Summary and book reviews of Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany

Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living

A Novel

By Carrie Tiffany

Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living
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  • Hardcover: May 2006,
    240 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2007,
    240 pages.

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Book Summary

In this sensual, witty, and startlingly original first novel, Jean Finnegan searches for her place in a tumultuous world wracked by the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II. Carrie Tiffany captures the frailty and beauty of the human condition and vividly evokes the hope and disappointment of an era.

Billowing dust and information, the government "Better Farming Train" slides through the wheat fields and small towns of Australia, bringing advice to the people living on the land. The train is staffed by irresistibly eccentric agricultural and domestic experts, from Sister Crock, the prim head of "women's subjects," to Mr. Ohno, the Japanese chicken specialist, to Robert Pettergree, a scientist with an unusual taste for soil. Amid the swaying cars full of cows, pigs, and wheat, a strange and swift seduction occurs between Robert and Jean. In an atmosphere of heady scientific idealism they settle in the impoverished Mallee farmland with the ambition of transforming the land through science.

In luminous prose, Tiffany writes about the challenges of farming, the character of small towns, the stark and terrifying beauty of the Australian landscape, and the fragile relationships among man, science, and nature. Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living is a passionate and heartbreaking novel from an astonishing new writer.

Chapter One: The Better-Farming Train Brings Science to the Man-on-the-Land

1934

There are days of slow chugging through the wheat. I look out the window at the engine as it rounds a bend. Living on a train is like living inside the body of a snake. We are always leaning into the curves, always looking forwards, or backwards, never around. Here we are arriving at some tiny siding, just a few neat-edged buildings and their sharp shadows. Here we are again, a few days later, pulling away, all of us craning out the windows, gazing down the long canyon of railway line.

Sometimes a grateful farmer, or his son, will run a length beside us, waving his hat and grinning and calling out, "Three cheers for the Better-Farming Train," as if we are going to war. In those few days at Balliang East or Spargo Creek or Bendigo we make a place like somewhere else. Somewhere new.

The children say, "Look, a circus, look at the tent, look at the animals." ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Throughout, Tiffany (an agricultural journalist living in Melbourne) explores the themes of man against nature, and the nature of man against man, but she also captures a big slice of social history, illustrating the incredible hardships of the time - the great depression, extensive years of drought, the memories of one war still present and the impending onset of another - stories that are at one level uniquely Australian but at another level, totally universal.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Tiffany writes in a deceptively simple style, notable for its craft and heartbreaking clarity; that as well as her unusual yet utterly believable period characters make for a stunning debut.

Kirkus Reviews

Tiffany's lean, controlled writing bears an incredible amount of weight; in a few well-turned phrases, the dusty Australian landscape comes alive...lapidary prose and keen historical feeling make it hard to believe this is a first novel.

Booklist

Starred Review. In this unusual and luminous first novel, Tiffany writes beautifully about the stark landscape and the even starker relationships between men and women.

Spectrum (Australia)

Here is a bright new voice. This is a most engaging novel that expresses its serious, often chilling concerns with a true feeling for people and the worlds they inhabit. I hope we will hear more from Carrie Tiffany in years to come.

Reader Reviews
maria siracuse

BORING!
I was so disinterested in the characters in this book. The story became incessantly silly. I ended up not even finishing it. The writing style was ok, but the story just never did drew me in.

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Beyond the Book

The Better Farming Train did exist just as described in Tiffany's book; it steamed out of Melbourne for the first time in October 1924 and returned for the last time in 1935, making about 38 tours in total. At each of its 10 stops between 500 to 2000 farmers and townspeople would attend the exhibits. You can browse a range of pictures of the train and its destinations here. In the top left you'll see the words "Browse Photo Collection" in red. Click any of the numbers underneath to see photos (we thought this a particularly fine image)

Robert and Jean set up home in the Mallee, a district in far north-western Victoria, south of the Murray River (the state of Victoria is in the south-east of Australia, see map). The ...

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