When Annie Jones’ mother wanted to get rid of guests she rose to her feet and said graciously, ‘This has been absolutely lovely,‘ and stood waiting for them to leave. But what can Annie do when the intrusive guests are her own family, bringing with them their unhappiness and secrets? She knows she can’t fix their lives, but as she is their mother, they seem to expect her to.
I have a great admiration for writers who can create genre fiction that is absorbing, and not too cliched. I have whiled away many a holiday deep in a Liane Moriarty. I admire her ability to create believable characters who are flawed in the same way we may be, but where under the superficial cosiness lurk real issues, domestic violence, amnesia, stalking, feelings of inadequacy. She draws us in to the character’s lives, and we read intently until resolution is achieved. And they’re not all just happy endings. True, we are reading about the lives of middle- class white people, but those are the lives she knows. There is nothing fake about the writing of Liane Moriarty.
This has Been Absolutely Lovely is Jessica Dettman’s second novel and it is set in the well-heeled middle-class world of Sydney’s beaches. Annie has given up her early dream of a career in music. She wasn’t allowed to perform her song at Eurovision because she was pregnant. She returns to Australia and has three children. She cares for her parents. her mother has dementia, then dies, her adored father slowly grows weaker, then dies. Now it is Christmas, and she has her three children and their children taking up all the space in her life and keeping her away from her beloved piano. And she is held back just when she has had a glimpse of freedom. Because all the children have problems.
Grumpy greedy Simon, her eldest son, is not getting on with his German wife Diane, and he announces they are not going back to Germany. The reason why emerges later, and it is not to his credit. Annie knows he is hanging around waiting for her to sell her father’s house so he can grab a share of the profits, Naomi is loving and sweet, but very vegan and into auras, and Molly the youngest child is pregnant with nothing at all prepared for the birth of her baby except a whole lot of phone apps.
We also have the father’s enemy, next door neighbour Ray, dying of cancer, and returned from London, members of Annie’s group The Love Triangle, ex-husband Paul and his partner Brian.
And now Annie realises it is her turn
…It wasn’t that the guys hadn’t pulled their weight when they were all in the band, but… You’ve always done most of it, Annie told herself. You pretended it was a team, but it was always you. And suddenly she was off; her brain shooting from one thought to the next, making leaps, associations, grabbing unrelated ideas by the hand and pulling them up on the stage, not sure why they were useful until she saw how they danced with what was already there. Her brain was crackling with electricity. Nothing had ever made her feel quite like this. It was an intoxicating power, building something from emotions and sounds.
But Annie has to struggle to be free of her sense of obligation to the lives of others. There is another death, a birth and disgrace and a revelation of the true character of her father to deal with before she can be free.
Recommended for a jolly good holiday read.