Even though my attention had been caught by a review, it is rather unlikely that I would have read The Newspaper of Claremont Street without the prompting of the Reading Matters' Australian Literature Month. Even then I was initially interested because it seemed to be a novel about journalism but in fact the Newspaper is an elderly cleaning lady, known to one and all as Weekly.
Weekly is a prickly character, who passes on information about the householders of Claremont Street, a gossip, yes, but somehow sparing with her words, even rather brusque. She is ferociously hard working, and cleans with ferocity.
Everyone tried to get as much work from her as possible and she was expected to go into every room in the houses where she worked. But after all these years there was nothing, not even The Seducers Cook Book, that could upset her.
If she surprised people in their nakedness that was their affair. Clearly, in her opinion, showers should be taken before eight in the morning...
She was used to people being in bath towels or in bed at all our hours of the day. The intimate things which she could not help perceiving did not interest her much. If at the time of cleaning, various sexual or alcoholic activities of the householders were in the way, she simply cleaned around them.
Her services and and her access to the private information give her a strange sort of power, but this is little help in fighting her many demons, including the long shadow of an unpleasant and selfish brother, and a mother who went to prison to hep help him.
The characterisation is vivid, and it is the power of Elizabeth Jolley's writing that carries the novel. Her style is deceptive, delivered lightly, with strong accents and rough vernacular (the words of Weekly's friend Nastasya - Narsty - are delivered almost phonetically) but there is a steely edge to the narrative.
The telling is sympathetic but rarely sentimental, though I did like it when the Newspaper recalls her father's longing for the countryside.
Railing against modern farming, he says: "There's nothing so beautiful as the sun shining through a happy pig's ears."
Quite right, too.