Book Report: “The Road from Courain”

The Road from Courain – by Jill Ker Conway

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  • “More than a Review”

Summary: “Cursed be my intellect, affluence, and robust life experiences because there may never be someone so exceptional as to live up to my image of myself.”

This one book is many books. It is a remarkable recollection of a young life in Australia. Then, in one of the nine chapters, it takes on a literary bent with brilliant and entertaining use of language. Often, it devolves into segments of self-pity as well as loathing toward others. Does that make it a psychological thriller, a mystery, or a narcissistic treatise? Discuss amongst yourselves and support your ideas, as the scholarly Jill Ker Conway probably charged her students and peers over the years.

Psychologically, the reader is presented a person who, through her twenties, couldn’t be bothered to hold any work position for any length of time. Whether in law, political administration, fashion, education, or simpler tasks, some aspect of that work was beyond her tolerance. Such attitude is at least partly owed to the affluence that did not require her to work, but that is rarely raised as a factor.

The thrilling aspect of the psychological spaghetti in these pages is the roller coaster of angst poured out by the author, with the reader along for the ride. There is family, social, climate, political, historical, and enough other kinds of angst to fill a world’s fair. That may be interesting (the angst or the fair), but one tires from a non-stop intake of it.

Mysteriously, we learn little depth about any characters surrounding the author other than her father during her astounding telling of early years on the Australian prairie, and of her mother as the anchor (with both good and bad meanings inferred) of her life. There are rarely more than brief mentions of others and name-dropping lists; nary a vignette to develop surrounding characters.

I relished the onsetting story set in the unfamiliar Antipodal pastoral land to which the first four chapters were devoted. I was thrilled by bits of artfully-crafted phrasing through that section, which then flourished in most of chapter five and made me feel I was on a journey through life that was discovering literary potential just as it might have evolved for the young lass as her life shifted toward education.

Yet by the end of chapter five to the final pages, the clarion call was that of the prototypical picture of the opera singer in preparation for a performance: “Me, me, me; Me, Me, Me!; Me, Me, ME!!” There was sound and fury but too little substance and story to mold a truly interesting tale despite the litany of subject matter that was mentioned.

Many readers will enjoy this exploration of soul by commentary. The author presents herself as an interesting character. I might have enjoyed the effort had there been more introspection and less outwardly-focused criticism. There were times when I was ready to recommend this work to a teenage relative in the United States, that she might appreciate another kind of life in another part of the world, presented by someone of intellect. Such desire was not there by the end of the book.


2 thoughts on “Book Report: “The Road from Courain””

  1. Well, that’s how it is. No two readers experience the same story exactly alike. Maybe when I reread it I will react differently. But at the time, my appreciation for her struggles and frustrations felt very real and worthy. I did not recognize her patronizing tone at all. But like I said, maybe a second read will produce a different result. I do hope to read her later work and see what has become of her decision to leave Australia.
    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for visiting, reading, and commenting. I’m happy you (and most others, frankly) enjoyed Ms. Conway’s book. Understanding the courage and effort to write “Courain,” I would like to be as positive throughout as I was about the first four-and-one-half chapters.

      I see your blog’s fall reading list includes a re-read of “Crime and Punishment,” which I find spellbinding, though truly challenging. Enjoy that, and thank you again.


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