Caroline Jones is probably best known as one of the presenters of Australian Story the long-running ABC documentary series on a Monday night. The stories featured on Australian Story are human-interest, generally uplifting and ‘inspirational’ features of half an hour in length, combining a narrative, flashbacks, and interviews with friends and family of the person featured. Caroline Jones comes across as an older, wiser, immaculately groomed, sensitive presenter. As an English judge was moved to say of Lady Archer (huh!) “Has she fragrance? Has she elegance?” and the same question could well be asked of Caroline Jones. I’ve always found her rather cloying though, and after reading this book, I am even more wary of such unmitigated ‘niceness’.
The book appears to be taken from Jones’ own diary, written after her 93 year old father had undergone heart surgery. It traces though his time in intensive care and eventual death after a number of weeks, then with her devastation in dealing with his death. She draws no comfort at all from the idea that he had ‘a good innings’ and, as she is an only child without children herself, she finds herself completely bereft of family. She finds that her spirituality brings her no comfort at all and her pain seems to abate only with time.
I feel rather uncomfortable writing about her book, as to criticize the book is to criticize her. And yet, she is the one who wrote the book (for whatever reason); she is one who has chosen to expose herself in this way; she is the one who has put her own actions and responses into the public domain. It’s a strange genre- not memoir as such, which is a construction in itself; and by focussing on just one aspect of a life lived, it lacks the completeness of an autobiography. It’s almost an argument of sorts; a point of view over a particular event, and I think that by writing it, the author invites challenge.
There seem to be many things that Caroline Jones has NOT spoken about with her father: whether he should even have the surgery at the advanced age of 93 (and to my way of thinking, there’s something decadent about a society that even offers this option) and whether Caroline has the right to say ‘enough- no more treatment’. Jones herself says that she and her father have never really spoken about Caroline’s mother’s suicide when Caroline was a young girl- surely a huge, unresolved (and unresolvable) ache in both their lives. For all her assertions of closeness and love between them, there are many things unsaid that should have been said.
Despite her “niceness” Caroline is filled with rage at her father’s predicament- the breathing tube, the continued surgeries, the poor outcome- and she is watching like a hawk. She is there every day: she does not leave until the night staff come on so that she knows who is on duty. On the rare occasions when she leaves to fulfil firm obligations, she yearns to be back by his side. It is a long drawn out nightmare for them both.
Her spirituality leaves her cold, and yet she brings many of her own spiritual mentors in to visit her father, even though he does not share her Catholic faith and has not expressed any particular personal faith. Like many a loving father, he is content to let her have her own religion; but as a loving daughter she does not provide him the same space.
The book closes with two appendices, written by her friends in response to reading an early draft of the book. I think that they are a self-serving addition, acting only to bolster her own world-view. The second appendix, written by a doctor at the hospital where her father died, assures her that she was “controlled”, not “controlling”. I can only assume that someone must have made this comment sometime about her. I disagree. She is very controlling.
To be honest, this book angered me. I don’t think that I want to write any more.