Lynne Leonhardt’s debut novel takes us to a gentler and a more violent time in our history – a paradox that is managed in this novel with grace and clarity. This is a book about people and relationships in times of change, of war, of displacement. And it’s so much about the place of displacement that the landscape becomes as much a character in this book as its four feisty women and the lost heroic Jasper of the title.
The post-war West Australian landscape of the 1950s is rich with loss and abundance in equal measure. ‘All that remained of the backyard was a tangle of dried grasses. Gold, brown, silver. Everything half-dead, drab, blurring into the landscape. The forest in the distance was simply a smudge -‘ (page 109). Against this background, three women, the fourth still a child, learn to co-exist.
There are three generations of women on a farm in a remote corner of the south-west of Western Australia. There’s matriarchal, colonial Audrey, lost in memories of Ceylon and a soldier husband, her world-weary daughter Attie who keeps body, soul and farm together, the English war bride Valerie and her young daughter Gin. Gin realises early in life that there are two distinct worlds. ‘One for children. One for adults. One for her mother and one for herself, and nothing in between.’ (page 11). Valerie, the languid Englishwoman, with her cigarettes and headaches, bitterly committed to hating the rude country that marriage to Jasper has brought her to, is barely likeable. Her flaws are presented in contrast to the good-tempered Audrey, the sensible Attie and the neglected Gin. Yet, like all deeply flawed characters, tragedy follows her like a ghost, making her actions believable , if not excusable.
This is a gentle, meditative book, one that reveals its insights slowly. It situates its characters in their time and landscape convincingly. I loved Attie and Gin and the way they grow to love each other, this aunt-and-niece pair who reminded me of my own relationships with my aunts when I was growing up, in another time and place. I look forward to a second reading.
Author – Lynne Leonhardt
Publisher – Margaret River Press, 2012