Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Vera Wright Trilogy by Elizabeth Jolley

Finally, with the help of a pen and a notebook I found my book reviewing mojo, unfortunately, just before falling into a dreadful life funk that actually rendered me incapable of simply typing up all this delicious blog content that I actually wrote in advance of when I need to post it. I've been reading pretty consistently this week, but only because it provides the sort of escapism I feel like my life is sorely in need of just now.

Now, enough of me and my everpresent #blogfail monologue. We've nearly forgotten the good news. I'm reviewing books starting with this daunting trilogy review. I read The Vera Wright Trilogy quite a while ago. June, maybe. It's been sitting on my desk laughing at my helpless efforts to summarize and review it ever since. It defies my best efforts even now, since I'm concerned that my review makes it sound like I was pretty "meh" about the book, but really I wasn't. I liked it. It was just...long. And defies adequate reviewing.

Originally published individually, The Vera Wright Trilogy is Persea Books' compilation of celebrated Australian author Elizabeth Jolley's three autobiographical novels My Father's Moon, Cabin Fever, and The Georges' Wife. Vera Wright is a complex character. She wants love and to belong somewhere but never seems to find her place. She is easily taken in by captivating people that wander into and out of her life, people who have the passion and charisma that Vera always seems to find lacking in herself. She bounces from friend to friend and one romantic entanglement to another as she tries to define herself and carve out a place to belong.

The trilogy follows Vera as she leaves school to become a nurse during World War II, as she bears a doctor's illegitimate child, as she falls in love with both men and women who are forbidden to her. All three stories are told through a haze of memory as if events and people are being plucked from her subconscious and replayed and reconsidered from a distance. The result is a genuine and compelling, if occasionally circuitous, narrative. The lack of a straightforward chronology and an occasional repetitiveness can be confusing, but ultimately, it all works together to create a tone that encompasses the reflective nature of the book.

We are taken along for the ride as Vera examines herself from beyond the immediacy of her life's mistakes and all those events that she can't quite decide were mistakes at all. Jolley's story told through Vera's eyes is spare, crisp, and wise, and The Vera Wright Chronicles reads like a classic opening a window on the life of a woman trying to find her place in England and in Australia during and after World War II.

At more than 500 pages, The Vera Wright Trilogy is a work that requires some patience and perhaps more attentiveness than I've been accustomed to giving books lately. That said, it's a beautiful character study. The uniting of all three works into one volume does great things for the consistent development of this intriguing character. Vera is a character that despite her many flaws and poor decisions, I could relate to on an almost visceral level, and a character that we come to know deeply by the end of the trilogy. Despite her attention to Vera, Jolley never gives her many supporting characters the short shrift, rather she draws clear and penetrating portraits of each of them and gives us reason to see why, however bad they might be for her, Vera can't help but be attracted to them, and have the course of her life altered by them.

The Vera Wright Trilogy is a rich and layered reading experience. It's a brilliant study of character and memory. It's a book to let yourself get lost in.

(My copy provided by the folks at Meryl Zegarek PR. Thanks!)

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that might be a good one to read when it gets really cold this winter.