Two posts in one day, I really am a bit behind on my weekly blogging plan aren’t I, but I’ve got quite a list of books to write about at the moment so while I’ve got the time and energy I thought I should go for it.
This week’s Sunday Read is Rosalie Ham’s There Should be More Dancing. You might know Rosalie Ham from her previous book The Dressmaker which I loved but some people really disliked. For me I connected with her first book at least partly because it was set in the wheat belt of country Victoria, an area I am very familiar with. This novel was set in the Northern suburbs of Melbourne, the place I currently call home, so once again I was drawn into the familiar environment even before I knew where the story was going.
There Should be More Dancing is a very Australian kind of book in the same way that The Castle is a very Australian kind of film, though perhaps the characters are a little (…or a lot) less lovable than the Kerrigans. The central character is Margery Blandon, who in her 80s has decided to take her own life by throwing herself off the balcony of the 43rd floor of the Tropic Hotel rather than let her family put her in a retirement home. She has lived in her little house in Gold St, Brunswick for 40 years where she raised her children, cared for her husband until his rather dramatic death and cross-stitched her way through life, taking inspiration from the quotes on the desk calendar at the doctor’s surgery she cleaned for several decades.
As Margery waits for the crowds in the atrium to lessen before ending her life she contemplates what went wrong. In the days leading up to the present Margery discovered a series of life altering secrets had been kept from her by those she trusted and loved. Her oldest son, an ex-boxer who took one too many hits to the hear, betrayed her, her second son, estranged and living in Thailand, possibly committed a crime and her daughter is trying to kill her, or so she thinks. Margery’s only friend and neighbour had a secret life Margery knew nothing about and her arch enemy knew the truth all along.
While you may find you read this book thinking all the time “Thank God I’m not in that family” but you might also laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all and the quirky details of Margery’s daily life. Ham finds humour in the ordinary and writes with wit and poignancy. The old women of Gold St have aged along with their houses and now find themselves facing dementia, immobility and a dependency on others they are fearful of admitting to. Underwriting the homour of her writing Ham offers great insight into aging in modern Australia, where the elderly are left alone in their homes until they can no longer care for themselves at which pont they are shipped off to some care home or another. Margery’s life in Gold St revolved around watching out for Mrs Parson’s blind, the indicator to let Margery know she was ready for her shoelaces to be tied – Mrs Parson could no longer reach her feet but did not want to wear the slip-on shoes of the mobility-challenged. The highlights of her week was Sunday roast with her son and Mrs Parson and playing piano at the old folks home, a place she was not at all ready to go herself. And every fortnight Margery and Mrs Parson would venture to the shopping centre for their Big Shop on pension day. Between these events and the visits from the home help Margery cross stitches. Landscapes, seascapes, portraits, but mostly proverbs, wise sayings from the desk calendar that fill every wall and surface of her house.
The loneliness of Margery’s existence, something which has been an all-pervading part of her life since childhood, but which, with age, intensified exudes from every page. While this novel can be wickedly and absurdly funny in parts it is equally sad, honest and insightful. As I write this I think about my ninety year old grandfather living on his own with the family worrying about his ability to look after himself and once again I find myself connecting Ham’s novel as more than just a fine well written and engaging story.