Deeply troubled by her dysfunctional upbringing and the untimely death of her adored husband, Vinnie Beaumont finds the peace and community she craves when she takes a job as an accountant - cum - babysitter at a private hotel on Australia's Queensland coast. In a simple, natural style, she relates the almost random series of events that finally heal her psychological wounds. Many of the characters she meets during this zen-like journey (a device reminiscent of Savage's hailed The House Tibet ) are feisty, provocative and interesting, but Vinnie herself is so sketchily drawn and passive that it's hard to evoke sympathy for her. Having felt unloved by her dotty, domineering mother, with whom she seems to have been in unacknowledged sexual competition, she repeats the pattern by ignoring her own daughter, Clare (after her husband's death, she allowed Clare to be raised by a friend). The stunning-looking Vinnie has sexually charged encounters with a karate-practicing gardener, a balalaika-playing Yugoslav and an anarchist lesbian, each of whom helps her cope with her emotional problems. Savage has created a woman beset by contemporary concerns, but instead of a modern-spirited heroine, she gives us a downtrodden, passive beauty. ( Apr. )
In this gem of a novel, Australian author Savage ( The House Tibet , LJ 4/1/91; one of LJ 's Best Books of 1991) turns one woman's grief and loss into an engaging and life-affirming story. It is Vinnie's wry outlook on life that sustains her through a forbidding upbringing, the unexpected death of her beloved husband, and the defection of her daughter, Clare, to a surrogate mother who fuels her ambition to become a ballerina. Vinnie doesn't begin to feel her life has meaning again until she moves from Victoria to The Estuary, a beach-front community in Queensland. She is treated as part of the family by the owner of the hotel where she works and becomes friends with a Yugoslavian balalaika player and a feminist taxi driver. When the owner suddenly turns on her and slashes her face with a knife, the result is a joyful reconciliation with Clare. Savage has created a marvelous character in Vinnie and sets her story against a beautifully evoked Australia. Highly recommended.-- Patricia Ross, Westerville P.L., Ohio
A celebrated author in her native Australia, Savage is sure to please American readers with her poise and humor. Her new novel is about the life and times of Vinnie Beaumont, a woman of spontaneity and charm, reticence and strength. The story begins at her mother's funeral, then meanders into wry accounts of her difficult childhood, passionate marriage, and shocked grief after the accidental death of her young husband. Vinnie has a knack for finding herself in absurd yet significant situations, whether it's dancing on a train with a drunken soldier or falling in love with her gardener, who goes on to fame and fortune as a kung fu movie star. She has a perfectly wretched relationship with her daughter and a bizarre association with the owners of a boarding house where she serves as nanny, bookkeeper, and moral center. The surrounding cast of oddball characters indulges in all sorts of inexplicable behavior of both the appalling and the endearing varieties. This tale is as fitful and stirring as a spring day: one moment all is sunny and full of promise, the next a battalion of chastising, rain-filled clouds rolls in, only to move on just in time for a sunset of pure glory.