It’s a pleasure to review this debut novel by West Australian author, Louise Allan. I have followed her on Facebook and through her newsletter for a couple of years now, and so have some idea of how hard she has worked on this story, and how heartfelt the writing process is for her. A busy career woman herself, previously a doctor, now a full-time writer, and mother of a family, she has committed herself wholeheartedly to the writing life. Which I think has given her the capacity to put herself in the shoes of two women whose dreams of life are not fulfilled.
First, I should say there are spoilers in this review, which follows many other reviews of this book, which has been published to great acclaim.
The two sisters, Ida and Nora, grow up in a fractured family, with the father dying when they are young, and the mother hospitalised with depression after her husband’s death. Their grandmother saves them from feeling like orphans. She cherishes them and nurtures their dreams. Their dreams are opposite: Ida, the older, wants a family of her own when she grows up; she desires to be all that her own mother cannot be. Nora wants to sing, to fly unfettered and travel the world. The grandmother encourages Nora, but the mother is afraid of her daughter’s ambition and tries to hold her back.
Neither of them realise their dreams. Ida finds partial fulfillment as a nanny, but when she marries, a series of miscarriages break her heart. Nora gets pregnant when she is young and just beginning a stellar career, and is married off to a good, solid man her own age, lives in a rural part of Tasmania, and has more children she does not want. Ida finds love in her relationship with Nora’s children but has to stay in the background as she watches them grow up with a mother who is embittered and disturbed.
The story spans 70 years, and although redemption and fulfillment are found in the second generation, the losses and the sacrifices of previous generations of women are heard in the spaces between the words of the song that closes the book.
Generational healing can happen when there is awareness of the sacrifices and mistakes our parents made, and when we choose, consciously, to live life differently. Ida has this awareness, and her loyalty and love redeem her from a life of bitterness and frustration. Even her mother is able, towards the end of her life, to redeem her mistakes through encouraging the gift of music in her granddaughter. Nora, too, comes to a softer place of acceptance and pride in her family.
Where the sisters are forced to choose, in a society and a time when women were expected to stay at home and hold the family together while the man earned a living, their author has been able to follow her dreams while having a family life. I and all those who read this lovely book will congratulate her and feel glad that her dream of writing is fulfilled in such a generous, compassionate and fully realised story.