Homelessness in Western Society is often viewed by others (particularly those residing in the comparatively privileged locale – in affluent pockets at least – of London) as almost a virulent disease. And those suffering it to be avoided, shunned and not ‘seen’ or ‘heard’ at all costs.
If homelessness is insidiously incremental until it becomes glaringly obvious in the general population, it is, in it’s unremedied state, a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions when it is attributed to the elderly, particularly (I would argue) elderly women.
Such ‘uncomfortable’ home truths have an all-encompassing, yet often delicate, spotlight shone on them in stellar Australian author, Lisa Ireland’s, seventh and latest heartbreaking, yet ultimately redemptive, novel, The One And Only Dolly Jamieson.
The novel confrontingly begins in London in 2019, when it is particularly cold and abrasive. We are introduced to seventy-eight year old Dolly Jamieson, who has come to warm herself from the artic day by visiting the local library (as she does every day). Dolly’s library ‘drop-ins’ are, unlike for most people, a devastating necessity, not just a ‘nice’ thing to do. Dolly, you see, is homeless and left to fend for herself on the unforgiving London streets.
Dolly tries to hide from others her undeniably harsh reality, by attempting to dress as well as she can. Nevertheless, it is not unusual for her to be ‘hurried on’ and ejected from shops by dubious shopkeepers.
When Dolly encounters in the library one day the evidently upper class, yet in so many ways broken in traumatic shards, middle-aged Jane Leveson, an unlikely friendship ensues between Dolly and Jane. (This is after Jane has broken down in sobs and lamented to her newfound acquaintance that “I’m afraid nobody can help me”. Dolly wisely informs Jane, “… take it from an old woman. It’s never as bad as you think”).
Dolly ‘scribbles’ down her life story as she sits in the library each day, and it is the insightful and thoughtful Jane who encourages Dolly to write her life’s story into a book for others to read. Encouraging for Dolly, Jane (who has once been the head of a social media business) offers to help Dolly with the book.
Effortlessly, yet assiduously, Lisa transports us from the small town of Geelong in Australia in 1941 to the following years in Melbourne, Sydney, London and New York. It is in these culturally diverse, yet all ‘happening’ and glittering major cities, that Dolly was a major star of the stage and television. Times when Dolly was also known for a while by her birth name, Margerie (Margie) Ferguson.
The book beautifully flows between chapters revealing the heartbreak, euphoria and victorious mountains and dark valleys of Dolly’s life, and chapters following the travails and tribulations of Dolly’s and Jane’s lives’ in London, and briefly Australia, in 2019. The novel ending three years later.
What are the seismically life-altering events Dolly and Jane have endured in their respective lives? What secrets are Dolly and Jane attempting to hide? Why does Jane tell Dolly she has no children when there is a bedroom at Janes ‘posh’ house (that she shares with her lawyer husband, Richard) belonging to a teenage boy?
Who was the great love of Dolly’s life, who she still mourns daily?
Can Dolly and Jane ever make peace with their pasts and find the redemption they seek?
Lisa has written a novel of superlative wisdom, intelligence, compassion and understanding. The reader is transported on an eclectic rollercoaster ride, meandering through metaphorical storms and sunshine that are experienced by the books protagonists in troubling then hopeful ways.
Bravo Lisa! You have written a novel that deserves to be widely read and greatly appreciated by many throughout the world. I loved reading The One And Only Dolly Jamieson and I can’t wait to read what Lisa writes next!
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