Author Emma Darragh

In her debut novel, Emma Darragh offers a collection of interconnected stories to tenaciously explore the pressures faced by three generations of women, each struggling to navigate the expectations of family life against the need for greater personal fulfillment. The non-linear narrative provides fragments that draw us into the connected lives of Mary Ann, Evie and Vivian. As we piece together the ordinary moments alongside the life-defining choices they each face, we witness the reverberations that one generation imposes on the next.

The novel takes place in Wollongong, providing a typically suburban setting that immediately feels familiar as Darragh captures the relatable irritations of modern living.  We soon meet Mary Anne, a young wife and mother who, beneath a veneer of contentment, finds herself unhappy and unfulfilled. Darragh captures both the comfort and mundanity of Australian family life, offering glimpses into the ordinariness of life that most of us are accustomed to. As fragments unfold, the trivialities of suburban life conceal the anguish that eventually results in Mary Anne’s pivotal decision to leave her family. It is a decision that has a long-lasting impact on her daughter Vivian who in turn, makes her own life choices, that again trickle down to affect her daughter, Evie. Reading further into the novel, connections between the stories take hold and the impact that one generation has on the next starts become clear.

Every fragment draws us into both the trivialities and the gravitas of experiences to explore the desire for self-fulfilment that extends beyond the family home. Darragh draws out her characters to reflect the insecurities that they each face because of the circumstances that extend beyond their own making. Through this lineage of women, connected by blood and also by their common struggle to negotiate responsibility and sacrifice, the self-doubt experienced by these flawed characters only serves to make them more relatable, as we recognise that they simply doing the best they can to make the choices that work best for them at the time.

The different time periods are signposted with nostalgic references, adding a touch of humour as readers stroll down memory lane. Vivian’s teenage years are both poignant and awkward, drawing out the cringeworthy dramas of adolescence which many of us care to forget. Nevertheless, while reading the novel we can’t help but remember our own adolescence, and the ways the decisions – small and large – that contributed to where we are today. At times tender, at times brutal, and by thoughtfully evoking the social norms of each era, it also reminds us that while society has made some progress, many of the anxieties of adolescence and adulthood remains the same.

Darragh captures the anxieties universally felt by women faced with making choices between doing what they want and what they are expected to do. Between taking risks and making safe choices. Readers are not only absorbed by the interwoven stories of these three women, where ideally the empathy and understanding extended to the characters in the novel will also extend to ourselves.

Review by Dragica Jukic

ISBN 9781761471018