Without A Backward Glance is the first novel by Australian author Kate Veitch.
The introduction tells the story of the McDonald family, Mum, Dad and their four children who live in suburban Australia in the 1960’s. On Christmas Eve, 1967, while Dad was out watering the garden, Mum tells the children she is going out to get lights for the Christmas tree and never comes back.
The story shifts to the present, and Dad (Alex) is in the early stages of dementia. The children, Deborah, James, Robert and Meredith are all grown up, with careers and families of their own. They each have their joys and their demons.
It turns out that Mum (Rose) fell pregnant at the age of 17 to the much older Alex and leaving behind her family, moved to Australia from England. Rose was desperately homesick for London, which was portayed as the most exciting place in the world during the 1960’s. Rose also wanted to make the most of her talent for fashion, but was put in her place by her and Alex’s conservative friends, who told her that her plan to label the clothing she was making for friends and neighbours would be seen as “big-noting” herself.
As the mother of a grown up child, I can hardly remember feeling like Rose, wanting to escape parenthood in order to feel young and free and have fun, but just because I can hardly remember that feeling doesn’t mean I didn’t feel it. I expect most parents feel exactly the same sometimes and the ones who don’t admit to wanting to be footloose and fancy free again occasionally are probably lying. However, my point is, the endless minutes of parenthood turn into hours, and then days and months and eventually years, and one day you turn around to find that your baby is older than you were when she was born and somehow you have forgotten most of the terrible things and are left with all of these funny, happy memories. (Like the time when Honey-bunny played her first game of netball and six little girls and one boy in the Shiners Netball Team all jumped up and down with their hands waving in the air for someone to throw them the ball, or the time when she asked me ‘why’ 6533 times on a two hour bus trip, and let’s not forget the time she said a very rude word at the age of 18 months after dropping her dinner plate face down on the floor).
Ok, back to the novel. When Rose left Australia and her husband and children behind, she got the instant gratification of being able to do what she liked when she liked, but she missed out on so much. It is a credit to Kate Veitch that she was able to make Rose’s character likeable, because a mother leaving her children is somehow worse than a father leaving his children. This perception is unfair, but that the perception exists is still true.
All of the characters in Without a Backward Glance are likeable. Alex is a gentleman, and will probably remind most readers who grew up in Australia in the 1960s and 70s of their own elderly father or grandfather. Deborah is bossy and driven (typical eldest daughter, and I should know). She is married to Angus, who the reader will have enormous sympathy for and is the mother of the most self-possessed child in a novel ever.
James was and is the golden child of the family. He is an artist who is married to the frumpy, charismatic Silver. Again, every family has a child who can do no wrong, one who is clever and good looking, who can get around parents when they say “No”, charm grumpy neighbours and who has boyfriends or girlfriends at their fingertips.
Robert is anxious and correct, happily married to a loving wife and with lovely children. Robert’s anxiety is at the obsessive stage.
Meredith is an alcoholic who still plays the role of the baby of the family in order to avoid responsibility.
When James visits London, by chance a friend realises that she knows his mother and puts them in touch with each other. At this point, the whole family’s lives start to change, although not all of the changes are to do with Rose, as James keeps their meeting and growing relationship a secret from his brother and sisters for over a year. James, Deborah’s, Robert’s and Meridith’s characters have been shaped by having their mother leave, without a backward glance as per the title of the novel, and all of them change as the book evolves.
For me, Without A Backward Glance has the familiarity of Australia both now and as I was growing up in the 1970’s. I am also one of four children, so found it was interesting to read about the family dynamics in another family of four. The characters, plot and writing are good too. A novel which makes you think about morals and values is always a good thing too.