‘Is there anyone left who isn’t totally in love with Magda Szubanski?’ Well, yes in fact. Me. It is not that I dislike her. How could anyone do that after reading ‘Reckoning’? It’s just that, apart from her role as Sharon in the beloved ‘Kath and Kim’, she hasn’t been on my radar much. I have never seen ‘Babe’, nor her various shows (‘The D Generation’, ‘Fast Forward’, ‘Big Girl’s Blouse’) on the small screen. And yes, before you ask, I have nothing against females who make their living by making us laugh in one way or another. I very much love Kitty Flanagan, Fiona O’Loughlin, Denise Scott, Hannah Gadsby, Celia Pacquola – the list goes on. But later, in a review I found on-line, is the following statement, ‘Anyone who doesn’t adore Magda Szubanski the clown will be awed by Szubanski the A-grade non-fiction writer.’ Well, again I wouldn’t perhaps use the word ‘awed’ in this context, but there’s no doubt her memoir is totally deserving of all the accolades it has garnered to date. This lady has decided literary chops. But I am in ‘awe’ of her for another reason. It’s for her bravery, a few years back, when she came out on ‘The Project’. To do so was all class – and the supportive reaction of the bulk of the Australian public shows that we, as a nation, are ready for the next step. Come on Mr Turnbull.
I also suspect, given time, the striking initial line to her memoir will be recognised as one of the best opening hooks in Aussie lit. ‘If you had met my father you would never, not for an instant, have thought he was an assassin.’ Her father, indeed, casts a giant shadow over this tome, as he does the author’s life. And he was a good man – a good man carrying the burden of memory. As a Polish freedom fighter he did back to the Nazis what they did in spades to everyone else.
Yep, some of the stuff in ‘Reckoning’ is pretty grim, but overall the book’s tone is uplifting – even inspiring in places. Magda’s spirit shines through, even when it seems the odds are stacked against her. And she has had some real battles to wage too – failed projects, her weight issues, her sexuality. Maybe the latter two shouldn’t be such, but sadly, in today’s media climate, they are – particularly for those in the spotlight. All are elaborated on frankly, but there are tales of levity as well. There is much of interest for this particular reader in her recallings – the contrast in her twin visits to Warsaw between pre the end of the Cold War and post. I enjoyed her taking us behind the scenes of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ – I have often wondered about the mechanics of putting together that wonderful show. But it’s the concluding chapters that are the most intensely moving of the whole exercise – especially the description of her final unpacking of what made her father tick.
For a first-timer ‘Reckoning’ is an achievement. It holds interest throughout and is a book this scribe looked forward to returning to after daily impediments intruded. And I concur with the final sentence of that aforementioned on-line review, ‘Let’s hope the books keep coming.’