REVIEW: WALKING ON TRAMPOLINES BY FRANCES WHITING

WALKING ON TRAMPOLINES

Author: Frances Whiting
Pan Macmillan Australia RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

Walking on TrampolinesFriendship and relationships are explored with a tender touch in Walking on Trampolines, the debut novel by newspaper columnist Frances Whiting. The publicist gently urged me towards this book (“Have you read it yet?”) and once I started reading, I could see why. It’s a lovely book – funny and charming and engaging all at once.

Tallulah de Longland,’ she said slowly, letting all the Ls in my name loll about lazily in her mouth before passing judgement. ‘That,’ she announced, ‘is a serious glamorgeous name.’

From the day Annabelle Andrews sashays into her classroom, Tallulah ‘Lulu’ de Longland is bewitched: by Annabelle, by her family, and their sprawling, crumbling house tumbling down to the river. Annabelle comes from a family of artists, in contrast to Lulu’s “normal” family – plumber father, at-home mother and annoying younger brothers. Living in the small coastal town of Juniper Bay, the girls build a friendship on shared confidences, a secret language (hooking up words together to make new ones, like bordinary and disapanishing), their unusual mothers, first loves, Sister Scholastica and the bees’ speech, and their tree house. It’s a euphoric time – one in which “friends forever” promises are made and bonds seem unbreakable.

The act that destroys their friendship leaves Lulu with lasting scars and a legacy of self-doubt. In adulthood, she feels like she’s always been the good one who always misses out. As her friend and boss Duncan puts it:

‘ …you’ve been stuck here quietly going about your business, which is of course, to keep us all sane and out of prison, fussing over me, dislodging God knows what from Barney’s throat, babysitting Stella’s children, staying at Simone’s when one of her leso girlfriends dumps her, sorting out your father’s business, ironing your mother’s mad bloody dresses, attempting to make Ben more vigorous …’

Duncan wants to find move on (his words probably say it better: ‘f**k ’em’), not realising that Lulu’s lingering need for closure will lead to a choice that will cast aside her good girl persona once and for all. As he says later, after she has been dubbed the Juniper Bay Wedding Shagger by the media, ‘I know it was it was partly an act of defiance against your relentless do-goodery, the manifestation of a long-suppressed wish to be a good girl gone bad’. Instead of defining herself as a good girl, or by her very public mistake, he wants her to step from the shadows and do something extraordinary. Can she bounce back, despite how far she’s fallen?

I like the title, Walking on Trampolines. It’s been well chosen. Walking on trampolines (especially when someone else is on at the same time) is a strange sensation. Not grounded, not stable … and more than a bit wobbly at times. That’s life at times, isn’t it? Many of the characters experience this wobbly, uncertain feeling and it results in some choices and behaviour that reflect this inner wobble. Lulu sheds her good girl image in a big way only to realise she doesn’t really want to be a “bad girl”. Her mother, Rose, struggles with mental illness and covers her anxieties by wearing dresses she names – dresses who reflect how she is feeling at any given time – and baking her way to goodness. Annabelle’s mother struggles with being a reluctant mother, while Josh, Lulu’s first boyfriend is dubbed by Duncan as a “crack slipper” – someone who looks for somewhere to belong and then slips in through the cracks. I liked these flawed and very real characters – all of them – and I loved the way they developed through the book.

While the book has a distinctly Australian feel, don’t let that stop you reading it if you’re overseas. The themes of friendship, family, love and betrayal, and growing up are universal themes; the characters could be anyone, anywhere. It’s a beautifully bittersweet novel that pulled at my heartstrings and told me “That’s why you love reading” in no uncertain terms.

Available from good bookstores and Pan Macmillan. This copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan.

Bookish treat: This is a chocolate biscuit kind of book. If you’re an Aussie, Tim Tams would be perfect.