Harper Collins, Australia, 2021
In this, her second novel, Kaneana May brings us a story of family. Most families will experience times of loss, grief, sadness, dispute, misunderstanding, failures of communication and petty bickering. But amidst it all there is usually love. And indeed, this is what we see in the lives of the three women at the centre of this epic tale.
Coming together after meeting at a health retreat, Bree, Elsie and Olive set up their own health and wellness centre offering services in exercise, cooking, socialising and counselling. They bring on board a handsome and personable young masseur who happens to be a former schoolfriend of Olive’s, one who’s held a candle for her from that earlier time.
Each woman comes with an entourage of family and friends and all are developed thoroughly by the author. Bree has a drug addicted sister who comes and goes form the bosom of the family. Olive has a sister for whose death she grieves and holds guilt. Elsie is married to Frank who has a child Jonah and an ex-wife who won’t let go of the controls. Then there are the parents and love interests.
This complex net of relationships allows the author to explore many issues of social import including the impact of dementia on a family, the long and highly individual process of grieving, the complications of the blended family, the dissociative behaviours we indulge in to avoid facing a difficult reality, the different ways people respond to and cope with relationship breakdown and divorce, and another central to the story which we will not reveal for fear of spoiling the reader experience.
The sustaining strength of female friendships is also key to this book. While there are misunderstandings and missteps, the three women continue to try to resolve differences, to atone for mistakes and to honour the friendship they have. Truth telling and the keeping of secrets is also a significant thread going right back to the previous generation. The revelation of secrets brings with it the capacity to heal and for others to play their part in this process.
Male characters are not neglected in this work. They, like the women, are of varying types and are even-handedly painted for their virtues and foibles. The author’s previous career as a script writer has held her in good stead for weaving multiple story lines and juggling a host of characters, major and minor. Whilst the cast list is vast, at no time do we become confused. Nor does the central story get lost.
There is a great deal of human kindness and human struggle in this novel and one is confident that most readers will find bits of themselves or their lives in its pages. What it is to be human and how to manage the notion of family as not perfect, but good in its imperfection, are salutary and relatable messages we take from our reading.
Thank you to Harper Collins for my review copy and to Kaneana for spending time with me to chat about the work (bravely managing a croaky throat).