Is your book group looking for a novel? Check out ‘This Too Shall Pass’ by S J Finn

Just finished reading a novel by an Australian author I’d not heard of before. I picked it up in my local library because I liked the title. I’m a lazy and picky reader these days, and this one held my attention from start to finish, and has a lot of meat in it.

I felt it deserved more attention and a wider audience. It’s This Too Shall Pass by Melbourne author and poet, S J Finn, published early last year (2011) by Sleepers Press. [cover image for This Too Shall Pass by S J Finn]

I reckon it would be an excellent novel for a book group. Lots to trigger reactions and get discussion firing.

Finn has successfully created a complex narrative where the protagonist, Monty, is as much defined and affected by her work relationships (as a social worker/therapist working with adolescents and children in the public sector) as she is by her love relationships and her role as a mother. Which is actually quite rare.

It takes skill and perseverance to write an awareness of politics into a novel in a way that fosters the drama rather than detracts from it, and it’s easy to pick at it when it occasionally falls down or gets a little heavy handed. Most authors and publishers seem to play it safe and keep off that turf. Finn has handled it well, and I hope she has a long and rewarding career as a writer.

Here’s a few extracts from interviews and reviews that I found from a quick scout around the Net:

(From an interview in Verity LA)

SJ Finn: I’m so alert to the political aspects of life it’s hard for me to leave them out of a story, especially one that’s written so directly on the page such as This Too Shall Pass. When, at her core, the central character of this novel alters, so too is she forced to see that the world around her isn’t the place she’d always imagined it to be. Sometimes finding it dumbfounding, sometimes hurtful, the action in the novel is pared down to drill home the inconsistencies of what’s in front of her. Like Alice in Alice In Wonderland – despite the hallucinogenic quality of what Alice sees down the rabbit hole – Jen Montgomery has to complete a journey through a myriad of experiences she would not have otherwise encountered had she remained in the mainstream so to speak. Most of us, if we happen to fit within the cushioned margins, don’t believe there is such a thing as discrimination. Even when we hear it, unless we’ve got the map to read it with – the language, the experience of a similar thing – we often can’t decipher it. When people fit into norms, and for the most part they grow up not knowing they are the privileged who do, they are reticent to accept the experience of the outsider, which is a sad indictment on the individual and how our systems are organised to reflect that view. It is also an indictment we should rage against.

This one is from an interview in The Ember:

SJF: As a family therapist I’m very interested in narrative therapy. Through defining our stories we give meaning to much of what has happened to us, but more than that, we come to see why we have done the things we have and become the people we are. Our lives do not happen in a vacuum. When one thing changes there is a ricochet effect, like cybernetics, everything is effected by everything else.

from a review by Emmet Stinson:

This Too Shall Pass is a wonderful curveball of a novel that tackles big issues in an oblique way and also has the courage to wrestle with a particularly important issue that is too often left out of contemporary Australian literature: the workplace. Despite the fact that most of us spend forty hours or more working each week, too often our novelists omits these issues, focusing instead on personal relationships and matters of the heart. I suspect that some reviewers may be confused by the degree to which the domestic themes of the novel’s early pages are pushed to the side, but these omissions are, in fact, both intentional and incredibly effective, and again display Finn’s considerable talent; at virtually every point she seems in complete control of both the narrative and her narrator’s voice.”

If you have trouble locating copies, you can order direct from Sleepers, or find it at Readings and – hopefully – other good bookshops.

Thanks for liking and sharing!
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2 Responses to Is your book group looking for a novel? Check out ‘This Too Shall Pass’ by S J Finn

  1. SJ Finn says:

    So good to read that you liked ‘This Too Shall Pass’, Beth. What struck me most about your post were your observations in regard to the political nature of the text. While people get many different things from one story, you have managed to put the seriousness of the ingredients I wanted this narrative to convey, up front. So thanks for reading and thanks for writing about it. Let’s hope more female writers and their stories are interpreted with the astuteness and grandeur they deserve. And that the drama in them is given the weight and gravitas it warrants.

  2. Beth Spencer says:

    Hi Finn, Great to hear from you, and glad you liked the post.
    I thought the serious social aspects of your book were strongly evident, but perhaps not to all reviewers… For instance Rebecca Giggs made some interesting comments in a piece recently in Overland magazine:
    ” A male author writing around parenthood and identity (say, for example, Christos Tsiolkas in his ubiquitous novel The Slap) will be reviewed as charting ‘universal tensions’,1 ‘divin[ing] the zeitgeist of their country’s centre’ and ‘a perfect social document of what Australia is today’.2 A female author writing around themes of parenthood and identity (say, SJ Finn in This Too Shall Pass) will be reviewed as a ‘personal account, told intimately, [as if] between friends’,3 ‘like being on the listening side of a long conversation’.4 This is not to suggest that there aren’t substantive differences between Tsiolkas’ book and Finn’s, but simply that there are active assumptions made about the mentality and intimacy of such narratives, indexed by gender. And it is the way of such assumptions to create downstream effects.”
    And “..as the American author Lionel Shriver has pointed out, themes that might be considered quaint and localised in women’s writing are cast as synecdochic and political in books by men.”
    Hmm.. Sadly, yes, and I’ve seen a similar thing happen too often with ‘experimental’ writing or metafiction — what is ‘postmodern’ and brilliant by a man can often be read by reviewers as ‘not well developed characters’ or ‘too cerebral’ in books by women. (The whole Overland article can be read here: http://overland.org.au/previous-issues/issue-208/feature-rebecca-giggs/ ).
    Happy writing to you, and look forward to your next book.

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