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Loving Sylvie

It is easy to believe that Elizabeth Smither is a poet. She has the ability to expand on thoughts and scenes and possibilities, creating characters that you feel you have met. This narrative shifts between three women, Sylvie, her mother Madelaine, and grandmother Isobel. The story begins with Sylvie’s wedding, and gradually reveals the stories of her mother and her grandmother.

The tale is set in several cities. Isobel lives with her husband Kit in Melbourne. Madelaine lived for some time in Paris, but later moved to Auckland with her new husband, with Sylvie being raised in Melbourne by her grandparents. To unravel the mesh of how this family became so disjointed, we need to look at the beginning when Kit and Isobel first had their baby, Madelaine.

Loving Sylvie is written in four parts. Part one explains the character of Madelaine, who is a mystery to most people, and why she lived in Paris. The second part of the book tells of Sylvie’s wedding and how she copes with the change in her life. She and her husband live in a small flat above a fruit shop and each day find a piece of fruit on their window ledge. There is a great enmity between Sylvie and her Mother- in- Law, which evolves over time. The third part tells about Madelaine’s move to Auckland, and how she becomes more reflective to new relationships and places. The final fourth part of the book focusses on Isobel and how she eventually manages to bring the family together.

The author is one of New Zealand’s finest, and it is her attention to detail, while expanding on characters and their innermost thoughts that is noticeable. The everyday details are noted, with the subtle humour relating to the characters, their actions and reasons, examined. This is a slow read to pore over and appreciate the language and descriptions.

AuthorElizabeth Smither
PublisherAllen and Unwin/A&U New Zealand
DistributorAllen and Unwin
ReleasedApril 2019