THE ONLY DAUGHTER by Jessica Anderson
Kirkus Star


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With subtle yet firm thematic interplay, Australian novelist Anderson (Terra Lirra By The River) turns the hoariest of stories--the death of a family patriarch, questions of inheritance, family ties and disgraces--into an exquisite novel of unforced volume and graceful, easy tempo, Sylvia Cornock comes home to Sydney in 1977 from her transplanted venue in Italy to attend the dying of her father Jack. Sylvia is a divorcee; her brother Stewart is a realtor; her mother Molly is both dotty and cold--re-married to a gruff blue-collar type quite unlike anyone else in the family. But, from Jack's second marriage to classier, infinitely kind Greta, Sylvia has a very different quartet of splendidly messed-up step-siblings: one is a gigolo; there are two suburban-matron sisters, one of whom is married to a philandering businessman (about to go to prison on charges of extravagant financial fraud); and the nicest of the lot is Harry, who used to be an old flame of Sylvia's--and now gratefully resumes their affair. Jack's money, it turns out, is bequeathed to Sylvia--though not until the death of mother Molly, who'll be paid interest during her lifetime. The house will be Greta's--if not the furniture. But the actual specifics of the bequest are no more disjointed and eccentric than the crazed patterns of loyalty and affection that ensue amid this family-under-pressure. Throughout, in fact, Anderson's great care in judging none of the characters makes them all vivid and completely believable: she sometimes writes with the acerbity of family imprisonment found in Ivy Compton-Burnett; there are also echoes of Henry Green's comic non-sequiturs of finely transcribed speech. And, aside from one small preachy sequence about expatriation, the arc of the novel is never stiff, always pliable, moving shrewdly back and forth between comic realism and social analysis. A strong, loose-jointed family novel altogether--totally convincing in its canny ear for the rhythms and tones of domestic alliance/warfare.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1985
Publisher: Viking