Bertie is the “Beloved” of the title. Set in the 1950’s to early sixties, beginning in Melbourne, with interludes in Sydney and then moving on to Port Moresby, the novel follows Bertie’s development from child to teenager.
Aged six, she falls victim to polio which changes her future forever, the handicap and disfigurement affecting her young life profoundly. Her strong-willed mother is determined to ensure that Bertie will live a normal existence and eventually have a career as a doctor.
Her mother’s idea as to what Bertie should want, however, is not what Bertie needs or wishes for herself. The relationship between Bertie and her mother is at the heart of this novel. Bertie’s gift and calling as an artist is everything her mother hates, but it is the very thing that gives her life meaning and purpose.
Family tensions permeate Bertie’s childhood through to adolescence. In the midst of emotional upheaval and uncertainty, the one constant in Bertie’s life is her passion for drawing, where she is free to find expression and escape. She discovers to her dismay, that the person she wants to hate is actually someone deserving of her love and respect, whose behaviour had been in fact, irreproachable and unstintingly unselfish and generous.
It is her art and not her deformity that she allows to define her as a person, even if it means defying her domineering mother. The resolution of guilt, resentment and thwarted hopes accompany the discovery of family secrets in a dramatic climax of events which finally give Bertie the courage to embark upon life on her own terms.
This is a beautifully-crafted story of unconditional and conditional love, the struggle to accept changes in life that may not be of one’s own choosing. The characters and their relationships with each other, are memorable and real. There are illuminating masterclasses in painting and drawing, expositions on perspective and art.
It is unsurprising that the unpublished manuscript of “The Beloved” won Annah Faulkner last year’s Queensland Premier’s Literary Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer. A much recommended read.
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