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Delicious descriptions: Jessica Anderson and urban life

April 6, 2014

I didn’t quote much from Jessica Anderson’s One of the wattle birds in my recent review, which is unusual for me – so I decided a Delicious Descriptions post was in order. I had trouble however choosing which excerpt to quote. My first thought was to share an example of the book’s wonderful – and often very funny – dialogue, but each example I looked at seemed to need too much explanation to make it work out of context. So, I’ve gone with some internal reflection instead, partly because it also demonstrates something Anderson was known for, her urban/suburban setting.

This excerpt occurs early in the book when Cec has turned up unannounced at her Uncle and Aunt’s place in Turramurra* to ask her uncle for the umpteenth time about her mother’s decisions. (See my review linked above if you need to be refreshed on this central issue in the book).

I’ve chosen it for a few reasons. It gives insight into Cec’s confused mental and emotional state, and her values. It also shows the way Anderson uses rhythm to convey that state, and it gives us a glimpse of her satirical humour.

The RIVERLAND orange isn’t bad for this time of year, and as I eat it I look through the big glass doors into the living room. The fortress look hasn’t extended to this part of the house, and I can see on the other side the twins huddled over the phone talking to Amy. It’s a big room with high ceilings and pale thick sculpted-looking curtains and polished floorboards with rugs and altogether that well-known look of peaceful opulence that Katie and I used to say was the dread and horror of our lives. But now, because at Annandale our yellow cotton blinds are sun-streaked with greyish-white, and there is dust on the tops of our paper moons, and the fronts of our Ikea drawers keep popping out like little awnings and have to be kicked back into alignment, and because I ought to be studying like mad so that one day I’ll have a wonderful steady job, and earn enough money to have a room equivalent to that (and then what?) and because I feel sorry for Wil being hampered with someone like me, I feel generally very depressed and hopeless, and wonder if I really want to ask Uncle Nick any questions, or whether I just want him to hug me and massage my scrawny little hands in his.

Phew, that last sentence is long! I like the way this excerpt conveys self-knowledge alongside her uncertainty. I like the youthful rejection of an older generation’s values alongside a recognition of that being the likely progression of things. Cec comes across as a young woman in pain but with a good head on her shoulders. We feel that she will get through this … but how, and with what further insights, is the interesting question.

* I’ve added the location for those who know Sydney. Turramurra is a beautiful, leafy suburb in the affluent upper North Shore.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2014 2:41 am

    Funny how you used the word “delicious”. When I’ve finished one book and am deciding which one to read next, I compare the experience to trying to pick one dish from the menu. I’m not that interested in food, btw, but sometimes find it difficult to pick ONE book out of so many.

    • April 7, 2014 8:07 am

      Oh, I love food, Guy! I know what you mean about choosing the next book … The menu usually has too many delicious choices, eh?

  2. April 7, 2014 5:57 am

    I don’t have any problems with lengthy sentences, provided they’re going somewhere and it’s along a recognizable route. In fact, I get grumpy when lectured to by Them Wot Knows about NEVER using one under any circ.s. Imnsvho, with writing it’s almost a case of never say never about … anything ! 🙂

    • April 7, 2014 8:09 am

      I totally agree, MR, are never say never. You probably need to know the rules to break them, but even then a good writer will intuitively know what works where, won’t s/he?

      • April 7, 2014 8:10 am

        Or will simply forge ahead, and tell her editor “No, I won’t shorten that sentence: I like it !” …

  3. April 7, 2014 7:58 am

    Isn’t Turramurra where the grandparents used to live? Buttered toast and catching lizards in the garden!

    • April 7, 2014 8:11 am

      It is, Hannah. They were in North Turramurra. I rather picture this house in old Turramurra, such as where Alison lives.

      • April 7, 2014 8:24 am

        I didn’t realise that’s where Alison is, too! But then again, I couldn’t figure out a Sydney map right now if I tried 😛

  4. April 9, 2014 1:48 am

    Love that final long sentence! It has a flowing lyrical quality to it, really lovely.

    • April 9, 2014 8:33 am

      Yes, I do too, Stefanie… It captures her uncertainty, her mind racing on where she’s at, really well.

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