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4.4 out of 5 stars
The House Of Fiction
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 17 March 2013
This is an enlightening tale - although it was clearly quite painful for the author at times.

The name of Elizabeth Jolley has been familiar to me all my life as my mum was at boarding school with her.
We gathered from Brian Dibble's 'Doing Life' that Monica (as she was at school) had been let's say economic
with the truth about her life with Leonard. This certainly puts things from a different point of view, about how
secrets and lies can cause immense harm.

I still love E J's writing though - especially that wry sense of humour.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 25 October 2012
The House of Fiction is an extraordinary and touching true account of the search by one woman for her lost father. It's a complex search not least because obstacles and untruths abounded throughout her early quest. After unexpected revelations emerge about her own childhood history, Swingler was driven to delve as deep as she possibly could. Longing and resentment could have been the driving force and whilst these emotions were evident some of the time they were mostly superceded by a compassion for all involved in this extraordinary memoir. Throughout the book Swingler recognises and pays tribute to the significant relationships that shaped her and made her strong enough to pursue the truth.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 15 August 2014
What a story?! Every family has their skeletons in the closet but most of our secrets are not worth sharing - unlike Susan Swingler's family story.
Learn from the author's experiences and ask the questions you need answered before it's too late and when families divide and split tell the children the truth - don't make promises you cannot keep.
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on 19 July 2012
I read an ebook version that is not yet available from Amazon.

Being interested in family history and genealogy, I was immediately intrigued by the blurb of this book and was desperate to get my hands on it. I've read some Elizabeth Jolley, but was never a huge fan but I knew who she was and saw her in the halls at university and she was revered by many but that's not the reason I chose to read this book. I was captivated by the secrest families keep hidden and was as eager as the author was to discover the reason behind her father's actions and whether his second wife, Elizabeth, was coerced or was an active participant in the deceit that understandably rocked the author's world.

The author refrains from becoming too emotional or portraying herself as the victim. In fact, I was surprised at how she managed to present a factual, measured account of the events and her reactions even when she recounts the moments when more layers of the betrayal were discovered. I admire how she was able to revisit these events and look for answers in Elizabeth's books and papers and share this so intimately with the reader.

I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in family dynamics or family dramas or just those who like a good mystery. I found it difficult to stop reading this book and really enjoyed the way the author chose to tell her story and provide the reader with a sense of closure despite the questions that will always remain unanswered.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 24 September 2012
I was completely gripped by this memoir from the first to the last page. From its intriguing opening paragraph which deftly links the twin strands of the story the reader is pulled into a world both ordinary and utterly strange. There is an element of the thriller, the who-dunnit, in this tale enriched by honest and courageous examination of the often conflicting motives of the author as she uncovers and explores the hidden life of a much longed-for father and attempts to uncover the motives of his secret family. She handles the building of tension with skill, describes complex events with clarity and this combined with her subtlety in the depiction of the psychological and emotional life of the protagonists makes for a work of considerable originality.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 March 2013
Reads like a mystery with the added bonus of being true. Knowing the some of the main characters gives it extra flavour but I have given copies to people who did not and they liked it. My daughter is going to recommend it to her Book Club, I am sure it will provoke an animated conversation. jjd
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on 30 April 2015
I had some trepidation about reading this book as I knew the principle characters, namely Elizabeth and Leonard, although I hadn't seen them in years as I relocated back to the UK in the late '80s. Even if I had not known the family, I would still have enjoyed the book. A complex plot line is very well written, possessing an excellent flow and balance making it hard to put down. I was dreading an "unhappy ending" but was pleasantly surprised at Susan Swingler's conclusion and her recognition of the dynamics that can flow into uncomfortable situations without malicious planning - which is what I believe happened. I thoroughly recommend it for its human interest, but also for the very clever way in which the story was woven. A riveting read. I have huge admiration for Susan and the way that she has dealt with her pain.
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on 29 April 2015
I read this book as part of a book club. I was expecting an interesting family saga ( think Wild Swans, Roots) but found a navel-gazing misery memoir about very ordinary people. I waited and waited for something interesting to happen, but became increasingly irritated by Susan's lack of backbone when eventually she meets her unpleasant father. This book perpetuates the 'cult of the victim'. I can fully understand the author's desire to know the truth, but not why she felt the need to publish it. Sadly hundreds of fathers leave their families for other women, abandon their off-spring and surprise, surprise don't tell the truth.There is something to be learned from this book though: don't waste chunks of your life by looking back but move forward and create a happy life for yourself.
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on 13 June 2014
Heard this book being reviewed with the author and a Late Line Live presenter on Radio National, Australia. Truth is stranger than fiction and in this case, the Jolleys present a most disturbing picture of a couple who lied and were deceitful in the extreme. Elizabeth Jolley is well known in Australia, although deceased, her books sell well. Once Susan's account of the way they behaved (she being the daughter of Leonard Jolley), her books take on a different meaning. How these two could live with themselves beggars belief.

Was disappointed to read that Susan never confronted her father and step mother when she visited them in Australia. That is incredible too!!

The book was a bit long and her wanderings around Western Australia could have been cut out.
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