The Nearly Happy Family
Viking, $32.95 pb, 461 pp
Catherine Mckinnon is known around Adelaide for her work as a writer–director with the State Theatre and Red Shed Theatre companies. In 2006 she won the Penguin/Australian Women’s Weekly short story competition and obviously came to the attention of Penguin editors. The Nearly Happy Family, her first novel, is described on the front cover as ‘a tragic comedy’.
Despite the plot containing a probable suicide, an attempted suicide and a death, this is essentially a light-hearted, if overlong, family saga whose theme is summed up by one of the narrators, forty-three-year-old Jackie Delaney: ‘Who needs enemies when you have family?’ Jackie is a flaky, struggling pub comedian and the other narrator is Claire, her fifteen-year-old daughter. In alternating chapters, each relates what happens to them over the course of a year. The plot covers well-trodden ground: the dysfunctional family and mother–daughter conflict.