Treading Air by Ariella Van Luyn

I really fell for Lizzy O’Dea in Ariella Van Luyn’s historical fiction, Treading Air. We meet Lizzie in Brisbane’s lock hospital in 1945. She’s just been given a lighter sentence and learned from the magistrate that her husband, Joe, having been incarcerated for twenty years, is soon to be released. The magistrate thinks they can make a go of it together. Lizzie, who hasn’t thought of Joe in a long time, starts to wonder if it’s possible.

Back at the Brisbane races in 1922 Lizzie first meets Joe, and despite herself is madly taken with him. He’s a contrast to the boys Lizzie is used to hanging around with. Older and war-damaged, he wants to take her away, marry her and look after her. Lizzie takes this chance for escape and they move north to Townsville where the heat is stifling, everything is new and unknown but Joe has a job waiting.

With the narrative moving between the O’Deas’ time in 1920s Townsville and Lizzie’s life in 1945 Brisbane, the strength and resilience of Lizzie shines through. When Joe loses his job and all the savings are gone, Lizzie makes a drastic choice. Unable to find any work as a domestic she agrees to one night of sex work, but then chooses to continue. This changes the course of their relationship but, more importantly, gives Lizzie a sense of power, finally allows her to own her sexuality, and earn a significant income.

Lizzie is a survivor. Despite finding herself on the fringes of society, she owns her choices and decisions, and will not let others’ expectations determine her fortunes. Based on real people uncovered in historical archives, Ariella Van Luyn has created the tough, fiery, delicate and sensual Lizzie I fell in love with in Treading Air. I’m certain others will fall for her too.

Suzanne Steinbruckner works as a bookseller at Readings St Kilda.