All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Love Objects by Emily Maguire

on May 20, 2021

Love Objects
Emily Maguire
Allen & Unwin
2021, 400p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/}: A stunning, simply told story of great compassion and insight, from the author of the Stella Prize-shortlisted An Isolated Incident. Nic is a forty-five-year-old trivia buff, amateur nail artist and fairy godmother to the neighbourhood’s stray cats. She’s also the owner of a decade’s worth of daily newspapers, enough clothes and shoes to fill Big W three times over and a pen collection which, if laid end-to-end, would probably circle her house twice. She’d put her theory to the test, if only the pen buckets weren’t currently blocked in by the crates of Happy Meal toys and the towers of Vegemite jars, take-away containers and cat food tins.

Nic’s closest relationship is with her niece Lena. The two of them meet for lunch every Sunday to gossip about the rest of the family and bitch about work (they’re both checkout chicks: Lena just for now, Nic until they prise her staff discount card from her cold, dead hands).

One Sunday, Nic fails to turn up to lunch and when Lena calls she gets a disconnection message. Arriving at the house she hasn’t visited in years (‘Too far for you to come, hon. Let’s meet in the middle.’) she finds her aunt unconscious under an avalanche of stuff.

Lena is devastated that her beloved aunt has been living in such squalor all this time. While Nic is in hospital, she gets to work cleaning things up for her. Her first impulse is to call in the bulldozers and start searching Gumtree for a roomy caravan. But with the help of her reluctantly recruited brother, Will, she gets the job done.

This heroic effort is not appreciated by the plastered up, crutch-wielding Nic. She returns to an empty, alien place unrecognisable as her home and the unbearable pity of her family who have no idea what they’ve destroyed. How can she live in this place without safety and peace? And how can she ever forgive the niece who has betrayed her?

During my time, I’ve had a lot of trouble parting with things. I’ve kept hundreds of books I’ll never read again, photos of people I haven’t seen in decades, notebooks, pens, just…general bits of pieces. My house has always been a bit more cluttered than it has been clean. But I think I understand the ability to attach oneself to items that provide memories or comfort and I can see how for some, that attachment might get to a stage where it’s quite extreme. I also go through what my husband terms “whims” where I get interested in something and buy a lot of things to do that something and then end up getting interested in something else. So I have stuff floating around the house “just in case” I get interested in that thing again.

Lena is in her 20s and has recently moved back to Sydney, where she grew up, from Brisbane, here she spent her teen years. She’s going to university doing an education degree and every Sunday she has lunch with her Aunt Nic. Lena was very close to Nic growing up and has enjoyed reconnecting with her as an adult. When Nic doesn’t turn up one Sunday without warning and doesn’t answer her phone, Lena visits her house and discovers her aunt injured on the floor after a fall. What’s also concerning is the sheer level of stuff in Nic’s home.

For Lena, it’s very confronting to realise that this is the way that her aunt has been living and she’d had no idea. The book is told from several points of view, including Nic’s and during those passages, it’s so amazing to get into her thought process and see how she attaches meaning to items, including just random things she finds in the street. For Nic, all of these things are desperately important to her, they’re her things. They give her comfort, they make her calm and safe. If things aren’t ‘right’ then she feels anxious and out of control. I felt like this book delved so deep into Nic, humanised her collecting things and really showed the why and the how it might have ended up that way. Nic is assumed to be a “little different”, she’s only ever had the same job and has never been married or had children. She inherited the family home because it was thought she’d need it just a little more, much to the chagrin of her sister, Lena and Will’s mother, with whom Nic has had a slightly tense relationship.

As well as dealing with making Nic’s house safe for her return, Lena has her own problems and they are definitely contributing to her stress level. What happens to Lena is disgusting, predatory and unfortunately completely believable. I’ve lived in a university dorm, but thankfully it was well before technology allowed certain things to occur. But I have lived with people behaving at their very worst and never, ever will I forget some of the things I experienced as a woman living in a residential college and most of the time, how terrible the University was in dealing with it. The things that Lena hears about regarding this one residential college and then experiences, are awful – degrading, humiliating, perpetuating a culture of studs vs “sluts” and terrible double standards and the way in which men think they are entitled to comment on women’s bodies and behaviours. A lot of Lena’s story made my blood boil and I tried to force myself back into that early 20s mindset, how I would’ve been whenever I thought about her methods of dealing with it. And I could so understand it. The need to just have it go away.

As well as Nic and Lena, we also meet Lena’s brother Will, who did some time in jail for a youthful indiscretion that was done for the best of intentions but ended up in him being made an example. That has changed Will and he’s been struggling recently. With nothing left for him where he was living, he heads south to help Lena with Nic’s house and try and put his life back together again. This book includes so many simple ways in which life is harder for those who are without much means – such as Will desperately needing to see a dentist, which is one form of care in Australia that not everyone can access on Medicare. Nic has worked in a low income role all her life, Lena is working part time and living on a government subsidy for studying I assume, Will is currently out of work but after being in prison had worked in the mines and also in a factory. There doesn’t need to be a lot of the story devoted to it but you can tell they are and have been in situations where what they have is ranging from enough to be comfortable to struggling week to week.

I really think that this was written with such thoughtfulness and care, particularly toward Nic and her struggle. Her feelings about what Lena does, the way in which the social worker wanted to work for a middle solution, the reasoning and thoughts that crowd Nic’s mind. I felt like I could understand her, her thought processes and feelings, the comfort her things gave her. And the fact that there was no easy fix for something like this – it wouldn’t be solved by Lena just tossing out lots of things in the house and some therapy.

I love Emily Maguire’s writing and this book is just another example of why.


Book #79 of 2021

Love Objects is the 33rd book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 20201

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