The first I thought would be lightweight (of the chick-lit variety). The second I thought might be like her last (lots of hype, but lacking something). I was wrong about both.
The Place on Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta
There’s a house at the heart of this book – its renovation, a labour of love, in more ways than one – but it’s also a story about a young woman who loses her way; a young man searching for family; and a middle-aged woman who doesn’t quite know what she is looking for.
A Place on Dalhousie is surprisingly tender – perhaps those familiar with Marchetta’s writing expected exactly that but I found warmth in the small, revealing interactions between characters – provision of an armchair, a mothers group intervention, a card game, not letting food go to waste.
The story could have easily been bogged down in the detail of complex family histories and grief in its many forms, but Marchetta sides-steps that with slick jumps in time – there’s enough there for the reader to fill in the gaps and motivation is obvious – loneliness, the need for connection, the meaning of home.
The theme of motherhood is particularly well-executed. Marchetta has layered multiple perspectives on mothering throughout the story, with particular emphasis on the sacrifices and pain that come with the role. Poignant scenes toward the end may have prompted a little cry.
3.5/5 But I rounded up to four stars on Goodreads.
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
My recollection of The Interestings was that Wolitzer spread the action across too many characters. The Female Persuasion strays into that territory toward the end but initially, the focus is on college student Greer; her boyfriend Corey; and her best friend, Zee.
Stories about friends are driven by betrayals and the situation that Wolitzer constructs for Greer and Zee is exquisite in its simplicity. There’s more to this book – a crime, a tragedy, and themes about feminism and what that looks like for Millennials – but it is the honest and realistic way that the characters move around each other that elevates this novel.
Greer wondered, afterward, if everyone had a certain degree of awfulness inside them. There were moments when you idly glanced into the toilet or into a tissue after you’d used it, and suddenly remembered that this, this was what you carried around inside you all the time.
There’s wisdom in Wolitzer’s words (particularly in scenes shared by Greer and Faith Frank, a doyenne of the women’s movement) and although I marked dozens of passages, looking over them, I realised that the force of this book is cumulative, gathering depth and meaning as it unfolds.
When women get into positions of power, they calibrated and recalibrated tenderness and strength, modulating and correcting. Power and love didn’t often live side by side. If one came in, the other might go.
After hearing Wolitzer speak earlier this year, I was attuned to her sense of humour. What I didn’t expect was to cry, to gasp in shock, and to have my heart squeezed by single lines –
You never knew when you were lifting your child for the last time; it might seem like just a regular time, when it was taking place, but later, looking back, it would turn out to have been the last.