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Time is the Longest Distance

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Set in the harsh desert of the Australian outback, Time Is the Longest Distance is a moral story of immorality in a place where “night comes on like a door slamming shut.”

Lilly, a 45-year-old New Yorker, is persuaded by her newly-found father, Cameron, to take on the Canning Stock Route, the most difficult outback track in the country. Crossing the dead heart of the Great Sandy and Gibson deserts, she is joined by her half-brother, Grant, and his twenty-something daughter, Jen.

Like a moon walker far from her life, Lilly becomes entangled in an unlikely love affair and witness to an unsavory death. The hard days and long nights provide time and space for Lilly to recall the years with her ex-husband, Stephen, artist and all-around drunk—the greatest love and disappointment in her life—forcing her to examine her own imperfections as she learns, first-hand, about the power and destruction of secrets, sexual taboos, and the thrill of transgression.

216 pages, Paperback

Published December 11, 2018

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Janet Clare

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Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews
Profile Image for Theresa Smith.
Author 5 books163 followers
December 12, 2018
It is with mixed feelings that I write up this review of Time is the Longest Distance. I was immediately drawn into this novel, at ease with the main character, Lilly, and full of empathy for her predicament. To be told at the age of forty five that you aren’t who you always thought you were would tip even the most hardy of us off balance. Lilly already seemed a little lost within her own life, somewhat ill at ease within her relationship, as well as within her own family. That she decided to trek to Australia to meet her birth father seemed a logical step for her to take at such a fraught time.

‘The isolation here is staggering, like the magnificent desolation of distant planets.’

Now, this is where the story seemed to veer off course for me. Lilly’s father was an extremely unlikable man, yet Lilly agreed to a trip across the desert with him. I might have been more convinced of the wisdom of this journey if there had been some promising beginning to their relationship, but there really wasn’t much beyond recrimination hanging in the air between them. Accompanying them was Grant and Jen, Lilly’s newfound half-brother and his daughter. Things get very ‘Flowers in the Attic’ from here on in, and quite frankly, it was weird and the less said about this, the better. Nothing improves between Lilly and her father, at all, and the culmination of this trajectory had a shock value that didn’t sit at ease within the story. It sort of just made the entire preceding journey through the outback, and even the initial trip to Australia, particularly pointless. Another aspect of this Australian part of the story that didn’t sit well with me was the depiction of indigenous Australians. It was flawed and slanted towards misrepresentation and I don’t feel it added any authenticity to the story.

So here you have my ‘two minds’. The Australian part of the story repelled me entirely, but the bookends to this appealed greatly. I don’t think a novel has split my thinking quite so much as what this one has. There is no denying the eloquent hand that Janet Clare applies to her writing. I particularly enjoyed Lilly’s reflections on her marriage and the introspective examination on the loss of Stephen’s presence within her life. I had expected this to play a greater part in the novel but with the shift in focus it ended up on the backburner for a good while before popping up again at the end in a rather character defining moment for Lilly. My liking for this novel ebbed and flowed, but I kept on reading, driven by my initial impressions. I’m giving a split rating to this one.

‘I looked over the sea of suits and thought of all the years I’d attached my success to the man I loved. History was littered with women who had given up their desires for the so-called greater good, the better artist. Sometimes though, you lost it all. Your own dreams and those you shared.’

🍵🍵 for the story

🍵🍵🍵🍵 for the writing

🍵🍵🍵 overall

Thanks is extended to the author for providing me with a copy of Time is the Longest Distance for review.
Profile Image for Azarin.
83 reviews25 followers
December 11, 2018
In Janet Clare’s impressive debut novel, Time is the Longest Distance, time acts as the catalyst for distant relationships (physical or emotional, already over or not yet built, in the present or in the past) to bring the characters together. Diving into the crystalline quality of Clare’s writing, with its strong cinematographic elements, feels like watching a movie, and at the same time having the ability to read the characters’ mind. There is an effortless undertone of poetry in Clare’s prose which accentuates the imagery of her work.
“...acacia trees, delicate as dreams, waited for a breeze.”
At 45, Lilly’s longing for whatever life she wasn’t living, plus her inability to put in the past her former husband, Stephen--perhaps the only man she truly loved--initiated her prior move from Los Angeles to New York, the city where she was born. Though she’s been with the buttoned-down, Thomas, a good man so obviously not right for her, she is a woman alone. “I'd become proficient at holding on, maintaining the magnificent daylight confidence of a capable woman.”
A sudden call from her mother, Ida, a distant and unhappy woman, beckoning Lilly back to Los Angeles as soon as possible, sets the story in motion.
“My mother had a habit of repeating herself, no doubt thinking as long as words floated around the room everyone was happy.”
Lilly’s initial reaction is that her mother must be sick, maybe dying. However, soon after arriving in L.A., “on one of those grey days when you can’t tell if it’s morning or evening,” Lilly learns the secret her mother held her entire life: that Lilly was not the child of the father she grew up with, but the product of an affair Ida had while on a trip to Australia. “Cameron W…he’s your real father.”
After the shock and an ensuing fiasco with her two older “Cinderella” sisters, Lilly immediately returns to New York. Prodded by Thomas, she contacts her father through his son, Grant, her newly-found half-brother, who invites her to come down, “like it’s a flight of stairs.” Lilly soon makes plans and, arrives in a high state of anxiety in Melbourne, where she is greeted by Jennifer, the niece she didn’t know existed. At Grant’s house, seated in the kitchen, “a cozy room, although any woman could tell it belonged to a man who lived alone…there was a brown look to it as though something had overcooked a while ago and, along with the coffee rings on the table had become a part of the décor.” Jen, obviously extraordinarily close to her father, fails to see the resemblance between him and Lilly. “My hair was darker, my skin paler. Grant had the red-brown coloring of the earth.” Together they tell her about Cameron, a man seemingly revered by his granddaughter and reviled by his son. But was anything or anyone ever that clearly drawn?
Lilly’s first meeting with Cameron, described as a rogue and a legendary explorer, is less than ideal and, disappointed, she leaves hastily, thinking she will never see him again. However, she accepts his second effort. “Wrong start,” he says. Soon, challenged by Cameron, she accepts an offer, along with Grant and Jennifer, to tackle the Canning Stock Route, “the toughest outback track in the country,” where, Lilly learns, her mother had travelled so long ago.
Arriving at Aboriginal community of Moonara, Lilly is stuck by the sparseness of outback life. “Smoke spiraled from the buildings and added to the dry cocoa air…like a sepia photograph only without the nostalgia.” Here, Cameron manages to get himself into a bar fight from which his son must rescue him, as Lilly, recognizing how completely out of her element she is, wonders about the possibly of an airlift out.
Throughout the novel, the reader discovers the unfolding of Lilly and Stephen’s love story, leading one to wonder if there had ever really been an ending. To know Lilly is to also know Stephen, and Clare intelligently weaves between the present and the past.
During the journey, Lilly hopes to learn about her father and also her mother who is far from the woman described by Cameron. Clare takes her reader to a place where you feel for the characters, have empathy for them, and yet you don’t understand them in the same way they seem to not understand themselves. This is a delicate act for the writer, exposing the truth of the story, which resembles life itself.
One of the main themes of Time is the Longest Distance is one of identity, a woman looking for herself through the idea of a possible closeness to a father she didn’t know she had. She goes on this quest to finally find her place in the world, a place to belong to, but in fact what she finds is this deep isolation and solitude. The reader understands she is still mourning the lost love of Stephen, and none of the men in her life have yet healed that wound.
“I knew how hard it was to accept that we could be wrong about the people we fall in love with.”
It is only at the end that Lilly comes to appreciate what real loss is. “It was a fallacy to think I couldn't miss what I never had.”
The poignant ending of Clare's novel leaves the reader with a striking sense of compassion for a protagonist who does everything to challenge them with her sarcasm and hidden feelings. All along in the novel, she refuses to reveal her true self and the hostility of the desert becomes a metaphor for her life: the barren landscape, the difficulty of living in such an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar family. In order to protect herself, she hides her emotions. But once her deep vulnerability and fragility are revealed, the pieces of her puzzle fall in place, and the reader wishes for Lilly to bring down her guards, recognize her qualities, embrace her flaws, and to finally move on.
Time is the Longest Distance is not a search for the lost times, à la Proust, but it is more of a self- discovery through unpeeling of a hidden past. Janet Clare, masterfully, manages to make her reader fall in love, not only with her protagonist, but also with the scenery of a world beyond the reader’s imagination. As Lilly opens up to this new possibility of love in different forms, at the same time she lets herself be hurt once again.
“I thought of how scent could awaken memory, transporting you whether or not you wanted to go… Memory often just a flash, a sound, a divine moment of light.”
Time is the Longest Distance is a short gem of a novel, and despite its exotic setting, hits home and depicts a familiar struggle without having the arrogance of finding a solution.
Profile Image for Melanie Chartoff.
Author 3 books24 followers
February 9, 2021
I couldn’t put it down except to sleep. I felt like I was on this journey with her— reckless, anxious, curious. As I wish I lived in Australia, I immersed in the outback figuratively and literally, I was in the truck, I was in her head, in the relationships.

It’s full of suspense and romance, discovery and letting go. Treat yourself to a great adventure. I look forward to more from this author.

Profile Image for Martha.
Author 8 books81 followers
September 26, 2020
I really loved this book in every possible way, first and foremost because I loved the main character, 45-year-old Lilly of New York City. A woman who’s never felt right within her family, her now-deceased father was distant and her two older sisters look and act differently than herself. Then her mother summons Lilly to California to drop the bomb: Lilly was the result of an affair her mother had while on vacation in Australia. Lilly then travels to Australia to meet a father who almost certainly has no interest in her, evidenced by the fact he never once reached out to her.

Lilly strikes me as believable and consistent. Brutally self-aware, she owns her flaws and her personality. Rather than provide one quip after another, she leaves thoughts unspoken, as we all do.

More importantly, as she navigates the strange journey that includes a half-brother and his young adult daughter, the amount of dysfunction resulting from the cover-up of the birth, and the procreation of a man who’s so clearly unsuited to fatherhood, resonates with the reality most of us endure at some level, though for different unaddressed problems.
2 reviews
December 22, 2019
I absolutely loved Time is the Longest Distance, which kept me up reading into the early morning. Janet Clare's prose is liquid and vivid, without being self-consciously poetic, and despite mythic undertones, the plot, setting, and characters feel utterly original. I can't believe this is her first novel, and I can't wait for her next. I hope she finds the huge following she deserves.
Profile Image for Janet Clare.
Author 1 book4 followers
October 27, 2018
Early Praise for Time Is the Longest Distance

“In deft, clear prose that reminds of both Cheryl Strayed and Michael Ondaatje, Janet Clare’s debut explores—in riveting, unflinching detail—a woman’s search for connection and meaning. In Lilly’s journey, with unfamiliar family in unfamiliar territory, we have a protagonist wanting in the ways we are all wanting: to find that thing that will make us complete. There are depths in these characters and I loved every word.” — Christian Kiefer, author of The Animals

“In Janet Clare’s impressive debut, Time Is the Longest Distance, Lilly, a restless New Yorker, is summoned by her mother back to Los Angeles to discover she’s in fact the product of a secret fling her mother once had with a rugged Australian.
Following her mother’s footsteps to the Antipodes, Lilly tracks down her mercurial birth father and lights upon more than she could have imagined.
In propulsive, exacting strokes, Clare deftly moves us through a time out of time in a faraway place. A taut, compelling adventure, exploring little known landscapes, and the depth and breadth of a woman’s yearning.”
David Francis, author of Stray Dog Winter, Wedding Bush Road, Agapanthus Tango

“How could you not love a novel set against the Australian outback? About fierce love, endless longing, ravenous desire, and the secrets that derail us and ruin others. A phenomenally moving experience (it’s so much more than a novel), Clare’s debut shows a complex web of relationships that shifts as much as a desert itself—and is just as gorgeous.”
Caroline Leavitt, author of Cruel Beautiful World and the New York Times bestsellers Is this Tomorrow and Pictures of You

“When Lilly, rocked by a family secret, agrees to trek through the Australian outback with her newly-discovered father, brother, and niece, the terrain is as remote and unfamiliar as her traveling companions. There in the crowded vehicle, the torment of past relationships pursues her—wanting adventure while wanting safety, feeling cramped and yet never close enough. A poignant and witty story of survival, trust, and awakening.” ―Susan Henderson, The Flicker of Old Dreams
Profile Image for Ann Epstein.
Author 33 books13 followers
November 18, 2020
As Stark and Breathtaking as the Australian Outback – Time is the Longest Distance by Janet Clare is a journey of self-discovery as stark and breathtaking as the Australian Outback. Lilly, in her mid-forties, having led an unexceptional and unsatisfactory life in California and New York, learns a secret about her birth that upends her world. In search of a past she never knew was hers, she heads to that other end of the world to meet her unknown father, half-brother, and niece. The surprises continue to come but Lilly, no longer a passive recipient, is now complicit in generating them. As a writer myself (see my Goodreads author page https://www.goodreads.com/author/show...), I appreciate Clare’s masterful pacing in introducing each shock. Embarking on the adventure of a lifetime, Lilly, the pampered city girl, crosses the rugged Outback to find out what kind of person her father is and instead learns who she is. The answer is not what she, or readers, expect. Nor is her basic nature easily accepted by Lilly, or us. Yet each revelation rings true. After all, if we’re honest with ourselves, we too never cease to ask “Who am I?” “How did I get here?” And most important, “Where am I going?”
Profile Image for Maria Paiz.
455 reviews19 followers
September 27, 2020
It's hard to believe that this book is Janet Clare's debut novel. Her writing is simply gorgeous, vivid, full of depth and witty humor, with honest characters and a solid plot full of eyebrow-raising moments.

Lilly, the protagonist, is in her 40s when she learns a family secret that will send her on a journey to the Australian outback, searching for a father she hadn't known existed. Along the way Lilly makes some decisions that can only be described as questionable and messy, but which make her believable, vulnerable, and real. Her experiences in Australia will help Lilly understand her mother's character and choices, thus bridging some of the rift in their tense relationship. Also, throughout the book we feel Lilly's nostalgia for her alcoholic ex-husband and their life together.

I'm being purposefully vague about the plot so as to not give away any clues, but I will say this: it's good, entertaining reading; the kind you read fast because you want to keep going without stopping; and finishing it has left me stranded somewhere out in that Australian desert.

This is one author that must not be missed!
6 reviews
January 27, 2019
This is a short read and I enjoyed the beginning of the story, hoped for something more as the protagonist traveled in Australia with her biological father whom she never knew existed and her 1/2 brother and niece. The author's descriptions of the desert, characters, all lovely. The story covers too much territory (pun intended) on a short journey. I think Janet Clare has potential, (first novel). Look forward to her next.
Profile Image for Barbara.
Author 9 books121 followers
January 12, 2019
I read this novel in almost one sitting. It's a short novel but I would have been perfectly happy for it to go on. Clare's book deals with a few themes and she deals with one taboo subject with such utter grace, and her ability to write about the Australian outback is sublime.
Profile Image for N..
692 reviews26 followers
January 21, 2019
An American woman goes in search of her biological father in Australia and ends up traveling across a desert track with her new family. I have mixed feelings about this book. It has a melancholy tone and deeply flawed characters but the writing is solid. I felt like I was there -- great use of the senses.
Profile Image for Michele.
475 reviews3 followers
Want to read
August 7, 2018
Caroline Leavitt recommends this book coming out in September and set in Australia.
Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews

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