I for Isobel
"Born to a world without welcome, Isobel observes it as warily as an alien trying to pass for a native. Her collection of imaginary friends includes the Virgin Mary and Sherlock Holmes. Later on, she meets Byron, W.H. Auden and T.S. Eliot. She is not as much at ease with the flesh-and-blood people she meets, and least of all with herself, until a lucky encounter and a little detective work reveal her identity and her true situation in life."
"Isobel is instinctively searching for a lost part of her substance, the very memory of which has been obliterated. Prompted by her inexplicable sense of loss, she goes on her way, deviating, baffled, yet rejecting substitutes. To call the ending happy is to say both too much and too little. Was the lost part also searching for her? Amy Witting's admirers will find this novel as distinctive and compelling as her stories and her poetry." - Jessica Anderson
"[Witting] lays bare with surgical precision the dynamics of families, siblings, students in coffee shops, office coteries. One sometimes feels positively winded with unsettling insights. There is something relentless, almost unnerving in her anatomising of foibles, fears, obsessions, private shame, the nature of loneliness, the nature of panic." - Janette Turner Hospital
"When we come to write the history of Australian writing in the twentieth century, the strange case of Amy Witting will be there to haunt us. Here is a writer who not only has great gifts -- the kind of expert and mimetic gifts that would impel instant recognition from someone who admired a fine-lined American naturalist like William Maxwell -- but a realist who has an effortless immediacy and a compelling sense of drama that should have ensured the widest kind of appeal, the sort of appeal that Helen Garner could command in her fiction writing days. And yet this woman who published in the New Yorker and commanded the respect of Kenneth Slessor was scarcely encouraged during the long gray sleep of Australian fiction publishing. It wasn't until the publication of I for Isobel a bare decade or so ago that Witting gained a national profile." - Peter Craven
A week before Isobel Callaghan's ninth birthday, her mother said, in a tone of mild regret, 'No birthday presents this year! We have to be very careful about money this year.'
Every year at this time she said this; every year Isobel chose not to believe it. Her mother was just saying that, she told herself, to make the present more of a surprise. Experience told her that there would be no present. As soon as they stepped out of the ferry onto the creaking wharf and set out for Mrs Terry's lakeside boarding house, where they spent the summer holidays, the flat reedy shore, the great Moreton Bay fig whose branches scaffolded the air of the boarding-house garden, the weed-bearded tennis court and the cane chairs with their faded flabby cushions, all spoke to Isobel of desolate past birthdays, but she did not believe experience, either. Day by day she watched for a mysterious shopping trip across the lake, for in the village there was only one tiny store which served as a post office too; when no mysterious journey took place, she told herself they must have brought the present secretly from home. Even on the presentless morning she would not give up hope entirely, but would search in drawers, behind doors, under beds, as if birthday presents were supposed to be hidden, like Easter eggs in the grass.
From the Penguin paperback edition, 1989.
This novel was shortlisted the Miles Franklin Award in 1990.
This page and its contents are copyright © 2002-03 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Amy Witting page.
Last modified: July 22, 2003.