21 July 2010

Lilian's Story

We - the Mothership and all who sail with her - are celebrating our 20th anniversary of independent publishing. Hurrah! Hooray! Woohoot! And one of the ways we are celebrating is by publishing very fine 20th anniversary collector's editions of a selection of our much-loved titles.
Lilian's Story by Kate Grenville
Journey to the Stone Country
by Alex Miller
The Slap by Christos Tsolkias
The White Earth
by Andrew McGahan

All wonderful books, but the one that's on my mind today is Lilian's Story. Have you read it? I first read it when I was a 21-year-old university student, and I was not certain who I would become. It was summer. I was at the beach staying in my grandmother's caravan with my boyfriend - a very lovely yet haunted boy. It was my first ever grown-up holiday, and it felt a little illicit.

On the first night, we invited friends over for Pictionary - always a raucous affair - and we discovered the next day that our animated game-playing had kept half the caravan park awake well into the sleeping hours. And later that night (morning) we went skinny dipping, leaving our clothes on the beach, an act that was to prove foolhardy when we emerged (exhilarated) from the ocean to find our clothes stolen and flashes from unknown cameras snapping at us. The naked dash back to the van was laughter-fuelled, no doubt further disturbing the sleep-deprived holidaymakers.

The next day I lay on the bottom bunk in the caravan in the afternoon heat reading Lilian's Story while my lovely friend plucked out melancholy tunes on his acoustic guitar. I felt a sadness descend. I so embraced Lilian's story that I feared I would follow her path. It was one of those reading experiences where you identify so strongly with the character, you find them hard to shake. And sometimes that's scary. Especially when you are young and the future you find yourself in (via the character) is not the one you envisage for yourself. While it is underpinned by unconventional triumph, Lilian's journey takes her on an extremely challenging path to difficult places. That day, on the bottom bunk in the stiflingly hot caravan with a boy-musician who was struggling with his own demons, I felt the crazy coming and I leaned into it.

As the evening descended, my grandmother came knocking at an inopportune moment, and we had to scramble to compose ourselves. I don't believe for a moment that she didn't know what she had interrupted, but she had the grace to turn a blind eye, and we all settled into a quiet evening of cups of tea and familial conversation. Much to the relief of our neighbouring caravaners, I expect.

I swallowed my quiet resentment that my grown-up holiday was suddenly transformed into a family gathering where I was a good granddaughter - because my grandmother's untimely arrival that day reminded me of who I was. I wasn't on Lilian's path. Fortunately, Lilian's strength enables her to rally, to embrace her eccentricities, to take on the world, to say, 'I am ready for whatever comes next.' I wasn't Lilian and I wasn't quite ready to take on the world - but I realised I wasn't scared of it either - and I had plenty of paths ahead of me.

It's a rare thing for a character to truly seep into your soul, and despite almost being overwhelmed by it (or perhaps because of this), Lilian's Story has a special place in my heart and I am unreservedly proud to be in a position to champion Kate Grenville's wonderful novel in this very handsome new edition.


zz said...

Dear me, this is beautiful writing. Really.

ClareD said...

A thousand thank yous, Lilian fan. I first read it as an 18 year old and her character wormed her way under my skin in a way that astonished me, and I can still feel her grip. Your amazing and heartfelt piece has inspired me to reread...

A latte beckons said...