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What I've been reading

February 26th, 2006

The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard. Another Christmas present I’m only just getting to. I quite liked People in Glass Houses, but I’m finding this one slow going, despite its Miles Franklin Award.

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  1. Ian
    February 26th, 2006 at 18:29 | #1

    It’s appalling – one of the most hysterically over-rated award winners in many years. Hazzard can write superb sentences and sometimes even whole paragraphs, but in larger chunks The Great Fire is unreadable unless (like me) you find yourself transfixed by its gothic ultra-pretentiousness, or (like some others) you want to believe that that ultra-pretentiousness constitutes Fine Writing. Much of it is so hilariously bad that it reads like deliberate self-satire; but Hazzard’s all-encompassing amour-propre leaves no room for a sense of humour. It’s said that the Franklin award was actually an apology for having passed her over two decades ago when The Transit of Venus was published. The Transit is the better novel: like The Great Fire, it’s marred by self-advertising cleverness and ferociously insecure intellectual snobbery, but it has an emotional substance lacking in the later book, which is Mills & Boon for middlebrow readers who wouldn’t be seen dead with an actual Mills & Boon.

  2. February 27th, 2006 at 08:50 | #2

    I gather you didn’t like it, Ian? ;-)

  3. Ian
    February 27th, 2006 at 11:41 | #3

    Yeah, sorry, I may have sounded a bit non-committal….

  4. flapple
    February 27th, 2006 at 19:57 | #4

    I really liked this book, mostly for its ability to “transport” me to another, seemingly reflective and contemplative world. I found that it was best to read in largish (1 hr +) chunks, quitely tucked away somewhere and let it wash over you.

    I liked the way the novel drew parallels between the main character and the world as a whole. He is picked up in the prime of his life, forced to spend 10 years of his key youth in a distructive war, and then left to pick up the peices afterwards. I feel Hazzard draws a parallel with what happened to the world as a whole during the war.

  5. February 28th, 2006 at 14:58 | #5

    I think it’s disappointing too. I also didn’t like Glass Houses. To simplistic and moralistic I thought.

    But I loved Transit of Venus. And there are passages in the great fire that are magnificently written.

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