Source- Review copy
Publisher- Pan Macmillan
Publication date- June 2012
Synopsis- “It came one morning with the milk… ”
When Roberta “Bertie” Lightfoot is crippled by polio, her world collapses. But Mama doesn’t tolerate self-pity, and Bertie is nobody if not her mother’s daughter – until she sets her heart on becoming an artist. Through art, the gifted and perceptive Bertie gives form and voice to the reality of the people and the world around her. While her father is happy enough to indulge Bertie’s driving passion, her mother will not let art get in the way of a professional career.
In 1955 the family moves to post-colonial Port Moresby, a sometimes violent frontier town, where Bertie, determined to be the master of her own life canvas, rebels against her mother’s strict control. She thrives amid a vibrant new tropical palette, secretly learning the techniques of drawing and painting under the tutelage of her mother’s arch rival.
But Roberta is not the only one deceiving her family. As secrets come to light, the domestic varnish starts to crack, and jealousy and passion threaten to forever mar the relationship between mother and daughter.
Tender and witty, The Beloved is a moving debut novel which paints a vivid portrait of both the beauty and the burden of unconditional love.
Review- The Beloved is the debut novel by Australian author Annah Faulkner- winner of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award for Emerging Writer. Set in Port Moresby in the 1950’s-1960’s, this story examines family dynamics, passion and a young girl’s determination to be true to herself.
Roberta “Bertie” Lindsay Lightfoot contracts polio at the age of six and impairs her ability to walk. When she recovers from the illness, she has one ‘crippled’ leg which is deformed and Bertie is ashamed of the clunky boot she must wear each day. Her mother an independent woman with a photography career has high expectations of Bertie, to overcome her disability, to prosper in the education system and make herself a success. But Bertie’s passion is art. She can see people’s auras and paint them in a way that is both intrusive and beautiful. Her mother learns to despise Bertie’s interest for that very reason. I think this quote from the book sums up the meaning of art for Bertie quite perfectly:
“Art is the one thing that connects me to the world. When I paint someone or something I’m always amazed at how much more there is to them than I first thought and it helps me understand them. When I paint I forget what I can’t do because what I can do matters more.”
Bertie’s passion drives her to steal and lie to continue producing art and this infuriates her mother further and she bans all art materials from the house. Bertie is devastated, she feels suffocated by her mother and is prevented from doing the one thing that makes her feel good about herself. As the conflict in her family intensifies and her parent’s marriage becomes unstable, Bertie struggles to find her place in the family unit and among her peers. Ironically, the one person Bertie does develop a strong connection is with her father’s mistress Helen who is also an artist. Bertie’s only freedom being her bike, she escapes to Helen’s art shop every Wednesday for a secret art lesson. Of course, once her mother discovers her betrayal their relationship becomes further strained.
The Beloved is slow at times and I felt it lacked direction probably because the focus is on the characters and not necessarily on the plot. Bertie’s relationship with her mother is tumultuous and there were times I just wanted someone to save Bertie, while other times I could empathise with her mother. Their enmeshed relationship stems from her mother’s unresolved losses and it was a relief to see her take some responsibility for this at the end and provide Bertie with the freedom to be herself.
A thought-provoking Australian story about a young girl and her family during post-war times.
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About the author: Sporadic bursts of poetry and occasional short stories defined Annah’s early writing. In 1996 experiences from a career in acupuncture prompted her to write a non-fiction manual. This was followed by a humorous biography, Frankly Speaking, which enjoyed considerable success in Australia and New Zealand. In 2007 her story, The Blood of Others, was published by the American literary journal Antipodes. Annah and her husband split their time between Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and the South Island of New Zealand. She is presently working on her second novel.
This book was read as part of the AWW2012 challenge: