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'Joyce is the elephant in the room and I am her lumbering calf'
on 9 June 2014
I come to this not knowing the celebrity or the cultural contributions of the prime movers of the plot, Monica aka Elizabeth and Leonard Jolley, or their daughter who has so carefully set this all down for posterity. It was a read recommended by a friend who was awestruck at the lying, twisted manipulation and fraudulant fabrication whipped up by Elizabeth, perhaps instigated and encouraged by Leonard. Eventually Elizabeth became a Professor of Creative Writing, a talent for which she certainly possessed.
Susan's heartfelt memoir is, in many parts, beautifully written, with wonderfully descriptive passages of nature, geography and childhood experiences. I was right there in the draughty maid' bedrooms above the schools where her abandoned mother Joyce bravely taught, in England and in France. It is a chronicle of post war years spent clawing up to a higher ground of married happiness and eventual grand mothering for Susan, but she is so hurt by her rejection that it screams off the page. Steeped in the denial and rerouting of the birthright love Susan could have shared with her real family, who had been innocently hoodwinked and high jacked by a smiling substitute, was a 'wrong wife'
A lifetime of sadness, loss and unease for Susan Swingler followed the complex cold deceit practiced by two apparently famous, well regarded, talented literary people. The words wicked and evil really seem to apply to the dreadful cover up performed by them. However this made me feel agitated and desperate for some practical, restorative denouement, which we are actually denied. Everything gets put to one side in consideration of the frail elderly people they have become, this couple who have created a completely false life, built on the suffering of Joyce and Susan. Others say they are marvellous, kind and caring, but we know better. There is a shadow sister, Sarah, initially a near twin for Susan, they were both held in their father's arms (note the single apostrophe) and their mothers appear to be close friends. Other children followed for Leonard and Monica, second daughter Ruth and a son who wants nothing to do with his parents' past lives or Susan.
Illustrated with contemporary black and white photos, representations of the lying letters, this is no novel, it is a strongly written statement, forensic, detective like, and apparently completely truthful to a tee, an even handed judgement even, so for me it was a bit of an endurance test, some pages are literally leaden with longing. I am interested enough to follow up this family's back story and really wish the younger generations well. For me, Susan was too nice, too slow on the uptake she should have blown her top, not sit on her hands after travelling across the globe where, in Australia, she had both protagonists in the room with her. Secrets and lies are described by the bushel, selfishness beyond belief, cruelty and crime. Patronising to the 'nth degree Elizabeth/Monica is a monster. She certainly practiced to deceive. Unfortunately she probably persuaded herself and Leonard, if he didn't cause her to so do, that it was being kind, albeit, in truth in perverted, sick way. The social mores of the time may have necessitated some sort of misrepresentation but the lengths they went to and the blackmail Leonard threatened Joyce with was frighteningly sociopathic. However, they are all dead now and cannot 'defend' what appears to be indefensible.
This account must balance any flowery biographies, to see it all in print is shocking, and I hope that writing it all out is some sort of release and 'closure' for Susan. One way to get her own back anyway. More power to her pen.