'On a radiant day in Sydney, four adults converge on Circular Quay, site of the iconic Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Crowds of tourists mix with the locals, enjoying the glorious surroundings and the play of light on water.
'But each of the four carries a complicated history from elsewhere; each is haunted by past intimacies, secrets and guilt: Ellie is preoccupied by her sexual experiences as a girl, James by a tragedy for which he feels responsible, Catherine by the loss of her beloved brother in Dublin and Pei Xing by her imprisonment during China's Cultural Revolution.
'Told over the course of a single Saturday, Five Bells describes four lives which chime and resonate, sharing mysterious patterns and symbols. But it is a fifth person, a child, whose presence at the Quay haunts the day and who will overshadow everything that unfolds. By night-time, when Sydney is drenched in a rainstorm, each life has been transformed.' (From the publisher's website.)
Unit Suitable For
AC: Year 11 (English Unit 2)
death, forgive, grief, loss, memory, perspective, place, the search for connection, time, trauma
Critical and creative thinking, Ethical understanding, Intercultural understanding, Literacy
Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia
Memory believes before knowing remembers - William Falkner, Light in August
Where have you gone? The tide is over you,
The turn of midnight water's over you,
As Time is over you, and mystery,
And memory, the flood that does not flow.
-Kenneth Slessor, 'Five Bells'
'In this chapter, I approach contemporary Australian multiperspectival novels, i.e. texts in which the reader accesses the storyworld through different focalisers, from the perspective of narrative empathy. I argue that narrative empathy as a result of a text’s multiperspectivity can arise primarily if the narrative foregrounds conflict between focalisers. To illustrate this, I offer readings of Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap (2008) and Gail Jones’s Five Bells (2011). Narrative empathy features differently in the two novels. While The Slap indeed invites readers to feel empathy on the basis of the multiperspectival structure of the text, this is not the case in Five Bells, since the narrative does not exacerbate conflict in the same way as Tsiolkas’s narrative does. At the same time, I suggest that it fulfils similar functions in both texts in that its main aim is to foster greater understanding for those whose subjectivities are marginalised within society.'
'This article argues that, since 2004 or so, a new kind of Australian historical novel has emerged among practitioners of literary fiction, one concerned with the mid-twentieth century. This new historical fiction has been characterized by an aesthetic stringency and self-consciousness. Though Steven Carroll and Ashley Hay will be the principal twenty-first-century writers examined, reference will also be made to several other writers including Carrie Tiffany, Charlotte Wood, Sofie Laguna, and to the later work of Peter Carey. In all these contemporary books, technology plays a major role in defining the twentieth century as seen historically.' (Publication abstract)
'Norman Saadi Nikro’s essay, ‘Paractatic Stammers: Temporality in the Novels of Gail Jones,’ sets out to explore how Jones’ ‘sense of fascination and wonder with the technology and culture of modernism informs the phenomenology and tenor of her novelistic style, especially the characters that emerge through the wave lengths of this style.’ Addressing himself to Jones’ literary fiction published to date, Nikro seeks to ‘track the duration in her novels whereby memory, history and story are experienced by her characters as something like intersections, intervals nor spacings, taut and tense folds or pleats in which time is riven by “a strange accession to memory and speech,” as the character Perdita comes to learn in Jones’s Sorry (202).’ Drawing in part on the work of Mikhail Bakhtin and on Gilles Deleuze’s ‘engagement with the work of Bergson,’ Nikro examines in Jones the ‘relational contiguity of parts whose variable movements and orientations to one another bring about a transfiguration of their subjective capacities (as in Perdita’s realisation of her stuttering as a relational dynamic).’ ‘Paractatic Stammers: Temporality in the Novels of Gail Jones,’ offers a rich and original reading of Jones’ fiction, both sympathetic and critically rigorous. Echoing Jones’ own views on modernity, Nikro traces in her novels a poetics of modernity that inflects both the writing and the thematics of the work. ‘Jones’s prose style,’ he suggests, ‘what she calls “a kind of prose poetics’” (Royo Grasa 1), calls attention to the gaps and intervals by which the temporality of narration is not only possible, but rendered a vacant site for the stammer of an interruptive image or voice encompassing an alternative engagement of time and its graphic imprints.’ Like Kirkpatrick, Nikro too highlights the forceful way in which an Australian author develops a distinct narrative voice, in the case of Jones one informed by a constant intertwining of local and global aesthetic and political sensibilities.' (Editor's introduction)