Timeless: Tirra Lirra by the River

Tirra Lirra by the RiverTirra Lirra by the River by Jessica Anderson

I first read this novel many years ago for a class in my first year of university. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it but then having barely left Brisbane at this point in my life, it’s no wonder. So, how would I respond to it this time around?

Nora Porteous, a witty, ambitious woman from Brisbane, returns to her childhood home at age seventy. Her life has taken her from a failed marriage in Sydney to freedom in London; she forged a modest career as a seamstress and lived with two dear friends through the happiest years of her adult life. A book about the sweetness of escape, and the mix of pain and acceptance that comes with returning home.

First Impressions: A ‘coming home’ story that seamlessly moves back and forward in time without me even noticing. Clever, compact writing.

Highlights: The story has three settings – Brisbane, Sydney and London and Anderson is so precise with her observations of each location. Brisbane and Sydney could each perhaps be any city or town in Australia, Brisbane for its narrow view of the world and the feeling that with a sensible marriage mapping out your life and so forth ‘isn’t that enough?‘, and Sydney for its endless cut copy suburbs. The weight of it all on Nora’s shoulders! Suffocating and restrictive, how can she breathe? I can’t comment on Sydney’s artsy scene but certainly it has the reputation of being a bit faster than Brisbane in that regard.
But London. I’m from Brisbane and have lived in London for over eight years now and despite the decades passing Anderson is precise with her description of London. Three things really stood out for me. First, Nora moved house a few times in the early years – just a few streets over – and no longer kept in touch with friends from her old address. So true! What is it about Londoners that makes this so true? Second, although I have met Aussies in every remote part of the UK I have travelled to, there is a strong feeling amongst Aussie expats that if you’re going to move across the world, there’s no way you’re not going to live in London. Somethings never change! Third, that rhetoric everyone who has been in London over 2 years has, that they’re definitely going home, sooner rather than later… Have I been transported backwards or forwards in a time capsule perhaps?

If I was an editor: There’s nothing I would change about the story but I would like more extra features. There’s an essay from Anna Funder at the end but perhaps others could contribute essays? Reading group questions? Historical and geographical essays? I am sure my uni lecturer spoke at length about Nora being named after Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House so maybe an essay on this. Interestingly, Nora is also the name of the main character of Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip, also published around the same time – surely there’s an academic who can write more about this! And the similarities with Rosalie Ham’s The Dressmaker
(If we are thinking about A Doll’s House, then the poverty Anderson’s Nora is kept in during her stay with her mother in law is heart wrenching, may I add).

Overall: A timeless Australian classic that needs a proper re-release. My heart couldn’t avoid shadowing Nora’s emotions.


More than Just a Nosey Nelly: The Girl on the Train

 imageThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Rachel catches the commuter train into London. Looking at the same scenary every day she wonders about the people who live in all the houses and begins to create a story about one couple in particular. One morning she sees something disturbing and then when someone is reported missing Rachel feels compelled to become involved.

First Impressions:  I was unsure about Rachel’s alcoholism. Would it be cliched and tiresome? Luckily the answer is ‘no’ and it really adds to her characterisation and motivations. It’s actually really sad.

Highlights:  What a pageturner! An excellent example of compulsive reading. All the characters and plots are believably linked. There were no outrageous red herrings and the ending was not completely obvious. I did guess the culprit but not all the details.

If I was an editor: It’s hard to think of how this particular novel could be improved but maybe it could be cut down a bit. I think that about a lot of novels though – if I ruled the world everything would be short, sharp and to the point! Rachel’s flatmate should not be so understanding but on the whole all the characters are pretty well rounded for the genre.

Overall:  Will be a huge hit.

The Girl on the Train: 4 stars

Thank you to Random House /Transworld for a copy of the ARC.



Dr Johnson’s House

Dr Johnson's House

Dr Johnson’s House, 17 Gough Square, London, EC4A 3DE

I have known about this museum for a few years as it is mentioned in many London literary trails and ‘off the beaten track’ guides. Last week as I was ambling along Fleet Street I decided to finally pop in and have a look.

I have to be honest and say I am not too familiar with Dr Johnson’s life and when I called through I wasn’t necessarily in the mood to walk around digesting lots of new information. However, I am glad I stopped in as it satisfied my curiosity. It was hard not to notice that most of the other guests were rather absorbed in the place.

Dr Johnson’s House is arranged over a few floors. It is rather spartan in decoration but gives you an idea of the space he lived in. Three highlights from the collection for me were:

  • A painting of John Wesley preaching at the original Cripplegate Church
  • A brick from the Great Wall of China, a monument which fascinated Dr Johnson
  • Facsimile copies of the original dictionary he created

The house also sports a costume section where you can dress up as one of Dr Johnson’s contemporaries. I did not make the most of this opportunity but I am sure this would appeal to others!

The gift shop is small but filled with a few interesting souvenirs such as bags and bookmarks with the famous ‘Tired of London, tired of life’ quote. Dr Johnson’s beloved cat also features in a some of the cards and other items. In fact, outside in the square his cat is honoured with its own statue. Perhaps if you don’t feel like parting with your £4.50, having your photo taken with Hodge may satisfy your Dr Johnson itch but you will miss the atmosphere inside.

English: Statue of Hodge in the courtyard outs...

English: Statue of Hodge in the courtyard outside Dr. Johnson’s House, 17 Gough Square, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Warmth and the Occasional Cat: Barocci

Federico Barocci, Madonna del Popolo (Madonna ...

Barocci: Brilliance and Grace. National Gallery London until 19 May 2013.


With so many wonderful exhibitions currently in London, it seems the Barocci show at the National Gallery is unfortunately overshadowed by more famous artists. I visited the Barocci show this past weekend and I can tell you it is a brilliant exhibition.

Preliminary sketches and paintings, often of the same detail with only minor revisions, are shown with the finished work. In one case  Barocci removed a sketch of the devil after the Pope was displeased and for a number of his works Barocci experimented with reversing images and having people face other directions. One of my favourites, the painting of St Francis receiving the stigmata, originally had the observer walking away in the distance rather than lounging under the tree.The impression I formed of Barocci was that he was an incredibly methodical perfectionist living a rather reclusive life. Most of his work was created for churches and patrons in his hometown of Urbino, Italy. His confinement to the Urbino area has no doubt affected his popularity and fame right to this day. His earnest approach to his work is clearly seen in the piercing gaze of his self portrait.

Walking through the exhibition, I quickly noticed the warmth emanating from his paintings. Barocci mainly produced religious scenes but the personal and human elements he included makes his work stand out from his contemporaries. Joseph’s smile fills his eyes with happiness in Madonna of the Cat. Many believe the cat to be Barocci’s own and this not the only painting to include the feline.

Barocci also had a talent for adding a frame of behind the scenes action in his paintings. His version of The Last Supper shows the servants at work. An original take on the manger scene with Joseph greeting the shepherds at the door also highlights the use of diagonal lines Barocci is famous for. Finally, I was astounded with how beautiful some of Barocci’s portraits were. Much to my surprise, the most astonishing works were the ones where the face was turned away at an angle. Barocci’s famous image of John the Evangelist is being used to promote the show. However, my breath was also taken away by the stunning image of Mary Magdalene.

My advice to anyone considering visiting a London exhibition in the coming months: don’t miss this! It is a perfect afternoon treat in this bleak weather.