Review: Tirra Lirra by the River, by Jessica Anderson

Nora Porteous returns to her childhood home after being away nearly 40 years.  Well into in her 70s, Nora is  somewhat frail.  The long journey from London to Sydney to northern Australia wears her out; she becomes ill and is cared for by neighbors who were children when she left.  As she moves in and out of sleep, she is flooded with memories:  first of her failed marriage, which was the impetus for leaving the country, and then of her childhood.  Her reminiscences are a way for the reader to get to know Nora.  As the story progresses, Nora retrieves bits and pieces that have long been suppressed, and a more complex portrait emerges.

Nora is the only surviving member of her family, and most of the people she knew as a child have either died or moved away.  She’s a bit crotchety and resents her need for caregivers, even though they also help fill her in on happenings during her absence.  She is treated by one of the town doctors, the son of a woman Nora had admired, but Nora discovers some shocking news about her death.  Nora’s convalescence is also an opportunity for healing and self-discovery, and eventually Nora accepts that she has entered another new phase in her life.

First published in 1978, this 140-page novella is quiet and contemplative, similar to more recent works like Tinkers and Gilead.


3 thoughts on “Review: Tirra Lirra by the River, by Jessica Anderson

  1. I enjoyed this story too. It won the Miles Franklin Award in Australia in 1978. It was interesting for the time period to watch as Nora went from being a wife who was not allowed to work outside the home all those years to someone who had to learn to do so to support herself. It was a quiet read as you said, though I thought Tinkers was more powerful and Gilead even more powerful yet. I’m glad to see someone else’s view on this book, thank you.

    • Sandra, I agree with your comments about Nora’s personal journey. I also wondered if this book’s style was new and different at the time of publication, hence making it more prize-worthy?

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment on The Boy Next Door. I haven’t seen you in a while!

  2. Although I remember very little about this novel, I do remember thinking that I wanted to read more of Jessica Anderson’s work; I’ve picked up a few since, but never got any further than this one. Well, you know how that is: just too many books from which to choose!

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