Books Are Pretty

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Last Anniversary

Question for American readers: How many Australian writers can you name? Or books with themes that take place in Australia? Here’s my answer: None. After wracking my brain for days trying to come up with even a single example, I was horrified to admit that I was at a loss. How could this have happened? How is it that after a lifetime of bookwormery I have this Australia-sized gap on my bookshelf?

Last year, I was loaned a copy of Romanian writer Mircea Cărtărescu’s Nostalgia, and before then I couldn’t have named any Romanian novels or writers, either, but at least I had the defense of not many of the books not being translated into English.

What’s my excuse for Australia? I don’t have one.

Liane Moriarty’s The Last Anniversary, then, is the only representation in almost 35 years of reading that I’ve ever had. So therefore she represents the entire scope of every Australian writer who ever lived, and The Last Anniversary is the representative of every Australian book ever written.

With that in mind, I know you are all burning to know what Australian literature is like.

It’s not too bad, actually. Australian writers seem to produce a more sophisticated, darker form of chick lit. Yes, the protagonist is a thirty something single woman whose biological clock is ticking and she has made husband hunting her prime directive, but the Australians tend to flesh out their chick lit a little more than the British and the Americans do, adding older as well as much older women into the mix and giving them rich inner lives and have them taking an active role in pushing the story line forward. And if The Last Anniversary was a film, (and maybe it should have been because there are lots of celebrity Australian actors and a zillion well-received Australian films that are in heavy rotation in the U.S.), it would even pass the Mo Movie Measure.

Impressive, yes, but I suppose since Australian literature is solely represented by this one chick lit novel, you would have to conclude that Australia has more practice than we do.

The Last Anniversary’s main character Sophie Honeywell, thinking she could do better, broke up with her reliable, sweet-but-boring longterm boyfriend Thomas on the same day he had planned to propose. Heartbroken, he immediately married Deborah, a travel agent, on the rebound, and when the story begins three years later, the better man never materialized and it’s Sophie that’s still single.

Although Sophie knows that Thomas was not right for her, she regrets having left safe territory in favor of the more unpredictable unknown. Sure that Thomas is gloating over her lack of success, she avoids him for three years until he abruptly calls her to inform her that his Aunt Connie has died and willed her house on the fictitious Scribbly Gum Island to Sophie.

Scribbly Gum Island is home to one of Australia’s biggest (also fictitious) unsolved mysteries – the Monroe baby. Jack and Alice Monroe, one of the few island residents, disappear without a trace in 1932, leaving nothing but their two week old daughter behind in her crib. Enigma, the famous baby in question, is now a grandmother, owner of the island, and matriarch to Thomas’ entire extended family.

When Sophie moves onto the island, Thomas’ family members, who have forgiven her for breaking up with Thomas, embrace her as one of the family, and soon after her arrival mysteries begin to surface and almost every family member is harboring a secret, from Thomas’ beautiful sister Grace, who is struggling with undiagnosed post-partum depression, to Grace’s meek Aunt Margie, who is living a double life under the nose of her bullying husband Ron.

As one mystery after another unfolds for each member of the large family, it seems implausible that Moriarty will be able to bring all the pieces together to reveal the completed puzzle at the end, but she does, and quite skillfully, too, with an ending that’s not unsatisfyingly unresolved, yet not too tidy and pat, either.

The Last Anniversary, at its conclusion, is chick lit with a satisfying weight to it, a book that will entertain during a day by the pool, but with enough intrigue to keep the reader on her toes as well.

So thumbs up to Australia! I can’t wait until they branch out and start writing other kinds of books as well.


The Last Anniversary
By Liane Moriarty
First published in the U.S. in 2006 by Harper
Original publication in 2005 by Macmillan
Paperback, 388 pp.
ISBN: 0-06-089068-1

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