Hamish Hamilton, $32.99 pb, 292 pp
The unnamed narrator of Ronnie Scott’s second novel, Shirley, is a socially engaged thirty-something foodie from Melbourne’s inner north. She works as an internal copywriter for a health insurance company. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of the vegan-friendly bars and eateries within a five-kilometre radius of her small apartment in trendy Collingwood. She also cooks: scrambled tofu and vegan chorizo soup; Korean vegan pancakes and Cantonese soy sauce noodles; pan-fried gnocchi with blended basil and gochujang. She might wash these down with a glass of wine or whisky, or even a michelada, followed by the occasional menthol cigarette. She has been confined to her apartment alone for 262 cumulative days of lockdown (‘and the wild, long days that have fallen between them’), imposed by the Victorian government to curtail Covid-19. She also happens to be the daughter of a celebrity.
Until the age of fourteen, the narrator was raised by her single mother (then ‘a late-nineties fixture of morning and lifestyle TV’) and an entourage of assistants whom the narrator nicknamed ‘the Geralds’ after the longest serving member of staff, a seemingly ageless business-manager-cum-butler. After the mother was ‘papped’ wearing a blood-soaked coat outside her Abbotsford home (the novel takes its title from the name of the house), she left her teen daughter to the care of ‘the main Gerald’ and the rest of the staff were terminated. Moving abroad, the mother eventually landed a gig hosting an international celebrity cooking show called (fittingly) Chef on the Run, from then on styling herself as an ‘e-parent’ to her daughter.