Tag Archives: Gail Jones

Reasons to love a novel: beginnings

I love the feeling of entry into a novel, the sense of being drawn into a world, a life, a relationship, a story. If a writer succeeds in doing this in the first few paragraphs, then I am usually hooked for the duration; I am already reading with goodwill—wanting to like, or love, the story the writer has promised me.

There are many ways this can be achieved, and the fine examples below use different narrative techniques. But I’m struck by how often a good beginning seems to contain within it a sliver of the whole, a glimpse of all that is to come, sometimes even a shadow of the ending in these first few lines. Of course, you don’t fully realise this until you have finished the novel, and that realisation brings yet another pleasure—and a deep satisfaction—to the reading experience.

Another reason to love a novel.

9781921361920_THELASTSKY_NEWEDITIONMy husband told me a story about buildings before we came here. In the central district the old Hongkong and Shanghai Bank looms proudly above the other buildings, full of British bankers and rich Americans. When the People’s Bank of China built their rival headquarters several blocks away they designed the top of the tower to look like a knife’s edge thrusting towards the British bank. It was no accident, Joseph laughed. In Hong Kong nothing was left to simmer under the surface.

It must have been during those first December days that he told me the story, before he got caught up in the suspended time of the interior. Perhaps on one of the days we walked together up a mountain path and saw the vista of islands rising up from the China Sea, curving smoothly out of the green glassiness like the contours of a body, the mist of early morning a canopy against the blue of the sky. We looked at one another, each about to say something, our double gasp of awe fading in the air.

It was these luminous moments, rescued from days of waiting and silence, that I was trying to hold on to.

—Alice Nelson, The Last Sky (Fremantle Press, 2008)

howtobeagoodwife coverToday, somehow, I am a smoker.

I did not know this about myself. As far as I remember, I have never smoked before.

It feels unnatural, ill-fitting, for a woman of my age: a wife, a mother with a grown-up son, to sit in the middle of the day with a cigarette between her fingers. Hector hates smoking. He always coughs sharply when we walk behind someone smoking on the street, and I imagine his vocal cords rubbing together, moist and pink like chicken flesh.

—Emma Chapman, How to Be a Good Wife (Picador, 2013)

9781741666632A whisper: sssshh. The thinnest vehicle of breath.

This is a story that can only be told in a whisper.

There is a hush to difficult forms of knowing, an abashment, a sorrow, an inclination towards silence. My throat is misshapen with all it now carries. My heart is a sour, indolent fruit. I think the muzzle of time has made me thus, has deformed my mouth, my voice, my wanting to say. At first there was just this single image: her dress, the particular blue of hydrangeas, spattered with the purple of my father’s blood. She rose up from the floor into this lucid figure, unseemly, but oh! vivacious with gore. I remember I clung to her, that we were alert and knowing. There might have been a snake in the house, for all our watchful attention.

‘Don’t tell them,’ she said. That was all: don’t tell them.

—Gail Jones, Sorry (Vintage, 2007)

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Reasons to love a novel: imagery

Sometimes a writer will create a mental picture so compelling that it seems, in its beauty or its depth or its tenderness, or its raw, shocking slap, to open up a neural pathway, connecting me to something never before felt, or seen, or heard. It changes the way I am wired. It writes itself on my memory. It becomes permanently implicated in all of the reasons I love to read and want to write. I always wish I’d written it myself. I always feel—as my friend Marlish Glorie said recently of Annie Proulx—grateful that such writers exist.

Here are three images I love, from books I love:

419MMJTJS6L._SY300_This is what she had seen, earlier that day: An Indian man had been climbing the bamboo scaffolding of one of the high colonial buildings, with a large mirror bound to his body by a piece of cloth. His white dhoti was flapping and his orange turban was atilt, and he hauled himself with confidence from level to precarious level—altogether a fellow who knew what he was doing—when some particular gust or alarum that carried the dimension of fate caused him to misjudge his footing and fall through the air. Because he could not release the mirror, but clutched at it as though it was a magic carpet, he landed in the midst of its utter shattering, and was speared through the chest. The quantity of blood was astounding. It spurted everywhere. But what Lucy noticed most—when she rushed close to offer assistance along with everyone else—was that the mirror continued its shiny business: its jagged shapes still held the world it existed in, and bits and pieces of sliced India still glanced on its surface. Tiny shocked faces lined along the spear, compressed there, contained, assembled as if for a lens. She simply couldn’t help herself: she thought of a photograph.

—Gail Jones, Sixty Lights

resized_9781741140651_224_297_FitSquareI would not wish for you to think that I was a nice child. I was not. Mother called me a storm child. A foundling, she said, washed up on the beach beneath the lighthouse in a storm, without so much as a scrap on my little body. She looked as if she wished she had left me there. If she cut me, she said, I’d bleed icy-cold sea water all over the floor. Once, she said that she was only waiting for the tide that would come up high enough to wash me back out into the sea where I belonged.

—Danielle Wood, The Alphabet of Light and Dark

resized_9781741755763_224_297_FitSquare‘The first Swiss to ski in Antarctica,’ Hurley said. ‘He makes it look dead easy.’

Ginger would have bowled X over had her chain been longer. She nuzzled under his arm as he untethered his skis. He scratched her back and she leaned her weight against his leg, her tongue lapping at the air.

Then the dogs pricked their ears in unison; penguins halted in their tracks. Douglas watched X smile with the sweetness of the melody rising from the hut.

Ginger laid her ears flat when X hoisted her up by her front legs and placed her paws on his chest. He stepped from side to side, one hand on his dance partner’s back, the other resting on her paw. Mertz and Ginger swayed to ‘The Shepherd’s Cradle Song’; the lullaby playing on the gramophone spilled across the bay. On each turn Ginger hopped and shuffled; with each step she licked her master’s chin.

Douglas nodded. ‘The first to dance.’

—Robyn Mundy, The Nature of Ice

Serendipitously, these are all Australian women writers, in a year when I’m taking part in the Australian Writers Women Challenge. And today is International Women’s Day.

I’d love to hear about the images that have caught your breath and you know will remain with you forever.

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December fragments #1

Last year I shared with Facebook friends a photograph and quote every day throughout December. The images came from my year’s travels and observations; the words, from writers who had caught my interest, my admiration, my breath. I’ve been gathering more during 2012 and will post them here (so Looking up/looking down will be a more-than-occasional blog just for this month).

The first quote is from one of my favourite writers …

Circular Quay: she loved even the sound of it.

Before she saw the bowl of bright water, swelling like something sexual, before she saw the blue, unprecedented, and the clear sky sloping upwards, she knew from the lilted words it would be a circle like no other, key to a new world.

—Gail Jones, Five Bells

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