Atlantic Books, Australia, Author, Book review, Fiction, Joan London, literary fiction, Publisher, Setting

‘The Good Parents’ by Joan London


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.

Missing teenager

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.


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.


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.

7 thoughts on “‘The Good Parents’ by Joan London”

  1. I read this book a couple of years ago as I was a big fan of Gilgamesh. I can’t say I enjoyed it much – from memory I found the characters ineffectual and frustrating. Perhaps it was the poor ending that had the most influence on me…


  2. Thanks, Lisa. Its quite an unexpected novel in many ways, and as much as I loathe the term book club book, I do think this would make a good one for groups, because there are so many things in it to discuss. I got the sense of history repeating in this family, too, and that both Toni and Maya had lucky escapes…


  3. I havent read Gilgamesh. Did you like that one better?
    Interesting you found the characters in The Good Parents ineffectual and frustrating… It did annoy me that they seemed so incapable of action (in terms of searching for their daughter), but when you see their individual back stories you come to realise that that is simply the kind of people they are; they tend to be passive and let their lives be shaped by events rather than trying to do any of the shaping themselves.


  4. Passivity is a pet hate of mine so I guess that’s why this book did not gel with me. I really enjoyed Gilgamesh, I can’t remember much of the detail but loved the historical slant.


  5. I read this a few years ago too. I remember enjoying it, although it wasn’t typical of much of my reading at the time. I definitely got the frustration of Toni and Jacob, but can’t now remember the ending!


  6. And here I was thinking only Australians would know about this book! Glad to hear you read it even if you don’t remember the (rather lame) ending, which essentially involves Maya being found and taken back to her family. It all just seemed a little too neat (and predictable) for my liking.


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