Saturday, 24 May 2008

Review: Rynosseros by Terry Dowling and Blue Tyson by Terry Dowling

This is probably a controversial statement, but Tom 'Blue' Tyson really reminds me of James Bond. Sure, he's not quite as big a womaniser (although he certainly has some affinity with the ladies). But otherwise - he's a bit of a loner, in charge of his own destiny, and in many of the tales he's solving a mystery or a problem just like Bond would be.

'Rynosseros' and 'Blue Tyson' are the first two of four collections of linked short stories, all describing a dry and altered future Australia, with an interesting mixture of aborigianl and arabic (??) cultures. As a concept I really liked the linkages, as the collection kept a cohesion otherwise lacking in some collections. Each story remains individual, but there are is also a definite narrative running through the books. Terry Dowling experiments plays with several different styles. Stories are in both first person and third. Tom Tyson features heavily in most, but in a few he is barely mentioned. Setting so many stories in the same shared universe has other advantages. Dowling has the luxury of revealing his Australia slowly, with deepening commentary about the society and Tom Tyson's past. Definitely enjoyed these books and would like to read the remaining two, "Twilight Beach", and "Rynemonn".

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Review: Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

This is the fourth bookclub book I've read this year and I really enjoyed it. I've not read any Steinbeck before but, from what I knew of 'Of Mice and Men' and 'The Grapes of Wrath', I had always considered him a 'depressing' writer. 'Cannery Row' is not depressing, rather it is whimsical and charming - despite being set during the Great Depression. There's not so much of a story line in 'Cannery Row' (though there is a climax at the end), instead each (short) chapter describes a scene or character from Cannery Row, a strip of land in Monterrey California near a sardine factory.

I got the feeling that much of this book is based on people Steinbeck knew - the characters were described very affectionately, even when they weren't perhaps the most like able of people on the surface. One of the most interesting characters was 'Doc' a marine biologist who runs a business supplying biological specimens. It was great to read of pre-war science in such an unexpected venue. Apparently 'Doc' was based on Steinbeck's real life friend Ed Ricketts, real-life marine biologist and philospher. I was fascinated by the detail of biology and the sea that Steinbeck is able to provide, although also slightly alarmed at how Doc plundered the sea for specimens. Would that happen these days? I doubt it.

Anyway, the major 'storyline' of the piece involves the antics of 'Mack and the boys' who want to give Doc a party in appreciation of his help. Their plans initially have disasterous results and it's a tribute to Steinbeck's writing that I was genuinely concerned that their second attempt would end similarly. Fortunately the book ends on a contented note, with the second-to-last chapter describing the life history of a 'well grown gopher' being one of my favorites. I'd definitely be up for reading the sequel 'Sweet Thursday' (and also some of Steinbeck's more depressing reads too) and I'd love to read more about Ed Ricketts too.