Drusilla Modjeska is possibly one of our most acclaimed writers. She was born in England but has lived in Australia since 1971. Her books include Exiles at Home, Banjo and NSW Premier's Award winning Poppy, Sisters, which she co-edited, the Nita B.Kibble, NSW Premier's Award and Australian Bookseller's Book of the Year Award winner The Orchard, Timepieces and Secrets with Robert Dessaix and Amanda Lohrey. In 1999 Picador published one of the most anticipated books of that year, Stravinsky's Lunch. This exhilarating work addressing the dilemma of love and art won the 1999 NSW Premier's Prize for Non-fiction, the Nita B. Kibble Award and the Bookseller's Choice Award. Drusilla lives in Sydney.
Australian author Modjeska has written a ramblingly structured, autobiographical novel largely in the form of three "porous, conversational, sometimes moody" essays about women as lovers, daughters and artists. At the heart of the narrative is the story of swan-necked, 80-year-old Ettie, an artist-turned-gardener whose affair with a married painter in the 1930s produced a daughter who was subsequently given to the painter's wife to bring up as her own. Ettie's secret continually intrudes itself into the lives of the women friends and family around her: Louise, in her 40s and contemplating an affair; Clara, who is really Ettie's granddaughter and is struggling to define her own identity; and the first-person narrator, the academic observer who derives sustenance from these stories for her own life. In three parts that have little connection with one another, the narrator probes essential experiences that shape the woman artist. In "The Adultery Factor," she intersperses the historical triangle among Stella Bowen, Ford Madox Ford and Jean Rhys with the marital troubles à trois of a contemporary Australian couple. "Sight and Solitude" recounts the isolation forced upon the narrator by near blindness. "The Winterbourne" describes the journey she takes with Clara back to her old boarding house in Carn, England. Modjeska's prose is poised, and she is adept at blending her dreamy stories into a kind of mythological web. Yet her cultural criticism is often heavy-handed, and the programmatic structure of the book hampers its success. (Aug.) FYI: The Orchard won three of Australia's national book awards, including the Australian Booksellers Award.