Published Jan 31st 2024
Amy Brown’s debut novel is a bracingly inventive novel about the lives of three radically different women. The first of its three sections centres on a young woman living in Melbourne’s Covid lockdown, striving to be a writer while dealing with the demands of teaching, wife- and motherhood.
We are then transported in time and place to hear the voice of Linda, whose monologues to her sister, the acclaimed Australian writer Stella Miles Franklin, work in effect as a novel: the kind of beautifully written, intelligent work that Brown imagines Linda might have written had she not been consigned to a conventional life of marriage and motherhood.
The novel’s final section returns us to contemporary times, and to the voice of a world-famous musician on the verge of an emotional and existential breakdown. The three sections are linked thematically: seen from the perspectives of the women, they explore questions of identity, the value of art and vocation, sexual relationships, sisterhood, and the bonds between mothers and daughters.
While the lives of questing women is hardly a new subject for fiction, My Brilliant Sister is distinguished by its creation of three compellingly different voices and a vividly realised depiction of artistic and physical labour. A thoroughly readable and thought-provoking debut. Highly recommended.
While Stella Miles Franklin took on the world, her beloved sister Linda led a short, domestic life as a wife, mother and sister. In a remarkable, genre-bending debut novel Amy Brown thrillingly reimagines those two lives – and her own – to explore and explode the contradictions embedded in brilliant careers and a woman’s place in the world. Sliding Doors meets Wifedom.
Stella Miles Franklin’s autobiographical novel My Brilliant Career launched one of the most famous names in Australian letters. Funny, bold, often biting about its characters, the novel and its young author had a lot in common. Miles went on to live a large, fiercely independent and bohemian life of travel, art and freedom.
Not so her beloved sister Linda. Quiet, contained, conventional, Linda was an inversion of Stella. A family peacemaker who married the man Stella would not, bore a son and died of pneumonia at 25.
In this reflective, witty and revealing novel, Amy Brown rescues Linda, setting her in counterpoint with Stella, and with the lives of two contemporary women: Ida, a writer whose writing life is on hold as she teaches and raises her young daughter; and Stella, a singer-songwriter who has sacrificed everything for a career, now forcibly put on hold. Binding the two is the novella that Linda might have written to her sister Stella – a brilliant alternative vision of My Brilliant Career.
Innovative and involving, My Brilliant Sister is an utterly convincing (and hilarious) portrait of Miles Franklin and a moving, nuanced exploration of the balance women still have to strike between careers and family lives. It gives a fresh take on one of Australia’s most celebrated writers and an insight into life now.