I picked up Australian author Joan London’s first novel Gilgamesh a few weeks ago and was captivated by the beautiful, gentle writing. The writing is so lovely that I feel she could write about anything and make it meaningful. This style is the same in The Good Parents, another story where the journey of the characters is the primary focus, in a way these two novels have almost seemed like comfort reads because the characters are moving towards a way of living that is right for them rather than ‘good’ in the eyes of others. In fact the concept of ‘good’ is crucial – balancing what each individual desires with the need to be seen to be good people, good parents, good daughters, sisters, brothers, husbands and wives.
Anyway, let me tell you about the story because there is actually a plot, a gently flowing plot that looks at the lives of three generations of families, the choices they’ve made and the patterns that repeat themelves. The story has a cyclical feel to it. The characters are ordinary people and while the things that happen to them are perhaps not everyday, they are things that could happen to any of us.
Maya is 18 years old and has moved from a small town to the bright lights of Melbourne. She has found a flat sharing with the creative Cecile and a quiet office job. She has also fallen into an affair with her boss Maynard. When her parents Toni and Jacob arrive in Melbourne for a planned visit, they find Maya gone, disappeared with no explanation.
Although she is pivotal to the story, I was suprised to find that Maya’s disappearance was not the primary focus of the book. Joan London skillfully handles this in a way that makes it acceptable that it is somewhat in the background. Instead her disappearance is a catalyst for Toni and Jacob to rediscover aspects of themselves they had forgotten. The change in circumstances also offers new choices to the family left behind in Warton (Jacob’s sister Kitty returns after many years to take care of her nephew while his parents wait in Melbourne for news of Maya.) The characters reflect on their individual backgrounds and histories and their lives together, how they came to be where they are and what they want to do in the future.
It is not an an open and shut type of book, things are not all tidied up as the end approaches, the cyclical feel of it all remains but its a satisying place to finish off, a feeling that things will be resolved one way or the other.
I don’t usually rate the books I read because I’m not sure how to do it in a helpful way and I feel sure I’d be constantly changing my mind! This one though would be easy to rate – I would give it a subjective 4.5 stars.
2008, 349 pages