I read this book in a day, aided by two one-hour train trips into the city and back. If I’d been at home I would have read it in a day anyway, letting everything else hang. It’s a delicious book, satisfying on every level and shot through with a finely honed intelligence. I haven’t read anything of Georgia Blain’s before, had no idea she’s Anne Deveson’s daughter, no idea that she and her mother died with days of each other, nor that Georgia Blain died of a brain tumour. Finding that out after I’d read the story of Hilary and her daughters only added an extra layer of charge to the story, since Hilary has a brain tumour too. I can’t help but wonder if the clear eyed sensitivity Hilary is written with relates to Blain’s care for her own ailing mother, and if Hilary’s earthy pragmatism, grit and kindness is Blain’s own. I wonder if Blain knew of her own tumour – and what difference, if any, it would have made to her writing.
The story is straightforward enough – a slice of life over the course of a rainy day in Sydney, the lives of Hilary and her two daughters Ester and April. The brilliance is in the depth of character achived, The richness of an ordinary life is superbly drawn as these three women live their day, freighted with all the days before it and the fractured webs between them, both binding and separating them. It’s absolutely masterfully written, beautifully written and I was sorry to reach the end because then it was over, and I had to return to my own slice of life which seemed so muted after spending a day with the brilliance of those three.
The April character is disorganised, chaotic, and saved from awful egotism by her charm. She brings to mind the Ogden Nash poem, ‘Always Marry an April Girl’.
The Esther of the bible was an outcast who became Queen and saved her people. An ester is a chemical compound used in making perfumes and solvents. Good name for a therapist, and we see quite a bit of Ester solving and saving. These passages ring absolutely true, so much so I thought Blain must be an experienced therapist, or have engaged in proper therapy; it doesn’t matter whether she did or not, but it was refreshing to read about a therapist and therapy that accurately depicts how it is for the therapist.
As is true of real therapists, Ester’s own life is a bit messy – she’s quite a bit better at thinking about it than your average Joe, and at holding herself together in it. Her ex-husband Lawrence has committed a terrible treachery that has wounded her horribly. Her relationship with her sister is broken and they have both been in a kind of withdrawal for some time. Hilary is hurt by their falling out, by their hurting. You feel like you know these people and their responses to each other, their internal realities seem like your own. The characters are drawn with an unflinching eye for human foibles, but also a loving eye since they are more than their failings, even Lawrence-the-cad. Hilary has a brain tumour; she has to do something about the state of things between her girls while she still can. So, she does. And you understand why, exactly. She’s admirable.
By the end of the story you are left knowing what’s coming but without the tidy-up that tells you how it goes. The end is true to the characters and to how any of us might feel, so that there was no other possible ending. And you love them all, and hope they pull together. At the end, the hour between a dog and a wolf – an hour when it’s hard to see clearly – has passed. I think they’ll be able to see clearly by the end. I choose to think they will.