Delicious descriptions from Down under: Carrie Tiffany on smacking

Actually, this Delicious Descriptions is not a commentary on smacking as the post title might suggest, but it is about a smacking situation – in Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with birds.  It occurs when five-year-old Michael has stolen a penny from his mother and so she smacks him:

Betty doesn’t have the heart to pull his pants down so she smacks him with the wooden spoon through his shorts and shirt-tails and underpants so she isn’t really hitting him at all, just whacking at the layers of clothing and the air trapped between them. He’s never been smacked before. As soon as she releases him he turns on her. He looks about the kitchen in fury. ‘How dare you? You pan, you rug, you – you – you … spoon.’

She gasps. She covers her face with her hands. He’s right. She isn’t a bitch or a slut; she is a pan, a rug, a spoon. She is a woman without a man – a utensil inside a house.

See what I mean about her writing? It packs so much. There’s social history here about parent-child relationships and child discipline, and about women’s lives. And, there’s psychology, particularly regarding sense of self – Michael’s positively defiant one and Betty’s self-deprecatingly negative one. It has an interesting rhythm, with the introductory long sentence describing the action followed by a series of short sentences for the emotional responses. It’s funny, too, but has such a sting. It puts a very specific spin, doesn’t it, on that old adage that “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you”!

12 thoughts on “Delicious descriptions from Down under: Carrie Tiffany on smacking

  1. Sue, I think you got much more out of the book than I ever did! (I thought the poetry let it down). This reminds me of the time my mum tried to smack my sister with the wooden spoon, and it was a really old one and broke in her hand, and they both started laughing. No discipline there!

    • Thanks Jessica … I think this is a book that bears a second reading. I read it over too long a period and it was when I went back through it … Not a detailed reread though – that it fell more into place. I’d love to know what you mean by the poetry letting it down … I loved those bits in particular. They looked like poetry but I felt they were more like poetic prose than poetry … And told such a great story as well as being some interesting natural history.

      As for wooden spoon … That was the discipline implement of the past wasn’t it. Love your story … One for your next novel?

      • Hi Sue, I think I do need to go back to it again. Certainly her writing is lovely in places, & I’m wondering what she’ll do next, as the tone and themes of both her novels were quite similar. As for the wooden spoon – that’s bound to turn up somewhere!

  2. I just love Carrie Tiffany’s writing. My face to face book club is reading Mateship with Birds this month. Surprise, two don’t like it but the others (four so far love it). I do remember the wooden spoon. My mum broke it on my brother!


    • We baby boomers probably all remember it! I’m going to suggest my reading group does it the second half of the year … And I’d expect a mixed reaction. I heard an interview with Tiffany in which she expressed surprise at the strength of some of the negative comments.

  3. Any link to that interview? I love it when positive and negative comments fly. I’ve just started Tiffany’s first book and it has a great immediacy and mood.

    • Hi Catherine … I adored her first book which I read before starting this blog. The interview is here at Radio Adelaide, and the comment about reactions is in the last minute, but it’s not a long interview and is a good one.

  4. Oh cripes, I started reading this with a comment already forming in my head about how we discussed smacking a few times at the magazine office etc etc, but then I kept reading and the quote made me go “oooof!”

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