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The Persimmon Tree and Other Stories by…

The Persimmon Tree and Other Stories (1985)

by Marjorie Barnard

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843211,958 (3.65)49



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The Stories in [The Persimmon Tree] are lean and purposeful. I was almost bowled over by the amount of anger and frustration electrifying several of them. Barnard's focus is on the meanness of 'bourgeois ambitions and aims, on the strangulation of the souls particularly of women and children, but also, by implication of men, acting under the conviction that appearances are, in fact, the substance of life. So a woman's dress is ruined on an important date and she won't come home to meet the man's mother - even though it is apparent this is a kind man and likely to be a decent husband to her; when the parakeets in a ladies lunchroom in a fashionable store steal the show from the orchestra, they must be 'sent back' to wherever they were rented from, too real, too insistent. There is the mousey seamstress who is served a really nasty piece of corned beef at lunch at work at her employers, while the daughter eats a juicy chop and the mother various appetizing things.... because she's feeling a bit delicate: "Mrs. Bowker's delicacy did not show however, unless it was in her habit of looking intently, and rather suspiciously at every piece of food before she took it on her plate." These stories reflect an era and a place and give a strong image of the pressures of life in Sydney and Australia generally in the middle of the last century. Although Barnard lived into the 1980's and kept writing, none of her stories reflect the social changes that began to blow away some of the worst of the conventions in the 1960's - I'm sorry she didn't tackle it, but perhaps she felt it was out of her own purview.

The descriptive writing is breathtaking - spare and sharp and penetrating. The last four or five stories seem a bit different, less grounded in physical place and more about the interior landscape of loss, mainly of children, although one is an imagining of a prolonged drought and relief that perhaps all life will be wiped out if only it lasts long enough.

One last word - SHAME ON YOU VIRAGO! This has to be one of the worst edited books I've ever encountered -- some pages have as many as three spelling and one or two punctuation errors. I've never seen this in a Virago book before. This copy came out in the '80's - all I can think is that someone was in a hurry and skipped a step with the galleys. Such a terrible thing to do to a fine writer.
Writing is **** Editing is * ( )
8 vote sibyx | Jun 15, 2012 |
I found this collection of short stories to be very much to my taste. The writing is precise and feminine, which is appropriate since the narrators are women, and we are viewing different aspects of a woman's world. Barnard also uses sufficient detail to make the story concrete without letting too many descriptions hijack the stories. I actually love immersing myself in highly descriptive works, like Victorian literature, but in the short story format I value concise writing, unless the poetics of a piece is the point. Here, the characters are the focus. Barnard presents a range of scenarios, from a heart-broken young woman forced to listen to the merits of her secret ex-lover in polite conversation, to a little girl enduring the humiliating condescension of her rich and well-meaning, but entirely misguided, patrons. The internal conflict is poignant. Some of the tales have a happy, or at least optimistic, outlook, while others are tragic. A nice blend of stories that are real slice-of-life pieces. I would read more by Barnard should I come across them. ( )
1 vote nmhale | Aug 16, 2010 |
The Persimmon Tree and Other Stories is a collection of short stories by Australian writer Marjorie Barnard. It has been republished by Virago with the addition of three new stories, which while still quite good, do stick out rest of the book in subject and tone. Women and their daily struggles are the main subjects of Barnard's pen and she captures the little nuances of their lives skillfully, particularly in the case of relationships between women. Love is a main theme, for both the young and the mature, with women having affairs, breaking off these affairs, breaking off their husband's affairs, falling in love and experiencing its pangs. My favorite story from the collection was "Fighting in Vienna", which is unusual in the collection that it does not take place in Australia, but Austria instead. It tells the sad story of a woman, Kathie, who lives alone with her bird during the Second World War, after her fiance, unable to deal with his missing hand, has left her years before. She is injured on a trip to get more birdseed and, while suffering feverish hallucinations in the hospital, mistakenly believes that it is the 1920s again and her fiance is standing at her bedside. The results are haunting. The parallel between the Kathie and her pet bird is beautifully rendered and the work of a master. I would have rated the book higher perhaps, if there had not been the disconnect between the main book and the added stories, but I do recommend it as a book worth reading for the way it captures of the lives of ordinary people getting by as best they can. ( )
2 vote inge87 | Jul 24, 2008 |
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Because she loved him she knew when he was distressed, even when he had successfully hidden it from himself ; and because she had complete faith in him, sometimes she was afraid. (Arrow of Mistletoe)
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From the back cover: " 'I am like a young girl in love,' she reproached herself...'I am old enough to know better.' She was swept with nostalgia for youth when at least love was not ridiculous, when one had a right to grief, even to a broken heart" Barbara Drake contemplates the end of an illicit affair, sipping cocktails whilst her friends quietly dissect her lover in conversation; Ida Chadwick confronts her husband's infidelity as she looks into a hairdresser's mirror, her wet hair lank, her face wiped free of make-up; a woman convalescing watches the pattern of the changing seasons and the woman in the window opposite, divided from her by the loneliness they share; and a couple mourning the death of their youngest child mask their grief with the excessive glitter of a Christmas tree. In this, the first British publication of a collection of symbolic short stories, Marjorie Barnard delves into the experience of women, the bonds which exist between them and the nature of their relationships with men. Originally published in 1943, this edition includes three additional stories, previously unpublished in book form.
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