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Book DetailsISBN: 9781925240436
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Book Review: Reckoning: A Memoir by Magda Szubanski - Reviewed by CloggieA (11 Oct 2015)
“…humour was the life line. It had got people through famines and clearances and clan wars. Humour. The life force”
Reckoning: A Memoir is the first book by English-born Australian actress, comedian, television presenter, radio host and author, Magda Szubanski. In it, she reveals just what has made her into the woman she is today, what the major influences in her life have been. She bravely exposes her weaknesses, explores her family history and details her successes and failures. In a memoir that includes sharpies, tennis tournaments, spelling bees, convent school, Poles, Scots (ah, that’s why her “Wee Mary MacGregor was so accomplished!), sexual confusion and much more, Szubanski proves that she has a talent for storytelling and descriptive prose. “The Irish Sea is furrowed with the wake of my ancestors’ boats as they plied back and forth over the centuries, fleeing the wrath of the Protestant clans”
Immigrants to Australia will immediately recognise the environment so skilfully evoked: “In the distance the rolling hills were rarely green. Mostly they were sundried beyond brown or even yellow. Dried to white or burned black. Far away, on the other side of the highway, long-dead gum trees stood waist deep in the bony grass, their arms outstretched, their twiggy fingers splayed” and “In the height of summer the winds blew down from the centre of the continent where they gathered up the dry desert heat before unleashing it on us. The heat was unrelenting and everything felt combustible. Your fingers throbbed and swelled with your own boiling blood and you feared that if you brushed them against the tinder-dry flakes of a paperbark tree the brush would burst into flame. Deadly brown snakes twined themselves through the hot, singing grass; their shed skins lay in the long grass like used prophylactics” are just two examples.
Her depictions of the people in her life, too, are wonderful, as “With walking sticks and wheel-chairs and titanium hips, these stately old Poles sail into the church like a sagging fleet of tall ships, and I feel a pang of nostalgia. They will never make them like that again: that style, that attention to detail, that level of craftsmanship” and “In the front pew my mother is bearing up, but she looks diminished, as if some of her bones have been removed” and “…George is a man with one foot in the future. A nutty professor with sprigs of wiry grey hair bursting out of his skull like tendrils of excess thought, he exudes a childlike curiosity and generosity” demonstrate.
From the myriad of roles that Szubanski has played, and the apparent ease with which she had played them, it should be obvious that there is much depth to this interesting personality. What is not so apparent is the tragedy and anguish that underlies it all. She tells us: “I had begun to ‘balloon’, as people so charmingly put it. I was becoming a fat person. I watched with relief and despair as my flesh armour thickened. I crawled deep into the folds of myself and hid there”.
Her conclusion: “…the journey towards acceptance and understanding is a long and arduous one…..we needed to find our own courage, in our own way. We who are not lions. The trembling sheep, the frightened horses, the impala at the watering hole – we had to take this next step. And in our own faltering way, we did” shows just how far this remarkable woman has come. A compelling read. 4.5 stars
Magda Szubanski is one of Australia's best known and most loved performers. She began her career in university revues, then appeared in a number of sketch comedy shows before creating the iconic character of Sharon Strzelecki in ABC-TV's Kath and Kim. She has also acted in films (Babe, Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet, The Golden Compass) and stage shows. Reckoning is her first book.
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