Melting Moments, the debut novel of Anna Goldsworthy, deserves to be widely read. It provides both an intimate picture of domestic life and an entertaining social history of women’s lives in Australia during the 20th century.
Anna Goldsworthy has written several acclaimed non-fiction books, and has published widely in journals. She is also a concert pianist and lecturer at the Elder Conservatorium of Music.
She appeared with singer Paul Kelly and others in a production of Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds earlier this year during the Perth Festival of Arts. I loved Anna Goldsworthy’s performance. Sadly, the program closed early because of COVID-19.
This novel provides yet another insight into the skills of a highly accomplished Australian woman.
Overview of Melting Moments
Melting Moments begins with the hurried marriage between the protagonist, Ruby, and a young soldier, Arthur Jenkins, on the eve of his embarkation for active service during World War II.
Set in Melbourne and Adelaide, this is a story of families, marriage, friendships – and domesticity.
The melting moments of the title conjure up delicious memories of sweet buttery biscuits sandwiched with vanilla icing that melted in the mouth. The original recipe came from the Country Women’s Association cookery book. You can find similar here.
A staple afternoon tea treat, they appeared in the homes we visited in the late 1940s and 50s. By that time, food rationing no longer existed and ingredients were readily available. I waited eagerly for mention of melting moments as the story unfolded.
The biscuits form a metaphor for Ruby’s domestic life, through which she defines herself. She can be described as dutiful woman of the period, a ‘good woman’. On the surface, she seems to live only in the present, positive moment.
But she also experiences moments of regret about how her life might have been different.
The author provides skillful contrasts between the different generations of women. Ruby’s daughter, Eva, for example, becomes a medical doctor, something undreamed of by women of Ruby’s generation. She also separates from her husband, almost unthinkable for Ruby.
Told from the third person subjective point of view, the story throughout belongs to Ruby. We see the world entirely through her eyes. Events of her Australian childhood during the Depression years unfold in the backstory.
Anna Goldworthy’s writing shows her many strenths. A few stand out.
- This tender story covers the life of one woman from childhood in the 1920s through into her eighties, the death of her husband and beyond.
- Pathos and humour reflect off, and enrich, each other.
- The narrative differs from many similar accounts of women’s lives. It consists of multiple ‘moments’ or scenes, rather than following a formally plotted structure.
- The scenes unfold with a graceful movement. The reader finds him or herself catapulted into the middle of the action. Far from feeling disjointed, this engages the reader deeply.
- The dialogue reflects that of the period. As a woman born in the 1930s, I felt as if I could have been reading something like my own mother’s life story.
- There’s evidence of a great deal of research, although the author incorporates her knowledge of the changing eras with great competence.
- The brilliant characterisation and dialogue left me feeling I know Ruby and the others who people this book.
Melting Moments would make an excellent choice for a book-club. People interested in Australian social history, especially as it pertains to women, will find much to savour and enjoy. Above all, it provides a good read.
This review is part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020. My reviews about women’s lives for this challenge include