1996, 247 p.
The Age, my daily newspaper (which is, unfortunately, becoming less and less pleasurable- did you hear that the Guardian is coming to town?) no longer has its regular columnists who let you into their lives over an extended period of time. I suppose that Martin Flanagan writes within that tradition, and the much-missed Kate Holden did too on the back page of Saturday’s Age. The late Pamela Bone was good; so was Sharon Gray; and I remember Gillian Bouras as well. As I recall, she was a Melbourne teacher who went to live in a Greek village, and she continued to write her column from Greece. She has mined her life for novels, too, and this book continues this tradition. Is it fiction or non-fiction? I have no idea. I think that I’d classify it as memoir and biography dressed up as fiction.
It is written in three alternating voices of three women, overlaid by an invisible third-person omniscient narrator : first, the Greek peasant mother-in-law Artemis; second, the friend Juliet; and finally the writer Irene (who may, perhaps be the omniscient narrator writing in first person). Australian-born Irene now lives in England, self-exiled from Greece where her youngest child still lives after the breakdown of his parents’ marriage. She doesn’t want to return to Australia and she cannot bear to be too far from her youngest son whom she loves perhaps too unhealthily. Her mother-in-law Artemis, addled by dementia, has always resented Irene, and the friend Julie, herself British-born, has stayed in Greece, turning a blind eye to her husband’s infidelities and she is rather impatient of Irene’s indecisiveness and passivity.
I received this book as part of my book-group’s Kris Kringle: we each anonymously wrap up a book of our own that we have enjoyed and put it wrapped into a basket and choose another. Over the Christmas break we read the book, then at our first meeting we return it, speak about our response to it, and try to guess who ‘gave’ it. It doesn’t at all surprise me that this was a book given by one middle-aged woman to another middle-aged woman, and it has been interesting reading this and My Hundred Lovers in such close succession, because there is a similarity between them. They are both very female books, written by older women, who have been scarred, chastened and emboldened by experience. Both books do not have a clear-cut beginning and end point, and while driven by the elapse of time and the waxing and waning of relationships, do not have a plot as such.
While identifying with it, I did become a bit impatient at the ‘stuckness’ of the narrator in this book and was relieved that it didn’t go on for much longer, even though I was enjoying reading it. I do wonder if the author takes the adage “Write what you know” a little too seriously: can any one person’s ordinary life carry the burden of so many novels???
My rating: 7.5/10
Sourced from: well- who knows??? I think Sue, but I’m not sure.
Read because: it was the 2012 book group Kris Kringle. And she identifies herself on her website as “An Australian Writer Living in Greece” so I’ll include her on the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge.