Things She Would Have Said Herself by Catherine Therese

Reviewed by E B Heath

Poppycock, I most definitely am my thoughts, Leslie countered silently, as one by one her truths blazed. And what’s more, the whole world would ignite if it knew what women were really thinking.

Wallace and Lesley Bird are exhausting.  According to their daughter Caroline, they are bigots, bogons and racists.  After the first chapter, readers might agree.  But best not to jump to judgement.  Read on and allow Catherine Therese to weave her narrative back and forth through time. Listen to her characters’ inner dialogue, as she seamlessly peels back the layers of their lives.  And, of our history.  This novel is about all of us in some form or another.  Most are at some point disillusioned; expectations, romantic or otherwise, shrunk by the reality of real life. Subtly, with great skill, and much humour, Therese illustrates that we stand on the shoulders of a past generation, inheriting grief and blessing in equal measure.  Judgement converts to compassion in the reading.

I could have done with some of that compassion at the beginning of the novel, the will to live was quietly slipping away as Lesley Bird’s thoughts whirled in all directions.  Much like Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, Therese introduces Lesley Bird to readers through a stream of inner dialogue.  But Lesley is the polar opposite to Mrs Dalloway and a bit bonkers, so it wasn’t easy being there.

The Bird family are quite a flock, all different and yet with much in common.  Lesley and Wallace have five adult children, replete with past and present spouses and a few grandchildren.   They all have issues.  Many of which centre around the parenting style of Wallace and Lesley.  Perhaps ‘style’ is the wrong word, more their emotional blankness, which their children do not realise, hides grief.  Truth and openness are rare commodities in the Bird family.  It’s a generational problem.

Wallace and Lesley grew up in a different world.  Leaving school early and going out to work was a badge of honour.  A depression and a war demanded compliance, which, Lesley thinks, is a foreign concept to the present generation.  And don’t get her started on modes of dress, more like modes of nakedness!   They were expected to put up, shut up, and get on with it.   And keep the peace.  Lesley’s way of keeping the peace has meant discounting herself, hiding her grief, and practising denial as an art form. But all that submerged truth has impacted on the next generation and their relationships.

This is a brilliant novel.  In Things She Would Have Said Herself Catherine Therese presents readers with so much more than a dysfunctional family.  On the surface of this novel is a range of political incorrectness, crazy characters, and a few surprises. All carried along by Therese’s fluid, funny prose and wry observations.  Catherine Therese takes readers beneath the surface.  That’s where the real story lives.

Things She Would Have Said Herself

by Catherine Therese

(2023)

Hachette Australia

Paperback

ISBN: 978 073364 889 2

$32.99; 375pp

e-book

ISBN:  978 073364 888 5

$16.99

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