Books & Literature

Book Review: My Brilliant Sister, by Amy Brown

LITERARY FICTION: While Stella Miles Franklin took on the world, her beloved sister Linda led a short, domestic life as a wife, mother and sister. In a remarkable, genre-bending debut novel Amy Brown thrillingly reimagines those two lives – and her own – to explore and explode the contradictions embedded in brilliant careers and a woman’s place in the world.

A splendid debut novel from a great Australian literary voice.

Feature image credit: Simon & Schuster

In the canon of Australian literature, Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career sits proudly. This semi-autobiographical work is to be found on many a school and university reading list. Franklin herself lead a fascinating life, especially for a woman of her time. Meanwhile her sister Linda stayed close to home in rural NSW, fulfilling the then-standard female fate of becoming wife and mother.

My Brilliant Sister delves into this dichotomy, both as microcosm in terms of the Franklin women, and in macrocosm in terms of the contemporary (albeit white, middle-class) woman’s bifurcated sense of identity. Author Amy Brown explores these themes in three sections. Ida is a first-person account of a high-school English teacher in Melbourne. Married, with a young child, she is doing “the juggle.” In her classroom, she is teaching My Brilliant Career. Stillwater is an epistolary account of Linda Franklin’s life as told to sister Stella (Miles). Anyone who has read My Brilliant Career will recognize places, people, and situations. Here we see them from a different perspective, yet with a delicate respect for Franklin’s original. The third section Stella takes us across the ditch, to a first-person account of a successful singer-songwriter, going through a crisis of identity, whilst staying in a bach (shack) on a beach. This seeming trilogy of short stories becomes a novel through shared threads and shared characters, combining to form a meta-narrative.

Amy Brown writes exquisitely. She somehow manages to be poetic and languid, whilst also being immediate and urgent. All of her characters—her Stellas, her Mileses, her Lindas—maintain at once an individuality and a universality. The narrative gently hooks you in, and holds you there till the end, and even beyond. Loath though I am to refer to something as a good “book club book,” this is certainly a novel you will want your friends to read, so you can talk to them about it.

My Brilliant Sister was short-listed for the Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award. Surely it will also be short-listed (at the very least!) for the prize named after its inspiration: Miles Franklin.

This is a truly beautiful piece of work.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: Simon & Schuster
Released: February 2024
RRP: $32.99

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