Second Half First by Drusilla Modjeska
Most of us, I imagine, reflect only fleetingly on our lives, and few of us, thank god, do it in print, but when a writer of Drusilla Modjeska’s skill does it is something very special. Second Half First starts as Modjeska enters her fortieth year; she is ending a relationship, one that was very close, very important. Her partner Ross had begun another relationship and Drusilla found herself in ‘a state of misery’ and couldn’t, didn’t want to, go on. With Ross gone, Drusilla gathered herself and her friends together in ‘the house on the corner’. There they talked about lovers and the problem of men. When I mentioned to Drusilla that this made me feel a bit of a voyeur she replied, ‘I don’t like the sound of you squirming and feeling a culpable voyeur. I certainly don’t mean to BLAME men. A lot of us – me included – behaved very badly.’
But it’s in this second half of her life that Drusilla, the writer, is most productive and perhaps most thoughtful. She writes her award-winning book about her mother, Poppy, Stravinsky’s Lunch and the novel The Mountain. She reflects on the books and the people who have influenced her, made her think, made her change. There is a very powerful, very moving section when she goes back to England to be with her beloved, dying father.
Drusilla came to Australia from England via Papua New Guinea. Her first husband, an academic, got a position at PNG’s fledgling university and when that marriage broke up she ended up in Australia. Those years in PNG had been special but after she left she’d had little contact until in the early 2000s she started to re-engage, and in 2004 returned with a Sydney art dealer. Out of this new engagement came her powerful novel set in PNG, The Mountain. She became more and more drawn into PNG, and more and more in love with the people there who faced such tremendous challenges. Before she knew it, she had set up SEAM (Sustain Education Art Melanesia), a foundation to support education in remote areas of PNG, and to her credit that idea is becoming close to a reality.
Second Half First is a beautiful, sometimes profound, and always engaging memoir by a great writer.
Mark Rubbo is the Managing Director of Readings.