That’s what the LA Times calls The Newspaper of Claremont Street: “Every word of this spare little novel is right.”
(You could say the same of Miss Peabody’s Inheritance, which I read earlier this year; this is the only other of her novels on my shelf, so I’m not sure if she is known for this beyond these works, but I would expect so.)
Like Muriel Spark and Penelope Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Jolley knows how to make every word count.
The Newspaper of Claremont Street is actually Margarite Morris, but she’s called ‘Newspaper’ or ‘Weekly’ because she knows all the news of the neighbourhood.
Claremont Street is one of the “longest and oldest streets in the town”, with some doctors and lawyers and trade workers and boarders, some big old mansions and a new block of flats: it’s a neighbourhood characterized by variety.
It has big old trees: Norfolk Island pines, Moreton Bay fig trees and gigantic mulberries in old gardens. The cemetery is “fringed with long-leaved peppermint and trailing eucalyptus…yellow-flowered acacias and other flowering trees made curtains between the graves”.
Weekly walks this Australian street many times daily. She lives and works there; she cleans the houses of this street. And —
“When people open their doors for their houses to be cleaned, they open themselves.”
And although there is a down-side to being in her position (the exploitation and overwork that one would expect), there is an up-side as well, and she has become adept at manipulating that to, at least on occasion, work in her favour.
How she shares the news of the neighbourhood (or does not) is surprisingly revealing; the hierarchies of the neighbourhood require tactful negotiations.
The relationships in this novel are predominantly client-worker, and, even when they are not, there are balances of power that must be examined and finessed.
This often leads to a quiet tension (and, in one instance, not-so-quiet), which adds a surprising dimension to the novel.
The structure is simple, chronological, and seemingly a simple recounting. As with Miss Peabody’s Inheritance, this slim novel can be read in a couple of hours but it raises some unexpected questions as the story unfolds.
What connects us? How do the random encounters of everyday life develop into something meaningful (or miss that state entirely)? How do we distinguish between loneliness and solitude? Is it the tiny details or the broad strokes of events that drive us to make integrally important decisions in our lives?
Well, really, the reader is left with one other question at the end of this novel, but that’s unmentionable, even unthinkable, at the beginning. (Though this is the question which will lead me to read more of Elizabeth Jolley’s works.)
Have you read her work? Are there any spare little novels in your TBR?