The Golden Book by Kate Ryan

If you pay any attention to the zeitgeist, you know that (noun-turned-verb) parenting is as contentious a topic as ever.  From Leunig cartoons to the school staff room—and in social media, of course—judgements are made about parents who don’t conform to The Right Way, but there is no consensus about what that might be. Kate Ryan’s debut novel The Golden Book interrogates parenting styles in a story that explores responsibility and blame in the context of a child’s life ruined by a single reckless moment. In the NSW regional town of Bega in the 1980s, best friends Jessie and Ali come from different backgrounds. Ali is an only child with a controlling mother called Diana and a compliant father called David.  They are teachers, they are middle-class, and their child lives in an ordered household with predictable routines, nutritious meals and good results at school.  Jessie is ‘free-range’, with three brothers, all four of these children from different fathers.  Jessie’s mother Aggie is anti-interventionist, haphazard, cheerfully disorganised,  and fleetingly interested in causes and half-baked efforts at crafts.  Her latest bloke is the unpleasant Claudio, and she is often stoned on weed.  Jessie is highly intelligent with a phenomenal memory but she is illiterate, probably dyslexic.  Her prospects at high school don’t look good, and she is often hungry. Beginning to chafe at the loving but strict regime in her home, Ali is attracted to freedom and adventure with Jessie.  Together every day, they share a love of epic adventures in stories of the Greek heroes and the Knights of the Round Table.  Ali reads these books at home and retells them to Jessie, and at Jessie’s place, she also reads these stories aloud.  Jessie dreams up the idea of a series of covert quests to be undertaken before they turn thirteen.  These quests are really dares, and they buy a Golden Book to record the dare and its execution.  Ali does the writing, and Jessie cannot read what is written in this journal of risk-taking.  Some of these quests are semi-reproduced in the writing class that Ali attends as an adult, and this is how the reader recognises the risks being taken as well as the emerging fissures in the children’s relationship. The structure of book, which nods at Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, is fragmentary, moving backwards and forwards in time and place as the adult Ali confronts her memories of the tragedy that befell Jessie.  In adulthood, Ali is a teacher like her parents, and with an ever-present awareness of the vulnerability of childhood she is over-mothering her nine-year-old daughter Tam.  Tam, like her mother before her, is attracted to an ‘unsuitable’ friendship that involves risk-taking too.  Bettany has a mother called Terri who is Missing-in-Action and leaves responsibility for Bettany to her morose elder daughter Megan. Parenting styles come to the fore when the adult daughter of Ali’s live-in lover turns up and creates chaos, culminating in risk to Tam.  Ed says he’ll ‘talk to’ Poppi but he doesn’t set any boundaries. Examples of controlling parenting (Ali and her mother) are off-set by the free-range variety chosen by Aggie and the overwhelmed-by-the-disasters-of-life type framed by Terri.  In middle-age, when Jessie finally dies (which we know from the outset so that’s no spoiler) Ali has an epiphany about her sense of responsibility and blame for what happened, and the reader finally deduces how it occurred. Do we all do parenting in the same way our parents brought us up, or do we react against it and become the sort of parents that we wanted our parents to be?  I think I was a mixture of both, but I’m not sure what The Offspring might conclude! I think book groups would enjoy discussing the issues raised by this novel. You can read more about Kate Ryan here. Author: Kate RyanTitle: The Golden BookCover design by ScribePublisher: Scribe Publications, 2021ISBN: 9781922310088, pbk., 256 pagesReview copy courtesy of Scribe Publications

The Golden Book by Kate Ryan

If you pay any attention to the zeitgeist, you know that (noun-turned-verb) parenting is as contentious a topic as ever.  From Leunig cartoons to the school staff room—and in social media, of course—judgements are made about parents who don’t conform to The Right Way, but there is no consensus about what that might be.

Kate Ryan’s debut novel The Golden Book interrogates parenting styles in a story that explores responsibility and blame in the context of a child’s life ruined by a single reckless moment.

In the NSW regional town of Bega in the 1980s, best friends Jessie and Ali come from different backgrounds. Ali is an only child with a controlling mother called Diana and a compliant father called David.  They are teachers, they are middle-class, and their child lives in an ordered household with predictable routines, nutritious meals and good results at school.  Jessie is ‘free-range’, with three brothers, all four of these children from different fathers.  Jessie’s mother Aggie is anti-interventionist, haphazard, cheerfully disorganised,  and fleetingly interested in causes and half-baked efforts at crafts.  Her latest bloke is the unpleasant Claudio, and she is often stoned on weed.  Jessie is highly intelligent with a phenomenal memory but she is illiterate, probably dyslexic.  Her prospects at high school don’t look good, and she is often hungry.

Beginning to chafe at the loving but strict regime in her home, Ali is attracted to freedom and adventure with Jessie.  Together every day, they share a love of epic adventures in stories of the Greek heroes and the Knights of the Round Table.  Ali reads these books at home and retells them to Jessie, and at Jessie’s place, she also reads these stories aloud.  Jessie dreams up the idea of a series of covert quests to be undertaken before they turn thirteen.  These quests are really dares, and they buy a Golden Book to record the dare and its execution.  Ali does the writing, and Jessie cannot read what is written in this journal of risk-taking.  Some of these quests are semi-reproduced in the writing class that Ali attends as an adult, and this is how the reader recognises the risks being taken as well as the emerging fissures in the children’s relationship.

The structure of book, which nods at Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, is fragmentary, moving backwards and forwards in time and place as the adult Ali confronts her memories of the tragedy that befell Jessie.  In adulthood, Ali is a teacher like her parents, and with an ever-present awareness of the vulnerability of childhood she is over-mothering her nine-year-old daughter Tam.  Tam, like her mother before her, is attracted to an ‘unsuitable’ friendship that involves risk-taking too.  Bettany has a mother called Terri who is Missing-in-Action and leaves responsibility for Bettany to her morose elder daughter Megan. Parenting styles come to the fore when the adult daughter of Ali’s live-in lover turns up and creates chaos, culminating in risk to Tam.  Ed says he’ll ‘talk to’ Poppi but he doesn’t set any boundaries.

Examples of controlling parenting (Ali and her mother) are off-set by the free-range variety chosen by Aggie and the overwhelmed-by-the-disasters-of-life type framed by Terri.  In middle-age, when Jessie finally dies (which we know from the outset so that’s no spoiler) Ali has an epiphany about her sense of responsibility and blame for what happened, and the reader finally deduces how it occurred.

Do we all do parenting in the same way our parents brought us up, or do we react against it and become the sort of parents that we wanted our parents to be?  I think I was a mixture of both, but I’m not sure what The Offspring might conclude!

I think book groups would enjoy discussing the issues raised by this novel.

You can read more about Kate Ryan here.


Author: Kate Ryan
Title: The Golden Book
Cover design by Scribe
Publisher: Scribe Publications, 2021
ISBN: 9781922310088, pbk., 256 pages
Review copy courtesy of Scribe Publications