Henry Handel Richardson: The Getting of Wisdom, p/b, Melbourne, William Heinemann, 1977 (1910) 


Richardson’s thinly veiled account of the experience of being a border at Melbourne’s affluent Presbyterian Ladies College was an immediate success with readers and continues to be well read today. It has also been made into a major film produced by Phillip Adams.


Although Richardson herself left the school with honourable results and her account is not autobiographical in the ordinary sense,  her experience of leaving her country home and becoming a boarder at a young age obviously left a deep imprint on her especially coming from a family in straitened circumstances.  

It is hard to imagine all of the events in this novel happening to one unlucky and unhappy girl and clearly the girl expelled for pilfering was not Richardson. Richardson is presenting a tale of a somewhat cold and Imperious educational institution with its own snobbishness and culture wars. Tales of boarding school antics have been popular since Tom Brown’s Schooldays but Richardson has managed a far more sophisticated and thoughtful account of interactions, feelings and adventures that force the reader to look back into their own lives and consider some of the difficult events that formed their own character. 

Of particular interest is the sense of Melbourne and its surrounds and transport at the turn of the C20th and the difficulty young girls in particular had if they sought to do more with their lives than a short-lived education following by routine work, marriage and child rearing. I remember loving this book when I first read it in Year 12 and now sixty years later, I still find it thought provoking and a reminder of what a challenging thing it is for any young person having to find their place in a new school.   I love the unexpected last page!  5 stars.

Paul Gervais: A Garden in Lucca: Making a Life in Tuscany, p/b, Ringwood, Penguin, 2001  


Paul Gervais is an American visual artist and writer who with his partner purchased a historical villa in Lucca in Tuscan Italy.  Gervais created an exceptional garden attracting visitors from across the globe.The book is honest, quite humorous in parts and in relation to the plants in the garden, quite technically detailed.  Gervais admits to having no real idea about gardening and plants when they purchased the property.  Little by little he persuaded himself to take an interest in recreating what had been an impressive property in past times. 

Many of his original ideas did not work for various reasons including his lack of knowledge of the way some of his specimens would grow and spread. The story tells a tale of gradual accumulation of knowledge through the friendship of many skilled gardeners.  His handy man Ugo and his wife did much of the heavy lifting and as Gervais’ interest grew he began reading hundreds of books and make visits to many nurseries and potteries. In addition he had opportunities to visit many outstanding gardens in Italy and France. 

There are several amusing descriptions of some unique friendships and garden lovers and a tortuous tale of attempting to sell the property at one stage which included some very dodgy would be purchasers. This is a book which would delight keen gardeners or folk who just enjoy reading about the uniquely attractive landscape and extraordinary beauty of Tuscany. I enjoyed this book but found the detailed botanical sections demanding. 4 stars. 


Villa Massei,  Paul Gervais’ amazing garden in Lucca.

C S Lewis: Reflections on the Psalms, p/b, London, Fount/HarperCollins, 1967 (1961)  

C S Lewis was more well known for his writing in the area of Christian apologetics and his first love Renaissance literature but this little book on the Old Testament Psalms is a gem. He makes no claim to be a Biblical or Jewish scholar but uses his understanding of poetry and Christian theology to write this well argued, succinct and very readable account of the themes of the Psalms. In particular Lewis provides clarity about issues Christians might be surprised about when they begin to study the Psalms. 

These issues include simple facts like the Psalms were of course written as poetry which was to be sung and frequently with a particular form of Hebrew parallelism. In relation to content, Lewis covers the following issues:

  • the judgemental psalms including the cry for justice
  • the cursing/vengeance psalms with their undisguised hatred (sometimes just slipped into otherwise quite peaceful psalms)
  • the apparent self-righteousness and self-congratulation in the some psalms
  • the fact that the vast majority of psalms do not speak of life after death (eg Psalm 27)  but assume that death is the end with a helpful section on the understanding of Sheol/Hades. 
  • the delight of joy and dancing in the psalms with the themes of praising God, rapture in worship but also the reminder of the need for repentance, remembrance and sacrifice.
  • the stress on the beauty of the law 
  • the approach to dealing with the wicked 
  • the reverence for nature and the beauty of creation
  • the need to praise God and to tell the story of God to others

Lewis also has chapters on reading the Psalms as Christians and reading the Psalms as Holy Scripture. 

Remarkably this little book is still in print after 60 years and has all the credentials to be regarded as a Christian classic. I return to it frequently.   5 stars.