Madness, cruelty and sexuality permeate the house where she grew up, but Lilian's sights are set on education, love and - finally - her own transcendent forms of independence. Lilian Singer, who starts life at the beginning of the twentieth century as the daughter of a prosperous middle-class Australian family and ends it as a cheerfully eccentric bag-lady living on the streets, quoting Shakespeare for a living.
For forty years, Lilian Singer has been locked up in a mental hospital by her father. Her release is eventually secured and she walks out to a world unfamiliar to her in every way, seeking the love and affection she never got. Her story is told through a series of three flashbacks that reveal a beautiful and spirited young woman who was anything but insane. Old Lilian comes to terms with her life, quoting Shakespeare, stalking sexy bank tellers, buddying with prostitutes, and ultimately meeting her long-lost love.
Unit Suitable For:
AC: Year 10 (NSW Stage 5)
Lilian Singer is, or becomes, that rare being: an eccentric true to her own self whose story reaches out to touch and delight the most discerning reader. She radiates energy and vitality through every page of this striking work. Lilian's Story is the most loved and enduring of Kate Grenville's fictional creations.
Source: Allen and Unwin
'In 1985, when Kate Grenville’s novel about a fat, unlovely bag lady appeared on the Australian literary landscape, Lilian’s Story was celebrated as a feminist and postcolonial text. By locating Lilian as ex-centric to the nation, to inhabit the abjected zones of the colony—the bush, the asylum, the streets of post-Federation Sydney—Grenville is commonly read as a feminist writer intervening into the gender politics that shaped Australia. Feminists celebrate the ways in which she carves out discursive spaces for women who have existed largely in the interstices between public memory and official history. Postcolonial critical interpretations of Lilian being ‘colonised’ by her father, provoked by the rape narrative, have tended to reproduce the postcolonial trope of Australia’s shift from a colonial relationship to a national structure. Such readings largely neglect the colonial violence of Australian patriarchy, and the skewed gender norms that result when a host culture is transplanted to an imperial outpost. Taking up the colonial metaphor structuring the relationship between Lilian and her father, I read Lilian’s ‘madness’ as a response to discourses of ‘race’ and gender that circulate in the colonial Imaginary to position women as the site for racial anxiety about colonial ‘dirt’, contamination and disorder. While Lilian approaches the rebellious female grotesque celebrated in postcolonial feminist theorising, her obese body also signifies the devouring nature of colonialism. This paper engages with the white politics of women’s ‘belonging’ inscribed in Lilian’s Story to disinter the schizoid nature of white women’s relationship to colonial patriarchy.' (Publication abstract)