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Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by…

Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living

by Carrie Tiffany

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2901658,991 (3.36)63

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Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
I have to explain why it's very difficult for me to review and rate this objectively. Just after its publication, I worked as 'cellist with an actor friend on an adaptation of this book as part of the 'One Book' programme of the Perth International Festival of Art. The process involved reading it over and over and over... and over, assessing the dramatic, and musical, possibilities of each section: basically picking it to pieces. It's almost impossible, after all that slog, to remember my initial, spontaneous reaction.

That was a fair few years ago and so I came to this book club reread with some distance, but I knew in advance how it ends, I knew the shape of the story and I found myself conflicted. There are things that are so lovely, so sweet, so unexpected, so moving, and yet I feel just a little dissatisfied with the whole. Perhaps that's largely due to the abrupt nature of the ending. I felt as though maybe there were a few scenes missing that would have explained things, led to it a little more elegantly. I don't know.

Still. This is really very well written in the main. I love the direct, visual style and the wicked sense of humor. I know Carrie Tiffany has recently had a second novel published and I think I ought to give it a shot and see what coming to one of her works really fresh does for me. ( )
  Vivl | Jun 2, 2014 |
This is a fine first novel. Gently told, using the "show, don't tell" technique, the book seems simple, but I'd deceptively deep. I wished, at the end, that there was more - the plot and the characters could easily continue to grow. Read Oct 2013. ( )
  mbmackay | Oct 26, 2013 |
It was a pure fluke that I happened across this book. Carrie Tiffany has won the inaugural Stella prize in Australia for her second book, Mateship with Birds. I checked my library to see if they had that book which I thought sounded interesting. They didn't but they did have this book and when I read the description I put a hold on the book. As it happens this is a book that fits into my occupation as a chemist in the Canadian Grain Commission so perfectly that I could hardly wait to recommend it to my friends.

Jean Finnegan is a domestic science graduate who works as a textile expert on the Better Farming Train that toured Australia during the 1930s to bring information to farming families about how to improve their farms and their lives. Also aboard the train is Robert Pettergee, a soil scientist, who can tell by tasting a sample of soil where it comes from. Robert is the author of a short article called "Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living" and he believes science can solve any problem. After a passionate encounter Robert and Jean quickly decide to take up wheat farming in the Mallee district. Robert believes with the application of superphosphate and other additives the poor sandy soil of the Mallee can grow wheat profitably. Jean will be his assistant and in particular she will bake 10 test loaves every year from the wheat harvest.

Tiffany is an agricultural journalist so she knows the challenges that faced (and still face) farmers. But she also portrays human relations and emotions with understanding. I found the yearly reports of Jean's test loaves wrenching, more for what they didn't say than for what they did. I think anyone with a connection to farming will identify with this novel and maybe people who haven't experienced farming will learn something about the life. ( )
  gypsysmom | Jul 23, 2013 |
What a sad, strange, beautiful little book. It's the story of a couple who meet on a Better Farming Train that travels across Australia giving demonstrations to remote farm communities. Jean and Robert both come from tragic backgrounds and after marrying they struggle to make a go of their own farm in Australia's Mallee region. I loved it. ( )
1 vote markfinl | Oct 16, 2011 |
I thoroughly enjoyed this little novel, EVERYMAN'S RULES FOR SCIENTIFIC LIVING. First of all I enjoy reading about Australia, a place I will probably never visit in person, but love to read about nonetheless. Carrie Tiffany, who doesn't look very old in her back cover photo, seems to have acquired a kind of wisdom beyond her years about human behavior and the complexities of family relationships and dynamics. Her protagonists here, Jean and Robert, are an interesting combination of ordinary and unique. Jean was orphaned at an early age and raised by an aunt, so escaped into the service of the 'sewing expert' home ec agent on the 'farm train' that criscrossed the interior of Australia. It was there that she met Robert, the soil expert, who we learn had a rather horrific childhood as the son of a prostitute. His uniqe talent of being able to identify where dirt comes from - what geographic locale - by actually tasting it, makes him a rather grotesque character. And yet one feels enormous symypathy for Robert, who has managed to overcome his awful beginnings.

When these two marry, it would appear to be a marriage of opposites, but then such 'opposites' really do attract. And the passion, the abrupt and near-violent couplings between this odd couple are shockingly graphic, yet without any hint of the obscene, perhaps because of their very innocence. Jean wishes they could talk about this physical side of their love, wishes for more intimacy, but doesn't know how to reach Robert, who is so very sexually repressed. Here's an example -

"I think about reaching across and touching him, but I am not sure how he would respond. I don't understand this gulf between our bodies and our minds and why it is so hard to move between the two."

Although my greatest interest here was in this couple's relationship, the book reaches far beyond them - it looks at the awful Dust Bowl years in the wheat belt of the Australian interior and the myriad hardships that the farmers of that area endured, breaking many of them both financially and emotionally. Tiffany had done her homework in depicting the grim details of drought, mice and rabbit plagues, dust storms, children undernourished and dying. It is very similar to what happened in the U.S. in the 30s. As I was reading the book, I kept thinking of another fine recent Australian novel, Goldie Goldbloom's THE PAPERBARK SHOE, although the characters in her novel were a bit further left of center, more unusual, more grotesque.

I also loved the essays that Carrie Tiffany included at the end of her story, about her real experiences as a Park Ranger in the outback and how the isolation of the job brought her closer to books as a means of escape; and also a short piece explaining the 'soil box' shown on the book's cover. I will be watching for Carrie Tiffany's next book; in the meantime I will recommend this one highly. ( )
  TimBazzett | Jul 15, 2011 |
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There are days of slow chugging through the wheat.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743286383, Paperback)

The "Better-Farming Train" slides through the wheat fields and small towns of 1930s Australia, bringing advice to farmers. Amid the swaying cars full of cows, pigs, and crops, a strange and swift seduction occurs between Jean Finnegan, a sewing instructor, and Robert Pettergree, a scientist with an unusual taste for soil. In an atmosphere of heady idealism, they settle in the impoverished Mallee farmland with the ambition of transforming the land through science.

In luminous prose Tiffany writes about the challenges of farming, the character of small towns, the stark and terrifying beauty of the Australian landscape, and the fragile relationship between man, science, and nature. This is a sensual and startlingly original debut that establishes Carrie Tiffany as one of the great new voices in fiction.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:57:45 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Settling in the impoverished Mallee with an ambition to cultivate the land, Robert and Jean Pettergree are forced to confront each other, and the community they have inadvertently destroyed, after their agricultural practices damage the fragile and ancient landscape.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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