Bite Your Tongue by Francesca Rendle-Short
I’m always interested in reading generational books about mothers and daughters. What stories from my daughter’s childhood will last the distance into adulthood? By all accounts nothing I do is going to have the long-term effects that Francesca Rendle-Short’s mother has had on her life. Having said that, without her upbringing, readers would have missed out on this unusual and dynamic author.
Set in Queensland in the 1970s, Bite Your Tongue centres on what it was like to grow up with a moral crusader as a mother. Rendle-Short wanted to write about her childhood, and did so by creating a fictional narrator, Glory. This enabled her private thoughts and insights to be made public. Her mother was sure that many school texts were the work of the devil, and worked tirelessly to have the offending texts banned from schools. The only way for her daughter to survive childhood was to keep silent. The story is interspersed with images and letters that reflect Glory’s (Francesca’s) life.
Rendle-Short’s use of lyrical language is not always successful, but is indeed beautiful. Her published work includes fiction, poetry, and writing for theatre. In this, her second novel, her love of responsive language is clear. This is a sad story in many ways, though Rendle-Short assigns no blame. It illustrates that at times actions do speak louder than words. It lays bare the pain of forgiveness and acceptance. It validates the endless tie between mothers and their daughters, and of course, vice-versa. Bite Your Tongue is really a poetic ode to a time gone by and to a relationship that taught acknowledgment. I’ve passed my copy on to my mum, because as Rendle-Short says, ‘reading changes everything.’
Chris Gordon is events coordinator of Readings
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