The profoundly moving new novel from the critically acclaimed and Miles Franklin shortlisted author of PAST THE SHALLOWS and WHEN THE NIGHT COMES. A tender and masterfully told story of memory, family and love.
Prague, 1938: Eva flies down the street from her sister. Suddenly a man steps out, a man wearing a hat. Eva runs into him, hits the pavement hard. His hat is in the gutter. His anger slaps Eva, but his hate will change everything, as war forces so many lives into small, brown suitcases.
Prague, 1980: No one sees Ludek. A young boy can slip right under the heavy blanket that covers this city – the fear cannot touch him. Ludek is free. And he sees everything. The world can do what it likes. The world can go to hell for all he cares because Babi is waiting for him in the warm flat. His whole world.
Melbourne, 1980: Mala Li ka’s grandma holds her hand as they climb the stairs to their third floor flat. Inside, the smell of warm pipe tobacco and homemade cakes. Here, Mana and Bill have made a life for themselves and their granddaughter. A life imbued with the spirit of Prague and the loved ones left behind.
Favel Parrett’s deep emotional insight and stellar literary talent shine through in this love letter to the strong women who bind families together, despite dislocation and distance. It is a tender and beautifully told story of memory, family and love. Because there is still love. No matter what.
I read Past the Shallows, Parrett’s debut novel when it first came out in 2011 and adored it. It was sad, beautiful and set in Tasmania, all positives that ensured an enjoyable reading experience. I never got around to reading her 2014 novel, When the Night Comes, for no particular reason. Time just got away from me and the moment to read it passed.
I didn’t want to make the same mistake with There Was Still Love. So when my ARC from Hachette Australia arrived, I sat it on top of the pile by my bed, and here we are, a few short weeks later, with it read, even before it’s publication date on the 24th September.
I have been struggling, though, to find a way to talk about this book for awhile. That is until, a weekend visit to see the Archibald Prize exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW, gave me a quote to work with.
Fiona Lowry was this year’s Sulman Prize judge. A plaque near the entrance explained her thinking as she approached the judging process.
I was reminded of an interview I recently read with the artists Eric Fischl where he suggests that artists are looking for love, and they are expressing love in their commitment to what they have made.
He goes on to say: ‘Love is complicated, obviously. But the reason artists do what they do on some level is to say: “Don’t look at me, look at this thing I made you and you will know the true me.”‘
Judging and viewing and reviewing another’s artistic efforts is a privilege I don’t take lightly. I’m aware that heart, body and soul goes into most creative work. It is an act of love and trust and hope.
And an act of incredible bravery. Because once a creation leaves the artists hands and enters the public sphere, anything can happen. The whole process becomes totally subjective and out of their control.
How one reacts to art can depend on so many variables, and just because something doesn’t appeal to you or move you right now, doesn’t mean the work is ‘bad’ or that others won’t adore it.
So, I respectfully confess, that I may be in the minority here, when I say that I was underwhelmed by There Was Still Love. Yes, the prose was beautifully rendered, yes it was moving (but not profoundly so). Yes, I also believe that Parrett is a literary talent, but I wanted more.
There was tenderness, dislocation and strong women but the emotional insight was, dare I say, nothing new. I kept waiting for something or someone who never turned up. Or to return to the food analogies of the last few posts, There Was Still Love was a souffle that failed to rise. All the right ingredients and processes were in place, but the chemical magic failed to kick in.
It’s always good to be reminded of how love makes this life-long journey worthwhile and to revisit the different ways love can be experienced and expressed, but, in the end, so many books have covered this same ground already. At least most of the books that I choose to read. So I was looking for something meatier; I was expecting something more. Especially since one of my colleagues finished his copy last month and has been gushing about it ever since.
There Was Still Love was a lovely dance across the surface of love, memory and family, but I prefer books that dive into the depths. It was a gentle interlude in my usual reading schedule, a bit like eating fairy floss, light and airy and sweet. Lovely writing, a lovely premise, but not quite enough to whet my appetite.