At work, my colleagues made a big fuss about this book. My interest piqued, I went in search of it and acquired a copy to read. Saving Francesca is about a girl who is searching for her identity after moving into a new school which used to only be open to boys but had later decided to convert to a coeducational system. She is in the first test batch of female pupils who attend the school which has yet to change its way of thinking to welcome the new populace. There aren’t enough sports for the girls, the school play features a minimal number of female characters and the only concession seems to be a female bathroom. In addition, Francesca finds herself initially clashing with Will Trombal after a misunderstanding about Trotsky and Tolstoy. But after she gets to know him, she realises that there is more to him than her first impression.
Francesca also makes new friends with people she might have considered oddballs had she remained at her previous school: Tara, the ultra-feminist who tries to conscript people to causes, Justine, the awkward accordion player who wants to be ‘a rock’ to people and Siobhan, labeled the school slut. True to form, Melina Marchetta shows her understanding of human relationships. Meanwhile Francesca who used to be voiceless in a conformist clique is finding out how to stand on her two feet while dealing with her usually headstrong mother’s battle with depression which culminates in constant sparring sessions between Francesca and her wallflower but reliable father. Marchetta ensures the reader experiences the ups and downs that Francesca faces which is a hallmark of quality writing.
Saving Francesca is a book about love, friendship and the willpower to continue when life throws a curveball. In the end, you’ll be satisfied with an uplifting conclusion. As a character, Francesca can be quite amusing as she tends to end up in detention through no fault of her own and does her best to adapt to the gender wars at St. Sebastian’s. This young adult fiction book covers topics familiar to readers of Melina Marchetta and ultimately is about discovering the self and coming of age. Full of humour, heart break and a roller coaster of emotions, this novel is a worthwhile YA read. All that remains is for Saving Francesca to become a movie as the author’s work is currently trending in film.
Last weekend was Open House Weekend 2014 which meant I was in for long trips and waiting in queues if I were to make my destinations. Armed with camera, water bottle, some fruit and a big book, I started my adventure of exploring the buildings in my city and their history. While I waited in line for an hour sometimes, I made great progress with my book while snacking on mandarins. On my third Open House journey I was prepared and succeeded in making it to 10 buildings so you can see the results of my efforts of traveling across Melbourne below.
This year, I was lucky enough to win the ballot for Victoria Barracks. It was constructed in 1856 on land regarded as unusable swamp and has a long history of defence activity. The headquarters for the Imperial Army and Victorian Military Forces were located here in colonial times. After Federation, strategic decisions took place here, for the Boer War, World War I and II and the Korean War, in the War Cabinet Room which still looks as it used to be, with seats preserved from the time of Robert Menzies until the defence administration was moved to Canberra in the 1950s. Heritage buildings here include an original bluestone soldiers barracks, a former military hospital, The Barracks Heritage Centre which used to be a guardhouse, the Staff Sergeants Quarters built in 1858 which became the first RAAF headquarters in 1921, the armoury and ordnance buildings from 1860 and the basalt ‘Keep’ which became a wine cellar. There is even a chapel which gave accommodation to married couples in the military forces.
My next port of call was Parliament House for which there was a 1 hour wait and an evacuation to the rear entrance due to a protest rally. Plans for Parliament House were drawn in November 1855. In 1856, construction first commenced for the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council Chambers. In 1861, the Parliamentary library came into existence. The Vestibule and Queen’s Hall were built later in 1879. Designed by architect Peter Kerr, the original plans have yet to come to fruition because a dome should be sitting on top of the Vestibule.
German Lutheran Trinity Church
This church pays homage to the Gothic Revival movement and designed by architect Charles Blachmann. The church is built of bluestone and was constructed by Heinrich Goedecke, a gold rush era migrant from Germany. The magnificent stained glass windows are striking and depicts biblical stories. Surprisingly, the ceiling of the Lutheran church resembles the inverted hull of a ship which is not a typical feature of German churches. The altar is in the middle of the sanctuary and forms half of a decagon.
No 1 Spring Street
In the exterior plaza, I am greeted by the sculpture Shell Mace designed by Charles O. Perry who has designed other objects of art such as a collection of jewelry and silver for Tiffany, chess sets, and puzzles. The floor plates in the shape of a shell, acknowledge the original tenants, the Australian head office of Royal Dutch Shell. The building was designed by Harry Seidler, an ambassador of European Modernist architecture in Australia. In the foyer, an enamel mural by Arthur Boyd based on the painting Bathers and Pulpit Rock occupies an awkward space close to the ceiling. Meanwhile in the office on level 15 which houses the Department of Planning and Infrastructure, the windows overlook a magnificent panorama of the city gardens, MCG and the Yarra.
St Patrick’s Cathedral
This church is considered one of the largest Gothic Revival churches and is the largest building of its style in Victoria. It looks like the ancient, medieval cathedrals in England and is perhaps due to the influence of the architect William Wardell. In the church, the altar mosaics and the eagle lectern made of brass were built in Venice. The cross on the main spire was a gift from the Irish government.
Limelight Studios and Salvation Army Heritage Centre
The Salvation Army purchased Attic Limelight Studio when the YMCA became unable to maintain the premises due to foreclosure. Afterwards Captain Joseph Perry used it for a while as a photographic studio. Under the encouragement of Herbert Booth, Perry started to produce motion picture films and gave birth to the Limelight Department. About 400 films were made here until 1909. The most well-known production made here was ‘Soldiers of the Cross’. The studio still remains preserved and now houses the Salvation Army Heritage Centre.
Built between 1928-1930 influenced by Nahum Barnet, it has a beautiful interior design with leadlight windows dating back to the 70s. The twentieth century Baroque classicism shows in the ornate exterior with its Corinthian columns in the entryway. It often is referred to as the Cathedral Synagogue. The congregation reached full membership in 1946 after some 15,000 European Jewish migrants came to Australia.
Australian Tapestry Workshop
The Australian Tapestry Workshop was established in 1976 and uses the same techniques employed in Europe since the 14th century in the creation of contemporary, hand-woven tapestries. It employs weavers who are trained artists so works of art that are unique can be created instead of a reproduced design which is weaved. More than 400 tapestries have created here including in collaboration with international artists. Tapestries are woven using fine Australian wool which is dyed onsite to a palette of 366 colours.
Portable Iron Houses
These portable iron houses are pre-fabricated homes migrants brought with them when gold was discovered in Victoria in 1851. There are three preserved houses: Patterson, Bellhouse and Abercrombie. Patterson is still located on its original site, Bellhouse was saved from demolition in Fitzroy and Abercrombie was rescued from North Melbourne. These houses were a common sight during the 19th century but now are quite rare.
South Melbourne Town Hall
When it opened in 1880, this splendid building, designed by Charles Webb, housed a courthouse, a firehouse, a post office, a library and a council office. It is located in Emerald Hill which was a site of significance for indigenous communities ahead of European settlement. Currently the Town Hall facilities are mainly used by the Australian National Academy of Music but the rooms I got to view included the Council Chambers, the Mayor’s room, the auditorium and the Ballantyne Room which was gifted a beautiful chandelier.
On Friday night, I attended the lavish and opulent production of Rodger’s and Hammersteins The King and I at the iconic Princess Theatre, home of the friendly ghost Federici. My dress circle seat in the middle of the third row gave me a magnificent view of the set. The King and I has been revived in Australia by Opera Australia and the Melbourne season stars Lisa McCune as Anna Leonowens, tutor to the children of the King, and internationally acclaimed actor Lou Diamond Phillips as the King of Siam (which is now Thailand).
The King and I is based on the Anna and the King, a novel by Margaret Langdon and is loosely based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, an English governess hired to tutor the favoured children of King Mongkut of Siam, including Prince Chulalangkorn. As he was a king that embraced Western culture and style of thought, The King and I showcases how the people of Siam, with some help from Anna, try to emulate Western customs when foreign dignitaries from the West visit so the King is able to suppress circulating rumours suggesting Siam is barbaric. Despite their cultural clashes, Anna and the King ultimately become very close. Meanwhile there is a side story about two young lovers, Tuptim and Lun Tha, but I found their interaction dull.
Before the curtains rose, the scene was set to depict Siam using four actors wearing the robes of monks meditating on stage as incense permeated the atmosphere. When the curtains open, we see Anna and her son arriving by boat as she has been promised a house if she were to teach the King’s children but he only decides to honour his promise much later. The costumes are sumptuous and extravagant, to create an authentic Thai experience as envisioned by British director Christopher Renshaw, with so many sequins and diamantes that they are almost blinding! Despite the misunderstanding of Western concepts at first and their initial shock at her lack of obeisance, the people at court grow to like and love and understand Anna, including the King. In the end, we see Anna’s teaching had a positive influence on the young prince as he changes the way his people show deference.
The highlight of the show is the ballet The Small House of Uncle Thomas which had a strong Eastern influence. It is loosely based on the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The emotion displayed by Tup Tim in her narration of this play stood out way more than her chemistry with her lover. My favourite part was however when Anna and the King dances the polka during Shall We Dance. Others scores I enjoyed included I Whistle A Happy Tune when Anna’s son is scared and she shows him how to “make believe to be brave”, Getting to Know You when Anna is in the classroom introducing herself to the King’s children and the powerful delivery of Something Wonderful by the King’s head wife Lu Thiang, played by Shu-Cheen Yu.
Despite being a luxurious extravaganza and the spectacle of paying homage to a time-honoured classic, the production is paced well and accurately rendered. The set for The King and I looks authentic and uses authentic language including Thai phrases, imagery including Buddha, religious references to Thailand and faithful depiction of Thai dance movements. It definitely can take you back a few eras to the Siam of the past!
This is a book about a centenarian named Allan Karlsson who escapes the old folks home on his birthday, while awaiting a visit from the mayor, and his ensuing escapade. While the turn of present events stretch credulity as the police search for the man, who accidentally comes into possession of a suitcase containing fifty million crowns belonging to a criminal gang, the escapee’s past reveals his hapless contributions to pivotal moments in political history on a global scale. Some of the funniest moments in the book include interactions with Harry Truman, General Franco, Mao Tse Tsung, De Gaulle, Stalin and Tage Erlander. The politics in The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is narrated in the most entertaining way so even those apathetic to politics and history can find humour in it.
I think giving away more plot would spoil this book written by Swedish author, Jonas Jonasson. It has since sold more than eight million copies worldwide, been made into a movie in the European cinematic world and Hollywood is negotiating remake rights. While the caricature of the characters tend to border on the absurd, I suggest giving this a go as it can be fairly informative regarding key moments in the twentieth century. However I would suggest that the information is taken with a grain of salt. Imagine it as if it were a picaresque adventure story interrupted in its narrative thread by appearances from influential world leaders and defining world moments such as the creation of the Atom Bomb, the attempted assassination of Winston Churchill and the lead up to the Watergate scandal. This is the kind of book which can make you laugh out loud while reading. I’m no stranger to crying while reading but laughing is new for me.
In terms of books similar to this, I don’t think I’ve read many. However reviews on Amazon and Goodreads compare The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared to novels written by serialist Tom Sharpe, a British satirist. What makes this novel stand out is the age of the protagonist, how he does not fit the stereotype of an elderly citizen and the charming humour.
Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, about the murder of the farming Clutter family in Kansas, is thought to be the pioneer of the true crime genre and is the result of six years of work. Even before Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Smith were arrested for the crime, Truman Capote had gone to Kansas with fellow author Harper Lee to interview investigators and local residents in the area about it. The book delves deep into the relationship between the two parolees who commit this murder and the effect the crime had on the local community.
I am not a big fan of non-fiction unless it is travel writing or memoir but this novel challenges my view of non-fiction being less interesting to read than fiction. The author has a mesmerising ability to weave factual content into suspenseful narrative prose without creating bias. I think the fact psychoanalysis was applied to the crime raised my interest bar. Nowadays true crime takes the mystery story approach with a revealing denouement but the objective style used in In Cold Blood separates it from current sensationalist fare. It talks to the rationality of the reader instead of imposing shock value. The motive for the crime is revealed when Perry Smith confesses to the police. It is also interesting to note the temporal shift from past to present tense indicating the chase is over.
The final part of the book, as the trial progresses, raises questions about the moral quandaries of the imposed sentence without providing any reasoned inferences. It was interesting to see the debate between rehabilitation as opposed to retribution using the nature vs nurture argument. While Capote does not allow a reader to condone the behaviour of the murderers, he goes a long way to showcase their characters in a sympathetic light.
On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta is a young adult novel about Taylor Markham, who is elected as the leader of the boarders at Jellicoe School. Although not a popular choice, the fact she lived at the school for most of her life gives her an edge over the competition. While the departing leaders were concerned with protecting their established boundaries in the annual territory wars from the Cadets and Townies, Taylor is preoccupied with a hermit who whispered in her ear, a prayer tree which means a lot to her sincere friend Raffaela and the Brigadier who brought her back when as a junior she ran away with Jonah Griggs, new leader of the Cadets. For Taylor, the answers to the mystery of her past lies in the disappearance of Helen, the person who found her. The only clue is an unfinished manuscript about five people who had their lives collide on the Jellicoe road twenty years ago.
Soon as I turn the initial pages, I am introduced to something called territory wars between the Boarders, Townies and Cadets. This becomes confusing. Student wars in boarding school over land use? I am an adult and I am confused. Luckily I kept on persevering and was rewarded for my tenacity. The disjointed threads of narrative become interconnected to resolve why Taylor’s mother abandoned her on the Jellicoe road when she was 11 years old, the point of the territory wars, the significance of the hermit, the relevance of the prayer tree, the story of the Brigadier and Taylor’s history with Jonah Griggs in evocative prose. To be honest, I can’t say more about what happens without giving major plot details away but suffice it to say Taylor finds answers. To get through the first part, I recommend a dose of patience but I can promise it gets better rather than worse.
So the author on her blog has revealed On the Jellicoe Road is going to be adapted into a film. Not too surprising for a novel that won the Michael L Printz award. It is being directed by Kate Woods, who did the same for Melina Marchetta’s novel Looking for Alibrandi.
I recently finished reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. The diary was a birthday present given to Anne. She decides to make the diary her trusted confidant to whom she spills her innermost thoughts and addresses it as ‘Dear Kitty’. Her diary is full of lively, imaginative prose and brings the personalities of the residents of the Secret Annexe to life. It is miracle her diary survived confiscation by the Gestapo.
When the Nazis occupied Holland in 1942, Anne was a 13-year-old girl of Jewish descent who was persecuted into fleeing her home and going into hiding along with her family and another family. For two years until their location was betrayed, her family resided in the secret annexe compartment of Anne’s father’s office building. In her diary, Anne writes about this experience and her daily conflicts with the imposed living conditions in tight quarters, the fear of discovery and the penalty of death. Despite this, she also talks about typical problems faced by teenagers – waging battles of will with her parents, having romances with boys and the struggle of keeping up with her clever, intelligent older sister Margot. In the grand scheme of life, it is sad to learn this budding writer’s demise was a result of the Holocaust. While her mention of her family is sparse in the early entries, this changes after her confinement. Through her diary, Anne Frank portrays a compelling, evocative and poignant story on bravery and resourcefulness in the face of danger.
Unfortunately the only family member to survive the Nazi occupation was Otto Frank, Anne’s father. Luckily he was able to rescue her diary and bring it worldwide attention. Anne says in her diary “I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”. In a sad roundabout way, her wish was fulfilled. I think the simple and plain language will make this an easy text for the majority of readers as long as they are able to keep in mind this was a personal diary and not a work of imagination.