The Children's Bach
"Athena and Dexter lead a frumpish, happy family life, sheltered from the tackier aspects of the modern world and bound by duty towards a disturbed child.
"Their comfortable rut is disrupted by the arrival of Elizabeth, a tough nut from Dexter's past. She brings with her Vicki, her lonely teenage sister, who looks for a mother in Athena; Philip, her charming, talented, evasive man; and Poppy, Philip's twelve-year-old daughter, one of those prematurely wise children that a broken marriage can produce, a puritan who casts a cool eye on the disreputable antics of her elders.
"In the upheaval Anthena sees a way out: it leads into a world whose casual egotism she has dreamed of without being able to imagine its consequences.
"And music, The Children's Bach, means something different to each of them: to Philip and Elizabeth, work and money. To Vicki, simple entertainment. To Dexter, a key to the past. To Athena, the private hopeless toil and exaltation. And to Billy, the troubled boy, music is the one ordering principle in a world of screaming chaos."
"Elegant and wry" - New Yorker
"In her new book, Garner is what she has always been - one of the finest, and most modest, of stylists writing in English...The Children's Bach is a tale of Modern Love...It is familiar Garner territory. She is as meticulously and affectionately obsessive in her concerns as was Jane Austen." - Don Anderson, National Times
"Helen Garner gets better and better" - Weekend Australian
Dexter found, in a magazine, a photograph of the poet Tennyson, his wife and their two sons walking in the garden of their house on the Isle of Wight. To the modern eye it is a shocking picture: they are all, with the exception of the great man himself, bundled up in such enormous, incapacitating garments. Eye-lines: Tennyson looks into the middle distance. His wife, holding his arm and standing very close to his side, gazes up into his face. One boy holds his father's hand and looks up at him. The other boy holds his mother's, and looks into the camera with a weak, rueful expression. Behind them, out of focus, twinkles the windy foliage of a great garden. Their shadows fall across the lawn: they havejust taken a step. Tennyson's hands are large square paws, held up awkwardly at stomach level. His wife's face is gaunt and her eyes are set in deep sockets. It is a photo of a family. The wind puffs out the huge stiff curved sleeve of the woman's dress, and brushes back off his forehead the long hair of the father's boy who is turned towards the drama of his parents' faces; though he is holding his father's hand, he is separate from the group, and light shows between his tightly buttoned torso and his father's leg.
Dexter stuck this picture up on the kitchen wall, between the stove and the bathroom door. It is torn and stained, and coated with a sheen of splattered cooking grease. It has been there a long time. It is always peeling off, swinging sideways, dangling by one corner. But always, before it quite falls off the wall, someone saves it, someone sticks it back.
From the Penguin paperback edition, 1985.
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Last modified: May 1, 2002.