This month our Book Club is throwing it back to one of Australia’s most celebrated novels, the classic Miles Franklin Award-winning Tirra Lirra by the River by Brisbane Author Jessica Anderson.
First published in 1978, Anderson crafted a lyrical and moving account of one woman’s remarkable life – about the sweetness of escape and the mix of pain, acceptance and understanding that comes with returning home.
A theme that is familiar to Australians. Our isolation has long spurred the urge to travel, our country has imbued in us the desire to go walkabout – to undertake a physical journey, and without realising it, a spiritual journey too. It is through these voyages that later in life we discover that we are deeply connected and anchored to our childhood homes, rooted to the place and the people that created and influenced our most formative years.
Examining the impact of those formative years on our lives, Anderson’s narrator in Tirra Lirra by the River, Nora Porteous, is an older woman who has returned to Brisbane, her childhood home to look for what it was that made her, and by doing so, tries to account for what she then made of herself through the intervening years.
Tales of childhood revisited with an adult perspective is not a new concept, however Anderson walked a familiar line to deftly capture the dilemmas of time and place and the common conception that real life is always taking place ‘elsewhere’. Somewhere distant, exotic and more exciting, but reality is that the ‘elsewhere’ never seems to be where you are – it escapes you even when you pursue it – as the truth is that it is often an unattainable mental construct.
This desire to escape and realise the self, is made all the more difficult when you are female at a time when ‘self’ was traditionally defined by a man and marriage. Nora is both a wry and bold protagonist caught in the junction of this dilemma from the 1930s to the 1960s – experiencing it wherever she resides, be it Brisbane, Sydney or Europe.
Anderson’s story explores this struggle for independence, suggesting that despite the pursuit, ultimately, home is most often found not in places but in other people.
This is the pleasure of good literature – it is timeless. It can reach across the intervening years to connect human experience and lifeforce regardless of the close-to-five decades that have lapsed between writing and reading. The Calile is delighted to invite you to read Tirra Lirra by the River with us this January.
Synopsis: Tirra Lirra by the River
Liza used to say that she saw her past life as a string of roughly graded balls, and so did Hilda have a linear conception of hers, thinking of it as a track with detours. But for some years now I have likened mine to a globe suspended in my head, and ever since the shocking realisation that waste is irretrievable, I have been careful not to let this globe spin to expose the nether side on which my marriage has left its multitude of images.
Nora Porteous has spent most of her life waiting to escape. Fleeing from her small-town family and then from her stifling marriage to a mean-spirited husband, Nora arrives finally in London where she creates a new life for herself as a successful dressmaker.
Now in her seventies, Nora returns to Queensland to settle into her childhood home. But Nora has been away a long time, and the people and events of her past are not at all like she remembered them. And while some things never change, Nora is about to discover just how selective her ‘globe of memory’ has been.