Suzanne Daniel’s debut novel navigates the first steps of womanhood in concert with the nation’s feminist awakening in the 1970s. A superb effort.
The debut novel from Australian journalist Suzanne Daniel begins with an air of Puberty Blues to it, set in Sydney’s beachside suburbs in the ’70s, replete with nostalgic slice-of-life nuggets of the era. You can practically hear John Paul Young and Skyhooks on the soundtrack.
The novel is one of an 11-year-old girl—the title character—who is being raised by her two grandmothers, and sometimes by her father. None of the adults get along, and there’s not a lot of explanation as to why. In between the standard incidents found in stories of this nature—friends, bullies, boys, hormones, changes—is a bigger, broader, more significant social undercurrent.
You could be cynical if you chose and reflect on the piece as being gussied-up autobiography, but there’s a great deal more to it. Its subtext is a significant insight into the early days of feminism’s second wave, and Daniel notes in the book’s epilogue how the story was formed by reflections on the first establishments of women’s refuges in Sydney. Too rare are those accounts that add a staple of significant social change or upheaval to their core, and Allegra in Three Parts, as gentle a tome as it is, still manages to pack a significant punch amid its slice-of-life recollections of Twisties, Hi-C and Shortbread Creams of ’70s suburban Australia.
There are multiple threads running through Suzanne Daniel’s book; it’s a coming of age story, set in the Australian beach-side suburbs in the ’70s, à la Puberty Blues. There’s the element of personal discovery amid a Catholic upbringing tale, à la Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird.
And then there’s the undercurrent of a then-burgeoning women’s liberation movement; a collective of women inspired to one degree or another by the likes of Germaine Greer and The Female Eunuch; discovering with relative glee the joys that come from self-actualisation and the freedom from presupposed gender roles and responsibilities.
Allegra in Three Parts is true to life, emotionally honest and highly engaging. You feel a genuine connection to the characters, and Daniel’s evocative prose captures the spirit of the times, as well as the inner thoughts of her central protagonist. It’s a refreshing, and insightful piece of work; one that is all-too-easily recommended.