfect, because they went to the opera a couple of times in the novel. But instead, I looked up the soundtrack for the 1997 Anna Karenina movie on Wikipedia.

   That article gave me the perfect piece, which I immediately downloaded on iTunes: Tchaikovshy's Symphony No. 6, "Pathetique". It contains several movements, some with manic allegros reflecting Anna's mood, and then really dark periods of exaggerated tragedy. It's also really long!
   Here's a version from YouTube: