Title: The Anniversary
Author: Stephanie Bishop
Publisher: Hachette Australia, 2023; RRP: $32.99
It is well-accepted that writers should make their protagonists suffer, putting obstacles in the path of redemption or whatever it is the story arc demands. Stephanie Bishop, in her fourth novel, The Anniversary, constructs a most arduous life for her main character J.B. Blackwood. There is no sparing of the difficulties, mind, I thought most of Blackwood’s difficulties were her own doing, poor life choices.
Bishop is a highly credentialled writer, and I felt it showed, impressed by the writing and the construction of the characters. I just didn’t warm to the story or the characters. I felt the misfortune contrived and difficult to accept, even if it was necessary to develop the theme. Despite suggesting contrivance in the plot, it would not surprise me to find it is based on the real experiences of actual people. Truth is stranger than fiction.
A husband lost at sea, falling overboard, I know it does happen. Flying off to glamourous literary awards and being interviewed by the New Yorker magazine, so what? I do read the New Yorker. With some elements of the story, I was reminded of the “airport novels” of Harold Robbins, all that arbitrarily injected glamour. Is that still a thing?
The circumstances of Blackwood’s life are not that unusual: difficult childhood, mother-rejection complex, difficult relationship with father, married young – to an older man, her idolised lecturer, who represented recognition (for Blackwood), sophistication and possibly authority. Bishop puts Blackwood’s life under the microscope with references and excerpts from her childhood, and the stages of her relationship with her now deceased husband.
I thought Bishop did an interesting job of laying bare the emotional morass of Blackwood’s life. Perhaps too good a job. Bishops teases out the pressures brought about by complex relationships in a creative’s life. I am sure this book will appeal to many, but it didn’t resonate with me.
Reviewed by: Frank Thompson, June 2023
Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group
Review copy provided by the publisher