Friday, 8 June 2012

Susan Johnson's Life in seven mistakes

Written by Sylvia ...

Only a few people in our group had read Susan Johnson's Life in 7 mistakes so it was a limited conversation with quite a few questions more than answers. Such as, what was the title about? What are the 7 mistakes?  Why is it considered 'ironic'? Is Bob a believable character or just over the top? Is it just middle-age chick lit? What are the titles of the chapters relating to? Was the love between Bob and Nancy the only model? Was it all about Bob?  

However the book was reasonably enjoyed by the majority although one reader felt it was puerile and irritating. I liked the feeling of being unable to talk about matters of importance. This was something that rang true for me. It was also a quick read. 

The balance of the present day -- a Christmas vacation (or stressful period with the oldies) for the adult children and their families at the penthouse apartment of their elderly parents in Surfer's Paradise -- is compared chapter by chapter with the story of the marriage of Bob and Nancy and the early lives of their 3 children. The parents are Australians of the 1960s with many conservative attitudes. They have limited education and limited expectations for their children's lives. Business and self control are the dominant features of their lives. Although Nancy would like to sing in musicals, even this activity is strictly curtailed by Bob. Johnson draws a Bob who is a raw Australian -- a man with little tolerance and no empathy. For instance, it was only when the children were seen as part of his background for an American boss to appreciate that he realised that they were his and he would be forever their father. He had loved them when they were really young but something changed as they became individuals. I think he is quite believable, very similar to many men of my father's generation.  

When 2 of the 3 children don't live up to these expectations, the parents find it impossible to understand and behave accordingly. The present day story is told through Elizabeth, the eldest child (now 49),  who often feels that she reverts to being a child the moment she enters her parent's environment. They even call her by her childish nickname, Lizzybub!!! There is little love between Elizabeth and her parents and no overt displays of affection, and that is one of the few character developments that occurs towards the end of the holiday and the story. Also her marriage seems to enter a better phase as her third husband rallies around when he sees her so unhappy about her father's serious illness. 

The group liked the descriptions of Bob and Nancy's life in Cooma and the work on the Snowy Mountains, and the holiday in a caravan at Lake Eucumbene.  We also liked the symbolism of the Great Dividing Range with Bob at the top and the prisoner son, Nick, at the bottom. 

It is not great literature but it does relate to the condition of many Australian families -- trying to cope with different generations and different beliefs and life experiences. This book has a hopeful ending so life does look more positive and more loving for some of the characters.