Claire Halliday's Things My Mother Taught Me opens thus: 'History is a personal thing.' But in this book – a collection of interviews with famous Australians about their mothers – each personal story feels too similar, shorn of the thing which makes memoir so particular and powerful: the voice of the individual. The result is lacklustre; trapped somewhere between essay and interview. The effect is hard to describe, akin to the anonymity of ghost-written magazine articles. There are bursts of pleasure and skerricks of momentum, but too often something halts the prose. This could be a sudden change in narrative direction, conceivably impelled by an excluded question. One example, from the interview with Lawrence Mooney, is the way in which four entirely different subjects are broached on the same page: Mooney's grandmother's death; significant Australians sharing his mother's name; a stereotype of the sexes; and the secretive nature of the comedian's parents. Another result of that half-interview, half-essay constriction is cautious writing.
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