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Parallels between Drabbles The Millstone and Jan Murrays Goodbye Lullaby

 Parallels between Drabbles The Millstone and Jan Murrays Goodbye Lullaby


Earlier this year I read Margaret Drabbles excellent'The Millstone, a novel about a young, unmarried Englishwoman who falls pregnant and who, after an unsuccessful attempt to abort the pregnancy, opts to keep the child. Its a fascinating novel that looks at the highly curtailed rights of women in the 1960s, and also at the many levelssocial, political, religious, personalupon which a pregnancy, and of course raising a child, can affect a womans life, and particularly that of a single woman.

There are a surprising number of parallels between'The Millstone and'Goodbye Lullaby, Jan Murrays debut.'Murrays novel follows the life of Miki Patrick, an Irish-Catholic Queensland girl who falls pregnant at the age of sixteen. Like Rosamund in'The Millstone, Miki attempts an abortionif I recall correctly, even in the same mannerbut its here that the story lines diverge, though they continue to echo each other thematically.

Driven out by her conservative parents, Miki is placed into the (for want of a better word) care of a Catholic home for wayward girls. In this 1950s setting women, and especially young girls, have little say over their own bodies and their own choices, and this theme is explored not just through Mikis experiences, but also through those of the local Indigenous community, where light-skinned children are being taken from their parents as part of a horrific political mandate.

The stories of Miki and Rosamund here differ strikingly in some ways, but in others are eerily similar. Not because Murray is writing some sort of homage, but because these stories are so heart-breakingly common. Although Miki, in spite of the best efforts of the cunning head nun, manages with the help of her friend Jude to escape with her newborn son, what follows is a painfully embattled existence. Job stability, equal wages and equal treatment were unheard of at the time, with the Australian workplace being built around an assumed nuclear family. Not only is Miki fighting against these sorts of political issues, but the social stigma of being an unmarried, young mother means that shes railed against at every turn.

In contrast, Drabbles Rosamund comes from a moneyed background, and is financially fairly comfortable. And yet, she too finds it a challenge to balance the demands of her study with that of raising a child: even the cushioning effect of money is no substitue for time and, perhaps most importantly, support. Both Miki and Rosamund lack this, and each find themselves struggling to care for their children while little more than children themselves. However, where Rosamund manages to prevailher education, caring if geographically distant family and financial support make this possibleMiki has little in her favour, and eventually surrenders her son. A link, I imagine, could be drawn between Rosamunds idle sister-in-law and Mikis best friend Jude, who is very much the party girl despite being exceptionally sharp.

Curiously, both books also feature a war-time backdrop, although in a somewhat removed manner in that we remain removed from the action, seeing instead the civilian experience of war.'Goodbye Lullaby, with its'time leaps between 1950s and 1970s Australia, gives us glimpses of Mikis life as a teenager in the 1950s, and her life as an anti-war activist during the Vietnam War eraat a time when her son is of an age to be conscripted. Interestingly, where Rosamund in'The Millstone largely misses the devastating effects on London of WWII by virtue of being off-shore, Miki is very much involved in activism and anti-conscription protests. In addition, where Rosamund is an introverted character who slowly becomes more conservative in her thinking, Miki is the opposite: as she grows up she becomes fuelled by a desire to see justice done.

Unfortunately, where'The Millstone is an elegant, wry triumph of writing,'Goodbye Lullaby falls a little short on this front. Dual-era narratives are often tricky to pull off, in part because once the reader has caught up things begin to feel a bit inevitable, and also because one story is often more interesting than the other. This happens in the novel, with the story of Miki as a young girl being far more poignant than that of the 1970s Mikiespecially since the older Miki spends most of the novel off-stage, meaning that we hear about her only through the points of view of other characters. Murray also has a strange aversion to using character names, and with the profusion of he and she cascading down the page with nary a proper noun in sight, I would often find myself several pages into a chapter before I figured out whose point of view I was reading. (I should note that my reading version was an uncorrected proof, so this may change in the final edition of the book.) The ending for me, too, felt a little saccharine, but I can understand why it unfolded the way it did given that this book is published under the Mira imprint of Harlequin.

Still, its a solid debut, and if you do pick it up, I recommend reading it alongside'The Millstone for an interesting series of contrasts and thematic echoes.

Rating: star Parallels between Drabbles The Millstone and Jan Murrays Goodbye Lullabystar Parallels between Drabbles The Millstone and Jan Murrays Goodbye Lullabystar Parallels between Drabbles The Millstone and Jan Murrays Goodbye Lullabyblankstar Parallels between Drabbles The Millstone and Jan Murrays Goodbye Lullabyblankstar Parallels between Drabbles The Millstone and Jan Murrays Goodbye Lullaby (good)

With thanks to Harlequin Australia for the review copy

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  1. This was a really thoughtful review, Stephanie. I havent read The Millstone, but I do like the sound of it. I too had similar issues about the dual-era in Goodbye Lullaby. I connected with the younger Miki far easier than i could with the older Miki.

    I completely agree about the lack of name use, i was confused at times too!

    • Stephanie /

      I recommend The Millstone if you get a chance, Jayneits excellent. I think I was a little disappointed that Miki seemed so removed from the narrative given that wed been given so much opportunity to become invested in her character. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of a link between her childhood self and her adult self.

      Im glad I wasnt the only one having trouble with the pronouns!

  2. I'll have to have a look at The Millstone. Goodbye Lullaby already attracted me because of the Vietnam aspect (my father was conscripted, and ' being in Canberra ' my family has been involved in a bunch of war history events over the years).
    Hmmm. Now I'll be buying two books, I think!

    • Stephanie /

      I hope you get a chance to pick them both up, Sonya! A note, thoughGoodbye Lullaby isnt especially focused on the war itself, but theres quite a bit about conscription and the conscription process.

  3. Interesting the connections youve made between this and The Millstone; while I havent read that latter was planning on it. As for Goodbye Lullaby, I enjoyed reading it but I dont think it worked (review sometime in the future).

    • Stephanie /

      I highly recommend The Millstone, Michael. I picked it up for about 50 cents in Argentinait was one of the few English language books I came acrossand Im so glad that I did!

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