Alongside the Iced VoVo and the Monte Carlo, melting moments are among Australia’s best-loved biscuits. They represent tradition and home cooking, making Melting Moments an apt title for this charming novel.
Anna Goldsworthy tells the story of Ruby’s life from her point of view using a matter-of-fact style. Ruby was born around 1925 and married her boyfriend Arthur in haste during the Second World War, not because she was pregnant but because Arthur wanted her to have the benefit of the pension should he get killed while on active duty. Arthur survived the war, as did his marriage to Ruby.
Goldsworthy has captured the mores of the period after the Second World War to perfection, depicting Ruby as a person who ‘has always got on with the requirements of being a woman… She has cooked and baked and cleaned and laundered and darned and sewn and knitted and gardened’. She has raised two children and given a home to her mother-in-law. But this novel is not a paean to the tradwives movement – rather, it is a sensitive and insightful account of a middle-class woman living in the suburbia of her time. She is neither saint nor villain, just human. Naturally for the time, Arthur features in Ruby’s life as the acknowledged master of the household although Ruby is the power behind the throne, a talent for subtle manipulation being among her strengths.
While this is a serious work, there are some welcome touches of humour at dramatic moments, including an unwelcome travelling companion who unintentionally invokes Ruby’s husband by complaining of ‘Arthur Rightus’, and a daughter whose straying husband says they have different interests. ‘And he’s right’, she responds. ‘I have no interest in his secretary.’
For a novel that covers most of a person’s life, Melting Moments is relatively short. Goldsworthy has managed to do that by recounting some episodes in Ruby’s life in detail and omitting periods of years between episodes. The plot is structured in a way that allows the reader to infer what may have happened in the gaps. For instance, there is not much detailed narrative about the early life of Ruby’s daughter, Eva. We learn ‘the baby comes along’ and then later that ‘Eva starts at the local school’ and later still that ‘Eva is offered a scholarship’. This is done well enough that the intervening years seem like a half-forgotten memory. Even so, one could wish that more of the gaps had been filled in.
Goldsworthy has presented in Ruby and her family, friends and acquaintances a group of well-rounded characters; they are people much like those many readers will have met. Coupled with a compelling plot, Melting Moments makes for enjoyable reading as well as giving a sympathetic insight into a superseded culture. Nature leaves us some choices but not the selection of our ancestors. If we could, most of us would like to have someone like Ruby among our forebears or in our extended family.
4 stars out of 5 ★★★★☆
Melting Moments by Anna Goldsworthy
Publisher: Black Inc.
Categories: Fiction, Australian
Release Date: 3 March 2020