It’s an adage as old as time, isn’t it – that sometimes less is more? Had I read the two books under review in reverse order I may not have completed the first and more substantial tome – and as it turned out that would have been somewhat of a pity.
I purchased and consumed Susan Johnson’s ‘The Landing’ on the basis of my enjoyment of her previous issue, ‘My Hundred Lovers’. Both her new novel and Funder’s short story/novella deal with mid-life crises, with the latter’s possessing a more sparse prose in the telling of her tale. Johnson’s is at variance with this and has been described in a review as Austenesque. In ‘The Landing’ she presents a range of characters who are either permanent residents of the eponymous location or frequent visitors to their weekenders there in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast. All, it seems, are coming out the other side of their crises – some with new partners, some bereft, yearning for their old ones and some seeking new starts. In their introduction, by the writer, they are bookended by Jonathan Lott – a lawyer whose wife has deserted him for one of her own gender. She leaves him in a place alternating between bemusement and trauma. He retires to this place far from the busyness of Brissy to take stock and cast around for a woman from the hamlet who may offer some sort of succour. There are some more than willing. There’s disappointed-in-life, wannabe artist Penny and serial wife, the exotic blow-in Anna. Eventually one wins out, but he suspects there must be an alternate motive to just having him – and there is.
Penny’s story is the meat in the sandwich. Is all that remains for her an existence shared with her mother? Marie is a woman who fights valiantly to prevent the ravishes caused through the encroachments of time, but who is finally seeming to be defeated by them. Or is she?
Throughout this was not a book I looked forward to returning to and it wasn’t really until the final pages were approaching that I had, nonetheless, become quite intrigued by how it would all pan out for these people. I wanted their lives all tidied up before I left them – but that is not necessarily life and ‘The Landing’ reflects that. One couple emerges to begin a life together. Were they really the twosome the reader least expected to do so? The others are left hanging with no guarantee of happy-ever-afters. It won’t happen I suspect, but one almost wishes for another instalment – or at least the type of epilogue that afflicts some Hollywood offerings with a snapshot of character’s lives further down the track as the final credits roll.
Funder’s slight tome presents the same sort of conundrum for a woman of certain years not yet quite ready to let go of her past. This woman has made certain compromises to keep her marriage steady as she goes, but there’s an itch from her more youthful self that needs scratching. Purportedly based on a Chekhov short story, the tale sees Tess travelling from Oz to Paris to find if there’s still a spark between her and a figure from more carefree days. And if so, well, what then? Can she really, in her situation, finally recapture what may have been?
I guess, in answer to the opening query I posed in this piece, that, although Johnson’s wordsmithery approaches perfection in painting a picture of sun-kissed lives in idyllic sub-tropical environs failing to counter more hollow interiors, her novel didn’t fully engage this reader. That is, until it was almost over. With Funder’s, I could have taken a whole lot more.
Susan Johnson’s website = http://www.susanjohnson.net/
Anna Funder’s website = http://annafunder.com/