The Mint Lawn by Gillian Mears


Having read a fair amount of Australian literature, I assume I know the language and understand many esoteric references. This 1991 book reminded me that I have much to learn. Though I missed much, still, it was well worth the effort. The author died this year, though she was only 51. She wrote three novels and four collections of short stories, and was well respected. I recall reading about her 2011 novel, Foal's Bread.

I admired the organization of this book: it begins with the narrator, Clementine, recounting her current situation. She married a much older man, her music teacher, because she had become pregnant just when she finished high school. She had been an excellent musician and had a promising track at college before her, but married the unpleasant Hugh instead. The pregnancy ended and when she begins her narration, she finds distraction from her miserable life in an affair with someone who will be leaving the continent.

After the initial explication by the narrator, a section begins that is told in the third person. This gives background about Clementine, her two sisters and her parents. Their stories of their lives seemed a bit murky to me, but then I was at a language disadvantage. I eventually came to understand that the mother, named Cairo, was the live-wire, artistic woman in their tiny town, striving to be more sophisticated. Her mint lawn was an indicator of Cairo's aspirations. I don't know that anyone in the US actually has a mint lawn, but judging for the results of a Google search, people certainly consider it, and more than one website suggests it as an alternative to grass.  

The book toggles back and forth between Clementine's narration of the present and the third party background. The latter culminates in the sad event of Cairo's early death in a car accident. And Clementine's narration culminates in the long overdue leaving of Hugh. Apparently Clementine could only leave Hugh after he had sunk to an appalling low. I couldn't help having the uncharitable thought that she was a party to that ugly scene in that she couldn't leave until he had been stunningly awful.

Gillian Mears, The Mint Lawn, Allen & Unwin, 1991, 298 pages. Available at UVa library and through Amazon.

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