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. "Five Bells" is a novel of singular beauty and power by one of Australia's most gifted novelists.
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Gail Jones lives in Sydney and teaches at the University of Western Sydney. Her books have won numerous literary awards in Australia. She is the author of two collections of short stories and five novels including Sixty Lights which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Dreams of Speaking which was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and longlisted for the Orange Prize, and Sorry which was longlisted for the Orange Prize.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
1Circular Quay: she loved even the sound of it.Before she saw the bowl of bright water, swelling like something sexual, before she saw the blue, unprecedented, and the clear sky sloping upwards, she knew from the lilted words it would be a circle like no other, key to a new world.
The train swung in a wide arc to emerge alongside sturdy buildings and there it was, the first glimpses through struts of ironwork, and those blurred partial visions were a quiet pleasure. Down the escalator, rumbling with its heavy body-cargo, through the electronic turnstile, which captured her bent ticket, then, caught in the crowd, she was carried outside.There was confusion at first, the shock of sudden light, all the signs, all the clamour. But the vista resolved and she saw before her the row of ferry ports, each looking like a primary-colour holiday pavilion, and the boats, bobbing, their green and yellow forms toy-like, arriving, absorbing slow lines of passengers, departing. With a trampoline heart she saw the Bridge to her left: its modern shape, its optimistic uparching. Familiar from postcards and television commercials, here now, here-now, was the very thing itself, neat and enthralling. There were tiny flags on top and the silhouetted ant forms of people arduously climbing the steep bow. It looked stamped against the sky, as if nothing could remove it.It looked indelible. A coathanger, guidebooks said, but it was so much grander than this implied. The coherence of it, the embrace, the span of frozen hard-labour. Those bold pylons at the ends, the multimillions of hidden rivets.
Ellie gawked like a child, unironic. She remembered something from schooldays: Janus, with his two faces, is the god of bridges, since bridges look both ways and are always double. There was the limpid memory of her schoolteacher, Miss Morrison, drawing Janus on a blackboard, her inexpert, freckled hand trailing the chalk-line of two profiles. With her back to the class, there was a kind of pathos to her form. She had thickset calves and a curvature of the spine and the class would have snickered in derision, had it not been for her storytelling, which made any image so much less than the words it referred to. Roman God: underlined. The Janus profiles not matching. A simple image on the blackboard snagged at her feelings and Ellie had loved it because it failed, because there was no mirror and no symmetry. And because the sight of Miss Morrison's firm calves always soothed and reassured her.
From somewhere drifted the sound of a busking didgeridoo with an electronic backbeat, boum-boum, boum-boum; boum-boum, boum-boum. The didgeridoo dissolved in the air, thick and newly ancient.For tourists, Ellie thought, with no disparagement. For me. For all of us. Boum-boum, boum-boum.In the democratic throng, in the pandemonium of the crowd, she saw sunlight on the heads of Americans and Japanese; she saw small children with ice-creams and tour groups with cameras. She heard how fine weather might liberate a kind of relaxed tinkling chatter. There was a newsstand, with tiers of papers in several languages trembling in a light breeze, and people in booths here and there, selling ferry tickets behind glass. There was a human statue in pale robes, resembling something-or-other classical, andbefore him a flattened hat in which shone a few coins. A fringe of bystanders stood around, considering the many forms of art.Janus, origin of January.Ellie turned, like someone remembering, in the other direction. She had yet to see it fully. Past the last pier and the last ferry, there was a wharf with a line of ugly buildings, and beyond that, yes, an unimpeded view.
It was moon-white and seemed to hold within it a great, serious stillness. The fan of its chambers leant together, inclining to the water. An unfolding thing, shutters, a sequence of sorts. Ellie marvelled that it had ever been created at all, so singular a building, so potentially faddish, or odd. And that shape of supplication, like a body bending into the abstraction of a low bow or a theological gesture. Ellie could imagine music in there, but not people, somehow. It looked poised in a kind of alertness to acoustical meanings, concentrating on sound waves, opened to circuit and flow.Yes, there it was. Leaning into the pure morning sky.Ellie raised her camera and clicked. Most photographed building in Sydney. In the viewfinder it was flattened to an assemblage of planes and curves: perfect Futurism. Marinetti might have dreamt it.
Unmediated joy was nowadays unfashionable. Not to mention the banal thrill of a famous city icon. But Ellie's heart opened like that form unfolding into the blue; she was filled with corny delight and ordinary elation. Behind her, raddled train-noise reverberated up high, and the didgeridoo, now barely audible, continued its low soft moaning. A child sounded a squeal. A ferry churned away. From another came the clang of a falling gang-plank and the sound of passengers disembarking. Somewhere behind her the Rolling Stones - 'Jumping Jack Flash' - sounded in a tinny ring-tone. Boum-boum, distant now, boum-boum, boum-boum, and above it all a melody of voices, which seemed to arise from the water.Ellie felt herself at the intersection of so many currents of information. Why not be joyful, against all the odds? Why not be childlike? She took a swig from her plastic water-bottle and jauntily raised it: cheers.She began to stride. With her cotton sunhat, and her small backpack, and this unexpected quiver in her chest, Ellie walked out into the livelong Sydney day. Sunshine swept around her. The harbour almost glittered. She lifted her face to the sky and smiled to herself. She felt as if - yes, yes - she was breathing in light.
James DeMello was obstinately unjoyful. Even before the rattling train pulled into the station, he knew in his bones that he would be disappointed. He glanced at the leather hands of the old woman sitting beside him and felt the downward tug of time, of all that marks and corrodes. They resembled his mother's hands, the sign of a history he did not want. So much of the past returns, he thought, lodged in the bodies of others.James rose from his seat to escape the hands and stood clutching a cold metal pole. The train swung in a wide arc around sturdy buildings and through his limbs he felt the machine braking and the stiffening of bodies encased in steel. When the carriage doors opened he followed the man in front of him, moving towards the down escalator with his hands in his pockets.At the foot of the escalator everyone swung out onto the quay, a mobile mass, subservient to architecture. Before him were ferry ticket-boxes hung with LED light timetables in orange and people of assorted nations, queuing for a ride. There was a tawdry quality, he decided, and too little repose. A child squealed and he felt an elemental flinch of annoyance; the rest was cacophony and the vague threat of crowds.Turning to the right, James walked automatically, trailing behind others. There were shop-fronts decorated with arty souvenirs, there were little white tables with empty wineglasses, there were waiters clad in black aprons and haughty dispositions. It was too early for lunchtime and they were in merely indolent preparation. A man stood with his arms crossed, scowling, emphatically doing nothing. James thought of Sydney as inhabited by a tribe of waiters, a secret society of men and women united by their contempt for those they served, and with rituals of smug superiority and arcane rules. They met mostly on Mondays, when many restaurants were closed, and engaged in ceremonial meals at which they spilled food and swore.Umbrellas bearing coffee-logos fluttered in the breeze. James skirted one, then another, wondering if he needed caffeine.Then he saw it looming in the middle distance, too pre-empted to be singular. It appeared on T-shirts, on towels, even trapped in plastic domes of snow; it could never exist other than as a replication, claiming the prestige of an icon. Its maws opened to the sky in a perpetual devouring.White teeth, James thought. Almost like teeth. And although he had seen the image of this building countless times before, it was only in its presence, here-now, that the analogy occurred to him. The monumental is never precisely what we expect.At an Easter Show, long ago, he had seen the yawning jaw of a shark, the great oval of an inadmissible, unspeakable threat. Death was like that, he knew, shaped in ivory triangles. Death was the limp panic of imagining oneself as raw meat. Or even less than that; just a shape to be ravaged, just a drifting, edible nothing in blood-blurry water.At the entrance to the carnival tent, a sign read 'Monsters of the Deep' and an old codger with filthy stubble and an aspect of decay ushered him in by lightly touching the back of his head. He can still see the moment, those teeth gleaming in the brownlight, bleak and distressing. He can still smell it: the reek of stale tobacco and unwashed clothes, and an acidic stench, as though someone had pissed in a corner. When the tent flap fell closed with a soft pffth, sealing him in, James felt sure he would die there, swallowed into darkness as in the belly of a beast. Superstitious and afraid, he had placed his feet in a slender triangle of sunlight falling through the entrance. He glanced from his shoes to the teeth and back again; shoes to teeth, teeth to shoes. He could not look at the shark-jaw entirely, nor could he resist looking. He was a child terrified by what his imagination might suggest.The stinking man moved up behind him and James f...
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Book Description Bodley Head, 2011. Hardcover. Book Condition: Brand New. 224 pages. 8.74x5.67x0.94 inches. In Stock. Bookseller Inventory # zk1846554020
Book Description Harvill Press, 2011. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M1846554020