Elizabeth Jolley, My Father’s Moon

Elizabeth Jolley, My Father’s Moon (Penguin 1989)

I started this more from duty than for pleasure. Previously I’d read just the one short story by Elizabeth Jolley and seen the movie of The Well, and failed to be grabbed. But I want to be well read in Aust Lit, and I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t just sexism that had me avoiding this Big Name Author. It’s a slim book, easy to read on public transport, described by the cover blurb as ‘the novel at the heart of all her work’.

It’s probably very good. Middle class English schoolgirls, then nurses in a hospital during World War Two, then teachers at a ‘progressive’ school (though not in that order – this is a Literary Novel of 1989, remember, and a lot is told out of chronological order for no apparent reason other than to play with the reader’s mind) are variously mean, petty, homoerotic, spiteful, class-conscious, kind, gossipy, weird, naive, vulnerable, pretentious, callous, romantic, obtuse, pregnant – though the narrator, who happily has described two women waltzing naked, is too reticent to give us anything physical about the moment of conception. It’s very well written, and made me think of Blake: ‘Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.’

So now I can say I’ve read some Elizabeth Jolley. I don’t feel the urge to read more.

5 responses to “Elizabeth Jolley, My Father’s Moon

  1. Oh Jonathan … what about the humour? This is a dark uncomfortable novel but has Jolley’s hallmark wicked, black sense of humour. That’s what keeps me coming back to her as much as anything else. She makes me laugh despite myself. (I reviewed it on my blog a couple of years ago).

  2. shawjonathan

    Her humour must be an acquired taste. I could tell some of it was comic – like the woman in the school who says that ‘Frederick’ is about to return so she’d better po and slash her wrists, to turn up a couple of pages later with bandages on her wrists but otherwise no different – but it didn’t make me laugh. My response was more, ‘Oh, that’s meant to be funny, now I get it.’

    I just read your review at http://whisperinggums.wordpress.com/2009/07/17/elizabeth-jolley-my-fathers-moon/, and now see that to appreciate this novel you’d need to already be attuned to the Jolley world. I seem to be Coming In Late quite a bit recently – I was the same with Frank Moorhouse’s Cold Light.

    • Oh sorry, Jonathan, I missed this when it came in … I was not quite with it for a month of so back then. I guess I was attuned to her world already – just read The newspaper of Clarement Street and all will be revealed (I think) though that wasn’t my first of hers either.

      I’ve read the first Edith book and liked it a lot, but haven’t read the second. Will probably read Cold light because, well, it’s set in Canberra for a start!

  3. It is difficult to remember how I felt about reading Elizabeth JOLLEY so many years ago (early 1980s) when I was exploring (?) the concept of “Australian” literature – and finding Angelo LOUKAKIS the best guide to any definition – something along the lines of anything written by someone in Australia (therefore including DH LAWRENCE “Kangaroo”) or by someone born or otherwise resident in Australia (Elizabeth JOLLEY) and whether written in English or not – and whether set in Australia or not. Seemed important back then to understand that – when there were still people crass enough to question – with stunning forthrightness – whether there could be such a thing as AUSTRALIAN literature! I know that reading Elizabeth JOLLEY (especially hearing her “quaintly-accented” English) brought aspects of other-worldliness/quirkiness into the Aussie landscape – no matter the darkness of/or humour so leavened into her world!

    • shawjonathan

      ‘Quaint English accent’ isn’t a bad description of the voice in this book, Jim. I must have been busy looking elsewhere – theatre, babies, etc – when the Elizabeth Jolley wave broke on our shores.

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