Elisabeth Holdsworth reviews 'Flight from the Brothers Grimm: A European- Australian memoir' by Valerie Murray

Elisabeth Holdsworth reviews 'Flight from the Brothers Grimm: A European- Australian memoir' by Valerie Murray

Flight from the Brothers Grimm: A European- Australian memoir

by Valerie Murray

Books Unleashed $20 pb, 184 pp, 9780992592189

Valerie Murray, born Valika Morelli in Hungary during World War II and, for the past half century, wife of poet Les Murray, has written an enchanting memoir of her early life in Europe and Australia. The description ‘enchanting’ is used deliberately. The brothers Grimm and their terrifying tales are deployed throughout the work. The metaphor extends to the writing style – spaced paragraphs of fractured nightmarish episodes interspersed with mordant humour.

Murray began to write about ‘the early me and how I got this way’ in 2003. With her parents both in nursing homes and deteriorating mentally, the project gathers urgency.

There are two children at the heart of this work; Valerie and her younger brother, Steve, both damaged by the war. Steve never fully recovers. His life is dogged by depression and a lack of self-esteem. Valerie too has suffered from depression and anxiety attacks. Identity is a confounding variable. The mother, Berta, is German-Swiss; the father, Gino Morelli, Hungarian with Italian antecedents. He is declared missing in action, presumed dead, after the failed Nazi invasion of Soviet Russia. Due to his skiing prowess and ability to survive harsh winters, Gino manages to walk home.

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Elisabeth Holdsworth

Elisabeth Holdsworth

Elisabeth Holdsworth won the inaugural Calibre Essay Prize in 2007 for her essay ‘An Die Nachgeborenen: For Those Who Come After’. She was born in the Netherlands and migrated to Australia with her parents in 1959. Educated in Melbourne, she had a long career in the Department of Defence. Her most recent novel is Those Who Come After (Picador, 2011).

Published in March 2017, no. 389