Monday, 7 October 2013

I take my hat off

This morning while I was trawling through the newspaper online, I found an article on the new Bondi Surf Life Saving Club. You can read it here.  Be sure to click on all the links to get the full beauty. Awesome, isn’t it? Who would’ve thought that someone could put so much love and care into a building? 

I have to tell you I had a hard time picking my favourite view; I decided it was impossible.

The article got me thinking about architecture in general, then houses by the sea and then houses in fiction, and, in particular, how setting can play such a powerful part in narrative. I thought of all the books and stories I’ve read, and it’s odd but in the ones I’ve loved to bits setting has been of paramount importance. 

Setting is a character in its own right. This might sound a little odd at first, but if you think about it setting has moods just like a person:  it can be dark and angry or sunny and light; it can be appealing or appear sullen. Good writers manage to find a million ways to describe setting without ever repeating themselves. They manage to wriggle in bits and pieces about setting every couple of paragraphs, to remind you where you are, so that when you reach the end you cannot think back on the story without remembering the setting. Tim Winton’s Breath is a fine example of this. If I think about Breath just offhand, I see the main character, Pikelet, on a wave in the sea; I see him underwater in a river, practising holding his breath, or I see him on Sando’s deck grappling with his feelings about Sando’s missus. 

Some famous stories with haunting settings:

Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles

And some not-so-well-known stories with haunting settings:

Bereft by Chris Womersley
The Broken Shore by Peter Temple
A Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Room by Emma Donnaghue

It also occurred to me that the new Bondi Surf Life Saving Club is like a book where the setting is vital. This might sound a tad obvious, but if you glance back at the photos of the building, you’ll see that the sea, the beach is in nearly every room – it may well be in every room but I can’t vouch for this because I haven’t been there. Yet. (I can’t wait to go.) The architects have been like good writers, they’ve inserted the setting every couple of metres, to remind you of where you are.

Durbach Block Jaggers, these are the architects. I don’t know these guys – they sound like characters from a Dickensian novel -- and I'd love to read more about them.  In the meantime, I take my hat off to them.

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