November 2015

Noted
by Helen Elliott

‘The Women’s Pages’ by Debra Adelaide
Picador; $29.99

Dove is a graphic designer who thinks in images, not words, and as she sits reading Wuthering Heights to her dying mother she visualises a woman and her baby travelling on a bus to the Sydney suburb of Ashfield. Dove knows that it is the late 1960s, that the woman’s name is Ellis and the baby is Charlie. She can smell the summer, and she knows the house Ellis visits as if it were her own. The image is so vivid, but Dove doesn’t know what the story is. And she is in a fever to pursue it, to write it down.

Debra Adelaide’s fourth novel is an intricate thing. It tells several stories: those of Ellis and Dove, and several intertwined short tales of coinciding lives. The novel, in fact, opens with Ellis in 1968 and the quiet suburban world of young married couples. These stifled women yearn, but the yearning is muffled, unidentifiable. Some have babies; how dare a woman yearn if she has a baby? Ellis’ story is instantly engaging, but, unsettlingly, the next chapter reveals that what you had been reading is Dove’s creation, a novel within the novel. You begin again as Dove starts enquiring into what she’s creating and why.

The Women’s Pages explores some persistent and seemingly unresolvable issues: changes to the nature of work, and how women reconcile creativity and the flourishing of “self” with the demands of motherhood and domesticity. Ellis’ dilemma in this regard seems a historical set piece, yet it still has tremendous emotional currency. Ellis, disarmingly, is named for Ellis Bell, the pseudonym of Wuthering Heights’ author, Emily Brontë. Dove read Wuthering Heights when she was a teenager, and although she is nearly 40 the novel remains “like a malaria” in her imagination. Great art is timeless. It shapes us and never lets us go. But how, asks Dove, does a lesser creator channel the urgency of her creativity? And why is the urge to create so consuming?

Embroidering one life and then embroidering another over it requires patience and skill. Adelaide has both, yet she is successful only up to a point. Her attention to detail can be over-fussy. Too much embroidery diffuses emotional power. Still, there is much to enjoy in this ambitious novel. Not least are the imagination and reflection that have helped Adelaide create something that addresses eternal issues in a fresh and uniquely Australian way.

Helen Elliott
Helen Elliott is a literary journalist and writer.

Cover

November 2015

In This Issue

Joker  in  the  pack

On the road with the irrepressible Nick Xenophon

The new normal

A welcome to Turnbull and a farewell to slogans

Stag party

Wild deer are heading for the suburbs

In conscious exile

Rediscovering the novels of Randolph Stow


Read on

Image of Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Portrait of Joseph Roulin’

‘MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art’

An eye candy-laden, educational treasure hunt of an exhibition

Image of Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton

Turnbull fires back

Unlike Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull never promised ‘no wrecking’

Image from ‘In Fabric’

Toronto International Film Festival 2018 (part one)

A British outlier and a British newcomer are among the stand-outs in the first part of the festival

Image from ‘Patrick Melrose’

Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect as the imperfect Patrick Melrose

The actor brings together his trademark raffishness and sardonic superiority in this searing miniseries


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