Elizabeth Jolley

Coming out from behind

Tom Thompson
Thursday, 22 October 2020

Publishers are like invisible ink. Their imprint is in the mysterious appearance of books on shelves. This explains their obsession with crime novels.

To some authors they appear as good fairies, to others the Brothers Grimm. Publishers can be blamed for pages that fall out (Look ma, a self-exploding paperback!), for a book’s non-appearance at a country town called Ulmere. For appearing too early or too late for review. For a book being reviewed badly, and thus its non-appearance – in shops, newspapers and prized shortlistings.

As an author, it’s good therapy to blame someone and there’s nothing more cleansing than to blame a publisher. I know, because I’ve done it myself. A literary absolution feels good the whole day through.

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Of Elizabeth Jolley’s first novel, Palomino (1980), Nancy Keesing said it ‘establishes Elizabeth Jolley as absolutely one of the best writers of fiction in this country’ (ABR, March 1981). Of The Newspaper of Claremont Street, Tom Shapcott said its ‘capacity to touch the very nerve centre of human fragility, of exposing the tragedy in human needs within the small comedy of existence, is something I have not seen done with such delicate balance and precision since the ‘Pnin’ stories of Vladimir Nabakov’ (Fremantle Arts Centre Broadsheet, January-February, 1982). Sally McInerney’s judgement of The Newspaper is that ‘this slight and disturbing novel sways between socio­political allegory (about work and non­human relations) and conventional storytelling, and the two elements work against each other’ (National Times, 17–23 January, 1982). I agree with Keesing and Shapcott, but can understand why McInerney might have come to her conclusion.

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Brian Dibble reviews 'Foxybaby' by Elizabeth Jolley

Brian Dibble
Tuesday, 02 June 2020

A colleague asked if I thought that Elizabeth Jolley’s Foxybaby might have gone ‘over the top’. I assume she meant that the book might be ‘too much’ because the function of its preoccupation with (say) crime and sex, including incest and homosexuality, was not immediately apparent. The question is a reasonable one, but for two reasons I don’t think that her latest novel does go over the top: there is no theme used or technique employed in Foxybaby which has not appeared in Jolley’s writing before; and, ad astra (perhaps per aspera or per ardua), the book represents a logical but highly imaginative development from her most recent work.

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Self Portrait

Elizabeth Jolley
Wednesday, 01 April 2020

When I was seventeen, I sold my doll and all her little frocks and coloured, knitted things. At the time I thought I ought to sell her, it seemed important to have some extra money. She was advertised for £1. It was near Christmas – a good time for selling. A woman came and I saw her alone with the doll in the front room where my mother had made a fire, as she did only on Christmas Day and other holidays.

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The time is always four o’clock in the morning when Night Sister M. Shady (unregistered) is on duty at The Hospital of St Christopher and St Jude. The punctual milkman is swearing as he falls on the broken step, the elderly patients are having a water fight or an altercation or a game of cards. Whatever may or may not be going on, Mrs Shady will record with confidence ‘nothing abnormal to report’.

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Elizabeth Jolley’s new novel takes a leap into the past, to a large hospital in wartime England where Veronica Wright, an awkward girl just out of a Quaker boarding school, endures the discomforts and humiliations of a trainee nurse. As we have come to expect from this writer, there are all sorts of marvellous things tucked away in odd corners. Sharp observations of hospital routine – preparing bread and butter for the patients’ trays, chasing cockroaches with steel knitting-needles, shivering on night duty, and trying to keep warm in old army blankets – are mixed with passages of grotesque comedy, and with one or two memorable instances of the macabre, nowhere more effectively than in the death of a gangrene-ridden, maggot-infested patient.

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Love, longing and loneliness: The fiction of Elizabeth Jolley

Laurie Clancy
Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Elizabeth Jolley has been around as a writer for some time. Her work dates back to the late 1950s (she came to Australia from England in 1959) and her stories began appearing in anthologies and journals in the mid­1960s, but it was not until 1976 that her first collection, Five Acre Virgin and other stories, was published by the Fremantle Arts Centre Press. Since then, her rate of publication has been phenomenal, and it is perhaps no accident that it coincided with the rise of an indigenous Western Australian Press: three of her first four books were published by the FACP, which, in its few years of existence, has been responsible for the discovery of a remarkable amount of talent.

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Elizabeth Jolley reviews 'Dancing on Coral' by Glenda Adams

Elizabeth Jolley
Monday, 07 October 2019

A mixture of courage and an innocent hopefulness seem to be the necessary ingredients for finding rewards and compensations during the painful searching after self-knowledge. Lark Watter, the student daughter of Henry and Mrs Watter, embarks, as so many do, on the voyage of self-discovery.

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Stephanie Trigg reviews The Well by Elizabeth Jolley

Stephanie Trigg
Friday, 21 June 2019

A common approach when talking about women writers is to outline the scope of their work, preferably to demonstrate and affirm its versatility and, implicitly, its value. There’s no doubt that Helen Garner, for example, has suffered under critics’ and reviewers’ insistence that her work deals only with a ...

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The 2016 Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize ceremony was held at the Melbourne Writers Festival on 27 August. The event was compèred by ABR Deputy Editor, Amy Baillieu, with opening remarks from poet and author Maxine Beneba Clarke.