Reunions Are Never Easy

November 25, 2009 at 8:40 am (Uncategorized)

I sat up past midnight finishing Reunion last night. It’s hard to know what to say about it, because I really don’t want to ruin it for people who are either intending to read it or who are part way through reading it. Is there anything more irritating than someone telling you the ending? I doubt it. And I’ve learned from bitter experience to avoid most reviews these days; they tend to be nothing more than step-by-step plot summaries, sometimes even including the “shock” denouement – I wish I were kidding – and for the time being I’m no longer writing my own (unfortunately Who took book reviews in-house to save money a little while back). I don’t know who among the Darklings has finished (Jenny made a gift of the novel for us all), but this is one of those times I’d really like to be able to sit around and talk about a book everyone in the room has read.

Reunion is getting excellent reviews, one reviewer marvelling at the injustice of Andrea Goldsmith’s not yet being a household name. Perhaps this novel will change all that… I wonder. I do sort of suspect if Peter Carey, for instance, had penned Reunion, then there would be parades and fireworks and dancing girls through the streets. Some established writers (and there is a gender bias, so please let’s not bother pretending there’s not) need only to breathe to have the whole world falling about, blushing and gushing and giddy. But I fear Andrea Goldsmith – whose The Prosperous Thief was shortlisted for the 2003 Miles Franklin Award, so she’s hardly toiling in total obscurity – has had to do it the hard way. A case in point: this is the first novel of hers I’ve read; it’s her sixth.

I’m very glad I persevered. Truthfully, I wasn’t enjoying it at first, and I think it’s because it reminded me of all the things I hated about academia. Everyone and everything I loathed. The characters are five super smarty-pants, and the sheer pomposity of some of their conversations made me want to gag and/or scream. Oh please, yes, you are so erudite, so cultured, so mighty, please do enlighten us, one and all. I love frighteningly smart intellectual people, they give me tingles, I just can’t stand the ones who have to keep congratulating themselves about it the whole time. They bore me rigid. Goldsmith has done a flawless job drawing these characters, they are so spot on, and it’s just unfortunate for me that for the first half of the book they mostly bear an uncanny resemblance to the type of Smug Clevers I can’t abide. They’re very true, though, and that’s always a great thing in something that is by its nature not.

I decided to keep going because Goldsmith’s writing is very fine and because its own smarts were initially far more intriguing to me than the characters themselves. And I was duly, abundantly rewarded for my faith. There was a moment when one of the characters has a long – too long in my impatient view – overdue epiphany about the ludicrous terms under which he’s been living his deluded life, and I thought, ‘Thank Christ for that,’ because as far as I was concerned, it meant things were getting interesting. He was getting interesting; up until that point, I’d really wanted him to disappear and please make it snappy. Chop, chop, little man, time to get off stage. In the end I was pleased he stuck around. Just goes to show. You can’t always judge a book by its beginnings. Sometimes you have to get to know each other first, and sometimes things change dramatically once you do. And what do you know? That idea is actually extraordinarily appropriate to the novel itself. Pretty cluey herself, that Andrea Goldsmith…



  1. Lilian Nattel said,

    Cool. I’m going to add her to my list.

    • doctordi said,

      How’s that list working out for you, Lilian?! Mine is spinning right out of control!! When next I continue my Goldsmith education, I’m going to head for The Prosperous Thief, I think.

  2. Grad said,

    I’ve never heard of Andrea Goldsmith, which doesn’t prove your point about hers not being a household name since there are so many writers I haven’t heard about. (Should we still not be ending a sentence with a preposition? Should it still be, “about whom I haven’t heard?” Someone told me that rule is no longer valid, and I said if that was true, it was just plain lazy.) Now, what was I saying? Oh, yes…which is why I’ve learned so much from my blog friends. Very satisfying.

    • doctordi said,

      Oh Graddikins, when a non-word like ‘unfriend’ is named Word of the Year, I fear the whole verbal, syntactical world is already well and truly on its knees. But let’s assume – as I do believe – that language is a living thing, and allow for certain changes better suited to the way we live, write and read now. I hereby allow your preposition.

      Yes, it’s true – blog friends continue steering my reading in such interesting directions – my big win in that regard this year was Hilary Mantel. Very bloody satisfying, especially as I just scraped in pre-Man Booker!

  3. Charlotte said,

    Thanks Di, I needed a new recommendation.

    I saw Andrea Goldsmith speak a couple of weeks ago at the new Dorothy Porter Poetry Prize announcement . Dorothy P, who died too young this time last year, was Andrea’s girlfriend, and AG spoke beautifully about her beloved’s life and poetry. It was moving without being sentimental, and lots of it was very funny.

    Her way of speaking and the perceptiveness she showed made me want to seek out her fiction, and now here you are serendipitously telling me where to start. goody!

  4. doctordi said,

    Charlotte, yes, I read a number of essays about Dorothy Porter around the time she died, initially because Darkling Jenny was so upset – Andrea launched Jenny’s Wasp Season and had been, I think, one of the Year of the Novel teachers at VWC, so I think everyone there felt Dorothy’s passing very keenly indeed. And it was Jenny’s feelings about Andrea that fast-tracked Reunion up my book pile.

    I love those coincidences. They happen quite a lot in this medium, I find. That’s what happened with Beyond Black earlier in the year. Yours was the post that tipped me over the edge and had me rushing around determined to find it!

  5. David said,

    It’s always so interesting to me when I have trouble with a book because I dislike the characters … I hate myself for that, because of course my not liking the characters is in itself a testament to the writer’s skill, and so I should read the book because I don’t like it. It’s very confusing and disheartening. Plus I meet so many people in real life whom I can’t stand; it’s hard to spend leisure time enduring them. And yet … I feel guilty giving up on what must be good writing because I wouldn’t hate them otherwise.


  6. doctordi said,


    ‘Shrieking’ makes me shriek – it’s so sorely underutilised as both act and image. I laugh every time I glance up from the comment window and see it there. You funny.

  7. litlove said,

    ‘ll join the chorus of voices who have never heard of Andrea Goldsmith! I don’t mind smug, clever people on the whole as I wouldn’t survive at work if I hadn’t learned to tolerate them. But I guess that in a novel I’d expect them to change a bit, shape up or get some kind of comeuppance – yeah, that would be satisfying! 🙂

  8. Pete said,

    “Chop, chop, little man, time to get off stage.” That’s a catchy phrase and one that is bound to reappear when I find some character rather tedious! If I do get my lazy self around to reading Andrea Goldsmith I think I’ll start with The Prosperous Thief. And I agree completely about the gender thing. Ask me to name well-known Aussie authors and I give you Peter Carey and Tim Winton (both excellent of course) but where are the women?

  9. The Writing Retreat in Review « DoctorDi said,

    […] She apparently asked the class who’d read her latest book Reunion – you may remember that I have – and to those unable to raise a hand she said, “Well, how stupid are you?” – terrifying! […]

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