Monday, October 22, 2012

Five Bells by Gail Jones

Five lives loosely intersect over the course of a single day at Circular Quay in Sydney in Five Bells by Australian author Gail Jones. Memories rise gently to the surface as the narrative switches between the different protagonists. Jones has an introspective style that I found piercingly beautiful:

"It was a quiet, folded moment, entirely her own."

"Images lined up for her memory, for the future, for wild or idle surmise, this little collection that made up the blunder of the moment, and of James's pure fear, and of her own shameless sense of triumph."

Whether this previous line brings John Keats, Dorothy Porter or some other poet to mind, it's an example of the nuances that Jones adds through literary references. There are also many references to art.

(On Aboriginal art in a museum): "Pattern was thought, and spirit, and land, and time. Here were no portraits or conventional depictions of objects, but something aquiver, energetic, like human activity seen from the sky."

(On Rene Magritte, witnessing his mother's body after she had drowned, and how small details might be the salvation from ideas that are too large): "The space a drowning might make, the milky-green water closing over a face, was a tremendous, vile and unassimilable thing."

"A woman standing still in a main street on a Saturday afternoon could carry all this: death, time, recollected acts of love-making -- all together, simultaneous, ringing in her head."

"The world did not acknowledge private misfortune." But readers can, and that acknowledgement is a precious thing. Five Bells explores themes of memory, grief and forgiveness within the "breathing of the world."

Readalike: Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf).


Claire G said...

I loved this novel, which our NZ bookclub read last year. I loved its structure as well as its language and tone. Interesting to see the cover you have - the image says a lot more than the nondescript one I saw, but perhaps it's not possible to sell the Sydney Opera House to the Australians!

Lindy said...

I like the font used for the title and author because it got me thinking about why the cover designer chose to make it look that way and whether this choice had any connection to the story. Perhaps the message is that our memories are full of holes?