One silver lining of the Covid-era (for me, at least) has been the abundance of online book events. I first encountered Pip Williams on a Facebook Live event hosted by Dymocks, and was fascinated by the history underpinning The Dictionary of Lost Words.
I have always been a word nerd, with a preference for puns and a sucker for Scrabble. Surprisingly, I was not familiar with the origins of the first Oxford Dictionary. (I’ve added The Surgeon of Crowthorne, aka The Professor and The Madman by Simon Winchester to my gargantuan ‘to-be-read’ pile…) Williams’ fictional account considers the role of gender and class in deciding what comprised the English language in the late 1800s. The creation of the Dictionary was an early form of crowd sourcing, with the public invited to provide examples of words in a variety of contexts to be considered for inclusion. However, the team of editors was predominately well-educated, white men. Consequently, many expressions and nuances of meaning were not included, begging the question ‘was it possible to truly capture the English language in the Oxford Dictionary’? In today’s society, there appears to be a greater understanding and/or appreciation that language is dynamic and culture-specific, with attempts to capture idiosyncrasies and slang in editions such as the Macquarie Dictionary and even the Urban Dictionary.
The politically-charged backdrop of the story resonates today, with organised campaigns and rallies to protest against the status quo. However, rather than protesting for racial equality, this story provides an insight to the efforts of women in their struggle for the right to vote.
At its core, however, this is a story about love. If ever there was a word in the English language that seemed inadequate, this would be it. This is a story about the love between a father and daughter, the love of friendship, the love of words, the love of independence, the contrast between love and desire, the love of the sisterhood, romantic love, and the love of soulmates.
Yes, I loved this book. Highly recommended for word nerds and historical fiction fanatics.
I’m relatively new to memoirs. Many years ago, I used to devour autobiographies or biographies, eager to learn more about public figures who may have piqued my interest. I enjoyed the ‘inside scoop’, poring over others’ lives in the context of the particular social and political period. Memoirs, however, are very different. They’re not about setting the record straight or documenting a history. Memoirs are reflective pieces, striving to make sense of memories, events, feelings and experiences.
I first heard Susan Francis speak on the ‘So You Want To Be A Writer’ podcast, having no idea who she was. She was not, at that stage at least, a renowned public figure or celebrity. She sounded very much like a “normal” woman. It was astonishing, then, when she alluded to a number of family secrets and mysteries that would take her not only across the country, but across the world. She faced her fears head-on, aware that she could uncover events that might rattle her to the core and question everything she held dear.
Mark Twain once wrote, “The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction needs to be credible.” Susan Francis’ memoir is, indeed, incredible. After grappling for many years with notions of identity and belonging, her peace and joy was shortlived, and abruptly followed by a complicated grief. This is so much more than a retelling and unravelling of family secrets, or a recount of shocking events. This is an intimate, honest and at times confronting piece of writing. There is a sense that this memoir was a cathartic experience, and consequently as a reader, I travelled the highs and lows of delight and pain right by her side. Susan Francis might sound like a “normal” woman, but her determination, sense of purpose and courage are extraordinary.
The Deceptions, by Suzanne Leal, is a really clever book. It delves deeply into human nature and examines the choices we make both in everyday life and in dire circumstances. Told in alternating voices and across different time periods, the truth about the past unravels with unforeseen twists and turns along the way. The horrors of war are dealt with honestly, but not gratuitously, and I was once again struck by the resilience of those who lived through such chilling atrocities. When I finished reading the book, I reflected on the cast of characters and their own personal hardships. It dawned on me that the title itself was reflected in big and little deceptions throughout – suffering because of the deception of others, causing suffering through intentional deceit, well-intentioned deception, and the ultimate deception resulting in a significant ripple effect over generations. Deceptions are, regrettably, part of the human experience, and this cleverly crafted novel dives into the murkiness and invites the reader to examine their own motivations and responses. I know this book will stay with me for a long time.
Please find here an assorted mix of what I tend to read - new books, old books, birthday gifts, gifts to myself, books from my to-be-read pile, Book Group books, fiction, non-fiction, memoirs - basically a weird assortment of goodies!
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