After too many nights of take-away pizzas Narita wants just one year off to look after her daughter, Camille. Then she meets Stephen, a public servant in the complex process of reinventing himself, training as a shiatsu masseur. As their relationship grows, so does the drama of parenting Camille, in this elegantly crafted warmly appealing novel of contemporary Australian life.
Amanda Lohrey is a novelist and essayist. She was educated at the University of Tasmania and Cambridge. She lectured in Writing and Textual Studies at the Sydney University of Technology (1988-1994), and since 2002 at the School of English, Media Studies and Art History at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.
I first read this in the 90s when I had to read it for uni...I reread it just now and I liked it a lot better than I remembered. None of the characters was perfect but that wasn't the point (I really think the people objecting on the grounds that this isn't the white picket fence "normal" family and blaming single mums are massively missing the point.
The gender essentialism in the book struck me as an irritating constant undertone. I had forgotten this was my first introduction to veganism the first time I tried it (now most of the strange foods in the book seem more normal). I enjoyed the Sydney setting a lot more now that I have actually been to Sydney a couple of times too.
I didn't really relate to Stephen and definitely not to Marita but I liked them for being human.
Camille is OK, she doesn't need a TV family she has a brain
I saw this book when it came out in a bookstore in 1996. I found it hard to keep reading at first, but then I was pretty distracted at the time. I completed the book and found something resonated with me ... something spoke to me and I introduced the macrobiotic diet into my day. I found the book about 10 years later (my circumstances were totally different) and read it again and enjoyed it the second time around too. Ever since I purchased the book, if someone asked me what was my favourite book, I would say "Camille's Bread". I still have it in the drawer next to my bed. On reflection, maybe I liked the book so much because when I first bought it, life was chaotic, going through a divorce, and the thought of slowing down, taking a year off to look after myself with good food was the reason I liked it. I was re-married and had children and moved to the country the second time I read the book and I think I enjoyed it more the second time around.
I had wanted to be as touched by this novel as I was by Lohrey's later "The Labyrinth". Her writing is fluid, especially the dialogue that brings her characters to life. However, the stage-by-stage portrait of the relationships between single mother Marita, her daughter Camille, and her new lover Stephen, although meticulously drawn, became somewhat tedious as the narrative moved on.
Set on "revinventing" himself and finally leaving his boring job as a clerk in the Treasury Office to move to Japan and follow a spiritual path, Stephen becomes involved with Marita and her daughter, moves into their home, and once again delays his life-changing plans. His stringent routine of meditation, Shiatsu massage, and macrobiotic food preparation is in stark contrast to Marita's habits, creating admiration but also friction in their relationship.
There were welcomed moments of dry humour throughout the novel, but generally I was frustrated by Stephen's arrogance and inability/unwillingness to consider the perspectives of others. What kept me interested was the relationship that slowly built between Stephen and Camille.
I enjoyed Amanda Lorry's writing, but the story overall made me wonder what it is like for children of single parents when they find a stranger has moved into the house. That aspect of the story was kind of depressing and you wonder how many other men will pass through their lives in a similar way. You could really feel the claustrophobic heat of a Sydney summer away from the cooling winds of the coast. I didn't warm much to Stephen as he was so hung up about his food and his trying to keep control of his own situation spread to others around him. The beginning was quite funny from a public servant point of view and how he despaired of the mundanity of his existance.
I tried to write a review of this twice but it kept disappearing. Now I can’t remember why I gave it 3 stars. I remember Stephen was irritating with his macrobiotic diet and Marita because she let Camille eat whatever she liked. Isn’t that funny? Both about food! Perhaps that says something about me. 🤔
I started this book 2 years ago (found it at the op shop - the Bread theme and little award sticker attracted me) and got distracted along the way, but upon picking it up recently I fell in to a new groove with it. What I loved most were the descriptions of Sydney in summer. I love reading Australian literature and being able to relate to the sights, sounds and smells described. Most of the characters bugged me a bit but there were some lovely moments along the way. Probably 3.5 stars.
Stephen embodies everything I hate about the men single-mothers bring into a home to hide behind . I hated him when I read this book years ago when I lived in Australia and -I still hate him. He's self-important, rigid and insincere. I detested this book because reading from the POV of the little girl-he's an outsider that just showed up and took over. No one likes to be invaded.