Running away from country ways and city life – a family’s dilemma

The Good Parents by Joan London

This accomplished novel starts off as the story of eighteen year old Maya de Jong, a girl from Western Australia who escapes the country to get a job in Melbourne. She works for Maynard Flynn, a slightly shady businessman, and it’s not long before they embark on an affair. His wife is dying of cancer, and Maya can give him the attention he needs, indeed she becomes rather infatuated with him, (we of course know he’s taking advantage of her good nature).

Jacob and Toni, her parents, come to Melbourne to stay with her for a holiday as arranged, but find her gone. Her flatmate can’t help; the office is empty and Maynard and Maya have disappeared. They begin to search for Maya, and this forces them to comtemplate their lives – their own experiences of growing up and flying the nest…

Toni, while young, was married to a shady yet enigmatic businessman herself – playing the role of Cy Fisher’s arm candy. When hippyish Jacob appears, she takes her chance to escape Cy’s control, and runs away with him – so romantic, yet more so a practical choice for the father of her children.

Back in the present, Jacob’s sister Kitty is dispatched to look after Maya’s younger brother Magnus, and bonds with their neighbour Carlos who has family problems of his own. Jacob and Toni though, are finding the searching and waiting in Melbourne hard, especially after Jacob manages to injure his leg. Toni has to get out, while Jacob, always the slacker, is content to stay in the flat and get to know the aloof Cecile – a Malayan who was adopted as a child by an Australian couple.

This is a very thoughtful novel, observing the relationships of all involved through the magnifying glass of lives lived. I found it rather wistful, yet I could sense Toni and Jacob’s frustrations with life, with their wayward daughter who is causing them such heartache. Whereas Magnus who is happy to be a homebody, and his Aunt Kitty provided an engaging and happy counterpoint. Although we never really find out what Maya did while away, things do get resolved, but many questions go unanswered – as there is still much living to be done after the novel ends.

London’s previous novel – Gilgamesh, her first, about a woman’s search for the father of her child, was much lauded, and I will definitely be looking out for that after reading The Good Parents. (8/10)

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