A Review of Author Morris West by Marilyn Watson

Morris West, (born 1916-died 1999) was generally shunned by Australian literati during his lifetime; however, he is honoured here for two reasons: 1) He was the first to write the so-called “blockbuster” Aussie novel; and 2) he was something of an enigma, an ex-Christian Brothers monk seemingly well equipped to discuss thorny religious matters, who always remained a controversial – yet committed – Catholic all of his life.

One wonders if the greatest impetus behind his prodigious writing career (60 million books sold) was his own deep longing for answers in his own spiritual quest. In fact, he himself has said many times that his novels all deal with the final dilemma of questions that can only be ascertained by the people asking them.

After reading several West novels, this reviewer was most impressed with The Devil’s Advocate, a novel that deserves high marks for its pervasive symbolism, sharp characterization, a riveting plotline, a blurred edge between good and evil perceptions, and his choice of a superb Italian locale, based on extensive travel and research. This book brought West his is only major award: The James Tait Black Memorial Prize for The Devil’s Advocate in 1959.

Unfortunately, West’s work can be rather weak at times in its wrap-up, with lengthy scenarios often stitched together in haste to justify all that has transpired before.He is a bit repetitious in his presentation, both in basic word usage (despite a brilliant vocabulary) as well as in the ongoing storyline, a problem most noticeable, perhaps, in The Clowns of God. Many writers, though, not only use repetition in a rhythmical sense, but also as a way of emphasizing the major direction of a book, and this may have been Morris West’s intention.

In any case, Clowns was a bestseller for many reasons, chief among them that West grabs your attention on the first page and won’t let go until the end, which sadly seems contrived and rather ridiculous in its denouement. Some ongoing violence also smacks of commercialism, hitting readers where it hurts. But, draw your own conclusions as you embark on an exciting ride!

Despite any perceived failings, Morris West remains a master of his craft. To his credit, he said, “If God be God and man a creature made in image of the divine intelligence, his noblest function is the search for truth.”

In this regard, West more than fulfilled his destiny.

Establishing a Traditional Home Library: A Marilyn Watson Interview with Matt Silwood

Matt Silwood, a valued “Kate’s Preloved Books” customer, recently told us that he is establishing a private library in his new home—a worthy project seemingly out of sync in today’s electronic world. However, the idea of a private library has always appealed to our family, too. We started one many years ago, and guess what? We are still adding books to it–despite a shortage of space! So, we couldn’t resist asking Matt if he would consent to an interview and–to our delight–he kindly said “yes.” His thought-provoking comments proved reassuring and intriguing, and—even more important—came across as the sensitive replies of a true bibliophile.
We thank Matt for sharing his insights with us and proudly present them to our “Word Surfers” readership, as follows:

Question: What prompted you to establish a private library in the first place, especially in this electronic age? For instance, was it simply an inexplicable personal urge; an investment that will increase over time; a way to group cherished materials; a desire for the sight and feel of “hard copy”; or an inheritance that you can leave one day for your children and their children to enjoy and treasure?

Answer: The library is a dedicated non-digital space. It so happens that the room sits among the tree-tops of our newly acquired villa: timber floors; bay window; open fire. It is a place of contemplation and reflection. Nothing feels like a book, nor smells like a book nor, as our new puppy will attest, tastes like a book. Each represents a visual door waiting to be opened. In the digital world you choose to seek out information; in the world of books they speak to you; in a way they search you out. When presented with an array of books, your eye may fall upon something that you were not originally seeking. In the Google world you seek information to find answers and yet hardly pause to contemplate whether you are asking the right question. Sometimes I may pick up a book because it looks interesting (the book not the title), it feels interesting (weight, texture, age). These are sensory experiences that the digital age does not stimulate.

Question: How, and where, are you planning to set up such a library when storage space is at such a premium? Have you considered limiting the volumes in your collection to a certain number and occasionally selling extras that are less important to you?

Answer: This library is a precursor to the next one which will be set up downstairs. We think that one will be very special like a Victorian conservatory. ‘My’ library is a trial run for spatial dimensions, look, feel, content. No, I would never consider limiting my volumes. I would just obtain more space. Storage is never at the premium. Books can be racked, stacked, and packed a lot more easily and efficiently. If there is a wall, there is a place to put books. If there is a stairwell, there is a place to put books.

Question: Are you planning on using an established system of identification, such as the Dewey Decimal, as a way of ordering your book collection, or will you simply group your books by author and/or subject?

Answer: Interesting question. If I wanted to access information in an ordered and considered way I will get on Google. I have considered this and apart from volume sets, the books have (at this stage) been placed as randomly as I am able. The whole reason for doing this is because the space is one of contemplative reflection and I wish the book to draw itself to me, not me seek it out. This is not about information. It is about a ‘spiritual experience.’

Question: Speaking of categories: Are you interested in accruing a general collection of books, or a specialised selection focussing on topics of interest, like science, architecture, and history?

Answer: General, random, hardcopies.

Question: Do you have a preference as to hardcover vs. paperbacks? Does it really matter?

Answer: Yes, paperbacks are transient; hardcopies are pillars and foundations. Paperbacks are too close to a kindle. Having said that, there are exceptional titles that may override this consideration. I have soft copies of many political philosophies, etc., because the hard copies are just not easily obtainable, or too expensive. My books get used and so may end up with a small dash of coffee once-in-awhile.

Thanks again, Matt, for helping us out with your inspiring words; they will eventually transfer to a permanent file on site for browsers to access, along with all other monthly topics. Someday, we’d love to see your library after you set it up.

Other readers are invited to share their views with us on various topics of interest. Please contact me. Coming up soon: Several articles with info/tips on the preservation and restoration of books and magazines. Often, such items can be greatly improved in appearance and overall condition with a little tender TLC.  W feel used books and magazines are truly a treasure.

Watch for them and remember to look to KPB’s for great secondhand books at at great price!  We are truly here to help with your preloved/used book needs.