The Bed-Making Competition by Anna Jackson
The Bed-Making Competition has just won the 2018 Seizure "Viva la Novella" prize. The competition is open to residents of Australia and New Zealand - this year both winners were from New Zealand.
I know Anna Jackson as a poet, having read and reviewed "Pasture and Flock" a few months ago for NZBooklovers. The subjects covered were as diverse as Roman history, keeping chickens and family living. In the acknowledgements to this book, Anna notes that she wrote a chapter while on a residency at the Michael King Writing Centre in Devonport - a time that she was supposed to be writing poetry.
This gem of a little book has five chapters - all have a date and move us through time. We begin in 1991 and end in 2011, neatly covering a twenty year period in the lives of two sisters, Hillary and Bridgid. The first two chapters are narrated by Hillary, the younger sister, before we switch to Bridgid for the last three. It is a simple narrative of family life and events, of birth and impending death, parents and siblings. It has a wonderful simplicity - there is no great description of place or scene, these are incidental details to the actions of the characters.
Most of all there is a sense of symmetry in ‘The Bed-Making Competition’. The first chapter has the sisters’ mother leaving the family. Their Father then follows to pursue her and bring her back. He leaves the two girls to look after themselves and gives them his credit card. Bridgid is already twenty and back from university, while Hillary is still at school. They buy take-away food and new clothes for themselves and even bottles of champagne. In other words they go mad with some free money. Eventually both parents come home, but recriminations are hard, given the circumstances.
The final chapter sees the sister re-united after twenty years and their travels around the world. Their mother is dying and their father has disappeared looking for someone. They go out together buying clothes and drinking, surprised by the freedom of being away from homes and families. There is another bottle of champagne. Behaviour reverts to the same carefree innocence of twenty years before. It is a mirror of earlier adolescent events.
There is lots of humour in the book, tiny vignettes of life, especially those with small children at a beach, are caught brilliantly. The children want to dress a certain way, Fred wants to wear a dress, but they fall in the water, get sand and slime everywhere and all need spare clothes, as do the adults before they can be taken into the library to hear a reading. The writer, who is reading her work at the library event, cannot continue while children squirm around in their seats and shush each other.
The slim book is crowded with lovely little episodes that are real and genuine, easy to see and be a part of. This is a lovely book about lives and about the friendship of sisters and families. Viva la Novella.
Reviewer: Marcus Hobson
Published by Brio Books, RRP $17.99