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Sonia Orchard

The Thirteenth Night by Jan McNess & Something More Wonderful by Sonia Orchard

April 2003, no. 250

On the night of 13 September 1993, flight lieutenants Jeremy McNess and Mark Cairns-Cowan were killed when their F-111 crashed at Guyra, in northern NSW. Written by Jeremy’s mother, The Thirteenth Night dwells on the complex fatality of that night, which permanently changed several life stories in an instant. For his mother, who had coped with his exceptionally difficult childhood, winning through in his early teens to a remarkably close relationship, Jeremy’s death was and remains a dark frontier. Beyond lay a strange and cold country. Totally disoriented at first by devastating grief, she found the courage and stamina to pursue the true story of the accident’s cause for five years in the face of institutional defensiveness and media ignorance. This book began as a story for the family, but it is an important book for other readers on several counts.

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The American writer bell hooks had characterised the 1990s as a period of ‘collusion’ between well-educated white women and the capitalist patriarchy (Where We Stand: Class matters, 2000). The new workplace gave these women greater economic power but curbed their ...

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This novel is Sonia Orchard’s second book, published six years after her first, the compelling and intimate memoir Something More Wonderful (2003). For those who read the memoir – the harrowing story of her thirty-one-year-old friend’s battle with cancer – The Virtuoso may come as a surprise. Orchard has abandoned her own assured voice for that of a fictional and unreliable narrator, a young Englishman besotted with a concert pianist, slightly older than himself. The milieu is an eccentric circle of musicians and writers in 1940s London. If there is any similarity between Orchard’s memoir and her novel, it is the narrator’s stance as the observer, with a beloved and idealised friend at centre stage.

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