Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 8, 2018

My Father’s Moon (1989), by Elizabeth Jolley, guest review by Margaret (Meg) Broughton


First edition (Viking 1989)

It is my very great pleasure to host a guest review from a regular reader who often comments here at ANZ LitLovers.  Margaret (Meg) Broughton is from Melbourne, and she has very kindly agreed to share her review of My Father’s Moon for #Elizabeth Jolley Week.

My Father’s Moon is a very sombre read. It’s the first book of three that form a fictional autobiography of Vera Wright.  The story is narrated through Vera’s memories – which are not in order and therefore it can be confusing at times.  Jolley has drawn on her own life of loneliness, despair, shame, and self-doubt to create Vera. 

“Loneliness – If I had spoken in the train I could have said, “Ramsden,” I could have said, “I feel sad. Lately I seem unable to prevent a feeling of melancholy which comes over me as soon as I wake up. I feel nervous and muddled and everything is accompanied by a sense of sorrow and futility. Should I join a sect?”

But Vera is not Elizabeth Jolley, even though there are similarities in the two lives.  Vera is from a loving Quaker family and Quaker educated. She is a misfit, and she is naïve and awkward. She struggles with life and its rules. And it is during the war years as a student nurse at St Cuthbert’s, her life education begins.

Hospital staff and work provide testing dilemmas  for Vera.  She  nurses injured soldiers with horrific injuries.

“I am not able to put out of my mind the eyes of a man who is asleep but unable to close his eyes. The putrid smell of wounded flesh comes with me to my room…” 

A lesbian relationship; music and poetry; and even reading the bible provide some comfort for Vera.

Vera loves freely and with innocence, but these loves are always hidden.

“The feeling I have of being able to reach out to take the sky in both hands is one of the restful things I have ever known…these possibilities are connected in an undefined way with Dr Metcalf and how I feel towards him, and then there is Gertrude…Two separate people but joined together because of how I feel about them”.

Dr Metcalf and his wife Magda take Vera under their questionable care.  Vera’s affair with Dr Metcalf at the hospital forces her to leave as an unmarried mother.  She then has no option but to take on a job at the boarding school of Fairfields.  Another bad choice by Vera.

In the novel Vera’s main solace is the moon because it connects her with her father.

“The moon belongs to my father: He has always said it was his. If I was over there he would know without my telling him…‘And because of this … you must know that I am not far away. You must never feel lonely’.”

But on the last page when the Easter moon is rising Vera does not think of her father, but of Ramsden. She will go searching for Ramsden.

A disturbing read, but the writing is compelling.  I enjoy Elizabeth Jolley’s writing, her dark humour and insights are so revealing. I must read Cabin Fever, the second of the trilogy. ‘

‘a novel I believe in’: reading Elizabeth Jolley’- Sydney Open Journals

This novel (Jolley’s ninth) is one that I haven’t read, though its autobiographical origins are familiar to me from reading Doing Life, Leonard Dibble’s 2008 biography of Jolley.  Sue at Whispering Gums has reviewed My Father’s Moon too, and she also found it an uncomfortable novel that required concentration to keep track.  But by the sound of both Meg and Sue’s reflections on the novel,  it illuminates aspects of Jolley’s life in a way that a biography never can, so now it’s on my wishlist.

Many thanks, Meg!

 Author: Elizabeth Jolley
Title: My Father’s Moon
Publisher: Viking (Melbourne) 1989 (I think that Viking was by then the literary fiction imprint of Penguin Books)
ISBN: 0670822671 / 9780670822676 (First edition hardback)


  1. Oh, how wonderful that Meg did a guest review for you Lisa. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks too for the link.

    Like Meg I have yet to read Cabin fever and The George’s wife (I think that’s the third one) in this trilogy. I should have done it for this Week, but I chose another that’s been on my TBR for a long time.


  2. I like hosting guest reviews, it’s always good to have different voices here on the blog and Meg has made some very good points about this book.
    I’ve read Cabin Fever, out of order, and #doh! not even realising at the time that it was semi-autobiographical! So I think I should read the whole trilogy, in order, before too much longer…


  3. I have this trilogy as an e-book. I was going to read and review the first book but decided to go with one that doesn’t seem to have been read as much.


    • *chuckle* It’s always so hard to choose! I see that Meg who’s rad all three says the order won’t matter, so go for whichever one appeals, I say:)


  4. First, what a creepy cover 😱. Second, what a great review! Third, I have the last in this trilogy in my TBR. I bought it not knowing it was part of a trilogy and so have been reluctant to read it without reading the others first. I’m wondering if it would work as a stand-alone read?


    • Yes, it is a creepy cover, it makes me think of that novel with the alien children in the village, what was it called?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Kimbofo, thank you. You could read The George’s Wife without reading the other two books in the trilogy. I have just finished Cabin Fever, the second in the trilogy and it retells parts from My Father’s Moon. Jolley, also does this in ‘The George’s Wife’, The only problem I see is that you will miss out on some more wonderful writing! Elizabeth Jolley has a dark side, hence maybe the cover..


    • I’m starting to think that I need to re-read them all, maybe from first published to last….


  6. […] Wright, the central character from My Fathers Moon (see Meg’s review) is now on the 24th floor of a New York Hotel.  She is suffering from Cabin Fever (which is a […]


  7. Thank you Meg, Thank you Lisa. I love autobiographical fiction. I’m way behind in my EJ week reading, but there was a short story earlier that drew on Jolley’s nursing too. Now I’m not sure whether to read Doing Time first or to read this trilogy.


  8. […] See Meg’s guest review at ANZ LitLovers […]


  9. […] can see Meg’s reviews of the first two in the trilogy by clicking these links: My Father’s Moon and Cabin Fever. These reviews of Jolley’s semi-autobiographical novels prompt me to make […]


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