Review Blog

Mar 06 2012

Three summers by Judith Clarke

cover image

Allen and Unwin, ISBN 978 1 74237 827 5
(Ages: 12+) Highly recommended. The first summer sees best friends, Ruth and Fee waiting for their year eleven results. Fee already knows what she wants in life, marriage and children and has set herself upon that path. Ruth, encouraged all her life by her grandmother, Margaret May, the child of an orphanage and a sour marriage, aims for university, and is in two minds when she wins a scholarship and place at Sydney University. The local priest, a long time friend of Margaret May, who has watched over the motherless Ruth, rages against the decision to move to Sydney from the pulpit. After all men do not marry educated women and cities are places of sin and abomination.
The small country town, west of Dubbo breaths rumour and innuendo, gossip and half truths as the fabric of their living is revealed by Clarke in this story of the girls' lives. Ruth is attracted to Tam a young man from the big house outside town, and rumoured to have fathered several children to girls in Ruth's school. After an encounter with him, thoughts of what might have been shadow Ruth for the rest of her life.
Fee's letters later follow Ruth to London where she lectures and writes, letters full of her marriage and five sons, and a longing to know if Ruth is happy. The second summer sees Fee begin to question her life, and when her youngest son, Josh is accepted at university but also intends to marry, Fee is shocked into saying things she later regrets.
During the third summer, Ruth has returned to Sydney and living in the mountains, fosters a damaged girl, one she is warned, never shows affection. During one long day of extreme heat and with the promise of fire in the air, the two women, the retired lecturer and the young girl with Tam's grey eyes, find a path of connection.
This is a stunning novel. The two women, friends for life, are on opposing paths on life's journey, one staying home contentedly married and bringing up children, the other seeking worlds anew. Both question their decision, but each knows it is the right choice. The steadfast friendship remains a constant theme in their lives, and the one true thing each has aimed for is there for each of them.
Neither can imagine living the life of the other, but as the summers pass they both accept what each has chosen, just as each realise that their path is particular to themselves.
Again Clarke deposits us in the world she has created, we laugh and cry, recognise people and situations, and are dismayed all over again with the narrowness of some while congratulating those who have some recognition of what makes them human. This is a moving story, skillfully told, which will readily capture the imagination of its readers.
Fran Knight

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