No time for dances: A memoir of my sister
I had a fine old time over Easter having a read of various things. I read Gillian Bouras’s No time for dances and thought it was wonderful. I didn’t expect to because my wife had been rather scornful of Bouras’s earlier work about (I gather) her culture clash on being a Melbournian married to a Greek and living in a small community in Greece. My wife who was born in Australia to Greek parents reckoned it was a tad on the precious side and flawed by its presentation of Greek culture as somehow ‘exotic’ (though I may be putting words into her mouth she subsequently said that she’d like to read the book too as she thought Bouras wrote well.)
Anyway, I think No time for dances is a wonderful book. It is a sustained meditation and memoir of her younger sister who, with little warning collapsed late in her high school career from a state resembling psychological ‘normality’ into deep depression.
I can see Jacqui now, her whole posture exuding hopelessness, her bent head and her dull gaze, directed not at me, but at some spot on the floor. And I hear her words as clearly expressive of complete desolation, as I did then, more than forty years ago. “What will become of me?” The question hung heavily in the air. I tried to answer, but the words stuck fast. Quite literally, I opened my mouth but no sound came. I went and sat on the floor at Jacqui’s feet and put one hand on her knee. Eventually, after several attempts, the false syllables came croaking out. “Everything will be all right. You’re going to be fine. Don’t worry about a thing”.
She looked at me then, turning her blue eyes, large and sorrowing, to meet mine. He lips bent and there something of a vague contempt in her very slight smile, and I didn’t blame her.
She didn’t believe me. She was right not to. I didn’t believe me either. Jacqui was not going to be fine, not really, not ever again, and there was every reason to worry.
Jacqui suffered crippling manic depression for the next thirty years until, exhausted alone and (she imagined) abandoned, she took her own life in a small flat in South Yarra.
I just picked the book up at a bookshop I go to each Saturday morning while eight year old Alexander prepares to become the next Pat Rafter and was taken by it from the start (which describes a tram ride to pick up her sister’s ashes). The rest of the book is a wander through her sister’s life within her family full of poignancy, sorrow, loss and very acute observation of herself and others. Somehow I get irritated by books which are ostensibly about some objective event in the world but which ruminate endlessly in the modern journalistic style about the author’s own reactions, how authentic they are and are not etc etcetera, etcetera, et bloody cetera. Though I quite enjoy her writing, I’m always on the border of this kind of irritation when I read one of Helen Garner’s tomes.
Here there is much introspection, but somehow I didn’t find it irritating at all, perhaps for its matter-of-factness and/or it’s obvious intrinsic relevance to the subject matter. Both Garner and Bouras write well, but I think Bouras’s writing, in this book anyway is simpler and more compelling. In any event, I think it’s a terrific book and you might too. I checked out the net and there’s not much on it – which is unfortunate and undeserved. There’s this very odd review, which is quite positive in all but mood. It seems quite well disposed to the book, but given the high pitch emotion of the book it’s a remarkably cool response.
I was excited to find that Bouras is giving a talk about her book in Melbourne on the 26th April. Maybe I’ll see you there. (Seriously, if there are any Troppodillians there, it would be very nice to be able to say ‘hello’ to you.)