All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Indelible Ink – Fiona McGregor (Aussie Author Month Review)

on April 23, 2011

I had a slight sense of trepidation when I saw that Christos Tsiolkas was quoted on the cover of this book saying how fabulous it was. Then I heard that this novel was ‘the Sydney version of The Slap‘. I don’t think that’s entirely true, but it was a difficult book for me to enjoy much the same as The Slap was.

Marie King is a 59 year old divorced woman living in a good sized home on a good sized block in Mosman. Marie acquired the house outright in the settlement when her husband left her but she’s having trouble maintaining it. She fell pregnant in University, promptly dropped out and became stay at home mother for most of her life, until her children were grown and left the family home. She has no income  now and is beginning to drown in debt. Living on a credit card with a fifty thousand dollar limit, she reluctantly comes to the conclusion that she has to sell the house. Her three children all argue against this even though it’s pretty obvious that Marie is fast running out of means. The crippling drought is killing her beloved garden – Marie has lived in the house for a long time and the plants there mean much to her, such as the one she planted for the birth of one of her children.

After a few too many drinks she makes a decision to stop into a tattoo parlour on a whim. A simple decision she makes for herself leads to a journey of self discovery through tattoos – her first, a small flower on her shoulder gives way to two simple ankle bands before she finds the beauty of tattoos that mean something, acquiring more and more ink through a well known artist with whom she develops a deep friendship. As she seeks to reassert her sense of self and self-worth, her children are treating her like a slightly recalcitrant child, questioning her every decision and move, her every choice about herself.

Like The Slap I’m having a hard trouble deciding if I liked this book or not. There were aspects of it that I really liked – the writing for a start. Fiona McGregor can indeed tell a story in a beautiful way and even though the characters and story line were really not something I enjoyed, I did definitely enjoy the reading process of this book.

I was born in middle class western Sydney and moved to the country at a young age so I’m afraid I found it very hard to sympathise and identify with Marie, drowning in debt but clawing onto her Mosman home for grim death. It’s valued at about $6 million and given that she maxes out her credit card at some stage during the novel, I am assuming she owes about fifty thousand, perhaps a little more. When the house eventually sells for around $5.7 million, that would still leave her a whopping amount of money to live out the rest of her life. If I’m supposed to feel sorry for her financial status then I am clearly not the intended audience of this book! Even as Marie is aware that she’s having money problems, she’s spending like it’s going out of fashion – it’s never stated how much she spends on the tattoos, but given the size of them and the time and detail they require, it must easily run into the thousands. I can’t identify with the whole lower north shore zeal, nor can I understand a reluctance to sell a house worth a lot of money when there are debts to pay and a way in which to live required. I do get that she lived in the house a very long time and her children grew up there but the crux of the matter is: you have no money. Your house is worth a lot and very expensive to upkeep. You can sell the house, get your millions and start again. Maybe in not so prestigious an area as Mosman but at least you’ll be able to afford your own groceries and not have your cheque to your cleaner bounce.

I think too much of this novel was devoted to Marie’s children, none of which were likable. Somewhere along the line it became less about Marie’s journey and self-discovery and more about her children’s lives. Even though I couldn’t really relate to Marie, I did find the sections about her far more interesting than the ones about her children. I also found their attitude and judgement towards the tattoos (especially the first couple, which were very small and discreet) quite outdated – although once again this just could be a location/culture divide. Tattoos are so common these days, on all types of people, I really couldn’t see the harm in Marie getting them, nor could I understand the horror in her children’s voices as they talked about it. All grown people in their 30s, their attitudes were a bit old-fashioned. They were far less horrified about her excess drinking, taking an amused, relaxed ‘oh was Mum pissed again?’ attitude. If they were teenagers, they’d have put a “LOL” at the end. I found Marie’s alcohol consumption quite alarming in the beginning of the book. Marie drinks a lot. She appears to drive quite a lot when she’d be over the limit and her drinking I think, ends up masking a greater health problem that comes out in her life way too late to be fixed.

It’s hard to get past how irritated I was with the “to sell or not to sell, that is the question” thread of the book and the disappointment I felt that when Marie does decide to sell, and does indeed sell the house, because it’s no longer about that anymore so ultimately, we never get to see Marie rebuild her life. I feel as though I read and read and read about this house and the decisions she has to make and the changes she goes through to make them, only for the book to laugh at me and go “haha don’t even bother, we’ve moved on from that now!”.

And the ending? So depressing! I hate finishing a book that makes me feel like I should be scrambling around in my bathroom looking for the razorblades.


Book #46 of 2011

Indelible Ink was read and reviewed as part of my participation in Aussie Author Month for April. It’s the sixth novel completed so far.


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