Elizabeth Jolley was one of Australia's most celebrated writers, with a formidable international reputation. She was recognised in Australia with an AO for services to literature and was awarded Honorary Doctorates from Curtin University (1986); Macquarie (1995), Queensland (1997) and The University of New South Wales (2000). Born in England in 1923, she was brought up in a strict, German-speaking household and attended a Quaker boarding school. She became a nurse, married Leonard Jolley and with three children moved to Western Australia in 1959. In 1974 she started teaching creative writing at Fremantle Arts Centre. Although she wrote all her life, it was not until she was in her fifties that her books started to receive the recognition they deserved. She won The Age Book of the Year Award on three separate occasions (for Mr Scobie's Riddle, My Father's Moon and The Georges' Wife) and she won the Miles Franklin Award for The Well, as well as many other awards. Her last two novels published by Penguin were An Accommodating Spouse (1999) and An Innocent Gentleman (2001). Her non-fiction collection, Learning to Dance was published in 2006. Elizabeth Jolley died in 2007.
On a cruise, Laura, a woman in her 50s, sees Andrea, a much younger passenger. Though attracted by Andrea's beauty and vulnerability, Laura does not speak to her. They meet again at a dinner given by a friend, where Andrea accepts an invitation for an extended visit to Laura's farm. The two women become friends, then lovers, sharing the shameful memories that isolate them from others. The novel's themes of loneliness and isolation are effectively conveyed by its structure, built on alternating monologues, and setting, a remote farm. The farm, too, becomes a symbol of regeneration, as the growing love of Laura and Andrea enables them to accept the past and face the future. Recommended. Michael J. Esposito, formerly with Special Libs. Assn., Washington, D.C.
We first meet Laura, a 50-ish doctor who is no longer licensed to practice, as she is returning home to Australia by ship after touring Europe. She finds herself attracted to Andrea, a blonde young woman who reminds her of the beloved palomino horses that she sees every day from the verandahs of her country house. Eventually Andrea comes to stay with Laura on her farm, ushering in an idyllic emotional season. The loving relationship that develops between the two women is complicated; secrets from Laura's past and the mysterious connection between her and Andrea, whose story is told also, through her own words, add suspense and tragedy to the novel. With impeccable skill Jolley (Foxybaby; Milk and Honey reveals Laura's thoughts, feelings and insights, her sensitivity and strength of character, adding up to an affecting portrait of a complex and vulnerable woman. The descriptions of her life on the farm are moving, and of Laura's intolerable tenants, hilarious. Jolley's eye for detail and her accurate ear for dialogue vivify this intimate and honest narrative. (June 2)