Sunday, 25 February 2007

Review: The Georges' Wife, Elizabeth Jolley (1993)

What does it mean, to need other people? How close are we to others? What is a relationship? These questions seem important to Jolley, whose protagonist, Vera, becomes something, in small steps. She starts out looking for menial work and is taken in by Mr and Miss George. She studies medicine and becomes a surgeon. She befriends a bohemian couple and contracts tuberculosis. She emigrates to Australia meeting, on the way, a woman who becomes her lover.

Always, there is Mr George, some twenty years older than Vera. There are her parents. And Mrs Pugh. Her children, who she leaves in the care of others, are a reminder of her past.

Jolley conjures up the different periods that we are made to travel through with the lightest of touches. We orient ourselves by her subtle but unmistakable signs of contemporenaiety. Hair styles change, fashions change, people die. We are made to work for our rewards, however, in order to piece together the signs that make up each setting in the weave of the narrative.

It is a rich tapestry. Without any support, it seems, Vera manages to forge a life out of the shards of her past. Along the way, she attracts to herself people who help her: family, friends, lovers. She is a remarkable woman who is not only successful but is able to engage with her world in a meaningful way.

We never fear for her. There is a kind of pact with the author that we are here to understand the nature of life, but that Vera will be protected from harm. Clearly, she learns from her experiences, and we learn, too.

Highly recommended.

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