Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 29, 2020

Melting Moments, by Anna Goldsworthy

‘Melting Moments’ are super-sweet biscuits, which are totally delicious but cloyingly sweet if you eat too many of them.  They are a good metaphor for Anna Goldsworthy’s venture into writing fiction.

Ruby Jenkins marries in patriotic haste during WW2, because that’s what women did in those days.  (Or so this book would have you believe).  She has been to charm school, learned the importance of having a feminine presence, and is ready to please a man because that’s how things are.  (Or so this book would have you believe.)  She has a tiresome caricature of a mother-in-law, who conforms to all the stereotypes, because that’s how mothers-in-law were.  (Or so this book would have you believe.) And eventually, she has a Whitlam-era daughter, who rebels against conservative norms and has A Life of Her Own.  (Or so this book would have you believe.)  On and off, Ruby questions her missed opportunities, which mostly revolve around men (and not, for instance, on whether she might have taken advantage of the Whitlam reforms to get herself the education that she missed out on, and then take up the late-start career that launched so many of us into independence and self-fulfilment).

Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique aside, we all know women who did not conform to these stereotypes, and Melting Moments would be a much more interesting novel if the characterisation cast a wider net to include them.

(My late MIL, born in 1924, for instance, was at Monash at the same time as The Spouse, and graduated with her Bachelor of Social Work in 1978, thanks to Whitlam who gave women these opportunities by making university free. I should add that she had left school early to go to work, not because her family was hard up, but because of the shortage of manpower during WW2.)

There is a novel waiting to be written about the tectonic shifts in social norms that took place in the sixties and seventies.  The relationship between mothers who missed out and daughters who didn’t is also well worth exploring in fiction.  But the relentlessly domestic Melting Moments is not that book.

Nobody else thinks so.  See

I wonder what Accidental Feminist Jane Caro would think about our era being characterised in this way.  I wish she would review this book…

Image credit: Melting Moments biscuits: Australian Women’s Weekly Food, https://www.womensweeklyfood.com.au/recipes/melting-moments-15030

Author: Anna Goldsworthy
Title: Melting Moments
Cover design by Sandy Cull
Publisher: Black Inc, (Schwarz Books), 2020
ISBN: 9781863959988
Source: Personal library, purchased from Benn’s Books Bentleigh

 


Responses

  1. I heard Anna Goldsworthy interviewed a few months ago at the height of Covid. Her comparison with post war Australia made me think she doesn’t have a grip on reality. I thought I would find this book rather irritating…. your review confirms it.

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    • Thanks for this Lilly Pilly, I shall have to listen to that interview…

      Like

      • Now that I’ve listened to the interview, which reveals that the novel’s genesis is her grandmother’s stories, I think I understand what’s going on: either her grandmother kept her frustrations to herself, or Goldsworthy herself has self-censored anything that didn’t fit the family narrative that Grandma was perfectly happy and had a ‘fulfilling life’ with only occasional glimpses of what might have been, never acted on. Ironically she touches on not ever really knowing another person, but she doesn’t realise that she doesn’t really know her characters. The way she generalises about ‘women of that generation’ really is irritating because it’s so patronising. It’s as if she doesn’t realise that the changes of the 60s and 70s were *second* wave feminism, i.e. there was a first wave. And she also doesn’t seem to realise that the catalyst for that second-wave was that women had reinvented themselves during the war and did more, much more than ‘keep the home fires burning’—and were then furious about being relegated back to domesticity when the men came home.
        And yes, the nonsense about COVID_19 and returning to the pleasures of the house such as baking, being comparable with WW2 when people managed to flourish…
        And *oh please* the politics of baking!

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  2. This is one I definitely won’t read thanks Lisa!

    For a while I was employed by the universities admissions centre of NSW assessing student applications for further degrees. I remember looking at one which had a couple of (high passing) completed BAs in diverse subject areas and a couple of degrees commenced but then discarded early on – I was curious and took a look at the student information page out of interest. Turned out it was a woman in her 70s who, I realised, was happily spending her retirement years studying the things that interested her and ceasing any course which turned out not to be what she’d hoped.

    I thought what a great way to spend retirement, happily getting the education she had never had access to earlier in life! I was very happy to be able to give her the OK to go ahead and do a further degree – I hope she’s still happily studying out there somewhere! Way to go girl!

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    • What a wonderful job to have! Opening a gateway to further learning:)

      Today the narrative about the free university fees is all about how it didn’t result in greater socioeconomic diversity but we never hear anything about the women who did the special entry exam because they hadn’t finished high school and then entered the university to earn a degree. I knew so many women who’d left school at 16 and in their 30s and 40s were training to teach. They made wonderful teachers because they had experience of the wider world, and were mostly parents too. The talents of those women would never have been used if they hadn’t had the opportunity to study.

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  3. How I envied those women making their way to more independence and education even though I marched in Sydney with my dear mother at the International Women’s Day in 1974. It was another 20years before I entered university and will never forget the excitement. Post divorce and the good fortune to encounter some generous people helped me begin a new life and forever grateful. My three at university were the best years of my life and the joy of receiving that degree has never lost it’s glow.
    Well I remember that wonderful evening the Whitlam labor government took the reins and had the great pleasure of meeting the ‘great man’ and his equal ‘great woman and wife’. The longer I live the more I resist the ‘stereotyping’ of any human being.
    It seems hard to believe that it’s still a struggle for so many woman and that I am one of the fortunates.

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    • It’s great to hear that you got there in the end. Some of my mature aged friends at teachers’ college were post-divorce too, and quite apart from their rights to self-determination and an education that suited their talents, it was also much better for them to get off welfare and into independence.

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  4. The title of this novel would put me off, but your review has convinced me my bias is well founded! I don’t think this is for me…

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    • I hope you checked a couple of the other reviews too… this book has been widely praised so maybe it’s just a generation gap issue.

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  5. Sounds very, very annoying….

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting pkst. I wish my mother would have finished her univ education. She married and quit singing the operas she loved. Being a housewife drove her to the bottle and life was not the same again. Don’t think I’ll read this. It doesn’t sound dark enough. 😁😁😁

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    • Yes, that’s why I think the novel about the relationship between mothers and daughters is yet to be written. It was galling for mothers who’d done the domestic thing to see their daughters spread their wings, and even when they loved their daughters and were proud of them, well, they wouldn’t be human if there weren’t some resentment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. If I was you, Lisa, I’d review books that resonate for me and maybe leave those books that don’t work for you off the list. You may not intend it, but your review comes across here as overly harsh. I too remember the sixties and seventies and there were many such characters as you describe from your reading of Anna Goldsworthy’s book, as much as there were others like your mother in law who rebelled. I’ve written before in relation to your review on Carrie Tiffany’s Exploded View, how when we read, we tend to have a countertransference type response to the writing. A type of resonating to the material on the basis of who we are and where we’ve come from. And that response can change over time and in different circumstances.
    Therefore, it’s important to reflect on why we feel as we do in reading a particular book, not just denigrate it because we don’t like hearing about a significant issue in our community, in this case, what you call ‘domestic’. This book may not be for everyone. No book ever is, but sometimes a harsh review based on our own prejudices and experience is not a balanced review. And to my mind does a disservice not only to the writer but also to readers.

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    • Well, Elisabeth, I have published your analysis of my psychological state when reading and writing reviews…
      but I stand by what I wrote. I thought that this book was ordinary and that it misrepresents an entire generation of women. (Most) people read my blog (and have been reading it for years) because I share my honest opinion, and that is what I shall continue to do.
      Anna Goldsworthy has enough positive reviews, to which in the interests of fairness, my readers have been directed with the links at the bottom of my review, to withstand my opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s your blog, Lisa, and can review whatever you want to review. I always appreciate bloggers that cover the gamut of good and bad books because it is a more authentic picture of a person’s reading life. I thought your review was balanced out by the links to more positive reviews. Plus, you’ve given me a nice snapshot of this story which suggests it’s a little superficial and because I like my fiction to be layered and thought provoking and full of issues and themes to consider I can see this one probably isn’t for me.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks Kim… a blog is, as you say, a record of a person’s reading life…

          Liked by 1 person

  8. This is the best blog Lisa and it gives me a touchstone with writers and other readers that I would probably not encounter. I have minimum engagement with other readers/writers so I appreciate your promotion of Australian literature even though sometimes the books are not to my taste it gives me a great deal of information and exposes me to books I would never know of otherwise. You are brilliant. Thanks as always.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Fay, I am humbled by your kind words, thank you :)

      Like


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