My Brilliant Career, by Miles Franklin
It's AusNovember, and I read one of the really obvious classics, this novel by Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, who wrote it for friends when she was only a teenager, It was published in 1901, when she was about 22. It was a hit, but Franklin was upset by some reactions--I think an awful lot of people assumed it was more biographical than it was, or than she wished them to think it was--and she withdrew it for decades. It discouraged her from writing more novels for a long time.
Sybylla is an imaginative, intelligent, discontented girl living in near-poverty on her family's station. Once her father owned beautiful farmland, but his bad business decisions landed them all on a desolate station, and he has become a useless, tragic drunk. Mother and children work hard and earn little, and it is with relief that her mother sends Sybylla to live with her grandmother at Caddagat. There Sybylla blossoms, but not without bumps in the road, and then she is sent to work for an awful family.
This is a very unusual coming-of-age novel. Sybylla is restless and discontented--a fascinating and realistic character--and often so contrary that she doesn't even know what she wants, or if she does know, she can't communicate it. She's terrified of marriage and the life of inescapable drudgery that she feels it must lead to, since she's never seen anything different, yet at the same time she longs for the companionship and love that only marriage could give her. There is a romance, but it has anything but a traditional conclusion. At the end, she is in practically the same circumstances as when she started; there is no happy ending or resolution.
It's as if you had Anne Shirley without the optimism and moral lessons. Jane Eyre without the patience. It's a novel from 1900, featuring a teenage girl, that does not show her brightening sad lives, learning morality, or otherwise doing the things that girls in novels from 1900 do. This makes it a very odd reading experience!
PS I also had a copy of another Australian novel, The Man Who Loved Children. It's supposed to be an amazing and brilliant portrait of a family where the parents hate each other. I got about 4 pages in before I figured out that I cannot read a 600-page book about a miserable marriage and family right now. Nope. I see enough trouble in real life, thank you. Sorry, Brona.