Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 6, 2015

Sensational Snippets: The Landing (2015), by Susan Johnson

The Landing As I expected to, I am really enjoying reading Susan Johnson’s new novel, The Landing.  The characterisation is as usual, brilliant.   Here she is, capturing both the personal and the political in this snippet about her character Penny Collins, a frustrated artist, fulfilling her dreadful mother’s predictions:

Marie assumed, always, that Penny would become an art teacher.  ‘She is studying to be a teacher,’ she said, no matter how many times Penny insisted that she intended to be a full time artist. ‘How can you possibly study to be an artist?’ Marie said.  ‘Did Michelangelo get a degree from the Italian College of Art?’ Marie understood culture all right; she understood Europe had culture, great paintings, great buildings, great art, and that Australia did not.  An Australian artist was an oxymoron; Aboriginal art did not count and the paintings of Nolan and Drysdale and Boyd were pale imitations, faint echoes.  For years Penny tried to rid her mother of her prejudices, taking her to shows and galleries, to an exhibition of new paintings by Wendy Sharpe and William Robinson. ‘I don’t understand what I’m looking at,’ she said.

Like a curse, like some logical, inevitable fable, Penny grew up and turned into a teacher.  She made one last, honourable effort to become a full-time artist, but nothing she made satisfied her, nothing seemed original or bold or magnificent enough, everything was only half good.  She strove for an aesthetic perfection she could never reach, and every day she did not reach it was a misery, the febrile pressure she placed on herself impossible to bear.  She cold not transfer to the canvas the perfect illuminated world inside her head; she was her own harshest critic and could not accept work she knew was not first rate.  In the end, art had to be wonderful or nothing; there was zero in between.  That was the faltering year she was twenty-five and trying to get a French passport, trying to be French, and obsessively, neurotically trying to paint perfection and turn herself into an artist.  She did not believe it was a bad thing to be a teacher, not at all; she believed there were charismatic, gifted teachers who changed lives, teachers for whom teaching was a vocation.  She had seen such teachers in action, teachers capable of changing the direction of a human life, like God altering the direction of a river, but she was not one of them.  Penny was a teacher because she was not going to be an artist.  Art was not going to repair what living had wrecked and now she could not find a way to live her life as if it were her own.

The Landing, by Susan Johnson, Allen and Unwin, 2015, p175-6

PS Ignore the inane headless-female-from-the-rear cliché cover design, especially if it comes with one of those off-putting ‘Read it, Love it’ stickers like mine did.  Really, A&U, one of Australia’s best contemporary novelists deserves better than this!


  1. This subject is close to my heart. And I like the way it is written. Hopefully the book will come over to Jakarta.

    I had never heard of Susan Johnson. I don’t know much about the landscape of contemporary Australian fiction, in fact. Thanks for spotlighting Johnson. I’m off to Google her now.


    • Hello:)
      Susan has an international profile, so if you can access the big international online stores like the Book Depository or Amazon, you might be able to find her books there. Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh thank goodness! The book sounds great! I think I was put off by the cover. How unoriginal. It’s very similar to Runaway Wife.


    • Yes, that’s the other thing that makes me cross, the way the same stock photos keep being recycled.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s done quite a lot. The photo on one of my favourite books by Belinda Castles – Hannah and Emil I’ve seen on two other books


        • I remember a few years back that one of the books that won a design award had exactly the same cover pic as something else that I’d read…it’s a disgrace.


          • I can’t understand someone simply doing a basic search (obviously an easy to find photo) and then adding some writing across the top and getting paid for it! My publisher Matt Ward did a much better job with Crossing Paths!


            • Exactly. But it’s not that person’s fault. It’s the fault of the publisher who has such a limited understanding of design and how it matters.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Yes granted. But still as I graphic designed I would want to have achieved more than that, if you know what I mean


                • Yes, I think it would be rather unsatisfying just to churn out the same-old thing and to know that the people who commissioned it weren’t expecting much anyway.

                  Liked by 1 person

                • Good point Lisa. It’s a sort of vicious circle.


  3. […] mocking her ambition to be an artist and not the teacher that she has had to settle for. (See this Sensational Snippet from the novel).  That’s the trouble with parents, Johnson knows.  They can be difficult […]


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