My Hundred Lovers, by Susan Johnson

Half a century has passed since I entered the world through that now-perished body.
A human lifespan is less than a thousand months long.
I find myself gripped by an urge to tidy up, to sort through my body’s memories, a curator arranging artifacts in a museum. I have lived my way into a time in which my body has its own archaeology.
I am in a fever to outrun myself, to be first to reach the ribbon, before my body forgets what it means to run.

With an evocative, even provocative, title like My Hundred Lovers, it is hard not to come to a book with some preconceptions. But, whilst sex is definitely a part of this offering, this much more. Tracing one woman’s story so far (she is about to turn 50), the book offers one hundred vignettes, each representing one of her ‘lovers’, drawn  from every stage of her life.

The lovers are as varied as they are numerous – from buttery croissants, to pets, to human lovers. Sometimes we meet the lover in a tale spanning several pages, but others cover just a couple of lines. Each could be read alone, but together they tell a story of the narrator’s life and particularly of her sensual journey from conception through childhood and youth, into adulthood and reaching her middle years. Whilst not always chronological, the arrangement of the individual parts builds beautifully to show both where the protagonist has been and where she is now.

The novelty of the form, the beauty of the writing and the range of experiences – from the mundane to the exotic – combine to create a satisfying whole.

My Hundred Lovers

My Hundred Lovers, by Susan Johnson
Allen & Unwin 2012
ISBN 9781741756357

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The Broken Book, by Susan Johnson

From a childhood in rural Australia, to cosmopolitan London and a rustic Greek isle, Katherine Elgin is a woman desperate to make her mark.

At heart she is a poet, but her literary career begins with a job for a Sydney newspaper. Later, she achieves some publication success but, throughout her life, she struggles to release the perfect story she believes is trapped within.

As she navigates the life of an artist, she also struggles with her real life – as mother of two and wife to another writer, who claims she is his muse, yet is both jealous and scornful of her.

Paralell with Elgin’s life is that of her character, Cressida Morley, whose story she struggles to tell. Perhaps it is her inability to make sense of her own life which prevents her from making sense of her character’s.

Cressida Morley is not a new character in Australian fiction. She first appeared in the work of Charmian Clift and, later, that of her husband George Johnston. Katherine Elgin, the writer character at the centre of The Broken Book is based on Clift, though this is not meant to be a biography.

This is a book with many levels, filled with characters who in turn have similar levels. The intertwining of the lives of a writer and her character leaves the reader guessing at what is fiction and what is real in these stories which are both left unfinished.

A compelling read.

The Broken Book, by Susan Johnson
Allen & Unwin, 2004