3 March 2022

The Canberra Bookshelf: love, loss and landscape

| Barbie Robinson
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Book cover depicting a horse

Lucy Neave’s Believe in Me is “wise and tender”. Image: Supplied.

Professor Gail Jones writes of Lucy Neave’s Believe in Me (UQP) that it is ‘astute, tender and wise’. The conceit is a telling of the narrator’s mother’s life seen through her own, an effort to ‘inhabit the consciousness’ of her parent by piecing together what she knows, what she is told and what she deduces from observation – all this to understand herself better.

Bet (Bethany) tells Sarah’s story – Sarah, whose life is a strange mix of duty and determination, of love and disappointment, faith and despair. Sarah is sent to accompany a preacher on a travelling mission to Idaho, becomes pregnant and ends up in a home for unmarried mothers in Sydney in the early seventies.

This is such finely written fiction, cleverly immersing us in the minds of its women and their painful spaces and silences, the impenetrable mysteries of their pasts, the rolling down of loss from grandmother to mother to child. In essence, it’s a story of love.

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Love is also a dominant theme of Colin Campbell’s emotionally potent collection of verse, simply entitled Poems (Stringybark Publishing). Colin was born to an unmarried mother in Suffolk during World War 2, his father returning home after the war to a wife and family. His poems speak powerfully of the pain of this beginning and his admiration and love for his mother, along with his enduring love for the place of his birth and early life.

In language that echoes Gerard Manley Hopkins and Dylan Thomas, Colin Campbell writes with a practised command of word and rhythm. Some of the works are written in the lilting cadence of the Suffolk dialect and all carry that voice, even his works set in Australia.

This is a book to delight those who care for words and the power they have to evoke place and time, sensation and memory. One cannot help but be moved by it. The sell-out of Colin’s first print run means that the book is a scarce jewel unless he is convinced to reprint.

Book cover depicting man and woman

This dashing Regency romance is from Canberra author Samara Parish. Image: Supplied.

Considering love of another sort, it is appropriate to turn to Samara Parish and her Regency romance, How to Survive a Scandal (Hachette Book Group, USA and Australia). This is the first of a series of three Samara has been contracted to write. It’s very good to hear of publishing success like this for a Canberra writer.

In this book, the author has used the conventions of the Regency romance form but with the added twist of a wealthy heroine who becomes married to an apparently working-class man, an industrialist no less, who has invented and produced a steam engine on his rural estate. Though Benedict, the dashing and kindly hero, appears to have sloughed off all notions of nobility, he turns out to be wealthy and well-connected.

While aiming to appeal to the reader of romantic fiction, such works provide insights into aspects of British history. This one focusses on the social changes emerging during the Industrial Revolution and on the lot of women, whose lives were determined by the expectation to ‘marry well’ and hence, to develop and display ‘womanly arts’ rather than intelligence.

Samara’s second book How to Deceive a Duke was published in January 2022.

Book cover Uluru

Australia – A Photographic Journey displays Scott Leggo’s visually arresting photographs. Image: Supplied.

If I’m to persist in linking this month’s books by a love theme, I must attribute a grand love of the Australian landscape to photographer Scott Leggo, who is known for his spectacular and expansive wall works and has now published Australia – A Photographic Journey (Scott Leggo P/L).

The book has a sense of the lavish about it with excellently-composed and executed images from the coast, the desert, the rainforests, the mountains and the rivers.

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Some of these images will be familiar, but many will be places waiting for us to discover. The landscape photographer perforce spends a great deal of time waiting for that ‘perfect shot’, researching and preparing with the same meticulous care as the wildlife photographer.

Nature doesn’t stand still; even landscapes shift with times and seasons. This power is superbly captured in Scott’s book and with travel gradually opening up there’s plenty of inspiration here for readers to plan Australian road trips.

Barbie Robinson is co-founder and a content creator for Living Arts Canberra, a not-for-profit media outfit supporting arts and community in the Canberra region and books worldwide through its website, podcast interviews and a 24/7 internet radio station.

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