Mother of the Bride is Adrienne Sallay’s second novel.
The protagonist, Francis Mainwaring, is a librarian in Acquisitions at the State Library of New South Wales. Her “absolute obsession” is women’s unpublished writings: “Letters, journals, recipe books, shopping lists, notes to children on scraps of paper, love letters to beloveds, hate letters to mothers… how many unread, unsung words have been written with such excitement, desperation, fatigue, passion.”
The reader gets a glimpse into these lives from the excerpts that the author weaves into the story. Sometimes these extracts are from well-known figures, like botanical illustrator Ellis Rowan, and some are treasured family recipes scribbled on the back of an envelope.
Francis struggles with smartphones, underwire bras, her daughters’ vegetarianism, and her distant husband Phil. Despite working full-time, she still cooks porridge for Phil every morning, makes him sandwiches for work, and keeps his dinner warm in the oven when he comes home late. When her happy-go-lucky daughter Angie announces her engagement to Chen, she wonders to herself if Chen sees his bride simply as “a woman who will cook and clean for free, produce babies for him and bring them up to look after him in his old age.”
The story follows the preparations and aftermath of her daughter’s wedding, as Francis looks to the future and asks herself “do I want my life to be different?” How will she define herself when her daughters have left home and her husband always seems to be somewhere else? Mother of the Bride celebrates friendship, examines the meaning of family, and explores the quest for the perfect dress.
The tale is set against an authentic suburban Australian backdrop. If there’s not a total fire ban due to the scorching temperatures, the family may light up a barbeque on the weekend, followed by scones, ice-cream cake, or pineapple upside-down cake. Holidays are often spent at the beach, surrounded by magpies and frangipanis during the day, and underneath the Southern Cross at night.
This novel gave me a glimpse into the struggles of previous generations of Australian women. The excerpts of their writings emphasised their great struggles and minimal acknowledgement, while the narrative itself underlined the distinct gender roles that are still apparent in modern Australian society. I would recommend this book to anyone who was looking for a light-hearted yet insightful account of the lives hidden inside those Californian bungalows of Sydney’s suburbs.
Available in paperback from Ace press and Australian bookshops, and Amazon kindle worldwide.