By Anne Brinsden
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
The quote ‘write what you know’ is attributed to the great author, Mark Twain, and though there is debate about whether he meant this figuratively or literally, the fact that Anne Brinsden grew up in the Mallee region of Victoria certainly lends credibility and believability to her writing about life there. Her evocative descriptions of the “Silent skies. The quiet scorch of summer plains” draws you into a world almost inconceivable to many city dwellers in the 50s.
The desolation and unforgiving landscape is certainly a foreign place for Elise, who is forced to leave the city and follow her husband Bill back to the family farm to help his aging father. Elise was brought up in the comfort and style of middle class city life and finds herself utterly lost in this region of flies, heat and dust, not to mention neighbours who regard her love of coffee and merengue with suspicion and distrust. The Mallee is a hard place for someone like her, who the locals whisperingly refer to as highly strung and nervy, and the job of keeping an eye on those nerves falls to her two children, Marjorie and Ruth.
Throughout the book, and as the girls grow up, Bill seems to want to ignore the signs of Elise’s impending periodic mental instabilities and Pa is the stereotypical hard
Not to mention that Marjorie seemingly often makes her mothers nerves worse; ‘… she rushed. Like a bull in a china shop. […] So the bull trampled and crashed all over the place and the delicate, paper-thin porcelain of Elise’s mind wobbled and swayed’.
After a particularly bad episode Marjorie flees her home and the Mallee for the city, where she finds some balance and a semblance of peace. But the Mallee and a particular boy she left behind are never far from her thoughts. Like the Mallee root buried deep in the ground disrupts the farmers plough, his memory keeps disrupting her thoughts. Can he convince her to return to the land where she grew up?
This book is the debut novel of Anne Brinsden, which I find absolutely astonishing. The way she writes – beautifully descriptive yet not overblown, witty, funny and poignant – made her characters come to life in a way that I think is rare for a first novel. The story is quite a linear one, you won’t find any overly unpredictable twists or outlandish
I loved this book for its beautiful prose and the faithful imaginings of the complex undercurrents of seemingly ordinary lives. I am looking forward to seeing what Anne comes up with next, and I thank Pan MacMillan and Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read and review this book.
A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club members are reading Wearing Paper Dresses by Anne Brinsden, you can read their reviews in the comments section below. If you have read the book we would love to know what you think!