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The only daughter (book review)

2 August 2016

The Only DaughterThe Only Daughter by Jessica Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four years ago I read an Australian novel about families of Greek immigrants in Melbourne, The Slap. This one is about established Australian families a generation earlier, in Sydney. In spite of the differences of time and style, both books seemed intensely suburban. My wife and I kept comparing them, and we both thought that this one was rather better written than The slap (review here) .

Jack and Greta Cornock have no children of their own, but each of them has 30-something children from previous marriages, some single, some married, some divorced. Jack’s daughter Sylvia Foley (divorced), who has been overseas in Europe for 20 years, returns for a brief visit to discover that her father has had a stroke, and her step-siblings are concerned about what he has left to their mother in his will. Like The Slap it goes into great detail about the minutiae of suburban life, and the concerns of middle-class suburban people, until one discovers that the older generation had a much harder time of it in their youth.

The book has a genealogical table in the front to help one to picture the complex relationship s between the main characters, and I found myself wishing that it also had a map of Sydney, so that one could picture the relationships between the places described, sometimes in great detail.. In spite of this, some details were rather fuzzy and blurred. In The Slap one was not told the ages of several of the children, so it was difficult to picture them. in The only daughter the ages of the children are given, but the makes and models of cars the characters drive around in are not. Perhaps that’s a difference between South African and Australian culture, or perhaps it is a difference between small towns and suburbs. But I recall discussing who was visiting whom because we could see their cars parked outside someone’s house.

Were these the only two Australian novels I had read, I might have thought that all Australian literature was essentially suburban, but a couple of months ago I read The glade within the grove, also set in Sydney (and southern New South Wales), about the founding of a hippie commune.

But the book does give a rather detailed picture of suburban life and concerns in the 1970s.

View all my reviews

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