Bryce Courtenay: Storyteller
Viking, $39.99 hb, 448 pp
In the introduction to her book about Bryce Courtenay (1933–2012), Christine Courtenay writes: ‘To be Bryce’s wife was both a joy and a privilege, and I remain proud of the contribution I made to our years together. Not long after we became a couple, he said, “I love you very deeply and we make a fantastic team, but you do realise you have taken on a full-time job looking after me? Plus, for seven months a year you’re a writer’s widow while you wait for me to finish each book.”’ It is a paragraph that reveals something about their relationship, including its power balance.
Christine Courtenay came into her husband’s life fairly late; when she met him, he was already the mega-selling author of The Power of One, Tandia, and April Fool’s Day, as well as twenty other novels. He wryly said that for years his books had become fixtures under Australia’s Christmas trees, along with the socks and the chocolates. Christine, an accomplished businesswoman herself, was employed first as Courtenay’s publicist. Before and after they married, they worked together to ensure that Bryce Courtenay remained one of Australia’s bestselling authors.
Here she describes a young boy born in South Africa, brought up with his sister mostly by his single mother, Paddy. He spent his early years in small towns while his mother looked for work. Though his education was constantly interrupted, he became an omnivorous reader, particularly of the novels of Charles Dickens. He managed to be accepted by the prestigious King Edward VII school in Johannesburg. After leaving school, he worked as a miner in Rhodesia (before it became Zimbabwe), saving his money to pay for a journalism course in London.