Category Archives: Title-B

Review: Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

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I think I was too old for this book.  I think I would’ve appreciated it when I was in my twenties at university when the world was newish but I’m old and jaded now so the story of a 17 year old girl plotting to ruin the life of her libertine father’s new fiancée seemed all a bit fanciful, a bit yawn-making.

Set on the French Riviera, Cécile is living a high and hedonistic life with her forty-something-year-old father Raymond and his girl of the moment, redheaded Elsa.  They live a life of drinking, gambling, staying out late and not thinking too much.  When Anne, the seemingly level-headed and intellectual forty-something-year-old family friend comes to visit, her presence changes the louche dynamic forever.  Raymond proposes marriage to Anne, Elsa is forced to find comfort in the arms of someone else, while Cécile has to study daily for an exam she has failed previously.

Cécile dislikes these changes so with the help of Cyril, her 26 year old boyfriend in the next villa, and using Elsa’s continuing feelings for Raymond to further her own ends, she concocts a plan to destroy Anne.

Sagan has created a morally ambiguous character in Cécile.  By turns young and old, wise and stupid, tragic and ridiculous, she embodies the flightiness of youth, with its penchant for melodrama and a narcissistic appreciation of its developing talents.  Cécile is also that thing that fails to recognise when it’s being cruel or callous and if it does, continues in the same way anyway.  Sooo, like, adolescent.

Apparently this book caused a stir when it was published in the 1950s.  And with the sexually and morally emboldened Cécile at its core, I’m not surprised.  In 2012 it’s a bit passé.

Book details:
Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan, published by John Murray books 1954, Penguin 1958, 108 pages, personal copy mooched from BookMooch.

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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: The Best a Man Can Get by John O’Farrell

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BOOK REVIEW: The Best a Man Can Get by John O’Farrell, fiction, Black Swan, paperback, 2000, 301 pages.

 

I am currently struggling through A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book so when a friend gave me a box of his old books, I thought I’d have a squizz at some of them before I get rid of them on BookMooch.  I dived right in and emerged holding up O’Farrell’s, The Best a Man Can Get.  It’s a complete contrast to Byatt — funny, entertaining, witty and so, so easy to read.

 

O'Farrell, The Best a Man Can GetIt’s about Mike Adams, a musician in his early 30s, who writes music for advertisements.  He spends most of his time in a flat in south London that he shares with three other rootless young men and he has set his life up to be easy — as the following example demonstrates:

 

“My bedroom had evolved so that the need to get out of bed was kept to an absolute minimum.  Instead of a bedside table there was a fridge, inside which milk, bread and butter were kept.  On top of the fridge was a kettle, which fought for space with a tray of mugs, a box of tea bags, a selection of breakfast cereals, a toaster and an overloaded plug adapter.”

 

I’m not giving anything away when I say that what is soon revealed is that Mike has a family in North London – a family consisting of a wife and two young children, with a third on the way.  When he returns home at the end of each week, his wife believes he does so after a long few days staying overnight at work.

 

His rationale for living this way – even though it means that his wife is carrying the can for raising their kids – is to preserve his marriage.

 

It was because I thought our marriage was so important that I kept resting it.  The strain that small children brought into our lives suddenly seemed to create such tension and petty hostility between us that I was terrified of the damage becoming irreparable.  Admittedly, I had developed a personal solution to a joint problem … [b]ut I didn’t feel I could confess to wanting time away from my children.

 

I have no problems with confessing that I want time away from my child.  I also have no problems confessing to being envious of Mike Adams.  As a parent of a one year old, there are days that I long for the freedom I used to have to do whatever I want and whenever I want.  And desperation means that a double life looks like a very good idea indeed.

 

But as the book shows, this duality is unsustainable, and the rest of the book is a riotous, unpredictable unravelling of both of Adams’s lives.

 

I recommend this book without question to anyone, not just parents.  There are some profound observations on the dynamic that occurs between adults once they’ve had children, and the acceptance that Adams finally musters of his life as a family man is a bittersweet acknowledgement of having to grow up even when you don’t want to – something that applies to parents and non-parents alike.

 

O’Farrell was previously unknown to me but since reading The Best a Man Can Get, I’ve learned that he’s served time writing comedy for a number of British TV institutions such as Spitting Image and Have I Got News For You.  He writes a little like Nick Hornby but is perhaps less apologetic about being male than Hornby.  He’s also written a number of other books and runs the satirical news website, NewsBiscuit.

 

I have a copy of his first book, Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter, in the post, on its way to me, at the moment, and I must admit that I’m very much looking forward to it.

 

BOOK REVIEW: Brimstone Wedding by Barbara Vine

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BOOK REVIEW: The Brimstone Wedding by Barbara Vine, Penguin, 1996, paperback – pp312.

 

The Brimstone Wedding is a fine example of an author in control.  The writing is meticulous, the line of suspense is masterfully maintained and characters evoke both interest and compassion.

 

Jpg - Brimstone WeddingThe story is a thriller told primarily through the eyes of Jenny, a young carer in a residential home, who gradually learns the life story of one of her elderly patients – the charismatic, yet self-contained, Stella, who is dying of lung cancer.

 

Jenny lives and works in Norfolk.  There is a certain degree of ennui permeating her life – her marriage is withering and small-town claustrophobia affects her – and she is having an affair with Ned, a TV producer, who rents a weekender in the same village, but brings his wife and child.  

 

While Jenny is at first reluctant to listen to Stella’s story, there are signs that Stella is not all as she seems and she is gradually drawn into Stella’s life.

 

Jenny says of Stella:

 

Stella is the most refined person I’ve ever come across.  ‘Dainty’ is the word my nan would use to describe her.  It’s almost as if she’s not quite flesh and blood but a porcelain doll, if they ever make dolls that don’t look like little girls but like old women.  She covers her mouth when she coughs and wipes her lips with a tissue with rosebuds printed on it.  And yet none of that seems to go with those long crimson fingernails of hers.  When I look at them they give me a shock.  It’s such an odd picture: the wavy white hair, the touch of face powder and blusher, pearls around her neck …

 

This is cleverly done.  Barbara Vine sets up Stella as a creature of mystery and perhaps just a little murder.  Her doll-like appearance and long blood-like nails hint at someone who is putting on a facade and perhaps trying to hide something.

 

These delicious kinds of clues occur throughout the book, helping to flesh out the characters and propel the story forward.

 

As Stella’s seemingly murderous story unfolds, the intensity of Jenny’s affair with Ned escalates.  And because Jenny is becoming engrossed in Stella’s own story and acting as a result of it, the relationship between their two narratives becomes a dynamic one.  This, in conjunction with the fact that each story parallels the other in both pitch and intensity, generates a tremendous suspense.  Questions torment the reader: ‘What has Stella done?’, ‘What will Jenny do?’, ‘Can I stop myself from indulging in the very bad habit of skipping to the back of the book and finding out what happens at the end?’.  

 

The first two questions are best answered by reading the book but I can say that I refrained from reading the ending too early and, consequently, enjoyed an extremely satisfying read.  For a fast-paced, well-written thriller set in the Fens of England, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.