El­e­gant melan­choly with­out the

So­phie Mas­son

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

AU­TO­BI­O­GRAPH­I­CAL writ­ing car­ries big risks, even — or es­pe­cially — for a sea­soned writer with sev­eral nov­els un­der her belt. A be­gin­ner may have the in­no­cent be­lief that their life story is uniquely fas­ci­nat­ing; an es­tab­lished writer knows that the world is full of fas­ci­nat­ing life sto­ries and that she must rely on more. Fiction writ­ing ra­di­ates from the writer’s psy­che, pro­tect­ing the es­sen­tial hu­man core; au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal writ­ing ex­poses it. You are open­ing your­self and your loved ones not only to warmth and em­pa­thy but also to in­tru­sive cu­rios­ity and ama­teur psy­cho­analysing, not to speak of un­pleas­ant reper­cus­sions within the fam­ily cir­cle.

De­spite it all, there may well arise a mo­ment in any writer’s life when one feels one must set things down, to try and un­der­stand one’s life, to achieve a kind of reck­on­ing with the past. Ge­or­gia Blain’s mem­oir, made up of in­ter­linked au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal pieces, has that feel­ing about it, a sense of a time come. The au­thor of four suc­cess­ful nov­els, she is acutely aware of those risks, but has at­tempted in this book to cap­ture the essence of her own lived truth, and that of her fam­ily.

The mid­dle child and only girl of three chil­dren, she is the daugh­ter of writer, film­maker and broad­caster Anne Deveson and broad­caster El­lis Blain. In child­hood, she was ac­cus­tomed to the pub­lic gaze through her mother’s ra­dio pro­grams and weekly col­umns, which of­ten fo­cused on suit­ably trans­formed fam­ily life.

Ador­ing her mother, but scared of her fa­ther, the child Ge­or­gia was to ex­pe­ri­ence the breakup of her par­ents’ mar­riage, her fa­ther’s death from can­cer while she was still in high school, and the grad­ual dis­in­te­gra­tion of her older brother Jonathan, who was first di­ag­nosed with schizophre­nia when he was a teenager and died in his late 20s ( and who was the sub­ject of Anne Deveson’s fa­mous book, Tell Me I’m Here ).

In the early parts of the book, Blain ap­proaches th­ese shat­ter­ing events in an el­lip­ti­cal way. In­stead of fo­cus­ing on them di­rectly, she re­counts sto­ries of the high- oc­tane yet ec­cen­tric lifestyle she and her sib­lings lived with their mother af­ter the break- up of the mar­riage. She


of writes about an ex­pe­ri­ence with a teacher who ex­tols Mao’s Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion and dis­plays Red Guard- style psy­cho­log­i­cal bru­tal­ity in a shock­ing in­ci­dent in­volv­ing a class pest. She writes of lis­ten­ing to a tape of a ra­dio in­ter­view her fa­ther did with Ger­maine Greer in the early 1970s; this is the only real ex­plo­ration we get of her feel­ings about her fa­ther, though there are hints scat­tered through­out of her fear of his un­pre­dictable fury and de­pres­sion. She writes of hav­ing sex for the first time at 16, a typ­i­cally un­sat­is­fac­tory ex­pe­ri­ence; then segues into the events of her adult life, her re­la­tion­ship with her hus­band, and the tu­mul­tuous but am­bigu­ous feel­ings aroused in her by preg­nancy and the birth of her daugh­ter. Later, she writes di­rectly about Jonathan and the ef­fect his ill­ness had on

Il­lus­tra­tion: Paul New­man

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