Sometimes events occur as one might wish but sometimes they do not.
So says the ever-practical Ruby, always striving for what is right and proper, from the time we meet her as a striking soldier’s fiancée through to the rather less steady years of her old age. With an eyebrow pencil in one hand and gardening shears in the other, Ruby navigates the intervening years doing her duty as a woman, allowing marriage and motherhood to fill her with purpose and pleasure - and only occasionally wondering, Is this all there is?
In her moving, captivating fiction debut, award-winning author Anna Goldsworthy recreates Adelaide and Melbourne of half a century ago, bringing a family to life as they move through the decades, challenging and caring for and loving one another, often in surprising ways. Charming and sharply observed, Melting Moments is, like Ruby herself, a gentle powerhouse.
Fans of Anna Goldsworthy’s award-winning writing to date will be delighted – and far from surprised – to find that many of the notable qualities of her nonfiction and memoir writing are adroitly deployed in her debut novel, Melting Moments. Goldsworthy is a superb writer and an exceptional observer of human nature: who that has read her memoirs Piano Lessons and Welcome to Your New Life could possibly forget her precise depiction of the naked scope of a child’s ambition (in Goldsworthy’s case, ambition amply delivered upon) or her ability to evoke, to hilarious effect, the insatiable tenacity of a research-inclined pregnant woman’s mind?
As in her memoirs, Goldsworthy’s narrative is redolent of place and time, and her characters reveal aspects of themselves with striking clarity. In Melting Moments we meet Ruby as a very young woman newly arrived in 1941 Adelaide from her family farm, just beginning her career. She is open to the possibilities of the city and her life. At her respectable lodgings, she develops a sudden appreciation for her mother’s previously incomprehensible ‘mania for fresh air’. She makes friends through the typing pool and before long is engaged and married to a young man she hardly knows, indeed may never truly know, before he ships out.
What follows is a subtly brilliant portrait of a life and its interconnected lives, over a period now receding from living memory. Ruby becomes a mother, a grandmother, a lover, and seeks her own edges and wishes besides. At times she understands the people in her life too well, at others she cannot fathom them. Even as Goldsworthy beautifully renders, with restraint and insight, Ruby’s specific story and era, there is a timelessness to this novel and its concern with women’s lives and desires. It’s not often that comparisons to Jane Austen or Alice Munro are merited, but here the publisher is justified, although what Austen would make of the tenor of Ruby’s mother-in-law’s conversation is amusing to contemplate.
Elke Power is the editor of Readings Monthly.
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