It is hard to believe that Melting Moments is a debut novel. Not only is the name Anna Goldsworthy a familiar one in the Australian literary scene, but the writing inside this novel is so accomplished that it feels effortless to read.
Melting Moments is the story of Ruby, following her from her days as a young woman, dancing with prospective beaux at the Palais in Adelaide, through to her days as an eighty-year-old widow, facing down a second hip operation. As the title would suggest, the novel is told in a series of significant moments. Though not always the ones you would expect.
Ruby’s marriage to Arthur does not happen on the page. Nor do the births of her children. Instead, Goldsworthy paints a picture of Ruby’s life in a series of gorgeously realised scenes, of happenings and almost-happenings. A scene in a car in which Arthur declares his intention for their future life together (scaring Ruby with his assuredness) sets the tone for a marriage that will very much be of its time, with Ruby finding the life of a housewife stifling but not being afforded the freedoms which will become available first to her daughter Eva, and then granddaughter, Amy. The changes that affect the lives of Australian women are showcased alongside Ruby’s life, allowing the novel to have a subtle but important feminist undertone.
Goldsworthy’s writing is beautiful, and her attention to detail in characters does not go unnoticed. The tensions between Ruby and her overbearing, social-climbing mother-in-law, Mrs Jenkins, provide a source of both frustration and comic relief. The nuances of Ruby’s relationship with a husband changed by his time in the war is rendered with a gentle hand, and provide moment of deep emotional complexity.
This is a novel driven not by plot, for there isn’t much unless one considers the ordinary path of an Australian life to be a plot. Rather, it is a book driven by the strength of its ability to capture the ins and outs of relationships. Though at times the subtleties leave too much of a blank to fill in, and the reader has to wonder what actually happened.
Further into the book, a pattern develops where first an event will be established (a death, a divorce) and only then will the narrative backtrack to show its lead up. It leaves the reader wondering if this was a deliberate stylistic choice to mirror a growing penchant for looking back as we age.
Alex Miller has described the book as a quiet masterpiece, and it’s hard to disagree. The book is gentle in its approach. But, has a lot to say in less than three hundred pages. Ultimately, Melting Moments was well worth the read.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Anna Goldsworthy’s Melting Moments is available now through Black Inc.
Order your copy from Booktopia HERE.