Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Getting Of Wisdom Review

By Henry Handel Richardson
(who's a bloody sheila!)


I really enjoyed this one.  I suspect it helps being an Australian, even more so a Victorian, and even more so a Victorian who has lived in Melbourne and the country because when she describes the house in Chiltern and the blue gum down the side, the streets of Prahran, the walk between South Yarra and Collins Street, and the sands of Portsea, I could see and smell it all, even though it was written and set at the turn of last century.

It's a coming of age story, loaded with clich√©.  The (relatively) poor girl at the posh private boarding school, struggling to fit in.  You know how that all goes.  Well, prima facie that's what it was.  That's how it's marketed.  But all I saw was lesbian subtext, centre-left politics, atheism, feminism and even a sense of what the kids these days would call 'emo'.  Two of the girls who our heroine, Laura, sort of befriended, near the end of the novel and just before they matriculated, talked of their aspirations.  One wanted to be a doctor, the other a journalist.  There was no doubt they had the smarts and talents to have been these things.  But their fate was sealed in one line - one became a housewife, the other a governess "...in the obscurity of the bush".  But the last we see of Laura she is running off into the distance, thorough a park, having finally left the school and its inferred she went on to bigger and better things, and in that, there was an ambiguously happy ending.  But until that point it was a pleasurably uncomfortable read, with its twists and turns always unexpected, and our heroine never being either particularly likeable or unlikeable - just real.  It's also written brilliantly.  Such clear language, and after the convoluted sentence mangling I endured with Pynchon, it was an utter delight.  I put the book down, and then the missus' water broke and next thing I know I had a baby boy.  Things right now are good. 

I give this book a B.



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