It’s here again, the highlight of our week, The Book Club ABC. Look at Marieke sitting there like a ray of sunshine in yellow. Ace is also looking beautiful as is JBryne. Guests chef Adam Liaw and author Di Morrissey are introduced. Di Morrissey looks divine. She is dressed exactly as I imagine her to be. Soft pink floral coat, hair swept up with a pink flower, pearls, soft pink shimmering lipstick. Divine. I am very happy to be here right now.
Di introduces the classic, it’s The Group by Mary McCarthy. It’s sexy, emotional and fun. And the modern is Jean Harley Was Here by Heather Taylor Johnson. It’s about death, grief, and how you go on after someone you love is senselessly ripped from your life. I’m not crying, I just have allergies.
In literary news Fiona McFarlane is a genius. We all already knew that but finally it has been recorded. She won the Dylan Thomas Prize for her short story collection The High Place. Find her other stuff here.
Australian women writers are RED HOT at the moment. Slapping down high quality books all over the place. Check out Robin de Crespigny debut, People Smugglers and Susan Carland’s Fighting Hislam. Keep an eye out for The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey and Scorched Earth by Sue Rosen, both coming out on the 24th.
And now it is time for the dramatic recreation of Jean Harley Was Here. She’s a mum, someone opens a car door whilst she’s riding her bike, she swerves, another car hits her, and she is dead. How will people cope? Still not crying, you’re the one crying. Just because I’m a mum with three kids does not mean that I am currently sobbing uncontrollably on the ground in the foetal position at the mere mention of the premise. I’m totally okay…. I am not okay. Call my therapist.
Ace declares Jean Harley Was Here charming. JByrne seconds it, can we get the motion carried? No, no we cannot. Di Morrissey does not carry that motion. She felt that there were too many snippets from too many perspectives so she could never really get to the heart of the matter. She names the dog chapter as being particularly deserving of hitting the editing room floor. Marieke agrees that she could have dealt without the dog chapter. JByrne is stunned. She felt that if Marieke had died she would definitely want animals to be writing about her.
Marieke says that she finds the book difficult to critique because she admires the premise so much. She says that Heather Taylor Johnson wrote this book after one of her friends had been unexpectedly taken from them. That this was a cathartic exploration of how you cope when you lose someone that you love. Not crying, I’m not crying. However, she did not love the execution of it.
Adam loved it. He said it was so faithful to South Australia that he knew exactly where everything was and the description was perfect. He says that if you’re looking for things not to like, you’ll find them, but if you’re just reading it as a reader looking to be swept away in a story, then you’ll love it. I do love getting different perspectives on book. So true, if you look at something trying to find fault you will ALWAYS find it. Always. Adam talks about how the book is about the ripples of effect out from the victim. His hand movements are hypnotic and I can’t help but visualise a karesansui.
Marieke didn’t like the way the death seemed so sudden and glossed over. JByrne loved that. She says death can be sudden and senseless. One moment you’re there, the next minute you’re next. Keep it together, must not cry, must not cry.
Marieke couldn’t help but imagine who the author identified with in this novel. Adam found it more interesting to think of who he was in the novel. At first he thought about being the grieving husband, and then he realised that he could be Jean. He could be the dead parent. Just quietly, I can imagine this book being written about me. Howling chapter of raging grief from my daughter, confused chapters from my three year old twin boys who can only comprehend mummy gone but not why, my besties Helen and Lisa staring at my empty seat, and then a sentence from my husband, ‘These things happen, just crack on.’
Adam says that all of the characters were lovely and he really liked that. Marieke points out that the MIL was no picnic. Di felt that they were merely sketches of characters rather than fully alive. Cut some, flesh them out. Marieke reiterates that she did not like the book but she admired it immensely.
Now excuse me whilst I go wash my face and attempt to stop sobbing uncontrollably.
It’s time for By the Bed! Hooray.
Di is reading The Mysterious Mr Jacob.
Ace is reading Enemy Within by Don Watson.
Adam is reading a cookbook, Aquacotta.
JByrne is reading A Separation.
And now it’s time for some group action. What I did there, you see it. JByrne says that The Group was banned in Australia and her mother was sneakily loaning out her copy to other women. Apparently it has a red hot sex scene. Must have been like Fifty Shades for women in the 60s. Why wasn’t Fifty Shades banned?
Di mentions that The Group was written in the 60s and set in the 30s and yet it is still frightfully relevant. Women are still struggling with being taken seriously. Women are still struggling to find support when they are mothers. Mother in laws are still mother in laws. Can we take a moment to address that if you are a cunt of a mother in law you are virulently anti-feminist? No? You don’t want to come on that journey and you’d prefer to just read about the show? Fair enough.
Marieke loved it. It has mental illness, emotional abuse, rape, oppression. It essentially has women being kicked in the vagina by life in every possible way, because societal expectations and the patriarchy are the worst.
JByrne points out that Sex and the City was a tribute to The Group. Candace Bushnell wanted to do her own modern version.
Adam felt that The Group was good but had too many lead characters. Cutting it back from eight to four would work better. Snaps to Candice, she went with four for her update. He says the book wasn’t his cup of tea and yet he still enjoyed it.
Ace said that the first time he read The Group he thought about the female characters but on the second he thought about the male characters. And here it comes, we’re talking about sex. I knew Ace couldn’t hold off. Apparently there’s a whole sex chapter. The word ‘deflowering’ is mentioned repeatedly at this point. I little bit of vom rushes towards my teeth. Nothing that a splash of moscatto won’t fix. Hot tip from Adam: Don’t listen to that chapter in the car when you’re children are in the back. Can we please Crowdfund some therapy for Adam’s children?
ACE SAYS THAT HE FOUND THE SEX SCENE A BIT MUCH! Somebody hold me. I am so confused. Ace didn’t like the sexy bit? What is going on? He’s all about the sex. I feel lost and vulnerable. I need to hit that moscatto again.
Di points out that the book was put down as silly and trivial as it deals with silly things like relationships. The same thing is still happening now. A spy who has greater skills than are plausible is considered a rollicking good read, but books about women, and yearning, and birth control, and finding your way are silly and trivial. DOWN WITH LITERARY SNOBBISM! Apparently this backlash ruined the author’s life. It was a best seller yet the critics savaged her into trauma. Arseholes.
Marieke says that The Group is a feminist book. It is about women having each other’s backs no matter what. Adam recommends that every feminist reads it. My eye twitches slightly as I remember his #notallmen reaction to the Stella shortlisted An Isolated Incident, which was an incredible exploration of societal reactions to domestic violence. Moving on.
JByrne says that all the characters lose in the end, which is a bit depressing but somewhat reflective of the female existence within the patriarchy. Ace says that Lakey wins. Marieke suggests that Polly kind of wins too. It’s complicated.
Ace says that he kept thinking of Katharine Hepburn whilst reading. Much like I often think of Ace when reading books with good looking English men in them.
JByrne mentions that The Group has a place in popular fiction and even Betty Draper was reading it in Mad Men. I really want to read this book it sounds lovely.
And now a time for a montage about books about friends. Is that two montages this seas. Two montages this season and they’re cut back to eight episodes. Am I going to have to chain myself to the TARDIS at the ABC Centre soon? I’m keeping a close eye on you, Michelle Guthrie.
Grab the drinking game here.
Watch past episodes on here.
Read an extract of Jean Harley Was Here here.
See Di Morrissey at The Sydney Writers’ Festival (why yes I am a volunteer, how can I help) here.
Until next week enjoy my “friendship montage”: