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3.72  ·  Rating details ·  187 ratings  ·  67 reviews
“A luminous look at a city at a time of change, a time when the building of the Sydney Opera House was a reach for greatness.” —The New York Times

In this spellbinding and poignant historical novel—perfect for fans of All the Light We Cannot See and The Flamethrowers—a Swedish glassmaker and a fiercely independent Australian journalist are thrown together amidst the turmoil
Hardcover, 259 pages
Published October 9th 2018 by Atria Books
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Angela M
Oct 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
“As with all of my books, Shell was not written because I knew something. I write, always, compulsively, because I don’t know something. It is always about a question. At the end of that process I find I have no solid answers. Only possibilities, a whole new set of questions.”

I was taken by what Kristina Olsson writes to her readers in a beginning letter. It made me think that this is what good fiction should do - open up possibilities, make us think. This is exactly what this novel does. Quiet
It was the 1960s and Australia was on the brink of change. The Vietnam War was about to take a poke at Australia’s youth – and the Sydney Opera House was under construction. The draft for the Vietnam War was in the form of a lottery, and all the young people who were born within a certain time period had their birth dates put in a barrel. If you were lucky, your birth date didn’t come out. (My husband’s didn’t thank goodness!)

Journalist Pearl Keogh was in a desperate search for her two younger b
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: australian
“Writing about architecture is like dancing to music – a completely natural thing to do”. Wait, that’s not how that quote goes? Oh well.

The building of the Sydney Opera House marks a watershed moment in Australia’s history: symbolic of a coming-of-age for the nation, of forging a cultural identity distinct from the Britishness that had characterised the preceding era. Just think: Australia in 1965, when the bulk of Shell takes place, had the same prime minister as it did 26 years earlier in 193
Anne ✨
I was drawn to this book with its beautiful cover of the Sydney Opera House & Harbor. The muted colors and softly blurred image is really appropriate for this historical fiction story. Olsson writes a tender, poignant contemplation of the atmosphere and times of 1960s Sydney, with a backdrop of events of the building of the Opera House and the Vietnam War lottery draft of young men. The story features two characters whose paths cross: Axel, a glassmaker from Sweden contracted to create sculp ...more
Michael Livingston
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
This lyrical novel uses the construction of the opera house to explore Australia in the 1960s. It's beautifully constructed as the building that inspired it.
Sep 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
An incredibly interesting book on many levels and served to highlight a big gap in my knowledge - Australia in the 1960s, its involvement in the Vietnam War and, especially, the controversy surrounding the building of the Sydney Opera House. I found it all fascinating.

The book is so much more than this, though. It features two equally sympathetic main characters, from very different cultural backgrounds. Axel, a glassmaker from Sweden contracted to create an artwork for the Opera House, and Pear
Cass Moriarty
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
From the very first pages of Shell (Scribner Books 2018), the new novel by Kris Olsson, you realise you are in the capable hands of a masterful storyteller. Not a word is wasted. Each sentence is crafted with care. Every paragraph sings from the page, like poetry, like prayer. The story is meticulously researched, and that research informs every line of dialogue, every cultural reference, all the minutiae of daily life. The characters are fully formed and multi-faceted; each has a background tha ...more
Jan 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I found Shell to be an enjoyable read, I don't find myself with much to say about it on finishing. Olssons's writing is gorgeous, and I really liked Pearl's storyline.

(If anyone has any other recommendations for historical fiction set in Australia, please send them my way in the comments!)
Denice Barker
Sep 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
I don’t think there is an iconic image that identifies a place more than the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia. It wasn’t always so, it wasn’t always accepted. There was a time when was just being built and public opinion wasn’t so positive.
In the mid 1960’s everything was changing. There was a war in Vietnam and Australia was adopting a draft system that, understandably so, was not well received. Pearl was a reporter embracing the change and protesting in the streets to defend her right t
Dec 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
I would have to agree with the myriad compliments paid to Kristina Olsson about her novel Shell ; it is a perceptive, finely written work which mesmerised me from the moment I admired its beautiful cover depiction of the Opera House in an airport bookshop in October until my reading of it was completed very recently.

Descriptions of the Australian landscape with particular reference to the spectacular land and sea environs of Sydney Harbour during the construction of the iconic Sydney Opera Hou
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
An exceptional glimpse into a volatile time in Australia's past that heightened by the controversy of the Vietnam War - the enforced ballot and our fears and concerns of what it meant to be involved again in a conflict on distant shores. And yet in our own country, on our own shoreline another controversy was brewing - the construction, the design, the time delays and the budget blowout of the Sydney Opera House. Two major things that put the political landscape into upheaval, the Australian peo ...more
As I wrote when I posted a Sensational Snippet from Kristina Olsson’s new novel Shell, ( I have fallen in love with this book so it’s not going to be easy to write an objective review. I have mulled over the book for two days since I finished reading it, and I still feel a frisson of pleasure when I set eyes on it. It’s my Book of the Year, and it might even be the Book of the Decade, in the same way that Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance turned out to be a ...more
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I rated this book 5 stars not because it’s perfect but because it captures the atmosphere & the times perfectly. You become immersed in the streets, suburbs & beaches of Sydney. The Opera House going up piece by piece & the problems associated with the build are tangible. The characters are also very relatable.
Theresa Smith Writes
‘There was no Swedish word to describe this, no English word that he knew; it wasn’t as simple as ‘awe’ or even ‘love’. It was the clutch at his heart as he lifted his eyes to its curves and lines. Its reach for beauty, a connection between the human and the sublime.’

Since its release last month, in my capacity as editor for historical fiction with the Australian Women Writers Challenge, I have read quite a few reviews on Shell, with no one reviewer saying the same thing. This in itself was reas
May 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I knew within the first few pages that I was going to love this book. I knew that I would hate to come to the end of these words which were only matched by the elegance of the Sydney Opera House. I read slowly, in order that I not miss even one small nuance, one exquisite thought.

Some novels are read for plot, some for character, and some, like Shell, for the beauty of the written word.

Axel Lindquist is a glass man from Sweden, brought to Australia by Jorn Utzon, the Danish architect of the Sidn
Sam Still Reading
Oct 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Sam Still Reading by: from the publisher
A book like Shell doesn’t come around every day, nor every year. This book is beautifully, tenderly written with every word crafted with an eye for detail. It is as admirable as the Sydney Opera House (the building of which is a major plot device) and as breathtaking as the glass sculptures crafted by Axel, one of the main characters. I can’t think of a better story to launch the Scribner Australia imprint. This is going to be an imprint to devour if Shell is any indication of the beauty and qua ...more
Lesley Moseley
Dec 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
3 3/4 rounded up as I felt it wrapped up to quickly. LOVELY read, Sydney is the most dominant 'character', I felt. Wonderful realisation of place. and set in it's time. I felt a bit distant from the main people characters except I actually cried during a very poignant 'meeting', scene. Would definately recomend it, especially to Scandinavian readers as their countries portrayals match my memories.
Oct 13, 2018 rated it did not like it
Thanks to netgalley for a free copy of this book.

I thought Kristina Olsson's book would be right up my alley: historical fiction, Sydney in the mid 1960s, the construction of the Sydney Opera House. Unfortunately, I did not like this book at all. Olsson utilized one of biggest pet peeves: no quotation marks. Instead, all dialogue was in italics and within the paragraphs instead of separated out. In addition, I did not like the structure, which continually switched back and forth between the two
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-top-five
I just loved this book. It resonated for me in so many ways. It took me back to Sydney of my childhood, the Opera House being built, the anti-Vietnam protests, my experiences of growing up in Balmain and that weird inferiority complex we had in Australia that fed into a real cultural cringe and fear of the new. I even have a memory of Jorn Utzen getting the sack. This is how deep it’s building settled into our consciousness.

I loved the way Olsson used light and water as a vehicle to tell the sto
Melissa Dee
Oct 17, 2018 rated it liked it
My feelings about this book are very divided. On one hand, I was fascinated by Olsson’s evocation of the setting; Sydney in the mid-60’s was a culture deeply divided between its past and its future. On the brink of the Vietnam war draft, with the iconic Opera House in mid-construction, Australia was a country of immigrants unsure how to deal with its diversity.

Ultimately, though, the plot moved too languidly to keep me fully engaged. I was interested by Pearl and Axel, and their back-stories, bu
‘Shell’ is a surreal story set in Sydney during the 1960’s. It is one of those books that connects several topics within a setting and these are linked loosely by the tenuous relationship between the two main characters. I was deceived by the dreamlike story-telling as it meandered along with so many gaps for the reader to fill in; but Olsson is describing the Sydney I knew when I was about 11 years old and I was completely engrossed and am still contemplating its impact on me.
The 1960’s was a
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
'Shell' is one of those stories whose imagery sank into me while it made me think: about what it is to 'be Australian' and about key events in our twentieth century past. At times, the broken sentences and half finished thoughts annoyed me, but they captured a character's groping, like swimming towards a bright patch of light far away, towards understanding.

The images are beautiful and subtly connected, with glass, water and shells predominating. I found myself wanting to visit the Opera House t
Kristina Olsson has perfectly captured our flaws on the page. The purposeful newness of Australia as a place comes across in this book - how this newness is about creating a veneer to cover over a real and deeper history. This disconnection and it’s relevance to how places take shape is inextricably linked, and underpins the whole mood of this book. The building of this great cultural centrepiece, tarnished before it had even begun by the history of the land it stood on, and by the chaos of its ...more
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
Mixed feelings about this book, I had such high hopes due to the Australian historical setting and the subject matter of such a iconic building.

I was disappointed for a number of reasons those being:
-While I loved the poetic language used to descibe the setting, time of day or actions occuring I found the book largely confusing. I actually still don't get what happened in the end partially due to the metaphorical style of writing and there are still pleanty of gaps on the I just didn't grasp.
Anne Fenn
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a marvellous book, a novel full of marvels. First one that strikes you is Kristina Olsson's language - some of her best work deals with the world of glass. Sydney Opera House, that haphazard array of sails, they all have windows, not ordinary ones either. Her language here moves from the technical, a little, to the aesthetic, a lot. It makes me want to go and see those windows today!
There's a lot of yearning in this drawn-out drama about building a national edifice in the face of politi
The cover of this one is just stunning in person! It's all pearlescent and stuff, but I'm also kinda in love with the fact that the title has a shadow on the water...
Oct 21, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Strangely written & couldn't get ijnto it. Too many books to read so I gave up.
Nov 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Having recently completed a 1000-page novel that seemed less than the sum of its parts, I was quite pleasantly surprised by just how much Kristina Olsson's Shell exceeded my expectation that it would be a comforting, light read. A wonderful story of two strangers discovering each other, rediscovering parts of their personal histories from which they had become estranged, and a great deal more.
Aug 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 21st-centurylit, hnr
Review at Historical Novel Society.

But first, from the Author's Note...
I write, always, compulsively, because I don't know something. It is always about a question. Or several. Ideas and notions and doubts coalesce into a long and intricate conversation with myself, or with an invisible other. In this case the conversation lasted five years. At the end of that process I find I have no solid answers, no certainties. Only possibilities, a whole new set of questions. The more I write, and read, and
Kayte Nunn
Mar 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Adored this beautifully written book - it is as exquisite as the glass that it describes.
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