I must thank John aka Musings of a Literary Dilettante for introducing me to this intriguing little e-work by Miles Franklin award-winner, Anna Funder. When John read it, back in October, it was in daily instalments, but when I clicked the link in his post I was offered several e-book versions, including for the Kindle and iPad, or for an audiobook which I believe is read by Funder. It’s free.
So, what is it? Here’s the description at the start of the story:
This story is a unique collaboration between Paspaley, acclaimed author Anna Funder, photographer Derek Henderson and award-winning actress Teresa Palmer. It’s an original story of love, self and all things precious, featuring the most beautiful pearls in the world.
Paspaley, for those who don’t know, is an Australian-based company founded in the pearling industry of northwestern Australia. Although it has now diversified into other businesses, it is probably still best known for its pearling arm. As you might assume from the title of Funder’s story, “Everything precious”, it is the pearling arm that sponsored Funder. John wrote his post before he finished reading the story, and said he feared finding some product placement at the end. However, in a postscript added later, he advised there was no such thing. He’s right – in a sense – as there’s no reference to pearls or Paspaley in the text. But, in my e-book version, between chapters 4 and 5, there is a series of five photographs taken presumably by Derek Henderson and featuring, again presumably, actor Teresa Palmer. They are tasteful in that high-class-magazine way … no text, just beautiful images of a lovely woman wearing gorgeous pearls.
I researched a little more, and discovered that the story is part of a “multi-channel campaign” to launch Paspaley’s new Touchstone collection. The “campaign uses storytelling to engage a new, younger, more fashion conscious audience and make pearls relevant and appealing to them”. Intriguing eh! I wonder how successful it’s been?
What, besides presumably money, did it all mean for Anna Funder? Here’s what she says:
Working with Paspaley has been one of the most exciting writing experiences I’ve had. To have total creative freedom, a time limit and an audience turn out to be the perfect conditions for writing a short story. And the idea that a company, which makes things of great beauty and value from nature, values literature, which (on a good day) is also something of beauty and value that reflects the world around us, was inspiring. Writing this story has been a joy and a privilege, and was some of the most fun I’ve ever had writing.
Now, let’s talk about the story, which the promoter’s website I’ve linked to above describes as “a short story of desire, need, love and all that is precious”. The plot is pretty simple. It’s about Tess, who works in online legal publishing, and would be in her mid thirties. She has a husband, Dan, head of epidemiology in the State Health Department and a lovely SNAG if ever there was one, and three children, Charlotte who is 13, and the twins, Tom and Lorna, who are 6. She also has a father, Howard, a retired judge who is in Assisted Living because he has dementia. This is, then, an upper middle class, professional family. Tess and Dan have been together for 17 years and she’s feeling a little trapped and restless. A bit of a midlife crisis, in other words, or, as Funder writes in the story, Tess is:
at a hinge moment: between youth and age, between the life you thought you wanted and the one you feel might, now, suit you better.
So, Tess decides to consider that other life she might have had, but … well, I won’t give the ending away because it’s easy for you to access at Paspaley.
It’s interesting to look at this story in terms of the campaign because I’m presuming that although Funder had “total creative freedom” there must have been a brief – one that at the very least identified a target market, oops audience, for the story. This audience would, I’m sure, identify pretty easily with the character and set up, with the restlessness attended by guilt that she should be so restless. The brief must surely have identified a tone too. You wouldn’t sell pearls with a grim story – or did they assume Funder would have the nous to make the story appropriately positive? Regardless, the story would clearly suit what I assume was Paspaley’s target market – upwardly mobile or already there professional thirty-to-forty-something women who have the disposable income but who may see pearls as the province of their Baby Boomer mothers.
This all sounds pretty cynical, and to some degree it surely must be. I would describe the story as “chicklit” for the well-to-do married woman. It’s not challenging reading. The resolution is easy to comprehend and reassuring. However, it is written by Funder. This means that the writing is good, there’s intelligence at play (including an allusion to Chekhov!), and the insights into the pressures of early 21st century professional family life are authentic even if not explored in any depth.
Overall, then, it’s an enjoyable read and an interesting concept to ponder. I certainly wouldn’t criticise Funder for taking up the opportunity offered to her. Writers, like all of us, have to live – and if a company like Paspaley is prepared to pay, and offer “complete freedom”, why would you say no?
Sydney: Paspaley, 2014
Available: Gratis at Paspaley