The American writer bell hooks had characterised the 1990s as a period of ‘collusion’ between well-educated white women and the capitalist patriarchy (Where We Stand: Class matters, 2000). The new workplace gave these women greater economic power but curbed their agency in altering the structures of the ruling system. All the while, division of labour at home remained more or less unchanged, with women as the primary contributors. This made them feel, hooks recalls, ‘betrayed both by the conventional sexism … and by the feminism, which insisted work was liberating’ without addressing the dearth of job opportunities for women of less privileged classes.
Sonia Orchard’s second novel, Into the Fire, catapults the reader into a world rife with this ideological conflict. The novel begins with the thirty-something Lara arriving at a house in southern Victoria that was burnt down a year ago in a fire that ended her best friend’s life. The sight brings back memories of when everything started.
The year is 1990. Two decades have elapsed since Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch; Cultural Studies is booming; the gentrification of Fitzroy is in full swing. Suburban domesticity is a thing of the past, at least as far as Women Studies’ majors Lara and her best friend, Alice, are concerned. The vote, the pill, and no-fault divorce are faits accomplis. Now, possibilities radiate a vague, exhilarating sense of reality. Lara and Alice bond in the reassurance that they are ‘the women who would have it all’, if they want. Most of all, it is the coming-together in the promise of being ‘different’ – from their mothers’ lives – that cements their sisterhood.