Books : The World Ornament Sourcebook


This one’s for all keen surface and graphic designers!

The book is a re-release of a two volume set first published in 1888 in Paris by August Racinet, and is principally aimed at artists and designers for use as a reference book. It contains a pretty good overview of the major stylistic periods in Europe up to the early 19th century, as well as some examples from Egyptian, Moorish, Indian and Asian cultures.

While it is a scholarly work, it suffers badly from Euro-centricity, and is rather patronising in making reference to ornamental styles from Oceania, Africa, and South America as  ‘Primitive’ (not to mention that only a VERY few examples are given from each area, and that they are all lumped together on the one page…). But then it WAS written in the late 19th C, and Europeans tended to be Euro-centric and patronising. {Really.}

The book starts with an introductory text outlining the various styles presented. The language is not only a bit academic, but the grammar also leaves something to be desired (perhaps a by-product of its translation from the original French text). But when you get to the good bit (oh it’s the pictures, of course!), the illustrations are clear, with good colour. At each spread, one page is filled with full-colour examples of ornament, and the facing page gives descriptions of sources, and includes information about what medium they were originally presented on, such as tableware, painted wall decorations, or tiles.

Oh yes, the good stuff is good – 220 full-colour plates of good. Plenty of fodder to keep my imagination happy for quite a long time, and a great thing to dip back into again and again.

Definitely recommended, despite its shortcomings. Because one never has just one reference book in one’s library. I’m pretty sure.



Book review : The Dressmaker – Posie Graeme-Evans



On the face of it, The Dressmaker is a girly book. Rags to riches, romance and intrigue, and lots of luscious clothes. And in the pages? Well, yes, it’s just what you expect. Although perhaps a little bit less than you expect.

Set in London and thereabouts in the 1800s, the central character loses both father and mother, runs away and gets married young to a man who turns out to be greedy and shallow (quelle surprise), runs away from him and has a baby young, and in between all that learning to design and sew. And she goes from poor to rich to poor to rich, depending on who she is living with, all the time managing to remain beautiful and elegant.

Sadly, I had read a review of this novel, espousing its fabulous virtues – hence the book ending up in my hands all aflutter with the expectation of a great visionary feast. There were promises of mouthwatering descriptions with wonderful fabrics and divine gowns; a rollicking novel running the whole gamut of unexpected twists and turns of fortune. All of this is true of course, but for my reading of it, it all came across as a bit of a soapie. Twists and turns there may be, but so very unrealistic as to call them about as predictable as Days of Our Lives (albeit a wee bit shorter). Most disappointing of all for me though were the descriptions of the clothes; I had such great expectations. Perhaps I am too particular about such things, but there was not enough detail in many sketches to paint a clear picture, and at times there were also oddly jarring combinations of fabrics and colours my mind refused to comprehend.

Don’t get me wrong, the story is cohesive (even if implausible), and Graeme-Evans has a wonderful grasp on language on occasion – but the contrived plot lets the whole thing down in a tangled mess of lace, silk and calico. I’m sure this book will be loved by some and adored by others. But just not me.

Published by Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-0-73181-507-4


Book Review : Cloudstreet by Tim Winton



I know sometimes I am waaaay behind the game. I know this book was published in 1991, and I know that far greater heads than mine have critiqued it.

But for those of you like me, who have somehow missed out on reading it until now, I would recommend that you do.

I didn’t enjoy my first experience of Winton – it was The Riders, and I was quite mystified by its sense of misty nothingness. My second experience of Winton was Breath. Now that grabbed my attention. If you haven’t read that, you really should.

Cloudstreet is a very different book to Breath. Still, there is Winton’s mastery of characterisations, rich landscapes, and vivid adolescence. But it’s not so gut-wrenchingly dark. Cloudstreet is a serious, funny, and wildly visionary book – “Fair dinkum,” as the parrot would say.

Yes, well. I loved it. I might even have to stretch myself to read Dirt Music now.

Book Review : The Children – Charlotte Wood


The Children {Charlotte Wood}



The Children by Charlotte Wood is an intriguing story of a family, as normal as most. ‘As normal as most’ includes the usual collection of an elderly mother coming to grips with prospect of a life alone, the private hell of a war correspondent who has seen too much, the self-imposed estrangement of a disenchanted brother, and the struggle of a sibling trying to hold together the whole ungainly mess.

The story opens with the father fixing the roof of the family home, staring at the sky and backyard, considering ideas of memory and the workings of the human brain, and dreaming of things yet to discover in decades-familiar places. When he ungracefully slips to a tragic encounter with the concrete below, the remaining family is forced to reassemble, to confront each other and their inadequacies through and around the backdrop of the brand new intensive care unit of their local hospital. The plot is further complicated by a hospital wardsman whose obsession with a dark secret, unremembered by its protagonist, intensifies to breaking point.

Wood’s writing style throughout is beautifully inclusive of little visual details, and compelling in its study of humanity. However, I did find the opening scenes awkward and unpolished – rather too filled with adjectives for my liking.

Nevertheless, I must say that overall I enjoyed this book. Despite the unwieldy first chapter, and a plot that owes a bit to Hollywood, this story succeeds because the relationships are so beautifully and subtly explored. Relationships are rendered as vivid, living things, and when forced, there are rediscoveries and realisations between siblings and parents who, despite separations, are still bound together in indescribable and indestructible ways.

Book Review : The Flavour Thesaurus – Niki Segnit



I have seen a few mentions of this book on wishlists of late, and I thought I’d tell you what I think of it.

Essentially, this book is about the pairings (or or perhaps the parings) of different types of flavours, and why and how well they work (or not, as the case may be). More specific than describing taste according to the four types of receptors on the tongue (bitter, salty, sour, sweet), it further groups flavours into categories such as cheesy, earthy, green & grassy, and roasted. So, using pairings that are relatively common from around the world (have you heard of watermelon & chilli? apparently it’s popular in Mexico) the book serves us bite-size chunks of info-tainment garnished with an obtuse wit.

There are wild pears and wild pairs. And seriously, there are bits that are plain bananas. Chocolate and Coconut starts off thus – “Just as government health departments warn that using marijuana can lead to harder drugs, so sweet tobacco led to my addiction to cigarettes”. Erm… what?? The rest of the entry does kind of follow on in a brambly kind of fashion, but in her attempts to add zest she ends up with a very strange fruit.

She’s no dill – there are great nuggets of foodie wisdom, and the book comes with  recommendations from Heston Blumenthal and Hugh Fearnley-Whittinghall, but some bits are hard to swallow. On Cauliflower and Almond she says “[Restaurateur] Anthony Finn … created a cauliflower trifle – a puree of cauliflower cream with grape jelly and brioche. He’s also conceived a cauliflower and almond creme caramel”. And so does it work? Is the flavour combination viable?? Well, that’s pretty much the whole entry, and so we are left in a jam.

But there are recipes too, and ideas for how to pair the flavours so that they work to their best advantage. She does sound like an egghead at times, but she’s done her research and the book is peppered with amazing bits of trivia – did you know there is a celery-flavoured soda available in New York? Or that when bananas weren’t available in Britain during WWII, mock bananas were made from parsnip? I kid you not. But she does occasionally tend to waffle, and nothing can stop her when she’s on a roll.

After gingerly picking my way through this strange and surprising smorgasbord, I would have to say the book can be summed up as a curious balance of tangy and savoury, with startling notes of fruitcake.

OK, thyme I stopped.