The Newspaper of Claremont Street, Elizabeth Jolley

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Up till now I have read only one Elizabeth Jolley, The Well, which I wrote on during my studies 12 or so years ago. I would have used my essay as the basis for a post, being shameless in my recycling, only I cannot find it. My old 3” back-up discs are not well-labelled. I also have Brian Dibble’s 2008 Doing Life: A Biography of Elizabeth Jolley in my TBR, if only I could get to it.

Elizabeth Jolley (1923-2007) was born and grew up in England, and began training as a nurse before entering a complicated marital relationship with Leonard Jolley, with whom she emigrated to Western Australia in 1959. According to Wikipedia (there is no ADB entry), they lived in the comfortable middle class Perth suburb of Claremont until 1970 when they purchased a small orchard at Woorooloo in the Ranges on the outskirts of the city.

Jolley had always been a writer, mostly of short stories, but remained unpublished until 1976. Shortly after this she began to teach one of the earlier Creative Writing courses, at WA Institute of Technology (now Curtin Uni.). Her first novel, Palomino was published in 1980. The Newspaper of Claremont Street (1981), a novella really, was her second.

No one knew or cared where the Newspaper of Claremont Street went in her spare time. Newspaper, or Weekly, as she was called by those who knew her, earned her living by cleaning other people’s houses.

And so we begin. ‘Claremont Street’ is an imagined long street in Claremont, mostly residential but with a very old fashioned mixed-business grocery cum haberdashery store. Weekly lives in an old rooming house at one end, opposite an intrusive block of flats, and her clients live along its length. Weekly, who was brought up ‘in service’, cleans and helps out at dinner parties. At the end of each day she plonks down in a chair in the store and gives off a few items of news.

The story has a timeless feel which makes it difficult to place, but Weekly’s friend Nastasya was a teenager during the Russian Revolution and she and Weekly appear to be similar ages. By the time of the story Weekly is in late middle age so perhaps the setting is the early 1960s, before supermarkets had wiped out all the old grocery stores.

We learn that Weekly and her mother had been in service in England, and had emigrated to Australia when her father was killed in an accident. An older sister goes to work in the wheatbelt and we don’t hear of her again, but Weekly’s younger brother, Victor, who had been doing well at school in England, becomes a young con man, hanging around and taking what he can from Weekly and her mother, until at last, owing too much to the wrong type of people, he too disappears.

Weekly and her mother were in service in a large house. House cleaning was the only work they knew. Between them on swollen feet, they waited on Victor, cherishing him, because they knew no other way. And Victor, as he grew older, made his own life which they were obliged to hold in reverence because they did not understand it.

All the time, as Weekly works and saves, we are on the edge of her thoughts, listening in …

It was if her mother’s sigh persisted through the years, sadly and quietly, in the noise of the leaves flustering in front of the broom. Weekly added her own sigh and then shook off the thoughts. It was such a long time ago now.

Eventually Weekly gets a little car, persuades one client to give her an old car they have for sale, and another client, not to be outdone, to pay for her driving lessons, and begins to drive out into the country to seek out a little farmlet to which she might be able to afford to retire.

The fly in the ointment is that Nastasya, who has been used all her life to be waited on, has moved into Weekly’s room and Weekly doesn’t have the heart to abandon her. Twice they head for the ‘hospital’ (nearby Graylands, formerly the Hospital for the Insane) only for Weekly to turn back. So finally Weekly takes Nastasya with her, to the shack on a few acres in the hills and there she comes up with a solution to her need for isolation and quiet that is as shocking as it is funny.

Jolley’s writing is exquisite and her characterisations are brilliant. She writes with great feeling about what it is to be an older woman, but more than that, she writes with insight on what it is to be, in Australia.

 

Elizabeth Jolley, The Newspaper of Claremont Street, Fremantle Press, Fremantle, 1981. Audio version, The Association for the Blind of WA, 2009, read by Coralie Ellement

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14 thoughts on “The Newspaper of Claremont Street, Elizabeth Jolley

      • You would indeed. In fact I seem to remember the ADB calling for suggestions of notable women to improve their gender ratio… did they really need prompting to include one of our most notable writers? Did they not think to look through the MF winners to see who they’d left out?

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  1. I really do love novellas and wish there were more of them. The read like long short stories that get a fuller, more meaningful treatment. Yet, the relief of not having to commit to a huge novel is nice, too. As many of my book blogger friends have noted, most books being published these days are around 400 pages. A novel of 250 pages is now called “short.” Did you listen to this one as an audio book or read it during a break in driving?

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    • I listened to it, which is unusual as I rarely select books under 6 hours and this was half that. But Jolley is an important writer so it was an easy way to make a start on her. I did borrow a real book to write the review, a large print version as it happens, which was a bit odd to get used to.

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      • Yes, with audio books I hold a picture of the characters in my mind, but their names barely register. Today I have that other bogey, mispronounced place names, with an obviously eastern states reader butchering Western Australian town names.

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  2. ADB will get to her I’m sure. I have written two entries for ADB (for two brothers who died in the early 1980s. Firstly the person has to have died, and usually for some years, and then they have to identify someone who is willing to write the pages. (They don’t pay for their articles – at least they didn’t when I did mine.) When I did mine in the mid 2000s, they were working on people who’d died 1981-1990, I think. Currently, I believe, they are working on people who died between 1991 and 2000. Elizabeth Jolley died in 2007. In other words it’s a really thorough process and there is a lag time. They are, as Lisa says, very aware of the gender issue. Jolley will be there, I’m sure of it.

    This is one of my very favourite Jolleys. It’s the one I regularly buy when I see it so I have it on hand to give away.

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    • Ok, I’ll forgive ADB, it’s just that I rely on it so often (It’s a marker of how old my usual subjects are that they nearly always have an ADB entry.

      That’s a nice thing to do, buying books to give away. If I did that, and I will at Xmas at least, it would be Formaldehyde, to boost the sales.

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      • Yes I’ve given away a couple of her Wrong turn book because it’s too much under the radar.

        Your point re your trading and the ADB made me laugh because of course it’s true. You would find most of YOUR authors there.

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