Sunday, 14 October 2012

Sarah Thornhill, by Kate Grenville
Sarah Thornhill is the youngest daughter of a prosperous former boatman and convict, ‘sent out’ from England in 1806 for a crime he has always refused to divulge.  After his sentence was served he was able to disappear into the remoteness of the Colony of New South Wales, claiming land enough to establish himself on the Hawkesbury river and with his canniness and eventual wealth still the tongues of his neighbours, who have not been ‘sent out’ and don’t wear the taint of the Broad Arrow.
Sarah narrates her own story in bold, forthright and deceptively simple prose;  she is illiterate like the rest of her family and, like the rest of her family, sees no need to learn her letters – Pa never learnt and beat adversity, so why should they?  She has very few memories of her mother who died when she was very small:  instead she is raised by Ma, Pa Thornhill’s second wife and a force to be reckoned with. Ma has ironclad ideas of good behaviour and etiquette and all her stepchildren have to conform – even Pa appears acquiescent to her absolute authority:  therefore it is up to Sarah to be the rebellious thorn in her Ma and Pa’s side.  And she does it by falling completely in love with Jack Langland, strapping, staunch and handsome half-caste son of a close neighbour.
Jack is the product of the union between his father and an aboriginal woman.  He has been raised ‘White’, but when push comes to shove, when Sarah and he publicly declare their intentions, the hornet’s nest is disturbed and out come all the hidden hatreds and prejudices, the scorn and contempt for the original inhabitants of that vast and ancient land, and the unshakeable convictions of white superiority, especially over a ‘black buck’, formerly regarded as a sound fellow until he aspires to be a potential bridegroom and son-in-law.  Sarah has to face many hard truths and much tragedy as she tries to make sense of the injustice of her young life, and the thwarting of all that she sees as the natural and proper direction of her future;  the choices she makes are forced on her and are at the core of this wonderful story.  Ms Grenville is one of Australia’s foremost and respected writers  and evokes in breathtaking prose the struggles, drudgery and everyday heroism of the early settlers, Untainted and Convict alike, but still possessed of  a racism born of ignorance, malice and fear:  as Sarah carries on with her life, she discovers horrific and ugly family secrets that alter forever her perception of her world, and everyone she knows and cherishes within it.  This is a stark and powerful story of injustice and cruelty, kindness and love – just as life is for so many of us, regardless of the era.  Highly recommended.
50 Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
 Your library is ever mindful of the needs of its borrowers.  To that end it has faithfully supplied copies of E. L. James’s trilogy for those who wish to read it, and its popularity is such that some people could die on the waiting list.  Perish the thought, not those on the waiting-list, I say!
When this tale begins, Anastasia Steele is having a bad hair day and doesn’t have a suitable thing to wear for the interview she has been persuaded to do with MegaZillionaire Christian Grey for the student magazine.  Her room-mate, magazine editor Kate, the original interviewer, has the ‘flu.  As if that weren’t tarsome enough, the poor wee thing trips (because she’s accident prone) through the door to the Great Man’s MegaOffice.  As he rescues her from the floor and envelops her in his hot, gray gaze, all the usual things happen:  her heart falters;  she can’t meet his eyes (ah, those eyes, like a threatening sea on a windswept day!) she blushes furiously (she does this A LOT);  she asks her set questions in a monotone – ‘Are you Gay?’ – (all the while agog at his beauty, which frequently invokes bursts of great silent introspection: ‘ Holy Crap,  followed by ‘Holy Shit,’ then finally, ‘Holy F@@##!’).  Yep, she’s a deep thinker, alright.
For his part, MegaZillionaire Christian is undeniably impressed (why?  Anastasia is now redder than the sunset.  She blushes for Africa.) and attracted to the winsome, helpless, clueless interviewer and before one can say WATCH OUT ANA, PERVERT ALERT! he has her in his power.  And he doesn’t even have a moustache to twirl.  Yes, he’s a 21st century cad, a dastard, no doubt about it – BUT! – after their first tumultuous coupling, where he is horrified to find that na├»ve Ana is that worst kind of innocent, a VIRGIN, she finds him hours later semi-nekkid in his cavernous living room, playing a mournful Bach arrangement on his grand piano sadly but superbly, (of course he is a wonderful musician, because he is excellent in all things) - this proves to readers (and there are so many of us!) that the dastard has a tragic side, a mysterious past which he refuses to reveal, and an aversion to being touched.
Naturally this presents some problems for Ana, who has never had a relationship before (WHAAAAT?!!  In her twenties and never been kissed?  Who is she, Jane Austen?).  She longs to touch him, to trail her fingers through his gorgeous, tousled chest hair, but he refuses.  She is extremely worried that she is ‘falling for a man who’s beyond beautiful, richer than Croesus, and has a Red Room of Pain waiting for me.’  Yep,  I’d be worried, too, but Ana places great faith in two friends:  her subconscious, ever her reliable moral compass, and her Inner Goddess, which is just a euphemism for Ho:  her Inner Goddess wins every time.  That girl is doomed.
And so is the reader (and there are SO many of us!), doomed to absorb the riveting fact that Christian’s eyes blaze when he whups Ana’s ass;  they’re haunted when he plays Bach superbly semi-nekkid, and hooded when he wishes to disguise his true feelings.  He steeples his fingers a lot, too.
Oh, this is a corny, horny, porny story:  it’s so trashy that it should be in a plain brown wrapper – but what power there is in word-of-mouth advertising!  E.L. James will never have to write another rude word;  she can just sit on the millions made from this trilogy like a chook on her eggs, if she wants to.  In the meantime, fans of Anastasia and Christian (and there are so MANY of us!) will press on with books two and three, because despite all the huffing, puffing, painful sex, Ana’s perpetual blushes and Christian’s steely gaze or wicked grins, we all have to know WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. 
When all is said and done, I must confess that I would rather go to bed with a good book than a fruitloop in a suit, but there’s no accounting for taste.  And there’s nowt so queer as folk as we all succumb to the lure of a worldwide best-seller, purely because everyone is saying:  ‘Have you read it yet?’
Read this torrid, tortured tale (if you haven’t already).  I think this is a Gross Read for Great Readers, but you be the judge.

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