Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
This book by Carol Lefevre does not follow the usual conventions of a novel where the reader can become immersed into the lives of a few main characters and follow their journey to whatever end the author may have in mind. It is not one storyline nor two – one in the past and the other in the present. Instead, it consists of twelve stories and not all seem to connect through their characters. What does connect them is the emotions each of the characters feels in their lifestyle. It is a book about loneliness, not fitting in, disappointment, grief and getting old.
The author tells the reader, that The Tower could be a place of refuge but may also confine. ‘A family can be a tower, as can a marriage, childhood, friendship, memory, the past. Home, if you can find it, is always a tower’ (249). ‘Old age, if we reach it, may be the final tower’ (250). Lefevre also reveals that several of the stories in this novel have been published in earlier works.
She confides that an Australian outback childhood, free of the dumbing effect of television, has been her chief inspiration and education. This could account for the uniqueness of her writing. She has written for glossy lifestyle magazines, and her short fiction and non-fiction has appeared in a range of publications, including anthologies by Wakefield Press and Granta.
Her latest contribution is divided into titled chapters. Those titled The Tower alternate with others of different individual titles. The novel begins and ends with the storyline of The Tower. Widow, Dorelia MacCraith, sells her house to buy one with a tower without telling her adult children. They are not impressed. “At her age (seventy-five) people move into sheltered housing, or a retirement village. It’s insane, buying a place that’s not much smaller than Number 10” (53). Dorelia justifies her actions to herself – ‘was she to spend what remained of her life as museum keeper, preserving clocks and paintings and assorted bric-a-brac, lavishing energy on silver that was never used, dusting mahogany chairs and tables in anticipation of Christmas and the occasional Sunday lunch?’. She believed that she had done her duty by nurturing her children from helpless babes to functional adults and that now whatever time she had left should be her own (72).
The tower in her new house, where she had planned to spend her time writing, had gathered her in as if it had been waiting for her (97). It was a solid refuge where she could relive distant memories which now came so easily to her. These memories are revealed in the chapters with the tower title. Her overprotective children believed she was losing her grip on life like characters in some of the other chapters. Like their children, life was viewed from only one perspective, their own. They did not listen, and often important information was never heard.
The other storylines included an unsolved murder from a long time ago, a child with difficulties which affected the other family members in different ways, women with depression, alcoholics, children from small towns who couldn’t wait to spread their wings and the elderly with dementia. There were those who believed their life should be different, more fulfilling. ‘She was filled with grief that she belonged to this place and an almost equal grief that she could never truly belong’ (18). Although depicting reality, I found these stories very depressing as they did not seem to be balanced with any good uplifting aspects.
Throughout these stories was the theme of art. Several of the characters went to art school. Dorelia had gone overseas and with her friend, Bunty, and spent time painting on the continent while living a bohemian lifestyle on a boat. Artworks by Bunty are mentioned in some of the other stories as well as works by masters such as Whistler.
This author, in her novel The Tower, has depicted everyday life that is authentic in its telling. She has also shown a lifestyle from the past of which many of the younger generation would not be aware. She lets one of the younger characters realise that the past clings and has subtly shaped them all in ways they cannot envisage or explain (92).
During my reading of this work, I could follow the main story contained in the title chapters easily and found it satisfying to read. However, although the other stories were interesting, each time I returned to the book I had difficulty remembering the multitude of characters and placing them in their correct story. This may be because I am of an age similar to Dorelia’s.
By Carol Lefevre