Wednesday, April 25, 2012

fact or fiction

Cookbooks, newspapers, magazines, biographies, parenting books; non-fiction tends to fill my reading 'diet'. Last week though I had in my hands a book of fiction that had me reading it at the kitchen bench, in the car parked outside River's school gate and by torch light at night while Sol slept in bed next to me.

Melbourne author Peggy Frew's book House of Sticks is her first novel released late last year. I read a review of it when it was released and made a mental note to seek a copy out. It has taken me until now to secure a copy from the local library where it has been on a reserve waiting list for many months. And now I know why.
Caring for small children full time can be curiously isolating work (I say curiously because despite being surrounded by other mothers and their children it is isolating from one's self that isn't defined by being a mother) and for the past week, Bonnie the central character in House of Sticks became my companion on the motherhood line of duty. Frew succeeds in creating a captivating tale out of the ordinary happenings of family life and for me the key to that success was in the engaging characters particularly Bonnie, a stay at home mum who has put on hold being a musician to raise her young family, twin five year olds Louie and Edie and baby girl Jess.

The love between Bonnie and her partner Pete is tested by the demands of raising young children without support from extended family and by the presence of Pete's old mate Doug whose life is defined by hard times and Pete feels obliged to extend the hand of friendship and take him on to work in his business making furniture. Bonnie's frustration simmers away as Doug takes advantage of Pete's generosity sauntering in and out of their home and Pete's backyard workshop eating their food and some days not turning up to work. Doug has an unnerving edge to him that leaves you guessing which way his actions will turn the story.

Frew writes of a fraught relationship between Bonnie and her mother Suzanne. A reluctant grandmother, Suzanne squeezes in an hour each week between her work commitments and playing bridge to spend with her daughter and grandchildren at the local pool. When Bonnie is pushed to dig deep and call on her mother for  extra help with the children she does so with trepidation. Will Suzanne come to the party?

The other relationship Frew captures eloquently is the bond between mothers shown through Bonnie and her friend Mel. They share their woes grabbing snatches of conversation when dropping their children at kinder, or over coffee and babycinos at the local cafe and via text message. Mel is the friend that every mother feels blessed to have on her side.

Frew's observations and descriptions of the subtle details of the tensions and joys of family life connected me instantly to these characters and their story. I cared about what happened to them and read each page holding hope that all would work out well for each of them. Even Doug.

I am yet to meet a mother of small children who has not felt the relentlessness of parenting and domestic tasks weigh heavily on their spirit at times, it seems to be part of the job description and I'm still working out if or how that can be different. Until I come up with that answer I find solace in reading the stories of other women's lives be they fact or fiction.

Read a review here of House of Sticks and an interview with Peggy Frew here.

Happy wednesday to you all.


  1. Hi! I just came across your wonderful blog and have decided to be one of your avid readers from now on. I have two young ones below the age of 4 and I can see where you are coming from when it comes to caring for very young children. At this moment, I sit in bed nursing a cold, and wondering how I will care for my two who are not in school!

    It's tiring because they draw their life energies from us. The only way I am able to replenish this energy is to carry out an activity that nourishes my own soul. For now, I am thankful that I can sing and play the piano. This refills my energy levels and is a Los a for, of entertainment for the children.

    But I am still terrified. Maybe it's the cold I am nursing...


  2. A very big welcome to you Mamakong lovely to have you here and thank you for your heartfelt words. I feel for you having a cold and little people to care for but sometimes it is enforced rest you would otherwise not take. I hope you have at least one grown up near to cook you some soup. Singing and piano sounds like wonderful nourishment! I can relate, I often sing out any tensions that build up during the day and agree it refills energy levels. Not sure how entertaining it is for my children! Rest well.


Thanks for your comments. I read every one!

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