Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 27, 2015

Mr Wigg, by Inga Simpson #BookReview

Mr WiggHmm.  I wish I could remember why I went to the trouble of reserving this at the library…

(Though I doubt that anyone who likes sentimental novels reads this blog of mine), if you like sentimental novels you will love it.  Set in 1971, it’s the story of a dear old man determined to spend the rest of his days pottering around in his beloved orchard, cooking his own produce with his grandchildren and reminiscing about his wife who died of cancer a year ago.  The novel is structured into the four seasons and follows the harvest, with occasional side-trips into the past.  There is a mild excursion into considering the issue of risk-versus-safety for the elderly, but the tone of the book makes it clear that there will be no nasty surprises.  No, he’s not going to have a fall and wake up in hospital and thence to Aged Care.

There is a lot about fruit, and the making of preserves.  There is a lot about dear little children learning to cook with Grandpa.  There is a lot about a hard-working son, and his anxieties about his father.  There are a lot of Grandpa’s stories about the King and Queen of Peaches.  Did I mention that there is a lot about fruit trees?  (Mr Wigg hears the peaches sneering at the nectarines which he tried to discourage; nectarines tended to bruise easily).

The trees fell quiet while being pruned; and those yet to go under the blade looked on soberly.  Mr Wigg expected it caused them some pain, but they had never complained. It seemed they understood the necessity of it, and trusted him to do it properly.  Without pruning, without him, they were more prone to disease, and the quality of their fruit would diminish.  (p. 121)

But where there was a nod to social issues, it set my teeth on edge.

Mr Wigg watches the National Service conscription lottery with some concern, acknowledging that it wasn’t right that 20 year-olds could be sent away to war when they didn’t even have the vote.  But he doesn’t vote against it.  We know this because he knows who placed the only two Labor votes in their local booth.  Mr Wigg is a nice old man but he’s also one of those people who had a vague feeling that there was a moral issue to be dealt with, but chose not to engage with it.  And by choosing not to engage with it, was complicit in sending young men away to war.

(BTW with the conscription of the boy next door there is an error of fact:  National Servicemen were not sent their kit in advance so that they could farewell the neighbours and set off to do their basic training in a new uniform, all ironed and stiff.   They assembled at a barracks where they departed by bus, in civvies, for basic training.  In Melbourne they assembled at Batman Avenue for transfer to Puckapunyal.  I know, because in January 1970 I was there).

Mr Wigg – a man who seems not to know the power of his vote –  chose also not to engage with the issue of apartheid in South Africa.  From the lofty position of a White Australian who had been granted suffrage since 1902, he disapproved of the sporting boycotts which sent a powerful message to White South Africa.  His sympathies lie with the players and the spectators.  Unable to think past his own interest in cricket and rugby, he doesn’t understand that the boycotts were about human rights, not politics.  It’s as if the author is channelling Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

This apartheid business was no good at all, but to his mind, politics had no place in sport.  Not in this country.  It wasn’t as if it was the players’ fault. (p.184)

And then there’s Mr Wigg’s daughter, as close to a villain as this book can come.  I suspect that the author has taken some licence with legal matters in The Year Everything Went Wrong (capitals, sic):

When the fancy letter from their daughter’s solicitor had turned up in the mail, he and his wife had sat around the table for an hour or so with tea, trying to make sense of it.  In the end, Mrs Wigg had gone and called their son.  Their daughter-in-law had had to get him down off the roof.  When he arrived, his nails were black from cleaning out the gutters.

‘Huh,’ he’d said.  The back of his neck all red.

‘What’s it mean?’ Mrs Wigg said, from by the stove.

His son looked up.  ‘It means, Mum, that she’s going to take us to court if we don’t sell the farm and give her half the money.’ (p. 177)

Last time I looked, offspring had to wait until their parents were dead before they could mount a legal challenge to their inheritance or lack of it.  But whatever about that, this daughter (who is not named, I think, though I’m not prepared to re-read the book to be sure) is a one-dimensional figure who is too unreasonable to agree that the male offspring always gets the farm and the female gets nothing:

As much as he’d tried, Mr wig hadn’t been able to sort things out with his daughter. His son had tried to reason with her, shown her all the figures.  Explained the farm would be useless split in two – barely supporting a family as it was – and that he couldn’t buy her out.  His son had again offered to pay her deposit on a house, prepared to borrow some money to give her a more generous amount, but nothing seemed to appease her.  (p. 145)

Again, I’m not prepared to re-read the book to be sure, I think this exchange is the only time we see the daughter’s PoV:

‘It’s prehistoric,’ Dad.’

Mr Wigg sighed.  ‘There are practical considerations when it comes to family and property, these things don’t change.’

‘Just because something has always been done that way doesn’t make it right,’ she said.  ‘It’s blatant sexism.’ She’d let her hair grow long again, which normally suited her but today her face was almost the same shade of red.  ‘Out there in the real world, women are fighting for equal pay.’ (p. 129)

Inheritance issues are huge in farming families, but the one-sided approach in Mr Wigg pays only lip-service to the invidious position that daughters confront.  This is the limitation of writing the book entirely from Mr Wigg’s perspective.

But hey, this is a warm-hearted Women’s Weekly nostalgia read, it won a People’s Choice award somewhere, and there’s even a reader at Goodreads who was reminded of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  It cracked a gig on the Radio National Books and Arts Show.  What more can I say?

Author: Inga Simpson
Title: Mr Wigg
Publisher: Hachette, 2013
ISBN: 9780733630194
Source: Kingston Library.


Responses

  1. Well not for me, but I’d never heard of it anyway. Far too sentimental for my tastes too.

    • Then I’ve done a good job of warning you off – LOL you might otherwise have scoured the online book world for a copy!

  2. Warm-hearted. That’s a tip off.


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