Cooee (2008) – Vivienne KELLY

50 books! That’s quite a lot, when you think about it. Especially considering I am studying full time. Perhaps I should do some more work at uni. Meh, I can pass reading off as study. Easy. And to hit the 50, I was looking for something a bit different, and something easy to read. Hey, it’s summer.

When Isabel Weaving’s granddaughter awakens memories of her beautiful, but short-lived, second marriage, Isabel is uncomfortable where all of this is taking her. And so she begins to relive the events that led up the marriage, and the events that slowly destroyed the marriage for which she worked so hard.

Isabel Weaving is an amazingly large bitch. God, she’s amazing. One of the best narrators you could possibly hope for in a novel. She’s sarcastic, acerbic, and hates pretty much everyone around her. Especially her own children. Especially her own daughter. And it’s interesting – because if an old man is grumpy, we just kind of take it for granted, and call him a bit misanthropic, but in a nice way. When a woman, though, is unsympathetic and uncaring, we assume she must be a terrible person, because all women are caring and motherly. Right? This is the book’s greatest strength – the ability to totally and utterly subvert the gender roles that you would expect in every relationship. Isabel thinks her daughter is stupid, and doesn’t have the time for her, even though Kate so desperately wants a mother. Similarly, she is blinkered to her own shortcomings when it comes to her son, who she loves – or at least, she loves the person she thinks he is. Her inability to see what she is, even when it is blindingly obvious to us, is part of the charm of Isabel.

Of course, when everything turns to crap, Isabel tries to reach out to the people around her, but they care so little for her, and she still can’t bring herself to let anyone in, that she simply ends up alone and sad. And you do feel sorry for her – even though she’s a bitch, she’s very intelligent, and knows exactly what she wants. And that’s a good thing. So every time something goes wrong, you do feel sorry for her. Because all she wants is someone to talk to – though, granted, she doesn’t make that easy for anyone. This is, of course, where the title comes from – Isabel is calling out for help in her own way (very, very subtly), and so she’s calling out.

Along with this fascinating look at gender roles in the family (which I do think is the main strength of this novel), is an interesting mystery plot that really takes off in the second half of the novel. Turns out that Isabel’s new husband is not as perfect as he seems, and there are a few secrets of his own. To be honest, while this stuff is interesting and page-turning, I do really prefer the other bits at the beginning and the end of the novel, watching this totally dysfunctional family try to function for the sake of the younger generations, and for the people who visit. What is even more interesting is when the penny drops for Isabel – that the rest of her family are functional, and are perfectly fine without her.

Vivienne Kelly has done everyone a service by creating Isabel Weaving. Seriously, this woman is amazing. Go and find this novel just for this character – though it’s a great read at any rate, anyway.

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