Reviews: The Other Mrs Walker, The Family With Two Front Doors

The Family With Two Front Doors, Anna Ciddor

The Family With Two Front Doors, Anna Ciddor

The Family with Two Front Doors 
Anna Ciddor 
Allen & Unwin, $17


Charming is a word that can only rarely be applied to a novel, but in re-creating the childhood of her late grandmother, Nomi, Anna Ciddor (author of Runestone) has produced an endearing picture of 1920s Jewish family life.

The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis

The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis

There are two front doors in the title because Rabbi Rabinovitch and his wife have nine children and therefore rent two apartments in the historic Polish city of Lublin.

The story gives us a child's-eye view of the ceremonies and customs of everyday life during the exciting time between the first contact with the go-between and the marriage of eldest sister Adina.

Nomi, 10, is excited at being allowed to make gefilte fish and plait the challah bread dough, while mischievous Yakov, 8, is constantly on the brink of domestic disaster.

It is a blessing to have an account that celebrates the spiritual warmth, simple joys and ancient traditions that were swept away by the Holocaust.

The author's illustrations add to the charm. Trevor Agnew



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The Other Mrs Walker
Mary Paulson-Ellis
Macmillan, $35

An old lady dies alone and with no identification papers in a cold Edinburgh flat in the middle of winter. A middle-aged woman, Margaret Penny, arrives in Edinburgh soon afterwards. Her life in tatters, without any money or a job, she finds temporary work tracking down the deceased's paperwork.

How likely is it that the dead old lady she is sent to trace, a Mrs Walker, is actually closely related? Unfortunately, this unlikely coincidence is a central premise.

For a long time, the author's overwrought prose seems to be taking us round in circles. "What was it about life, she thought, that it had this circular motion she could never quite escape?" Margaret's mother says at one point. 

The imagery is circular too. There are far too many mentions of photos of dead twin babies, orange pips, brooches, a Brazil nut etched with the Ten Commandments, two apostle-tipped spoons and a plaster cherub with an arm missing.

The setting is bleak, the characters are dysfunctional and do not engage – not with each other, nor with the reader. Their lives span the darkness of thieving, alcoholism, poverty, child abuse, insanity, and wartime bombs.

A bit of light would have been appreciated. Felicity Price

 - Stuff

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