My hand hovered over the Sharon McCone mystery, which I thought would be a quick and easy read for the 1977 Club, but then something in me decided to pick up the unexpected. I have looked at Jessica Andersons's Tirra Lirra by the River so many times but then passed over it in favor of something else. I feel like reading outside the norm a bit, and after getting a taste of the story and writing in the first few pages, I think I made the right choice. (I still want to read that Sharon McCone story, but its day will come, too).
I have owned my copy for ages and meant to get to it last summer when I was Wintering Down in Australia, but there were so many books to choose from I didn't get to even half what I had set out for reading choices. (I wonder where I should virtually/literarily travel to this summer--it has not felt like spring even so to think about summer reading seems crazy, but it is really time to give it some thought!). It has been reissued by Melville House in their Neversink Library Series, but I have an old Penguin edition.
Just to orient things a little, the title comes from Tennyson's ballad "The Lady of Shallot" (which per the wikipedia "tells the tale of a female artist who meets a tragic end when she attempts to move beyond artistic isolation"). The story is about Nora Porteous who left Australia and an unhappy marriage for London and in the opening pages of the story sees her return home as a much older woman. I am curious to see how her reflections back on her life will compare to the Tennyson quote.
A little teaser or two for you to get a taste of her writing. By the way the novel is written in first person from Nora's perspective. In the excerpt Nora is arriving at her childhood home being helped by a neighbor with her bags.
"I enter the hall, finding the echoes immediately familiar, and he falls in behind me, coughing rather respectfully. Through the long mirror of that big hall stand I see a shape of an old woman who began to call herself old before she really was, partly to get in first and partly out of fastidiousness about the word 'elderly', but who is now really old. She has allowed her shoulders to slump. I press back my shoulders and make first for the living room."
And thinking back (already) about her London life and the flat she must have shared with other women:
"I am beginning to see our little coterie at number six through other eyes. We would often say to each other, describing incidents that had happened 'outside', 'oh, he thought me 'quite mad'. It was our happy assumption that everyone outside world thought us quite mad. But now I am finding that when one is really outside, and alone, it is less of a burden (and much more private) to be thought quite ordinary. Besides, I am too tired at present to insist upon my madness. So I lower my hand, and speak in a reassuring voice."
I am intrigued by Nora and am looking forward to hearing more about her life. Although not planned this way, I am also rereading a favorite Judy Blume book, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, which is about a young girl--so on the other end of the age spectrum. It seems a nice balance, that. More about both books later! Are you reading for the 1977 Club, too?