The Place on Dalhousie

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Author: Melina Marchetta
Publisher: Penguin Books

‘You look the type to break your father’s heart.’
‘Yeah, but he broke mine first.’

When Rosie Gennaro first meets Jimmy Hailler, she has walked away from life in Sydney, leaving behind the place on Dalhousie that her father, Seb, painstakingly rebuilt for his family but never saw completed. Two years later, Rosie returns to the house and living there is Martha, whom Seb Gennaro married less than a year after the death of Rosie’s mother. Martha is struggling to fulfil Seb’s dream, while Rosie is coming to terms with new responsibilities. And so begins a stand-off between two women who refuse to move out of the home they both lay claim to.

As the battle lines are drawn, Jimmy Hailler re-enters Rosie’s life. Having always watched other families from the perimeters, he’s now grappling, heartbreakingly, with forming one of his own . . .

An unforgettable story about losing love and finding love; about the interconnectedness of lives and the true nature of belonging, from one of our most acclaimed writers.

I was excited to see a new Melina Marchetta book and looked forward to reading it. I did enjoy it and I thought it was beautifully written, but it didn’t weave its way into my heart as it appears to for so many other readers.

A Place on Dalhousie is a beautiful examination of grief, love, loneliness, family and the power that comes with belonging.  Marchetta gives us complicated and flawed characters and what I particularly like about her writing is that sometimes I don’t particularly like the characters – there were times that Rosie and Jimmy irritated me big time, but that’s what I like about Marchetta’s writing that she makes me feel like this for the characters.

Rosie Gennaro meets Jimmy Hailler during the Queensland floods – both are a long way from home and both are a little lost. The two have a brief fling and part ways. Rosie and Jimmy lose contact with each other until almost two years later when Jimmy learns that Rosie has a baby boy, named Toto and he is the father.

Rosie has returned home to Sydney and is living with her step-mother, Martha. The two women are living in the house that Rosie’s father was rebuilding before he died. The tension between the two women is high and neither of them is preparing to give an inch. Rosie believes the house should be hers and Martha feels entitled to the house since she continued to pay the mortgage and work on the renovations. Rosie has taken over the top floor of the house and Martha the bottom floor and a line has been drawn.

Personally, I love Martha and I love Martha’s friends. Martha was someone I  could be friends with– she’s snarky and doesn’t tolerate fools. The emails between Martha and her best friend Sophie at the beginning of the book made me fall in love with Martha and I guess this is probably why I actively disliked Rosie for such a good portion of the book because of her antagonistic behaviour towards Martha.

Sophie, you better not have given anyone my email address after I’ve spent three decades making sure they can’t contact me. Just what I need. Another shitload of vacuous emails sent by people who have nothing better to do with their lives. And for the record, what part of ‘You lost us the grand finals’ spoken by Elizabeth King would I have misunderstood in Year Twelve?

Martha

P.S. We haven’t seen each other for two weeks, Sophie. Don’t be so dramatic.

Of course, Rosie is struggling with being a young mother and not being a particularly agreeable person she tends to get a lot of people offside and so she doesn’t have a lot of support in bringing up her baby boy, Toto. Being a prickly person, myself, I could empathise with Rosie (sometimes), but most of the time she irritated me.

Jimmy arrives on the scene and is determined to be a good dad because he didn’t have a great role model in this department, but he struggles because he hasn’t had a lot of experience with babies and seriously doubts himself in the father department. Also,  Rosie and Jimmy can’t seem to reconnect and find themselves at odds with each other for most of the novel.

Marchetta reintroduces a lot of characters from previous books and even though I had read these books I had a lot of difficulties remembering the characters and so it was hard to reconnect to these characters, maybe it was more natural if you didn’t have any knowledge of these characters. Though, I imagine if you are a huge fan of Marchetta’s work, then it would have been wonderful to meet up with these characters again. In saying this, you don’t need to have read her previous works to enjoy this novel, but I think at times, it may have helped to have that relationship with these characters.

The Place on Dalhousie is a powerful, character-driven novel that deals with some hefty issues, but Marchetta handles these issues with just the right balance of lightness, seriousness and humour. There are some genuinely funny moments in this heartwarming book. Marchetta beautifully writes about grief, new parenthood, friendship, family and finding your place in this world of ours.

The ending of this novel resonated with me and was my favourite part of the book. Marchetta definitely weaved her magic with the ending.

Table, Cup, Coffee, Background, Cafe

An American Marriage

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Author: Tayari Jones

Publisher: Vintage Books

An American Marriage is a powerful novel and it is a novel that will haunt you long after you finish reading.

Tayari Jones’ novel about marriage, life and the criminal justice system is intelligent and compassionate and never didactic.

The story begins with Roy and Celestial – a newlywed black couple who are intelligent, beautiful, successful and upwardly mobile. Roy and Celestial are going places. Roy is an ambitious, handsome man who isn’t the perfect husband (he has a wandering eye) but it is clear that he is devoted to Celestial and their life together. Celestial is a strong black woman who is an up and coming artist. She has reservations concerning Roy, particularly his disdain of her career and is suspicious of his fidelity but she doesn’t question his love for her or his wanting to build a life with her. Roy and Celestial are strong-minded individuals who are new to marriage and they are figuring out how to remain true to themselves and how to be a couple with a shared future.

“I know that there are those out there who would say that our marriage was in trouble,” Roy says. “People have a lot of things to say when they don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, up under the covers, and between night and morning. But as a witness to, and even a member of, our relationship. I’m convinced that it was the opposite.”

Then on a visit back home, Roy is arrested for a crime he did not commit. He is tried, convicted and sentenced to twelve years in prison.

Tayari Jones gives us a little insight to the couple before Roy is imprisoned, but it is scarcely a glance at their lives together. This helps play into the fact that Roy and Celestial have hardly begun their married life together when Roy is put in prison for twelve years.

The story is then told through letters that Roy and Celestial write to each other during his imprisonment. The letters are emotional and you feel their frustration and anger with the circumstances that life has thrown their way. You learn more about each character through the letters. As the years’ progress, you can feel that Celestial life is moving forward. Her career is flourishing and she a success both artistically and financially. You don’t learn much about Roy’s life while he is in prison and you so you get this sense of Roy being stuck.

Tayari Jones is a talented writer. I don’t think you ever fully take sides between Roy and Celestial as you watch their marriage and future collapse. She presents the story in such a way that you can see where both of them are coming from and you wonder how they can both move forward to being happy. Jones will tug your heart in different directions and you’ll find yourself being more sympathetic to a certain character but then she will take you in another direction in the next few pages. You can feel the pain of both Roy and Celestial. She never ignores their flaws or their arrogance, but she also shows two people who want the best for each other. Two people who are ultimately kind and good. You can also see the growth of both Roy and Celestial. They are much nicer people at the end of the book then they were at the beginning.

This is a book about marriage as the title of the book suggests but it is so much more. It is a novel about the criminal justice system in American which from all reports is seriously letting the American people down, particularly black Americans. The book is set in Louisiana, the state with the highest per-capita rate of incarceration in the United States and where the ratio of black to white prisoners is four to one. Startling statistics and the way that Jones writes the arrest, trial and conviction are so matter of fact. Roy has no chance. It is quite chilling and is a timely reminder that we all should remain considerate and empathic and not so quick to judge. For only the grace of good fortune, this could happen to anyone.

Of course, An American Marriage is at its heart a love story, but it is so much more than a love story. It is, of course, a comment on our society today and who we are as people.

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