Coda by Thea Astley


This is my second Thea Astley book; the first was Drylands and I admired the beauty of the writing about a grim place and time. I picked up this one because I read a post by Whispering Gums listing favorite quotes from it and I found that the language is irresistible.

When we meet Kathleen, the main character, she is well on her way to elderly incompetence which we learn from the first sentence, one quoted by Whispering Gums, "I am losing my nouns, she admitted." Now. everyone of a certain age knows about losing nouns, but few of us are quite as feisty as Kathleen is. She's been pleasingly unconventional all her life, but everything is much harder when you can't remember what was said a few minutes ago. Kathleen misses her old friend Daisy most of all, and will have a cup of tea and a chat with the phantom Daisy in the mall. 

Each section begins with a purported quote from a newspaper describing an instance of an elderly couple or individual being abandoned in a public place who do not know where they are, how they got there, or even where they live. I confess I believed them to be real until I checked on the names of the newspapers.

Kathleen's children are villainous or inept. Her daughter Shamrock is married to a corrupt public official who sells her home and buys a unit in a retirement home that he owns shares in called Passing Downs (this is not about subtlety). Her son Brian, called Brain, succeeds handsomely at destroying businesses, but does create a gigantic concrete sculpture of Shamrock's husband that he labels The Big Developer. He is much more sympathetic to his mother than Shamrock, but can't manage to take care of her. 

One quotable phrase that caught my eye was the reference to the death of Kathleen's parents: "Her parents had moved south when the war ended but were killed within the year by a vigorous semitrailer insisting on its right of way…"  For other quotes in the book, go to the link to Whispering Gums above for a satisfying list.

Thea Astley, Coda, William Heinemann Australia, 1994, 188 pages. Available at the UVa library and through Amazon.



  • Wow, Charlotte, your link to my post doesn’t seem to ever have come through so I didn’t know you’d written that. (This seems to happen every now and then and I have no idea why but I’m sorry you never heard from me because if I’d known you’d written this post I would have come here to comment).
    I’m a big Thea Astley fan, and I think Drylands and Coda are among her best. She’s not subtle as you say but she makes her points with style nonetheless.

  • Who knows why the link didn’t come through to you. I remain mystified about this things so often! I especially liked Coda for the wonderful Kathleen. And I do think subtlety is too often overrated.


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