Allegra in Three Parts
Pan Macmillan Australia
From Suzanne Daniel comes an outstanding debut novel, capturing 1970s Australia with warmth, humour and a distinctive voice. I can split myself in two . . . something I have to do because of Joy and Matilde. They are my grandmothers and I love them both and they totally love me but they can’t stand each other. Eleven-year-old Allegra shuttles between her grandmothers who live next door to one another but couldn’t be more different. Matilde works all hours and instils discipline, duty and restraint. She insists that Allegra focus on her studies to become a doctor. Meanwhile free-spirited Joy is full of colour, possibility and emotion, storing all her tears in little glass bottles. She is riding the second wave of the women’s movement in the company of her penny tortoise, Simone de Beauvoir, encouraging Ally to explore broad horizons and live her ‘true essence’.
And then there’s Rick who lives in a flat out the back and finds distraction in gambling and solace in surfing. He’s trying to be a good father to Al Pal, while grieving the woman who links them all but whose absence tears them apart. Allegra is left to orbit these three worlds wishing they loved her a little less and liked each other a lot more. Until one day the unspoken tragedy that’s created this division explodes within the person they all cherish most. Suzanne Daniel is a journalist and communications consultant who has also worked for ABC TV, the Sydney Morning Herald, the United Nations, BBC (London) and in crisis management and social services. For the past twenty years she has served on community, philanthropic and public company boards. Suzanne lives in Sydney with her husband and family. Allegra in Three Parts is her first novel.
I am sitting here in my flares, a recent “op shop” purchase, I love flares, I am searching for the musical references mentioned in this novel; I love the music of the seventies.
At the time (the 70’s) I was too young to appreciate that I was growing up female in the middle of the Women’s movement, the liberation. The movement was happening around me and I largely benefited from the struggles of my peers. Helen Reddy’s powerhouse song “I am Woman” was the anthem we all sang. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rptW7zOPX2E
But I digress. I am meant to be reviewing Allegra in Three Parts – and in a roundabout way I am.
Allegra in Three Parts has many story arcs – the Women’s Liberation movement being one of them; the setting up of women’s safe houses/refuges from family violence, the challenge of attaining equal pay and conditions, education for women, the harnessing of trade unions to improve work conditions…so much more is introduced to us by the characters of grandmothers Joy and Mathilde. Joy is at the forefront of the movement, with her Liberty Club. Mathilde clearly feels that education and a good job are the key to a woman’s success and independence and she is determined that Allegra will have those opportunities. They both want the best life possible for Allegra.
Suzanne Daniel also creates a space here to discuss the role of fathers in family and in particular as role models for their daughters when we are introduced to Rick – Allegra’s father. As the narrative progresses his influence on the family and Allegra increases – in a positive way.
The characters of Rick and the grandmothers are great devices to open up discussion surrounding grief, loss and resilience.
There are so many more social issues subtly probed in this novel – so gently are they introduced that you hardly are aware of the lessons being shared; on racism, multiculturalism, on being different, of bullying, of class and privilege…
More than issues this is a book about growth and healing, forgiveness, families and love and the importance of being loved.
“There’s no formula for happiness that’s guaranteed to work
It all depends on how you treat your friends and how much you’ve been hurt
But it’s a start, when you open up your heart
And try not to hide, what you’re feeling inside
Just open up your heart.” (p249, ‘Open Up Your Heart’ G W Thomas)
I loved this book!