Elizabeth Gilbert comes to Hobart


Ok this is pretty exciting. Elizabeth Gilbert will be here in 10 days.

If you haven’t read Big Magic yet, please do. It’s a brilliant book on creativity. If you are an artist of any sort, or if you have friends who are trying to write their first novel, or are anywhere along the journey of the creative life, (or if you secretly think you might be more creative than you’ve ever allowed yourself to be) this is a boon companion.

I’ll have the pleasure of being in conversation with Elizabeth Gilbert at the Theatre Royal on February 18th. Apart from the wonderful Big Magic, we’ll be talking about The Signature of All Things – one of my favourite novels of all time (yes, I do mean that). And we might touch on that other (international mega-hit) book she wrote Eat, Pray, Love – and possibly the fascinating The Last American Man. We may even get to Stern Men. In short, Elizabeth Gilbert is a diverse and immensely talented writer who has so much to share about writing, commitment, creativity, productivity and courage.  And if you want to hear her, it’s a one-night-only-in-Hobart opportunity. Bless the Tasmanian Writers centre for making it happen.

Tickets are selling fast so please don’t miss out. Theatre Royal Box Office

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Bel Canto by Anne Patchett


[vc_row fullwidth=”false” attached=”false” padding=”0″ visibility=”” animation=””][vc_column border_color=”” visibility=”” width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]From an occasional series of reviews in collaboration with the Islington Hotel to celebrate great writing and the discussion of literature.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

I have come to this book late in the scheme of things. Bel Canto won the Orange Prize and the Pen/ Faulkner Award in 2002. But somehow I missed it. 2002 was a busy year. My children were 2,7 and 13. Not much time for reading. I was also writing The Butterfly Man, being something of an activist, and running an advertising agency. It was a busy year. But having waited all this time to discover it, I suspect I have enjoyed Bel Canto more.

The story appears to be so simple that I found myself thinking that Patchett could never sustain a novel on such a premise. A world-famous opera singer is invited to sing at the lavish birthday dinner of a high profile Japanese business man. The setting is an unnamed and (possibly) Central American country and the dinner is the idea of the President of that unnamed country. The guests are a multi-cultural lot drawn from the international business community and diplomatic services. The food is beautiful. The flowers exquisite. The opera singer splendid. But things quickly go wrong.

Just as the last note of the diva is heard, the grand residence is invaded by a group of armed terrorists. It’s easy to call such people terrorists, now, in the 21st century. It’s become a favourite label. Yet in truth these people are protestors of the current government. They have seen children shot down in the street, and friends and relatives incarcerated. They want the people they love who are in jail to be released. They think that by kidnapping the President they will acquire a powerful bargaining chip.

Unfortunately the President has cancelled his attendance at the dinner at the last minute. Uncertain how to proceed, the small band take the guests hostage, hoping their demands will still be met.

And so the story ensues. Where we might imagine violence and hysteria, Patchett brings a tone of strange calm. The same sort of calm before a tornado hits. There is an electricity in the air borne of emotion. And those emotions grow and distil. From this most unusual and traumatic experience of being held captive at gun-point, and of being a captor, unusual relationships form based on a love of music, chess, literacy and language.

A young Japanese interpreter, Gen, becomes a central character in helping this disparate group understand one another. The terrorists slowly becomes individuals, not the faceless gun-toting bandits of the first night. The guests find commonality.

There is a sense of metaphor about this novel that alludes to the entire human condition. Being thrown into a single world with disparate needs and agendas, cultures and histories. What brings us together? The things we discover that we share in common. Food. Time. Fear. Intellect. And love.

This is a most unusual love story. Not only between individuals, but for life itself. In the splendor of nature. The fragile experience of being human. We know it will end – and badly for some of us. But still it is an experience of days. And in this evocation, Bel Canto is luminous and unforgettable.

This is an occasional series of reviews in collaboration with the Islington Hotel to celebrate great writing and the discussion of literature.

PS. The Islington is Hobart’s (and one of Australia’s) most beautiful and elegant places to stay. Perfect for couples wanting the ultimate retreat. For more about the luxurious accommodation at The Islington visit: www.islingtonhotel.com

And for the most beautiful place for groups to stay in Hobart (especially those who love to read) discover our own Library House – www.libraryhouse.com.au[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert


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The Signature of All Things – by Elizabeth Gilbert – the second in an occasional series for the beautiful Islington Hotel, Hobart.

“From 19th century America to Tahiti and Europe, this is a novel of science and sensuality, intellect and exploration. It has all the grit and colour of Dickens, but the quiet control and social wisdom of George Eliot.”

Elizabeth Gilbert is famous for that bestselling memoir Eat Pray Love. But The Signature of All Things is a return to fiction for Gilbert – the first time in 12 years – and her ease with the form of the novel shows. This is an exquisite story so vivid and vibrant in its characters and plot that it does that wonderful thing very good novels do – it carried me away entirely.

The novel begins in Dickensian fashion with: “Alma Whittaker, born with the century, slid into our world on the fifth of January, 1800.” Alma Whittaker grows up in the midst of extraordinary wealth created by her maverick father through the legal and illegal procurement of rare plants from across the world.

The opening chapters relate her father’s extraordinary life “while we wait for the young girl to grow up…”. These include one of the most wonderful evocations of Cook’s third voyage that it should be required reading for all Australians.

And so young Alma does grow up. On the extensive estate of White Acre, with its gardens and hothouses, Alma finds herself drawn to the infinite wonder of botany. This will lead to a lifetime of enquiry and pursuit – and what a lifetime it is!

Alma is neither beautiful nor petite (always something of a relief in literature) and so her love life is fraught with significant challenges. Her true exploration is both physical and intellectual. Through her fascination with mosses, she develops a pioneering theory on transmutation, paralleling that of Darwin and his younger colleague Alfred Russell Wallace.

From 19th century America to Tahiti and Europe, this is a novel of science and sensuality, intellect and exploration. It has all the grit and colour of Dickens, but the quiet control and social wisdom of George Eliot.

Gilbert researched the novel painstakingly – using 19th century letters to inform the voice and vocabulary of the novel (Walt Whitman’s letters and Captain Cook’s journals were of particular interest.) Every page is imbued with a reverence for nature, science and exploration. And yet this is a novel of pace and great humour. I so loved Alma, and believed in her so entirely, that at one point I googled her to ensure she really wasn’t a person I had missed in history. No, she wasn’t. She, and her marvellous adventures through a century of human evolution, are completely the product of Gilbert’s rich and exciting imagination.

The Signature of All Things is an epic and satisfying journey of some 500 pages.  It is a beautiful book to read, and equally to listen to. The audio book (via Audible.com) has the unsurpassed Juliet Stevenson as narrator. Enjoy!

 

PS. The Islington is Hobart’s (and one of Australia’s) most beautiful and elegant places to stay. Perfect for couples wanting the ultimate retreat.  For more about the luxurious accommodation at The Islington visit: www.islingtonhotel.com

 And for the most beautiful place for groups to stay in Hobart (especially those who love to read) discover our own Library House – www.libraryhouse.com.au

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

The exquisite Islington Hotel in Hobart asked me if I’d like to write about books. So here is the first in a new monthly review of a book I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed. And stay tuned for more about books and writing at the Islington through winter …

The Burgess Boys – by Elizabeth Strout

My grandfather was a Burgess – the youngest of many brothers – so the title of this novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Elizabeth Strout – felt warmly familiar.

In the novel, the lives of the three Burgess children are shaped by a freak accident. Now grown-up, the Burgess boys have settled in New York – both are lawyers, one famous with a rich wife from Connecticut, the other divorced and working for Legal Aid. The brothers are called back home to Shirley Falls in Maine where their frosty sister, Susan, still lives. Their nephew has just committed a hate crime.

BURGESS BOYS 1This is a novel of its time – yet without a moment of preaching or misplaced passion. Strout has a crisp, vivid style and evokes a range of classes and political views in this extraordinary novel of connection and dislocation. Like J.K Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, Strout is fearless in her evocation of character, and it’s the characters that will hold you until the beautifully woven end. (How rare to find a satisfying end to a novel these days – but The Burgess Boys is flawless.)

Elizabeth Strout won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Olive Kitteridge, a collection of connected short stories. One of these stories becomes a chapter in The Burgess Boys. I haven’t read Olive Kitteridge yet, but now it’s waiting on the To Read shelf.

Heather Rose

PS. The Islington is Hobart’s (and one of Australia’s) most beautiful and elegant places to stay. Perfect for couples wanting the ultimate retreat.  For more about the luxurious accommodation at The Islington visit: www.islingtonhotel.com

 And for the most beautiful place for groups to stay in Hobart (especially those who love to read) discover our own Library House – www.libraryhouse.com.au