For November's recommendation, Anna May Mangan has chosen My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin. If you haven't yet discovered this wonderful novel, November is the perfect time to get swept away to Australia from the comfort of your own armchair.
I first read My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin when I was 16 years old, the same age as the book’s feisty central character, Sybylla Melvyn. Three quarters of a century separates us and yet from the first pages of the novel it felt like Sybylla was the more modern woman.
Powerful memories endure of Sybylla’s thoughts and ideas, especially the intensity of her joy for reading, ‘The pleasure, so exquisite as to be almost pain which I derive from books is beyond description…’
Thanks to the freshness and force of Miles Franklin’s writing and the many emotional and physical trials of her heroine, My Brilliant Career was the first book that truly surprised me. Our heroine, unconventional in looks and thoughts, by the high wattage of her spirit and humour attracts the hunky and big-hearted Harry Beecham. Will they? Won’t they? That’s the big marriage cliff-hanger of the book. Prototype runaway bride Sybylla rages, ‘The idea of marriage even with the best man in the world seems to me a lowering thing.’
It felt like there was a fresh breeze blowing through the room and turning the pages of the novel for me as I read, even though Ms Franklin’s story is set deep in the sun-baked Australian outback landscape.
Miles Franklin says of this, her first book, written when she was herself only sixteen, ‘It was conceived and tossed off in a matter of weeks.’ The writer in me, the one that waited 30 years to be published, yearns for a sliver of that audacious, youthful talent.
After a long and protracted courtship – one as rocky as the outback terrain they struggle to survive in – Harry begs Sybylla to marry him again and again. He dismisses her assertions that she is too plain, or too young or too bad tempered to make a good partner. He tells her, ‘As for beauty, it is nothing’ and ‘I want someone to be true.’ That was my Kleenex moment. The one that made me want to stand up and cheer for the intuitive celebration of femininity that brightens every page of My Brilliant Career.
Anna May Mangan has contributed articles to newspapers and magazines including The Times, Independent and Mail on Sunday. She has been shortlisted for the London Fringe Short Fiction Award, the RTE Radio/Frank MacManus Short Story Competition and was placed second in the 2008 Sean O’Faolain Prize. Me and Mine by Anna May Mangan is available now.
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