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Book DetailsISBN: 9781925355710
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Book Review: Puzzleheaded Girl: Text Classics by Christina Stead - Reviewed by CloggieA (09 Nov 2016)
The Puzzle-headed Girl: Four Novellas is the ninth book by Australian author, Christina Stead. This edition is published under the Text Classics banner and sports a gorgeous colourful Picasso-esque cover by the talented W H Chong, as well as an introduction by author Fiona Wright. It was first published in 1967. The novellas are thematically linked.
The Puzzleheaded Girl: Honor Lawrence applies for a job at the Farmers’ United Corporation, and Augustus Debrett employs her as a filing clerk. She is obviously poor, but refuses promotion to better pay, stating “I hate and despise business and anything to do with making money….It is the enemy of art”. Eventually, this enigmatic girl leaves his employ, only to reappear at irregular intervals in his life (or does she?). The story spans many years and several countries.
The Dianas: Lydia is living in a hotel Paris, supposedly looking for a French husband, with several potential relationships on the go. Her friends and family are described in potted histories and anecdotes. Lydia comes across as silly, shallow, selfish and thoroughly unlikeable. She illustrates just how nasty she can be when taking apparent revenge on one of the mother’s admirers.
The Rightangled Creek: Writer Laban Davies and his wife Ruth have forsaken city life for a poor country Pennsylvania existence, where Laban can work without the distracting influence of drink and drinking friends. They raise and educate their son Frankie to succeed. Sam Parsons comes to visit and eventually, he and his nature-loving wife, Clare take over the let of the farmhouse. From the agent Sam hears the intriguing story of the owner’s daughter, and tragedies that have befallen other residents.
Girl from the Beach: International journalist George (Pyotr) complains to his friends, Martin and Louisa Dean, about his troubles with ex-wives and the girl he wants to marry. Months later, in Paris, the Deans encounter Linda Hill, the daughter of their friend Arthur, who is meant to be at the Sorbonne, but instead is stealing hotel cutlery and towels; George too, is there, and falls for Linda. Do these two bizarre characters deserve each other?
Stead effortlessly captures the feel of the era she is describing, with spare and beautiful prose, but her some of main characters are difficult to relate to, each of them being a misfit, sometimes naïve, sometimes sly, often irritating. These stories may resonate with readers of a certain era. A collection of modern classic fiction from an award-winning Australian author. 3 stars
Christina Stead was born in 1902 in Sydney's south. After graduating from high school in 1917, she attended Sydney Teachers' College on a scholarship. She subsequently took a series of teaching and secretarial positions before travelling to London, aged twenty-six. There she met Wilhelm Blech (later William Blake), a married American writer and a broker at the firm where she worked: they soon became lovers. They spent many years travelling and working in Europe and the United States, and eventually married in 1952. Stead's first books, The Salzburg Tales and Seven Poor Men of Sydney, were published in 1934 to positive reviews in England and the United States. Her fourth work, The Man Who Loved Children, has been hailed as a `masterpiece' by Jonathan Franzen, among others. In total, Stead wrote almost twenty novels and short-story collections. Stead returned to Australia in 1969 after forty years abroad for a fellowship at the Australian National University. She resettled permanently in Australia in 1974 and was the first recipient of the Patrick White Award that year. Christina Stead died in Sydney in 1983, aged eighty. She is widely considered to be one of the most influential Australian authors of the twentieth century.
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