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Bad Art Mother

by Edwina Preston

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Good mothers are expected to be selfless. Artists are seen as selfish. So what does this mean for a mother with artistic ambitions? Enter: frustrated poet Veda Gray, who is offered a Faustian bargain when a wealthy childless couple, the Parishe
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Ten years ago I read Edwina Preston's debut novel The Inheritance of Ivorie Hammer and enjoyed it as a lively mystery with a social heart. Preston, however, is a multi-talented writer and musician with many irons in the fire so it's been a while between novels, but Bad Art Mother was worth the wait. I loved this book.

The characters are loosely based on well-known Melbourne identities from the mid C20th century Heidi Circle. This milieu included the art dealer and restaurateur Georges Mora and his artist wife Mirka; the artist Joy Hester; and the art patrons John and Sunday Reed. Owen', the 'bad mother's' son in the novel is based on Sweeney Reed, who was the child of Joy Hester and the artist Albert Tucker but he adopted by the childless John and Sunday Reed. Readers do not need to know the emotional and sexual entanglements of this Bohemian milieu to enjoy the novel, though it is nice to know the art of Mirka Mora so that you can imagine the mural that makes an appearance on the walls of a restaurant. (See here for the one she did for Melbourne's iconic Flinders St Station.)Owen narrates most of the story, acknowledging right at the start that his memory may not be reliable. He claims to remember his birth, and addressing 'almost-aunt' Ornella, he admits that she doesn't think it's possible to recall things from such an early age. (My earliest memory is from between 14 and 18 months old. This is apparently early: research shows that the average for recall of memories start at about two and a half.)

But Owen remembers that he became his mother Veda's enemy when he was mobile enough to rip pages out of books left on a couch or stored on the bottom shelf of a bookcase. And we see from the other narrative strand — Veda's letters to her sister Tilda — that needing to be alert to Owen's whereabouts limits her to writing only a word or two and it hampers her reading.
The 'wild' of Park Orchards is beneficial for Owen, who totters in from the outdoors, tumbleweeded and sunburnt, to eat large portions of bread, dripping, apples from their own trees &c. And that is before lunch! I am not quite so blasé, however, as to forget ponds, dams, disused mineshafts... In fact, I cannot even read contentedly, for I must look up and spot Owen continually, and then put things down (pages flutter, place is lost) to run over and check he is indeed behind that tree and hasn't crossed some boundary line, past which reside snakes, bunyips, men with shotguns... (p. 36)

Yes, she exaggerates, but all parents know how small children sap concentration even on mundane tasks. How much more exasperating it is for anything requiring thought and imagination.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2022/05/08/bad-art-mother-by-edwina-preston/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | May 8, 2022 |
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Good mothers are expected to be selfless. Artists are seen as selfish. So what does this mean for a mother with artistic ambitions? Enter: frustrated poet Veda Gray, who is offered a Faustian bargain when a wealthy childless couple, the Parishe

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