I got this book out of the library – very unusual, but I mean to do it more often.
It’s a story about loss and grief, mothers and daughters and when the hole left by the dead can’t be filled by the living.
Here’s the back …
On the fourteenth of February 1962, in the outback settlement of Sugarbag, Esther Hayes looked out of the schoolhouse window and saw three children struck by lightning. The boys were playing cricket on a strip of stubble field that did for the school yard; minutes earlier she had heard them laughing as they hammered in the wicket with a stone.
Numbed by the tragedy, Esther retreats into silence, while her young daughter Aurora, is left to fend for herself. Aurora’s childhood is played out against the backdrop of her father’s absence and her mother’s neglect, and she is forced to take comfort wherever she can. The fierce attachments she forms never seem to last – until she abandons South Australia for Dublin’s Temple Bar and the lush countryside of her father’s native Tipperary.
I haven’t made up my mind about this book. I read it quickly, but now I wonder what it was all about. Aurora is a child of neglect – her mother Esther neglects her (and drinks way too much) and William, her father, travels for work. The author seemed to judge Esther much more harshly for this than William, but really couldn’t he have found a job closer to home – I think he was escaping just as much as Esther was when she reached for a bottle of home brew beer.
There is an abandoned homestead near their house that is Aurora’s refuge. In it she finds and old cookery book (written in both french and english) she copies recipes (she leaves the book at the homestead as she wants it to remain unchanged) – meanwhile at home she is cooking for herself and her mother toast and baked beans.
Aurora has two significant relationships as a child – one with her teacher Kilkie Bleecker and one with a fellow student Iris Kenny, both end suddenly and in confusion.
Eventually Aurora escapes Sugarbag – she wins a music scholarship and finally she leaves South Australia for Ireland. In Ireland she leases a house in which a music teacher use to live. The terms of her lease are that nothing should be changed and that Aurora should teach the music students. Here she meets Rose, a young pregnant girl who is running away from home.
I think the best thing about this novel is the characters – they live beyond the page. The story I’m not so sure about…
I recommend this with some reservations.