This volume contains three interlinked, semi-autobiographical novels that deal with the life and loves of a British woman during and after World War II. Jolley was born in England in 1923 and died in Australia in 2007, having become one of her adopted nation’s most celebrated authors. According to a brief biographical note at the end of this book, her 15 novels and four story collections won every major Australian literary award, were translated into every major European language and were also much praised in the United States. However, by the time she died, most of her books were out of print.
In these three novels – My Father’s Moon, Cabin Fever and The Georges’ Wife – Jolley’s alter ego Vera Wright runs away from her parent’s German-speaking Quaker home to become a wartime nurse in London. She has various sexual encounters and crushes, some consummated, some not, with both men and women, gives birth to two daughters out of wedlock, and ends up marrying a much older man and emigrating to Australia.
The narrative, always told in the present tense, darts backward and forward in time, creating a kind of kaleidoscope. Starting during Vera’s childhood at boarding school, the story takes us all the way to her old age. Certain key scenes are examined and re-examined throughout the three books; characters appear and reappear. Gradually, the reader pieces together a chronology of Wright’s life. However, some crucial incidents are never completely spelled out. One eventually comes to understand the protagonist’s sexual life, but that too is never described. The major tone of the book is one of reticence.
This technique creates problems. Because the action is non-linear, there is never a sense of suspense or a true narrative arc. The reader cannot grow with characters trapped in concentric circles - it is difficult to identify with them. But the biggest flaw is with the central protagonist, the author herself, who never quite comes into focus. She seems distant, somehow disconnected from herself as well as from her children and lovers - and that makes the reader feel disconnected from her.
Other characters share the same problem. Because the protagonist seems so totally self-absorbed, we never truly get to know the people with whom she interacts. Like Vera Wright, they all seem to lack a spark of life or the ability to fully inhabit their own skins.
Because of its length, this book demands a considerable commitment of time from the reader. Unless one has a special interest in wartime London or the life of nurses, that commitment may not produce a commensurate emotional or intellectual reward.