Author: Meredith Jaffé
I don’t know where to start. My heart is breaking and my mind is left reeling. This is a story that is not easy to read, it is not easy to contemplate and I am still having trouble trying to reconcile.
Time hasn’t really helped…
The Making of Christina is the second novel by Meredith Jaffé and the second we have read for book club. Jaffé’s debut was an enjoyable read that I thought was a little over the top and blown out of proportion at times, that’s definitely not how I felt about her second novel.
Christina Clemente is an interior designer and single mum; she is offered a prestigious renovation for millionaire businessman Jackson Plummer. A commission that could make her career and she throws herself into it. There’s not a lot going on in her social life so when her daughter is asleep or with her dad Christina is left with little to do, she spends the time working tirelessly on the renovations.
An intense affair with Jackson seems to cure all; he’s a balm to her loneliness and an admirable father figure to Bianca, who is only two when the pair meet. The affair is not some wild fling; they embark on a serious, yet clandestine, relationship and build a part-time life together.
The story is told on converging timelines with past and present unfolding simultaneously as we move toward a place where all of the pieces come together. Christina Clemente is the leading lady in this family drama; it’s her head we spend the present in, and her eyes through which we view the past.
The back of the book tells us that they move to a rundown rural farm where Bianca transforms from a bubbly child to a sullen teen and Bianca has a secret. I don’t want to say too much more than that because, well because SPOILERS.
In the first few chapters we find out a little about the impact that Bianca’s secret has had but not a lot about the actual secret. The details of Bianca’s secret are sketchy so you spend the bulk of the book trying to see the big picture; you have a fair idea what was happening but it’s all theoretical.
The Making of Christina was a difficult book to read, made more difficult by the fact that it could so easily happen to anyone. I wish this was a story that seemed over-dramatised and blown out of proportion but it wasn’t. It rang true, it was authentic and it broke my heart.
Our beginning is near the end of the story so we have a vague idea of what might have happened; we have that value of hindsight. The story progresses from Christina’s first meeting with Jackson Plummer right through to when the two timelines converge. We can see the warning signs, because we have extra knowledge and we are looking for the signs. Signs that any of us may have missed without the warning.
Jaffé explores the dynamics of power in families effectively and realistically. She has clearly spent time researching her material and though it breaks my heart to think these situations are so prevalent, I know that they really are. Jaffé has crafted a story that will leave you questioning how well you know those around you and how easily it could happen in your family. I am mother to a teenage daughter and all of the stories I am reading lately that feature teens leave me scared witless about all the things that could befall her, all I can do is hope that I have equipped her with the tools she needs to navigate tricky situations.
What I did love about The Making of Christina is that though Bianca is at the centre of this storyline Jaffé lets us know that it isn’t something that just happens to girls, and I think that is something that we do need to be more aware of in society.
The farm that Plummer purchases for them all to move to is rundown and in need of a lot of loving but it still has majestic bones, it has the potential to be amazing again. A perfect project for Christina to throw herself into and done right it could cement her name in interior design circles, it could be her crowning glory. It could also gain heritage listing, if only they can uncover the vital pieces of its history. This is a mystery and an undertaking that consumes much of Christina’s time, and focus.
Bartholomews Run was an interesting choice of farms. The property is huge, the house was once magnificent and the history has largely been lost. It originally belonged to an Australian artist and the slow uncovering of the story is interesting, well developed and disturbingly parallel. I think this parallel adds an extra layer to the story that may have been lacking if the place had belonged to a conservative, wealthy politician or businessman.
Jaffé deftly weaves the strands of this story to explore the power dynamics within a family and especially the balance of power that wealth can bring to a situation; the subtle moves played to create the perfect situation and the crippling effect of guilt. The guilt that mothers take on themselves for things that aren’t necessarily their fault.
I loved this book, I don’t believe anything I have said here comes close to doing it justice. I was emotionally invested throughout and for all of the not wanting to know anymore because it was hurting my heart I just couldn’t put it down, I had to keep turning the pages to get to the place where I hoped there would be closure.
This isn’t a book that could not have had a convincing happily ever after with everything tied up neatly in a bow, it would not have felt genuine but what it does have is a satisfying ending.
The Making of Christina is a story that will definitely get you thinking, and the odds are that it will resonate with many readers on some level. This is a book that was beautifully crafted with flawed characters that could be any one of us.
The Making of Christina is book #32 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2017.
Thanks to Pan Macmillan 15 of our Beauty and Lace Club members will be reading The Making of Christina so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments. I look forward to hearing what they think.