Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 10, 2015

Trio (2015), by Geraldine Wooller


I am in two minds about Trio, the fourth novel of Western Australian author, Geraldine Wooller.  On the one hand it is a wise and thoughtful depiction of the bonds of friendship over many decades, but on the other, it is a novel that lacks narrative drive.  It’s rather like eavesdropping on a café conversation; enjoyable enough, but there’s no great impetus to stay and listen to the end of it.

But I stayed with it, interested enough in the lives of the characters, enjoying the nostalgia, and chuckling in recognition at the pontificating about aspects of modern life.

The trio comprises Celia, Marcia and Mickey who become friends in London in the 1960s.  All three want to work in the theatre industry but only ever succeed on its margins.  Celia (the Australian) is a set designer; Marcia (who’s English) is an actor; and Mickey (from Ireland) is a director.  Their friendship is close, and it sometimes involves sex, but it’s not a menage-a-trois and it’s not a competition between the two women for the man.  No, in this novel the betrayal that really hurts is a failure to pass on contact details so that a possible job is missed…

Over five decades the three move between the UK, Italy and Perth, and Celia and Marcia take up other work while Mickey struggles on with drink for solace.  But their only long-term relationships are with each other, and even that suffers the strain of estrangement towards the end of their lives.  Theirs is not the rock-solid friendship that endures all: it’s messy, fragile and desultory.  Told mostly through the perspective of the women, the novel is at its best in depicting the interior lives of its characters: the thoughts unexpressed; the doubts; the debates of conscience; and the regrets.  There are lovely allusions to plays, books and music that permeate the characters’ lives, and there are also asides that place events firmly in their era, as when Mickey bemoans Margaret Thatcher’s changes to dole eligibility so that theatre people could no longer rely on it between jobs.

Trio is a quiet, reflective work that feels autobiographical in origin.  Some snippets made me wonder, was this a preoccupation of the character, or the author?

In the late afternoon of the next day, she left her house to buy a couple of food items.  Putting on a coat she noticed two buttons missing: must attend to that.  There was a mercer’s not far away where they sold all kinds of old-fashioned things, where women customers and staff murmured about wool thickness and alternative types of stitch, in voices one only heard now in this kind of store.  She could think of no other place where this kind of quiet exchange took place, certainly not libraries any more, where people did talk if they felt like it and no one checked them. Though most visitors were now sitting in front of a wretched computer, clicking and pressing buttons. (p. 169)

I have my suspicions…

Other reviews are at the SMH and Readings.

Update: 20/4/15 Thanks to the author for the correction, the trio meet in the 1960s, not the 70s as I had previously written.  And no, she says, it’s not autobiographical.

Author: Geraldine Wooller
Title: Trio
Publisher: Transit Lounge, 2015
ISBN: 9781921924781
Review copy courtesy of Transit Lounge


Fishpond: Trio
Or direct from Transit Lounge where there are also book group notes.


  1. Hi again Lisa,

    I finished this last night, and I concur with your assessment of the quiet wisdom and the intriguing character interiority. Having been dismayed by the editing and structuring of the first half of the book, I think it comes into its own in the latter half – the good stuff becomes quite compelling and the irritations become less insistent. I also take your point about a lack of tension, but I would argue for the relevance of the ‘quiet’ novel or ‘the novel of ideas’. I think too many books these days are actually over-plotted to an extent that becomes artificial.


    • Yes, there is definitely a place for quiet novels of ideas. And as you read on, the plot (such as it is) seems more and more appropriate as the characters age. BTW I finished The Strays this morning, and am so grateful to you for alerting me to it:)


      • My pleasure, Lisa. It’s good, isn’t it? Review to follow shortly, I suppose…:)

        Liked by 1 person

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