Review | Monday 24 September 2012
When Lily Brett was 18, she was offered a job as a journalist, writing for the soon-to-be iconic Australian rock magazine Go-Set. No one, incidentally, asked her anything about her past experience, but rather if she had a car. She answered yes and was invited to start the next day.
So began an incredibly formative chapter in her life that would set alight a love of words and see her travelling overseas to interview music legends like Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and co.
Brett, who has since become one of our most lauded novelists (Too Many Men, Just Like That), has confessed that, at the time, she had no real ambitions to become a writer. She was, instead, caught up in the heady music scene of the 60s, constantly dieting to lose weight and enamoured with her typewriter.
Her latest novel, Lola Bensky, is a loosely bound, fictive reimagining of that time. Surface parallels are easily drawn, from the obvious mirrored lettering of the name Lola Bensky/Lily Brett to other similarities.
Lola, also an Australian writer, is sent to London and LA in 1967, where she encounters everyone from Linda Eastman (later to be McCartney) to fellow female rock-journo and expat Lillian Roxon, as well as Cher, Cat Stevens and Jim Morrison. She is equally preoccupied with planning diets and the traumatic past of her parents, both of whom are survivors of Auschwitz.
Yet of course simple autobiography and delineation between fact and fiction is not the point here. Rather, it is the trueness and humour that Brett manages to achieve out of this novelisation. Lola’s mix of self-consciousness and innate gravity perfectly captures those vivid yet stumbling years. Later mentions of a second marriage, children and New York are brief but weighted, suggesting another slice of life that we accept without question (Brett herself is married to the painter David Rankin and has lived in the US since 1989).
Characters such as Hendrix, Joplin and Mama Cass thankfully avoid caricature, which would be an easy trap with this type of book. They are equally not their real-life selves, however, but personalities through which Lola’s own wonderings can be filtered. The book is replete with a flat, observational humour that, for lack of a better word, is fittingly New York, with just the right hint of 60s cool.
Jessica Au is the editor of the Readings Monthly and an occasional bookseller down at Readings St Kilda. Her first novel, Cargo was published in 2011.