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.
Daniel Juckes reviews 'Things My Mother Taught Me' by Claire Halliday
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Daniel Juckes is a creative writer and PhD candidate from Curtin University, Western Australia. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Arts (History and Politics) and then from Curtin with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing and Publishing. His reviews have been published in Grok and on the Westerly blog. His research interests include autobiography, family memoir, and nostalgia. His current creative work-in-progress is a family history/memoir inspired by heirlooms and ephemera.
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