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Long before I ever met him I knew his name from the leaky dessicated type of a grey-brown slim volume, cheaply printed but essential to my research ... Seeking stories of Australia's Great Ocean Road, a young writer stumbles across a manual from a minor player in the road's history, FB Herschell. It is a volume unremarkable in every way, save for the surprising portrait Long before I ever met him I knew his name from the leaky dessicated type of a grey-brown slim volume, cheaply printed but essential to my research ... Seeking stories of Australia's Great Ocean Road, a young writer stumbles across a manual from a minor player in the road's history, FB Herschell. It is a volume unremarkable in every way, save for the surprising portrait of its author that can be read between its lines: a vision of a man who writes with uncanny poetry about sand. And as he continues to mine the archive of FB Herschell - engineer, historian, philosopher - it is not the subject, but the man who begins to fascinate. A man whose private revolution among the streets of Paris in May 1968 begins to change the way he views life, love, and the coastal landscape into which he was born...


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Long before I ever met him I knew his name from the leaky dessicated type of a grey-brown slim volume, cheaply printed but essential to my research ... Seeking stories of Australia's Great Ocean Road, a young writer stumbles across a manual from a minor player in the road's history, FB Herschell. It is a volume unremarkable in every way, save for the surprising portrait Long before I ever met him I knew his name from the leaky dessicated type of a grey-brown slim volume, cheaply printed but essential to my research ... Seeking stories of Australia's Great Ocean Road, a young writer stumbles across a manual from a minor player in the road's history, FB Herschell. It is a volume unremarkable in every way, save for the surprising portrait of its author that can be read between its lines: a vision of a man who writes with uncanny poetry about sand. And as he continues to mine the archive of FB Herschell - engineer, historian, philosopher - it is not the subject, but the man who begins to fascinate. A man whose private revolution among the streets of Paris in May 1968 begins to change the way he views life, love, and the coastal landscape into which he was born...

30 review for A Sand Archive

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Gregory Day’s new novel A Sand Archive, is such an exquisite book, I was really sorry to turn the last page. It reminded me a little of Stoner by John Williams and Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life in the way that it portrays an ordinary, unobtrusive man who isn’t really ordinary at all. As I said in the Sensational Snippet that I posted yesterday, the central character FB Herschell is a young civil engineer who, tasked with stabilising the dunes along Victoria’s iconic Great Ocean Road, visits Par Gregory Day’s new novel A Sand Archive, is such an exquisite book, I was really sorry to turn the last page. It reminded me a little of Stoner by John Williams and Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life in the way that it portrays an ordinary, unobtrusive man who isn’t really ordinary at all. As I said in the Sensational Snippet that I posted yesterday, the central character FB Herschell is a young civil engineer who, tasked with stabilising the dunes along Victoria’s iconic Great Ocean Road, visits Paris in 1968, on a scholarship to study strategies used in Europe. He subsequently self-publishes a book with the unexciting title The Great Ocean Road: Dune Stabilisation and Other Engineering Difficulties and it is the unexpected poetry of this book that is a catalyst for the writing of this ‘sand archive’ (which purports to be) by a young writer who briefly knew Herschell. If you recall your surprise when reading Kate Grenville’s Orange Prize-winning The Idea of Perfection which portrayed a man who held our interest despite knowing more about concrete than most of us wish to know, then you will perhaps experience a similar frisson in discovering FB Herschell and his sand dunes. The narrator meets Herschell in a bookshop in Geelong, a city now shedding its industrial past but decidedly prosaic back in the 1980s. He had discovered Dune Stabilisation and Other Engineering Difficulties when researching his own history of the Great Ocean Road, and now at work in the bookshop finds the author himself before him… Like so much that went on in that bookshop, FB Herschell’s presence came as a stimulating intersection between what is written on paper and what is actually breathing and alive. Suddenly those fusty initials on that slim grey-brown volume had become a living man in front of me, chatting with my fellow staff members. And rather than that leaky desiccated type on a dun background, his eyes gleamed with the freshness of ongoing life, his mouth constantly finding shapes of dry appreciation, his pleasure evident at finding other people who dwelt deep in the nourishing but often overlooked vanishing points of beauty and knowledge. To be honest, though, the most important thing for me was this: he had liked one of the books I had written and in his understated way wanted to make that clear to me. (p.5) The narrator tells the story of Herschell’s epiphany in France. Inadvertently drawn into the civil unrest in 1968 he meets a lovely young woman called Mathilde, and discovers an intellectual, political and sensual world utterly unlike his puritan life at home with his mother in Geelong. To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2018/04/14/a...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Neale

    Whoops forgot to hit the finished button. ;-)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Steve lovell

    I’ve had a life-long love of sand – beach sand that is. For most of this life I’ve loved disporting myself on it, soaking up the sun half-naked till scare campaigns and age put an end to all that hedonism on my part. These days I perambulate along strands rather than being supine. My island is blessed by stunning beaches – and right now I am close to two of the best – Boat Harbour and Sisters. But there’s wilder sand too. Dune Sand. Coastal dune sand, at places such as Henty on the West Coast an I’ve had a life-long love of sand – beach sand that is. For most of this life I’ve loved disporting myself on it, soaking up the sun half-naked till scare campaigns and age put an end to all that hedonism on my part. These days I perambulate along strands rather than being supine. My island is blessed by stunning beaches – and right now I am close to two of the best – Boat Harbour and Sisters. But there’s wilder sand too. Dune Sand. Coastal dune sand, at places such as Henty on the West Coast and Boobyalla up the North-east, is formed by wind into ever-moving nature-built monoliths. The latter was a favourite of my father as he explored, foraged and hunted around those parts, entranced by its wildness. Now we have a novel about a fellow who himself spent a life time in studying such dunes. He concentrated on how to control their steady march to prevent valuable land and infrastructure being submerged. Now this may seem dry fare, to say the least, as the basis for an engaging read, but in the hands of Gregory Day it becomes enthralling. His talent as a wordsmith first came to my attention in his previous tome, ‘Archipelago of Souls’, set on another wild place, King Island. So I knew he could make this arid subject matter come alive. I was not let down. I loved it. It will no doubt be one of my reads for the year. FB Herschell was a minor engineering functionary for the Victorian Country Roads Board of Works, operating out of Geelong in the 1960s. He was tasked to stablise the sand dunes on a section of the Great Ocean Road. To garner the best knowledge possible, as to how to go about this, he successfully applies to go to Paris to consult a leading expert on sand shifting, as well as to visit a major project in the south west of France. The year he embarks on his fact finding mission is significant – 1968. As fate would have it, in the City of Love, he meets and falls under the spell of Mathilde, a student revolutionary. She just happens to hail from Arcachon. It’s in the heart of the dune country he is about to visit, near the ginormous Grande Dune du Pyla, the most massive in Europe. Of course marram grass is the answer there, as he expects it to be back home. Its suitability in Australian conditions becomes a bone of contention later in the book. But what happens to his love affair with his captivating, but conflicted, young lady? I’ll only say she is not the woman he spends his later years with back in Oz. In his dotage he realizes his life work has had only minimal impact on the planet for he had, ‘… sat, year after year, in the McKillop Street (Geelong) office, attempting to widen the parameters of sand. He well understood the public purpose of these activities, but there was a private universe in them as well. And in that private universe was a city of his imagination, where the tall elegant gates of the Jardin des Plantes slowly opened onto a humid darkness.’ Paris played large in his remaining days as FB composed a summation of his endeavours, ‘The Great Ocean Road: Dune Stabilisation and Other Engineering Difficulties’. But, in the between the lines of the parched sentences he wrote on the topic, in this rarely read small publication, are the clues that provide the basis for this sad, joyous, poetic and erudite rendering from another mind capable of ‘…bravura work’. It is lovely, just lovely.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn

    For a construction lawyer and literary fiction fan, this ticked all of the “interest” boxes for me. It’s very much a story about writing and documenting as an act, following a writer who is looking at the construction of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia. He becomes intrigued by one of the civil engineers involved in the works, and quickly this is the narrative that consumes the bulk of the novel. The narrative uses metaphors impeccably, and the imagery of sand within the plot stands o For a construction lawyer and literary fiction fan, this ticked all of the “interest” boxes for me. It’s very much a story about writing and documenting as an act, following a writer who is looking at the construction of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia. He becomes intrigued by one of the civil engineers involved in the works, and quickly this is the narrative that consumes the bulk of the novel. The narrative uses metaphors impeccably, and the imagery of sand within the plot stands out for its prominence and clever crafting. I enjoyed this story of late-1960s French politics and social movements, unrequited love, and legacies of what we leave behind on the written page and beyond. Really stunning book!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lesley Moseley

    I was still on a high after reading 'Spring', so unfairly found it hard to get into this wonderful book. If you have not read Greg Day yet, and are of fan of Ali Smith, you will be delighted. His characters are so real I even googled some to see! I was still on a high after reading 'Spring', so unfairly found it hard to get into this wonderful book. If you have not read Greg Day yet, and are of fan of Ali Smith, you will be delighted. His characters are so real I even googled some to see!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Andy Goss

    A deceptive read, layered, faceted, elusive. Yes, it's about an engineer who has an interest in the movements of sand. But that is a narrative thread, which leads the story from The Great Ocean Road to France, more sand, more life, some learning, which, like the best learning, is absorbed unnoticed. Then back, to the Great Ocean Road and its sands. Art, music, philosophy, and how we might interact with the world, A Sand Archive urges us to reflect on our times, times gone, times to come, but lea A deceptive read, layered, faceted, elusive. Yes, it's about an engineer who has an interest in the movements of sand. But that is a narrative thread, which leads the story from The Great Ocean Road to France, more sand, more life, some learning, which, like the best learning, is absorbed unnoticed. Then back, to the Great Ocean Road and its sands. Art, music, philosophy, and how we might interact with the world, A Sand Archive urges us to reflect on our times, times gone, times to come, but leaves it to us to make the connections for ourselves that Mr Day has surely made for himself.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    Like sand through the hour glass.....this is no soap opera. It's a subtle story mainly set in the sixties that expertly shifts from The Great Ocean Road and Geelong to Gascony and Paris. The cultural shifts and character relationships are also handled brilliantly. Another surprising read, unlike anything I've read before, read from the 2019 Miles Franklin Long-list. Not sure what sand dune Gregory Day has been hiding under, but I'm glad to have found his writing in this novel and I'll be seeking Like sand through the hour glass.....this is no soap opera. It's a subtle story mainly set in the sixties that expertly shifts from The Great Ocean Road and Geelong to Gascony and Paris. The cultural shifts and character relationships are also handled brilliantly. Another surprising read, unlike anything I've read before, read from the 2019 Miles Franklin Long-list. Not sure what sand dune Gregory Day has been hiding under, but I'm glad to have found his writing in this novel and I'll be seeking out his back-list.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Peter Mathews

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. At the center of Gregory Day's A Sand Archive is the figure of F(rancis) B. Herschell, a figure who is reconstructed by Day's narrator from the archive of papers he left behind upon his death. The narrator knows Herschell slightly, as the latter occasionally comes into the bookshop in Geelong where he works. The narrator's interest in Herschell is piqued after borrowing a book from the library titled The Great Ocean Road: Dune Stabilisation and Other Engineering Difficulties, a self-published tex At the center of Gregory Day's A Sand Archive is the figure of F(rancis) B. Herschell, a figure who is reconstructed by Day's narrator from the archive of papers he left behind upon his death. The narrator knows Herschell slightly, as the latter occasionally comes into the bookshop in Geelong where he works. The narrator's interest in Herschell is piqued after borrowing a book from the library titled The Great Ocean Road: Dune Stabilisation and Other Engineering Difficulties, a self-published text that, despite its dry-sounding title, has glimpses of poetry in it. Against all expectations, Herschell is an incredibly well-read man who reads beyond his field of engineering, and seems particularly interested in French literature and culture. The opening chapter, for instance, recalls Herschell coming into the bookstore and looking up books about Proust. Herschell's story mainly takes in the 1960s, when he is charged with helping to stabilize a section of the Great Ocean Road. At odds with his boss, Gibbon, Herschell has the idea of using grass to keep the sand in place. As such, he applies for a scholarship to study how this feat had been managed in the sand dunes of France. Upon his arrival in Paris in 1968, he goes to a museum to view some paintings by Mondrian, who early in his career had painted the sand dunes in his native Holland. At the museum, he meets a young woman, Mathilde, who invites him to join in the street activities that lead to the famous events of May '68. Herschell and Mathilde, together with Prof. Lacombe, go down to south-east France to study the sand dunes. Mathilde is originally from this area, and she stays with her parents, while Herschell sleeps in the old mill. There, the two of them become lovers, but she decides to leave him: her proper place, she decides, is to follow the revolutionary impulses that are alive in the world at that time. Herschell returns to Australia and applies the lessons he learned about using grass to stabilize the Great Ocean Road. Despite the success of this venture, he increasingly comes to regret his decision, as the kind of grass he used is intrusive and does not suit the Australian environment. The narrator also projects onto Herschell a deep sadness about his failed relationship with Mathilde. The narrator learns about Herschell's recent death from Anna Neilson, a local woman who was Herschell's friend and lover in his later years back in Australia. He reflects on Herschell's legacy, contrasting the violent outburst that accompanied the events of May '68 with the quiet revolution that Herschell was able to effect back home in Australia. Although I liked the novel overall, I had some mixed feelings about The Sand Archive. Its strengths lie in its the intelligence and cultural sweep of Day's vision for, although he is in some ways a regional writer, his willingness to look beyond his own culture to figures like Proust, Mondrian, Camus, and many other sources of inspiration gives the novel a level of sophistication that is worthy of the very best Australian fiction. The weaknesses of the novel lie in two main areas. First, it can sometimes be rather didactic in the way it presents its ideas. The story repeatedly pushes a kind of Catholic mysticism that bleeds over into its appreciation of nature and the environment, a perspective that sits rather awkwardly next to its French, atheistic, existentialist reference points. There is also a kind of romanticism about the landscape, too, so that while I generally agree with Day's politics, I didn't find his presentation of them always to be convincing. The part I disliked most, though, was the way in which the narrator colonized Herschell's feelings. He regularly imposes his own emotions and expectations onto his subject in a way that felt stifling, even disrespectful. These blemishes are minor, however, compared to the larger strengths of the book. Herschell is indeed a compelling character, especially in the context of the conservative Australia of the 1960s, and Day's connection of this context to the events of May '68 in France make for an interesting and thoughtful reflection on change and revolution.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gillian

    I read this for a book group and was one of only two who didn’t love it. I enjoyed much of the language and thought the characters were well drawn. My main criticism was the frequent reference to other authors, some of whom are hardly well known. Other readers in the group either understood the references or skipped over them. But I assumed they were there for a reason so had to investigate them all. The use of French also irritated me, especially when it wasn’t translated. I can read French but I read this for a book group and was one of only two who didn’t love it. I enjoyed much of the language and thought the characters were well drawn. My main criticism was the frequent reference to other authors, some of whom are hardly well known. Other readers in the group either understood the references or skipped over them. But I assumed they were there for a reason so had to investigate them all. The use of French also irritated me, especially when it wasn’t translated. I can read French but I am sure many readers can’t. The use of ‘feuilletons’ for example, in a passage of English. Why? It felt to me like an author parading his erudition, which always annoys me! So maybe my problem, not the book’s. I enjoyed the dunes and the environmental message but I was too irritated to love the book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jocelyn

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book had lovely parts but only partially came together. Some of the language seemed to be trying too hard -for example 'the intellection of sand', and the line that was twice in the text, and in the quote on the back cover, 'leaky, desiccated type' didn't convey an image to me. That he had his young woman's address but never wrote her a note didn't make sense. I also didn't like the vague, windy philosophy. On the other side there was a beautiful explanation of the French protests of 1968, I This book had lovely parts but only partially came together. Some of the language seemed to be trying too hard -for example 'the intellection of sand', and the line that was twice in the text, and in the quote on the back cover, 'leaky, desiccated type' didn't convey an image to me. That he had his young woman's address but never wrote her a note didn't make sense. I also didn't like the vague, windy philosophy. On the other side there was a beautiful explanation of the French protests of 1968, I liked the Croatian women planting marram grass, the scenes at Bassin d'Arcachon were very good,... Overall good but disappointing

  11. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    I was deeply moved by this wonderful insight into life, love and passion. My dear wife picked this out for me and that is even more special. There is a lot to learn about life in these pages and I strongly commend this work to anyone who thinks about what we’re here for.

  12. 4 out of 5

    David

    An unusual subject - the Great Ocean road and sand stabilisation. A book club choice so I felt obliged to finish it

  13. 5 out of 5

    Barbara Whitehead

    I initially thought this was too intellectual for me but glad I stuck with it. I learnt about the 1968 French revolution, the murders in 1961. Mondarian art etc.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Emma Darcy

    I know this is a weird complaint, but I genuinely wish this had been more about FB's work on sand. I know this is a weird complaint, but I genuinely wish this had been more about FB's work on sand.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Glenys

    Fascinating

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sandra

    'We are no longer natural enough to be quite one with nature, but not yet sufficiently spiritual to be quite free of nature.' Mondrian 'We are no longer natural enough to be quite one with nature, but not yet sufficiently spiritual to be quite free of nature.' Mondrian

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    Most interesting when the protagonist studies in Paris, encountering student and worker protests. Most mundane when describing his life as an council engineer. I've read better Gregory Day books. Most interesting when the protagonist studies in Paris, encountering student and worker protests. Most mundane when describing his life as an council engineer. I've read better Gregory Day books.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Phillip Ramm

    I didn't like it so much. I didn't like it so much.

  19. 4 out of 5

    My Reading Days

  20. 4 out of 5

    William Penhale

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lynne

  22. 4 out of 5

    Peter Stevens

  23. 4 out of 5

    Brendan

  24. 5 out of 5

    Robyn

  25. 5 out of 5

    Maree Tonge

  26. 5 out of 5

    BookWorm

  27. 5 out of 5

    Claire Moore

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rachael

  29. 4 out of 5

    Gayle Parker

  30. 5 out of 5

    Helrj

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