Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reading Report: My Brilliant Career

Written by Miles Franklin
First published 1901; 319 pages

"Miles Franklin" was the pen name of Australian novelist Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin. She wrote many books, but My Brilliant Career is the most famous, and was written while she was still a teenager, for (she claimed) the amusement of her friends.

The novel is narrated by Sybylla Melvyn, also a teenager, and is her story of growing up in rural Australia in the 1890s. After her family is reduced to poverty because of her father's drinking, Sybylla is allowed to escape the drudgery and boredom when she's sent for an extended visit with her grandmother. Life is much more comfortable on her grandmother's property, and Sybylla is well-treated by her aunt and uncle and all their friends and neighbors. She also meets wealthy young landowner, Harry Beecham, who falls in love with her and proposes marriage in spite of the abominable way she treats him. Sybylla is convinced that she's too ugly and too much of a tomboy to be the object of any man's affection. She gets Beecham to agree to a sort of trial period -- they'll be engaged but won't announce the engagement until she's twenty-one. But soon after that, Sybylla's fortunes take some dramatic (and disturbing) turns -- and that's all I'll say about the rest of the plot.

My Brilliant Career is an interesting book, and I enjoyed it. Mostly. There's really not much plot to get involved in. It reads very much like a memoir -- which is basically what it is, I suppose. Although she can be sympathetic and intriguing, Sybylla also displays a lot of very exasperating behavior -- sometimes you just want to grab her and give her a good shaking. And the writing is definitely that of a very young writer -- exuberant and full of life, but annoying and overwrought at times. Still, a fun read, and another volume crossed off the long-time "must read" list.

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