No sound sleep here: Goodbye Lullaby

I’m having so much fun at the moment, building a team of TBYL Reviewers! These guys really love to read, and it’s so wonderful to have some different voices on the blog!

This week, I’m really pleased to introduced you to Fiona Boyd, who’s recently read Goodbye Lullaby (Harlequin) by Jan Murray.

By all accounts, it sounds like quite a read…

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How much did I love Jan Murray’s first novel Goodbye Lullaby? A Google search reveals Murray as a woman who’s lived a big life, full of quite amazing experiences, and who has a huge amount of various kinds of writing under her belt. The writing in Goodbye Lullaby is so fresh and captivating, like the vibrant greens of the Daintree vegetation, she describes. You can truly experience the complex smells and sounds of rainforest country of her story.  Murray’s descriptions of the landscape in the early chapters of this novel are so tactile and compelling, I literally wanted to jump on a plane and head up to Cairns.

Goodbye Lullaby contains many stories that weave delicately into each other, however my reading of the novel was as a girls’ road story. I found it incredibly refreshing – how rare it is for the central characters leaving behind home and hearth, convention and tradition, expectation and role, to be young women and not rascally boys! That’s right, this story brings us two girls on the run from a belligerent and noxious conservatism dictating that which a teenage girl should do, in particular if she finds herself pregnant in 1950s Queensland.

The truth of this time, as noted in the introduction to Goodbye Lullaby is that between the 1950s and 1970s, over 150,000 Australian unwed mothers had their babies forcibly removed from them by government agencies and religious institutions. As horrendous as this is, it doesn’t even take into account The Stolen Generation, babies and young children being taken from their aboriginal mothers. The numbers are staggering.

This novel is a road story and a statement, and it’s also a story about the possibility of making a decent and independent life beyond trauma and tragedy. In turn, it’s about the timelessness of  girls’ bonds of friendship and camaraderie forged under high pressure in teenage years.

The lynchpin of Murray’s story is the conscription lottery and the drawing of the lottery marbles on ABC television across the nation. This lottery will determine whether Caroline ‘Miki’ Patrick’s son, who she gave up for adoption after failing to make life on the road work, will serve. His number is drawn, he is conscripted and so unfolds a series of events that allow the various threads of the story to weave into each other.

Australia has a number of issues from its not-so-distant past that have until recently been thoroughly swept under society’s rug, a rug that was not be lifted. Even worse, we’ve perpetuated a society that has done terrible things to its citizens, particularly its young ones and its mothers. To add insult to injury, those wronged were in turn forbidden to speak, to tell their stories. Jan Murray does some big talking for those who’ve had their stories suppressed. Goodbye Lullaby unpacks the forced adoption era – there’s an absolutely heartbreaking scene of aboriginal children being taken from their family’s camps for not being ‘fully’ black, there’s the confusion that was the conscription years of the 1960s and 1970s, and then there’s the illustrations of the general mistreatment of young woman of the era.

The action of the story takes place in Queensland in the 1950s and 1970s. As I was reading, I kept hearing the strains of the Go-Betweens “Cattle and Cane” and “Streets of Your Town.”  Like this book, they were songs looking back on a time in Queensland when men threw their weight around and everyone else cowered, and the only powerful women seemed to be the Catholic nuns running the schools, orphanages and hospitals.

As well as the character of Caroline ‘Miki’ Patrick, the second major character in Goodbye Lullaby is Jude Brenner, a Jewish girl who has lost her parents in a car accident and is being brought up by her aunt who’s moved to suburban Brisbane from Brooklyn to care for her. Jude Brenner is a strong character, full of teenage chutzpah and with a joyful nonchalance towards the bully in the schoolyard. Her refusal to bow to the authority of the schoolyard bully is a motif that is repeated through the novel as Jude becomes the one character whose lust for life is not dimmed by her experiences and environment and who continues to go at life full tilt and with maximum joy. Here strength sees her become a politics professor in New York and like Miki Patrick, a known protestor of the Vietnam war.

I must say, even though the novel was written from the point of view of Caroline ‘Miki’ Patrick, my favourite characters were the Americans – Jude Brenner and Rex Lapari, the ex-US marine with one leg who runs the Resistance Bookshop in Fortitude Valley Brisbane. They’re the energetic and outgoing outsiders in the claustrophobic conservatism of 1950s to 1970s Australia. They’re both fresh, irreverent and caring. These two characters present a new way to deal with social issues. Discussing them, tackling them head on, dealing with them, and not submitting to a higher force.

Goodbye Lullaby is a terrific read. Jan Murray draws on her own experiences and those of peers and relatives to give the reader an inside view on the social conditions in 1970s Australia that gave rise to a number of social movements – feminism, aboriginal rights, the peace movement. All of these elements are packed into a single girls’ road story, it’s impressive! My only sadness was that Miki and Jude failed in their adventure, and that the conditions of their era bore down so completely on them. How cool would it have been if they’d succeeded? I was so willing them to do so, however I realise that that would have been a story of our times and not theirs.

And the lullaby – well you’ll just need to read that book to find out what that means!

Goodbye Lullaby, by Jan Murray is due to be released by Harlequin Mira in September. You can find out more here…

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Fiona lives in bayside Melbourne and has a background in the street press and radio. She worked at ABC Radio in the mid 1990s and from 1996 has been involved in co-founding various online publishing ventures. She has three children and is working on her first novel. You can find out a little more about Fiona here.

I’m really looking forward to bringing you more of Fiona’s reviews in the near future.

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