This post is part of TLC Book Tours‘ blog tour for A Hundred Small Lessons
~ About the Book ~
Luminous and deeply affecting, A Hundred Small Lessons is about the many small decisions – the invisible moments – that come to make a life. The intertwined lives of two women from different generations tell a rich and intimate story of how we feel what it is to be human, and how place can transform who we are. It takes account of what it means to be mother or daughter; father or son. It’s a story of love, and of life.
When Elsie Gormley falls and is forced to leave her Brisbane home of sixty-two years, Lucy Kiss and her family move in, with their new life – new house, new city, new baby. Lucy and her husband Ben are struggling to transform from adventurous lovers to new parents and seek to smooth the rough edges of their present with memories of their past as they try to discover their future selves.
In her nearby nursing home, Elsie revisits the span of her life – the moments she can’t bear to let go; the haunts to which she might yet return. Her memories of marriage, motherhood, love and death are intertwined with her old house, whose rooms seem to breathe Elsie’s secrets into Lucy.
Through one hot, wet Brisbane summer, seven lives – and two different slices of time – wind along with the flow of the river, as two families chart the ways in which we come, sudden and oblivious, into each other’s stories, and the unexpected ripples that flow out from those chance encounters.
Genre: Literary/General Fiction
Release date: 29 March 2017
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
~ Excerpt ~
It took a moment for her to realize that there was another noise nearby, and that slammed her back to the present. She grabbed at her loud ringing phone.
Another thing she hadn’t understood all the years before Tom came along: motherhood’s terror—extremity, catastrophe, terror. The crazy swing from love to dread that could disrupt the most nondescript day. No mother she’d known had talked of it: not her sisters, nor her mother, nor the friends she’d left behind in every place they’d lived.
There were so many things to worry about—Tom himself, and the spiders in the garden; the planet; and everything in between. She couldn’t bear to watch the news. Some twins, she’d heard the edge of a report just this morning, had been starved to death by their own mother in this very city. She’d broken a plate in her hurry to switch off the radio.
Now, she scooped her phone off the counter. Ben was ringing to tell her something dreadful. Something had happened to Tom.
And then the ringing stopped, just as suddenly as it had started, and Lucy stared at the silent screen. There was no number listed.
All the smoothness, all the music’s joy fell away from her body.
She hadn’t been like this before. Easy come, easy go; easy even with the randomness of life. Now, every hiccup, every unknown, was a crevasse into which she could fall.
In other countries, she’d read once, there were spirits who traveled ahead of you in time, doing the things you’d do next. Alone in the house, she stood still to remember their name. Not a doppelgänger. Not an alter ago. Vardøger: that was it. It was Norwegian. She’d typed a paper for someone once—a professor in London, who specialized in Norse mythology—and she’d liked the sound of these creatures. “They never threaten, never frighten,” he told her. “Some people hear their vardøger; some people see them. Perhaps you hear something busily going about its business and doing whatever it does. And then, a short while later, the person themselves arrives, and does all those things. It’s like a premonition, a future self.”
The security, the comfort, of a version of yourself gone on ahead.
The Vardøger of Lucy Kiss: Ben had joked about taking the phrase as the title for a novel. But what would her future self be doing? She’d loved this game when she was pregnant with Tom, holding onto an idea of herself somewhere ahead, with her baby safely delivered. She’d always be calm, always fabulous, the kind of mother who could take a toy, a snack, from an elegant tote bag at a moment’s notice. Instead of her current self, lugging Tom’s stuff jumbled together in an old conference bag of Ben’s, in the bowels of which she could rarely find a thing.
From outside, she heard footsteps pounding along the bitumen: if that was her vardøger, it was running away.
~ Review ~
Two things drew me to this novel: The first was the description ‘Luminous and deeply affecting’, and the second was the fact that this is written by an Australian author. It’s not all that often I get to review a fellow-Australian! But in the end, I’ve been left with mixed feelings.
First of all, let me say I loved the author’s writing, and I think ‘luminous’ describes it beautifully—not just the writing itself, but also what she chooses to portray and the way she portrays it. She casts a light on everyday life in a way that illuminates the shadows and nuances and makes them deeply interesting. Take the opening chapter, for example. The very first line: “It was early on a winter’s morning when she fell—the shortest day of 2010, the woman on the radio said.” Eighty-nine year old Elsie spends most of the day, and the next several pages, lying on the floor, watching the way the light moves across the floor with the passage of the sun across the sky while she waits for someone to find her. And it was utterly transfixing.
Also engaging was the way the author portrayed Elsie’s character, in particular—the way her mind was prone to wander and confuse the past with the present. Great use of deep point-of-view. However, the fact that some scenes with Elsie were actually in the past, not just Elsie remembering the past, meant that I felt as confused at Elsie did at times! This did get easier to distinguish as the novel progressed—for me, anyway. Perhaps not so much for Elsie 😉 .
The main disappointment for me was that, despite the excellent writing, it felt as though the story lacked direction. I enjoyed the individual chapters, but they often seemed unrelated to one another and didn’t form a cohesive plot. I also got the feeling that there were subtle parallels or connections between scenes from Elsie’s life and scenes from Lucy’s life that I didn’t fully pick up on—*gasp!*—and I didn’t like that feeling. Perhaps if I read the story a few times they would become clearer. Then again, perhaps I was just looking for more than the writer intended. All that being said, there was a logical climax, resolution, and denouement.
On a final note, for those who care about such things, there is some swearing in this novel, but no sexual content.
As for whether I would recommend it? Well, yes and no. It depends what you’re looking for in a book. I’ll leave you to make up your own mind. 🙂
I received a copy of this novel through TLC Book Tours. This has not influenced the content of my review, which is my honest and unbiased opinion.
~ About the Author ~
Ashley Hay is the internationally acclaimed author of the novels The Body in the Clouds and The Railwayman’s Wife, which was honored with the Colin Roderick Award by the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies and longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the most prestigious literary prize in Australia, among numerous other accolades. She has also written four nonfiction books. She lives in Brisbane, Australia.