Posted by: jkirkby8712 | February 13, 2011

Sunday, 13th February 2011 – Courtney’s ‘Fortune Cookie’

Your personal essayist finds himself feeling a little lonely tonight.  Susie [and Jimmy] have gone into the city for a concert – forgot to ask who was performing. Jimmy was driving, and after watching tonight’s news, I noticed that traffic in the St Kilda area, where an annual festival was in progress, was gridlocked,  and this would obviously overflow back towards the city and beyond. Oh well, hope he knows what he is doing – parking may be a problem! Anyway, I don’t expect to be awake [hope I’m not] when they return, almost wish [at 7.30 pm] I could sleep now!

I’ve basically been home all weekend – by choice – the only exception being my weekly early Sunday morning classical music spot on the radio. Amongst other things, I played one of the 15 string quartets that Franz Schubert composed in his short life [just 31 years] – today, was String Quartet No. 6, quite a bright piece in the usual four relatively short movements, typical of the quartets, which Schubert wrote in August/September 1813. I guess that being a supporter of the four girls who make up the Australian String Quartet, I have heard many string quartet compositions over the last few years, as obviously that is the principal source of their music.  However today’s music was played by a group called the Kodaly Quartet, who were all trained in Hungary where they have given many concerts naturally, but also performed  throughout Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. I’ve never heard them live out here, but have been aware of the occasional visit and concerts undertaken in Melbourne.

One of the other pieces of music I played this morning was a beautiful version of ‘The Last Rose of Summer’, sung by the late Joan Sutherland, accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra under the direction of her husband, Richard Bonynge. Long popular in Britain, this music found it’s way into a collection entitled ‘Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies’. Benjamin Britten set it uniquely for voice and piano, and then the composer, Flotow, incorporated it into his opera ‘Martha’. Quoting from one reviewer of this particular version ‘This last bloom, as it stands alone among a bed of fast-fading flowers, is used as a metaphor for the transcience of life itself – “When true hearts lie wither’d. And fond ones are flown. Oh! Who would inhabit This bleak world alone”’

I did get out into the back garden for a couple of hours this afternoon, but as usual found that a ‘losing battle’, however with steady progress, we are gradually starting to work through the mini jungle of unwanted weed plants and blackberry bushes. But I must admit that most of my weekend, especially today, has been taken up with reading the final 200 pages or so, of Bryce Courtney’s 2010 novel, ‘Fortune Cookie’. I had actually intended going out to see a movie this evening, but put that off  until another day –  I had become comfortable at home with no other external commitments,  and that, combined with the somewhat debilitating flow on affects of a rather painful but unexplained right foot, simply decided to stay where I was.  Susie was home briefly between her job and going out to her concert – long enough to eat the second evening meal I’d cooked for her this weekend.  I actually didn’t feel that meal was as successful as some of my more recent efforts  –  or perhaps, I’d simply cooked us a meal for the sake of it, and to have something for Susie, while I personally, probably wouldn’t have bothered very much had there been just yours truely to think about.  Meanwhile, a significant birthday in the family today  – my youngest sister’s husband, Ross, turning 50 years old today. No doubt, he will get to celebrate in the manner that couple always manage to achieve  J

Nevertheless, as indicated at the beginning, my night seems a little empty this evening. No TV today, determined not to switch it on apart from a brief look at the news whilst cooking, etc. Haven’t heard from the youngest daughter for a couple of weeks – too busy herself, no doubt, working and partying. Seems to have been a bit that way this year – the occasional brief visits don’t seem to be as regular as they used to be. No real reason I’m sure, just Jodie getting on with her life. I guess I have to accept situations like that, with respect to all of them over the coming years.  Susie goes up to Bendigo next weekend to begin her year of post-graduate study for the teaching qualification she is seeking, and while she expects to be back in Sunbury each weekend, my home is going to feel ‘rather quiet’ during the working week!

Bryce Courtney’s 20th book  –  ‘Fortune Cookie’ – yet another great read by this Aussie writer – basically a love story set against the wretched trade in drugs and human misery operating during the Vietnam War, and centred in the Singapore of that time. As always I enjoyed Courtney’s latest novel – for many reasons, but two in particular – the love story that generally features in his stories, and the historical elements which he incorporates with much accuracy and research into his ‘fictional’ novels. This book was no exception in that respect. I guess I’m a romantic at heart, but  also always find an historical novel of the sort, as written by people like Courtney, Wilbur Smith, the late James Michener, and many others, to hold a particular fascination, and also in many cases, an education – a learning of history cloaked in the guise of a novel of fiction. So long as one recognises that ‘fictional’ aspect, I see little harm in being ‘educated’ in history that often, I was not very familiar with. It tends to be an encouragement to dig deeper, and go in search of  ‘historian’s’ version of the same history. An example  –  ‘Ah Koo had lost his entire family in the Taiping Rebellion, led by the psychopath general Hong Xiuquan, a converted Christian who improbably termed himself ‘Younger Brother of Christ’ and who, in the name of his crucified older brother, butchered an estimated twenty million of his countrymen, including three generations of Ah Koo’s family’.  Or, the attitude of whites in Australia towards the Chinese who came out here during the gold rush periods of the 1800’s. The treatment of the Chinese people by the Japanese forces, both before and during World War I, or the ‘rape’ of Singapore, it’s peoples ‘surrendered’ by the British to the Japanese invading forces. These aspects have been referred to in some detail in earlier novels by Courtney.  Just a few brief example of the kinds of historical events that Courtney incorporates into his works of fiction.

There is an interesting paragraph by Bryce Courtney as part of his acknowledgement at the end of the book, where he writes: –  “I am told that it is unfashionable to include acknowledgements in works of fiction. Why is that? How can this be? Who possesses such arrogance? Without the knowledge and help of others, we fiction writers would be rendered almost mute. We ride piggyback on the life experiences and stories of others and then claim the approbation and rewards. The limp-wristed cliché by lazy literary critics ‘an original work of fiction’ is seldom true. We storytellers are dependent on the collective lives and experiences of others. We beg, borrow and steal shamelessly”.  With that paragraph in mind, I was thinking earlier today, as I read ‘Fortune Cookie’ just how does the author manage to put together so much material and so much story in the  time that Courtney for example achieves – remembering that in his case, he publishes a new novel each year, in fact he admits in the ‘acknowledgements’ section referred to that he has written 20 novels over 21 years! I find an amazing degree of historical material alone, in his books, and that is equally typical of other writers of his ilk.

Here’s a good little précis of this book, which summarises the broad outline of the story  –  from one of the many promotional websites devoted to Bryce Courtney’s writings  –   “Set in a city rapidly growing-up in the aftermath of World War II and amidst the political landscape of the escalating Vietnam War, Fortune Cookie is at once a sexy love story, a mystery of intrigue and adventure and a rollicking insight into the advertising game; whether it be for consumer product, national identity, or the trade of heroin and flesh. With a nod to his career in advertising, Bryce Courtenay’s new novel Fortune Cookie is a brilliant read; smart, funny, and masterful storytelling at its best”  And with elements of sadness, drama, and the realisation that many of the events that occur within the story, are based on real happenings of our more recent history in the Asian region.  As always, well worth a read!.




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