Title: Allegra in Three Parts
Author: Suzanne Daniel
Published: May 29th 2019
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
I can split myself in two… something I have to do because of Joy and Matilde. They are my grandmothers and I love them both and they totally love me but they can’t stand each other.
Eleven-year-old Allegra shuttles between her grandmothers who live next door to one another but couldn’t be more different. Matilde works all hours and instils discipline, duty and restraint. She insists that Allegra focus on her studies to become a doctor.
Meanwhile free-spirited Joy is full of colour, possibility and emotion, storing all her tears in little glass bottles. She is riding the second wave of the women’s movement in the company of her penny tortoise, Simone de Beauvoir, encouraging Ally to explore broad horizons and live her ‘true essence’.
And then there’s Rick who lives in a flat out the back and finds distraction in gambling and solace in surfing. He’s trying to be a good father to Al Pal, while grieving the woman who links them all but whose absence tears them apart.
Allegra is left to orbit these three worlds wishing they loved her a little less and liked each other a lot more. Until one day the unspoken tragedy that’s created this division explodes within the person they all cherish most.
The childlike script that adorns the front cover of Allegra in Three Parts poses the question, ‘She knows her family loves her, but why can’t they love each other?’. This is an emotionally fraught and complex question. It is hard to imagine as just a wee eleven year old girl having to split yourself into three even segments. For Allegra, the voice of Suzanne Daniel’s debut novel, this is the cold hard truth. A book of love, family bonds, confusion, reality and loss told with plenty of heart, Allegra in Three Parts is a crowd-pleaser.
Dividing her love between the two prominent grandmothers in her life, eleven year old Allegra moves between Matilde and Joy, sometimes with ease, other times with difficulty. As different as chalk and cheese, there is no denying the love they both have for their grandchild. While one grandmother is determined and steadfast, encouraging Allegra’s academic studies, the other grandmother is much more relaxed, hoping to instill a sense of natural curiosity in the world. The times these women are living in is a time of great flux and women’s positions are changing. With the women’s movement gaining momentum, Allegra is growing up in the face of changed possibilities for women. The person who orients Allegra is her father Rick, a man consumed by grief and loss, who is unable to connect with those around him. Things come crashing down when this family must confront and reconcile with a tragedy that strikes at the heart of their fold.
‘I am Allegra on one side and Ally down the other.
And sometimes I can split myself in two’.
I am sure we can all relate to this self perception – no matter your age or place in life. I often feel like I am split in every which way, from a mother, daughter, teacher, friend and so on! For an eleven year old this is an incredibly astute observation. It is also the opening sentence of the debut novel from Suzanne Daniel. It is a powerful way to open a first novel in my eyes. The trend continues for the rest of this novel. I was taken aback by how refined and perceptive this book was for a first time writer. It can be tricky to embody the voice of an eleven year old, a child almost teetering on the world of adulthood, but Suzanne Daniel takes this narration in her stride. The results are very pleasing indeed.
For me, I loved the nostalgic step back into simpler times, the 1970s, recreated by Suzanne Daniel in Allegra in Three Parts. Although I am a child of the eighties, I was able to reach right in and connect with Allegra. Recently the loss of the last grandparent in my life has really made me sit back and recall plenty of fond memories of my childhood. I was able to use this book as another vehicle to re-examine my childhood, a time where life was definitely less busy, complicated and stressful. I loved the inclusion of references such as popular songs of the time, cassette tapes and the like. Daniel shows excellent attention to detail in relation to her setting base.
I found Allegra in Three Parts to be an intriguing family mystery of sorts. I worked hard to try and understand why these family members who all love dear Allegra, were not able to connect, embrace and support one another. Disconnection is an overarching theme in this novel. This accompanies loss and heartbreak. However, the news isn’t all bad, each character encourages Allegra in their own unique way, which helps to offset the darker moments. I also enjoyed the friendship sequences Allegra had with Patricia, this was a nice touch.
As a passionate activist, Suzanne Daniel has utilised this mindset to her advantage. Within this pages of this moving coming of age story is a strong recreation of 1970s Australia with particular focus on the emerging women’s social movement. ‘I am Woman’, the anthem of the 1970s for women seeking to liberate themselves from the chains of ongoing oppression, sings through this book. I think this aspect of the book will help young women of today to understand a little more about their sisters from decades past. If you are looking for a comprehensive social history of 1970s Australia, with a particular focus on feminism, in its glorious but also ugly moments (domestic violence was rife at this time) Allegra in Three Parts is a good starting point.
A time of great flux and gains for women were just beginning as Allegra, the innocent but effective voice in this new novel from Suzanne Daniel, is learning to negotiate the world around her. Allegra in Three Parts is about learning to accept your family, the past and the future despite life’s knocks. Allegra in Three Parts is a tender-hearted debut from Australian author Suzanne Daniel that I highly recommend.
Allegra in Three Parts was published on 29th May 2019 by Pan Macmillan. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Allegra in Three Parts, Suzanne Daniel, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Pan Macmillan for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Allegra in Three Parts is book #80 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge