Book Review: The Last Days of Ava Langdon by Mark O’Flynn

When I spotted the front page of the Blue Mountains Gazette last week, I was delighted to see that The Last Days of Ava Langdon by Mark O’Flynn had been longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. There is a link to the interview with the author here.

Shortly after I moved to the mountains, I attended a poetry reading by Mark at the newly opened Blue Mountains Cultural Centre. A poet’s eye and love of language is evident throughout this novel, with a sense of place and mood evident from the opening line of the section titled Morning: ‘Dawn cracks like an egg against the fibro walls of the derelict shack.’ Word choice matters to Ava Langdon, who is described below:

Catching sight of herself in a little wedge of mirror perched on an exposed joist, she stops. Who is that hideous creature? What form dost thou take? Her hair like the thatch from a mattress used for nesting material, with lavender bags under her eyes.

Words are chosen carefully to capture the essence of an eccentric personality living in extremely basic conditions in a shack on the outskirts of a mountain village. There is a blurring between the character’s sense of reality and her very active imagination, interwoven with recollections which at times seem unlikely yet not impossible. The vivid evocations of a familiar landscape appealed to me, and I enjoyed pondering what Katoomba would have looked like decades ago. Ava’s interactions, especially at the post office and tea shop, have stayed with me months after reading the book. I am reminded of her whenever I spot the old post office in Katoomba Street:

The red bricks of the post office are darkening now where a downpipe has leaked over the facade. May as well go in, she thinks, and mounts the steps. The door. The dimness. All that detail.

‘Never fear, I have arrived.’

The door swings shut behind her, light, dark, light, dark. Several people at the counter turn to stare, she who is dressed so extraordinarily, the cravat like a golden goiter spilling down her shirt front, the pinstripes, the braces.

The book is loosely based on the life of Australian writer Eve Langley, who is best known for her novel The Pea Pickers. Like Langley, Langdon is an unorthodox writer who wrote a successful novel but didn’t reach the same heights of success again in her career. The hope, anticipation and despair of a writing life is poignantly portrayed:

And here are her four fibro walls which guard her boxes of rejected manuscripts, each one four hundred pages long and typed on rose-colored paper. Each encapsulating an aspect of her life, the romance of it, the creative force of it.

This is one of those books which once read I want to hang on to, to be able to dip back into and savour again. There is an excellent review of it here.

[Photo: Old Katoomba Post Office]

 

My I Spy: something beginning with ‘W’

Wintery thoughts are a distant memory as I write this on a warm summer’s day. The outside world is whirring with bird calls and distant traffic as I ponder on what I’ve spied beginning with W.

Whale tail at Victor Harbor, SA

Whale tail at Victor Harbor, SA

Whales

Lately I have come across several references to whales. On a documentary there was footage of a beautiful horseshoe-shaped bay in Tasmania where Southern Right whales congregated for their breeding season until the enthusiastic whaling economy of the 1800s nearly wiped them out entirely. Whaling stations are dotted around the coastline and a whaling museum I visited years ago at Albany at the bottom of Western Australia had a blubber tank that still exuded the scent of decades past. This whale tail was spotted in Victor Harbor in South Australia. There is an excellent overview of the history of whaling in Australia here.

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Wattle

‘Dancing, swaying, wattle’: it is hard for me to spot any of the many varieties of wattle without hearing my Mum sing this line in my head. These bright bursts were spied near an old gold mine shaft at Grenfell in the central west.

img_2745Waratahs

This bright flower is the floral emblem of New South Wales. The red blooms draw the eye even on a dull day in the mountains. There are white waratahs too, a rarer delight.

White waratah

White waratah

Wisteria at Camden Park House

Wisteria at Camden Park House

Wisteria

Stunning en masse, this wisteria was spotted just before reaching its peak wrapped around Camden Park House, part of the Macarthur family estate.

Whale hedge at Glenhaven, Leura

Whale hedge at Glenhaven, Leura

One More Whale

I laughed out loud when I first spotted an article in the Blue Mountains Gazette at the beginning of spring. There are many gardens open for viewing in Leura, and I had to admire the unconventional inclusion of large teeth and an eye to transform a large hedge into a whale in a beautiful garden called Glenhaven. Of course I had to track it down for a photo.

Have you spotted anything wonderful beginning with W this week?

Check out what Autumn has spied here, as well as atman.art.studio on Instagram.