Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
Anyone interested in Australian politics would find this book interesting as it encompasses the time in Australia when a long entrenched political party was defeated. What followed was a time of musical chairs as the leadership of political parties changed quite frequently. The book reveals some of the workings of the union movement and other influencers who try to manipulate the public. The author, Jessica Stanley, was born in regional Victoria and grew up in Canberra and Melbourne. She worked in journalism and politics before moving to London in 2011. This allows her to write about politics and the ACTU with authority. Within this environment is the story of one family and its breakdown.
The story begins with a brief description of a man falling to his death in 2010. Was it suicide or murder? The story from then on is set to reveal that answer. Through the lives of the remaining family members and a mistress, what happened leading up to and just after the fateful fall is slowly revealed.
Jessica Stanley’s writing includes some irreverent descriptions of political leaders. She has a down to earth way of writing and describes things in a unique way. I particularly liked how one character ‘loped off like a King’s Cross ibis’ (41) and another ‘opened her handbag and stirred the contents until she found her keys’ (54). I could imagine a reptile emerging when I read ‘she slid out of her giant battered shoebox of memories’ (86).
With the death of the husband, father and lover, those left behind examine their own lives. It is at this point that the writing becomes more focussed on personal relationships and the political scene drifts away. The wife and mother had always resented that, within the family, she felt that ‘she didn’t exist’ (360). ‘She kept the home fires burning and used herself as kindling’ (372). She believed that her relationship with her husband was one of shrinking. ‘Shrinking the parts of her she thought he didn’t like or respond to’ (362) leaving their relationship locked in a titanic battle with no ‘off ramps’ (339). She is also described as a plant – born shooting out in all directions, being tightly pruned when young then as she grew, she tightly pruned herself (362).
Both children had become disconnected from their mother and their own lives appeared to be rudderless. They felt their mother was critical of all they did. It is in this section of the book that I felt the author was holding a mirror up for all readers. Her reference to hanging clothes on the line caused me to squirm. With some of the actions described, I’m sure, most readers would do the same. However, she goes on to show that by being more open and talking about family situations and feelings, lots of the discord within families can be overcome.
A Great Hope, by Jessica Stanley, is a book about politics but also it is a story about sex and death, love and betrayal. It throws light on manipulation within the political sphere especially leading up to an election. Relationships within families between husband and wife, parents and children are also examined. The story highlights how each family member perceives a situation in light of their own feelings. This might not correspond with how others in the same situation see it. Maybe this is the great hope – that family members will take the time to communicate how they feel and see things so that nobody feels abandoned. I’m puzzled as to why the title on the book has no capital letters and the city skyline is upside down on the cover.
For a debut novel this writer has produced an interesting and insightful story.
A Great Hope
by Jessica Stanley
Picador Pan Macmillan Australia