Simon & Schuster AU
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher
Jade and Banjo have been married for twenty-five years when he walks out. Their youngest daughter Lissy comes home and once again finds them squaring off against each other, in the middle of an argument. It’s something she’s seen many times before and she leaves them to it, an action she will come to regret.
Because Banjo has never walked out before. But this time he does and he is killed, the victim of a hit and run. This leaves Jade and their children Cassy and Lissy to grieve and Banjo can only watch on unseen helplessly as Jade collapses into a deep depression. Lissy feels the ultimate guilt in having left – maybe she could’ve done something, stopped the argument. Now she seeks to pull her mother out of her terrible depression. She discovers a sketchbook and is shocked to discover that it chronicles her mother’s numerous lovers, the affairs she had over her parents long marriage. Lissy and Cassy are divided on their opinions of what their mother was doing and what was really going on in the marriage between Banjo and Jade.
Lissy uses the sketchbook to try and help her mother, inviting her former lovers to come and see her, hoping that one of them can penetrate through the deep fog that surrounds Jade. As each man visits and recounts his experiences with Jade, Lissy begins to learn more and more about her mother, her reasoning and her character. And in a corner, Banjo watches, discovering the truth in death that he could never quite bring himself to believe in life…
It is really very fitting that Kate Belle’s guest post for me (which you can read here) deals with how she’s throwing aside the star rating system when she reads books. Because although I star-rate books on goodreads and give them a numerical rating out of 10 on the blog, I do find plenty of books that it’s difficult to assign that number too. And this book, Being Jade is definitely one of them. And it’s not because I don’t like it – books I don’t like are easy to rate! It’s just that this is a very complex book, full of wonderfully difficult characters and it is a book that challenges social boundaries and forces a reader to think outside of what might be their comfort zone. I’m well aware that as I read this, my feelings for Jade were mostly based on social constructs, of what a wife and mother is ‘supposed’ to be. And I’m both. This book isn’t afraid to hold that up and then tear it back down.
Jade was raised by her prostitute mother who died of a drug overdose when Jade was a teenager. From there she was taken in by Banjo’s family. It is clear that Banjo has always loved Jade….loved her madly, to the point of distraction. They were married very young, but it wasn’t too long before Banjo discovered that Jade had had, and would always want/need to have, other men or lovers. He found this very difficult to live with but ultimately chose to remain with Jade because it was better than life without her. He wanted to keep his dignity, that she be very discreet and that she not tell him. But it wasn’t very hard to him to figure out. He began to learn the patterns and when Jade often left the home for several days either to work on or show her art, it was nearly always a given that she was meeting other men. This included when she was 8 months pregnant with one of their daughters, and continued after their daughters were born.
I struggle with books that contain infidelity because I’m so against it myself. And yes, that might make me a product of society, etc but it is my idea and wish that the person I have chosen, also chooses just me. So whilst at times, I did feel for Banjo because he loves Jade so much and her actions do cause him great pain, at the same time…he’s an adult. He chose to remain in the relationship and accept that part of Jade that needs other people to fuel her creativity and feed/heal her soul. However I found that the fact that it adversely affected their children made my feelings towards Jade more negative, because they didn’t choose it. They didn’t choose to have a mother that disappeared for days at a time, that the town gossiped cruelly about. None of it was their fault and yet they suffered for it too. I know that says more about the society as a whole as well, that Jade did become such fodder for talk, but also, her absences did impact on her children. No one sacrifices everything but it is the general expectation that your children will mostly come first, in their early and formative years anyway. Jade doesn’t accept this – she puts herself first, she does what she needs to do. One hand I admired her for always staying true to herself, for not bowing to the social pressure after she became a mother but on the other hand…..I did wonder what she really and truly thought about the impact her absences had on their children.
Which brings me to my original statement about this book – how do I rate it? When I finished this book, I agonised for some time, deliberating about what to give it when I added it to my Goodreads, which is what I do whenever I finish a book. 5 stars is “I loved it” – but I’m not sure I can honestly say that I loved it. I think it is a wonderful, challenging story. The writing is very good – probably fantastic. It made me feel a wide range of emotions as I read it from dislike to admiration to sadness to anger to pity. Most times I found Jade a bit too selfish – and I’m not saying this is essentially a bad thing, because she was doing what she needed to do to be true to herself, it’s just that I couldn’t agree with many of her decisions nor could I really believe that her actions came to be seen almost as everyone’s saving grace. I think this would be a fantastic book to recommend to my bookclub because I can already picture the discussion we would have on it. I can see it being passionate and lengthy and people debate the character and actions of not only Jade but also Banjo. Sometimes I recommend a book to someone saying, “read this, I think you’ll love it”. But with this one I’d say “read this, it will challenge you and I’d love to hear your thoughts”.
My final verdict?
Book #118 of 2014
Being Jade is the 42nd book read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014