Review: Kate Llewellyn’s “The Waterlily: A Blue Mountains Journal”

by writereaderly

This book was quite the surprise, an earthy, rich, wry voice that I was delighted by. Couldn’t put the book down, actually, despite almost not getting out the door to something that by any other name might have been a date.

I actually only picked this book off KT’s Housesat Bookshelf out of guilt, feeling disloyal to Australian women writers: I’ve read so few of them, and they rarely reach the top of my lengthy mental rotation of Books To Watch Out For. And then earlier this year a friend’s blog put me onto the Australian Women Writers Challenge, and behold! My guilt had a list of titles which it could then continue to ignore.

Until this one, when the moral weight of being a naughty, ungrateful Australian woman writer led me to add this to To-Read Pile No.2 (KT’s Housesat Books), from whence it landed on the Now-Reading Pile, strewn across the unused pillow. I was hunting out something to read that wasn’t by a bloke called Michael (I’d just read “Coming Through Slaughter” by Michael Ondaatje, and “A Private Life” by Michael Kirby”).

So here it was, and here I was, and we were both in bed, and voilà, the affair was launched. So dry! So smart-arsey! Writing a journal so unlike anything I write in mine (which cycles all too often through complaints about weather, ailments, singledom, blah), instead covering philosophical ramblings, quotes from Van Gogh on particular shades of blue, gardening forays, bushwalks, recipes for kidneys on toast, witticisms. Etc. Perhaps I should write a similar journal, with all mundania terminatingly banned (as they say in Spanish)? Oh yes, and her interminable (in both senses) affair, which droozled on through to the end of the journal. That, and the dinner parties, and the eternal visits, and the pow-wows with writers too famous to name – what’s not to like?

And it was so delightful to be on the inner of a writer at work, “redemption through work” she alternately crows and bewails, writes a couple of poems a day a few times (!), and always, always, putting work in envelopes — this was published in 1987 — and sending them to more or less responsive publishers. Writing and submitting and editing and submitting and gardening and submitting and workshopping and submitting then writing some more before submitted. The working poet working at work.

It made me want poetry time, it made me want to read her writing, it made me want to write about my farming (inherently less romantic than gardening, but we ate the first beets today), read Jean Rhys and Colette whose styles she loves (but not Flaubert, ergh, I remember Madame Bovary from uni, once was enough). Such great lines, too, e.g. “The lawn is dry as a blotter. I could sign my name with the hose.” And I bridled at and was comforted by this one: “I get fed up with writers who complain they are not well paid. The truth is they chose to do this work and it’s a privilege to have an obsession and there’s no point grumbling.” Sigh. Why do all my obsessions have to place me in the “poor but enthusiastic” category?

And bless her for being such a writer’s writer, once the idea for this blog was seconded by a friend last night, all the obligation of the idea wouldn’t let me rest and I frittered away sleeping time thinking how writerly I could reader this blog: it’s the perfect book to start my writereaderly reviews with. Redemption through readering, I say.

Where it came from: KT’s Housesat Bookshelf
Time taken to read: one night in bed, then early morning & stolen time the next day
Where it went: Back on the shelf
Reminds me of: “The Solitary Summer” by Elizabeth Von Arnim
Who I’d recommend it to: Right at the moment, me – writing in rural isolation in the mountains is a dreamlife that not even assignments can kill
Also reading: “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene; “The Cloudspotter’s Guide” by Gavin Pretor-Pinney