I read Joanna Murray-Smith’s novel, Sunnyside, while sitting on the beach. Basically, it’s the perfect beach read for a Mornington Peninsula holiday because fictional Sunnyside is a thinly disguised Mt Eliza and scungy Deptford is Frankston.
Anyway, I digress. It’s the story of Alice and Harry Haskins, their children, their flash house, their neighbours, their dinner parties and their friend Molly’s fling with the pool-man.It doesn’t get much deeper than a bowl of smoked salmon dip, which is exactly what you want in a beach read.
“All of them…made a good go of pretending they still led interesting lives. They subscribed to the Guardian Weekly, attended arts festivals, even went on the odd adventure-travel holiday. But was the stirring of the soul really answered by a two-week hike in the Himalayan foothills?”
Although this book would have benefited from fewer plot arcs, fewer points-of-view, and a hundred less pages, the joy is in Murray-Smith’s wry, on-point observations about life in upper middle-class suburbia. And it is in the character of Harry that this comes to the fore.
“Maybe what Harry really wanted was to be married to another heterosexual male. They could sit around watching prison movies on the weekends eating toasted sandwiches or visit Bang & Olufsen showrooms and not talk at all… Attractive, non-drug-addicted, cello-playing callgirls with law degrees could pop over every so often. It was a thought.”
“He’d been trying to get Harry to go on a surfing holiday for middle-aged men, their original orange kombi vans now replaced by Audi station wagons. Now that old people stayed young, surfing had become the new golf. Harry had declined. He had no desire to reclaim his youth or smoke pot with a bunch of barristers in boardshorts.”
Despite its glossy, chick-lit cover, Murray-Smith does delve into the issue of aging, using the trade-off between suburban security and edgy city living as her stage. Sunnyside, despite its glamorous trappings and prosperous community, is as threatening to the soul as dirty, petty-crime-and-dole-queue filled Deptford.
“It was the job of suburbs to withstand change, to be small pockets of resistance… They had as much and as little happiness as their neighbours.”
3/5 Don’t take it too seriously.
“Baby spinach, wild rocket, baby Asian, pre-mixed Caesar… Things had really got out of hand. Once upon a time, Iceberg had said all there was to say.”
Well Harry, I agree, Iceberg still has lots of good things to say.