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Delicious descriptions from Down Under: Barbara Hanrahan on the sun

February 16, 2011

When you read do you come across passages that you just want to hang onto forever – but (if you’re a blogger) when you go to write your blog review you can’t quite make them fit? I do, and have been pondering for some time what to do about it. Then, suddenly, it came to me. How about a series of posts comprising favourite bits from books (and other writing)? And so, “Delicious descriptions from Down Under” was born. The posts will be occasional – and some times more occasional than others – but I’ll just see where it takes me.

For my first one, I couldn’t go past Barbara Hanrahan‘s The scent of eucalyptus (1973) which I reviewed recently. It’s full of “delicious descriptions” but the one I wanted to share has to do with the Sun, with, specifically, hot sunny days in the city of Adelaide. I was in Adelaide on a scorchingly hot long January weekend many moons ago, and haven’t forgotten it. Here is Hanrahan:

Myilly Point, Darwin, shutters

Shutters

The sun is everywhere.

It is in the garden: peering huge-eyed over the berry bush, roosting behind the chimney, floating like a fried egg in puddles. It mocks me when I burn my bare feet on the earth and scorch my fingers on the iron fence. It peels my nose to jigsaw puzzles, gilds my skin with freckles, turns the hair on my arms to gold.

It is in the house: spangling the passage with leopard spots, turning the sheepskin rug tawny, casting zebra stripes through the shutters. It curdles the milk, melts the butter, shows the dust, fades the curtains. It steals into vases and drinks their water; creeps up the cold tap and turns it hot.

Such intense summer heat that goes on for days is typically – though not solely I know – Australian. I love the way she gives the sun life, the way she mixes up her imagery and yet consciously but not rigidly uses a symmetrical structure to make it read more like poetry than prose. It works beautifully – for me, anyhow.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. February 16, 2011 4:24 am

    I love this idea and that is a great first quote. It takes me back to hot July days stateside, though likely nothing quite so severe. North Carolina is not Arizona, after all.

    • February 16, 2011 8:29 am

      Thanks Kerry … I’m going to enjoy posting them I know. A place for all those favourites that you want to remember – and share! No Arizona is certainly more like the Aussie heat Hanrahan describes than yours in North Carolina.

  2. February 16, 2011 4:55 am

    Oh that is delicious! I’d love a hot day like that right about now. But if I had one I’d probably be wishing for the cold! I like your delicious descriptions idea 🙂

    • February 16, 2011 8:31 am

      I told my car-mates – we are holidaying at the coast with our respective parents this week – about your lovely warm 8.3degC day! It was 21degC here and we were complaining that we’ve been cheated of summer!

  3. February 16, 2011 5:19 am

    I second Stefanie’s comment, bring on that sun. What you need is a commonplace book. If we’d been Victorian ladies of leisure we would all have had one.

    • February 16, 2011 8:35 am

      Oh yes, you are right … I did have one as a teenage/early twenties lassie (which I’ve still kept and love to look at every now and then as a glimpse into my youthful preoccupations – an ugly little exercise book which was all a poor student could afford), and then I used to write in some favourite quotes into my journal (which I kept for a decade or so though mostly only wrote in once a week). My blog will be/is my commonplace book now.

  4. February 16, 2011 11:30 am

    I love this idea! Definitely make it a regular event 🙂 I actually have page numbers for books saved in my phone which relate to passages that sing out to me, and have been wondering myself what to do with them 🙂

  5. February 16, 2011 2:39 pm

    That definitely feels very much like the summer heat that I know!

    • February 16, 2011 4:36 pm

      And mine too … you are right, it’s not just Adelaide but so, in various parts of Australia.

  6. Sarah permalink
    February 17, 2011 4:32 pm

    That perfectly describes the summer heat Sue so thanks for posting it. Something to bear in mind when Sydney has its next heat wave (i’m still recovering from the last one!)

    • February 17, 2011 9:58 pm

      Hi Sarah … nice to hear from you again. Some of us feel a bit cheated re summer this year. We’ve had one hot week but that’s not really summer. This week we are at the south coast (Narooma) and it’s been grey and rainy. I’ll have to look for some – in fact (hope Tom isn’t reading!) but we’ve been saying it feels like England. Green and wet BUT there is still real sand on the beaches!

  7. February 18, 2011 3:59 pm

    Of course, we need to savour more of good passages. Your creation of DDD is brilliant! The BH excerpt here is delicious indeed, deserves slow tasting and mulling, good exemplar of ‘show not tell’. And what a coincidence… I was just reading about Lionel Logue, the speech therapist in The King’s Speech and found out he was born in Adelaide. After they had moved to London, England, his wife Mertyl tried to plant a gum tree in their garden. It’s interesting to learn about Australia from that book, written by Lionel’s grandson Mark Logue.

    • February 18, 2011 5:38 pm

      Thanks Arti, glad you like the idea.

      I noticed your post but have left it to read when I get home on the weekend. My father has read the Mark Logue book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d like to fit it in myself.

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  1. My Favorite Lit-Blog Things: February 17, 2011 « Hungry Like the Woolf

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