I was supposed to be at a book launch this evening, but I lost my wingman to work – how quickly we return to normal routine – and I didn’t feel up to going it alone after the recent rejections. So here I am, sort of regretting not going because I’m spending the evening alone anyway. I undoubtedly would have had more fun toasting the success of others. But I do want to tell you about this anthology, because I think it’s going to be an absolute cracker. It’s edited by Charlotte Wood – one of the contributing authors, and already known to some of you thanks to her delectable food blog How to Shuck an Oyster – and it’s called Brothers and Sisters.
Brothers and Sisters is a collection of mainly short stories (there’s a non-fiction essay in there as well) featuring some of Australia’s best writers, exploring the frailties, challenges and rewards of the sibling bond. It’s a great theme for a collection, because while every family is different, there’s something wonderfully universal about the experience of having a brother and/or sister. Even in the past two days of being back in Australia, I’ve had occasion to recall aspects of my childhood as it pertained to being the second child. My sister is two years older than me, and I largely credit her with the fact that I learned to read quite early. At its most basic, this was an act of adulatory mimicry – I recall wanting, more than just about anything, to be able to do whatever it was she was doing. As I noted in a comment on the Varuna blog only yesterday, I think I chased my way into her books as a way of trying to be part of her world. Look at me, let me play, can’t I join in?! Of course, what I found were other worlds instead, but I think I first started eating up books in the hope of one day catching up to Kate, and finding her in the pages of one.
Listening to Charlotte’s recorded radio interview about Brothers and Sisters this afternoon, my ears pricked with recognition when she and the interviewer began discussing one of the stories in the collection, which goes into the importance of sibling clothing, such as a particular colour that’s perceived as important or best or preferential, and the competition that invariably ensues as each sibling vies for the choice item: the emblem of being anointed, of being the beloved. However inaccurate such symbolism may be in representing the truth of any child-parent-child triangular relationship, the fact that kids slug it out in this way testifies as to its suggestive power. And again this made me think of my big sister. Kate. How she must have loathed my growth spurt when we were two young girls. Imagine for a moment the sheer indignity of being the eldest child when the younger has the gall to grow upwards until before you know it, you become, horror of all horrors, the unwilling recipient of that intolerable usurper’s hand-me-downs. It must have been hateful to her, and as an adult of 37, it’s taken me this long to fully appreciate what that might have been like for Kate, for the development of her identity and sense of self. Now it seems such a small, trivial thing – of course I couldn’t help growing, nor could I help that we were too poor for new clothes for all – but I hazard to guess it was a big, monstrous thing at the time, something with its own obnoxious personality and stubborn heft.
Did such a thing as inheriting my castoffs negatively impact my sister? Of course only Kate could say, and she may not even remember any such thing. Indeed I hope not, and I mainly want to express how grateful I am that she was (and remains) a reader, because without doubt her reading was a critical component of my learning to read. So thank you, Kate, for showing me the way.