Fiction – Kindle edition; Atlantic Books; 369 pages; 2009.
Australian author Joan London is probably best known for her novel Gilgamesh, which was published in 2001 and garnered critical acclaim in Australia, the UK and USA. The Good Parents, published seven years later, is her second novel.
When the story begins we see events unfold through the eyes of 18-year-old Maya, a naive country girl from Western Australia (WA), who is working as a personal assistant in Melbourne. She’s having an affair with her much older boss, Maynard,whose wife has cancer. When Maynard’s wife dies, he decides to shut up shop and head elsewhere, possibly to Asia, taking Maya with him.
But instead of following Maya’s storyline, the book dramatically switches to that of her parents, the beautiful Toni and the dreamy artistic Jacob, who arrive in Melbourne expecting to spend a couple of weeks with their teenage daughter. But she has gone and not even her flatmate seems to know where she might be.
Under the guise of searching for her, Toni and Jacob go sightseeing instead. But when Jacob injures his foot, he is confined indoors, and for some inexplicable reason Toni heads to a Buddhist retreat. This allows both to reflect on their lives, including their childhoods in WA and their subsequent meeting and fleeing city life together in the 1960s.
Their individual stories, which gently unfold in alternate chapters, reveal how both have never had the chance to live up to their full potential, except maybe as parents (hence the title).
Richly layered novel
This is a richly layered story of two people caught up in generational change, whomade poor decisions (either by choice or circumstance) — Toni married the shady Cy Fisher, while Jacob never followed his dream to be a writer and distracted himself with unimportant work whenever crucial events occurred in his life in order not to think about them. Their own children seem just as perplexed about the real world.
** SPOILER ALERT **
Eventually, the novel returns to Maya, who is living in Brisbane with an increasingly distant and violent Maynard. The book’s resolution, in which Maya is rescued by Cy Fisher, does rely on a somewhat preposterous and unlikely series of coincidences.
** END OF SPOILER ALERT **
And if it wasn’t for this poor ending, I would have heartily recommended this book to all and sundry. But note, this is the only weak point in this rather beaut novel.
For another, much more intellectual, take on this novel, please see Lisa of ANZLitLover’s review.