The good: The words are exquisite.
The not-so-good: I devoured this beautiful book.
Why I chose it: Thank you to Simon & Schuster for the gorgeous hardcover.
Publisher: Scribner (Simon & Schuster)
Setting: Sydney, Australia
Rating: 10 out of 10
A book like Shell doesn’t come around every day, nor every year. This book is beautifully, tenderly written with every word crafted with an eye for detail. It is as admirable as the Sydney Opera House (the building of which is a major plot device) and as breathtaking as the glass sculptures crafted by Axel, one of the main characters. I can’t think of a better story to launch the Scribner Australia imprint. This is going to be an imprint to devour if Shell is any indication of the beauty and quality of the storytelling.
Shell describes two major occasions in Australian history, neither of which have been deeply explored in fiction to date. The first is the building of the Sydney Opera House, which for many Australians has just been there forever (myself included). It’s amazing to think that in the 1960s that it wasn’t finished with both the media and government attacking the project daily (and that was before social media). The second is the anti-war movement as Australia sends troops to Vietnam with protesters organising large scale disruption. Through the eyes of the two main characters, Pearl and Axel, both become personal.
Pearl is involved in the anti-war campaigns, but has had to take a backseat after being photographed during a protest has moved her career backwards from news journalists to the women’s pages. She’s still secretly involved, with a link on ‘the inside’ but her main motivation is much more personal. Her two brothers, who she feels she failed after they were placed in an orphanage, are of drafting age. Pearl doesn’t know where they are, but she wants to protect them at all costs. Axel has come from Sweden to work of glass sculptures for the Opera House. His hero is the architect, Jørn Utzon. He is desperate to meet Utzon and explain how his design for the Opera House makes him feel. Axel can’t understand the controversy and resistance against the project. This extends to the way some Australians act – it’s foreign to him. When he meets Pearl, little do either of them realise they have a lot in common. Missing, broken families and a desire for change.
Kristina Olsson’s writing is exquisite. Like how Axel sees the Opera House, it is art. Every detail of this novel is planned and executed to the finest detail. You will want to savour every single word, picture every scene and reflect on the conversations between characters. Although it’s not a long book, Shell should not be skimmed over quickly. This is a novel that reminds us of why we read – for the beauty and creation of worlds in our mind. Simply put, I loved this novel. I hungered for every detail about Pearl’s family and Axel’s sculptures. I loved the glimpses into a Sydney that is so different – slower and simpler – than today’s speedy metropolis.
Shell will not disappoint. I’ve overjoyed that this beautiful, Australian story will be shared with the world.