Archive for August, 2016

What an honour to feature on this fine blog on publication day! Many thanks Linda! 🙂

Linda's Book Bag

A perfect square

It gives me very great pleasure to welcome Isobel Blackthorn to Linda’s Book Bag with a publication day interview. Isobel’s latest novel A Perfect Square is published today by Odyssey Books and is available for purchase direclt from the publisher and your local Amazon site.

A Perfect Square

A perfect square

When pianist Ginny Smith moves back to her mother’s house in Sassafras after her breakup with the degenerate Garth, synaesthetic and eccentric artist Harriet Brassington-Smythe is beside herself and contrives a creative collaboration to lift her daughter’s spirits: an exhibition of paintings and songs. Ginny reluctantly agrees.

Mother and daughter struggle to agree on the elements of the collaborative effort, and as Ginny tries to prise the truth of her father’s disappearance from a tight-lipped Harriet, both are launched into their own inner worlds of dreams, speculations and remembering.

Meanwhile, another mother and artist, Judith, alone in a house on the moors…

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What motivates a writer to compose a work of fiction? To entertain? To provide an escape from mundanities? To enlighten? To invite the reader to consider something new or ponder a fresh perspective on something old? Or to portray in fictional form real events that come alive in the imagination through the characters in a story?

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“Tell everyone what happened here.” And in The Street Sweeper Elliot Perlman does just that.

“Recently released from prison, Lamont Williams, an African American probationary janitor in a Manhattan hospital and father of a little girl he can’t locate, strikes up an unlikely friendship with an elderly patient, a Holocaust survivor who was a prisoner in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

A few blocks uptown, historian Adam Zignelik, an untenured Columbia professor, finds both his career and his long-term romantic relationship falling apart. Emerging from the depths of his own personal history, Adam sees, in a promising research topic suggested by an American World War II veteran, the beginnings of something that might just save him professionally, and perhaps even personally.

As these men try to survive in early-twenty-first-century New York, history comes to life in ways neither of them could have foreseen. Two very different paths—Lamont’s and Adam’s—lead to one greater story as The Street Sweeper, in dealing with memory, love, guilt, heroism, the extremes of racism and unexpected kindness, spans the twentieth century to the present, and spans the globe from New York to Chicago to Auschwitz.”

A work of contemporary fiction, The Street Sweeper is well researched and artfully constructed, the interweaving of the two parallel narratives holding the reader in thrall as Perlman juxtaposes the black civil rights movement of African Americans with the persecution of Jews in Poland before and during WWII.

Gripping from cover to cover, The Street Sweeper entertains, educates, and above all brings the reader’s own moral compass to the fore. “Tell everyone what happened here”. There were parts of this story I could scarcely bring myself to read, and towards the end I had trouble seeing the print as my glasses fogged up with my tears.

I could criticise this work. But I won’t because it would be nit picking. I could cynically accuse the author of jumping on the Holocaust-porn bandwagon, buying into our morbid fascination for the horrors of the death camps in Nazi Germany, but I would be doing a disservice to an author at pains to make a significant contribution to the remembering. Remembering that needs to occur and reoccur; the events all too recent, all too easily overlooked in the busy information traffic of our lives.

“The Seventies, that accursed decade when the hippies took hold of the occult and turned it into fairy floss.” That line tickled me! “They were three difficult years. Harriet call…

Source: A Perfect Square by Isobel Blackthorn

What a delight it is to read stories of historical figures passed over by history probably because they were women. An even greater delight when they are told well, as is very much the case with Melissa Ashley’s The Birdman’s Wife.

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Elizabeth Gould was indeed a remarkable woman. “Inspired by a letter found tucked inside her famous husband’s papers, The Birdman’s Wife imagines the fascinating inner life of Elizabeth Gould, who was so much more than just the woman behind the man.

Elizabeth was a woman ahead of her time, juggling the demands of her artistic life with her roles as wife, lover and helpmate to a passionate and demanding genius, and as a devoted mother who gave birth to eight children. In a society obsessed with natural history and the discovery of new species, the birdman’s wife was at its glittering epicentre. Her artistry breathed life into hundreds of exotic finds, from her husband’s celebrated collections to Charles Darwin’s famous Galapagos finches.

Fired by Darwin’s discoveries, in 1838 Elizabeth defied convention by joining John on a trailblazing expedition to the untamed wilderness of Van Diemen’s Land and New South Wales to collect and illustrate Australia’s ‘curious’ birdlife.

From a naïve and uncertain young girl to a bold adventurer determined to find her own voice and place in the world, The Birdman’s Wife paints an indelible portrait of an extraordinary woman overlooked by history, until now.”

It is only the hardboiled cynic who won’t fall into this story as though in love, won’t be seduced by the intimate narrative style. Here is a story, articulated in a voice commensurate with the era, of a life acutely observed, the sort of story that seems to flow from the pen, belying the many hours and months if not years of research that went into it. It isn’t easy to breathe life into history in fictionalised form. Too often the reader will sense contrivance, or stumble through an unconvincing scene. It’s a fine balance between fact and narration every step of the way and Ashley pulls it off with aplomb.

This is a work imbued with optimism and hope. There is an almost playful romantic quality at first, as a flirtation between Elizabeth and her soon to be husband evolves, yet the story soon departs from romance, as the practicalities and the tragedies of her life unfold, along with what can only be described her life’s work.

The Birdman’s Wife is a story of passion and depth of thought told with an empathy so deep the reader may look up from time to time to find herself in a room filled with specimens, the floor littered with sketches, and Elizabeth herself seated nearby.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Affirm Press for my review copy.

A Perfect Square is on some level an exploration of the different ways people approach esotericism. Who are these people? Where can we find them? Meet the eccentric artist Harriet Brassington-Smythe, her daughter, pianist Ginny Smith, and the mysterious hidden figure of Wilhelm Schmid, a scholar of the esoteric order of the Rosicrucians.

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I cannot say that conspiracy theory is a major theme in A Perfect Square, but it does enter into one of the story lines, as mother and artist Judith, alone in an old farmhouse on the Devon moors, explores an internet forum, called ‘The Forum’.

My own thinking on esotericism and on conspiracy thinking goes much deeper. Why do the two go together and how? They are united through two words: elitism and secrecy. Simply put, conspiracy thinking always points to some sort of elite. Esoteric practice creates that elite. Esoteric practice generally occurs in secret. Power elites conduct their business in secret. Conspiracy theorists tend to also have an esoteric bent. Esoteric-minded types will always always look behind the scenes to see if they can see what’s going on. They sense the conspiring. But they get hung up on theories. Why bother? When really, conspiracy theories are themselves just mental traps.

Here’s a piece I wrote for the aptly named Paranoia magazine. Where I have tried to stretch my thinking a little further.

http://www.paranoiamagazine.com/2016/08/mastering-art-occultism/

And as for A Perfect Square, I like to think it packs a punch. Well, that was my intention. At the time of writing I was inspired very much by Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery. Like Eco, I’m motivated by the fact that there is too much misinformation out there, misinformation that easily takes root in minds rendered receptive through a lack of access to alternative and perhaps accurate information. I also marvel at the way opposers, especially those on the Left, get so hot under the collar when it comes to conspiracy thinking, as though it were a personal affront. Or threat?

A Perfect Square is now available for pre-order, which is quite exciting and I’m very grateful to Odyssey Books for choosing to publish the work.

http://odysseybooks.com.au/titles/a-perfect-square-available-29-august/

I’ve commenced work on another novel, one that explores the ideas of Theosophist Alice A Bailey. If you would like to journey with me as I venture further into this strange realm of the unknown, please contact me and I’ll add you to my mailing list.

There’s been a circularity at work in the creation of my latest novel, A Perfect Square, ever since the ideas first came to me in 2014. The essence of the story was formed out of my daughter Elizabeth Blackthorn’s Honours thesis in Music. Now that the book is written, Elizabeth has composed and recorded the music to go with it. A link to access her work will be included in the book. A Perfect Square will be released in 10 days. Meanwhile Elizabeth created this book trailer. Her mum is forever grateful 🙂 X

First published in 1930, Narziss and Goldmund forms part of a profoundly insightful body of work by Hermann Hesse.

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I visited Goodreads and was not surprised to find well over a thousand reviews. I’ve only read the first few, and I’m left wondering what I can add that would contribute to the collective understanding of this work.

I will admit I am not a scholar of literature or history, nor have I read any biography of Hesse. I first came across his work in my twenties and devoured Steppenwolf and The Glass Bead Game among others. Back then I had not a clue about the spiritual path or western esotericism. But decades have passed and now I do, and it is with fresh eyes that I can perhaps see what Hesse might have been trying to achieve.

In Narziss and Goldmund, Hesse presents the reader with two sorts of spirituality and the two paths that unfold from each. Narziss is destined to be the Abbott of a cloister. He is a philosopher, a thinker, living close to God in the realm of the abstract mind. He is the archetypal master of wisdom.

His pupil, Goldmund, is at odds with himself. Memory of part of his childhood is denied him and when he awakens to it, he begins a journey of self discovery that takes him away from the cloister and out into the world. Not the ordinary world of duty and work and family and community. His reality is akin to Arjuna in the battlefield, as written in the Bhagavad Gita; a journey through the realm of extreme emotions, with desire and lust on the one hand, and death in all its forms on the other.

So intense are Goldmund’s responses, that at first he cannot find meaning. But eventually, as he journeys into and through the experiences that befall him, he does. He is a seeker, and the journey is an initiatory one, culminating in the realisation that we transcend the ravages of the emotions through the faculty of imagination, and its finest expressions in art.

Those who resonate with this story are engaging with a work of visionary/metaphysical fiction of enormous profundity. Those who see past the compulsions and shallow satisfactions of the flesh; detect the irony in Goldmund’s relentlessly questioning mind; see into his frustrations and emerging detachment; may understand that through his character, Hesse is portraying the most fundamental pairs of opposites upon which human experience is cleaved: woman and man; lust and death, passion and intellect, good and evil.

And the esoteric thinker will also understand Hesse’s portrayal of the transmutation of the emotions through the faculty of imagination; the image maker within, existing on the plane of intuition, sees in patterns, in completed wholes; thus it is through the harnessing of this faculty of the soul through the imagination that the artist stills the emotions and imbues them with the stamp of something transcendent and universal. And so it is through this process that the pairs of opposites may sit in loose unity.

I’ve long admired Hermann Hesse’s work. I resonate with it now more strongly than ever. As an author I’m in awe of his achievement.  Narziss and Goldmund is not a piece of entertainment; it’s a literary portrayal of the spiritual path.