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“A luminous look at a city at a time of change, a time when the building of the Sydney Opera House was a reach for greatness.” —The New York Times In this spellbinding and poignant historical novel—perfect for fans of All the Light We Cannot See and The Flamethrowers—a Swedish glassmaker and a fiercely independent Australian journalist are thrown together amidst the turmoil “A luminous look at a city at a time of change, a time when the building of the Sydney Opera House was a reach for greatness.” —The New York Times In this spellbinding and poignant historical novel—perfect for fans of All the Light We Cannot See and The Flamethrowers—a Swedish glassmaker and a fiercely independent Australian journalist are thrown together amidst the turmoil of the 1960s and the dawning of a new modern era. 1965: As the United States becomes further embroiled in the Vietnam War, the ripple effects are far-reaching—even to the other side of the world. In Australia, a national military draft has been announced and Pearl Keogh, a headstrong and ambitious newspaper reporter, has put her job in jeopardy to become involved in the anti-war movement. Desperate to locate her two runaway brothers before they’re called to serve, Pearl is also hiding a secret shame—the guilt she feels for not doing more for her younger siblings after their mother’s untimely death. Newly arrived from Sweden, Axel Lindquist is set to work as a sculptor on the besieged Sydney Opera House. After a childhood in Europe, where the shadow of WWII loomed large, he seeks to reinvent himself in this utterly foreign landscape, and finds artistic inspiration—and salvation—in the monument to modernity that is being constructed on Sydney’s Harbor. But as the nation hurtles towards yet another war, Jørn Utzon, the Opera House’s controversial architect, is nowhere to be found—and Axel fears that the past he has tried to outrun may be catching up with him. As the seas of change swirl around them, Pearl and Axel’s lives orbit each other and collide in this sweeping novel of art and culture, love and destiny.


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“A luminous look at a city at a time of change, a time when the building of the Sydney Opera House was a reach for greatness.” —The New York Times In this spellbinding and poignant historical novel—perfect for fans of All the Light We Cannot See and The Flamethrowers—a Swedish glassmaker and a fiercely independent Australian journalist are thrown together amidst the turmoil “A luminous look at a city at a time of change, a time when the building of the Sydney Opera House was a reach for greatness.” —The New York Times In this spellbinding and poignant historical novel—perfect for fans of All the Light We Cannot See and The Flamethrowers—a Swedish glassmaker and a fiercely independent Australian journalist are thrown together amidst the turmoil of the 1960s and the dawning of a new modern era. 1965: As the United States becomes further embroiled in the Vietnam War, the ripple effects are far-reaching—even to the other side of the world. In Australia, a national military draft has been announced and Pearl Keogh, a headstrong and ambitious newspaper reporter, has put her job in jeopardy to become involved in the anti-war movement. Desperate to locate her two runaway brothers before they’re called to serve, Pearl is also hiding a secret shame—the guilt she feels for not doing more for her younger siblings after their mother’s untimely death. Newly arrived from Sweden, Axel Lindquist is set to work as a sculptor on the besieged Sydney Opera House. After a childhood in Europe, where the shadow of WWII loomed large, he seeks to reinvent himself in this utterly foreign landscape, and finds artistic inspiration—and salvation—in the monument to modernity that is being constructed on Sydney’s Harbor. But as the nation hurtles towards yet another war, Jørn Utzon, the Opera House’s controversial architect, is nowhere to be found—and Axel fears that the past he has tried to outrun may be catching up with him. As the seas of change swirl around them, Pearl and Axel’s lives orbit each other and collide in this sweeping novel of art and culture, love and destiny.

30 review for Shell

  1. 4 out of 5

    Angela M

    “As with all of my books, Shell was not written because I knew something. I write, always, compulsively, because I don’t know something. It is always about a question. At the end of that process I find I have no solid answers. Only possibilities, a whole new set of questions.” I was taken by what Kristina Olsson writes to her readers in a beginning letter. It made me think that this is what good fiction should do - open up possibilities, make us think. This is exactly what this novel does. Quiet “As with all of my books, Shell was not written because I knew something. I write, always, compulsively, because I don’t know something. It is always about a question. At the end of that process I find I have no solid answers. Only possibilities, a whole new set of questions.” I was taken by what Kristina Olsson writes to her readers in a beginning letter. It made me think that this is what good fiction should do - open up possibilities, make us think. This is exactly what this novel does. Quiet, beautiful writing, with revelations about the characters slowly coming to the surface through introspective narratives that dig deep into who they are, their pasts, how they have gotten to where they are, fighting the demons of that past. It’s an interesting piece of historical fiction, and although not too far in the past, it was an opportunity to learn several things. The story takes place during the mid 1960’s and centers on two events - the building of the Sydney Opera House and the Australian lottery that drafted young men to fight in Vietnam. I knew absolutely nothing of the politics surrounding the building of the Sydney Opera House and had no idea that Australia was involved in the Vietnam War. Around these events, Olssen has created a complex story around complex characters. Pearl Keogh, a journalist, an anti war activist is focused on trying to find her younger brothers who she has not seen for years. She carries the guilt of abandoning them after she leaves the orphanage they were all sent to when her mother dies and her father’s grief is so overwhelming, he cannot take care of them. She’s obsessed with finding them, to warn them and save them from the draft. Her narrative is blended with that of Axel Lindquist, a lonely glass sculptor from Sweden, trying to find a place for himself working on his art commissioned for the Sydney Opera House. Pearl’s story was more compelling at first. I waited for the characters to connect and they did, but still it took until close to the end before I had a better understanding of Axel’s story. His story brought another level here. He is scarred by the disappearance of his father, during WWII, when Axel was 10 years old. Sweden’s neutrality is juxtaposed with the Australian participation in the Vietnam War. This actually brought to my attention another thing I had not known about - the White Buses, the efforts of the Swedish and a Danish governments and the role they played in freeing Jews from the camps in 1945. I wondered how this book came to be and it made sense when Olsson tells of her background. She’s a former journalist with an Australian mother and a Swedish father and connected in ways to the events that are part of this novel. When I finished this, my first response was to rate it 3.5 and round it up, but the more I thought about the fantastic prose and the profound themes, I realized that this is deserving of a full 4 stars. I received an advanced copy of this book from Atria through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Brenda

    It was the 1960s and Australia was on the brink of change. The Vietnam War was about to take a poke at Australia’s youth – and the Sydney Opera House was under construction. The draft for the Vietnam War was in the form of a lottery, and all the young people who were born within a certain time period had their birth dates put in a barrel. If you were lucky, your birth date didn’t come out. (My husband’s didn’t thank goodness!) Journalist Pearl Keogh was in a desperate search for her two younger b It was the 1960s and Australia was on the brink of change. The Vietnam War was about to take a poke at Australia’s youth – and the Sydney Opera House was under construction. The draft for the Vietnam War was in the form of a lottery, and all the young people who were born within a certain time period had their birth dates put in a barrel. If you were lucky, your birth date didn’t come out. (My husband’s didn’t thank goodness!) Journalist Pearl Keogh was in a desperate search for her two younger brothers whom she hadn’t seen in years. Pearl was anti-war and an activist – her protesting could put her career at risk; but her guilt was deep, so she was determined to find her brothers to help them avoid the draft. Meanwhile, Axel Lindquist, newly arrived from Sweden, was working as a sculptor on the Opera House. His art work was his salvation – his hopes were that the new country would also help him find the inspiration he had lost during WWII. Pearl’s and Axel’s lives would come together in this period of change… While fully aware of the poignancy and beautiful writing of Shell by Aussie author Kristina Olsson, I found myself struggling, putting the book down and going back to it days later. The author has indulged in my pet hate – no speech marks – with the dialogue in italics inside the paragraphs. Very off-putting for me I’m afraid. The cover is stunning, but I’m disappointed I didn’t love this book as I expected to. That said, I’ll still recommend it to others who are sure to enjoy it more than I did. With thanks to S&S Australia for my uncorrected proof ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Marchpane

    “Writing about architecture is like dancing to music – a completely natural thing to do”. Wait, that’s not how that quote goes? Oh well. The building of the Sydney Opera House marks a watershed moment in Australia’s history: symbolic of a coming-of-age for the nation, of forging a cultural identity distinct from the Britishness that had characterised the preceding era. Just think: Australia in 1965, when the bulk of Shell takes place, had the same prime minister as it did 26 years earlier in 193 “Writing about architecture is like dancing to music – a completely natural thing to do”. Wait, that’s not how that quote goes? Oh well. The building of the Sydney Opera House marks a watershed moment in Australia’s history: symbolic of a coming-of-age for the nation, of forging a cultural identity distinct from the Britishness that had characterised the preceding era. Just think: Australia in 1965, when the bulk of Shell takes place, had the same prime minister as it did 26 years earlier in 1939. Difficult to move forward with one foot stuck in the past. This tension then, this state of flux, the awkward adolescence of a nation, is the stuff from which Shell is wrought. The construction of a singular architectural icon looms in the background as a perfect metaphor. In the foreground are two personal stories: Pearl, an Australian journalist sidelined by her newspaper into writing the ‘women’s section’ because of her opposition to the Vietnam war, is desperately trying to find her two brothers before they can be drafted; meanwhile Axel, a Swedish glassmaker commissioned to create a bespoke artwork for the Opera House foyer, obsesses about meeting ‘the architect’, Jørn Utzon, and traipses around Sydney seeking clarity for his artistic vision. Each has a past they are grappling with, while also questioning their own values in a shifting world. Utzon’s own fascinating story can be found elsewhere. In Shell he is a shadowy enigma, with the political interference forcing him off the project referenced only briefly. Shell is more concerned with digging deep into the national psyche that produced such animosity towards the man: ”But symbol and metaphor were lost down here beneath the heavy hand of heat and lethargy and a vastness of sky and ocean and air. Beneath a particular attitude, he saw suddenly, one the protesters with their placards might sense: a kind of huddling around sameness, a retreat from risk and – despite the openness of air and sky – from exposure. He saw it plainly in the derision of Utzon in the papers, the growing clamour of voices mocking his vision. As if they were ashamed of a building that might reveal them, the soaring shapes of their dreams, the true interior of their hearts. As if they were afraid of grandeur.” The dual perspectives of Axel, an artist and a foreigner, and Pearl, a local and a woman during major social upheaval, give a real depth to the story. Olsson’s prose is rich with metaphor, each sentence crafted with careful artistry, and distinctly unafraid of grandeur. It’s a slow burner, so patience is required. Slow-paced, lyrical novels are not usually my thing, but once I stopped resisting and let the book’s gentle current carry me along, I was completely captivated. It never lapses into easy nostalgia, neither does it condemn, but rather paints a complex picture of a tumultuous time. An elegant novel to be savoured.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Anne ✨

    I was drawn to this book with its beautiful cover of the Sydney Opera House & Harbor. The muted colors and softly blurred image is really appropriate for this historical fiction story. Olsson writes a tender, poignant contemplation of the atmosphere and times of 1960s Sydney, with a backdrop of events of the building of the Opera House and the Vietnam War lottery draft of young men. The story features two characters whose paths cross: Axel, a glassmaker from Sweden contracted to create sculp I was drawn to this book with its beautiful cover of the Sydney Opera House & Harbor. The muted colors and softly blurred image is really appropriate for this historical fiction story. Olsson writes a tender, poignant contemplation of the atmosphere and times of 1960s Sydney, with a backdrop of events of the building of the Opera House and the Vietnam War lottery draft of young men. The story features two characters whose paths cross: Axel, a glassmaker from Sweden contracted to create sculptures for the Opera House, and Pearl, a Sydney journalist on a mission to find the younger brothers she hasn’t seen for ten years. The pace of the story is slow and contemplative. It’s less about plot, and more about immersing the reader in the sights, sounds, and feel of the time and place. What I liked the most was the connection of the Opera House to its surroundings and getting a feel for how strongly the architectural elements communicated that connection. The characters of Pearl and Axel and their relationship were less interesting to me, it felt a bit odd that they even crossed paths to begin with, and I never really felt the connection there. With the slow pacing and lyrical writing of this book, I found myself only able to read a handful of pages at a time, and then putting the book down for breaks of ever-increasing amounts of time. As others have commented on, I too found the dialogue all in italics vs. quotation marks to be odd to read that way. While I didn’t love the book, I appreciated the insight into this period of time in Australia when the Opera House was being built. I enjoyed learning about the design and construction challenges and public perceptions of the project at the time. With thanks to Atria Books via NetGalley for providing me an ebook version to read in exchange for an honest review.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michael Livingston

    This lyrical novel uses the construction of the opera house to explore Australia in the 1960s. It's beautifully constructed as the building that inspired it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    SueLucie

    An incredibly interesting book on many levels and served to highlight a big gap in my knowledge - Australia in the 1960s, its involvement in the Vietnam War and, especially, the controversy surrounding the building of the Sydney Opera House. I found it all fascinating. The book is so much more than this, though. It features two equally sympathetic main characters, from very different cultural backgrounds. Axel, a glassmaker from Sweden contracted to create an artwork for the Opera House, and Pear An incredibly interesting book on many levels and served to highlight a big gap in my knowledge - Australia in the 1960s, its involvement in the Vietnam War and, especially, the controversy surrounding the building of the Sydney Opera House. I found it all fascinating. The book is so much more than this, though. It features two equally sympathetic main characters, from very different cultural backgrounds. Axel, a glassmaker from Sweden contracted to create an artwork for the Opera House, and Pearl, a Sydney journalist on a mission to find the younger brothers she hasn’t seen for ten years. They conduct a touching, tentative relationship - absorbing and reflecting each other’s preoccupations with missing family and trying to come to terms with their past. Not a book to rush through, the pace is slow and contemplative, comparing Pearl’s view of her Australian home with the Scandinavian Axel’s impressions of it. These people had absorbed sea water and the drift of desert at their backs. Felt the weight of it on their shoulders. The weight of history, of all they had come to and all they had inflicted on this place. Perhaps, he thought suddenly, that weight stopped them welcoming others here. They themselves had been the newcomers once; at a cellular level, they knew what they were capable of. But no. They were blinded by the sun; it meant they didn’t have to look. Where Axel came from, you had to look hard. Work for your visions, your insights. Set free in the immense southern ocean, this country sprawled like a sunbather. Without borders, it imagined its enemies, was free to create them. Looked only at themselves rather than over their shoulders. Found it too easy to be right. The writing is sublime. So many images of the beauty to be seen in Scandinavian and Australian landscape and seascape and, soaring above, the art involved in creating the Opera House and its accompanying glasswork. I can’t recommend this highly enough. With thanks to Simon & Schuster via NetGalley for the opportunity to read an ARC.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Dee

    My feelings about this book are very divided. On one hand, I was fascinated by Olsson’s evocation of the setting; Sydney in the mid-60’s was a culture deeply divided between its past and its future. On the brink of the Vietnam war draft, with the iconic Opera House in mid-construction, Australia was a country of immigrants unsure how to deal with its diversity. Ultimately, though, the plot moved too languidly to keep me fully engaged. I was interested by Pearl and Axel, and their back-stories, bu My feelings about this book are very divided. On one hand, I was fascinated by Olsson’s evocation of the setting; Sydney in the mid-60’s was a culture deeply divided between its past and its future. On the brink of the Vietnam war draft, with the iconic Opera House in mid-construction, Australia was a country of immigrants unsure how to deal with its diversity. Ultimately, though, the plot moved too languidly to keep me fully engaged. I was interested by Pearl and Axel, and their back-stories, but not enough to continue to plow through the adjectives and beautifully written turns of phrase.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Cass Moriarty

    From the very first pages of Shell (Scribner Books 2018), the new novel by Kris Olsson, you realise you are in the capable hands of a masterful storyteller. Not a word is wasted. Each sentence is crafted with care. Every paragraph sings from the page, like poetry, like prayer. The story is meticulously researched, and that research informs every line of dialogue, every cultural reference, all the minutiae of daily life. The characters are fully formed and multi-faceted; each has a background tha From the very first pages of Shell (Scribner Books 2018), the new novel by Kris Olsson, you realise you are in the capable hands of a masterful storyteller. Not a word is wasted. Each sentence is crafted with care. Every paragraph sings from the page, like poetry, like prayer. The story is meticulously researched, and that research informs every line of dialogue, every cultural reference, all the minutiae of daily life. The characters are fully formed and multi-faceted; each has a background that is hinted at but never thrust upon us, each is complex and nuanced, never black and white. The themes of the book: family and community; war and service and sacrifice; belonging; guilt and morality; politics; atonement; art and creativity – all are explored with sensitivity and thoughtfulness. This is a rare kind of book, one that is so well written that it is surely destined to become a classic of the Australian literature canon. The story is set in Sydney in 1965, with two narratives braiding together the lives of Pearl Keogh and Axel Lindquist. Pearl is a young journalist who has been relegated to the ‘Women’s Pages’ because of her anti-war stance. When conscription becomes fact, and 20-year-old boys are being drafted for the Vietnam War, Pearl becomes obsessed with trying to protect her fractured family. Alex Lindquist is a master glassmaker from Sweden, commissioned to create a centrepiece for the new Opera House which is under construction. But with the vision of Danish architect Jorn Utzon clashing with the financial and social restrictions of the government of the day, and Sydneysiders divided over their views of the strange construction as either an ugly eyesore and waste of money or an inspired and magnificent cultural wonder, tensions run high amongst union workers, politicians and artists. It is these two major conflicts – the uproar over the war and the consternation over the Opera House – that mark the times and define the lives of the characters. As with all of Kris Olsson’s works, Shell was informed by historical aspects of her own life, nuggets of pain or rage or devotion or regret that she has used as the stepping stones on her search for answers. She says in the Author’s Note that ‘Ideas and notions and doubts coalesce into a long and intricate conversation with myself…’ and that ‘The more I write, and read, and the older I get, the more comfortable I am with uncertainty. With being the humble servant of the questions, the story.’ This wise statement comes from a place of deep reflection, from a writer who ceaselessly strives to uncover truth, and who is never complacent about the meaning of what she discovers. I could quote passages from Shell, luminescent and shimmering words, but there are so many it is difficult to choose. The entire book is poetic, each line lingers so that even after you have read on, you find yourself returning to the previous section, just for the thrill of reading it again, purely for the beauty of the language. The book plunges us into the lives of Pearl and Axel and carries us as their journeys intertwine. We are first intimately engrossed in one and then with the other, and all the while the social and political acts of the time are enshrouding these two people like a caul. There is plot – and it is tense and compelling. There is dialogue – and it is authentic and believable. There is the familiarity of the setting and the majesty of the architectural creation and the despair and fear of the looming war. There is the chaos and the impossible choices and the irresolvable intricacies of family. But above all that, there is the language. The beautiful, lilting, descriptive language that holds us aloft as we progress through the story. Every line I read was magnified in my mind and I could hear it, each line, read by Kris’s careful and steady voice, the novel narrated as a song would be sung, as a mantra would be chanted, as a prayer would be spoken. This story is unforgettable, and this book is a marvel.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    While I found Shell to be an enjoyable read, I don't find myself with much to say about it on finishing. Olssons's writing is gorgeous, and I really liked Pearl's storyline. (If anyone has any other recommendations for historical fiction set in Australia, please send them my way in the comments!)

  10. 4 out of 5

    Denice Barker

    I don’t think there is an iconic image that identifies a place more than the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia. It wasn’t always so, it wasn’t always accepted. There was a time when was just being built and public opinion wasn’t so positive. In the mid 1960’s everything was changing. There was a war in Vietnam and Australia was adopting a draft system that, understandably so, was not well received. Pearl was a reporter embracing the change and protesting in the streets to defend her right t I don’t think there is an iconic image that identifies a place more than the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia. It wasn’t always so, it wasn’t always accepted. There was a time when was just being built and public opinion wasn’t so positive. In the mid 1960’s everything was changing. There was a war in Vietnam and Australia was adopting a draft system that, understandably so, was not well received. Pearl was a reporter embracing the change and protesting in the streets to defend her right to do that, putting her career at risk. She had a vested interest in not wanting the draft. Her younger brothers were just the age that would be sent to war. She hasn’t seen either of them in many years because they ran away from the boarding school they were sent to when their mother died. Pearl’s guilt in not trying harder for them is making her desperate to do this one thing she feels she CAN do. Axel Lindquist is newly arrived from Sweden and specifically charged with the artistic glass work for the Sydney Opera House. He is under the charge of the architect Jorn Utzon but Utzon hasn’t been seen in awhile. Axel left Sweden and the shadow of World War II’s effect on the country and Axel and his mother. He is hoping this new country will renew him and his art. Casting off the shadow of the old giving way to the new, the changing times, the war just ended and the new one gaining strength and a foothold, the new and ultra modern opera house, it can be hard to find your place. The author says that she didn’t write because she knows something, she writes because she doesn’t know and with Shell, she taught me.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    I would have to agree with the myriad compliments paid to Kristina Olsson about her novel Shell ; it is a perceptive, finely written work which mesmerised me from the moment I admired its beautiful cover depiction of the Opera House in an airport bookshop in October until my reading of it was completed very recently. Descriptions of the Australian landscape with particular reference to the spectacular land and sea environs of Sydney Harbour during the construction of the iconic Sydney Opera Hou I would have to agree with the myriad compliments paid to Kristina Olsson about her novel Shell ; it is a perceptive, finely written work which mesmerised me from the moment I admired its beautiful cover depiction of the Opera House in an airport bookshop in October until my reading of it was completed very recently. Descriptions of the Australian landscape with particular reference to the spectacular land and sea environs of Sydney Harbour during the construction of the iconic Sydney Opera House (1959-973) are vivid and atmospheric: they contrast strikingly with the also impressively described scenes from the Scandinavian homeland of the young glass artist, Axel. I appreciated the historical detail of the novel and insights into the psyche of the Australian public at the time. The outrage felt by many Australians that its young men should be forced to participate in a war not of its making via the evil practice of conscription is compared with the fury at the choice of an outsider architect, Danish born Jorn Utzon, to design and oversee the creation of a building many wanted to herald Australia’s arrival as a player on the cultural world stage. The most affecting parts of the novel for me were those that described the grief, loss and disruption experienced by families through untimely death, forced separation or the physical and mental decline of older family members. The young journalist Pearl’s desperation to reunite her family, feeling as she does the guilt that as the eldest of her family at fourteen she was, “unable to stop the disintegration, the scattering to homes and orphanages.” is but one example of the emotion laden situations which are a feature of the narrative. Kristina Olsson has previously written of her own family’s heartbreaking experience of losing a child in the exceptional family memoir, Boy, Lost . I think that to do justice to Kristina Olsson's novel I will need to read it again in the near future - there is certainly much to take in and admire. Whilst reading Shell I was reminded of another Australian family story set in the 1970s, The Bridge by Enza Gondolfo. Both novels are fine examples of Australian literature which I recommend wholeheartedly. Update January 3 2019 Link to a marvellous interview with Kristina Olsson talking about Shell on Radio National's The Hub on Books on December 4 2018. https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/...

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    I knew within the first few pages that I was going to love this book. I knew that I would hate to come to the end of these words which were only matched by the elegance of the Sydney Opera House. I read slowly, in order that I not miss even one small nuance, one exquisite thought. Some novels are read for plot, some for character, and some, like Shell, for the beauty of the written word. Axel Lindquist is a glass man from Sweden, brought to Australia by Jorn Utzon, the Danish architect of the Sidn I knew within the first few pages that I was going to love this book. I knew that I would hate to come to the end of these words which were only matched by the elegance of the Sydney Opera House. I read slowly, in order that I not miss even one small nuance, one exquisite thought. Some novels are read for plot, some for character, and some, like Shell, for the beauty of the written word. Axel Lindquist is a glass man from Sweden, brought to Australia by Jorn Utzon, the Danish architect of the Sidney Opera House, to design the glass in the structure. "His glasswork had flowered into complexity, a way of shaping his yearning, of what he saw -- the lakes, the shore and its paths, rain, snow. His liquid world. The terrible strength of water and of glass. Their fragility and beauty." Pearl Keogh works for the Telegraph newspaper, for "from the beginning, she was obsessed by the process: the notion of a story, what it was, what it could do, the risk and potential of it." Threaded through their lives are the Vietnam conflict and the construction of the Sydney Opera House, always under the watchful eye of the Southern Cross. This deeply enchanting and alluring novel will not disappoint. I read this EARC courtesy of Atria Books and Edelweiss. pub date 10/09/18

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    An exceptional glimpse into a volatile time in Australia's past that heightened by the controversy of the Vietnam War - the enforced ballot and our fears and concerns of what it meant to be involved again in a conflict on distant shores. And yet in our own country, on our own shoreline another controversy was brewing - the construction, the design, the time delays and the budget blowout of the Sydney Opera House. Two major things that put the political landscape into upheaval, the Australian peo An exceptional glimpse into a volatile time in Australia's past that heightened by the controversy of the Vietnam War - the enforced ballot and our fears and concerns of what it meant to be involved again in a conflict on distant shores. And yet in our own country, on our own shoreline another controversy was brewing - the construction, the design, the time delays and the budget blowout of the Sydney Opera House. Two major things that put the political landscape into upheaval, the Australian people questioned much and the media played an integral role in educating and generating angst. We see the story told by a young glassmaker Axel who was commissioned to work on the Opera House - his passion for his craft and his slow, painstaking process to work out what he wishes to create to align with Utzon's vision. We see an emerging modern Sydney through his eyes as he endeavours to grapple with what the building will be and how it will define the skyline. And Pearl, a journalist who was looking into her world with doubts and confusion - the confrontations she is willing to have, the questions she was willing to ask about not only her own life and of Axels but of the whole damn thing of love, work, gender, sex and war. Olssons narrative is slow, deliberate and quite magnificent really. It provided me with a whole new perspective of a time that was full of political and cultural change.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tundra

    Some beautiful imagery and an evocative glimpse of a country in its awkward teenage years fumbling to accept itself and develop a moral compass. Occasionally I was a bit overwhelmed by metaphor and description and had to reread passages to follow events but this was definitely worth the effort.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    As I wrote when I posted a Sensational Snippet from Kristina Olsson’s new novel Shell, (https://anzlitlovers.com/2018/10/24/s...) I have fallen in love with this book so it’s not going to be easy to write an objective review. I have mulled over the book for two days since I finished reading it, and I still feel a frisson of pleasure when I set eyes on it. It’s my Book of the Year, and it might even be the Book of the Decade, in the same way that Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance turned out to be a As I wrote when I posted a Sensational Snippet from Kristina Olsson’s new novel Shell, (https://anzlitlovers.com/2018/10/24/s...) I have fallen in love with this book so it’s not going to be easy to write an objective review. I have mulled over the book for two days since I finished reading it, and I still feel a frisson of pleasure when I set eyes on it. It’s my Book of the Year, and it might even be the Book of the Decade, in the same way that Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance turned out to be a Book of the Decade, for me. For starters, it is beautifully published. Designed by Christabella Designs to mark the first book published by Scribner Australia (an imprint of Simon and Schuster), the hardback edition has creamy pale-pink textured boards imprinted with the same glorious image as the dustcover—it’s a photograph called Red Storm Day by Jean-Pierre Bratanoff-Firgoff. The endpaper images are a sketch and a site plan from the Red Book of Jørn Utzon, the architect of the Sydney Opera House. This is a book which heralds its status as a masterpiece even as the reader holds it in the hand. I am not the only one utterly captivated by Shell: it has had glowing reviews in the print media, and its impressive list of blurbers includes this comment from Ashley Hay, author of The Railwayman’s Wife and A Hundred Little Lessons: Shell sanctifies the greatest of our ideas and being, from love, courage and betrayal to creation and dissent… It’s the kind of book that opens out its readers, making them think and feel. It’s the kind of book I’ll carry with me for all time. What Ashley Hay says is true. On almost every page, there’s something to make the reader pause to think, because the book explores fundamental truths and issues that still resonate now in the 21st century. Although it’s set in an historical period, it’s not historical fiction of the genre variety. It’s a book that explores history in a new and reflective way. To see the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2018/10/27/s...

  16. 4 out of 5

    Win

    I rated this book 5 stars not because it’s perfect but because it captures the atmosphere & the times perfectly. You become immersed in the streets, suburbs & beaches of Sydney. The Opera House going up piece by piece & the problems associated with the build are tangible. The characters are also very relatable.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Theresa Smith

    ‘There was no Swedish word to describe this, no English word that he knew; it wasn’t as simple as ‘awe’ or even ‘love’. It was the clutch at his heart as he lifted his eyes to its curves and lines. Its reach for beauty, a connection between the human and the sublime.’ Since its release last month, in my capacity as editor for historical fiction with the Australian Women Writers Challenge, I have read quite a few reviews on Shell, with no one reviewer saying the same thing. This in itself was reas ‘There was no Swedish word to describe this, no English word that he knew; it wasn’t as simple as ‘awe’ or even ‘love’. It was the clutch at his heart as he lifted his eyes to its curves and lines. Its reach for beauty, a connection between the human and the sublime.’ Since its release last month, in my capacity as editor for historical fiction with the Australian Women Writers Challenge, I have read quite a few reviews on Shell, with no one reviewer saying the same thing. This in itself was reason enough for me to want to check it out and form my own opinion, but in the end, it was Lisa from ANZ LitLovers LitBlog who really persuaded me to read this novel post haste (do check out her review here). But it wasn’t all love at the first chapter for me, I will admit this and for the first seventy odd pages, I really felt as though I just couldn’t put my finger on the pulse of what was happening. There was a vagueness to the narrative which, to me, evaded full disclosure. It was almost as though I had to read between the lines of what was being alluded. However, in hindsight, I can note that these initial impressions can probably be attributed to the way in which I was reading the novel, more than the novel itself. I was picking it up in short bursts on Saturday, in between hanging out copious amounts of washing and acting as a taxi for my children all day long. Anyway, it wasn’t until I was able to really settle down with Shell in the evening that this dawned on me. Because all of a sudden, without distraction, I realised that this novel was actually quite exceptional. ‘Her own rollies had never tasted as sweet as she’d imagined. She’d thought they’d be just like those mornings, which held the deep flinty smell of her father’s breath and skin, like the embers of old kindling. She’d searched for years for precisely the right tobacco, settling recently for a blend of plum and spice she found consoling, if not sweet. Those hours with her father re-enacted in the rhythm of the match striking, the tobacco catching, the shape of thumb and forefinger around the smoke.’ There are so many moments of introspection from both of the main characters, Pearl and Axel, that gave me pause for reflection. Passages I read two, and even three times, just enjoying the beauty of the words and the way Kristina Olsson strings them together. This is why I needed to sink into the novel, rather than just pick it up and put it down over and over. While the narrative is engaging, it’s the beauty of the unsaid that takes this novel to the next level, and in order to appreciate the unsaid, you need time and no distractions. ‘She looked up, and between half-heard words and phrases, in the shifting space between earth and sky, she saw it: the boys had been abandoned by them all. Mother, father, sister. Through death, grief, selfishness – in one way or another, they’d each disappeared, left them. Leaving was what her brothers knew. What they expected.’ I have never actually been to the Opera House. The most I’ve seen of it is from the window of an airplane as we cruised into Sydney on an international connection flight. I have no physical context for which to place this story, no visual memories to draw on, yet while reading about it in Shell, I could picture the intricacies perfectly, her descriptions so precise and detailed that visiting the Opera House was not a prerequisite for enjoying this novel – to my relief, because some reviews I have read were from people who have visited the Opera House and they all mentioned how this helped them with the visualisation of its creation as it was described within the novel. Rest assured, if you are like me and haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting, it’s not going to impact on your appreciation of this aspect of the novel. I never knew that there was so much controversy surrounding its construction. Seeing this all unfold through Axel’s eyes provided an insightful perspective, particularly his thoughts on Australians and the way we consider beauty and culture. In particular: ‘It wasn’t that they didn’t understand beauty. But there was a sense of being embarrassed by it, that it was an indulgence. The practical was held in such esteem. It made them too polite.’ And: ‘Australians appeared to have no myths of their own, no stories to pass down. He’d read about the myths of indigenous people, the notion of a Dreaming and the intricate stories it comprised. He wondered if Utzon knew these legends, their history in this place. Had he known anything of Aboriginal people when he designed his building? As he sat down and drew shapes that could turn a place sacred? Turn its people poetic: their eyes to a harbour newly revealed by the building, its depths and colours new to them, and surprising. Perhaps that was what the architect was doing here: creating a kind of Dreaming, a shape and structure that would explain these people to themselves. Perhaps the building was just that: a secular bible, a Rosetta stone, a treaty. A story to be handed down. If people would bother to look. If they’d bother to see.’ One more: ‘But in this country, he saw, it was a kind of sport to belittle those with vision, to treat art with disdain. He wasn’t sure what benefit it brought, but it was something to do with this flattening out, this shuffle towards sameness, to a life lived on the surface, without any depth. Was that why people clung so hard to the edges of the country, their backs to its beating red heart? Were they afraid to look in, to hear the old stories, to see what was inscribed on their own hearts and land?’ You see what I mean though? There are so many passages that just reach out to you with their intent. The other topic of prominence within this novel is the introduction of conscription for the Vietnam War, and the way this divided people. I found this particularly interesting and it’s kind of changed my view to a certain extent on the way the Vietnam War was being protested against by the Australian public. I can’t help but consider the weight that conscription must have added to the ill-sentiment that was already prevalent. Would the absence of conscription have led to a more respectful return for our troops that had served in this war? I love it when a novel can get my mind working like this. ‘They were 18 and 19 then, not old enough to vote. To get a passport, buy a house or a beer. But they could be forced into army fatigues, she thought now, biting her lip. Given a gun to kill boys just like them, boys they didn’t know, had never seen.’ I have no doubt that Shell is one of those novels we will see a lot of next year as it pops up on longlists and (hopefully) shortlists for awards. It is a literary work of fiction, I only point this out because some readers prefer not to dive into these, but if you’ve been on the fence about whether or not to read Shell, I urge you to just go for it. If you love a novel that gives you beautiful prose threaded with thought provoking content set against a background of real historical events, then Shell just might be the perfect read for you. ‘The passage of time, of life, from one realm to another, the traces left for others.’

  18. 4 out of 5

    Teagan

    Mixed feelings about this book, I had such high hopes due to the Australian historical setting and the subject matter of such a iconic building. I was disappointed for a number of reasons those being: -While I loved the poetic language used to descibe the setting, time of day or actions occuring I found the book largely confusing. I actually still don't get what happened in the end partially due to the metaphorical style of writing and there are still pleanty of gaps on the I just didn't grasp. Mixed feelings about this book, I had such high hopes due to the Australian historical setting and the subject matter of such a iconic building. I was disappointed for a number of reasons those being: -While I loved the poetic language used to descibe the setting, time of day or actions occuring I found the book largely confusing. I actually still don't get what happened in the end partially due to the metaphorical style of writing and there are still pleanty of gaps on the I just didn't grasp. -This could have been a deliberate choice that the author made due to the nature of the story and the characters themselves but instead of being immersed in their lives I felt detached and distanced from them. Both characters still feel like strangers to me somewhat. -Pearl and her brothers (plus possible twin sisters??) Became a bone of contention for me too as she seemed to think they saw her as someone who abandoned them, which that didn't and it was obvious, but this sense of betrayal didn't leave Pearl. Reallllllly annoying as a reader! -annnnnd just the ending again. What actually happened?!?! The book claimed enlightenment but I'm still, iconically, in the dark.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I just loved this book. It resonated for me in so many ways. It took me back to Sydney of my childhood, the Opera House being built, the anti-Vietnam protests, my experiences of growing up in Balmain and that weird inferiority complex we had in Australia that fed into a real cultural cringe and fear of the new. I even have a memory of Jorn Utzen getting the sack. This is how deep it’s building settled into our consciousness. I loved the way Olsson used light and water as a vehicle to tell the sto I just loved this book. It resonated for me in so many ways. It took me back to Sydney of my childhood, the Opera House being built, the anti-Vietnam protests, my experiences of growing up in Balmain and that weird inferiority complex we had in Australia that fed into a real cultural cringe and fear of the new. I even have a memory of Jorn Utzen getting the sack. This is how deep it’s building settled into our consciousness. I loved the way Olsson used light and water as a vehicle to tell the story. The cultural differences in the book were underpinned by Pearl and Axel’s relationship. I guess in some ways the book is a statement of optimism - Pearl and Axel do end up understanding each other and the Opera House is built. A wonderful book to read, it’s just sad that I got to the end of it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lesley Moseley

    3 3/4 rounded up as I felt it wrapped up to quickly. LOVELY read, Sydney is the most dominant 'character', I felt. Wonderful realisation of place. and set in it's time. I felt a bit distant from the main people characters except I actually cried during a very poignant 'meeting', scene. Would definately recomend it, especially to Scandinavian readers as their countries portrayals match my memories.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    Thanks to netgalley for a free copy of this book. I thought Kristina Olsson's book would be right up my alley: historical fiction, Sydney in the mid 1960s, the construction of the Sydney Opera House. Unfortunately, I did not like this book at all. Olsson utilized one of biggest pet peeves: no quotation marks. Instead, all dialogue was in italics and within the paragraphs instead of separated out. In addition, I did not like the structure, which continually switched back and forth between the two Thanks to netgalley for a free copy of this book. I thought Kristina Olsson's book would be right up my alley: historical fiction, Sydney in the mid 1960s, the construction of the Sydney Opera House. Unfortunately, I did not like this book at all. Olsson utilized one of biggest pet peeves: no quotation marks. Instead, all dialogue was in italics and within the paragraphs instead of separated out. In addition, I did not like the structure, which continually switched back and forth between the two main characters (and time periods), Pearl and Axel, within the same chapter. Finally, I did not like Olsson's writing style, which seemed to me like she was trying too hard to be lyrical and artistic.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Anita

    Strangely written & couldn't get ijnto it. Too many books to read so I gave up.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sam Still Reading

    A book like Shell doesn’t come around every day, nor every year. This book is beautifully, tenderly written with every word crafted with an eye for detail. It is as admirable as the Sydney Opera House (the building of which is a major plot device) and as breathtaking as the glass sculptures crafted by Axel, one of the main characters. I can’t think of a better story to launch the Scribner Australia imprint. This is going to be an imprint to devour if Shell is any indication of the beauty and qua A book like Shell doesn’t come around every day, nor every year. This book is beautifully, tenderly written with every word crafted with an eye for detail. It is as admirable as the Sydney Opera House (the building of which is a major plot device) and as breathtaking as the glass sculptures crafted by Axel, one of the main characters. I can’t think of a better story to launch the Scribner Australia imprint. This is going to be an imprint to devour if Shell is any indication of the beauty and quality of the storytelling. Shell describes two major occasions in Australian history, neither of which have been deeply explored in fiction to date. The first is the building of the Sydney Opera House, which for many Australians has just been there forever (myself included). It’s amazing to think that in the 1960s that it wasn’t finished with both the media and government attacking the project daily (and that was before social media). The second is the anti-war movement as Australia sends troops to Vietnam with protesters organising large scale disruption. Through the eyes of the two main characters, Pearl and Axel, both become personal. Pearl is involved in the anti-war campaigns, but has had to take a backseat after being photographed during a protest has moved her career backwards from news journalists to the women’s pages. She’s still secretly involved, with a link on ‘the inside’ but her main motivation is much more personal. Her two brothers, who she feels she failed after they were placed in an orphanage, are of drafting age. Pearl doesn’t know where they are, but she wants to protect them at all costs. Axel has come from Sweden to work of glass sculptures for the Opera House. His hero is the architect, Jørn Utzon. He is desperate to meet Utzon and explain how his design for the Opera House makes him feel. Axel can’t understand the controversy and resistance against the project. This extends to the way some Australians act – it’s foreign to him. When he meets Pearl, little do either of them realise they have a lot in common. Missing, broken families and a desire for change. Kristina Olsson’s writing is exquisite. Like how Axel sees the Opera House, it is art. Every detail of this novel is planned and executed to the finest detail. You will want to savour every single word, picture every scene and reflect on the conversations between characters. Although it’s not a long book, Shell should not be skimmed over quickly. This is a novel that reminds us of why we read – for the beauty and creation of worlds in our mind. Simply put, I loved this novel. I hungered for every detail about Pearl’s family and Axel’s sculptures. I loved the glimpses into a Sydney that is so different – slower and simpler - than today’s speedy metropolis. Shell will not disappoint. I’ve overjoyed that this beautiful, Australian story will be shared with the world. Thank you to Simon & Schuster for the copy of this book. My review is honest. http://samstillreading.wordpress.com

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    An ethereal literary novel. The story floated with the prose style and shimmers like the sails of the Opera House in a summer mist. Like life, some questions are answered others are hinted at. Possibly a few raised. Covers so much of what was happening in Australia in the '60s, especially in Sydney and NSW. Very pleased to have the opportunity to enjoy reading it and I'll be looking out for more of Kristina Olsson's novels.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kayte Nunn

    Adored this beautifully written book - it is as exquisite as the glass that it describes.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rosalie

    ‘Shell’ is a surreal story set in Sydney during the 1960’s. It is one of those books that connects several topics within a setting and these are linked loosely by the tenuous relationship between the two main characters. I was deceived by the dreamlike story-telling as it meandered along with so many gaps for the reader to fill in; but Olsson is describing the Sydney I knew when I was about 11 years old and I was completely engrossed and am still contemplating its impact on me. The 1960’s was a ‘Shell’ is a surreal story set in Sydney during the 1960’s. It is one of those books that connects several topics within a setting and these are linked loosely by the tenuous relationship between the two main characters. I was deceived by the dreamlike story-telling as it meandered along with so many gaps for the reader to fill in; but Olsson is describing the Sydney I knew when I was about 11 years old and I was completely engrossed and am still contemplating its impact on me. The 1960’s was a decade of social upheaval around the western world. Countries like Australia were slanted politically by the Cold War and shifted their allegiance from Britain to the US. At that time there was almost full employment and an increasing reliance on immigration to satisfy the needs of the post war infrastructure developments such as the Snowy Hydro-electric Scheme and other amazing constructions befitting a ‘new’ country such as the Sydney Opera House. Nevertheless, the migrant labourers were expected to work and assimilate but not to outshine the local white Australians - to not do too well. The Vietnam War showed the strength of the new US / Australian alliance when the government of the day introduced conscription and sent troops to fight against the communists at the request of the Americans. Yet there was a growing dissatisfaction with the conservative politics which culminated with the idea of fighting a war that was not an Australian war. The use of secret service agencies to gather information about anti-government Australia also became more apparent. Into this scenario the stories of Pearl and Axel collide. Axel is a Swedish master glassmaker who is lured to Sydney to work on the Opera House under the Danish architect Jorn Utzon, who had won the design competition. His presence introduces other minor themes such as the divergent viewpoints of Europeans and Australians, the idea of neutrality during wartime, the undermining of the integrity of Utzon and the indescribable essence of light in art glass. Pearl’s world is centred on her work as a journalist and her search for her missing brothers. She has been relegated to the ‘woman’s pages’ but her phone is tapped after she is spotted attending an anti-war rally. Her personal backstory introduces the minor themes of ‘lost’ women writers, left-wing clandestine meetings and control taken over by the men, illegal abortions and horrific orphanages run by charitable organisations (many of whom allowed the physical and sexual abuse of their charges). Kristina Olsson is an expert storyteller and wordsmith. She conjures up images and plays with words to complete her pictures. For example, Pearl discovers a tawny frogmouth when she steps outside while her tea draws in her blue enamel tea pot. She remembers her mother once saying “an owl in the garden is like a blessing” and extends this analogy to “she let the fledgling hope rise in her, feathering up and over her limbs. A rare optimism, and it warmed her…” (p145) The author examines the power of words used to diminish people for example Pearl’s editor describes the 60-year-old author he suggests she interview as ‘elderly’ but suggests it “a strong, successful, single (woman), a public figure who called her own tune. Brought to heel by one word – elderly – a suitable punishment for breaking the rules. For being the one who got away”. (p174) Olsson also examines the cultural darkness that existed in Australia right up to and beyond the 1960’s when Australian culture was overshadowed by everything from overseas. P 236 “it was a kind of sport to belittle those with a vision, to treat art with disdain…The locals had no myths and therefore could not understand (Utzon) or his building...When they needed a symbol, a narrative that explained them…they would look to the Opera House and see themselves.” This is a rich but complex book that captures the impressions of the sixties without nostalgia.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Susanne

    'Shell' is one of those stories whose imagery sank into me while it made me think: about what it is to 'be Australian' and about key events in our twentieth century past. At times, the broken sentences and half finished thoughts annoyed me, but they captured a character's groping, like swimming towards a bright patch of light far away, towards understanding. The images are beautiful and subtly connected, with glass, water and shells predominating. I found myself wanting to visit the Opera House t 'Shell' is one of those stories whose imagery sank into me while it made me think: about what it is to 'be Australian' and about key events in our twentieth century past. At times, the broken sentences and half finished thoughts annoyed me, but they captured a character's groping, like swimming towards a bright patch of light far away, towards understanding. The images are beautiful and subtly connected, with glass, water and shells predominating. I found myself wanting to visit the Opera House to see if Axel's work really was there. The 'big reveal' of his designs occurs near the end, linked to protests about the Vietnam War, created by a man from a country (Sweden) which, despite being 'neutral' found a way to help free the Germans' prisoners as WW2 drew to a close. There are numerous parallels - of people and events. As for water: Axel came from a land that was mainly water. The way light transforms in and on glass, his explorations of the Harbour and the beaches - this desperate search to capture the quality of light and water and the relationship between Utzon's incredible design and the ancient land on which it was being built - were fascinating. Ollsson also explored attitudes of the times, searching for the reason why Utzon's brilliant creation was mocked in a version of 'the cultural cringe': ‘It wasn’t that they didn’t understand beauty. But there was a sense of being embarrassed by it, that it was an indulgence. The practical was held in such esteem. It made them too polite.’ I love the way Jorn Utzon's role as master creator is explored: ‘Australians appeared to have no myths of their own, no stories to pass down. He’d read about the myths of indigenous people, the notion of a Dreaming and the intricate stories it comprised. He wondered if Utzon knew these legends, their history in this place. Had he known anything of Aboriginal people when he designed his building? As he sat down and drew shapes that could turn a place sacred? Turn its people poetic: their eyes to a harbour newly revealed by the building, its depths and colours new to them, and surprising. Perhaps that was what the architect was doing here: creating a kind of Dreaming, a shape and structure that would explain these people to themselves. Perhaps the building was just that: a secular bible, a Rosetta stone, a treaty. A story to be handed down. If people would bother to look. If they’d bother to see.’ Which leads into musing about how and why our population clings the coastline: ‘But in this country, he saw, it was a kind of sport to belittle those with vision, to treat art with disdain. He wasn’t sure what benefit it brought, but it was something to do with this flattening out, this shuffle towards sameness, to a life lived on the surface, without any depth. Was that why people clung so hard to the edges of the country, their backs to its beating red heart? Were they afraid to look in, to hear the old stories, to see what was inscribed on their own hearts and land?’ The Vietnam War divided people and got me thinking. When I was teaching, I used to make this point to my students that Olsson makes: ‘They were 18 and 19 then, not old enough to vote. To get a passport, buy a house or a beer. But they could be forced into army fatigues . . . Given a gun to kill boys just like them, boys they didn’t know, had never seen.’ Ollsson touched on attitudes to Sweden's neutrality in WW2, which served to highlight the complexity of wars on foreign soil. So much to think about. I dreamed vividly the night I finished reading it. On balance, I'm very glad I read it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    Kristina Olsson has perfectly captured our flaws on the page. The purposeful newness of Australia as a place comes across in this book - how this newness is about creating a veneer to cover over a real and deeper history. This disconnection and it’s relevance to how places take shape is inextricably linked, and underpins the whole mood of this book. The building of this great cultural centrepiece, tarnished before it had even begun by the history of the land it stood on, and by the chaos of its Kristina Olsson has perfectly captured our flaws on the page. The purposeful newness of Australia as a place comes across in this book - how this newness is about creating a veneer to cover over a real and deeper history. This disconnection and it’s relevance to how places take shape is inextricably linked, and underpins the whole mood of this book. The building of this great cultural centrepiece, tarnished before it had even begun by the history of the land it stood on, and by the chaos of its completion. “But in this country, he saw, it was a kind of sport to belittle those with vision, to treat art with disdain. He wasn’t sure what benefit it brought, but it was something to do with this flattening out, this shuffle towards sameness, to a life lived on the surface, without any depth.” The opera house is emblematic of Australia’s attempt at rebirth in the 50s and 60s as a ‘new nation’, but what lies beneath will always remain: “The city itself a blank page, uninscribed. Except that it wasn’t... the place was ‘storied’...”. Tension builds as the building of the Opera House becomes more and more complicated, and the Vietnam War looms large in the background. The characters are melancholy, and tinged with fear. They are on edge, poised for some kind of collapse they sense others are oblivious to as they drown out the dissenting voices, the voices that force them to look deeper (Utzon and his bold visions, the anti-war movement that bound up otherwise dissociated groups). “They did not understand the Opera House but at the same time understood it completely. This is what they knew, the critics, the cynics, the politicians: that left alone, the building might make them mute. It spoke to and of the people in a way they could not. Of course they were afraid; they were fearful that the Opera House itself was a bloodless coup. Might overturn them, might stand in their place.” Brings to mind the recent Alan Jones racing debacle doesn’t it. There is a wonderful phrase she uses, “defy the great Australian complacency”, and that’s what this book does - through its characters and their stories, the lyrical narrative, and the easy way the perspectives meld together. Olsson has woven their stories together remarkably well, making social history personal. Fortunately for us Olsson’s book is a little “unaustralian” - a bold, clear vision that delivers. By happy coincidence I was reading this book on a day trip to Avalon, the place that so inspired Utzon.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Boyd

    I LOVED this book - a beautifully written and paced story with gorgeous language and evocative descriptions of Sydney from both a local and foreign perspective. The story is set against the building of the Sydney Opera House (I remember being about 7 years old and attending the opening ceremony and am still in love with this building MANY years later) as well as the social upheaval of the time, especially that surrounding Australia's involvement in the Vietnam war and the introduction of conscri I LOVED this book - a beautifully written and paced story with gorgeous language and evocative descriptions of Sydney from both a local and foreign perspective. The story is set against the building of the Sydney Opera House (I remember being about 7 years old and attending the opening ceremony and am still in love with this building MANY years later) as well as the social upheaval of the time, especially that surrounding Australia's involvement in the Vietnam war and the introduction of conscription. Highly recommended!!!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Anne Fenn

    This is a marvellous book, a novel full of marvels. First one that strikes you is Kristina Olsson's language - some of her best work deals with the world of glass. Sydney Opera House, that haphazard array of sails, they all have windows, not ordinary ones either. Her language here moves from the technical, a little, to the aesthetic, a lot. It makes me want to go and see those windows today! There's a lot of yearning in this drawn-out drama about building a national edifice in the face of politi This is a marvellous book, a novel full of marvels. First one that strikes you is Kristina Olsson's language - some of her best work deals with the world of glass. Sydney Opera House, that haphazard array of sails, they all have windows, not ordinary ones either. Her language here moves from the technical, a little, to the aesthetic, a lot. It makes me want to go and see those windows today! There's a lot of yearning in this drawn-out drama about building a national edifice in the face of political intrigue. Poor Utzon remains a shadowy figure while smaller characters become the main players. This is the next great aspect of the novel - the breadth and depth of the plot, which has so many threads. Historical, cultural, social, technical, you don't really notice this as they blend so smoothly in ways you wouldn't predict. It's the 1960s, Vietnam war, conscription protests, these are important . Main character Pearl is a journalist with a politically aware upbringing, she brings this perspective to her work but can't write about it. Her story brings more - Irish activism, family breakup, orphanages, mistreatment of women, children, the elderly. The story takes a brief but fascinating glimpse at the lives of migrants and their efforts during the post-war years on schemes like the Snowy Mountains project. Pearl's relationship with glassmaker Axel links us to Sweden's role in WW2, and the effects of war such as levels of participation, loss, separation, and change. Cultural differences between 1960s Sweden and Australia are powerfully developed; the author produces a thoughtful but bruising scrutiny of our national characteristics. Flat, is a key word. Olsson's language and ideas make the complexities of life during these years, 1940-1960, here and abroad, come to vivid life. It helps keep the past alive, and provides other ways of seeing how we can deal more positively with the here and now. I confess I started it earlier and put it down, too tired to appreciate it. A couple of reviews made me return to it, I'm very glad I did.

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