About the Book:
In Lillian’s Eden, debut novelist Cheryl Adam takes the reader to Australian rural post-war life through the life of a family struggling to survive. With their farm destroyed by fire, Lillian agrees to the demands of her philandering, violent husband to move to the coastal town of Eden to help look after his Aunt Maggie.
Juggling the demands of caring for her children and two households, and stoically enduring her husband’s continued indiscretions, Lillian finds an unlikely ally and friend in the feisty, eccentric Aunt Maggie who lives next door.
With wonderfully drawn characters reminiscent of Ruth Park and Kylie Tennant, Cheryl Adam shows us the stark realities of rural life behind the closed front doors and scented rose-filled gardens. She highlights the endless physical and mental demands on women like Lillian who have to grapple with the challenges of a new homeland as well as never ending family responsibilities.
This rich, raw novel pays homage to friendship and to the rural women whose remarkable resilience enabled them to find happiness in sometimes the most unlikely of places.
Lillian’s Eden has a rather classic feel to it, harking back to life during the 1950s in rural Australia. In many ways, it is reminiscent of The Dressmaker and Cloudstreet, with its element of the ridiculous that only comes with this type of nostalgic Australian fiction. Unflinchingly honest, this is a novel that will have you in stitches from laughter while stealing your breath away with its emotional intensity.
‘She cursed the day she had encouraged Aunt Maggie’s coffin idea. Eric thought she was pulling his leg when she told him, but he’d happily obliged. They’d given her their tea chests, helped her move an old bed into the shed and lent her tools. Building the coffin would keep Aunt Maggie occupied, stop her from bossing them around for a while. Lillian and Eric had complimented Aunt Maggie on her craftsmanship and laughed in the kitchen when her shed had rung with the sound of hammering. That’s how it went until the coffin was near completion. Now she was holding coffin practices. And these the whole family were expected to attend.’
Devoid of stereotypes, the characters that people this novel are richly rendered and highly memorable. The story itself is driven more by the characters and their dynamism than any actual events, and it’s in this where the story gets that ‘classic’ feel. We really are being treated to a slice of life, early 1950s, in small town Australia, warts and all. Many of the issues explored throughout Lillian’s Eden are relatable to contemporary times and none of the characters are passively sitting back within their own lives. Lillian and Maggie are both smart, strong, progressive women. So are Lillian’s daughters. Yet circumstances and societal expectations within the era are holding them all pinned in place. There were many entertaining moments throughout this novel, but my favourite would have to be Lillian’s mini breakdown over the laundry copper breaking:
‘Lillian looked at the red blister forming on Splinter’s foot and saw the water leaking through a small hole in the copper. It settled into a puddle of steam on the cement floor. She gazed around the hut that stole her Mondays: thought of the roses she had nurtured; cuttings she’d stolen from wealthy gardens at night armed with Aunt Maggie’s secateurs; the shooting, and something broke inside her. Grabbing the wash pole, she charged the clothesline. Pinioned forms swung and jerked beneath her blows. Sheets wrestled the pole as she belted the blazes out of them. Her eyes were popping mad. The backyard filled with barking and shrieking and Lillian unleashed her demons. The truck pulled up in the driveway. Eric jumped out and ran towards her. Lillian swung the pole back for the last mighty whack and collected him in the gut, knocking him off his feet. He lay on the ground winded, his eyes as big as the teacups she read.
“I want a bloody washing machine.”’
How I could relate to her fury! Too many things going wrong when you’ve got too many people to look after and too many things to get done. Everyone’s elastic stretches a little too thin at times. It’s this honesty in her character’s reactions that Cheryl Adam has nailed to perfection. It’s one thing to throw issues at them and test their mettle, but it’s how you guide them through that makes a novel go from good to even better. Both Maggie and Lillian were forces to be reckoned with, even if at times they didn’t fully realise this. Their relationship with each other, which caught them both by surprise, was beautifully rendered. Lillian’s respect for Maggie was in sharp contrast to Eric’s dismissal. To Lillian, Maggie was her friend and protector; to Eric, Maggie was an inheritance waiting in the wings. Maggie knew this too, which is something that really tugged on my heartstrings. To know you are only valued for the money you’ll be leaving behind is a sad state of affairs and I must admit, I was amused by how Maggie used this knowledge to her advantage against Eric.
All in all, Lillian’s Eden was an entertaining read from start to finish and I recommend it highly. It’s a very frank novel that doesn’t sugar coat reality, but it’s also nicely balanced and doesn’t ever push itself too far or give up too soon. As far as debuts go, Cheryl Adam is off to an incredibly good start.
Thanks is extended to Spinifex Press for providing me with a copy of Lillian’s Eden for review.
About the Author:
Cheryl Adam spent her childhood in rural Australia where her love of storytelling began. In adulthood, she travelled widely and lived overseas including in Africa and Europe. She has been evicted, kidnapped, abandoned, made homeless and discriminated against in her foreign adventures and this helped develop her deep empathy for the plight of immigrant women. Her concern for marginalised women and the environment took her to the Philippines where she taught homeless women how to create useable art from plastic bags developing a cottage industry. This experience inspired her to begin a creative writing course at Holmesglen TAFE in Melbourne. She is a proud grandmother and looks forward to writing more books.
Published by Spinifex Press
Released on 1st November 2018