Five Bells

Five Bells

3.31 (1,012 ratings by Goodreads)
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On a radiant day in Sydney, four people converge on Circular Quay, site of the iconic Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Each of the four is haunted by secrets from the past: Ellie is preoccupied by her sexual experiences as a girl, James by a tragedy for which he feels responsible, Catherine by the loss of her beloved brother in Dublin and Pei Xing by her imprisonment during China's Cultural Revolution.

Told over the course of a single Saturday, Five Bells vividly describes four lives which chime and resonate. By night-time, when Sydney is drenched in a rainstorm, each life has been transformed.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 224 pages
  • 129 x 198 x 14mm | 160g
  • Vintage
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 0099548984
  • 9780099548980
  • 38,463

Review Text

Thoughtful, intelligent and intensely lyrical, Five Bells is likely to consolidate an already considerable literary reputation
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Review quote

an ambitious, beautifully written novel * Reading Matters * Thoughtful, intelligent and intensely lyrical, Five Bells is likely to consolidate an already considerable literary reputation * Guardian * A story peopled by achingly real characters, memorably related in delicate, ornate prose, and throbbing with loss * Independent on Sunday * Jones's writing has the intensity of a dream, and the pattern she makes of the characters' lives is beautiful, managing to combine tension with lyricism * The Times * An intense, poetic tale * Financial Times *
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About Gail Jones

GAIL JONES teaches literature, cinema and cultural studies at the University of Western Australia. She is the author of Sixty Lights which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Dreams of Speaking and Sorry, both of which were longlisted for the Orange Prize.
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Rating details

1,012 ratings
3.31 out of 5 stars
5 16% (160)
4 29% (297)
3 33% (335)
2 13% (135)
1 8% (85)

Our customer reviews

Gail Jones begins Five Bells with an evocative depiction of a sunny day in Sydney's Circular Quay. I felt as if I stood in amongst the ebb and flow of the crowd, feeling the sun on my face, scenting the salt air, hearing the chug of the ferry and the squeal of a slowing train. From the corner of my eye I can almost see Ellie gazing at the water, Pei Qing exchanging a few dollars for an ice-cream, James frowning absently at the crowds, Catherine shading her eyes against the sun to watch the climbers on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the delighted giggle of a little girl with pink clips in her hair. From the first pages the language of this novel is powerfully lyrical. Jones introduces her characters by describing their reactions to the iconic landmark of the Sydney Opera House. For Ellie the building is an ode to joy, to James it's white curves resemble predatory teeth, like those a shark. Pei Xing admires the harmony of form while Catherine compares it to the drooping petals of a white rose. It is these evocative descriptions that give us insight into the characters state of mind. Five Bells reveals the lives of these four very different people who are passing through Circular Quay on a sunny, summer day and we follow them until night falls. Ellie and James, once teenage lovers are meeting for the first time in years and separately reminisce about their past together and their lives since. Pei Xing recalls her life under the communist regime in China as she travels to visit her torturer, while Catherine mourns her brother, tragically killed in a car accident. I found the pasts of these characters fascinating, particularly Pei Xing's story, but their present is largely unremarkable. Little actually happens in this novel but it is almost impossible not to be caught up in the secrets of these characters lives. The lack of plot and momentum can be off putting, though as Five Bells is just over 200 pages it's done before you realise it's not really going anywhere. This is not a novel you read for a compelling tale but to admire a beautiful turn of phrase and the occasional stunning insight. Had Five Bells a more commercial story structure along with the gorgeous prose I wouldn't hesitate in recommending it but I think its rather pretentious literary bent limits its appeal. It is a worthy read but perhaps not an entertaining more
by Shelley Cusbert
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