BookPage Top Pick in Fiction, December 2017
The third novel by Australian author Ashley Hay is an engrossing and insightful portrait of two women living in Brisbane, Australia: Elsie, now in her 90s, a widow of 40 years and recently relocated to an assisted living facility by her children; and Lucy, a 30-something mother of a 2-year-old and wife to Ben, a journalist.
Elsie has just sold her home of 60 years to Lucy’s young family. Throughout the novel, Hay moves back and forth through Elsie’s years, giving the reader introspective looks into her life: from her days as a vibrant, adventurous young woman to her years mothering her twins, Elaine and Don; from the time she stepped out of her ordinary life to have her portrait painted to the present day, when she looks into her mirror at “the facility” and says to herself, “I have no idea who you are or why you’re here.”
Lucy’s chapters revolve around the difficulties of new motherhood—the crying, the late nights, the sudden, obstinate behavior of her young son. She increasingly takes out her frustrations on her husband, whom she sees as blissfully removed from most of the childrearing as he enjoys his daily routine at the newspaper and his frequent work-related trips abroad.
Numerous scenes in this thoughtful novel will linger in the reader’s memory—like Elsie’s husband, Clem, graciously reaching out to an old neighbor who divorced and moved away, but could be found “wandering around his old neighborhood, looking for his past.” Or the night when Clem dies in his sleep at age 54, when Elsie realizes that “suddenly all the plans they’d thought of making were too late.”
A lyrically written portrayal of the lives of two women tied together by memories and the house they share, A Hundred Small Lessons is sure to be enjoyed by readers of Kate Morton, another Brisbane author.