Penelope Hanley. Full House. Simon & Shuster, 1993. ISBN: 0731802667.
I could escape Pavel and Sara’s crowded house by cycling into the serene silence around the lake. If I didn’t hurry I could have a whole hour’s solitude while gliding effortlessly past the yacht club, the field of fat cypress trees and sweet-scented pines of Westbourne Woods, …through the kissing gates at Government House. Pedalling up the gentle incline of the pine-thick hill, I’d reach a paddock of grazing horses and a panoramic view of the Brindabella Ranges. After flying down the hill I had the choice of veering off towards the woolshed, riding beside the Molonglo River… or heading back to the north for more pine forests and the shady grove of cork oaks before going home.
Holly is a flame-haired artists’ model and film reviewer who is, as the cover blurb tells us, running from her problems and running from the past. She dashes from Canberra to Sydney and back again, escaping her mad ex-boyfriend, her unbearable housemates and her going nowhere job. For Holly, Canberra is familiar and warm, whereas in Sydney
people are like the frogs in the experiment that don’t notice they’re gradually boiling to death… To people like me who visit Sydney after a lengthy absence, the increase in violence, traffic, noise and pollution is… unbearable. I thought: the poor people! … how can they bear it? …Bear it? They can’t even see it!
The contrast is set up for us, and, again, the cover blub for Full House instructs us to think about “the essential differences between Sydney and Canberra.”
I feel a bit failed by that Simon & Shuster cover blurb. It promises “zany” and “hilarious”, and “a tale of love, lust and food”. I’m afraid I didn’t find Full House zany or hilarious, but it is funny and quirky. Granted, there is quite a bit of love, lust and food throughout the story. While Holly spends time contemplating the differences between Sydney and Canberra and what they might offer her, I think Full House is less about the “essential differences” between the two cities and more about how Holly’s expectations shape her attitudes.
It is certainly rare to hear Sydney disparaged in favour of the delights of Canberra, and it is interesting to think through a little bit what the contrasts are. Holly loves Canberra for its fresh air, its great outdoors, fresh air, picnics at Casuarina sands by the Murrumbidgee. She hates Sydney for being the reverse, even though, as her young friend Demetrius points out, Sydney should be much more exciting for Holly, with her love of art and film. And despite her prejudices (and we know this from the prologue, so no spoilers here) Holly’s life, when we leave her, seems to be destined to be in Sydney.
The cover blurb does hit the mark when it refers to Holly as being on the run. “Had I really believed”, she asks herself towards the end of the novel “that a change of geography would solve my problems? That a change of place would change my life?” Full House sets up for us the contrasts between Sydney and Canberra, young lovers and older, work that is cerebral and work that is emotional. In the end, though, the contrasts are inside us. Home is where you choose to make it. Relationships are what you allow them to be. And, while wishing may not make it so, sitting on the lounge waiting for opportunities to arrive is rarely a recipe for success or happiness.