Category Archives: non-fiction

Review: Franklin & Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage by Hazel Rowley

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I don’t know quite where to start this post.  Even though this book was incredibly enjoyable and highly uplifting, I’ve avoided writing anything about it because it was so darned good and I fear that anything I have to say about it is going to do it little justice.  But as Franklin Roosevelt himself said: ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’   My fear is off to the kitchen to make me a cup of tea so while it’s away, here goes.

I’m Australian and American history is not taught here in schools though it does occur at some universities.  When I was at university, I chose British politics and Middle Eastern politics to study so I know zip about American history.  I’d heard of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States in the 1940s or thereabouts, but only in the context of his visit to Australia during the war and that was about it.

But over the last few years, I’ve become greatly interested in American political history and the cause is rather an unusual one.  A few years ago I read a brilliant biography of Mary Wollstonecraft, the English feminist, educator and thinker of the late eighteenth century.  The biography was by Lyndall Gordon, called Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft, a passionate and highly-researched account of Wollstonecraft’s life.

In her book, Gordon outlines how Mary in her early twenties started a school in the North London suburb of Newington Green.  It was the 1780s and Mary’s neighbours were dissenters and radicals, most notably the preacher Dr Richard Price, a radical intellectual and supporter of the American War of Independence who was to have a significant influence on Mary’s thought.  His published pamphlets on Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty and Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution were highly influential, the last being written for American revolutionary leaders such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin (an old friend of Price), John Adams and others.  Through her exposure to Price and his ideas, Wollstonecraft was able to develop her own ideas on education for children and women’s rights.

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SOON TO BE RELEASED: Bourke Street Bakery Cookbook by Paul Allam and David McGuinness

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Bourke Street Bakery Cookbook by Paul Allam and David McGuinness, non-fiction, Murdoch Books, hardcover, 2009, AU$69.95.

Great excitement here after discovering that Bourke Street Bakery, the best bakehouse in Sydney, is soon to release a cookbook.

Bourke_St_BakeryThe Bakery originally opened in Surry Hills in 2004 and now has four outlets across Sydney.  Their food is superb — from fruity brulee tarts to lamb and harissa sausage rolls.


And while I could just go to the bakery to pick up some of their offerings, I like cooking sweet pastry things so the opportunity to try some recipes of some of the best baking around, is very exciting.

The aptly titled Bourke Street Bakery Cookbook won’t be released until

1 September but you can pre-order here at Booktopia.


You can also sample some of the recipes in the September edition of Australian delicious. magazine, including chocolate and prune brownies, dark chocolate and raspberry muffins, olive oil bread, and pork and fennel sausage rolls.

I’m dribbling as we speak.

BOOK REVIEW: Home by Julie Myerson

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BOOK REVIEW: Home by Julie Myerson, non-fiction, Harper Perennial, paperback, 2004, 451 pages.

There’s nothing quite like controversy for stirring up publicity.

Until early this year, I didn’t know who Julie Myerson was.  But by March, I was very aware of who she was after the vilification she received (primarily in the UK media) for using her eldest son’s life and cannabis addiction as subject matter for her book, The Lost Child.

Myerson, HomeWhen I saw one of her books on sale for the bargain price of $4 (and that’s Australian dollars which is a bit like chocolate money), I snapped it up.

Home – The Story of Everyone Who Ever Lived in Our House was never going to attract the same kind of response as The Lost Child because Home is a charming, sometimes moving story about Myerson’s quest to find out about all the people that have ever lived in her house – 34 Lillieshall Road, Clapham, South London.  She refers to her family often but they are an integral part of the story, being the latest family to live in this residence.

It begins with the discovery that three children of similar age to Myerson’s own lived in the house in 1881.  Myerson’s purpose begins to take hold when she and her daughter, Chloe, call out the children’s names – Frank, Arthur and Florence – and she has the sense that ‘for a few uneasy seconds [she] felt surrounded – not by people perhaps, so much as by moments, lost moments’.

It sets Myerson to wondering what secrets the house holds.  What has it seen?  Who has it seen?  What has it experienced?  The magnitude of possibilities is in some ways too big to think about.  But with the little information she has, her imagination begins to whisper and she admits to beginning to listen.

Myerson is a diligent researcher.  She spends time in local records offices and archives looking up census information and tracing births, deaths and marriages.  She writes numerous and hopeful letters to people with the relevant surnames across Britain.  And she undertakes phone calls and interviews to flesh out the stories of her house.  Her family also help.

What is discovered is a rich array of folk who have peopled the house since 1873.  There are the Hinkleys, a decent couple who lived in the house for 30 years from 1918-1948 before being evicted by their rascally new landlord.  There are the Jamaicans who inhabited the house from 1959-1975 – new to England and the only black family on the street.  And there are more.  Their lives reflect their times and though seemingly ordinary people, it’s the act of Myerson’s story telling which restores a sense of magic and profundity to their lives.

Myerson has a gift for bringing things to life.  Her book shifts between the detail of her and her family’s present-day quest to imagined scenes between past occupants to recounting present-day visits she makes to houses she lived in as a child.  In each timeframe and location, Myerson comes across as warm, lively and curious, as interested in her own responses to notions of home as she is to those of others.

She seems to have struck a chord with many people, not only those who lived at the 34 Lillieshall Road or who had relatives who did so but also with the many people she contacted but who had no connection to Lillieshall Road.  They too were keen to tell their own stories of home and of long-gone but much-loved relatives even though they weren’t relevant to Myerson’s project.  Myerson found it touching, highlighting for her that ‘all of us badly want to be part of a story’.  I found it touching, too — the need we have to keep our moments alive.

I became deeply involved in this book.  Myerson has a gift for narration and creating scenarios that are real, heartfelt and pacy.  At one point, my parther walked into the room where I was reading to ask me something and I looked at him, wondering who he was.  Myerson’s gift is that convincing.

This is a beautifully written and engaging book, executed by a writer in full control of her multifaceted material but who leads with her heart.  It almost goes without saying that I’m now a Myerson fan and I look forward to reading more of her non-fiction work as well as her fiction.