littlesmackerel

Writing, concerts, theatre and a little bit of travel

Jane Austen: Persuasion

I always have a book, usually fiction, on the go. More often than not, it has been written in the last ten years. But, particularly at this time of Coronavirus pandemic, I sometimes feel as though the 21st century world is ‘too much with me’ and it’s refreshing to immerse myself in the fiction of another time. I was delighted to realise that I hadn’t ever read Jane Austen’s last completed novel, Persuasion.

For me, the plot was not particularly important and, although this is the only time when Austen’s protagonist, at the ‘elderly’ age of twenty-eight, is ‘mature’, the story was not all that different from other Jane Austen books I have read. I disagree that it is a ‘Cinderella’ story — as described by Penguin Classics: Anne, the point-of-view character/ protagonist is past her first ‘bloom’, but although her father has been unwisely frivolous with his money, she is hardly down and out. She has turned down the proposal of Captain Wentworth on the advice of her family because he is not of sufficiently high social status. When, after eight years absence, he returns from the Napoleonic Wars, wealthier, and therefore, in the eyes of her family, more desirable, it is thought that Anne is probably no longer of interest to him. But we learn, at the end of the novel, that their feelings have been smouldering throughout that long separation.

What intrigued me was the way that Austen uses place only as a back-drop to her writing — there isn’t much description at all. The hard rocks and solid wall of Lyme Regis do indeed provide a fitting setting for poor Louisa’s accident (allowing the opportunity for her to fall in love with Captain Benwick, who reads poetry to her during her convalescence), and the society of Bath seems to clatter on, appropriately supporting confabulations, gossip and liaisons. But the heart of this novel, for me, was the conversation — particularly, the internal dialogue of Anne. Austen also uses a device known as free indirect discourse, where a character’s voice (Anne’s) is mediated by the voice of the author.

For example, early in the book, Anne’s internal dialogue when, for the first time since their engagement was broken, she must see Captain Wentworth, who has returned from fighting in the Napoleonic Wars (Mary is her sister):

“It’s over! it’s over!” she repeated to herself again and again, in nervous gratitude. “The worst is over!”

‘Mary talked, but she could not attend. She had seen him. They had met. They had been once more in the same room.

‘Soon, however, she began to reason with herself, and try to be feeling less. Eight years, almost eight years had passed. since all had been given up. How absurd to be resuming the agitiation which such an interval had banished into distance and indistinctness!’

And near the end of the novel, Anne and Captain Wentworth secretly exchange words and looks, indicating that their feelings for each other are, if anything, stronger than ever. Charles Musgrove politely escorts Anne home, although he has an appointment at a gun shop, when, out of the blue, Captain Wentworth comes into view. By happy coincidence he is able to continue to escort Anne home, enabling Musgrove to go to his appointment. When Anne arrives home:

‘At last Anne was home again, and happier than any one in that house could have conceived. All the surprise and suspense, and every other painful part of the morning dissipated by this conversation, she re-entered the house so happy as to be obliged to find an alloy in some momentary apprehensions of its being impossible to last. An interval of meditation, serious and grateful, was the best corrective of everything dangerous in such high-wrought felicity; and she went to her room, and grew steadfast and fearless in the thankfulness of her enjoyment.’

Other marriages in the book seem to be concerned with property — as indeed many marriages in that time must have been. But in the final chapter Austen outlines what are surely her own views of marriage: ‘When any two young people take it into their heads to marry, they are pretty sure by perseverence to carry their point, be they ever so poor, or ever so imprudent, or ever so little likely to be necessary to each other’s ultimate comfort. This may be bad morality to conclude with, but I believe it to be the truth; and if such parties succeed, how should a Captain Wentworth and an Anne Elliot, with the advantage of maturity of mind, consciousness of right, and one independent fortune between them, fail of bearing down every opposition?’

I am sure that there has been much discussion about the title, Persuasion. It is insinuated in conversations throughout the book, or it may be that the maturity gained through the long break in their relationship has strengthened the couple with a kind of universal persuasion — this is no frivolous liaison.

Supernova

So far the movies I’ve seen this year have all been about death and/ or dementia. This hasn’t been a deliberate choice, although obviously something attracts me to them. From my perspective, with each movie, there has been an even better more beautiful dimension offered.

Tusker, a writer, played by Stanley Tucci, sits outside one evening with his partner’s niece (who is perhaps in her early teens) looking at the evening sky — showing her how you can see the Milky Way but also talking about infinity: the unimaginable vastness of space. She doesn’t quite understand. Who does? And maybe Tusker, who has early onset dementia is soothed by contemplating this unknown. He knows, but can’t admit, that he is now unable to write and won’t be able to complete his novel.

Tusker and his long-time partner Sam (played by Colin Firth), try to confront this illness by going on a road trip up north to the Lake District — brilliant incidental humour, they think that the Sat Nav lady sounds like Margaret Thatcher. They have the shared jokes and irritations of a typical longterm couple, as the Guardian review says, they have ‘a sweet and gentle chemistry’

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/sep/22/supernova-review-colin-firth-stanley-tucci-toronto.

But of course underlying (or indeed dominating) all of this is Tusker’s illness. Tusker is getting worse — they both know this. One time when Sam stops the van to get provisions, Tusker wanders off and gets lost. At a family gathering (everyone silently acknowledges that it’s a kind of farewell celebration) Tusker is unable to read a speech and Sam has to take over. Inevitably, when rummaging through Tusker’s things, Sam finds a tape to be played post mortem and suicide medication.

Throughout the movie we see in Sam’s expressive face — particularly Colin Firth’s eyes — the incredible toll this is for Sam. Firstly, he wants to prevent Tusker from carrying out his plans, then he ultimately comes around to seeing that the most loving thing to do is to be there to help him.

More than any of the other movies I’ve seen about euthanasia, Supernova takes us to the impact on the partner. As the illness progresses, the natural thing to do is to do more for the partner. But that isn’t what the partner wants — in this movie we see how very much Tusker needs to be in control — this need is paramount.

The success of this movie hinges on the fine acting of Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci and the direction of Harry Macqueen (who also wrote the script). At the very end, after the screen has been grey for a few seconds, it is Colin Firth himself who sits at a grand piano and plays Elgar’s Salut d’Amour — a favourite piece of Tusker’s. Sam is now alone.

Sally Rooney

I have just discovered Sally Rooney. She’s a very gifted writer still in her twenties, whose work has won numerous awards including longlisting in the Booker Prize. Her debut novel, Conversations with Friends, was published in 2017. She writes quickly and lucidly — she wrote 100,000 words of Conversations with Friends in three months.

There are two things that I especially like about Rooney’s writing: she writes about what she knows, the world of young people at school and university (Trinity College, Dublin) in the 2010s and she writes very strong and therefore memorable characters. As Claire Armitstead has said in The Guardian, what Rooney produces is no ‘callow university novel… her characters are inhabitants of the networked society: they communicate by instant messaging, texts and email, but what it means to them is singular’.

Frances, the protagonist in Conversations with Friends is a student at Dublin University and an aspiring writer. She has a close friendship with Bobbi, indeed, in the past they have been sexual partners. But when the story opens they are good friends who perform spoken word together and are hence a part of the Dublin literary scene — and that’s how Frances becomes involved with older married man (in his mid to late thirties), Nick. Frances is still in her twenties, and so many of these experiences are new to her. They are described candidly and vividly.

How many love stories have I read? Rooney’s Normal People is fresh and profound. It could be about love across a social divide — Marianne is from an unhappy upper middle class family and Connell’s mother works as a cleaner for the family — he and Marianne go to the same school. But it is far more than that. It is a love based on understanding and friendship that weathers other sexual partners and so much more. When, at the end of the story, Connell wins a scholarship to the US (they have both been scholarship students at Trinity), Marianne says, “You should go… I’ll always be here. You know that”.

The characters for both of these novels seem to have grown from a short story written by Rooney: Mr Salary. It is published in a Faber chapbook. The story explores a kind of underpinning love — and it is between Sukie, a young student in her early twenties and Nathan, sixteen years older than her, who as an in-law member of the family provides her with accommodation. They kiss passionately on one occasion but other gestures are tender and caring. Sukie says, “My love for him felt so total and so annihilating that it was often impossible for me to see him clearly at all” [page 20].

Although Rooney’s stories may jump around from a character’s recollections to straight narrative, these aspects entwine in a very readable and natural way. And sometimes a choice of word jumps out as particularly apt, such as at the beginning of Mr Salary when Nathan meets Sukie at the airport, Sukie recounts: “My suitcase was ugly and I was trying to carry it with a degree of irony” [page 1].

Rooney’s latest book, Beautiful World, Where Are You, is due out in September this year. I am looking forward to it.

The Father: an experience of dementia

In a review in The Guardian, Benjamin Lee describes this movie as showing ‘the bone-chilling horror of living with dementia’:

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/jan/27/the-father-review-anthony-hopkins-olivia-colman .

Up to the time of seeing this movie I had imagined that the experience of dementia might be worse for the loved-ones, family close to the dementia sufferer. I now feel differently.

Florian Zeller, the writer-director of this movie first wrote a play, drawing on the experience of being very close to his grandmother who started to experience dementia when he was fifteen. Zeller said, ‘we go through that labyrinth… without being absolutely aware of where we are going’ — life is a puzzle and a piece is always missing.

The brilliance of this movie (and presumably the play, which I haven’t seen) is that we, the audience, get some insight by experiencing that labyrinth. For the first few minutes the movie seems to convey a dutiful daughter (Anne, played by Olivia Colman) visiting her father (Anthony, played by Anthony Hopkins) in a well-to-do flat in London — we assume it is his flat. He is listening to a counter tenor solo from Purcell’s King Arthur — an educated gentlemanly person. But then, we the audience, start to become confused. Is it his flat?

Both Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman are superb — sustaining this horror of confusion. Anthony in his early eighties, is still quite agile — he does crossword puzzles, can make a cup of tea, when the CD sticks he takes it out and cleans it — quite self sufficient in many ways. But who are these people coming into his flat? Intruders? Does Anne have a husband? Why doesn’t his younger daughter ever visit? (The audience finds out that she died in an accident some years ago — for a short time Anthony thinks that one of the carers reminds him of her — why does her painting sometimes vanish from its place over the mantlepiece?) And although the movie mainly shows life from Anthony’s perspective, there are glimpses of the tension caused by the distruption to Anne’s life. Sometimes Anthony says things that are hurtful — she is not the favourite daughter — Anne gives a momentary wince and then her attention returns to his needs.

Anthony constantly mislays his watch — is sometimes obsessive about the time (although it doesn’t really matter) — he has a ‘safe’ place, where his watch can usually be found by Anne. One time there is a fork there too. Is Anne going to live in France — abandoning him? He repeats the phrase that his daughter wouldn’t go to Paris because the French don’t speak English. But for much of the time he seems to be a fairly agile, well-dressed elderly man.

By the end of the movie the audience knows that Anne did go and live in France, but she visits her father frequently. He did have to go into a nursing home — something that, earlier in the movie, he said he would refuse to do. And his dementia has progressed — he seems to be completely lost, crying, and wanting his mother. The nurse looking after him tries to comfort him — a treat would be a walk in the park. What a hauntingly terrible life.

An Opera with No Singing!

This is my kind of opera. I have to confess that I don’t like ‘Grand Opera’. It’s mainly because of the style of singing — so thick, so much vibrato that it’s sometimes hard to know exactly where the note is. Thinking of all of the effort and skill that the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, Kiri Te Kanawa and Plácido Domingo have put into their work, I know that this is a sacreligious thing to say — I just can’t appreciate it. I like a pure singing voice; a soaring counter tenor or the bell-like quality of a boy soprano.

On Tuesday 30th March, a wind ensemble of the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) under the direction of Nick Deutsch (former artistic director) put on a one hour performance of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. This mode of production of the music would have been familiar to Mozart — in his day, with no means of recording for radio or disc, people were familiarised with the latest music of his operas by wind ensembles (harmoniemusik), who presumably performed in public places.

In this case the ensemble was two oboes (including the leader, Nick Deutsch), two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns and one non wind instrument, a double bass, which provided, I thought, a necessary string texture that helped to blend the melodic lines.

Nick Deutsch

The program notes (written by Phil Lambert, ANAM Librarian) gave us a synopsis of the story, which even an opera philistine like me is familiar with.

The action unforlds at the palace of Count Almaviva in Seville. It is the wedding day of Figaro, valet to the Count, and Susanna, maid to the Countess. The Count has had his eye on Susanna for some time, and hopes furtively to invoke the ancient privilege of ‘droit de seigneur’ on her wedding night. Further obstacles in the young couple’s path include middle-aged Marcellina, who claims a legal hold over Figaro, and Cherubino, the horny page-boy whose sudden explosion into puberty has thrown the household into mayhem. The last piece in the puzzle is the young Countess Rosina, sadly aware of her husband’s infidelities but powerless to stop loving him. She and Susanna realise they must join forces to bring the Count to account.

When I looked at the program I assumed that a narrator would recount the story while excerpts of music were played. Little did I realise that actor/ writer Bethany Simons was waiting in the wings. Bethany acted out and narrated her version of the story — covering all of those characters with gentle reference to the present day — particularly the practice of misogyny. It worked really well. Marcellina was distinguished by a slight American accent and (miming of) smoking and Cherubino was very much the cool (or maybe ‘sick’) adolescent. And there were just enough amusing asides, such as asking the wind ensemble when the Susanna character prepares for her wedding — hey, are you guys available for weddings?

Bethany’s acting and writing was brilliant, as was the playing of the wind ensemble who took the overture at a rattling good pace with lots of clean double-tonguing and then played the tunes of well-known arias with silky smoothness.

Blackbird: a movie about euthanasia

From my limited experience I’ve found that people are often critical of fictional accounts of euthanasia — it is such a delicate topic. It delves into religious beliefs, our own fears of death and particularly the question: is a life ever not worth living?

The movie Blackbird, directed by Roger Michell, is based on an earlier Danish film (2014), Silent Death. I haven’t seen that movie. In this film we are in an environment of privilege where an upper middle class family comes together in The Hamptons, New York State. Lily (played by Susan Sarandon) has a degenerative terminal disease. Her husband (played by Sam Neill) is a doctor. He has been able to procure appropriate drugs for Lily to take to end her life — euthanasia is illegal. Lily has decided that her time has come and she wants to die before she becomes further disabled.

The family comes together: two daughters, one is extremely uptight, the other seems very unstable and has been the ‘black sheep’ of the family — their partners, a son, and Lily’s old friend who has been a part of the family for many years. They know that the purpose of the gathering is to farewell Lily.

the daughters

But of course family members react in different ways. This must be the case in so many such highly-fraught situations. For a while it seems that one of the children will report her father. I was so worried that the loving Sam Neill character would end up before the courts. One of the daughters sees the father kissing Lily’s old friend in a more than friendly manner. She thinks this is unforgivable. But Lily knows about this. The two have had an affair and Lily seems contented to know that they will have each other for support after she has gone. Lily’s final wish is to celebrate with a Christmas dinner, even though it isn’t Christmas time. Ultimately everything is resolved and we know that Lily will go peacefully to sleep in the arms of her daughters.

Benjamin Lee, reviewing the movie at the time of the 2019 Toronoto Film Festival, finds the movie uninspiring and ‘boringly reheated’ — by this he suggests that there are excellent actors, somewhat miscast, working on a plot that we’ve all seen before. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/sep/07/blackbird-review-sarandon-and-winslets-lifeless-death-drama I disagree. I think that the question of euthanasia is of immense importance and possibly the most heart-wrenching decision some of us will ever have to make. To look at it from various perspectives and to revisit it seems worthwhile. I am in favour absolutely, in theory — but when confronted by a particular case — is this person’s life worth living? — the question is by no means straighforward, no matter how firmly one may hold one’s theoretical views. It is therefore interesting to have set this story in the heart of a privileged family — their wealth does not provide extra resources to bring to bear on an agonising situation.

The Sleeping Beauty: a refreshing interpretation of Respighi

Lockdown caused postponement of the opening night of the Victorian Opera’s presentation of Respighi’s The Sleeping Beauty — fortunately the delay was just a few days. A review in Melbourne’s The Age newspaper was rather uncomplimentary: ‘it felt more weary than wondrous’. I totoally disagree. I went away thinking that here was a stage production so imaginative that no amount of fancy 3D filming or other complex technology could have improved it.

The story is the well-known fairy tale. A king and queen have been unable to conceive a child. At last they do and a little princess is born, but the jealous Green Fairy (who has been excluded from celebratory festivities) pronounces that on her 20th birthday the princess will prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a deep sleep. This happens, and the whole castle is put under a spell of deep sleep. But this is ameliorated a little when the Blue Fairy pronounces that one day the princess will be awoken by the kiss of a prince. In the story I remember from childhood, a bramble hedge grows thickly around the castle. In this opera, humming spiders wrap the castle in their silvery web.

Respighi wrote this opera in 1921, straight after the devastation of World War I and the Spanish Flu. It was written for a puppet theatre in Naples, where the puppets were marionettes and the singers were in the orchestra pit. In this 2021 production, the singers are onstage with the puppets, working in a parallel universe. There are clear comparisons with the state of Italy in 1921 and the state of our world in 2021 — these are made subtly, even when a puppet, ‘Mr Dollar Cheque’ looks remarkably like Donald Trump. I found this new kind of interaction refreshing, where a character is both a puppet and, standing just a metre or so away, a singer — or, in the case of the Princess and the Prince, a singer and a ballet dancer. The use of lighting was, literally, fantastic — particularly when we, the audience, were enmeshed in the spiders’ web spun around the sleeping palace.

The Age review https://www.theage.com.au/culture/opera/exquisite-voices-save-opera-that-proves-more-weary-than-wondrous-20210224-p575c9.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_feed suggests that there is some uncertainty as to whether this production is for adults or children: ‘The huge puppets, slapstick humour, dancing and running around feels entirely for children. There are also moments of darkness, grief and references intended for adults – some work, some do not. (Please spare us the Donald Trump cameo. It’s just not funny anymore). It was difficult to grasp the greater moral lesson amidst the madness.’ I found none of this confusion. It didn’t occur to me once that this production was aimed particularly for children. Although the whole idea of a palace going into ‘lockdown’ in a deep sleep is very close to the bone, through fantasy, I was taken there willingly and I left the theatre feeling uplifted and refreshed.

Green Fairy

The music was superb. I was particularly entranced by Kathryn Radcliffe’s Blue Fairy and Juel Rigall’s Green Fairy. Orchestra Victoria was led by Jenny Khafagi conducted by Phoebe Briggs. The director of this brilliant production was Nancy Black.

Ammonite: another overlooked Victorian woman

Recently I reviewed a concert of women composers from the late nineteenth/ early twentieth century most of whom, at the time of their work, were overlooked. The movie Ammonite, directed and written by Francis Lee looks at the life of Mary Anning, a female paleontologist of the mid nineteenth century who lived with her mother in Lyme Regis, Dorset, England and eeked out an existence mainly selling fossil trinkets to tourists. Mary’s substantial discoveries were overlooked or, more often than not, credited to someone else — inevitably a man.

Mary must have been largely self educated, with some help from her father, who had died long before the time conveyed in this movie. A girl from a poor family, it is unlikely she even completed the equivalent of primary school education, but she trained herself to be a knowledgeable and keenly observant scientist. The Mary we meet at the beginning of the movie (superbly played by Kate Winslet) is gruff and terse, crunching over the pebbly beach in her simple check dress — her eye ever alert for an interesting specimen.

Presumably to help the box office, Francis Lee has added a lesbian love story to his depiction of Mary’s life. This may or may not have taken place. Certainly it is known that she did establish a close friendship with Charlotte Murchison (played by Saoirse Ronan) left with Mary by her imperious paleontologist husband to recover from the psychological trauma of a miscarriage. At first both women resent this arrangement. Charlotte becomes ill — the effects of a chill after swimming from a bathing machine (supplied by the hotel where she is staying). If Mary wants to swim, or explore the seabed, she plunges in in her undergarments. (A Guardian review of this movie accurately describes women of this time as ‘bodiced and bonneted’.)

Charoltte collapses on Mary’s doorstep and there seems to be no other option but for Mary to care for her. And gradually a tenderness develops.

Tension develops between the two women when the local doctor invites them to a musical soirée. We can see how much more relaxed the upper middle class Charlotte is in this kind of company — also, she gets on rather well with a woman who may have been Mary’s former lover — one can only speculate. But the relationship between Mary and Charlotte becomes passionate. Even Mary’s mother (for whom the couple has had to quieten nocturnal love-making) seems to understand Mary’s sadness when a carriage is sent for Charlotte to return to her husband in London.

Some time later Charlotte invites Mary to visit her in London. At what to her is great expense, Mary takes a boat and arrives at Charlotte’s London residence. In a bit of cliché, the maid directs her to the servants’ door and Mary has to explain that she is a friend of the mistress of the house. Charlotte has secretly set up a room for Mary, assuming that she would want to come and live with her and her husband — the room is right next to Charlotte’s room, perfectly situated for dalliance. I did think that an intelligent and sensitive woman such as Charlotte would realise that Mary would be unable to abandon her life’s work and particularly that she would be quite out of place and uncomfortable in the palatial surroundings. Such a gesture would have suited Charlotte well but shows no empathy for Mary. Mary cannot bring herself to stay and instead goes to the British Museum where she sees one of her discoveries on display (it wasn’t clear to me whether this was labelled as a discovery of Mary Anning or attributed to someone else).

I had not known of Mary Anning before seeing this movie. It is good to be reminded of the gruelling hard work and abysmal lack of recognition of women such as her. Mary died in her forties of breast cancer.

Margaret Ann Spence: Joyous Lies

On the front cover of Joyous Lies by Margaret Ann Spence we are told, ‘If plants can protect their young, why can’t humans do the same?’ Then, in an extract before the prologue, Maelle remembers the time she was told of her mother’s ‘accident’, which, as she guessed, turned out to be her mother’s death: ‘Maelle saw the lie in her aunt’s eyes’. Intriguing – children can sense the truth. That kind of saccharine coating is not a protection. And so the scene is set, plunging the reader into a drama with twists and turns of family relationships that provide the essence of this beautifully written book.

The Prologue is written from Maelle’s mother’s point of view and we are with her just before the fatal ‘accident’ at night in a laboratory – questions about her motive for going there and the detail of what happened will lurk, distracting Maelle from her PhD research on plants’ communication.

Most of the book is set in a commune established by Maelle’s grandparents when Neil, her grandfather, was a Vietnam War draft resister. Maelle was about ten years’ old when her mother died. She went to live on the commune with her grandparents and the various others, mainly of their generation, who had kept it together since the 1970s. There we can smell the nourishing meals of freshly-picked vegetables, the bread from the oven, and we can feel the softness of the angora, spun and knitted by Maelle’s grandmother. But there are also knowing looks exchanged, secrets, half-truths.

Most of the story is from the point of view of Maelle as a young adult with a scientific career before her – sometimes we see through the eyes of her grandmother, Johanna, who finds her partner of fifty years, Neil, a ‘grizzled man’ who ‘kept tangling in her mind with his golden youth’. In spite of the communards’ values, much of the time Neil seems to treat Johanna with disdain.

Early in the book Maelle meets Zachary, a young psychiatrist, and there is an instant attraction. When, after a short time, Maelle takes him to the commune to meet her family, Zachary acts strangely and some extraordinary links emerge that shed new light on the mystery of Maelle’s mother’s death and further divert Maelle from her studies, threatening to undo a great deal more than her relationship with Zachary.

In tandem with the mystery prompted by Zachary’s reactions when he visits the commune is another equally compelling plot line. Neil agrees to chic thirty-something Pamela Highbury making a documentary about the commune. This poses a huge threat to Johanna, who wrongly assumes that Pamela is having an affair with Neil. And given that Pamela claims to be interested in ‘documenting human failings’, the project threatens to unravel the essential fabric of the commune. The stiletto-heeled film-maker will disapprove of the ‘feudal power’ under which the women have been engaged in traditional roles such as pottery and dairy, and the men in more strenuous activities.

But the question underpinning Pamela’s investigation is fascinating to the reader (as well as to Pamela’s potential audience): what became of the Hippies? Feeding into this question are matters of coping in old age; working on a commune doesn’t provide retirement benefits. Johanna and Neil aren’t legally married. Does Johanna have rights as his partner? To what extent has the commune genuinely adhered to a non-capitalist way of life?

When, near the end of the book, everyone comes together to view Pamela’s documentary, I was fleetingly reminded of the end of an Agatha Christie novel, when everything comes together in resolution. To the communards’ (and the reader’s) relief, some ‘lies’ are mercifully concealed.

Joyous Lies is superbly crafted: deftly paced and captivating. What is more engaging than a child wanting to find out how and why her mother died? And now that those people of 1970s ‘Flower Power’ are facing old age, it is intriguing to ask, what is life like for them now? Do they still live by those ‘hippy’ ideals? There are strong characters too – I was particularly drawn to Johanna and to Maelle as she pieces together what actually happened to her mother.

Margaret Ann Spence grew up in Melbourne, Australia, but has spent most of her life in the United States where she worked as an award-winning journalist. After some years she moved to Arizona, joined a writers’ group and decided to take up writing fiction. On her website https://www.margaretannspence.com/about.html Margaret says, ‘I write about women and their families, and the secrets that lie beneath’. Margaret’s first novel, Lipstick on the Strawberry, was published by The Wild Rose Press Inc in 2017. It won the Romantic Elements Category in the First Coast Romance Writers 2015 Beacon Contest, it was a finalist for the 2019 Eric Hoffer Book Award and in the 2019 Next Generation Indie Awards. Joyous Lies is Margaret’s second novel. Do get hold of a copy of this suspenseful book. Details of how to obtain it are below.

Margaret Ann Spence, Joyous Lies, The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
First Edition, 2021
Trade Paperback ISBN 978-1-5092-3472-1 Digital ISBN 978-1-5092-3473-8 Published in the United States of America.

The book is now available on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Joyous-Lies-Margaret-Ann-Spence/dp/1509234721 and will soon be available from Barnes & Noble and other good book stores.

A Second ‘Live’ Concert for 2021

This chamber music concert was held in Melbourne at 45 Downstairs — an old warehouse turned into an arts venue that is an excellent space for concerts, readings and plays and has an art gallery where one can browse, sipping a pre-concert drink.

The concert was performed by the Rathdowne Quartet — a group of brilliant young players who studied at the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM), they are led by Kyla Matsuura-Miller.

Rathdowne Quartet

The first item was a string quartet by Schumann that I wasn’t familiar with, Opus 41, number 3. Tender playing in the slow movements – particularly between cellist James Morley and Kyla – contrasted with the youthful exuberance brought to the Assai Agitato and Allegro Molto Vivace. Schumann would have been only in his early thirties when he composed his first string quartets in the summer of 1842, after a close study of the great quartets of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. The three resulting quartets were first performed on 13 September 1842, as a present for his wife on her 23rd birthday.

Tamara Smolyar


Move ahead one hundred years. The quartet was joined by pianist Tamara Smolyar to perform Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G Minor, Opus 57. For me, this was the highlight of the evening. There is much pairing of instruments and the first time all five play together for any length is in the memorable scherzo – the third movement – an ironic movement, where joyful dance is underpinned with lurking menace. Some of the ironic sweetness of the Scherzo returns in the Finale, although it seems gentler and ends almost like a fairy story (‘they lived happily ever after’) but from Shostakovich’s pen we can be sure this was not to be taken literally.

Shostakovich Piano Quintet in G minor op. 57 (Fitzwilliam Quartet & V.  Ashkenazy) - YouTube

Barry Lee Thompson

writing short fiction

a rambling collective

Short Fiction by Nicola Humphreys (nicolawitters)

LUCID BEING

Astral Lucid Music - Philosophy On Life, The Universe And Everything...

Los Angeles feedback film festival

A monthly event... LAFeedbackFilmFestival.com

Elwood Writers

Every second Tuesday since 2007

unbolt me

the literary asylum

littlesmackerel

Writing, concerts, theatre and a little bit of travel

jottings and journeys

writing, walking and wondering

Life is a Minestrone

A blog that has utterly nothing to do with soup