A book that takes an Austen-inspired approach to a small Queensland community, and finds poetry and profundity in everyday life.
Publisher:Allen & Unwin
Pub Date:September 2015
What the back cover says:
Jonathan Lott is confused. His wife has left him for a woman and he doesn’t like living alone. Is it true that an about-to-be-divorced man in possession of a good fortune is in need of a new wife? Would Penny Collins do, divorced herself, school teacher and frustrated artist? What about beautiful Anna, blown in from who knows where, trailing broken marriages behind her? There’s a lot happening at The Landing, where Jonathan has his beach house, and he’s about to find out how much love matters.Susan Johnson’s stunning new novel, written with her trademark wit and insight, brilliantly observes what it is to be human and to love: the betrayals, the long and the short alliances, the disappointments and the joys. The Landing celebrates all of it with verve and style.
This book had been on my radar for a while, as any new fiction release by an Australian woman tends to be.
But this book had been there in the background for a while. I knew its striking cover. I’d read a few pages. Something wasn’t quite clicking, until I read this controversial review in Sydney Review of Books
, where reviewer, Beth Driscoll, commented on how three new releases by Australian women writers lent themselves towards ‘middlebrow readings.’ *can you hear that sound? Yes, that’s the whistle of a hand grenade flying through the air*
Now, I had already read two of the books reviewed (The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop and Antonia Hayes’ Relativity) but I had not read the third – Susan Johnson’s, The Landing.
But I digress. Back to the original review. It took only one word for me to make up my mind to read the book – Austen. When Beth Driscoll described The Landing as being ‘very Austen and very funny’, I knew I had to read it, for they are two things you don’t see a lot in contemporary Australian literature.
Oh, I’m so glad I did!
Just as Austen’s books examine the institution of marriage and the not-necessarily- essential ingredient of love, so too does The Landing, albeit in a very Queensland, very contemporary, small community, where the people suppose themselves to be living the quiet life – ‘a peaceful refuge in the wake of relentless life.’
But the peace is a myth. Each one of the characters is in personal turmoil.
Middle-aged Jonathon Lott has a brand new home on the waterfront – a home he was supposed to share with his wife, Sarah, until she ran off with another woman. Now, Jonathon is in the house alone, grieving for the marriage and unsure he wants to move on.
‘He was sick of the unbreachable gap between idealised love and its puny reality. Yet he was moved, impossibly moved, by the mad human striving towards it, by the great stupid streak of hope, the vain, useless tilting.’
What Jane Austen achieved was to elevate the domestic to something worthy of literature. With wit, irony and romance in her heart, Austen produced 19th century classics, focused on the ins and outs of that thing called ‘society’ – a thing we might these days call ‘community’.
Is it trivial? Not at all, for it is only in interaction in others that we realise our selves; what we think of others, what we say and observe about them, how we speak with them – all of it reflects who we are. It is also what The Landing has to show us about life.
The domestic isn’t mundane and ordinary – it’s heroic and poetic – and it’s well worth writing about. If that makes a book ‘middlebrow’, then so be it. Let’s claim it and own it. As one of the clever folk on twitter coined it #Jesuismiddlebrow.
As I wrote on my blog, I’m vexed by the middlebrow article, but even your taking it seriously is vexing. The idea that one might announce that writing about domestic life might rise to great art as if the proposition had even a hint of controversy or recent discovery is kind of ridiculous don’t you think? Austen in literature. Vermeer in painting. I could go on!
Hi Nicholas. I think the SRB piece was certainly worth taking seriously. Categories and labels do matter. Words shape meaning and interpretation. In this case, a ‘middlebrow’ association could absolutely effect the chances of these books winning prizes. Yes, the idea of the domestic being portrayed in ‘high art’ is nothing new. But marketing is a relatively new phenomenon (ie wasn’t around in Austen’s era) and I think the idea that these literary works are being marketed as ‘middlebrow’ to reach an audience that may not usually read literary fiction is worth discussing. The works do and should speak for themselves – but the issue of how they find their way into readers hands is an important matter. I also think there’s an ongoing issue around sexism in the literary world. You only have to look at the Stella count to know that women writers do not get the reviews that male writers do. Why? Cassie
Why should it be that women writers are taken less seriously? It’s certainly a beguiling question.
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