I love peering at road atlases. In doing so I am mentally planning road trips – road trips that I realise I’ll never do. Why? I hate driving – but still, I dream of the open road, of grey nomading and the places in Oz I’d nomad to. If only I didn’t abhor getting behind the wheel of a car. Still, I ruminate – and peer at road maps. I imagine being one of these wizened, ageing vagabonds who’ve been everywhere in this wide brown land, spinning yarns to others of a similar ilk around an outback campfire – like my good friends Noel Next Door and Kevin from Cairns (with their partners Jane and Kim). It’ll never happen – but I do dream and continue to peruse road atlases. I’ve bucket-listed the Kimberleys, Kakadu and the Daintree – and one day I’ll get to those, but more than likely in a manner far less romantic than those who Winnebago around Highway One. That is a forlorn aspiration.
One of the roads that I’ve often regarded with interest is the one that proceeds in a roughly northern direction from Broome up a peninsula to Kooljaman Resort and Bardi, passing by Beagle Bay and Lombardina – or, at least, that is what is indicated in my said atlases. According to Kylie Ladd, though, along its route is also the community, largely indigenous in make up, of Kalangella. It is here that the author places a bevy of female characters central to her fourth novel, ‘Mothers and Daughters’. Amira has been posted to this Kimberley outpost for twelve months on a teaching contract, with teenage daughter Tess in tow. By the time their mates arrive for a week’s visit, both have fallen in attachment to the place and shed their big city personas. The mother’s friends – Scottish Morag of fair skin, acerbic Fiona who’d need more than a week to fall in love with any place – and groomed to the max Caro, initially clearly have little notion of what they are letting themselves in for. Each is accompanied by a single daughter. Bronte, Macey and Janey are as different from each other as three teenagers could be. Stork-like Bronte is an ugly duckling on the cusp of becoming a graceful swan, Macey is pierced and professes to be a goth and Janey – well, Janey is a real piece of work. She is a self-absorbed bitch of the first order. All the visitors find the place initially too primitive for their tastes – what, no mobile reception! But gradually the location works its charm on a few and during the stay some find that they really do need to take a good hard look at themselves. Tess’ sophisticated mates also find that she is a very different kettle of fish to the school friend they thought they had pegged back in Yarra City. She’s gone all native on them.
It did take a little while to settle into this novel and at times there is a little clunkiness with the prose – but Ms Ladd can sure spin a captivating yarn. Her protagonists, warts and all, did draw this reader in and I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent with these creations of Kylie L’s writerly mind. With Janey, Ladd has produced a real horror and I was eager to read on to see if she receives her comeuppance. Tess is a sensible delight, but of the younger brigade Bronte for me was the most compelling with all her self doubts and general fragility. Will the experience toughen her up as Fiona so hopes? And with Caro, will she get to bed the charismatic black-hunk Mason – a serial child producer, wise to the ways of ‘country’. And finally, will Fiona get what a gem she has in Bronte. These are all fascinating questions that the author leads the reader on a wonderful journey to their solutions. So much can happen in a week. Throw in a bit of Aboriginal culture, with resulting culture clash and we have, in ‘Mothers and Daughters’, a fine flavoursome treat.
As we do with ‘Last Summer’. Published three years prior to ’14’s above title, this novel had me in from the get go. The fact it followed a cohort of couples strongly attached to the sport of cricket aided it’s cause for me. It focuses on the social life and interrelationships between the men of a suburban cricket club – with each other, their WAGs and offspring. All are affected by the untimely death of another charismatic male, club legend Rory Buchanan. It throws the cosiness of the club dynamics all out of kilter, with all manner of sexual machinations ensuing. Ladd is a dab hand, as well, at describing the mechanics of the actual act and some males, in reading this, may be pleasantly surprised at her praise for the advantages of the smaller member in intercourse. She also introduces her fans to the delights of the mating game ‘flirt tiggy’ – try it out if you’re in the market. Perhaps the author’s only failing in this terrific tale is that sometimes her reproduction of the blokiness associated with team sport does not quiet gel – but overall this is only a minor quibble which certainly does not in the slightest detract.
I ripped through both these tomes in a couple of days each, a sure sign of their pulling power and I am eager to track down Ms Ladd’s two other offerings – ‘After the Fall’ and ‘Into My Arms’. Perhaps this writer will never come into calculation for something like the Miles Franklin, but these two novels are engrossing page-turners. I loved them.
Ms Ladd’s web-site = http://kylieladd.com.au/