A fine debut novel from Australian writer Grenville--the lovely, penetrating story of a woman who fights for freedom all her life and ends up, literally, in the gutter."" It was a wild night in the year of Federation that the birth took place. Horses kicked down their stables. Pigs flew, figs grew thorns. The infant mewled and stared and the doctor assured the mother that a caul was a lucky sign."" Lilian Singer was born in the early part of the century to genteel, rich, and extremely neurotic parents. Her mother, Norah, never quite recovered from the labor it took to bring Lil and her beloved younger brother, John, into the world; her father, Albion, was a recluse writing a ""reference book"" about ""facts"": ""The French eat four million and several thousand snails a year."" When he has his long-expected nervous breakdown, the Singers are further distanced from polite Australian society. Lil doesn't help matters any by growing into an enormously fat young woman who insists on attending the University when most of her peers are planning their weddings. There she meets F.J. Stroud, an impoverished young scholarship student and self-proclaimed genius who becomes her first friend, and also Duncan, the son of a rich cattle rancher who seems to be wooing her. But Duncan suddenly marries her best friend, Joan, and Lil becomes unraveled and is thrown in a mental institution by her father, Albion (who had earlier raped her). Ten years pass; by the time she is released she's in her early 30s and WW II is about to begin. Living on a small stipend provided for her by an aunt, Lil becomes a local ""character,"" almost a bag lady, wandering the streets, telling her life story, reciting Shakespeare, etc. She has a joyous reunion with F.J. Stroud, who is an alcoholic ex-taxi driver now living in the park. After her mother and father die (her brother, now a priggish executive, ignores her on the street), Lil and F.J. move into a storm tunnel and exist quite happily for years until F.J. dies and Lil is taken off the streets by an old schoolmate, to spend the rest of her life in a shelter run by nuns. Lil Singer is an original, with her courage, spirit, and humor, and so is Grenville, who writes with an elegant intensity that pulls the reader in from first to last.