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Tirra Lirra by the River

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  1,211 ratings  ·  112 reviews
One of Australia’s most celebrated novels: one woman’s journey from Australia to London

Nora Porteous, a witty, ambitious woman from Brisbane, returns to her childhood home at age seventy. Her life has taken her from a failed marriage in Sydney to freedom in London; she forged a modest career as a seamstress and lived with two dear friends through the happiest years of her
Paperback, 160 pages
Published January 3rd 1984 by Penguin Books (first published 1978)
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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May 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 19-20-19, australian
Tirra Lirra by the River brought to mind for me Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, and Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood. Published in 1978, Tirra Lirra is the earliest of the three, which each examine the life of a singular woman through the lens of personal recollection.

I’d vaguely heard of Tirra Lirra because it pops up on those lists of Best Australian Novels and had won the Miles Franklin award. I knew it was frequently assigned to high school English classes, which is not exactly a distinction,
Jan 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a very very good book and a worthy winner of the Miles Franklin. Though short, about 140 pages, author Jessica Anderson has packed in a life time of emotion with an almost seemingly bitter sweet "autobiographical" work.

The books narrator, 70 year old Nora Porteous, has returned to Brisbane after many years absence and reflects back on her life. She recalls early lost opportunities but also that one daring life decision that would also have been an anathema to the conservative attitudes
Jan 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“We don’t all think we’re too good for this place, Lady Muck.”

Here’s yet another under-appreciated novel celebrating a non-conformist woman ahead of her time.

The 30s and 40s in Australia wasn’t a friendly place for a “different” woman. Nora wanted out of her small town and as tended to be the custom of the time, marriage offered the only ticket. And then? You’re even more stuck. Of course, it didn’t help that Nora’s husband was a prick (one especially fun part was him calling her frigid when sh
1978 Miles Franklin award winner (and no wonder)

Nora Porteous, now in her 70s, returns from London to the Queensland house she grew up in. She calls it a house, not a home. She arrives exhausted after a long train ride up from Sydney, doesn’t remember anyone, doesn’t care to.

But she’s almost immediately bed-ridden with pneumonia so becomes a reluctant captive of the townsfolk who take solicitous care of her and insist on reminiscing. She is stunned when they show her gifts they’d saved that
Jan 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an absolute stunner. It gets Australia completely right without the cheapness of St John's shots. It nails the state of captivity of women without agency. Nora's need to escape, and taking marriage as the way out is heartbreaking. The role of education, and even more that of reading, which I might add is big in Women in Black and also in My Brilliant Friend comes comes into play here too. To be educated is to escape the poverty and meanness of life in city Australia and country Australia ...more
Michael Livingston
Jan 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
A beautiful quiet book about an old woman returning to her childhood home fifty years after fleeing it. Nora escapes small town life for a bad marriage and then escapes the marriage for a life in London. As she settles back into the old Queensland house, she reminisces about her life, her family and her decisions. This is a short, sad book that somehow presents a complete picture of a women caught in a time where wanting anything other than a marriage and kids was almost impossible and captures ...more
Thanks again to for bringing to my attention another great Australian author who I had not previously been aware of.
This is a beautifully scripted novel of the ageing Nora who has returned to Australia after 30+ years in London. Nora wanted independence and the ability to make her own friends and choices. Her mother and sister were dominating, her marriage to her egotistical and mean human a disaster.
But the book contains more important themes such as, the unre
Such an understated but wonderfully written and cleverly structured novel. I agree with all the enthusiastic reviews, but must admit I was starting to get as bored and frustrated with her first marriage as she was. And then just at the right moment, Nora makes a big move. Literally! My keen interest returned for the rest of the novel.

But at the end I felt that I was still missing an important part of the jigsaw that had been so beautifully pieced together for me by Jessica Anderson: the signific
Rosemary Reilly
Apr 04, 2012 rated it did not like it
This basically the epitome of supposedly meaningful Australian books that I can't stand. The only way I got through this hideous attempt at literature was to force myself to sit down and read it late one night, on pain of actually writing an assignment. It starts off with something like "...I am wearing a woollen suit - greyish, it doesn't matter." WELL IF IT DOESN'T MATTER, DON'T START THE DAMN BOOK OFF BY SAYING IT! And this is what we are meant to be studying for our final year in h ...more
Justin Evans
Apr 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
As a GR friend has said, the writing feels awkward at the start of the novel, but settles down reasonably quickly, and thereafter is a pleasure to read. It's also a fine technical feat: two parallel narratives, one of Nora in the let's call it present, and then the how did she get to be in this present narrative that she's remembering. Most impressive of all is present Nora's own interpretation of past Nora's activities, and even of present Nora's; few books are willing to explicitly show the wo ...more
Aug 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: a-few-favourites
"Well, I am what I am… I forgive myself everything.”

Breaking away from expected societal conventions and chasing diaphonous hopes can be a rough business. Looking past who we so often hear about - those who prevail - there are those who try, and perhaps claim some small victories along the way, but in the long run founder. What happens when one desperately yearns for something more out of life, and has the courage to go after it, at times, in one’s own way, but doesn’t have the strength of perso
Nov 14, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008-read
I had never heard of this book before a friend gave it to me. I really enjoyed this book. It's the sort of quiet prose that sneakily worms its way into your thoughts and won't let go. The book gives reminisces of Nora, a now elderly woman who has returned to her home in Sydney to reflect on her life, wait out her illnesses, and, eventually, to die. The reflections on the role of women, the struggle for belonging and for place, and the details of the family relationships that emerge from this sle ...more
Feb 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
I wasn't expecting this to feel so contemporary. Perhaps I was thrown by the title!

The prose is quietly lovely. The tone is emphatically feminist. That can sometimes amount to a dull and meandering lecture. What saves it, I think, is the narrator, herself: She's so relatable, so painfully human that the book is infused with palpitant life. There's a gentleness, an ever-present undercurrent to the wryly detached narration. And so, the narrative is less a dry lecture and more a moment of quiet con
Dec 31, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a wry novel, softly evocative of warm Queensland nights and deceptively gentle. In her old age, Nora Porteous returns to her childhood home after a long period away in London. As she recovers from a bout of pneumonia, like Albert Facey in A Fortunate Life she reflects on her life, in her case finally facing up to memories long suppressed.

To read the rest of my review please visit
I read this because it was the first book that the women read in Liz Byrski's A Month of Sundays which I read and enjoyed a month or so ago. The women in the bookclub had enjoyed this and their comments made me want to read it for myself.

It was a slow read - more based on descriptions of characters and places than plot-driven. At times it was a little difficult to understand what was happening and whether Nora, the main character, was remembering events or dreaming them or whether it was current
Canadian Reader
In Anderson's Miles-Franklin-award-winning novel, an elderly woman, Nora Roche Porteous, returns to her childhood home in Brisbane, after living many years abroad. Diagnosed with pneumonia upon her arrival, she spends many days in bed, tended to by kind neighbours. As she rests, she reflects on her life--on the stifling conventionality of her childhood home in which she finds herself once again, and particularly on her overbearing, now deceased, elder sister. Early on in life, Nora found it natu ...more
Aug 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
This novel is an interesting study of a woman trapped in a "Doll's House" of gender stereotyping. Nora finds herself playing out roles which force her to conform to social expectations of what a wife of a successful upper middle class businessman should embody. Her struggle to achieve an identity beyond that is the main focus of the book.
I enjoyed the way in which this theme is worked out, the exceptionally fine writing, and the vivid characterizations of the individuals Nora encounters. Particu
Sep 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
I can't believe I haven't read this before. It's such a classic Australian novel and I really enjoyed it. Similar suggestions - The Harp in the South by Ruth Park, Angel Puss by Colleen McCullogh, Water under the bridge by Sumner Locke Elliot and even Indelible Ink by Fiona McGregor. There's something about the Sydney area that is quintessentially Australian - we haven't quite matched this in Melbourne. Responses to this - and suggestions for similar Melbourne books - would be welcome. ...more
Aug 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
A beautifully executed portrait of a woman born at the beginning of the 20th century reflecting back on her life when she is in her seventies and has returned to Australia after a long absence.

The book is full of sadness because of Nora's low self-esteem, entrenched by a lifetime of the experiences of so many women of that time. The changes that came for many of us in the last decades of the century came too late for Nora's generation.

Heartbreaking but highly recommended.
Yvonne Perkins
Tirra Lirra by the River is the best kind of book. Deeply woven threads track their way through this novel to make a tantalising narrative. It is not a difficult book to read, but in a delightful way it compels the reader to work at discovering the story.

I don’t want to spoil your delight in discovering and tracing the various narrative strands of this book so I won’t recount the story. Rather, I will just mention one theme in this book.

“Liza used to say that she saw her past life as a string of
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Apparently this was set as a high school text in Australian schools in the 80s. I'm so glad I didn't read it as a teenager as I just don't think I would have grasped the sense of loss or appreciated Anderson's evocation of suburban Brisbane in the early 20th century. I'm not sure I fully appreciate it now as an adult but I get why it won the Miles Franklin award and is regarded as a literary classic. Most of the drama happens on very small stages but it pulses with the thoughts, feelings, sights ...more
Apr 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
I'll admit that I had a certain level of difficulty in really understanding the novel as I read it the first time, but upon my re-readings of the novel, Nora's world just opened up for me. What really strikes me about this text is the subtlety of it - perhaps a little too subtle for those who are not interested in digging deep into the novel and what it has to show. Subtlety isn't exactly a skill that all are able to master, so for this, I feel that Jessica Anderson is a little bit of a genius. ...more
Lewis Woolston
Feb 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
This book is a serious contender for the title of THE Great Australian Novel.
A small book clocking in at just over 200 pages it is nonetheless meaty, weighty, accomplished and truly full of the stuff of life.
You could almost call this a feminist novel. The main character is a woman who grew up in a time when women had few choices in life. She looks back at her life with some regret for time wasted and opportunities lost forever but her memories aren't entirely grim. She remembers friends and l
Exquisite writing.
Quite moving, as the story examines the end of the life of a woman who faced many personal challenges.
A deserved winner of the Miles Franklin Award for 1978.
1978 - so long ago...most young people would not be bothered with such a fossil.
It is an important piece of literature arising from the second wave of feminism in the 1970s...
Doubly important because it is a genuine Australian voice.
Susan Steggall
Sep 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
In 2017 the NSW Writers’ Centre in conjunction with the State Library of NSW has been showcasing the work of major Australian writers whose work has slipped into semi oblivion: Thea Astley, Elizabeth Jolley, Amy Witting and Henry Handel Richardson, among others. I attended the seminar on Jessica Anderson, an inspiring afternoon animated by Anna Funder, Michelle de Kretser and Geordie Williamson in the presence of Jessica’s daughter, scriptwriter Laura Jones. Anderson’s evocations of place, in pa ...more
Sally Edsall
May 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Adrienne O'Donnell
Shelves: fiction, australian
One of the few books I have re-read in adulthood, having discovered it in late teenagehood. Very good indeed. Its descption of life for a woman seeking independence in Sydney on the post-WW2 period is excellent, as is the exposition of aging, and the bitter-sweetness of an expat returning to a former home. In the scenes in Brisbane suburbia you can almost smell the frangipani and mango trees!
Helen McClory
A gently melancholic novel about a woman looking back on her life from her childhood home in Brisbane - a novel that illuminates a complex, creative interior life lived within the confines of societal expectations with a smooth and flowing style. That's not to say nothing happens in this novel - some terrible and wrenching things do happen, though they are all seen through the prism of memory, and are the quieter for it. ...more
Leah Agirlandaboy
If you gathered up a suitcase full of strong Virginia Woolf vibes and sailed with it to Australia, where you then rented a house in an old, forgotten part of the suburbs and, one do-nothing day, laid everything out on the table like quilt squares, which you then set about piecing together into a short novel, you might very well end up with this book. It’s structurally quite strange (I love a meandering book, but this was almost too directionless for even me), and I’m surprised that it’s a mainst ...more
Sep 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Tirra Lirra was an uncomfortable, often confronting but accurate & real read for someone a boy a generation after Nora's adolescence and emergence. Elements of the stifling atmospherics, and self-focussed male dominant Australian culture were captured with brutal clarity throughout. Nora chose difficult paths for the time and endured with lengthy periods of happiness suggested in London, amidst an overall flavour often close to despair and sour. ...more
May 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Visited Bruno's Sculpture gardon in Marysville this Easter, among the talented artist's master pieces, there is an eyeball-catching sculpture in the river - The Lady of Shalott. The beautiful poem led me to this Australian book.
The book is a process exploring the globle of self-finding memories of Nora Porteous, a never-simple and a bit crazy artist, the dark side of the global reveals the stealing of husband's money, having an affair on a ship and later-on abortion, face-lifting and suicide att
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

This is Jessica^Anderson, where ^=space.

About the Author:
Jessica Margaret Anderson (25 September 1916 – 9 July 2010) was an Australian novelist and short story writer.

(from Wikipedia)

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