The Impersonators by Jessica Anderson


Jessica Anderson is an Australian writer (1916-2010), best known for Tirra Lirra by the River, a book I truly loved. She won Miles Franklin awards for it and for this book. 

Before the first chapter begins we are given a family tree for that relatively new phenomenon in Australia in 1977 of the "complicated family."  The main characters are the dying Jack Cornock and his wife Greta, Greta's four children by her previous husband, Jack's former wife Molly and their two children, and Molly's husband Ken. The six children are grown and in varying states of matrimonial discord. One of them, Sylvia, has come back for a visit after 20 years in Europe just as Jack is giving hints he will leave his money to Sylvia rather than his wife Greta. He has had a stroke and can't (or won't) speak, but it is nevertheless clear that he has a fury toward her caused by his anger about being debilitated.

The complications in this family abound, as it turns out that two of the four children of Greta and her first husband are in love with the two children of Jack and Molly. Though they of course are not related, the prospect of either pair getting together made everyone nervous. The story centers on Sylvia who has learned to ignore her love of luxurious goods so she can indulge her love of travel. But others have their own interesting stories:  Hermione can't bear to live in an ugly house, so she moves her husband and three children to an apartment while she searches for the perfect house. Her sister Rosamond really loves her rich husband until it turns out he's a thief and they are publicly humiliated. All this to say I came to love spending time with those characters.

Anderson grew up in Brisbane, but lived most of her life in Sydney. As in Tirra Lirra by the River, you can tell that she loved the city of Sydney. In a long passage she described Sylvia's walk from Pott's Point where she was staying through Woolloomooloo, the Domain and the Botanic Gardens to Wynyard Station. Sylvia first goes to the roof so she can look at her route, and as she does, she relives her memories of the places along the way. Other characters mention the harbor and Rosamond in particular spends time watching the ferries and boats on the water. 

This book is available at the UVa library and used copies are for sale at Amazon. The hardbacks cost $36.00 and paperbacks begin at $842. Though I liked the book, I can't recommend paying that for it. Perhaps there's an investment opportunity I am not aware of.

Jessica Anderson, The Impersonators, The MacMillan Company of Australia, 1980, 252 pages.

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