A Hundred Small Lessons, by Ashley Hay – Review

A Hundred Small Lessons is Ashley Hay’s third novel. The author tells a gentle story of two families, separated by generations but connected through a house in Brisbane.

A Hundred Small Lessons

The novel drew me in from the first page and held my interest to the last.

A Hundred Small Lessons opens with Elsie Gormley lying the floor  in her home  following a fall. She and her husband, Clem, moved into the house as newly-weds and it holds the memories of sixty-two years of her life and loves.

Soon after her fall, apparently without Elsie’s knowledge, her seventy-year-old twin son and daughter move their mother into an aged care facility. They strip the house of her possessions.

‘Elaine [Elsie’s daughter] swept shelves of items into bags, disposing of them in the gaping maw of a skip emptied once, emptied twice.’

They sell the house. Although Elsie is probably no longer able to live alone, I experienced some discomfort about the way these transactions take place. It is as if the family feel they have the right to dispose of their mother’s house and possessions without her consent. Was this financial abuse of an elderly woman? Perhaps years of working with victims of elder abuse has made me too sensitive.

The purchasers, Lucy and Ben Kiss, recently arrived from Melbourne, settle into the Gormley’s house with their little boy.

From that point, the stories of the two families, separated in age by generations, intertwine seamlessly. The author recounts their struggles, fears and hopes.

Author Ashley Hay

Both women feel uprooted, one from her home into an aged care facility, the other to a new city with her husband and a toddler.

Elsie longs to return to see what the newcomers have done to the home she and Clem created so lovingly over a lifetime. We read that the newcomers rip up carpets, tear down dated wallpaper and throw Elsie’s much-loved ferns into a skip. However, a few items escape destruction, including a handful of doilies and a few photos, which Lucy finds and which link the older and younger woman.

A Hundred Small Lessons is set in Brisbane. There are references to the city and suburbs, as well as to the river and its CityCat ferry services, lush gardens and parks and the hot, wet summer.

I tried, but was unable to identify the Hundred Small Lessons of the title.

This is a gentle, moving novel depicting Australian domestic lives over several time periods. Ashley Hay’s writing makes it easy to care deeply about her characters.

This would be an excellent choice for a book-club.

Details of A Hundred Small Lessons

Category:Popular fiction
Publisher:Allen & Unwin
Publication Date:April 2017 

This review is part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

7 thoughts on “A Hundred Small Lessons, by Ashley Hay – Review

    • Elizabeth, this somehow got into my spam and I have just retrieved it. Yes, I do have a copy. Will give it to you next time I see you.

  1. I’ve seen this book but have resisted buying or borrowing it, since my to-read pile was ridiculous! Now that I’ve worked my way through a few books, I look forward to reading ‘A Hundred Small Lessons’ (and trying to figure out the hundred lessons, too!).
    Thanks Maureen.

    • I hope you enjoy it, Fiona. It is very cleverly constructed with great attention to detail. I would love to read what you think.

  2. We read this for book club a few months’ ago and all enjoyed it. I might be wrong—and I probably am—but I thought the ‘hundred’ mentioned in the title wasn’t meant to be quantified, but just meant there are many insignificant, everyday things that happen over a lifetime that are seemingly ordinary, but aren’t really. I probably haven’t expressed that very well, and like I say, I’m probably wrong!
    Good to see you again, Maureen! xx

    • Good to be back, Louise, thank you. How will we ever know if the ‘hundred’ is real or a metaphor? I did try (for a few minutes only) to quantify the hundred in this book. It felt too obvious a title not to mean something. I think that goes back to a fabulous teacher of literature I once enjoyed, who encouraged us to look for signs in what we read. So lucky with most of my teachers, formal and informal, throughout my life.

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