Tirra Lirra by the River by Jessica Anderson

Published: 1978 1. First lines. 2. A selection of covers Melville House Pan Macmillan 3. Embroidery [Public Domain] via Pxhere 4. Queenslander verandah [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Original cropped and straightened.

Seventy-year-old Nora Porteus returns to her childhood home in Brisbane after her sister who lived there alone, dies. She has been married, lived in Sydney, and travelled to London and now she is remembering and re-evaluating her life.

‘Tirra lirra,’ by the river

Sang Sir Lancelot.

From “The Lady of Shallott” by Alfred Lord Tennyson

BOOK SNAPS: This book is an Australian classic, and although it was written many decades ago, is not stuck in that era. To my mind, it doesn’t “feel old, like a story staged prior to its early-twentieth-century setting.” (Barnes and Noble) The writing style is direct and to-the-point, making this a comfortable reading experience, and the ending satisfying, even though the themes are uncomfortable (denigration of women, a life unfulfilled). As a reader, revisiting “The Lady of Shallott” helps to understand the main character’s feelings and motivations.


”Often I used to walk by the river, the real river half a mile from the house. It was broad, brown and strong…”

”Indeed there were times, when I thought that all I really wanted was to be left alone in my beautiful room, close to people who never asked, audibly or otherwise, who I thought I was, but who nevertheless were interested in the answer to that question.”

“I open the door to the back verandah, and am dazzled, first by the flood of sunlight and the cool black shine of the floor, and then by a view through the glass of a garden so fresh and verdant, so deep and rich and detailed, that I wonder for a moment if the glass is tinted.”

Author: Jessica Anderson

Awards: Miles Franklin Winner 1978

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