Friday, 6 April 2018

Notes from Eve Abbey • April 2018

Would you like to try a piece of really original writing? Something unusual? If so, read The Town by Shaun Prescott. This is a first novel from a short story writer and it is very successful. His work is being compared to Gerald Murnane, especially to The Plains. There is a carefully controlled voice of the narrator, a writer who has moved to a Central West country town in order to write a book about the disappearing towns of the outback. The voice is dry and flat like the surrounding countryside. Is it banal? Surely something will happen? Someone will rebel? Fatalistic for sure. The Lifted Brow is the small publisher responsible for this. Take a good look.

I’ve just finished reading Tim Winton’s deeply personal book The Boy Behind the Curtains. This is a wonderful book, brilliantly written, wise and mature. In some pieces he recalls accidents that happened to his family, in others he speaks about the landscape of Western Australia and in others he recalls the important part played by church-going in his adolescence, or a visit to the National Gallery of Victoria or the euphoria of surfing or swimming with whales or the strangeness of a winter living in the gatehouse of a derelict Irish castle.

A fine book to give to a young person just awakening to the world. These autobiographical pieces are to be savoured one at a time.

The Boy Behind the Curtain has recently won the Non-Fiction Prize at the Adelaide Festival. Tim has donated the $15,000 prize to the fund for the Ningaloo Reef, one of his environmental concerns.

Since then I have read Tim Winton’s latest book, a novel called The Shepherd’s Hut. This is a very different approach. Written in the voice of an angry, poorly educated young man who has been horribly abused by his father, it is a style I would usually not enjoy reading but there are intermittent gorgeous descriptions of the Western Australian landscape as the young man escapes from society.

He stumbles across an old man, a priest who has been, for some reason, seemingly imprisoned on the edge of the huge, beautiful salt lake. Gradually, you come to understand that this is an allegory about the painful search for peace.

Winton’s writing is never dull and always has some deeper meaning. The story will stay with you.

Fans of Julian Barnes will enjoy his latest novel The Only Story, which is the curiously unemotional tale of a long love affair between a very young man and an older married woman in the suburban wilds of Surrey, England. All very circumspect and polite. I found it odd and dispiriting but nonetheless thought-provoking.

I’ve been watching a three disc set of Evelyn Waugh’s fabulous novel Brideshead Revisited. So sad. So melancholy. But thirty or more years ago no-one rang a friend on Sunday night because everyone was watching Brideshead Revisited.

The novel was a surprise departure from the famous satirical novels he had written in the thirties and described Charles Ryder’s infatuation with an aristocratic Anglo-Catholic family. It was first published in 1945 but the Popular Penguin edition which you can buy for $12.99 (who can complain about the price of books!) has some revisions made by Waugh and his Preface to the revised edition.

After Brideshead Revisited he went on to write some of best novels of the twentieth century, using his own experience as a not very successful soldier. Officers and Gentlemen, Men at Arms and Unconditional Surrender were put into one volume in 1965 under the title Sword of Honour. There is a special edition in Penguin Modern Classics as well as a Popular Penguin edition.

At Abbey’s you can usually find the backlist titles from special authors so look out for Vile Bodies, Handful of Dust, Scoop and Put Out More Flags, all of which were first published in the thirties. Enjoy yourself.

You can also find Waugh’s Complete Short Stories 1910-1962 as well as Work Suspended and Other Stories. To complete your pleasure look for Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited by Philip Eade. And what a life! Not an especially nice man but a wonderful writer with a wicked tongue.

Keep well,


Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Friday, 2 March 2018

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ March 2018

The most exciting book I have read this month is a non-fiction thriller by Nicholas Shakespeare called Six Minutes in May: How Churchill Unexpectedly Became Prime Minister. Of course Winston Churchill is very much in the news just now on account of various movies, especially The Darkest Hour, but he is only one of the fascinating characters striding across the stage, managing the resignation of Neville Chamberlain as Britain faces up to war. This is a book for people who like history, people who like gossip and people who like to watch the manoeuvres of politicians. It’s another big book, 507 pages, including more than 100 pages of notes.

Nicholas Shakespeare has had the most amazing success in his research. I think he had more than a few personal contacts. The notes explain, chapter by chapter, the sources for most of the fascinating quotations. Many come from personal anecdotes, quotes from memoirs or private correspondence. The intrigue between Lord Halifax and Baba Metcalf forms a central mystery. Halifax had been Viceroy of India, as had Baba’s father, Lord Curzon. I think I shall have to re-read Anne de Courcy’s book, The Viceroy’s Daughters. All very English.

My two favourites among the many books written by Nicholas Shakespeare are The Dancer Upstairs and In Tasmania. In his earlier life, he lived in South America, where The Vision of Elena Silves is also set, and one day he found a perfect little house on the beach in Tasmania. In 2016, he was a Visiting Fellow of All Souls. That would have been a temptation.

The Dancer Upstairs by Nicholas Shakespeare In Tasmania by Nicholas Shakespeare

I received a very nice little gift recently from one of our treasured long-term customers. He dropped in a copy of the International Edition of the Daily Express because it contained an article about the final edition of Pears’ Cyclopedia. He remembered my enthusiasm for this little marvel of information. I shall have to get a copy of this – the 126th edition. My copy is the 95th edition, which was for 1986-87: A Book of Background Information and Reference for Everyday Use. Wikipedia and Google may well have taken its place, but where else can I find on one page the answers to these questions, which may be required for my crossword - International Currencies, Roman Numerals, International Timetable and the Greek Alphabet. Page N9. You could take it to a desert island with you and lack of electricity would not be a problem.

In Spectrum this Saturday, Peter Craven, in honour of 100 years since the birth of Muriel Spark, wrote a lovely piece of wholehearted admiration for work. Hear Hear! I had a look at Abbey’s database and found nine titles in stock, plus several more reissues which are forthcoming. One of the delights to be found at Abbey’s is the presence of a deep backlist of good titles sitting beside the latest and trendiest new titles. Here are Spark’s novels, all of them remembered fondly by me: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, A Far Cry from Kensington, Mandelbaum Gate, The Public Image, Girls of Slender Means, Territorial Rights, Bachelors, Finishing School, Drivers Seat and Spark’s Europe, which contains Not to Disturb, The Takeover and The Only Problem. I’ll have lots of fun re-reading some of these. This will overcome my present difficulty in finding the right fiction to read.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark A Far Fry From Kensington by Muriel Spark
The Mandelbaum Gate by Muriel Spark The Public Image by Muriel Spark Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
Territorial Rights by Muriel Spark The Bachelors by Muriel Spark The Finishing School by Muriel Spark
The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark Spark's Europe by Muriel Spark

Have you been to see the latest Daniel Day-Lewis film? It is called Phantom Thread and is about an artist in charge of a famous haute couture establishment. When I was in the shop recently, Lindy showed me a gorgeous big book about The House of Worth, full of illustrations of wonderful dresses and information about the famous Parisian fashion house which operated from 1858 to 1956. An effort was made in 1999 to re-establish the name, but I think now it is only associated with perfumes.

Keep well,


Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Friday, 5 January 2018

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ January 2018

In November I went to a fascinating talk put on by the Jessie Street Women’s Memorial Library at the Customs House Library at Circular Quay. Have you ever called in there? It’s such a welcoming spot in the heart of the city, basking in the glory of having saved this gorgeous old building. There are meeting rooms and changing exhibitions by local artists, free wi-fi with public access to computers, and a very comfortable lounge if you want to spend a quiet ten minutes while waiting for a friend. And of course a few books, magazines, comics, DVDs and ebooks, as well as newspapers, from all over the world. There is a special room on the first floor for Asian material, and a special room on the ground floor for detective books.

The talk was by Marilla North, an enthusiastic supporter of the works of Dymphna Cusack, author of the Australian classic Come in Spinner. As Marilla says, “everyone should read Come in Spinner”. Not only is it a classic, it is startlingly readable. Despite its chequered history, it has remained constantly in print since first published in 1951, when it had to be abridged because the subject matter - including rape, prostitution and abortion - was considered too controversial. Perhaps you remember seeing the ABC television series in 1990? The story revolves around the lives of three young women working in the beauty salon of a famous hotel during the Second World War. The only drawback is it’s 700 pages, so be sure to have a bookmark handy!

Marilla North is currently working on a biography of Dymphna Cusack, but meantime she has produced Yarn Spinners, which unfortunately does not say clearly on the cover that it’s the story of three of our most famous female writers - Miles Franklin, Dymphna Cusack and Florence James. All three were early supporters of the women’s movement, social justice and human rights. Their story is told by arranging the letters between themselves and their friends from the 1930s to the 1950s. This will be regarded as Volume One of the projected biography. This is all fascinating stuff – not just literary memories – as these women were very active both socially and politically. Be sure to read this. It was first published in 2001 by University of Queensland Press. It’s another big book - 566 pages including index, end notes and a useful historical chronology of the times.

PART 1: I’ve brought home Julia Baird’s wonderful biography, Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Changed the World. This has 696 pages including index and notes. With my bookmark at the ready, I’m plunging into this very readable and fascinating account of Victoria’s life. I’m sure we’re ready for this most personal look at her life. Victoria has been in the public mind lately, what with films and TV series. Find it in history, not biography. It’s worth using a book cover for all these big books. (CONTINUED BELOW)

I recently went to see Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express at the movies. This new production by Kenneth Branagh has aroused a lot of interest, not least because at the end Poirot does not solve the crime; he just offers two suggested solutions! Very annoying, so I was led to read the book again. And guess what? The film is indeed true to the book! I have seen maybe three other versions and I guess this won’t be the last.

Easy reading and not such a big book is Bruce Beresford’s collection of reminiscences, The Best Film I Never Made: And Other Stories About a Life in the Arts (281 pages). These memories are not only interesting, they also show our famous film director to be a very courteous and kindly man, one who had a vision to be a film director all his life (even if his son, when asked to name a director with the initials BB, could only come up with Bernardo Bertolucci!).

2018 has arrived. Abbey’s Bookshop, Language Book Centre and Galaxy Bookshop all look forward to 2018 when we can continue offering you the services of a good bookshop. Our staff are ready and waiting to help you and we've had a wonderful selection of titles in-store over Christmas and into the New Year to tempt you.

PART 2: Well, I made my way with much pleasure through Julia Baird’s big biography of Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Changed the World. Although it looks daunting it is not. It is lightly written, with frequent asides to mention what else was happening in the world at that moment. You feel as if a very well-educated friend is telling you a good story. Quite fascinating. No wonder Victoria is the subject of so many films, TV series and books. I think I have to go and see the film Victoria and Abdul which I passed on before. There’s a good story there.

In my search for some good non-fiction a friend recommended Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India by Shashi Tharoor. It is incredible how the East India Company, and then the British Crown, rolled into India and destroyed a very successful medieval economy, extracted huge amounts of money, sent Indian soldiers to fight battles overseas and charged India for that, and made sure Indians were second class citizens. Tharoor tries hard to give some credit to Britain but says he finds it far easier to forgive than to forget. He pours scorn on the praise of Empire in the books by Niall Ferguson and Lawrence James, but recommends a new book by Jon Wilson called India Conquered: Britain’s Raj and the Chaos of Empire. He does delight, however, in telling us that Tetley Tea Company is now owned by an Indian company and that an Indian company recently rescued the British Steel Industry. [Editor's note: Also owned by the Indian company, Tata Motors, are two icons of British motoring, Jaguar and Land Rover]. Previously, by means of regulations about standards, the successful Indian steel industry was almost destroyed, along with shipbuilding). Oh dear! It makes me feel very guilty over the pleasure I have taken watching all those lovely British Raj stories, especially Jewel in the Crown! I was surprised and pleased to find Abbey’s has copies of the famous Raj Quartet stories by Paul Scott. They are The Towers of Silence, The Day of the Scorpion, A Division of the Spoils and Staying on. Enjoy them. Great characters including many historical figures and the very best portrayal of life in the British Raj.

Have you been watching the distressing documentaries on SBS about the Vietnam War? Journalist Neil Sheehan is one of the many people interviewed. His book Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam is regarded as the ultimate classic on this period. John Paul Vann was the American Colonel very unhappy with the progress of the war who was more than happy to leak information to a good journalist.

Over the holidays I read an excellent novel which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2014. It is called We are all Completely Beside Ourselves and is by Karen Joy Fowler. At the beginning, the voice of the college-girl narrator sounds very like Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye. However, there is a surprising twist in the middle. To tell you would spoil the surprise! Suffice to say, the rest of the novel not only concerns college-life it also concerns the activities of animal liberationists. A good choice for book clubs – there is plenty to discuss.

Were you also pleased to hear that Kazuo Ishiguro won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature? A good choice I think. Abbey’s has good stock of all his books and Language Book Centre upstairs has titles in both French and German and even a copy of Never Let Me Go in Persian! The titles in English are An Artist of the Floating World, The Remains of the Day (Gift Edition), The Buried Giant, Never Let Me Go, A Pale View of Hills, Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, The Unconsoled and When we were Orphans. Upstairs you can find Nocturnes: Cinq Nouvelles de Musique au Crepuscule, Quand Nous Etions Orphelins, Les Vestiges due Jour, Un Artiste du Monde Flottant, Lumiere Pale sur les Collins, Geant Enfoul, Aupres de Moi Toujours as well as Alles, Was Wir Geben Mussten. Set out to enjoy some really wonderful writing. Remember that there is a lift in the foyer next door to go up to level 1 to our Language Book Centre. Please ask a bookseller to show you where.

Keep well,


Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Lindy Jones picks her famous fives for 2017

Lindy Jones: "At this time of the year I can barely count to five, but here are some of the books I enjoyed reading this year."

Of course, when nearly half my year is pretty much exclusively Miles Franklin Award submissions, and then half of the rest is for the Summer Catalogue, you must forgive me if I just have to revisit books I might have mentioned elsewhere!

Five Books You Should Have Read Because They Were MF Shortlisted. Or Won Other Awards! So Read them!

Josephine Wilson
The Winner of the Miles Franklin. And the Colin Roderick Award. And originally the Dorothy Hewitt. All mean something: a damn fine book!

Ryan O'Neill
Winner of the Prime Minister's Award. Clever, tricksy and very, very funny.

Mark O'Flynn
This scored the Voss Literary Award. An evocative and lively portrait of an outsider.

Philip Salom
Shortlisted for other awards. Sympathetic without sentimentality: brilliant portraits brilliantly rendered. 

Emily Maguire
Shortlisted for other awards as well. Says a lot about modern society, media, women, crime, and in an involving storyline.



Five Other Novels Really Really Worth Reading. (Ok, there is SIX but the demand for Sarah Winman's Tin Man has been greater than supply!)

Jon McGregor
Not enough superlatives for this. Go with it, and be rewarded. 

Jon McGregor
And excitingly, McGregor wrote some supporting short stories, that add yet another dimension to this masterpiece.

Michelle de Kretser
Beautiful writing, sharp observations, clever and witty and sometimes quite cutting.

Alice McDermott
Depression-era New York, strong women making the best of bad situations, fine prose.

Alice Hoffman
Prequel to the wonderful Practical Magic. New York again, but in the 60s. And then if you haven't read the first, you've got another treat coming.

Sarah Winman
I'll go so far as to say this is my favourite book of the year.




Five Novels that Live in the Young Adult Section (But Don't Let That Stop Older Ones from Reading them…)

Peadar O'Guilin
Fairies are evil. Very evil. They want Ireland back, and they steal teenagers to teach humans a lesson. Genuinely suspenseful, rattling good read.

M A Bennett
Private schoolkids are evil. Very evil. And if you dare to overstep your caste or class, you're going to be taught a lesson. Scary, clever and engrossing.

M T Anderson
Aliens are evil. Actually they are arch-capitalists, so that makes them very very evil. Is this a fable? or a clever tale about the impact of technology vs artistic endeavour? Or both?

Clare Christian
Grief and mental illness make a mess of two teen misfits. At least they're not evil. And they do find their way through. Bittersweet and satisfying.

Dodie Smith
Okay, it's not new. But it's a favourite, almost an Austen in terms of my rereading it. And there's nothing remotely evil at all about it. Just lovely writing with wonderful characters.



Five Assorted Non-Fiction Books (Without Birds as the Main Subject). OK, Six!

Maggie O'Farrell
You wouldn't believe how readable 17 personal brushes with death can be. But she is a very good novelist as well.

Anne de Courcy
Anything by de Courcy is wonderfully vivid. This is about the trade in 19th century American heiresses to impoverished European nobility.

Sarah Krasnostein
Extremely moving and almost voyeuristic at times, but truly engrossing.

Alexis Wright
The circular storytelling style was as fascinating as the subject, Tracker Tilmouth, himself. 

Scott Bevan
If this doesn't make you want to take up kayaking, nothing will!

Kate Cole-Adams
What is oblivion? What is consciousness? This lyrical book explores these questions, blending science and personal experience. Won the Waverley Library Award.




Five Assorted Non-Fiction Books with Pictures In Them. (Plus a Ring-in).

Chantal Trubert-Tollu
What the husband hunters wore. And characters in Downton Abbey or Edith Wharton novels. So, so beautiful - can I try one on, just once?

Theodore Gray
I don't do chemistry. But I do when it's Theodore Gray. (Or Sam Kean: Caesar's Last Breath. So enjoyable! and there are a few illustrations)

Vanessa Berry
Look at the layers of Sydney with new eyes. Quirky and charming drawings throughout.

David Mabberley
I would argue that Ferdinand Bauer is one of the geniuses of scientific illustration. So does this book! 

Gooding, Mabberley, Studholme
Positively swoonworthy. And not many left in stock, but swoop, swoop upon this, or wait until the new year.



Five Books with Birds in the Title*

Peter Menkhorst and lots of other talented people
So, you carry the Slaters in your pocket, and the Pizzey in your backpack, and the ABG in the car. But you NEED it, you REALLY do. You can't have too many guides…

which means you should have:

Neil Hermes
A photographic guide, distinguished by excellent in-the-field photos and great information.

Peter Barry
A bit of light-hearted but educational fun. Names of a whole lot of birds from all around the world are explained.

Berndt Brunner
If there was a cure for this mania, the 'sufferers' would refuse it… 

Adam Nicolson
Puffins, gannets, guillemots and other northern seabirds. Poetic, moving and that beautiful blend of personal narrative and nature writing the English do so well.

Lyanda Lynn Haupt
If Mozart could enjoy the companionship of a starling, then maybe this detested bird has merits afterall. The (American) author sees for herself.

Charles Massy
Haven't finished this yet, and yes it's not an ornithological tome, but it has a lot to say about farming sustainably, sensibly and for more than ourselves.

*(I lied. But I did say I was having trouble counting).




Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers