by Alan R Wilson
Sarah is a successful, top-level public servant married to Greg, a highly successful barrister and QC. To all appearances she has an idyllic life with two grown children and a successful career. However, there are undercurrents of discontent (Sarah ‘of course’ was the one to take the major career break when the children where young) which a series of events bring to the surface.
Sarah is the front runner to fill an upcoming vacancy at Deputy Secretary level in her department. However, Greg is discontented with his life and wants fresh challenges. He has a chance at a late political career and blithely assumes Sarah will throw her support behind him. As well as her inheritance from her father’s estate he expects her to abandon her career to further his ambitions. She refuses to accede to his expectations which causes friction. Not content with this Greg works behind her back to put pressure on her. However, old history surfaces with the chance discovery of decisions made for Sarah without her knowledge when she was young, well meant, but arrogant and paternalistic. Combined with the death of her dog and a chance encounter which stirs old emotions it all starts to unravel.
A look at paternalism and male entitlement wrapped up in a light romance and ‘first love’, and how small events or non-events can have a disproportionately large impact on a person’s life.
A light romance looking at paternalism, male entitlement and how small events can have a disproportionately large impact on a person’s life. ‘Five Words’ can be considered a ‘companion’ book to ‘Sarah’. It is the story of Steven and Sarah if ‘Steven Riddell’s short story’ was ‘The Day That Was’. While ‘Five Words’ stands by itself, there are echoes of ‘Sarah’ throughout the second part of the novel which enhance the narrative.
It is 1974 and Sarah and Steven meet and fall in love as students at Melbourne University. However, Sarah’s father has other plans for her and does not approve of the young male she has found with the too long hair and too long boots. He organises a place for her at Oxford University, sure she will accept the opportunity and sure the separation from Steven will dampen their adore. Unknown to him, Steven thwarts his plans by applying for and obtaining a scholarship to Oxford.
The first year in Oxford is challenging because Sarah’s father has also arranged for her to meet the right sort of person. In particular, an up and coming lawyer with good connections and good prospects who he expects to ‘sweep her off her feet’. Things become ugly as he and some friends attempt to wrest Sarah away from Steven by first discrediting him, then in more physical ways. Some of the tension is assuaged by the close friendship the two make with the women who was like a fairy godmother to Sarah’s father and grandmother during the 1930s.
At the end of the first term in Oxford the narrative jumps forward 43 years to the same time that Sarah and Steven met as adults in ‘Sarah’. The two both have successful careers and three adult children making their way in the world. Sarah causes a stir when she gives a lecture on the misogyny and poor treatment of women rampant in business. There is pressure from ‘the establishment’ for her to resign but she resists and ends up taking the fight to the privileged men, some of whom she has damning reports on.