Alex Miller’s novel, set in the 1920s, traces the momentous choices facing Emily Stanton, as she moves between Melbourne, Paris, Chartres and Tunisia, in search of passion and an authentic life. Plenty of authors have imagined the inner life of the opposite sex, but I reckon Miller has done a reasonable job with Emily. Not that I would know, I suppose.
Evocations of French and Tunisian society and places are insightful, and the story is engaging. Sydney Harbour Bridge even has a key role in the plot. However, Emily’s crucial, life-changing sexual encounter is unconvincing, and likewise her radical life choice at the story end. At times it seemed that Emily was too literally channeling mainstream feminist ideas, dosed with existentialism, which may be the point of a story unfolding early last century.
Notwithstanding those reservations, I still recommend the novel, which won the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction and NSW Premier’s Literary Awards in 2001.
P.S. my daughter worked on the book cover design with Nada Backovic.