I went to the launch of Landed. I took a couple of friends to the Dannevirke Library at 6pm last Friday and the place was heaving. Sue McCauley has a strong local fan base and she can count me in. It felt like the whole town was there and they were all buying her book. Made my heart sing. And then Sue took the chair (kind of perched, she’s little), and entertained us. The microphone was unnecessary, she has a good story-telling voice and she told us some anecdotes, gave out thanks, made some self-deprecating jokes and read from her book. She sort of tried to put us off buying the book, saying there’s no real story, it doesn’t follow proper book rules in terms of structure. Nothing happens. Course she didn’t put anyone off.
She’s right, though. Not much happens. There’s no recognisable story structure from lit 101. Sue is not a literary rule follower. She doesn’t need to be – there are no rules for a good book: a book either works or it doesn’t. And this one very much does.
It’s a character study. A coming-of-age story where we’re not talking about adolescence but whatever it is that takes you from being a purposeful adult on whom people depend, to a superfluous one, with no set agenda, dwindling resources, friends and health. What is that transition even called? Not retirement, specifically. It’s a time when the realisation hits you that your general usefulness is reaching the end of its use-by date.
Why is no one else talking about this? Wake up, publishers, who is it reading your books, hey? This is a great theme and Sue McCauley nails it with style. Here’s a woman – alone after a life with two husbands and three children, who looks back on her life and examines her role in her family, judges her actions and analyses the consequences. The younger generation grows away and becomes self-reliant and the older generation sells up and becomes quieter. Friends and family get sick, die. These are big things our narrator is living through, every bit as life-changing and challenging as a teen coming-of-age drama but on the other side of the adulthood hump. She deals with a whole jumble of issues: suicide, betrayal, nostalgia, dead and lost babies, gambling addiction, theft, racism. There is a huge amount in this book, but, as Sue says, nothing much happens.
The story from the outside is of a middle-aged woman who loses her husband and her house, tries to stay connected with her children and wonders how best to live the life that’s left to her. The inside story is the brain of the woman making good sense of it all.
Read it and prepare yourself for the encroachment of the adult coming-of-age! Are you listening, my Gen X friends?
One thought on “Landed – book review”
I’m looking forward to reading Sue’s latest book. I was a boarder a year behind Sue at Nelson College for girls and remember her well.
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