SUGAR MOTHER by Elizabeth Jolley

Book Quote:

“The combination of having too much to drink and a genuine lack of desire towards an unchosen partner were the ingredients for a certain kind of unhappiness.”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage  (DEC 27, 2010)

In Sugar Mother, middle-aged Australian OB/GYN Cecilia Page leaves for a year-long fellowship abroad. Her husband, English professor Edwin decides not to accompany her in spite of the fact that she “asked repeatedly” that he join her. This is not the first occasion of separation; Cecilia enjoys travel and hotel rooms, but Edwin does not. He prefers his “pleasantly shabby” home, along with his routine and no expectation of surprises.

While Edwin and Cecilia, a childless couple, appear to be the epitome of conservatism, even they have their mad moments. Their “flings” however are confined to monthly wife-swapping parties composed of a handful of couples their own age and income status. It’s through this bizarre monthly ritual, organized by Cecelia to continue in her absence, that Jolley’s wicked sense of humour spears the naughty, extra-marital play in suburbia. In Edwin’s circle of friends, even wife-swapping is staged, boring, obligatory, predictable, and above all safe.

In many ways, Edwin is disconnected to his home and to his life. Cecilia is the great organizer, and she finds it easy to make friends. While Edwin is proud of Cecilia, there’s also the sense that their shared life is predominantly her creation. Edwin is too colourless and mild to create his own or to take a stand against Cecilia’s forceful character. But there’s one thing in which Edwin is the master, and that’s in his hypochondria:

“Edwin had three books of the body in which he kept notes. The books were the external, the internal and the intangible. The book of the skin (the external) had separate pages for different places on the body. He planned at some stage to have a series of maps like ordnance survey maps (in sections) of the human body, his body, with special methods of marking wrinkles, hair, moles, bruises, pimples, dry patches and the rather more unusual blemishes. Every page had its own legend and scale and he hoped, ultimately, to make an accurate index. All three books had stiff covers and blank pages fro drawings and diagrams alternating the lined pages for the written comments. Faithfully he kept the records, three valuable collections of human data. There were no limits to the notes he was able to make. He often imagined Cecilia’s pleasure at receiving the copies, handsomely bound, at some time in the future, after he was dead.”

Obviously Edwin has too much time on his hands. Little does this fussy, aging man suspect that his ordered life is about to become very complicated.

As soon as Cecilia leaves, the peculiar neighbours next door, Mrs. Botts and her lumpish daughter Leila suffer a series of catastrophes. First they are locked out of their home (a house in which it’s guaranteed they won’t be raped). Then the house is overrun with rats and must be fumigated. These disasters send the conniving Mrs. Botts and Leila to the Pages’ home, and with Cecilia absent, they basically move in and stay….

Sugar Mother is a darkly humorous tale that centres on Edwin’s dilemma. How can he get rid of guests who continuously create new excuses to stay? At first Edwin is willing to go to any lengths to get rid of them, but then soon he finds himself enjoying Mrs. Botts’s cooking and Leila’s company. He has a year to sort the problem before his wife returns home, but a lot can happen in a year.

Bizarre behaviour clashes then blends with the appearance of normalcy in Jolley’s understated and witty comedy of manners. As with Foxybaby, Sugar Mother also presents a world laced with lunacy and eccentricity.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 3 readers
PUBLISHER: Persea; Reprint edition (November 9, 2010)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Elizabeth Jolley
EXTRAS: Elizabeth Jolley Research Collection
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December 27, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Australia, Contemporary, Humorous

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