In Timepieces, Drusilla Modjeska ponders familiar themes - memory and memoir, love of art, truth and testimony, the work of time - in ten fresh and personal essays.
They touch on subjects as far-ranging as not buying a Grace Cossington Smith painting, first love, learning to write, Australian memoir and contemporary fiction.
" After nearly thirty years of nosing in other people's archives, it was a salutary exercise to follow the paper trail of my own life. I found stories I bent myself out of shape with, and discovered how unreliable testimony can be, even in the irrefutable form of words on a page. I saw my young self caught in the bind of wanting to say certain things, give shape to feelings and ideas and experience, while shackled by self-consciousness at the prospect of being misinterpreted, exposed - or seen for the moves I didn't want to be seen to be making. There's a lot I'd say now that I wouldn't say then, which is why I saw that somewhere in those files there was something worth going back to, a story worth telling."
Memoir, Modjeska notes, is etymologically linked to mourning, and this points to the melancholy tone of much of the writing in Timepieces. She takes us back to a turbulent emotional time in London in 1975 and then to Australia, where she worked on a book about Australian women writers. There are calmly drawn anecdotes of sometimes fraught encounters, for instance with Christina Stead, Dora Russell (ex-wife of Bertrand), Marjorie Barnard and Eleanor Dark.
Essays may be aggressive or argumentative, but the best are, like Drusilla Modjeska's, seductively centred in a resonant stillness.
In some ways, this volume is a supplement to Modjeska's major books and will doubtless be read as such to illuminate the concerns of and struggles behind Poppy, Exiles at Home and The Orchard. But it ought not be read merely as supplement. The ten essays that constitute it existed previously and elsewhere but have been reformed and interconnected.
Times Literary Supplement
Collectively, [these essays] trace the development of her writing life and intellectual preoccupations: the sacrifices women make for creativity; the tensions between art and love; the spatial and temporal dimensions of the writing process; the nature of identity; the unreliability of memory; and the slipperiness of 'truth'.