Category Archives: Reviews

Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘The Poisonwood Bible’

First Published: Harper Collins (1998)

ISBN: 978 0 571 20175 4

The Poisonwood Bible confronts it’s readers with a sadness that nestles into your heart and is hard to shake. Nathan Price, an evangelical Baptist from Georgia, ruins the lives of his wife, Orleanna, and four daughters, Rachel, Leah, Adah and Ruth-May, when he takes them into the Congo on a missionary trip. To the detriment of his family and himself, all he takes is a large pair of blinkers and his faith. The Poisonwood Bible tells us, through the alternating perspectives of the 5 females, how they cope with the years in the Congo and how they rebuild their lives afterwards. Some are more successful than others. All women suffer at the hands, words and decisions of Nathan Price. It is heartbreaking when you find out who will never leave the Congo at all. 

Each daughter has a very different personality and attitude and vastly divergent relationships with their father. It is a highlight of the stylistic techniques employed in the novel to see just how believable and real each of these perspectives come across. 

I think The Poisonwood Bible makes such an impact because, while being set in the Congo and dealing most obviously with the theme of missionaries, the novel is actually a discussion of many more issues. A theme the novel touches on which I think is closely tied to that of missionaries is colonisation. The Prices, especially Nathan, embody the ideals and approach taken by settlers and invaders of the many colonised countries throughout the world. He arrives in the Congo thinking he can transplant the Baptist religion directly into the chest cavity that is Congolese culture. This unadaptable mind set never really leaves Nathan Price and ultimately leads to his downfall. This is despite many setbacks along the way which, to the reader, point out the devestatingly erroneous methods Nathan Price employs. Painfully, the baptist preacher seems to be the only ignorant one. An example of this comes on page 312:

‘ “Tata Jesus is Bangala!” declares the Reverend every Sunday at the end of his sermon. More and more, mistrusting his interpreters, he tries to speak Kikongo. He throws back his head and shouts these words to the sky, while his lambs sit scratching themselves in wonder. Bangala means something precious and dear. But the way he pronounces it, it means the poisonwood tree. praise the Lord, hallelujah, my friends! for Jesus will make you itch like nobody’s business.’

The Poisonwood Bible is a fantastic read. It will stay with you long after you finish. Kingsolver  makes you feel devastating sadness and guilt about the follies and injuries caused by our predescessors. From the point of view of a New Zealander living in Australia, I was particularly led to contemplate the history of colonisation in both countries and the status of both the Maori and Aboriginal people today. A discussion of this is not something I want to go into in this blog post, I merely wanted to point out the far reaching significance of the ideas expressed in The Poisonwood Bible

This novel truly is a modern classics, and one I feel I will go back to time and time again. 

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The ABC’s ‘Rake’

If you are tired of the sickening goodness of Packed to the Rafters, or the endless barrage of reality TV shows all pining for Masterchef’s recipe for success, despair no more. ABC1 regularly shows interesting and humorous Australian shows, and their latest offering ‘Rake’ is a ripper. 

The show centers around the out of control, fastpaced, completely politically incorrect life of barrister Cleaver Greene, played by Richard Roxburgh. We love to love a villian and Cleaver Greene is the ultimate badboy. Mostly drunk, a local at the brothel, itinerant father to one son, Cleaver deals with a new case each week in an unorthodox and controversial way. He defends criminals who others would write off as lost causes. The first week it was a cannibal, played by Hugo Weaving. Last week, a bigamist who turns out to be a trigamist. His conduct and approach infuriate his colleagues, and sometimes his clients, but makes him popular with the general public, and the odd young babe in the jury. And of course, us viewers at home on the couch. 

The screenplay is so clever and funny. I am in stiches each week watching it. Cleaver’s many one-liners are absolute gold* and his nonchalant intelligence and wit make it hard not to like him…despite the fact that he sleeps with his best friend’s wife, and beats other lawyers to a pulp in elevators to protect his friend (an ex-prostitute)’s name. Perhaps it is his tendency to quote shakespeare or his rugged, sexual confidence that draws you in. Whatever it is, I am delighted to see an intelligent, hilarious, Australian made show on TV. 

Watch it. Thursday nights. 8.30pm

* some examples:

“some sort of fantastical Jane Austen bullshit haze”  

 in response to a woman’s support of marrying your highschool sweetheart

“bigamy, trigamy…bugger me!”

– this one is pretty self explanatory

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Allan Campion and Michele Curtis’ ‘In The Kitchen’

I wanted a recipe book that had everything. A book that would be applicable every night and with any ingredient. The obvious first stop was Books for Cooks on Gertrude St in Fitzroy. I went in veering towards the Stephanie Alexander and Margaret Fulton offerings as they are so famous and renowned in Australia. However, the shop assistant steered me towards another tome. By Melbourne couple Allan Campion and Michelle Curtis…In The Kitchen. I am so glad I took the advice, as this book is a modern Melbourne version of The Cook’s Companion, and much more suited to someone of my age and kitchen antics. 

This 837 page recipe book contains dishes that you would expect to come out of the kitchen at Proud Mary or De Clieu… it embraces and interprets the Melbourne cafe culture for home use. It is perfectly suited to my generation, one that has grown up in cafes.  Every recipe I have tried from the book has been a success first time. In almost every instance, the recipes are easy but the results are very impressive and always delicious. Perhaps this is a reflection of Gen Y’s lifestyle of immediate gratification. With less preparation and effort we can get the same tasty and impressive results that more difficult recipes produce. 

This does not mean that it is unsuitable for other generations though. On my Mum’s most recent trip over from NZ she cooked out of In The Kitchen a few times and loved it so much that she ended up buying a copy to take home. 

So perhaps my assumptions that it appeals mainly to Gen Y are incorrect. In the Kitchen has the potential to reach a wide audience. Perhaps this is a sign that all ages of people are becoming used to things happening fast but still being of a high quality.

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Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat Pray Love’

I decided to read Eat, Pray, Love because of all the hype which has surrounded it. A friend of mine insisted it was “amaaaaazing”, it was being turned into a movie, and my boyfriend’s Mum took it on holiday after being convinced that it was essential travel reading. 

Eat, Pray, Love is a biography of New Yorker Elizabeth Gilbert’s year of travel and self discovery after a drawn out divorce and resulting depression. She wanted to visit 3 countries in 12 months, spending 4 months in each. First stop was Italy where she was on the quest for pleasure derived from good food. Second stop was India where the journey took a noticeably more prayerful and less indulgent turn. Finally, she journeyed to Indonesia in the search balance and love through other people and her relationships with them. 

I was so disappointed with this book. It is a self indulgent account of an event which isn’t exactly novel or (in my opinion) worthy of the crisis status it was given. Ok, so I have not been through a divorce myself so I am perhaps not the best point of reference, but in the grand scheme of life’s hardships being suffered around the world it rates pretty low. 

The India third of the book was particularly hard to read. The whole thing seemed like page after page describing her different experiences while praying and chanting. She glosses over any real explanations of the religion she is tapping into. She makes it seem as though spiritual enlightenment is a frivolous and easily achieved state. It is the most self indulgent and tedious section of the novel. 

The book does have it’s positives however. The times when she does write of the countries she is visiting are well written and interesting. She has a good knowledge of the history of these places and includes a number of interesting stories and facts about her surroundings. She inspired me to learn Italian and to go on the hunt for some authentic Italian food. Her travel writing does the countries she visited justice. 

Another positive I took from the book was it’s structure. The three sections which correlate to the three countries are each divided into an equal number of parts. All the divisions and numbers have spiritual importance to the author which had no real meaning for me, but created a nicely balanced book. 

I’m disappointed that this book has been taken as a self help book by so many women around the world. It offers no help but merely tells of one persons experience and what worked for her. It is a sickening example of modern society’s desperation for something to jump on to explain Gilbert needs to focus more on her travel writing and leave out the intense spirituality and self centerd rambling. 

I feel like I must end this review with a quote, not something I usually do, but something I feel is very appropriate in this instance.

In the words of Frances O’Brien from ABC’s ‘The Librarians’ when faced with a meditating real estate agent, 

“That woman who wrote Eat, Pray, Love has got a lot to answer for.”

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Mary Poppins the Musical

Mary Poppins the musical is basically all my dreams realised in the space of three hours. Combine that with dinner at Grossi Florentino and my beautiful girl friends as company and you have the best girls night out ever.

The expectations I had of this production were disgustingly high. I grew up watching Disney’s Mary Poppins movie. I swear I was born knowing the lyrics to all the songs, although some might argue with me on that one. Whatever the truth, it is an absolute classic. So the musical had a lot to live up to.

From the first chord, played by the live orchestra, I was entranced. The costumes, the sets and the lighting were flawless. Many times during the course of the musical we were left blown away by tricky little set manoeuvures which happened as if by magic (come on now, get into the spirit of it). I must admit, part of me was constantly comparing the action unfolding in front of me to the movie, but this can only be expected when you have watched the film more times than you have brushed your teeth, and it didn’t detract from the performance in any way. The scenes in the musical which weren’t in the film were a highlight as I enjoyed seeing how they had adapted old themes into something new, all the while keeping true to the feel of the story and the magic of Mary Poppins herself. 

Mary Poppins was the highlight of the show. Of course it is the part in the musical with the most to live up to, and Verity Hunt-Ballard was, dare I say it, practically perfect in the role. She carried the show through, just as Julie Andrews does in the film, and was the star of every scene. Obviously a professional performer of the highest level, she was ladylike, humorous, good looking and had the most beautiful voice. I left in such admiration of her that I would happily have morphed into being her, if such things were possible. 

Matt Lee, who played Bert, was also a highlight. He is a wonderful dancer and even though I was half expecting him to hold up a So You Think You Can Dance score card at any moment, he nailed the role. Fortunately for Lee, the role of Bert often entailed wearing a hat. He didn’t quite have the level of charisma that I love in Dick van Dyke, but was fantastic none-the-less. Lets be honest here, anyone who can tap dance upside down has got my vote. 

The children were gorgeous, as were all the supporting characters. Each was so vibrant and well played I could go through them all and sing their praises. However, special mention has to be made of Mrs Andrews, the evil nanny who plays foil to the darling Mary. She was so convincingly scary and evil that I had to keep reminding myself of the acting and musical talent behind the performance, to avoid leaving the theatre and proclaiming how horrible she was. Another stand out was the manservant in the Banks household. His dancing and singing were so clever and comical he left a lasting impression. He used his tall lanky frame to full affect, providing a bright spark on stage. 

I could go on and on, but I will suffice with saying once more how perfect and magical a night it was. So perfect that I have booked a ticket to go again…

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Amelie. The Soundtrack

I’m not going to tell you how amazingly good Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s masterpiece, Amelie, is.

I’m going to tell you that you must open iTunes right this instance and buy the soundtrack.

With the same uplifting and playful spirit as the film it is hard to stop listening. The orchestra version of the main theme, La valse d’Amelie, is so beautiful that I almost cried when it ended, through genuine sadness that it had to end. 

Listening to the tracks, I am struck by the musicianship of the writing and the performances. It is old school talent and it blows you away. I love old school, and anything French, so you can see why I am such a fan. The soundtrack has a French folky feel to it, and uses a variety of different instruments and styles of performance. 

Yann Tiersen is the mastermind of the music, a ruggedly handsome French musician and composer. He is classically trained, which accounts for the musicianship, and he has an impressive resume of work in many genres. 

The Amelie soundtrack is inspirational, delightful, and perfect for a dinner party or any time you would like to feel a little more fabulous and French.

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Bill Bryson

‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’

Published: Transworld Publishers London (2003)

ISBN: 9780552997041

‘At Home’

Published: Transworld Publishers, London (2010)

ISBN: 9780385608275

The first Bill Bryson book I ever read was Notes from a Small Island, a reflection on his travels in the United Kingdom. I loathed it. At the time of reading, my opinion was a little clouded by the immediacy of my anger, but the progress of time has removed the clouds and allowed me to see the truth. In Notes from a Small Island, Bryson does not speak overly fondly of Inverness, my all time favourite destination in Scotland. This personal bias was the main reason I didn’t enjoy the book. Fortunately, this was a realisation that occurred to me at the same time that a friend of mine insisted that I try Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, a rough guide to the history of science. I am so glad I did. It was a fantastic book which The Times Literary Supplement  rightly claims ‘represents a wonderful education, and all schools would be better places if it were the core science reader on the curriculum’. I enjoyed it so much that I bought Bryson’s latest book, At Home, as soon as it was released in Australia. At Home takes a look at history from the perspective of a home, and each room within a house. I even bought the more expensive hardcover version because I just couldn’t want for it to come out in softcover (in case you were doubting my levels of enjoyment and excitement). At Home did not disappoint, using a lot of the same techniques which appealed to me in A Short History

They are both such fantastic non fiction books because he writes about historical events and scientific discoveries or theories in terms of the people involved. He writes cleverly by playing on the voyeuristic human desire to delve anonymously into other’s lives (which is why gossip magazines are so universally criticised while being so universally enjoyed). In this way, Bryson tricks his readers into forgetting that they are actually reading a non fiction science or history book. In saying this, I would hate for you to now think that these books will give you a similar to experience to WHO or OK. They deal with complex, historically important  concepts and events. 

Another aspect of the book I enjoyed is Bryson’s inclusion of seemingly inconsequential, but very interesting facts, asides and connections between people mentioned  which would not be included in traditional text books. These are amusing, coincidental and add a lot to the book and the readers enjoyment. 

There is a lot to be learnt within the pages of both books. Perhaps I should mention here that I am not an avid non fiction reader, so for me to heap this praise on Bryson’s books is even further proof of their readability. After reading, you will be in danger of coming out with obscure but very appropriate and intelligence boosting facts in future conversations. Any book that results in this is a win in my opinion.

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