The Albatross by Nina Wan

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

The pandemic had varied and profound effects on the world, many were tragic.

However, there are reasons to smooth the horrific memories that flooded our screens, daily. One is that creativity flourished as people were forced into long lockdowns.

Nina Wan’s book, The Albatross, is a splendid example of this.

Her key figure is Primrose Li, a second generation Chinese/Australian young woman who struggles to clear a pathway in her life. At the outset, she finds herself at an old golf course, Whistles, which is due to become a housing development. There she meets Harriet and a relationship of coach and novice develops. Harriet is 80, strong-minded, direct and understands the scientific basis of the game.

Primrose, at this point strikes the reader as being adrift, like a leaf in a current. She is at the mercy of events in her life, particularly the cancer of her husband, Adrian. Unable to cure his disease, she focuses on trivia, such as obsessive cleaning, simultaneously dreading the arrival of his brother.  Work opportunities resemble more reason to be struggling with decisions.

They have a six-year old daughter, Bebe, who lends a happy normality to Primrose’s world.

Across the road in their salubrious suburb live Louisa and her husband, Peter, known since school days. Peter, whom Primrose loved as a teenager, has become a more shadowy part of her life. Louisa is far more significant with unflagging zest and determination but with little regard for others’ needs. She is loudly flamboyant.

Terence, an enormously successful financier, is Adrian’s brother, but hated by Primrose.  Self-absorbed and captive to the world of ‘Canary Wharf’ he surprisingly displays generosity to his brother.

One of the hallmarks of this outstanding novel is how Nina Wan creates interesting, complex characters, my favourite being the golf aficionado Harriet.

Humour emerges regularly to season discussions on the Republican question, Primrose’s father regularly playing his trumpet in the park, descriptions of Lawrence’s prized Range Rover, but especially the birthday party at the luxurious Country Club. We’re told proudly by Louisa that there is much that is dear to the members’ hearts but, above all, the male showers have heads that are the size of umbrellas! Only two of them voted to have them modified to the environmentally favourable….

The narrative is not linear. Rather this is an examination of the impact and implications the people in her life have for Primrose. Snapshots of various episodes in her life are shuffled about to add to the sense of confusion that is gripping her.

Published this month, The Albatross has already captured attention, and finds an important niche in the literature now emerging which portrays the plight of Australians with roots in another country. The writing is remarkable, both for its beauty, and brilliantly inventive dialogue.

Golf does not invade the text extensively, so there are no grounds to avoid reading this splendid book! In fact I found the insight into the game as both interesting and promoting an understanding of its complex finer points. To achieve an albatross is indeed a brilliant move.  To read this book – a genuine pleasure.

The Albatross


by Nina Wan

Pan Macmillan

ISBN 978 176126 219 7

$34.99; 320pp

🤞 Want to get the latest book reviews in your inbox?

🤞 Want to get the latest book reviews in your inbox?

Scroll to Top