The Best Man for this Kind of Thing
Black Swan, $14.95 pb, 361 pp
Margaret Coombs’s second novel is an account of personal struggle against oppression and an analysis of the painful growth of awareness wryly viewed with humour and compassion. This is not a tranquil recollection; it is a confronting, buffeting novel, racy, witty, and uneven.
Helen Ayling (pun intended) is both protagonist and narrator. The narrator, perhaps occupying time present, views her younger Australian self living in London in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a time when she was overwhelmed by misery following the birth of her second daughter, Jemima. She is exhausted and depressed, but she knows that her problem is not biochemical. The combination of fear, exhaustion and isolation forces her, however, to accept the diagnosis of puerperal depression despite her sharp-eyed assessment of her own capacity to self-dramatize and the capacity of others for self-interest.