Review by Ben Hunter
This weeks’ media storm over Alan Jones and the NSW Liberal Government’s bullying of the Sydney Opera House Chief, Louise Herron, into projecting horse racing ads onto the iconic Opera House sails is yet another skirmish in a cultural war over the World Heritage-listed building that has raged since its controversial beginning. The multi award-winning author Kristina Olsson’s beautiful new novel takes readers back to where it all began.
In Shell, Olsson focuses a literary lens on a great paradigm shift of modern history – a sudden rift in our ethical, political and cultural landscape, tectonic in scale. An unprecedented structure takes form over Sydney Harbour, a bewildering, curving and arching set of organic forms – a new cathedral to art and beauty.
The sheer grandeur and expense of the undertaking puts Danish Architect, Jørn Utzon, in the crosshairs of the both the papers and Government House. Olsson places the visionary glassmaker Axel Lindquist in the creative heart of the project, stalking the streets of 1965 Sydney in the shadow of the enigmatic architect.
But at the time, a much greater shadow loomed over the nation. In tandem with our greatest state-sponsored artistic endeavor came the greatest state-sponsored killing of the era – the Vietnam War and the deadly lottery that tore Australia apart.
Pearl Koegh, after being quarantined from the Herald’s newsroom for showing anti-war sentiment, is desperately trying to find her two brothers and rescue them from the draft. It’s a search that will take her to all kinds of difficult and unexpected places.
Together Axel and Pearl are at ground zero of this immense and unprecedented societal shift. Their story is told in precise and lyricaly drawn prose at times heartbreaking and dazzling in the Olsson’s author’s grasp at true and uncompromised beauty. A timely reminder of the importance of making a stand on the things that really matter, this book is every bit as impressive as its eye-grabbing, luminous cover art.
Click the link below to listen to Ben Hunter and John Purcell chat with Kristina Olsson for The Booktopia Podcast …
A big, bold and hauntingly beautiful story that captures a defining moment in Australia's history.
Everywhere he looked he saw what Utzon saw. The drama of harbour and horizon, and at night, the star-clotted sky. It held the shape of the possible, of a promise made and waiting to be kept ...
In 1965, as Danish architect Jørn Utzon’s striking vision for the Sydney Opera House transforms the skyline and unleashes a storm of controversy, the shadow of the Vietnam War and a deadly lottery threaten to tear the country apart.
Journalist Pearl Keogh, exiled to the women’s pages after being photographed at an anti-war protest, is desperate to find her two missing brothers and save them from the draft. Axel Lindquist, a visionary young glass artist from Sweden, is obsessed with creating a unique work that will do justice to Utzon’s towering masterpiece.
In this big, bold and hauntingly beautiful portrait of art and life, Shell captures a world on the brink of seismic change through the eyes of two unforgettable characters caught in the eye of the storm.
And it reminds us why taking a side matters.
About the Contributor
Ben is a bookseller at Booktopia HQ. He reads a lot and writes a little. Cows are his spirit animal. He is an optimist. He loves pastry.