My rating: 4 of 5 stars
On her first day at a new school, Lily meets Eva, one of the daughters of the infamous avant-garde painter Evan Trentham. He and his wife are attempting to escape the stifling conservatism of 1930s Australia by inviting other like-minded artists to live and work with them at their family home. As Lily’s friendship with Eva grows, she becomes infatuated with this makeshift family and longs to truly be a part of it.
Looking back on those years later in life, Lily realises that this utopian circle involved the same themes as Evan Trentham’s art: Faustian bargains and terrible recompense; spectacular fortunes and falls from grace. Yet it was not Evan, nor the other artists he gathered around him, but his own daughters, who paid the debt that was owing.
Emily Bitto's first novel is a well written exploration of intense female childhood and adolescent friendship. A bit long through the middle; some editorial pruning would have helped.
This passage, for example, while it spoke to me and I was delighted to find it, was not really necessary for Lily's mother's character development.
For the information of knitters reading this - the following passge is the only reference to knitting.
My mother began to knit again, a pale yellow jumper she was making for me. We had picked out the pattern together; it was to have a pearl button at the neck and slightly puffed sleeves. Over the following days my mother knitted almost without stopping: while she ate; while she talked to the nurses; while she sate by my father's bed. She fell asleep knitting in the chair beside him, woke up, continued to knit. She was like one of the fates, sullenly, determinedly knitting out the griefs of the world. Somehow my mother's anxiety, and my own, became entangled in the wool of that jumper, caught up in the purl of its weave so that it would always be tainted for me, as if it had absorbed the medicinal stink of the hospital, the image of my father, ashen, with his eyes closed, the thick sheets drawn up under his arms, the knobbly cotton blanket tight across his chest and over the bulky casts encasing both his legs, his toes protruding from the bedclothes so that their colour could be monitored - my mother and I had to fight the urge constantly to pull the blank over them to keep them warm. I would never wear that cumper.
In the end I didn't really care about any of them. Particularly the cruelly manipulative Trenthams but not even very much about Lily.
Was going for 3 stars - really it's 3.5.
My 7th book for the Australian Women Writers' Challenge 2015.
Source: Libraries ACT
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