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Loving Sylvie by Elizabeth Smither

Loving Sylvie begins with the evocative image of a young girl being rowed by her grandfather across a lake to her wedding. The prose is simply beautiful; the grandfather, constricted by the suit he was wearing, pulling on the oars, the grandmother on the other side carrying the bridal bouquet ‘like a spring cabbage’, the girl rehearsing her new name, the ducks, the black swan. This passage skilfully and effortlessly sets up all that is wonderfully accomplished in this novel; the revelation of the generosity, hope but also the constriction which comes with relationships, the slow and meditative pace with which the novel evolves and the stunning and poetic imagery.

The novel moves between the settings of Paris, Melbourne and Auckland and three generations of women; Isobel, her daughter Madeleine and Madeleine’s own daughter Sylvie who is brought up by her grandmother. There is also Kit who in his role as husband, father and grandfather assumes an often silent but kind and healing presence. This is not in any way a plot-driven novel but presents the separate yet intertwined lives of women, their love affairs, marriages and the complexity of the relationships they have with each other. The novel fixes on the every-day, the seemingly mundane occurrences, highlights them and demonstrates their significance.

The novel is funny, witty, sensual and perceptive. This is a novel to read slowly, enjoying each illuminating insight and image.

Reviewer: Paddy Richardson

Published by Allen and Unwin


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