I’m a fan of Kaz Cooke’s newspaper columns, children’s stories and life-advice books. The Terrible Underpants is hilarious and perfect for reading to young primary-school aged nieces, while Girl Stuff is exactly the thing to give teenage girls additional confidence. A friend gave me Real Gorgeous years and years ago and I’ve often dipped in to it. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by Ada.
Ada is a novel based on the life of a real person, Ada Delroy, a dancer, comedian and singer who toured the world with her own vaudeville troupe in the late 1800s. In this book, the fictional Ada tells her story in the first person to a visitor, a young man, as she is dying of tuberculosis in Melbourne.
Ada’s story is fascinating and her voice is hilarious, but tiring. She fades in and out of consciousness with the assistance of morphine in little blue bottles.
Life on the stage wasn’t as glamourous as it looked to the audience, with performers having to leave their children behind due to the constant travel and money woes, jealousies and rivalries between performers, scams, the theft of each other’s acts and constant packing up and travelling. There was a wonderful sense of belonging between the troupe members though, who were closer than most families, and the excitement of performing for royalty, miners and everyone in-between.
I loved the references to Melbourne from the turn of the century. I checked on places I hadn’t heard of before and was delighted to find photos of long-gone coffee palaces and cafes. The following description is the Melbourne I know, although it doesn’t smell anymore:
Melbourne smelled like an outhouse, but if you sook some eucalyptus oil on your hanky she was beautiful – even the buildings seemed full of ease, with generous porticos and gracious wide stairs in the honey-coloured local stone forever bathed in golden light. Everything had extra decoration: wrought-iron ‘walks’ on the top of shiny zinc and copper rooves, arched windows with gargoyles on the upper corners, windowsills wide enough to sit on and swing your legs.
The photos used in the book are real too and include photos of Ada and her company, advertising photos and posters. The story also includes references to various performances by Harry Houdini while in Melbourne.
While I loved the historical element of the story and the Melbourne references, Ada’s actual voice was the weak point. Her constant jokes and cheekiness and funny little sayings were too relentless to be able to appreciate the story comfortably. I enjoyed the historical references enormously though.