TL;DR: the fine print says that one of the classifications for this book is ‘psychologically abused women’. Yup. If that’s not your thing, do not read this book.
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Penguin Random House, at no cost (RRP $32.99, out 27 June).
This is definitely not the sort of book I generally read. Partly because it’s mainstream ‘literature’ – I have nothing against it but there’s so much speculative fiction to get to! – and partly because the whole point of the story is about a woman whose life has been appalling. And I just don’t enjoy reading those sorts of stories.
My main take-away from this novel is: I am so glad that my husband is loving and encouraging. The most annoying thing he does is encourage me too much (ok, slight exaggeration there, but I’m still feeling intensely grateful).
Alice is an Australian child of unhappy parents on a failing farm. She’s very good at piano and she ends up getting sent to England for boarding school, in the 1930s. She ends up staying there and marries Edward, who turns out to be the absolutely worst husband (seriously do not read this if abuse is a trigger for you. It’s not for me and I nonetheless found it intensely difficult to read).
Problem with the blurb #1: it says that Edward “sweeps her off her feet”, making it sound like theirs is a wonderful romance. Uh, no. She enjoys spending time with him and is indeed a bit giddy with delight for a while… but she refuses his first offer of marriage, and is incredibly surprised by it. So, not really ‘swept off her feet’.
Problem with the blurb #2: “Edward is damaged”. Uh, no. He emotionally and mentally and physically abuses her. Perhaps this is because of his own boarding school experiences, but there’s no deep discussion of psychological damage… and you know what? Even if he is emotionally stunted there is no excuse for abuse. Blurb, you are dangerously close to trying to make Edward sympathetic, and I don’t think Morrison is doing that in the novel so why fool people in the blurb?
Problem with the blurb #3: actually this is the cover quote, from Alice Pung: “A sublime work of literature, filled with fierce intelligence, gentle humour and, above all, enormous heart”. Fierce intelligence: I guess? Alice, the narrator, isn’t stupid; she’s trapped and becomes passive to deal with it; but I don’t think the focus is on her, or anyone else’s, fierce intelligence. Gentle humour: I don’t think I laughed or even smiled once. Mostly I was too busy being appalled. There are some lighter moments I suppose, and Alice remembers days of laughter, but they’re rarely actually described. Enormous heart: Alice has enormous heart and desperately wants to love and be loved, but that rarely happens. Most of the time this book is about love being utterly thwarted.
If you enjoy reading books about how people cope with suffering – and clearly there’s a lot of people who do, which is completely fine – then this book may well appeal to you. It is well written and engaging. However, if reading about other people suffering does nothing for you, this book is not a book for you.
Fun fact: if you google ‘music and freedom morrison’ you mostly get pictures of Jim Morrison looking pouty.