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There’s more to life than work

06 Oct 2020

There’s more to life than work Image

By Rhonda Dredge

How great it is to be a fiction writer.

Monica McInerney is onto her 12th novel and according to Penguin she’s Australia’s number one bestseller.

A section of her latest novel The Godmothers is set in a 14th-floor apartment in Southbank.

The heroine, a girl with major issues, has arrived in Melbourne to start a new life.

She rents the one-bedroom apartment then gets a job as the personal assistant to a conference organiser in the CBD.

Eight years she lasts in this demanding and busy position, until the proprietor, an ungrateful schemer, sells the business without giving her any credit.

There must be a lot of girls in Eliza Miller’s position, lured to the big smoke to prove themselves as worthy employees.

Eliza works long hours, is a model of efficiency, virtually runs the business but can be turfed out at a moment’s notice by the capitalist system.

The set-up for this novel might ring a bell for some of those laid off during the current pandemic. When Eliza suddenly finds herself without a life she is forced to do some soul-searching.

It becomes apparent that she has been putting too much of herself into the job and not enough into resolving her family issues.

The rest of this novel takes place in Scotland and Ireland (it can only happen in fiction!) where Eliza tracks down the secret to her birth and meets a handsome hotel manager.

In Scotland she discovers a lot of good sense emanating from the mouths of her two godmothers and in Ireland a convivial collective spirit that accepts the personality of Eliza’s mum and her regular fibs as part of the storytelling craft.

The novel lays it on thick in the heart-warming department but it also does a good job of exploring the fine line between trouble and fun.

Eliza’s mum has died young, leaving the 17-year-old with a mess to clean up but Eliza remains loyal to her mum’s imagination and wit, even if it is a bit manic.

Eliza’s search for a family drives the novel towards its conclusion when she returns to Melbourne and rents a flat in the more traditional suburb of Collingwood where she begins working as a temp.

For those looking for a cultural analysis of Southbank, chapter two portrays it as a corporate kind of place where you can get lost in the bowels of office work.

Eliza is in the habit of selecting her outfits in the evenings to make her routine more efficient – “corporate suits in neutral colours, low-heeled shoes”.

She wears her hair in a bun, leaves her apartment at exactly 7.15 am and has a 25-minute walk to her office in Exhibition St where she works 50 hours a week for Gillian Webster Enterprises.

Eliza rarely takes holidays, pay rises are begrudgingly given, Gillian has a fake laugh and McInerney has a bit of fun taking a few digs at the “business woman” rhetoric that is thrown at the young and vulnerable.

Eliza’s life feels real but its provisional nature is used by McInerney to examine how lives can be squandered by too much dedication to work, an encouraging message in today’s economic climate •

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