Posts Tagged With: Cat

MATTHEW FLINDER’S CAT by BRYCE COURTNAY

MATTHEW FLINDER’S CAT by BRYCE COURTNAY

Description
Billy O’Shannessy, once a prominent barrister, is now on the street where he sleeps on a bench outside the State Library. Above him on the window sill rests a bronze statue of Matthew Flinders’ cat, Trim. Ryan is a ten-year-old, a near street kid heading for all the usual trouble. The two meet and form an unlikely friendship. Appealing to the boy’s imagination by telling him the story of the circumnavigation of Australia as seen through Trim’s eyes, Billy is drawn deeply into Ryan’s life and into the Sydney underworld. Over several months the two begin the mutual process of rehabilitation.
Matthew Flinders’ Cat is a modern-day story of a city, its crime, the plight of the homeless and the politics of greed and perversion. It is also a story of the human heart, with an enchanting glimpse into our past from the viewpoint of a famous cat.
Published 2003

 

I listened to the audio book, an unabridged version and was captivated. The story is a real emotional rollercoaster, inducing feelings of anger, disgust, sympathy, empathy, admiration and tenderness – to name but a few. At the beginning you wonder how an educated man can become reduced to such circumstances, from successful and comparatively wealthy professional to a ‘derelict’ or street person. As the story unfolds you realize that Billy’s past is complicated and heart-breaking as he freely admits he made terrible mistakes, but tear apart some of the carefully cultivated exterior and it is clear that Billy is a tender hearted and honest man, whose regrets about his life’s choices eventually lead him to try and make amends in whatever way he can.

Ryan, an incredibly intelligent little boy has a disadvantaged background yet he works hard to help his drug addict mother and his elderly grandmother. He is resourceful, clever, sometimes cheeky, but he is immensely likable and very real. Billy and Ryan’s friendship is peculiar and unexpected, yet very heart-warming, and Billy’s determination to help the child as he veers toward a dangerous future is unrelenting. Both characters became very real for me and I often felt as if Billy was teaching me about life, a life I knew nothing about, as he travelled on his journey of redemption. I really learned so much about his world and the way alcoholics think and feel, (although one cannot generalize), and also how difficult it is to shake off the problems you encounter once you have sunk this low. With the best will in the world, you’d have to be pretty strong to be able to recover just by yourself. Billy and Ryan highlighted these problems. Every city in every country has these issues to one degree or another, but how often do we turn a blind eye? Bryce Courtenay doesn’t preach, but he does open our eyes and question whether we feel comfortable in a society which discards people like litter on the street.

Mixed in with the main story is a separate thread about a famous cat, Trim, who belonged to a famous navigator, Matthew Flinders. Flinder’s, although born in Donnington in England, spent much of his working life charting the coast of Australia and he is credited with naming the country. He is therefore a renowned character, as is his cat who accompanied him on his travels. When Ryan expresses an interest in the statue of Trim, Billy begins to tell him the story of the navigator’s cat, and with a cat’s view point and a few elaborations along the way, the story becomes very compelling. It forges a strong relationship between man and boy which proves indestructible and saves them both. At no time did I feel that the outcome of this relationship or the events surrounding it were inevitable. The story twists and turns and the reader is buffeted around, sent reeling from one surprise to another, or suddenly stripped of former beliefs and value systems. The story is gripping, but so too is the tale of Trim and they become ever more entwined until eventually the work of the one is done and saves the other. The lesson in history was appreciated too!

I loved this book. It is possibly the best book I’ve read in many years and I recommend it to everyone who is not afraid to look deep into their own conscience and admit that they too could be Billy, or that they could do more for the many unknown Billies out there in the urban margins. This is a book which tackles important issues and asks questions of politicians and society. I hope that somewhere, someone with the power to change things is listening, and that we as citizens give them our full support.

 Susie (Kimmikat)
2/6/08

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C’est la Folie by Michael Wright.

Synopsis
One day in late summer, Michael Wright gave up his comfortable South London existence and, with only his long-suffering cat for company, set out to begin a new life. His destination was “La Folie”, a dilapidated 15th century farmhouse in need of love and renovation in the heart of rural France.In a bid to fulfil a childhood dream of becoming a Real Man, he struggles to make the journey from clinically social townie to rugged, solitary paysan. Through his enthusiastic attempts at looking after livestock and coming to terms with the concept of living Abroad Alone, he discovers what it takes to be a man at the beginning of the 21st century.

Review
Michael Wright has written a column about his exploits in La France in the Telegraph with much success and has now written a novel based on these adventures. The novel, C’est La Folie is a wonderfully candid description of his life in France, battling with the natives, and an ancient delapidated farm house, overgrown land, and the hilarious problems of animal husbandry. And…added to all that, we hear about his vintage aeroplane, his piano, his triumphs at the tennis club, and his attempts to socialise and become integrated into the french community.
He decided to up roots and take himself and his cat to France, in an attempt to ‘become a man’ and prove to himself that he could do ‘manly’ things. So, accordingly he recounts his desire to acquire manly tools, which might persuade him to do manly jobs, like the desperate work that needs doing on the farmhouse, just to make it habitable. As the story progresses, we hear him inwardly balking at the idea of chopping wood in the snow, and other manly tasks, yet he does them all, somehow sticking to his guns and proving he can do it, and enjoy it. He discovers he quite likes physical work, once he gets going, and such are the distractions of his new home, he finds no time or inclination to write his novel, (well…mainly because he can’t think how to start it off!)

This book is hilarious. I had the audio copy which is read by Michael Wright himself, and I have to say that even if it had been the most boring book, I’d have listened because his voice and story-telling skills are great. I loved the gentle humour, which popped up so often and so subtly at times that I found myself in danger of missing bits here and there. I loved the fact that there were half a dozen strong themes running throughout which made the stories all the more interesting, and most of all I loved this man’s honesty. He is so self-deprecating, and yet somehow manages to charm everyone, and learns quickly from his mistakes. We find that despite his assertions to the contrary he ia a very able person, and at the end of the book, he is able to realise this for himself and leave the crutches of the past behind and look to the future.
The animals played a major part in the story and the joys and grief as Michael learns about life in the raw are beautifully portrayed, and it would be a stone-hearted person who could shrug at the deaths of Emil the little sheep, or Mary the chicken.
I really enjoyed this book and will enjoy reading it again and hopefully the follow-up, which I believe is planned for release next year (2009). To those who have criticised it as not being a literary work…it isn’t meant to be, not in the sense of an heavy duty tome, but it is a literary work that recounts life and people in the 21st century and all the struggles, hopes, triumphs and loves that keep folk sane and able to get on with their lives. Whether you can relate to his lifestyle or not, you will be able to relate to the man and his steps towards knowing himself a little better, and becoming ‘manly’.
Susie / Kimmikat

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A Puffin Quartet of Poets

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A PUFFIN QUARTET OF POEMS
ELEANOR FARJEON
JAMES REEVE
E.V.RIEU
IAN SERRAILLIER

ISBN 0 14 03.0121 6 First Pub by Penguin Books Ltd 1958  Editor Kay Webb.

‘A Puffin Quartet containing substantial selections from the poems of four of our finest writers of children’s verse:
A PUFFIN QUARTET OF POEMS
ELEANOR FARJEON
JAMES REEVE
E.V.RIEU
IAN SERRAILLIER

with notes on the authors and their methods of composing’.

From inside cover –

“A Puffin Quartet of Poets.
This unusual anthology contains a selection of poems from the work of only four poets, but four of the finest contemporary writers of children’s verse. A substantial amount from the work of each is given, enough to show their individual quality and special characteristics.The quartet is made up of, Eleanor Farjeon, James Reeves, E.V.Rieu and Ian Serraillier. There are brief biographical notes and a short introduction to each section suggesting how these poets go to work. Their methods of approach to verse-making prove, in fact, to be so diverse that together they cast much interesting light on the whole subject of composition.”

This little book is probably wholly responsible for my love of poetry. It was given to me when a small child and I loved it. As soon as I could read, I devoured these poems over and over again, revelling in their humour and pathos, and the variety of themes and styles. Of the four poets, I loved James Reeves the best, and having reread the book this week, I can see why. As a musician in the making, I loved his rythmns. In ‘Run a Little’ the rythmn is clear and easy for a child to catch and I remember reading it and then singing it to a made-up tune. Likewise, ‘A Pig-Tale’ had an engaging lilt, like a nursery rhyme, which I found very attractive and read to myself purely for the rhythmn rather than the content.Some of the poems were favuorites because of the subject, like ‘Cows’. Being a country girl, and very fond of cows, this poem really appealed to me along with any poems about animals, such as ‘The Two Mice’ and ‘The Snail’. Young as I was, I also understood the metaphor of the sea maskerading as a dog in the poem called ‘The Sea’. This was perhaps a more grown up poem, giving me a little insight into the possibilities of poetry and preparing me for something a little more complex.

E.V.Rieu had me enthralled by his humourous poems, such as ‘Mr Blob’ and ‘Sir Smashmam Uppe’ and the cleverness of ‘A musical  at Home’ stretched my vocabulary and teased my brain as I realised the connections between the characters, their names and their given attributes. However, not surprisingly for a little girl, my heart went out to the very sad little hippo in ‘The Hippopotamus’s Birthday’. I remember being able to relate to the hippo’s sadness and crying for him. This was the poem I remembered all these years later, such was the impact, when I picked up the book again. Then there are poems that seemed to have little or no effect on me as a child. Perhaps I didn’t understand them on the first reading and didn’t attempt to read and understand them later. One good poem in this category would be ‘The Green Train’ which I have not remembered, as it was a little deeper and more meaningful than some of the others.

‘Mrs Malone’ was my favourite of Eleanor Farjeon’s poems, and I enjoyed re-reading it again. The story is about the generous humanity of a woman who takes in starved animals, even though she is very poor herself. Animals again! Also ‘Cat’…a poem guaranteed almost to be loved by a little girl. Ian Serrailier’s ‘Girls and Boys Come out to Play’ is enjoyable because of the references to nursery rhyme characters, but although it is very cleverly written, I am not sure that children today will recognise some of the rhymes and the fairy tale characters. I grew up with the rhyme about the crooked man, but again, perhaps contemporay children have not. Surely they could not fail to enjoy the story or the repitition of words; or the notion of everything and everybody being crooked.

The anthology was published in the fifties and many of the poems were written before then. As a result some of the poetry is a little dated, but most of it travels well and children can easily relate to poems that are nonsensical or about subjects they recognise, like animals, or houses, or painting for instance. I think most children would find the poems great fun and an easy introduction to poetry, especially poetry that they can read by themselves over and over again. I love this anthology and rate it up there with my beloved Winnie The Pooh! If you find a copy, grab it!
 

Susie 6/1/08

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