Lilian’s Story (1985), by Kate Grenville

Synopsis

Shielded from emotional and physical abuse by layers of fat, Lilian struggles to escape a suffocating existence in the home of her tyrannical Victorian father and her elegant but ineffectual mother. Madness, cruelty, and sexuality permeate the family’s upper-crust Australian world.

Lilian Una Singer starts life at the beginning of the 20th century as the daughter of a prosperous middle-class Australian family. She ends it as a cheerfully eccentric bag-lady living on the streets, quoting Shakespeare.

This book traces the progress of her life’s journey, and why she made the choices she did. She’s a person large in spirit as well as body, who wants to invent her own story, rather than allow it to be invented for her. Life presents her with many obstacles, including the sinister advances of her father—but in spite of this she succeeds. Triumphantly she makes her life her own, savoring every moment with the reminder that “everything matters.”

The Review

Lilian’s Story is Kate’s first novel, and what an experience it is! Lilian Una Singer came during the 1900s and we follow her entire life, from childhood to old age. Her childhood lacked the love any girl would need, and it was at a time when many things still needed deeper understanding.

Both her parents seem to have mental health issues – the father an OCD and the mother is fragile. Her father was also cruel to both Lilian and John, which makes this a very sad but moving story.

Grenville weaves a story around a woman that we tend to avoid in our daily lives. It’s the story of an old woman who likes to talk to herself. She gives off a story of a young woman from the middle class and how her world changes around her. We see Sydney change from the different wars and the Depression.

Grenville’s depiction is surprisingly life-like and vivid, which makes me want to give Lilian a hug. Here’s a heartwrenching excerpt.

“I would like to be dead, he (John) said once. Or at least short. But I could not wish for anything definite. I carried my bulk around with me like someone else’s suitcase full of unknown things, and I did not want to die just yet. To John I could say only, It will not always be like this.”

The entire book is gut-wrenching and talks about mental illness like no book ever does. It’s five stars for me, no question about it. The cover could be better, but that’s just being pedantic.

Lilian’s Story (1985), by Kate Grenville