2010, 438 p.
Like all good titles, the title ‘The Legacy’ is a double-barrelled one. It could refer to the unexpected financial bequest that sets the chain of events in this novel into action, or it could refer to the aftermath of the news of a death. Both interpretations work.
The novel opens with a prologue voiced by Ingrid, as her step-daughter Fleur watches Ingrid emerging from a beating in what we assume is domestic violence. Somehow – illogically – this violence seems incongruous with the New York affluence within which Ingrid is living. This is the last we hear of Ingrid in her own voice. From then on, the narrative is taken over by Julia, her friend from Australia, whose relationship with Ingrid oscillates between awe, jealousy, love and anger.
Told in retrospect, Julia’s life was financially straitened and emotionally unsatisfying. She worked at a video store while she was at university, and became friendly with Ralph, who called in at the video store and watched films behind the counter with her. Ralph was wealthy, and Julia was drawn into his wake, invited to lunches at his parents’ quietly opulent Kirribilli House, overlooking the Sydney Harbour. She was not the only young woman attracted to the Kirribilli enclave; so too was Ingrid, brought over from Perth by Ralph’s aunt Maeve when Ingrid’s parents diee. Ingrid enchanted Ralph and his family, and when Ralph’s father died Ingrid was left a huge legacy- something encouraged by Ralph who was infatuated with Ingrid, despite his bisexual leanings. Ingrid used her legacy to travel to New York, and it was there that she met an older man, Gil Grey and his precocious young daughter Fleur, lauded as a prodigy for her artwork from early childhood. She married him, despite the misgivings of her friends Ralph and Julia who were unnerved by his controlling nature. The friends drifted apart. But when news came of Julia’s death in the Twin Towers (and how telling that I just need to say ‘Twin Towers’ and you know exactly what I mean), the increasingly-ill Ralph dispatched Julia over to New York to find out what happened to her and to fill in the details.
This is a long book – 438 pages- but I didn’t find that it dragged. The first 2/3 of the book reminded me of an Antipodean Brideshead Revisited or Great Gatsby, with the outsider narrator watching wealthy people living out their greed and insecurity. There is an artificiality and staginess to the lives of these wealthy and ruthless people, and the glamour of the New York art scene does not disguise the curdled ugliness of these so-called ‘ beautiful people’. The last 1/3 of the book took on the pace and tone of a mystery, although its ending was too open-ended to be really satisfactory on that score. The descriptions of both Kirribilli and New York were well-drawn, and the dialogue flowed so naturally that it was barely noticeable. There were too many paranormal deadends – a neighbour who read tea-leaves and too many dream sequences- but she captured well the uneasy line between enterprise and exploitation, sexual adventureness and abuse. The book was an amalgam of a coming-of-age love triangle, shot through with a mystery. It worked for me.
My rating: 7.5/10
Read because: CAE bookgroup (the Ladies Who Say Oooh)
I’ve posted this review to the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge.