R G is getting fed up with me ordering books when I have a number already sitting on the bookshelf waiting to be read. Some of them I have to admit that I cannot remember buying at all. This book I think I found in a second hand book shop along with The Lieutenant, both by Kate Grenville, a few years back when I was still a member of a local book group. We read The Secret River which I really enjoyed and I think that I bought this on the strength of that one. However before reading this one I read Sarah Thornhill which is a sequel to The Secret River. I seem to remember it being about a granddaughter of the main character of the previous book. I found this to be a massive disappointment compared with The Secret River. I read The Lieutenant at about the same time and found that pretty heavy going. I must have bought The Idea of Perfection at about the same time and left that sitting on the shelf for the same reasons. However I read that recently and although I found it a little odd I did enjoy it so am giving this one a go too.
I am about a third of the way through the book and feel that I am only just getting to grips with it. So far the story has been told by Lilian herself and has involved stories of the less than happy childhood of her and her brother. In some ways the book is written in a similar way to The Idea of Perfection. By this I mean that the reader is aware of virtually every thought and feeling of Lilian as she tells her story. She and her younger brother John come from a slightly odd but prosperous middle-class family at a time when the society to which they belonged had very rigid expectations. Being a bright and less than elegant girl with an enquiring mind of her own she simply does not fit in. I am only just starting the second part of the book in which she has grown into a clever but no less odd young lady who once again does not fit into the society into which her parents are desperately trying to force her.
Although a little odd to read to start with now that I am used to the writing style I am beginning to enjoy the book. For most of the first section of the book I had thoughts of giving up on it altogether. Now that I have come this far however I am glad that I didn't and feel that I am beginning to understand the point that Grenville is making a little more. She has a wonderful ability of conveying the feelings of those who do not fit in. At times I, the reader, feel as if I could cringe for poor Lillian as I see the bigger and bigger holes that she digs for herself in her desire to gain the friends and attention she craves. She cannot even just fit in and not be noticed as she has such an ability of sticking out like a sore thumb. Although not always easy to read Grenville is a very clever writer with a great understanding of human nature.
By Lady Lazarus
This novel by Australian writer Kate Grenville is brilliant. It's the story of William Thornhill, a poverty-stricken boat-worker on the River Thames in the early 1800s. He is convicted of a crime and sent to Australia with his family. Eventually pardoned, the story is mainly about his (and the other white settlers') relationship with the Aboriginals (or the 'savages' as he calls them), and how they tried to build a new life for themselves.
For much of the book it's an unconfortable read, as the main characters are quite openly racist towards the natives
It is pretty tragic all the way through, a heart-wrenching but fantastic read, and I'm not surprised it wasshort-listed for the Booker last year.
Here's my review of this novel from another site from several years ago:
Well, The Idea of Perfection WAS a surprise. As mentioned above, it won The Orange Prize in 2001. Having read Grenville's Booker 2006 shortlisted The Secret River a few weeks ago, I picked this up and was expecting more of the same - a historical, beautifully written, immaculately researched tale. The Secret River was gorgeously atmospheric with its detailed descriptions of the lush, wild landscape, and was very moving in its depiction of the struggles between the natives in Australia and the incoming convicts from the UK. It was, unsurprisingly and appropriately, light on laffs.
The Idea of Perfection is almost its polar opposite. It is a contemporary story, frequently very funny, and concentrates far more on the individual personalities of the characters than on any form of global picture of history.
But it is still a wonderfully intelligent book.
The tale follows gawky, socially gauche 55-year-old Sydney engineer Douglas Cheeseman's mission to knock down a condemned bridge in Karakarook, a tiny village in New South Wales with a population of 1374. He meets a 50-year-old woman who is also somewhat of an outsider, Harley Savage. Harley has come into Karakarook from the Applied Arts museum in Sydney to help set up a Heritage museum for the villagers. Both have plenty of ghosts. Douglas is haunted by his ex wife's constant reminders of how boring he is - and he really is, waxing lyrical about cement and bridge loads, but Grenville's sympathetic depiction ensures we see the good in him as well as laughing at his geekiness. Harley hails from a family of artists and, compared with her beautiful and talented younger sister, feels that she has never measured up, being large, ruddy-faced and plain, and lacking conventional artistic talent. She has three sons from three disastrous marriages and is adamant that she wants no more relationships.
The unfolding of events in the village is related with dramatic aplomb and large doses of humour. Grenville manages to imbue even cattle, sheep and dogs with personalities and her description of an awkward first date rivals Brent in The Office Xmas Special's for disastrous hilarity.
Most of all, this is a warm, accepting book that celebrates the right of 'odd' people to find happiness, and its sketching of imperfection approaches perfection. ****1/2