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by Elizabeth Jolley
Reviewed by Cate Lombardo

In the three semi-autobiographical novels which make up this trilogy, Elizabeth Jolley follows the coming-of-age of Vera Wright, an unconventional woman trying to find her place in the world in the tumultuous upheaval and devastation of England during WWII.

In the first book of the trilogy, My Father's Moon, Vera Wright tells the story of her early childhood in boarding school and her experience as a nurse during WWII. We learn of her stark upbringing, her stern mother and complacent yet caring father. It is the consistency of her father's actions that gives Vera a sense of strength, stability and love.

"Over and above all this my father would always remind me that if I looked at the moon, wherever I was, I was seeing the same moon that he was looking at. 'And because of this,' he said, 'you must know that I am not very far away. You must never feel lonely', he said."

At boarding school, Vera reaches out for freedom, seeking to live a broader life, to experience love and music. It is here where her nascent and eager sexuality emerges, her bold and impassioned behavior. As she enters nurse training at St. Cuthbert's, she finds herself irrepressibly drawn to cultured and parental-like figures to dispel her sense of isolation and loneliness. She becomes involved with an unconventional doctor and his wife who embody the type of life Vera endlessly seeks, filled with music and books. In this rich atmosphere, Vera has an affair with the doctor and becomes pregnant.

With Cabin Fever, we witness Vera's journey through memory. Time moves strangely with reflections and introspections. In the second book, Vera is an unwed mother, immobilized and unraveling in a hotel room in New York City. We watch through a looking glass, in dream-like recollections and nonlinear time, as Vera and her daughter, Helena, move from one home to the next until they embark on a spontaneous and uncharted search for a new future.

In The Georges' Wife, Vera and Helena arrive in Glasgow at the remote estate of Professor George and Miss George. Brother and sister, they are quiet, refined and genteel. With their sympathetic dispositions, they take in Vera and her daughter. The longer Vera stays, the more affectionate her relationship with the Georges grows, as does their mutual appreciation of her. A secret affair is ignited and Vera finds herself, once again, with child. With the Georges' characteristic kindness, they not only accept the new child, but also provide care and education for each of Vera's daughters, and financial support and encouragement for her to complete medical school. Vera eventually marries Mr. George and they relocate to Australia, to a new world, and to a new life.

This is my first reading in the fictional world of Australian writer Elizabeth Jolley. The visions of Australia's vast topography made me think of the interior and exterior landscapes we each inhabit. With Vera Wright, Elizabeth Jolley has created a richly textured and distilled interior landscape of an unusual and lonely woman. In Vera's world, we traverse time with moments of pristine clarity, then with faltering and self-deprecating emotions. Woven within the tapestry of Jolley's intricate and melodious prose, we remain immersed in Vera's story.

Reading the trilogy in the newly published single volume provides a kaleidoscopic view of Vera's life from childhood to middle-age. Events overlap within each book, yet we see the arc of Vera's life, who she is and how she tenaciously perseveres to find contentment.

After spending the last few weeks with Vera, I've come to appreciate her uniqueness and bravery. She will, no doubt, resonate within my memory for a long time, perhaps even to be revisited again.

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