Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Back to the Classics Challenge: My Brilliant Career and Green Dolphin Street

I was torn about my options for the category of a Classic from Africa, Asia or Oceania for the Back to the Classics 2019 Challenge hosted by Karen at the blog Books and Chocolate. While I was very tempted to buy a copy of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o s A Grain of Wheat, I decited to be “good” and limited my choice to only books available from the library. Reviewing my library options, I couldn’t decide if I should read My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin or Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge, so I read them both!

The library edition of Green Dolphin Street that I read was published as part of a reprint series titled “The Best Seller Library” which had to have been issued at least in the 1970s or beyond since The Godfather was part of the series. Also included were (all 12 titles were listed on the back) were Gone with the Wind and Dr. Zhivago so you have an idea of what kind of book Green Dolphin Street is... EPIC.

First published in 1945, it is a historical novel that begins on one of the UK Channel Islands in the 1840s when 
Marianne and Marguerite Le Patourel are still children.  Marianne and Marguerite are sisters. They are six years apart in age and could not be more different in both looks and temperament. Marianne, the eldest, is small and dark while Marguerite is tall and fair. They are also quite different in personality. Marianne is driven and ambitious; a perfectionist. Marguerite on the other hand is far more carefree and openly affectionate. Unfortunately they both fall for the same boy, William Ozanne. This love triangle is the driving force of the novel. Eventually William ends up in New Zealand (which is how this book qualifies as set in Oceania) and he writes the Le Patourel family that one of the daughters should make her way to him and become his wife. But which one does he choose?

I have read a few of this type of historical saga throughout my reading life. They require a certain commitment since they tend to be long and detail-laden. The edition I read was 500 pages long with small font. I’ll be honest, at about the halfway mark, I began to flag. I rallied and finished the book, but it really wasn’t my cup of tea. I might have enjoyed it more had I read it younger, because it wasn't the length so much as the drama that wore me out. I much preferred Goudge’s contemporary novel The Rosemary Tree, which is a more intimate story on a smaller scale. What both books did have in common, however, is an infusion of Christian mysticism which I appreciated and I understand is typical of Goudge's writing. Some attitudes towards non-whites and the lower classes in Green Dolphin Street are dated, though on the whole, I felt the author was at least trying to be sympathetic to the Maori.

My Brilliant Career is an entirely different kettle of fish! It comes across as far more authentic. I don’t believe that it is entirely autobiographical, but Franklin published it in 1901 when she was only 21 and the teenage emotions in the book (which sometimes run VERY high) seemed very realistic to me. It is also much shorter than the Goudge novel which was the reason why I decided to read both.

One thing both books have is a very headstrong main character. Sybylla from My Brilliant Career grows up as a tomboy in relative comfort on a ranch in the outback somewhere. When she is about eight years old, her family move to Possum Gully to farm cattle which turns out to be a disastrous move. Within a few years, drought and alcoholism have impoverished the family. Sybylla is the oldest and she has never gotten along with her mother, who grew up in a more refined household and who struggles to maintain both her pride and her gentility against the odds. 

Eventually Sybylla is allowed to stay with her wealthy maternal relatives. Here Sybylla is pampered and spared the backbreaking work of Possum Gully. She can indulge in her love of music and literature. Sybylla has a secret wish to someday become a writer. While staying with her grandmother, Sybylla also meets a number of eligible men, from ranch hand jackaroos to the rich and handsome neighbor, Harold Beechman. But is Sybylla willing to give up her independence and the possibility of a brilliant career to marry?

I won’t give the ending away, but I can tell you that as a reader, Sybylla is very frustrating and the author defies a conventional narrative. As I wrote, the book was written by a very young woman and Sybylla displays all the contradictions and insecurities of a teenager. I remember, I was one too.

Friday, September 6, 2019


I'm a little late but still keen to participate in RIP XIV.  I was a total loser last year and read NOTHING.  Officially I will try for Peril the Third which is read one book between September 1 and October 31 that fits thematically in to the RIP categories:

Mystery * Suspense * Thriller * Dark Fantasy * Gothic * Horror *Supernatural

What could be easier, right?  My four possible picks are:

Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson: I've read her better known novels We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House. I am super curious about her other four. Why are they not as popular? 

Slade House by David Mitchell: I have been meaning to read for the past three years... Will 2019 be the charm? This is the one book that might actually be classified as Horror...

Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie: I've seen the televised version of this with David Suchet but I don't remember who the murderer was luckily! I will probably re-watch the adaptation for fun after I read it.

Snake Ropes by Jess Richards: I honestly don't really know if this book fits any of the prompts.  I have an idea it might be "gothic". I bought it for a read-along hosted by a now defunct podcast a few years ago.  

I'll come back in November and wrap it up if I manage to read any of the planned titles. RIP is a fun exercise to read seasonally which I appreciate and I love seeing what other bloggers list and read as well. 

Happy Reading!