About Me

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Victoria, Australia
I am an author of Young Adult Fiction books. I worked as a teacher in the Pacific Islands for seven years. Whilst in the Solomon Islands I taught PSSC English before the ethnic tension in 2000 forced a change of plans. I love Pacific literature, art and music. You can find me on Facebook at Beth Montgomery Author.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Island of the Colour-blind by Oliver Sacks

The Island of the Colour-blind
 (Picador, 1996)
Oliver Sacks is a neurologist and author who writes about the most peculiar and intriguing neurological conditions. A few years ago I read the autobiographical account of his childhood, Uncle Tungsten, and was thoroughly engrossed by his insatiable curiosity and his passion for science. The Island of the Colour-blind is an account of his travels in the Federated States of Micronesia (one of my favourite places in the Pacific). The book is set out in two parts. The first deals with the issue of colour-blindness. Apparently on Pingelap, an outlying islands of Pohnpei there is an unusually high number of people who see no colour at all, a condition known as achromotopia. Sacks travelled to Pingelap with two colleagues, one of whom was achromatopic, and together they recorded the incidence of the disorder and gave out sunglasses and other visual aids. People with this condition find direct sunlight blinding. They squint and find it difficult to see small details. They have excellent night vision, however.
   The second half of this book was to do with a rare neurological disorder, called lytico-bodig, that occurs on Guam, an island which is part of the Marianas Islands. The disease causes Parkinsonism type symptoms in some families and motor neurone disease in others. No one knows the exact cause of the condition although some researchers speculate it could be to do with the islanders eating the seeds of the cycad plants which are endemic to the island. The seeds are toxic and need to be specially prepared before they are eaten. However, other researchers have disputed this hypothesis and think there may be a viral cause. Although no conclusions were reached the book examines all the theories and gives detailed accounts of the disease in many patients.
   This book is fascinating reading for science students. Sacks manages to keep the medical jargon to a minimum and there are dozens of footnotes and references to his readings in this field. This book would be ideal to include as a non-fiction title for the PSSC English curriculum.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd

Many years ago I read the classic horror tale by H.G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau. Full of monsters made from animal experiments, the story is gruesome, Gothic and grotesque. Megan Shepherd's novel, The Madman's Daughter, is a terrific piece of fan fiction that gives this old tale a fresh platform. It is the story of sixteen year old Juliet Moreau, the only child of the eccentric but brilliant surgeon, Doctor Moreau. Her father fled London six years earlier after rumours of his barbaric methods began to circulate. With her mother now dead, Juliet is determined to search for her father. She travels by ship to her father's island and along the way rekindles a friendship with her father's young servant, now grown into a handsome young man named Montgomery. The ship takes on a castaway, a brooding gentleman called Edward who reveals little about his past.
The Madman's Daughter
(HarperVoyager, 2013).
   Once on the island Juliet receives a tepid-reception but the mad doctor tries to murder the stranger, Edward. Montgomery rescues him but the two young men become rivals over Juliet's attention. As the weeks go by, Juliet finds herself embroiled in the horror of her father's experiments and she resolves to escape the island. And somewhere lurking in the jungle, a beast has begun to kill the villagers and threatens to attack the doctor's compound.
   Shepherd's prose was serviceable but repetitious, and littered with misplaced modifiers and cliches, suggesting some further line editing was needed. I found this novel a bit slow at the beginning and Juliet's character was difficult to empathise with in a Victorian London setting. However her feisty temperament fits in well with the predicament she finds herself in on the isolated Pacific island. Still, my desire to read on to when they reached the island kept me reading. As soon as Doctor Moreau was revealed on the page, the story took off. The plotting was tremendous, with intricate twists and some nasty surprises in the final few pages.
A cracker of a story for those who like a touch of the supernatural.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Robert Louis Stevenson: His Best Pacific Writings, compiled by Roger Robinson

Robert Louis Stevenson: His Best Pacific Writings
(UQP, 2004)
This anthology is interesting because it documents customs, characters and politics of many Pacific Islands from a historical perspective.  I always thought he'd only visited Tahiti and then settled in Samoa, but he also spent time in the Marquesas, Kiribati and New Caledonia, and spent countless weeks rolling around on boats between islands. This anthology contains Stevenson's essays, poems and short stories all about the Pacific Islands. Much of his essays are densely written and a little hard to follow, due to the old fashioned style of prose. I found the 'Battle on the Beach' and 'The Hurricane' particularly difficult to fathom but his short stories are delightful. There are prayers and poems at the end which are also moving. His essays about the leper colony and secondly his Gilbertese friends were fascinating. This book gives great insight into the character of Stevenson. He a great listener and loved to mix with islanders and learn from their oral traditions.