So This Is Life: Scenes From A Country Childhood
Melbourne University Press, $34.99 hb, 160 pp
Anne Manne’s publisher invites us to include So This Is Life in the classical canon of autobiographies of Australian childhood – Hal Porter’s The Watcher on the Cast-Iron Balcony and Raimond Gaita’s Romulus, My Father. In Australian letters there has been a long tradition of autobiographical writing of childhood; this produced some of the earliest critical writing on autobiography – by Richard Coe and Joy Hooton, for example. But I remain unconvinced by the MUP blurb, for Manne’s essays do not take us back to Porter or Gaita at all. Rather, they suggest the rich and dreamy vignettes of David Malouf’s autobiographical 12 Edmondstone Street or the precisely observed rural domesticity that is captured in Olga Masters’s Cobargo stories. Daisy, Lily and Ivy, Manne’s great-aunts, all unmarried, who live together in the formerly grand but now decaying two-storey house where ‘absolutely nothing happened’, recall Masters’s ‘home girls’; Manne’s affective memory of her grandmother’s linen cupboard recalls the childhood perception and memory work that Malouf captures so powerfully.