Australia, Author, Book review, Elliot Perlman, Fiction, literary fiction, Publisher, Reading Projects, satire, Setting, TBR2020, Vintage Australia

‘Maybe the Horse Will Talk’ by Elliot Perlman

Fiction – paperback; Vintage Australia; 352 pages; 2019.

Elliot Perlman is one of my favourite authors. I have read and much admired his trio of novels — Three Dollars (1998), Seven Types of Ambiguity (2003) and The Street Sweeper (2012) — so was looking forward to his new novel, Maybe the Horse Will Talk, published in Australia at the end of last year. (The title refers to a children’s fable that suggests anything is possible.)

A satire about corporate greed, it’s set in Melbourne’s cut-throat legal world and addresses all kinds of relevant, contemporary issues including misogyny, sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace.

But for all its humour and clever, witty dialogue, the novel has a serious underbelly. It could, in fact, be seen as one of the first (or certainly the first I know about) that explores the #metoo movement, possibly before that became a “thing”.

Struggling to stay afloat

The tale centres on a mature age second-year lawyer and former high school English teacher, Stephen Maserov, who works for a big legal firm — hilariously called Freely Savage Carter Blanche — that specialises in construction law.

Stephen is hanging on by his fingertips. His wife has booted him out of the family home but he returns every night to tuck his two young boys in to bed, and at work he’s at risk of losing his job — a job that he hates but  needs to pay the mortgage.

One day, struck by inspiration, desperation and daring, he finds a solution to his problem: he offers to help a client make a series of sexual harassment claims go away. This sounds morally dubious and completely unethical, but Stephen has a cunning plan that he hopes will provide a win-win situation for both the client and the women making the claims. And along the way it will allow him to make a name for himself at the law firm, thereby saving his job and perhaps even salvaging his marriage.

Satire with a serious edge

The story has a relatively convoluted plot, is peopled by a series of loathsome characters with wonderful names — Mike Crispin “Crispy” Hamilton, for instance — and much of its momentum relies heavily on dialogue to propel things forward. The dialogue is smart and snappy and often laugh out loud funny.

But lest anyone think Stephen — or the author for that matter — is making light of sexual harassment, the story hammers home some salient points about who holds power in the workplace and the ways in which women are sometimes viewed by their male counterparts.

As one female character explains it, in the corporate world men fear “being frozen out, passed over, overworked, under-utilised, humiliated, being fired and ultimately unemployed”. Women fear this too. But women also have to contend with so much more in the workplace. She has…

…her clothes discussed by her male colleagues, her appearance, her body shape, changes in her body shape, her reaction to sexual innuendo, to off-colour jokes about sex, unwanted, unasked-for flirting and her reaction to that, fear of casual bodily contact all the way along the continuum, offers to trade sexual favours for career advancement and the consequences of rejecting them, blackmail and every conceivable permutation of sexual harassment and assault all the way down the line to rape.  There’s no overtime, no salary, no perks of the job that make any of that worthwhile.

The details of one particular sexual harassment case are stomach-churningly gruesome. Perlman doesn’t pull his punches.

But there’s another important point he’s making here, too, because Stephen’s unhappiness is also the unforeseen byproduct of inequality between the sexes. He works around the clock and sees so little of his family that his wife no longer wants to see him at all. His love for his children is superseded by his “need” to put work before family; to do anything else would be seen as a weakness.

Too long?

Admittedly, I didn’t really fall in love with this book. Yes, the plot is a bit far-fetched and it relies too much on coincidence to make work, but that didn’t really bother me. The issues covered appealed to me and I like reading books about office life as so few seem to be written about this topic.

And yet I just couldn’t properly engage with the characters. I struggled to properly immerse myself in the story and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was overly long and the pace wasn’t fast enough for me.

Whatever the case, Maybe the Horse Will Talk remains a fine satire about important issues. It has some funny comic moments, is deftly plotted and features some sparkling dialogue. It’s a good book, but not a great one.

For other reviews of this novel, please see Lisa’s at ANZLitLovers and Tony’s at Tony’s Reading List. Note, I can’t find a UK publication date for this book, but a Kindle edition seems to be available in the US.

This is my 1st book for #TBR2020 in which I plan to read 20 books from my TBR over the next 6 months. Any books in my ownership that were purchased before the end of 2019 are eligible.

 

Australia, Australian Women Writers Challenge, Author, AWW2019, Book review, memoir, Non-fiction, Publisher, Setting, Stephanie Wood, Vintage Australia

‘Fake’ by Stephanie Wood

Non-fiction – paperback; Vintage Australia; 339 pages; 2019.

Love is blind, so they say, and never more so in Stephanie Wood’s case.

A respected journalist who dreamt of finding a special man to spend the rest of her life with, Wood fell victim to a charlatan — a love rat, who took advantage of her compassionate side and told her lie upon lie until she finally woke up to his shenanigans and confronted him about his manipulative behaviour.

Fake — published in Australia last monthis her brutally honest account of their relationship.

A charming man

So there was Joe. What did he look like? Friendly, I think, happy to see me. How did I feel? Curious, nervy, eager to impress. What was the conversation? Fluttery and shallow at the outset, before we started to find common ground — a shared liking for nature, politics, words. He told me that a broadcaster was looking at a script he’d written for a comedy about office cleaners. He said that sometimes he went to the ballet on his own. I told him I liked gardening. He said that, next time, he’d bring me some sheep shit. Something I said gave him an opening to another wacky story: when he was a schoolboy, he let a duck loose in the art gallery where his mother was a volunteer and chaos ensued. And I don’t doubt any of it — why would I? I just laugh and he seems to twinkle before me.

So begins Wood’s first date with the man she met in “the early days of winter 2014”, a man who said he was a former architect turned sheep farmer (hence the mention of sheep poo in the quote above) and property speculator, a man she fell in love with but whom she later realised could never pin down.

Visits to his farm in the Southern Tablelands never quite came off, pre-arranged dates would be cancelled at the very last minute, at times he wouldn’t even show up — and he wouldn’t answer his phone or reply to text messages for days on end. But there was always an excuse, often elaborate but plausible, for which Wood gave him the benefit of the doubt.

But what Wood did not know at the time was that Joe was also involved with another woman and he was stringing her along too. What’s more, his past was somewhat dubious. He hadn’t chosen to swap architecture for farming — he’d been forced out after the firm he ran with his friend went bust thanks to his fraudulent activities.

Riveting exposé of con men

Fake is not just an account of Wood’s unwitting involvement in a sham relationship, it’s a riveting exposé of con men across the world who use their narcissistic powers to take advantage of others for their own end.

She looks at the psychology of such fraudsters and fantasists to try to explain why they behave in such abhorrent ways and speaks to other women who have been similarly fooled, including American journalist Benita Alexander, who fell for celebrated doctor Paolo Macchiarini, who was later exposed as a fake (and which I first read about in 2016 thanks to this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction article in Vanity Fair).

Wood also examines her own heart to work out why she fell so deeply in love with a man who — with the benefit of hindsight — was so clearly not all he was cracked up to be. How could she, as an intelligent woman and a journalist trained to never take things at face value, succumb to his duplicitous ways? Why did she choose to overlook his failings and put up with his bad behaviour? Why did she think she did not deserve any better?

In this brave and honest book, Wood takes a painful episode from her personal life and turns it into something more important: a compelling and well-written study of a behavioural “type” designed to help others recognise when they’re being played. Her advice could, perhaps, be summed up with another cliché to match the one I opened with: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Please note, Fake has not been published outside of Australia, but you can order a copy from Readings.com.au which ships internationally for a flat fee.

This is my 16th book for #AWW2019

Australia, Author, David Malouf, literary fiction, Publisher, Reading Australia 2016, Setting, Vintage Australia

‘Harland’s Half Acre’ by David Malouf

Harland's Half Acre by David Malouf

Fiction – paperback; Vintage; 240 pages; 1999.

There’s no doubt that David Malouf is one of Australia’s finest writers — and Harland’s Half Acre, first published in 1984, is testament to that. I read it wholly absorbed by the story within, but mostly enamoured of the lush, beautifully evoked prose that marks Malouf as a true literary giant.

This novel is one of those “great epics” that charts one man’s life from cradle to grave and in doing so tells the story of Australia’s history in microcosm from before the Great War to the late 20th century. At its heart is a moral certainty about the ways in which people can rise above their circumstances to follow their dreams, and the challenges associated with leading an artistic and unconventional life, especially at a time when Australian art was viewed as second-class compared with almost anything coming out of Europe.

A second chance

When the book opens we meet a young Frank Harland living in a single-roomed shack in the Queensland bush. He’s only a toddler. His mother has died, leaving his father, Clem, a widower at the age of 23 with two young sons to raise. Clem doesn’t waste time getting remarried, and when his new wife falls pregnant, Frank, who has become a bit of a handful, is sent away to live with Clem’s older sister on a farm.

The first nights, waking to a strange darkness, he had felt panic. Reaching out for Jim [his older brother] or for his father in the big cool spaces he had found nothing but sheet; though it would have been scarier of course if he had found the body of the cousin he had never seen, who was dead on the far side of the world, but whose shirts, all mended and ironed, hung in the wardrobe against the wall, and whose spirit haunted so much here.

What seems such a cruel decision — to send him away to unfamiliar relatives, depriving him of the warmth and love of his siblings, including three half-brothers that follow later — is, in fact, a saving grace for Frank. It is here, in the loneliness of a seven-roomed house, amid the quiet grief of his Aunt Else and Uncle Jack, that Frank first learns to draw. It’s a talent that sustains him for the rest of his life.

When, as a teenager, he visits Brisbane, a pile of paintings under his arm to show to an art dealer, the path of Frank’s adult life looks assured. He gains employment as a copywriter and lives a frugal existence in a shabby boarding house in order to send money home for the education of the half brothers he barely knows.

But then the Great Depression hits, and gentle, kind-hearted, dignified Frank has nowhere left to go. His big dream — to buy back the land his ancestors had lost through gambling and mismanagement — seems unlikely to be realised…

His lawyer’s story

Harland’s Half Acre is not just about Frank Harland, however. There’s a twin narrative that alternates with Frank’s story, and this follows the life of Phil Vernon, who comes from a much more privileged background than Frank. Phil is considerably younger, but their lives intersect when Phil’s father, a Brisbane dandy with money to spend, buys one of Frank’s paintings.

Phil lives in a big house, which is constantly filled with relatives, including a dying grandfather, whom he keeps company, and a domineering grandmother. His story, which is in the first person (unlike Frank’s, which is narrated in the third person), is told from the perspective of an adult looking back on his childhood as he tries to make sense of the artist he knew, loved and, eventually, came to work for — as the lawyer who sorted out his legal affairs. What was it that made Frank so unconventional, prepared to live in impoverished conditions, but always so well-mannered and not bothered by success? And how had the pair become friends?

Why me? I never did understand that. But his shyness, his gradual unveiling of himself to me as I was allowed to shake out of him the last details of what he wanted and what he was, the softness of the man under the scratchy exterior, his real innocence beyond the slyness and crude native wit, all this touched as well as exasperated, and without ever feeling sure of my ground, I grew fond of him, as I believe he was of me.

A tumultuous life

This is one of those lush, wholly absorbing stories about one man’s life that gets under the skin and leaves an indelible mark, perhaps because it’s so filled with messy, tumultuous detail and doesn’t shy away from harsh realities. At times it is heartbreaking to read.

It reminded me very much of Patrick White’s extraordinary novel about a successful artist, The Vivisector, while the first chapter, which records Frank’s childhood in such wonderful detail, brought to mind James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. But no matter which way you look at it, Harland’s Half Acre is a wonderfully realised tale about the pursuit of dreams, artistic (and emotional) expression and the ties that bind.

For another take on this novel, please see Lisa’s (much more perceptive) review at ANZ LitLovers.

The author is widely published, so UK and US readers should have no trouble getting hold of this one — though you might have to place a special order.

This is my 21st book for #ReadingAustralia2016

2016 Stella Prize, Australia, Author, AWW2016, Book review, Fiction, Publisher, Reading Australia 2016, Setting, short stories, Tegan Bennett Daylight, Vintage Australia

‘Six Bedrooms’ by Tegan Bennett Daylight

Six Bedrooms by Tegan Bennett Daylight

Fiction – paperback; Vintage; 215 pages; 2015.

Tegan Bennett Daylight’s Six Bedrooms is the second collection of short stories on the 2016 Stella Prize shortlist. (The first, is Elizabeth Harrower’s A Few Days in the Country and Other Stories which I’ve already reviewed.)

According to the author’s biography, she’s written several books for children and teenagers — and I think it shows. Without wishing to sound snobby about it, this volume feels like young adult fiction rather than literary fiction per se. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not a genre I seek out. That means this review reflects my personal reading tastes; I’m sure there will be other people out there who will love and adore these stories — they just weren’t for me.

Teenage angst in the 1980s

Funnily enough, because most of the 10 stories are set in the 1980s — the era in which I grew up — I had expected the tales to resonate. There are certainly enough music references — the first story, for instance, is called Like a Virgin, after the song by Madonna — to transport me back to those (horrible) high school days, when teenage life revolved around which bands were in fashion, who was going out with who, and which person had got drunk at the last party.

But each story is written in such a flat way and is so devoid of emotion that I lost interest very quickly. They’re not poorly written by any stretch of the imagination — they’re easy to read, have well-developed settings and characters, and there’s always some kind of conflict at the heart of them which the central character is trying to resolve  — they just lack “punch”.

They feel aimed at teenagers, not just in the language that is used, but in the subject matter, too. They are mostly coming-of-age stories (a genre I do like) featuring teenagers getting drunk, discovering sex and developing alliances with school friends. There’s a lot of angst, a lot of hatred for parents and school teachers, and a lot of daydreaming about sex and escape. Many of the characters are grappling with peer pressure and the need to fit in. (Subjects, I admit, that I lived through once and don’t really want to live through again!)

Adult life

Two of the stories are more adult orientated: Chemotherapy Bay is about a young man with cancer whose girlfriend is sleeping with someone else, Together Alone is about a 30-something woman dealing with the palliative care of her mother. A third story, the titular Six Bedrooms, straddles that time between teenagehood and adulthood, showing what it is like to live in a shared household with people you don’t know very well and how easy it can be to “read” someone wrongly because you’re naive and lack life experience.

Perhaps, for that reason, these are the stories I enjoyed most — and they were the ones that had an emotional depth to them. Every now and then, a little pearl of a sentence would pop up, such as this paragraph from Chemotherapy Bay:

She kissed him before he got out of the car. His breath was starting to smell like the hospital; his kiss was a cold, chemical little offering, like a mollusc after the tide has gone out.

And this one, from Together Alone:

Jimmy and I sat on the sea wall with our feet in the water and watched a school of zebra fish speed past, propping and changing directions like sheep being herded by a helicopter.

Interestingly, while each story in the collection is self-contained, there is one character, Tasha, who grows up with an absent father, an alcoholic mother and a missing brother — how’s that for a set of issues to deal with? — who flits in and out of them. Indeed, Tasha “bookends” the collection by appearing in the first story as a young teen stealing her mother’s wine and the last story in which she is a single mother having to deal with her own mother’s impending death. She appears in two others in the middle. This technique does add some narrative structure to the collection, but, in my opinion, it doesn’t save it.

For other takes on Six Bedrooms, please see Tony’s review at Messenger’s Booker and Sue’s at Whispering Gums.

Note, there doesn’t seem to be a UK publication date for this one. I ordered my copy from the Book Depository and waited several weeks for it to arrive.

This is my 18th book for #ReadingAustralia2016 and my 14th for #AWW2016.

Australia, Author, AWW2016, Book review, Fiction, Joan London, literary fiction, Publisher, Reading Australia 2016, Setting, Vintage Australia

‘The Golden Age’ by Joan London

The Golden Age by Joan London

Fiction – paperback; Vintage Australia; 256 pages; 2015.

It seems remarkable that poliomyelitis (otherwise known as polio or infantile paralysis), which has almost been eradicated from the world thanks to the development of a vaccine in the 1950s, was so prevalent just a few generations ago. In the 20th century there were major outbreaks of this incurable infectious disease, which caused paralysis in infants and children, in Europe, the USA and Australia.

One of those outbreaks was in Perth, Western Australia, in the early 1950s. The outbreak was so bad — one newspaper report from 6 March 1954 claims “there were 15 cases in January, 80 in February and 40 for the first five days of March” — that an impending visit by The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh had to be seriously curtailed.

That outbreak — and the Royal Tour of Western Australia — feature in Joan Londons most recent novel, The Golden Age, which takes its name from an actual children’s convalescent home, which existed in Leederville, a suburb of Perth, from 1949-1959.

In this home we meet a varied cast of characters including Frank Gold, a 13-year-old Jewish refugee from wartime Hungary, and his parents Ida and Meyer; Elsa, a 13-year-old patient, and her anxious guilt-ridden mother Margaret; and Sister Olive Penny, a nurse and war widow with a teenage daughter of her own.

Stigma of the disease

There’s not much of a plot; the book works as a series of vignettes, which provide a glimpse of what it was like to contract polio and to live and work in The Golden Age, including how the home and its patients were viewed by the outside world. London taps into a rich vein of parental guilt associated with the disease and the stigma that was attached to it:

It had been hot like this nine months ago, when she’d come home at midday one Saturday from shopping in the city and seen the ambulance in their driveway. From that time on, her body had been in the grip of something, heavy as a stone in her belly, pulling down her mouth and neck and shoulders. Sometimes the garden was the only place where she could breathe. Night after night when Elsa was in Isolation, she paced up and down the little stretch of grass.
Nance had driven over with a casserole and questioned Margaret about hygiene. Did she let her girls use public conveniences? Did she check if they washed their hands? Margaret opened her mouth and screamed.

It also builds up a picture of a certain period in Australia’s post-war history, including what it was like to be a refugee in a far-flung corner of the world, remote from your own culture and family connections — even though those connections might have perished in the war. Indeed, through the Gold family, London encapsulates that dichotomy of wanting to be free and to live in safety, yet finding out the hard way that other hidden dangers — such as illness — still lurk.

She and Meyer had wanted to go to America. They waited for months in Vienna to hear from a cousin of Meyer’s father who’d migrated to New York in his youth. Finally, at the end of ’46, a sponsorship was offered from Western Australia. In Vienna they were living in a dormitory with only a curtain between them and fifty other people. So they accepted. When at last they landed in Fremantle, Ida wanted to get straight back onto the ship.
Every day, Ida found something that proved their voyage had been ill-fated. If she missed a bus, it was because they should never have come here. […] But here they were in a free, democratic country, and they were gutted, feeble, shellshocked. Frank had been a resilient little fellow, he’d survived cellars, ceilings, bombing, near starvation. Then they came here.

Admittedly, as much as I enjoyed this book — the beautiful, languid prose, not dissimilar to that of London’s compatriot Gail Jones, the well-drawn characters behaving in all-too human ways, and the melancholy atmosphere the story evokes — but I never fully engaged with the narrative. The blurb suggests the book hinges on a love story between Frank and Elsa, and while that is part of the story, it’s not the heart and soul of it; it’s merely an interlude to show the passing of time and the patients’ need for companionship and love.

If anything, the book is an extremely good snapshot of a certain time and place peopled by characters from all walks of life who are brought down by a terrible disease. It’s wonderfully evocative and often moving, but felt lacking in some subtle way I can’t quite put my finger on (though, I suspect it’s because the story flits backwards and forwards between too many characters so that you never really get caught up in their lives enough to care about what happens to them).

Yet, for all that, The Golden Age has been showered with award nominations and prizes. It won the 2015 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction, the 2015 Queensland Literary Award for Fiction, the 2015 NSW Premier’s People’s Choice Award (joint winner) and the 2015 Kibble Literary Award. It was shortlisted for the 2015 Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Stella Prize, ALS Gold Medal, the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, the Asher Literary Award and the Australian Book Industry Awards Literary Fiction Book of the Year.

The author, who has just three novels to her name (I’ve only reviewed The Good Parents), also won the 2015 Patrick White Award for a lifetime of outstanding contribution to Australian literature and last October was named a State Living Treasure by the WA government.

For other takes on this novel, please see Lisa from ANZLitLovers review and the review on Orange Pekoe Reviews.

The Golden Age by Joan London (Europa edition)

The Golden Age is published in Australia by Vintage Australia. It will be published in the UK and USA by Europa in August 2016.

This is my 11th book for #ReadingAustralia2016 and my seventh for #AWW2016.

Australia, Author, Book review, Charlotte Wood, Fiction, literary fiction, Publisher, Setting, Vintage Australia

‘The Submerged Cathedral’ by Charlotte Wood

The-Submerged-Cathedral

Fiction – paperback; Vintage Australia; 297 pages; 2004.

Last year an English friend told me that one of the things that most impressed him about Australians was not their sense of humour, their propensity to drink vast quantities of beer or their prowess on the cricket field, but their affinity with natural history. “It seems to me,” he said, “that you guys really love nature, you have an appreciation for it.”

I told him that was probably largely due to bitter experience. Nature is harsh — dare I mention droughts, floods, bushfire? — and we have had to learn to live alongside it. In doing so we have come to appreciate its power and its beauty. And because so much of the flora and fauna is not found anywhere else on earth, many of these plants and animals have become national symbols in which Australians take pride and wish to protect.

This appreciation of nature is often found in Australian novels, too. Henry Lawson is probably one of the earliest proponents. But 20th century writers, such as Patrick White, Tim Winton, Randolph Stow and Murray Bail, just to name a few, have also written novels which look at how the Australian psyche is shaped by the landscape of this island continent.

Into this canon of Australian “nature novels”, if I can call them that, is Charlotte Wood‘s second novel, The Submerged Cathedral, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2005. This highly evocative book, written in stark but lyrical prose, puts the rugged beauty of the Australian landscape centre stage.

Divided into four key time periods — 1963, 1964, 1975 and 1984 — the story focuses mainly on Jocelyn, a proof reader, who has inherited her parent’s home in the Blue Mountains. As she pours over the galleys of The Complete Illustrated Encyclopedia of Australia, she is reminded of the country’s unique flora and begins to dream of building a “huge, elaborate garden of wild Australian plants” even though she is not a gardener and knows nothing of the plants other than she loves their names, their shapes.

The importance of Jocelyn’s dream should not be under-estimated. This desire to build a native garden would have been hugely unfashionable at the time. Back then all Australian gardens were essentially English gardens, comprising annuals and perennials, with neatly pruned shrubbery and manicured lawns. Native plants were confined to the bush; you did not put them in your garden. (As an aside, one of my favourite scenes in George Johnston’s My Brother Jack is when Davy, the main protagonist, plants a gum tree in the middle of his suburban lawn, attracting the wrath of the neighbourhood for daring to be so unconventional.)

And yet Jocelyn knows that English gardens in the Australian climate do not make sense.

All winter the garden is washed out and grey, and then in spring it explodes into colour. By midsummer it is leached dry again, but all through the childhoods of Jocelyn and her sister their mother had loved this eight weeks of English bloom.

When Jocelyn meets Martin, a doctor, from the city, the dream continues to ferment. She has a “sense of dormant things coming alive”.

One day in the garden, they crouched over a bucket.
‘Did you grow that?’ Martin asked, peering into the bucket in which the white star of a water lily was prising itself open.
‘It grew itself,’ she said. ‘I just threw a lump of wood into the water.’
‘Then it’s a gift,’ he said, smiling.

Their love affair, which is portrayed with immense sensitivity and gentleness (surprisingly, there is little or no sex in this novel), is a gift also. It’s 1963 and co-habiting is a social no-no. But Jocelyn risks her reputation to live with Martin, enduring the withering looks of locals who condemn her as “the doctor’s mistress”.

But there is a sense that Jocelyn knows exactly what she is doing. She is haunted by the memory of the man who asked to marry her when she was 18. She broke off their engagement a year later, knowing she did not love him. But her sister’s voice, ripe with disbelief and pity, still echoes in her ear: “You know there’s something wrong with you, don’t you?”

And therein lies the nub of the novel: if we are damaged by our pasts how do we heal ourselves? And what role does love and faith play in this process?

When Ellen re-enters Jocelyn’s life after a long absence — she had been living with her Australian husband in London — Ellen is hurting, too. She’s left her husband, has a young daughter and is now three months pregnant.

Jocelyn returns to her parent’s Blue Mountains home to look after her. Ellen is needy, demanding and prone to making her life seem more dramatic than it really is. Martin, once a central figure in Jocelyn’s life, feels himself being squeezed out by the sister’s shared bond. Jocelyn, so enamoured of Martin, is unable to compartmentalise her life: she cannot ignore Ellen’s claim on her.

To elaborate further would spoil the plot. But I don’t think I’m revealing any secrets when I say that Jocelyn does eventually get to build that wonderful, sublime garden, filled with native ground covers, grasses and shade trees, of her dreams. It is only then that you begin to realise that the garden is a kind of allegory about cultivating love in our hearts, reaping what we sow and finding solace in the natural world.

The Submerged Cathedral is available to buy direct from the Australian publisher’s website, but you can also pick up cheap second-hand copies via Amazon UK.