The Waterlily by Kate Llewellyn

First published 1987 by Hudson Publishing in association with Angus & Robertson.

One of my all time favourite books

One of my all time favourite books

Of all of Kate Llewellyn’s writing; poetry, essays, memoir, travelogue, what I like best is her journals. Husband dying, dead? Stepson in jail for murder? Out they come.

I read The Waterlily about once a year, mainly when life is really tough. The book begins three months after Llewellyn has moved to the Blue Mountains, and tracks a year of her life. In all of her journals, the big events of life are kept well in the background where, if you ask me, they belong, when it comes to any really good writing. The emphasis is on small joys, and the prose is as poetic as a good poet can get away with.

Her opening lines have way of racketing around in my brain. “When I came to live in the mountains I was determined to be happy. Sparrows were pecking the pale green and white shoots from the tree outside the kitchen as I made the first cup of tea for the day.” Each journal entry contains little observations such as, “The first tulip is out today. It is red with a black heart like a Norse helmsman. If it were a person it would be called Eric.”  An unhappy affair is also woven into the story of her garden.

The Waterlily is the first book of the Blue Mountains Trilogy, written the 1980s. It is not a true trilogy, and The Waterlily is better regarded as a stand-alone book.  While the second and third books do follow on a little after the previous book has ended, these are both books of letters, Dear You to a lover, and The Mountain to her daughter. I find I enjoy the journal writing better because it is more personal, written for you the reader, instead of someone else.

Despite the book’s many merits, Kate Llewellyn remains fairly unknown, even in her home state of South Australia which is a pity, but her writing is not for everyone. You will not get any enjoyment out of it if you are not a passionate gardener or lover of nature. And even if you are, it still may not gel with you. I lent one of her more recent books to a friend who has similar tastes in books, but after six months she still hadn’t finished it. Even though she said she liked it. So there you go.

But for me the writing is so soothing that the comfort that it gives  is second only to that of the Good Book. It is literary Valium. [Please do not confuse this with literary sleeping tablets!]

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The Bride Stripped Bare by Nikki Gemmell

First published 2003

the bride stripped bare

You borrow the book five years after everyone else was raving about it, because while you are ashamed to be sucked into books everyone reads a la Fifty Shades, you are still dying to find out what all the fuss was about.

At first the second-person stuff strikes you as pretentious and annoying, but you dutifully plough on in order to get to the bride stripping bare parts. By now you no longer notice the second person thing.

After a while you put the book down for a couple of months, but then get back to it so you can return it to the library. You jump to the end to find out what happened, then you go back to where you were so that the ending can make sense.

As you stew over the book in the months and years to come, it disturbs you. You realize that the motives the bride had for doing what she did were as flimsy as those portrayed in a porn film (not that you’ve actually seen  porn, but judging by how it is portrayed on general TV). In the end you are quite sure that this bride would not have really done those things; the book itself does not ring true.

The Diaries of Miles Franklin

First published 2004 by Allen &Unwin in association with State Library  of NSW

(hardcover book)

(hardcover book)

You’ll have to overlook of course that they were edited by a man, Paul Brunton, and focus on the person who wrote them. The diaries cover from 1932, when she had just arrived back in Australia aged 50+ after many years overseas, up until the year of her death, 1954.

I have not yet read any of her other books, but after reading the diaries, I can’t wait to start. I loved them. The first benefit was the stuff relating to the writing life. It is always heartening to have a closer look at the life of writing giants and discover all the same frustrations, years spent trying to get published, fears of failure, lack of money; and that they write on regardless.  I have been writing for 20+ years and have gotten nowhere; part of that time went on bringing up babies (four) under the impression that a woman could have it all. Franklin had no such delusions, but by the end of her life, wondered if her choice not to have a marriage and family had all been worth it. We would say it did.

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