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Christy Collins

Thoughts on books, writing and life

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book review

Book review: Women of a Certain Age

Having just passed what a friend recently termed “the birthday that shall not be named” I was particularly keen to get my hands on a copy of Women of a Certain Age hoping that the collected wisdom of fifteen diverse Australian women would shed some light on a few issues my friends and I are beginning to see in a slightly less abstract light than was perhaps the case in our twenties and thirties.

 

I’m ‘all in’ on of the concept of this book: giving voice to women over forty to discuss aging, survival and being an age that reportedly makes women feel invisible and silenced by our patriarchal, youth-oriented culture. According to the back cover the essays are ‘tales of celebration, affirmation and survival about what it is like to be a woman on the other side of 40, 50, 60, 70…’  To my disappointment, however, many of the essays seem less interested in the authors’ current reality and experience than in relating stories from their childhood, adolescence and young adulthood – sometimes with only a short final paragraph linking this to their current age or viewpoint.

 

The strongest essays in the collection engage more fully with the experience of being middle aged or older and for me the standout is Krissy Kneen’s essay on the aging female body and the way it is perceived (and indeed sometimes not perceived) by the wider community. Kneen narrates an experience of going to the movies with her similar aged husband. When he hands over their two tickets the usher literally fails to see her standing beside him, and asks: ‘“Is your friend already in there?”’

 

Another of the essays that has stayed with me is Jeanine Leane’s ‘Black boxes’ in which Leane reflects that ‘Whitefellas never can decide what kind of Blackfella they want.’ Pointing to the changing and inconsistent expectations of those (white) people in various positions of power that have – often negatively – affected her educational and employment opportunities since the 1960s.

 

Perhaps my perception of these essays was overly influenced by my particular reading of the packaging and by the media materials I had read before the book arrived in my letter-box. Others will likely find a great deal of interest in what is certainly an interesting cross-section of Australian girl- and young woman- hoods recalled, but that is not what I was hoping to get from this book.

 

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, Fremantle Press.

Book Review: Leap, Myfanwy Jones

I picked up Leap because the cover, with it’s tiger stripes on midnight blue, kept jumping out at me. Jones is a Melbourne writer and Leap is on the Victorian State Library’s list of Summer Reads.

Leap deals with grief through an intertwining of two connected stories both set in Melbourne. Joe, in his early twenties, has paused his life due to regret and loss. He lives in a share house and keeps busy with his job in a restaurant, mentoring a young person, and training in parkour. On the other side of the city, empty-nester Elise’s marriage is breaking down but she finds solace in watching the tigers at the zoo.

The prose is clean and the book reads quickly. The relationships in the book are engaging and complex though I sometimes found the characterisation a little thin. We understand characters mostly through other character’s eyes, which fairly frequently led to my having revise my picture of a character well into the book. But perhaps this is intentional.

I had the sense that I was reading a book set as a high school text and I can’t quite put my finger on why. It’s not that the characters are young adults, but somehow the view of the world the book adopts seemed to fit that mold. Perhaps this is because Joe has been held in a sort of suspended adolescence due to his loss of his girlfriend in his own final year at high school.

I think Leap is probably quite a good selection for the Summer Reads program – it is clear, it reads quickly and is set locally – but it is not quite my type of book. I felt it wanted to manipulate me and I didn’t particularly enjoy the sense I got, about a third of the way in, of being ahead of where the author wanted me to be in understanding how the two worlds fit together. I think I would have enjoyed this book more if I had encountered it when I was in high school or perhaps my early twenties. That said Jones’ prose is skillful and her flair for storytelling is clear. I’ll be interested to see what she writes next.

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