At age seven, after her parents’ marriage had broken down, Anne Manne travelled with her mother and sisters to the Central Victorian countryside to begin a new life. This is the story of what she now learned. Virginia Woolf believed that the rhythms of ordinary life are punctuated by “moments of being” where meaning, quite suddenly and sometimes shockingly, reveals itself.
Possessing an astonishingly faithful and vivid memory of the pain, the fear and the joy of childhood; and a sensibility keenly alive to the breath-taking beauty of the landscape, the fellow-creatureliness of animals and the comedy, tragedy and dignity of the lives of the country folk she grew up amongst, So This is Life is not a conventional memoir but a haunting and luminous account of such moments.
The tales allow us to watch as a powerful moral vision gradually comes to be shaped. From the inconsequential act of an adult neighbour, Anne learns forever the meaning of kindness; from the death of a young boy, she learns about the desolation of loss. But So This is Life also allows us to see the growth of a social and historical imagination. We encounter in its pages worlds as far apart as the faded gentility of former goldfields wealth, where time has stopped, and the patriarchal spivvery of the country racetrack. The stories told here sparkle like gems. They are full of inconsolable pain but also impish humour.
In the tradition of classics of Australian childhood-like Hal Porter’s The Watcher on the Cast-Iron Balcony and Raimond Gaita’s Romulus My Father; So This is Life is singular, startling, deeply moving and, above all, utterly engrossing.