This is a confronting book that wonderfully rewards the steadfast reader.
The author introduces us to a family of eight children, six girls and two boys - Matthew, the oldest, is a latecomer to the family and plays little role in it. Four girls and one boy are the "big kids", the two youngest Annie and Kathy strike out largely on their own and are very close, almost two sides of the one person.
The father, Colin, who served in the Australian Army in Malaya and Vietnam, is kindly and hopelessly ineffectual, and, probably, a sexual abuser.
The mother, Madge, is a violent abuser of her children. Sometimes she hits them but mostly she simply screams at whatever child has caught her eye, in the most violent stream of appalling invective.
Annie and Kathy shelter in each other's company, hoping to be overlooked but this is, largely, not possible. But they seem resilient and are devoted to one another.
Then disaster strikes. Annie is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour while still a young girl. It is expected she will live for less than a year but, in fact, Annie lives on into her 30s.
Yet Annie's life effectively ends with the diagnosis. Kathy becomes her carer while still very young herself.
This may seem so utterly bleak as to be avoided but the novel is surprisingly uplifting and full of hope.
In a letter to the reader, first-time author Jackie Bailey writes, "For Kathy and me hope is an act of defiance and an entirely reasonable choice. I hope it is for you too."
Few writers attempting a first book would work with such a broad canvas but Bailey brings it off brilliantly. This reader will certainly look out for her subsequent books.
In her church eulogy for her sister, Kathy, who has been dreading this task for the entire book, speaks with maturity and great honesty.
The eulogy is perfect for the occasion even if it astounds and, perhaps, embarrasses all her siblings. One sister even asks, "has she been drinking?"
The structure of the book may impress discerning readers who will know, quite early on, that something has gone disastrously wrong with Kathy's own marriage.
There is even a child protection order out against her. This is simply one of the puzzles of the novel that Bailey carries off beautifully.
Readers should persevere, for all will be revealed in a way that may bring a tear to even the most hardened heart.
The Eulogy thrilled me as one of the best first novels I can remember reading in a long time.
Bleak it may be but the reader will be singing at the end.
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