The Book of Dust Volume One: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

la belle sauvage.jpgTitle: The Book of Dust Volume One: La Belle Sauvage

Author: Philip Pullman

Genre: Fantasy, YA Children’s Literature

Publisher: Penguin Books/David Fickling Books

Published: 19th October, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Philip Pullman returns to the world of His Dark Materials with this magnificent first volume of The Book of Dust.

Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his dæmon, Asta, live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford. Across the River Thames (which Malcolm navigates often using his beloved canoe, a boat by the name of La Belle Sauvage) is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live. Malcolm learns they have a guest with them; a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua.

Malcolm was the landlord’s son, an only child…he had friends enough, but he was happiest on his own playing with his daemon Asta in their canoe, which was called La Belle Sauvage.

 

Malcolm Polstead’s life in the pub beside the Thames is safe and happy enough, if uneventful. But during a winter of unceasing rain the forces of science, religion and politics begin to clash, and as the weather rises to a pitch of ferocity, all of Malcolm’s certainties are torn asunder. Finding himself linked to a baby by the name of Lyra, Malcolm is forced to undertake the challenge of his life and to make the dangerous journey that will change him and Lyra forever.

~*~

La Belle Sauvage takes place in 1986, ten years before the events of Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in America), in an alternate Oxford where people’s souls are daemons on the outside of their bodies, and where technology has a Victorian or steampunk feel to it – gyrocopters and zeppelins that speed through the air, and carriages that trundle along the streets, whilst Malcolm and the other children do not play video games, but out in the wilderness. This idyllic life that the characters lead that reminded me of The Wind in the Willows and the idyllic world the Lewis Carroll created in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is not to last. As the winter draws in and the rain that has been threatening to fall begins to make good on its threat, Malcolm, and the barmaid at his parent’s bar, the Trout, will find themselves caught up where religion, science and politics begin to intersect, and interfere in people’s lives. The culprit behind this has a honey sweet voice, and a golden monkey as her daemon, and a charm about her that will draw many children into the organisation she has formed to enforce control over everyone and denounce the work of Lord Asriel and his cohorts. The arrival of Mrs Coulter and the flood sends Malcolm, Alice and baby Lyra on a dangerous journey as they try to save Lyra and Pantalaimon from the clutches of those who want to harm her. In this world, they can trust nobody but themselves, and as the perilous journey will show, the danger of extreme politics and religion will only harm the innocent.

Over two decades later, Pullman has successfully drawn his devoted audience back into the world of Lyra and Pan, and their Oxford. It is an Oxford of wonder and a world influenced by myth and fairy tale, where the dangers of the world are not always people with weapons or weather, but also mystical forces that try and delay or prevent Malcolm, Alice and Lyra from moving on. Farder Coram’s appearance is brief; however, it is important to note due to the role that he and the other gyptians, and the witches, come to play in the His Dark Materials trilogy. For fans of this trilogy, it has been a seventeen year wait for this new series, and it did not fail to impress. It was one that I savoured a little, and meandered a bit with so I could fully appreciate the story. Lyra’s presence is important, as she is the driving force behind Malcolm and Alice’s mission – and baby Pan was adorable. I hope that  their presence will be felt in forthcoming books for The Book of Dust, as I and many other readers enjoy Lyra and her world, and her Oxford wouldn’t be the same without her.

Booktopia

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Music and Freedom by Zoe Morrison

music and freedom.jpg

Title: Music and Freedom

Author: Zoe Morrison

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Vintage Australia/Random House Australia

Published: June 27, 2016

Format: paperback

Pages: 345

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: I have no use for forgiveness, not yet. But other ideas like that,
kindness, for example, I think that is fundamental. Resurrection;
I like that too. And love, of course, love, love, love.

Alice Murray learns to play the piano aged three on an orange orchard in rural Australia. Recognising her daughter’s gift, her mother sends Alice to boarding school in the bleak north of England, and there Alice stays for the rest of her childhood. Then she’s offered a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, and on a summer school in Oxford she meets Edward, an economics professor who sweeps her off her feet.

Alice soon finds that Edwards is damaged, and she’s trapped. She clings to her playing and to her dream of becoming a concert pianist, until disaster strikes. Increasingly isolated as the years unravel, eventually Alice can’t find it in herself to carry on. Then she hears the most beautiful music from the walls of her house …

This novel’s love story is that of a woman who must embrace life again if she is to survive. Inspiring and compelling, it explores the dark terrain of violence and the transformative powers of music and love.

~*~

Music and Freedom is Zoe Morrison’s first novel, and it is a thought-provoking and eloquently told story for a debut novel. Throughout Alice’s life, she has been educated in England, in boarding schools and music programs, where music has given her a sense of self and freedom, though she longs to return home and be free there with her family. Unable to return home, she weds an Oxford economics professor – a man who is troubled and with very traditional ideas of how a woman should act and how a husband should be allowed to treat his wife. As a result of his demands and the abuse she suffers at his hands, something she cannot speak of with the women’s circle she is part of for fear of being blamed for his temper by others, Alice internalises the abuse and her fears. She tries to escape through her music, but is forced to play elsewhere when Edward is home, and soon, even her music becomes a prison when Edward demands she attends a concert and perform a complicated Rachmaninoff piece she is not given ample time to prepare.

The novel is told in short chapters that mirror a diary, and go back and forth between a young, vibrant Alice in the 1940s and 1950s to a disoriented, confused old woman, trying to claw towards a freedom that she has been denied for so long – whether physically by her husband, or emotionally by the thoughts of doubt that imprison her.

This structure shows how Alice became the way she is at the opening of the novel, and slowly, she finds a way to be free with the help of her neighbour in Oxford, Emily, and her son, Richard.

Zoe Morrison deals with the issue of domestic abuse and the silence it can cause, even when attempts are being made to combat it. Alice’s fight for freedom is life long, and only when she is an elderly woman, can she finally find the freedom she desires, and find a way back to music, and a way into a new form of freedom: writing.

An eye-opening and emotional story, it is told with care and sensitivity for Alice, and has incorporated necessary research. This is just one story, one experience in a time when there were different expectations for men and women in some areas, and a time when the lines between what people expected men and women to do began to blur. The setting of Oxford illustrates this in the traditions that Edward holds so dear, and in the desires that Alice has throughout the novel about her music and freedom.

The Word Detective by John Simpson

 

 

Title: The Word Detective: A Life in Words from Serendipity to Selfieworddetective

Author: John Simpson

Genre: Non-fiction

Publisher: Little Brown/Hachette

Published: 11th October 2016

Format: paperback

Pages: 366

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Language is always changing. No one knows where it is going but the best way to future-cast is to look at the past. John Simpson animates for us a tradition of researching and editing, showing us both the technical lexicography needed to understand a word, and the careful poetry needed to construct its definition. He challenges both the idea that dictionaries are definitive, and the notion that language is falling apart. With a sense of humour, an ability to laugh at bureaucracy and an inclination to question the status quo, John Simpson gives life to the colourful characters at the OED and to the English language itself. He splices his stories with entertaining and erudite diversions into the history and origin of words such as ‘kangaroo’, ‘hot-dog’, ‘pommie’, ‘bicycle’, not ignoring those swearwords often classed as ‘Anglo-Saxon’! The book will speak to anyone who uses a dictionary, ‘word people’, history lovers, students and parents.

 

~*~

 

Words are what make us human. They create societies, cultures and nations, and in turn, are also created by societies, cultures and nations. Within each of these groups, sub-groups emerge that develop their own linguistic patterns and dialects, their own words that signify membership to these groups, and that can perhaps exclude those who are not part of these groups. As humans, we are all part of different groups and sub-groups that have shared and non-shared words and language that help us identify with people we have things in common with.

As language can unite and divide us in many ways, understanding each other was a lot harder before the advent of dictionaries. One person using a word may have used it to the exclusion of others, and been smug in the knowledge that only a select few will understand. The advent of a dictionary that all could access has changed things.

Since its humble beginnings in Victorian Times, the Oxford English dictionary has endeavoured to include as many words and their origins as possible. Over the years it has evolved, and it perhaps saw a fair amount of evolution during John Simpson’s thirty-seven years there, from 1976, where he started as a reader, helping compile words to investigate and include, to his time as chief editor, when the dictionary began to enter the digital age, first being compiled on CD ROMS, and eventually, though slowly, moving towards the Internet.

The Word Detective is John Simpson’s journey with the dictionary over the years and the developments, from working out possible new words, to establishing partnerships with the US, Australia and New Zealand, and tracing origins of words from those nations for inclusion, to talks with European counterparts about finding ways to protect European languages and allow cross-cultural and international communication at the same time. Through his journey with words, John also delves into a few personal anecdotes about his family that he links to his love of language and words, and what this meant for his second daughter, who never learnt to talk. John’s high regard for words shines through, and while he marvels at some words and developments, he laments the struggle with some words of finding an origin, and the administrative side wanting to save money.

In his role as a lexicographer, John also describes the process he implemented to recruit new lexicographers, stating that a love of words would simply not be enough. His efforts to move with the times, but also keep traditional methods of working alongside the new ones made for an interesting read. How does someone who has seen so much change, and often in rapid succession over the final years of their tenure, decide how to proceed? In keeping the old and the new, John gave his team the opportunity to learn both methods, where they could use one or the other, use them together or even have a back-up with the manual system should there be a temporary technological glitch – something anyone working with computers must keep in mind.

There were a few amusing anecdotes in relation to some words and phrases. One such phrase was couch potato. Around 2000, this word was put forth for inclusion. When this happened, there was a small demonstration by the British Potato Council. They were protesting the inclusion of the phrase in the dictionary because it was derogatory to the poor potatoes who could not stand up for themselves. As John tells it, the argument was peaceful and civilised, and the whole issue died down after the company received the publicity it was after. With the inclusion of the couch potato entry, the OED settled back down into their lexicographical den.

Reading this story was intriguing and eye-opening. It opened up the world of lexicography and dictionary compilation to the reader, and made me realise that the dictionary did not just appear out of nowhere, that there has been decades, centuries even, of hard work going into compiling words – relevant and irrelevant, used and unused into a book or online resource for everyone to use when necessary. A fascinating read, especially if you are interested in the development of language.

The Looking Glass House by Vanessa Tait

The Looking Glass House by Vanessa Tait

*I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher*

9781782396826

Title: The Looking Glass House
Author: Vanessa Tait
Publisher: Corvus
Category: Fiction
Pages: 304
Available formats: Print
Publication Date: 29/7/15
RRP: AU$27.99
Synopsis: What happened before Alice fell down the rabbit hole?

Oxford,1862. As Mary Prickett takes up her post as governess to the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, she is thrust into a strange new world. Mary is poor and plain and desperate for change but the little girls in her care see and understand far more than their naive new teacher. And there is another problem: Mary does not like children, especially the precocious Alice Liddell.

When Mary meets Charles Dodgson, the Christ Church mathematics tutor, at a party at the Deanery, she wonders if he may be the person to transform her life. Flattered by his attentions, Mary begins to believe that she could be more than just an overlooked, dowdy governess.

One sunny day, as Mary chaperones the Liddells on a punting trip, Mr. Dodgson tells the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But Mary is determined to become Mr. Dodgson’s muse ­ and will turn all the lives around her topsy-turvy in pursuit of her obsession.

~*~

The Looking Glass House, written by Alice Liddell’s great-granddaughter Vanessa Tait, invites readers into the world behind the very first children’s book ever written that wasn’t didactic or moralistic. So when I received this book to review from Allen and Unwin, it was one that I saved for last, because the premise sounded so intriguing, and it was.
The story focuses the relationship Mary Prickett, governess to Alice and her sisters, Lorina and Edith, believes she is cultivating with the maths tutor of Christ Church College of Oxford University, Charles Dodgson, known better to the world as Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. She is the kind of anti-hero some novels have, not quite evil but not quite likeable at times. I could not make up my mind about her, but found some things she did rather dislikeable, though there were times when the reader could feel some sympathy for her.
The story is based on family tales and diaries and letters handed down to Vanessa over the years from Alice to her son Caryl to Vanessa and her family. This gives it an authenticity that another author perhaps would find hard to come by, and would have to fictionalise many things. Though Tait fictionalised her family story, as she tells us in a note at the start, it makes wonderful attempts to fill in the gaps that are said to be there as to why Charles Dodgson’s friendship with Alice Liddell ended so abruptly. When I learnt about this in a Children’s Literature class, it stayed with me and I have wanted to know more about it ever since. Reading The Looking Glass House gave me an insight into this world, and what the cause for the end of the friendship may have been.
It was an intriguing read, and one that I hope to go back to at some stage.