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Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany

Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living

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“There are days of slow chugging through the wheat. I look out of 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………..” So begins this extraordinary first novel by Carrie Tiffany.

It is 1934 and the government ‘Better Farming Trainâ is bringing expert scientific advice to the smallholders and farmers of the vast Australian countryside. Skilled persons, who teach and advise these small town folk, staff the train. They are there to instruct that, in order to increase productivity, it is the farmersâ patriotic duty to use the application of science in their daily lives. Among these experts are our two main protagonists – the narrator, Jean Finnegan (seamstress) and Robert Pettergree (agronomist).

In the stifling, claustrophobic atmosphere of the train their fate is sealed after an unexpected, passionate encounter amid the heady drone of the bees in the ‘honey carâ. Bound by this action (though they donât speak of it again) the two are married and set up home in the Mallee a remote and unforgiving region. Here they live an impoverished existence - both emotionally and materially. While Robert experiments with his ‘super-phosphateâ and scientific wheat production methods, Jean dutifully records the yields and quality of the bread produced. Their home is a laboratory, their lives an experiment. A series of calamitous crop failures turn the region into a dust-bowl and Robert is blamed (and blames himself) for the tragedy that follows.

This is a captivating book beautifully written in simple spare prose and, in a rather nice editorial quirk, the text is interspersed with photographs - as though placed there by Jean herself.

The Lovereading view...

An enchanting and wise novel about the rocky terrain of both a hostile landscape and the human heart. Shorlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2006.

If you like Carrie Tiffany you might also like to read books by Ann Patchett, Marina Lewycka and Nicholas Drayson.


Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany

It is 1934, the Great War is long over and the next is yet to come. Amid billowing clouds of dust and information, the government ‘Better Farming Trainâ slides through the wheat fields and small towns of Australia, bringing expert advice to those living on the land. The train is on a crusade to persuade the country that science is the key to successful farming, and that productivity is patriotic.

In the swaying cars an unlikely love affair occurs between Robert Pettergree, a man with an unusual taste for soil, and Jean Finnegan, a talented young seamstress with a hunger for knowledge. In an atmosphere of heady scientific idealism, they marry and settle in the impoverished Mallee with the ambition of proving that a scientific approach to cultivation can transform the land.

But after seasons of failing crops, and with a new World War looming, Robert and Jean are forced to confront each other, the community they have inadvertently destroyed, and the impact of their actions on an ancient and fragile landscape.

Shot through with humour and a quiet wisdom, this haunting first novel vividly captures the hope and the disappointment of the era when it was possible to believe in the perfectibility of both nature and humankind.


'Beautifully written . . . kindly, sometimes hilarious and ultimately very sad' Times Literary Supplement

'A peach of a first novel by a writer with a deep understanding of relationships and the outside pressures that wear away the good soil' Sunday Times

About the Author

Carrie Tiffany was born in West Yorkshire. Her family migrated to Western Australia in the early 1970s where an attempt to live off the land failed. She spent her early twenties working as a park ranger, and now lives in Melbourne.

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Book Info

Publication date

21st April 2006


Carrie Tiffany

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Pan Macmillan


272 pages


Literary Fiction
Debuts of the Month
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Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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