Five Bells by Gail Jones


By far the most beloved character in this book is Sydney, with a focus on Circular Quay.  The descriptions by the four other characters, three of them newcomers to Sydney, of the wonders of that location were each beautiful in themselves.  Circular Quay is the spot in Sydney where the train comes to the harbor between the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House, where ferries take off for other beautiful locations on the harbor.  Besides two of the most beautiful structures on earth that humans have created, this spot affords views of that matchless body of water.  Gail Jones, who teaches at the University of Western Sydney, has written a real love letter to her city.

The story recounts the visits of each of the four characters to Circular Quay so that we learn each of their stories in the course of a day.  Each has a burden of sadness and each deals with that burden with varying success.  Each is a compelling character, but my favorite is a Chinese woman who has lived through the horror of the cultural revolution.  At one point she notes to herself that she is old, at another, that she is not old at all.  She comes to the Circular Quay to catch the ferry across the harbor each week; along the way she always exchanges a few words with her friend Aristos, an old fisherman who now sells ice cream and she always catches up with a homeless woman named Mary. 

On numerous occasions this sad book evokes great beauty and pleasingly smart insights.  As the characters reveal themselves to us, the complexity that exists in all of us is apparent.  In the course of this poignant day, the characters' varied life experiences are close to the surface. 

While other books by Gail Jones are available at the UVa library, this one is not.  It is a new book, but I was able to get it through Amazon at a very low cost.  I took the trouble to do so because of Reading Matters' enthusiasm for it and I'm so glad I did.

On a personal note, when Jim and I were in Sydney, we stayed in a hotel that was in walking distance of Circular Quay.  We were there countless times to see the opera house and bridge, to catch ferries, to people-watch, and to visit the library where wifi gave us access to family and friends.  It began to feel like home to us.

1 comment


  • So glad you liked this one, Charlotte. Yes, it is very much a love letter to Sydney, isn’t it? The city, in fact, is one of the main characters, and Jones describes it in loving detail.


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