Shell

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 29 Sep 2018

Member Reviews

As an Australian expat from Sydney, reading the descriptions of my old city made me homesick in a profound way. Anyone who has been to Sydney will be able to picture the intimate details of the place and its people through the eyes of Pearl and Axel, the two main characters - the beauty bound with the frustrations. 

Part of the novel focuses on the controversy regarding the building of the Opera House. Such a famed building, so unusual on the waterfront that I can completely imagine what went through Sydneysiders' heads at the time and that they couldn't have known what an icon it would become - how proud we are of the building Utzon designed and the way it sits majestically on the harbour. 

Another moment in relatively recent history is the focus of the novel: Australians' involvement in the Vietnam war. The tension was palpable in this novel while the country awaited the deadly lottery of the Draft. 

Axel and Pearl bond and reveal themselves through these two events and also over their shared grief, having lost family members and loved ones. 

The book takes its time to unfold. It is beautifully written and poetic in places. It was so moving in certain sections that I didn't want to read in public because I could feel the tears about to spill over. I did not give it the full 5 stars because I felt the pacing was often a little too slow, but if you're after a book that slowly unpeels itself through the concepts of grief, loss, hope and family, then the pacing may suit you well. 

Many thanks to NetGalley, the publishers and Kristina Olsson for a copy of this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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An incredibly interesting book on many levels and served to highlight a big gap in my knowledge - Australia in the 1960s, its involvement in the Vietnam War and, especially, the controversy surrounding the building of the Sydney Opera House.  I found it all fascinating.

The book is so much more than this, though.  It features two equally sympathetic main characters, from very different cultural backgrounds.  Axel, a glassmaker from Sweden contracted to create an artwork for the Opera House, and Pearl, a Sydney journalist on a mission to find the younger brothers she hasn’t seen for ten years.  They conduct a touching, tentative relationship - absorbing and reflecting each other’s preoccupations with missing family and trying to come to terms with their past.  

Not a book to rush through, the pace is slow and contemplative, comparing Pearl’s view of her Australian home with the Scandinavian Axel’s impressions of it.

‘These people had absorbed sea water and the drift of desert at their backs.  Felt the weight of it on their shoulders.  The weight of history, of all they had come to and all they had inflicted on this place.  Perhaps, he thought suddenly, that weight stopped them welcoming others here.  They themselves had been the newcomers once; at a cellular level, they knew what they were capable of.  
But no.  They were blinded by the sun; it meant they didn’t have to look.  Where Axel came from, you had to look hard.  Work for your visions, your insights.  Set free in the immense southern ocean, this country sprawled like a sunbather.  Without borders, it imagined its enemies, was free to create them.  Looked only at themselves rather than over their shoulders.  Found it too easy to be right.’

The writing is sublime.  So many images of the beauty to be seen in Scandinavian and Australian landscape and seascape and, soaring above, the art involved in creating the Opera House and its accompanying glasswork.    I can’t recommend this highly enough.
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It is 1965 and Australia is on the brink of change. The Sydney Opera House is being built. Australia’s young men are being conscripted into the Vietnam War. Shell tells the story of Pearl, a journalist and Axel, a sculptor in Glass. Both are haunted by their past, and seek meaning to their lives through their work. Kristina Olsson writes beautifully about their lives and their passions. This is an optimistic book, of hope for the future.
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This was fascinating! I had never really looked at the Sydney Opera House before and thought about it. It’s such an iconic building and image that you think you’d recognise it, but what a view I got from this novel!

The fact that the architect was Danish...again something else I didn’t know and so I was thrilled to read about him in the novel and then to head over to the trusty internet to find more of his story on the Opera House website. There’s so much to this story and one which I feel the author has woven into a very good fictional novel.

The writing is just lovely and the threads of symbolism are beautifully woven with images of water and light. Much of what we see is through the eyes of the Glass sculptor Axel and so this works so well, evoking the essence and feel of the building and the art of glass work. The setting of course is made up of both!

There’s a lot going on in the background too with this novel and the time and place are evoked through world wide events such as the Vietnam war and what this meant for those who were involved. The war was far away but yet so close and the repercussions caused more than ripples in the waters here.

It’s an extremely lyrical novel full of nuances and shades of various tones depending on how you view it. I imagine reading this  beside a window with the sun streaming through couldn’t give any more colour to this book.

It’s like looking at a stained glass window and gradually seeing the wonders in front of you.

Recommended.
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