Monday, May 18, 2009

13. "Sorry" by Gail Jones

Year of first publication: 2007
Genre: novel
Paese: Australia

About the author: Gail Jones was born in Harvey, Western Australia, and educated at the University of Western Australia. She has written four novels: Black Mirror (2002), Sixty Lights (2004), Dreams of Speaking (2006) and Sorry (2007). She has also written two collections of short stories: The House of Breathing (1992) and Fetish Lives (1997).

Plot: Perdita, daughter of British parents who didn’t want her, grows up in the bush in Western Australia, with a father who is obsessed with war and a mother whose only interest is Shakespeare. She develops a strong friendship with Mary, an Aboriginal girl, and with Billy, a deaf-mute boy who lives next door. When Perdita’s father, Nicholas, is brutally murdered, Mary is brought to prison and Perdita’s life is changed forever.

Some thoughts: This novel is set in scarcely populated Western Australia in the 1930s-40s. Perdita’s father is an anthropologist who has lost the interest in his profession and Perdita’s mother, Stella, is an Englishwoman who never ever thought that she would be having such a dull life in a remote hut in Australia. None of them really wanted to have a daughter, so Perdita grows up without love. Stella needs hospitalisation every now and then because she “loses touch with reality” and her dad becomes obsessed with war and pins images and newspaper articles on the war on the walls of the hut where he lives with his daughter.
Perdita is fond of the Aboriginal woman who nurses her and becomes close friend with Mary. This is one of the few Australian novels where the problem of the Stolen Generations is tackled (the Stolen Generations being a practice which involved Aboriginal children being taken from their families and brought up among white people to make them forget about their culture and in a way lead the Aboriginal race towards extinction). The core of the novel is the murder of Perdita’s father, but this traumatic event in Perdita’s past is a bit obscure. Who is the murderer? What really happened in the hut that night?
Perdita has a speech impediment and can speak without stuttering only when she recites Shakespeare. As a linguist, I found this quite interesting but a bit strange. Jones does not explain why Perdita suddenly begins to stutter (this is before the murder so it’s not a consequence of the trauma, but then the way her speech impediment is solved seems to be linked to the murder). Her only friend apart from Mary is Billy, a deaf-mute. It’s interesting that despite the problems of communication – she stutters, so he can’t read from her lips – they remain friends and can perfectly understand each other.
Unfortunately, there’s something missing in this novel: it should be about the friendship between a white girl and an Aboriginal orphan girl in the 1940s in the Australian outback, but I think the relationship between the two girls is not given enough space. The Aboriginal issue is very important for the author: the “sorry” of the title is in fact intended for all the Aboriginal people who have been mistreated by white men in Australia. Unfortunately, there are too many pages at the beginning of the novel concerning Perdita’s parents, Stella and Nicholas: how they met, why they got married, migrated to Australia and why their relationship couldn’t flourish. The rest of the book is about Perdita’s upbringing among Shakespeare’s sonnets and disturbing pictures of World War II’s soldiers. As a consequence, there are few pages left to describe the relationship between Perdita and Mary or between Perdita and the rest of the Aboriginal community.

1 comment:

  1. Your blog is interesting to read and we share a love for books...