Reviewed by Gail McDonald
The Lessons is the second novel by John Purcell with his debut novel The Girl on the Page being acclaimed as a best seller. John Purcell is an Australian author whose novels also include The Secret Lives of Emma. He is also the Director of Books at Booktopia and Angus & Robertson Bookworld.
The Lessons is set principally in 1960s England and progresses to the early 1980s. It is a novel about innocence, the coming of age of the central character Daisy and betrayal. Other prominent characters are Daisy’s lover Harry, Simon and Aunt Jane who is a successful novelist.
The chapters in the book follow each of the characters with the story told from their perspectives and which alternate between the relevant locations of the story and the time frames. The story is set in the Essex region of England and in the south of France.
Firstly, we meet Jane in 1983, as she is travelling from London to New York for a prestigious book event highlighting her latest novel and setting the scene to demonstrate her success and how well known she is in the literary field. Back in 1961, Jane is a free thinker who has achieved fame as an author. She lives a free and easy life doing pretty much what she wants despite having a small child and a husband, Sebastian. We hear very little of Sebastian throughout the story – he is just there as the absent husband.
Seventeen-year-old Harry is introduced by the author through his brief encounter at the local hotel with the much older Aunt Jane, even though he doesn’t know who she is. We find out that he works on his grandfather’s farm and considers that he doesn’t fit in Daisy’s world.
Daisy lives in the same town as Harry. She attends a boarding school in Ascot ‘as none of the schools near home would do’ but is back home with her mum and dad for the school holidays. Jane encourages Daisy to move in with her to help look after Clemmie her child and for extra company as her husband Sebastian is often away on business. Daisy moves in and gradually begins to become involved in Jane’s world of partying, drinking and smoking.
Daisy engages in clandestine meetings with Harry firstly at his grandfather’s farm and then at Jane’s house. She falls madly in love and despite their innocence and youth, promise to love each other forever.
Daisy eventually discovers that she is pregnant to Harry but never tells him, reluctantly allowing Jane to arrange an abortion.
Simon lives with Jane as her ‘boarder’ and her plaything. Simon’s character is portrayed as a bit of a sop, constantly seeking Jane’s approval and carrying out her every wish. However, the benefit for Jane and her family and friends is that Simon’s dad is wealthy and so can support Simon in his lifestyle. Simon’s father owns a villa near Nice and a friend of Simon’s had a yacht at a villa in Saint-Tropez so Daisy’s world was to change again when Jane, Sebastian, Simon and Daisy left to spend the whole of summer ‘indulging in life’s pleasures.’
As the story progresses, Daisy moves from the young innocent person that she was as the beginning of the story to a sophisticated person who did not fit in her previous life, although her love for Harry never waned.
The book was an enjoyable light read and I would happily recommend it.
by John Purcell
ISBN 978 146075 699 7