Purple Threads by Jeanine Leane: Book Review

Many thanks to ANZ LitLovers for the opportunity to read Purple Threads, winner of the David Unaipon Award.  Check out Lisa Hill’s Review and also Sue’s on Whispering Gums.

Purple Threads brought to mind some of those feminine-centric American stories that focus on the resilience and camaraderie of women.  Stories like Fried Green Tomatoes and How to make an American Quilt, the sort of tales that remind me how inspiring and loyal women can be.

In Leane’s novel, the characters are strong Aboriginal women, Aunties and a Nan who are made of strong stuff, who know how to laugh and how to love, women who adopt and nurture stray or injured animals, in particular the little black lambs not prized by the farmers.

 A fair portion of Leane’s debut novel is told through dialogue and what lively and convincing dialogue it is:

 ‘…youse hafta look respectable jus’ like me an’ Bubby an’ all the other Aunties did when we were little.  An’ white people, they think churches are respectable an’ sometimes ya hafta go along with what other people think, jus’ to stay outta trouble.’ (12)

 That was Auntie’s standard reply when Sunny (from whose viewpoint the story is told) questions why she and her sister Star have to go to church. The fear of being taken, the spectre of the stolen generation, is never far from the surface.  When Sunny persists in her questioning, Auntie admits that the grown-ups don’t have to go to church because ‘big people can’t get taken’.

Occasionally I wished for more background narrative, something that Leane can nail when she wants to:

Sometimes the howling gales from the south rattled and shook the flimsy tin on our roof like paper, and our house groaned and shifted so much that the tin mugs and plates on the dresser jangled and clanged as the women’s voices rose and fell.’ (41)

The love of ‘place’ – of ‘home’ – is clear in Leane’s poignant portrait of Sunny’s homesickness:

Sometimes the snowy breeze from the Brindabella Mountains catches the thin bleat of a new winter lamb and carries it clear across the frosty paddocks to the outskirts of my city. I hear it and it takes me home. (156)

 Leane paints her women with love and a great dollop of humour so that I came to care about them all deeply, even Petal the wayward mother who seems so callous in her abandonment of her two children.  The vibrant personalities of Nan and the Aunties linger long after the final page.

Leane, Jeanine. Purple Threads, University of Queensland Pres, St Lucia, 2011.
ISBN 9-780702-238956


Filed under General Interest

5 responses to “Purple Threads by Jeanine Leane: Book Review

  1. As one who never really had aunties, I loved the strong women in this book – I’ve never read the other two books that you mention but I shall look out for them now.

    • You know what else I kept thinking about Lisa?
      I wondered if an Indigenous writer has ever won the Barbara Jefferis Award. I wasn’t necessarily thinking of this particular book but perhaps this writer – if she continues to write stories like this – could be a contender one day. I guess it was the subject matter. Certainly women and girls were depicted in a positive way, which is the main thrust of that award.

  2. Nice catch re the Flagg and Otto books Karen Lee. I can see what you mean though of course this one is overlaid with dispossession/underclass issue. The “voice” in this book is wonderful isn’t it and, like you, I love stories like this about loyalty and companionship between women which is perhaps why Foal’s bread was so devastating! The Ma-in-law’s behaviour was so disappointing!!

    • Yes Sue, those books are very American middle class. In my mind, I kept juxtaposing the conversations of the women and their surrounds with other stories and thinking that regardless of how much money we might have, where we live, where we’ve come from or where we are going, women seem to have this enormous capacity for love and support. I guess we can equally tear each other to pieces (the Ma-in-law!) but I love to read about these strong bonds between women (family or friends).

  3. Pingback: Purple Threads, by Jeanine Leane « ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

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