Elsie has lived in her home in Brisbane for over sixty years, until she falls and is taken to a nursing home. Lucy is still struggling to find the balance of being a wife and a new mother. One woman leaves the house, and another woman enters.
The tale of two different families from two different generations, this novel demonstrates the intricacies and delicate moments which make a life. Following the relationship of commonality between Elsie and Lucy – and, of course, the house that unites their lives in an intimate way – we see the challenges, children, and change that ultimately make a life.
The foundation of this novel is, inevitably, the ownership of property. It’s ironic considering the desperation of owning a house, or not being able to afford a house in this period, but Ashley Hay highlights just how important one is in the lives of so many Australians. The focus of the novel on mundane everyday families is extremely refreshing. In a world where drama is constant and lives are so busy, we forget the quiet moments which go unnoticed. Hay has captured this perfectly. The prose is elegant and warm; very easy to read but by no means simple.
The novel itself doesn’t have a solid plot, but its simplicity and slow flow is similar to a sunny afternoon on a Sunday, which seems to be what Hay’s vision of the novel was. Hay’s ability to capture a picturesque Brisbane landscape is superb. The imagery is so well structured that it easily allows the reader to be in the 1960s, the 1980s, or in our own contemporary time.
A Hundred Small Lessons is homely and warm and, in our dysfunctional existence, it is nice to be reminded that sometimes the only company we may need, even for a short while, is the solitude of our homes.
Reviewed by Phoebe Christofi
Rating out of 10: 7
Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: April 2017
RRP: $32.99 paperback