Lioness by Emily Perkins is a beautifully written book. I’ve bookmarked a lot of pages featuring phrasing or passages that leapt out at me – as being eloquent, or perhaps relatable for me personally. Which is interesting, as though I could relate to some elements of this and its lead characters (who are similar in age to me), I really did not connect with them in the way I expected. In fact, I did not like them at all. Therese our narrator seems surprisingly enamoured by her neighbour Claire and I confess I did not see the allure.Lioness
by Emily Perkins
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
Source: Bloomsbury ANZ
Genres: Literary Fiction, Women's Fiction
From humble beginnings, Therese has let herself grow used to a life of luxury after marrying into an empire-building family. But when rumours of corruption gather around her husband's latest development, the social opprobrium is shocking, the fallout swift, and Therese begins to look at her privileged and insular world with new eyes.
In the flat below Therese, something else is brewing. Her neighbour Claire believes she's discovered the secret to living with freedom and authenticity, freeing herself from the mundanity of domesticity. Therese finds herself enchanted by the lure of the permissive zone Claire creates in her apartment - a place of ecstatic release.
All too quickly, Therese is forced to confront herself and her choices - just how did she become this person? And what exactly should she do about it?
I quite enjoyed the plot unfolding around Therese and her family. She’s been married to her husband (20 years her senior) for 30 years but his children still treat her as an outsider, an interloper who broke up their parents’ marriage. Therese credits her husband as having given her a start in business and now is quite successful in her own right, though seemingly dwarfed by her husband’s construction empire. Which comes crashing down.
Her adamance that Trevor would do no wrong is admirable, though her confidence wanes as time passes and more is discovered. I got no real sense of Trevor here. He’s certainly not painted as a villain, perhaps he just seems weak. We spend a bit of time with him but his role felt peripheral and this is very much about Therese’s ‘journey’.
In many ways it’s a Bermuda Triangle / right time at right place moment for Therese because at the same time her life implodes, Claire’s husband leaves and she’s looking for answers.
As well as regret, Claire said, and the guilt, the galling part was that until then the solidarity, burn-it-all-down part of her had felt like her inmost self…
‘We have to act. Of course, this whole line of thought should be a spur to action. Self-criticism only gets you so far, I mean we’ve got a moral duty to enjoy what we can. I just don’t want to spend my life thinking I’m someone I’m not.’ pp 224-225
There’s a scene – which confrontingly switches to Claire’s point of view for the only time in the novel – when she roams the city at night reflecting on her life. It’s a beautifully-written chapter with lovely prose…
There she was, that night, the great nameless planet in its place above, gravity holding her feet up while some force from deep in the ground charged up and through her. p 112
And the phrasing is exquisite… ‘Time slipped its noose.’ But I have to admit I was unmoved. I know I can be judgemental but Claire’s ‘acting-out’ felt a little cliched.
Therese is obviously at a vulnerable point in her life, with her own business at risk. Because we’re in her head we’re aware of her fascination for Claire and I wondered if she wanted to live vicariously through someone who seemingly didn’t care what others thought, though later Therese recognises she fell into Claire’s thrall in the same way she did with Trevor 30 years earlier.
There are some deeper, strong messages here about capitalism, sexism and feminism that – though valid – felt a little heavy handed.
In the background Therese’s family legal woes play out and secrets fall out of the family closet. I certainly enjoyed that element of the narrative. Perhaps my own disdain for the mid-life crisis element was because it resonated to an extent but here seemed a little indulgent or something. Ultimately though what I struggled most with here is how little I liked any of the characters. I didn’t find Claire or Therese particularly enigmatic and Trevor’s family are – on the whole – all quite horrid.
However, I was very enchanted by Perkins’s writing so look forward to reading something else by the New Zealander author.
Lioness by Emily Perkins was published in Australia by Bloomsbury Publishing and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.