Books find their way into your life by all sorts of means. Often they’re bought, or borrowed, or picked up from somewhere unremembered. The unforgettable ones then find their way into you. A novel read is more than just a story consumed, pages turned, characters met. Each time I read a good book it somehow steals off the page into my molecular makeup. I may not always remember their details, but it is as though with each memorable book I am laying down bricks, one by one, building a slow Taj Mahal of experience. It means this lamentable little body can be so much more than just me.
My little ‘books of 2018’ series celebrates these ones that have, indeed, become part of me. So to Louise Allan’s The Sisters’ Song. This book feels as much part of me as my own. Louise and I were in a writing trio while both of our manuscripts were emerging from the swamp. We worked on them at the same time, sending each other (along with our third member, GP and writer Dr Jacquie Garton Smith) snippets: long and short, wordy and clipped, drafts and outlines. We took wrong turns together and rescued one another from the mire.
I learnt a lot from seeing Louise struggle with her manuscript – as much as I learnt from my own rejections and failures and dispiriting tussles with this process which seemed overwhelming at times. In Louise’s book I was witness to the characters’ evolution, watching them come into their own and stake their claim in the world of literature. I was also party to the improvements and momentum, from a shortlisting in the TAG Hungerford award, to a contract with a large commercial publisher.
And thus The Sisters’ Song was born. It is a book both contemporary and historical. Its themes are universal – women’s lives thwarted by the expectations of both society and their own selves. Louise examines the relationships within families and within marriages, fraught all of them, with painstaking care. Early 20th century Tasmania is evoked with exquisite detail, and the lives of the characters are incredibly well, and beautifully sketched out. Louise’s book is officially a bestseller. Its gentle themes and questions have resonated with the reading public, and it has sold incredibly well. Louise is also a great supporter of other writers, both emerging and established, and she deserves her place in the canon of Australian literature.
It has been an honour and a saviour having Louise for a writing buddy. Our styles are distinctly different, but that does not mean we haven’t been able to offer one another what we both desperately needed to turn our manuscripts from nonsensical early drafts, into completed books.
Here is The Sisters’ Song.