I was expecting to enjoy this book because I like Mirka Mora’s free-spirited art works, but it was a disappointment. I found it difficult to follow heI was expecting to enjoy this book because I like Mirka Mora’s free-spirited art works, but it was a disappointment. I found it difficult to follow her train of thought in these chaotic ramblings… The constant name-dropping really irritated me. Of course a notable painter like Mora is going to know many notable people, but there are 10 pages of famous names in the index! Most of the time there’s seems to be no relevance in mentioning these people, but that may be partly because of the erratic way that Mora has put this book together. She explains (on p190) that her first efforts at writing her autobiography consisted in copying parts of her diary, and that is exactly what most of it looks like. She says elsewhere that her editor was concerned about her not meeting the deadline and I suspect that if time was tight, he/she decided to try and make a virtue of the muddle and hope that those interested in the book would consider it ‘artistic’. (Mora herself alludes to Proust, hinting that she is writing in a sort of stream of consciousness as Proust did, but having read Proust myself, I can’t agree….) (Would Proust have written four lines about being molested on a train, followed by a line about wearing a little black Parisian suit? (p78). I think not).
It was Glen Hunting who brought my attention to Emily Bitto’s debut novel when we were commenting on the Miles Franklin longlist, and so I owe my discIt was Glen Hunting who brought my attention to Emily Bitto’s debut novel when we were commenting on the Miles Franklin longlist, and so I owe my discovery of this terrific book to him – thank you, Glen!
I love books involving art and artists, but this one has a slightly different twist to it. In fact, it reminded me a little of Gillian Slovo’s memoir of her parents’ role in the apartheid struggle in Every Secret Thing (1997). Slovo’s mother was the activist Ruth First who was assassinated by the South African security forces; her father was Joe Slovo who was imprisoned and then lived in exile until negotiations began to end the apartheid era. Gillian Slovo grew up knowing always that she and her siblings came second to political commitment. In Bitto’s novel, the children of avant-garde painter Evan Trentham and his bohemian wife Helena, always come second to art…
Is there a difference between being an idealist serving a noble cause at the expense of your children, and being a bohemian doing the same thing in the service of art? Perhaps not to the children… but that’s a question for book groups to argue about, eh?
Set in the Depression years and afterwards, the story is narrated by Lily, the observant, sensitive young friend of Eva, the middle child of Evan and Helena. Lily is captivated by the exotic elements of Eva’s home life: the freedom; the absence of routines; and the careless attitude to school and homework and rules. She compares the casual makeshift elegance and easy-going atmosphere of the Trenthan home with the placid conservatism of her less wealthy parents, and finds them wanting. She achieves her dream when difficult circumstances at home allow her to move in and live with the Trenthams for a while, and she believes that she is part of their world, the emerging world of modernist art in Australia.