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Meredith Jaffé

Autor/a de The fence

3 obres 14 Membres 2 Ressenyes

Obres de Meredith Jaffé

The fence (2016) 8 exemplars
The Making of Christina (2017) 2 exemplars


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The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison is a thoughtful and engaging contemporary novel by Meredith Jaffe.

Derek Brown is five years into a seven year sentence for embezzlement when he learns his daughter is getting married. Though he hasn’t seen nor heard from Debbie during his incarceration, despite writing her weekly letters, Derek wants to give her a gift that reminds her how much she is loved. Unable to afford any extravagance, Derek decides to use the skills he has learnt at Backtackers, the weekly sewing group he attends run by a volunteer, to make his daughter something meaningful, but has to be convinced when the inmates suggest he makes her a wedding dress.

Told with warmth and humour, The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison is a story that explores the themes of, among others, estrangement, addiction, connection and redemption. It centers around Derek, but expands to involve a number of other characters, both from within and outside of the prisons walls, and includes a touch of romance, and a side of politics.

I’m familiar with the book club programs that operate in prisons, but I was surprised to learn sewing groups exist, activities like tapestry and quilting are not pastimes I’d associate with male inmates. Jaffe’s inspiration for the Yarrandarrah Prison sewing group came from the charity organisation, Fine Cell Work, which runs programs in British prisons. Designed to not only teach incarcerated men needlework and sewing skills which could be used to improve employment opportunities on release, the program has also proven valuable in strengthening mental health, building self esteem and promoting positive connections.

Derek arguably stands to gain the most from the completion of the wedding dress, but each of the Backtackers also benefit in both tangible and intangible ways from the project. Jaffe’s inmate characters are a diverse group whom she writes about with empathy, flawed though they may be. She challenges the shallow perceptions of incarcerated criminals by creating well rounded, authentic characters, from the irrepressible young Maloney, to the manipulative lifer, Doc. I found the dynamics of the relationships within the prison, and the BackTackers, to be interesting.

I also appreciated the insight into the modern Australian prison system Jaffe provides. She doesn’t shy away from the realities of the system, and makes some thought-provoking observations about the competing philosophies of incarceration as a means of punishment versus rehabilitation.

With its unusual setting, well crafted plot and interesting characters, I enjoyed reading The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison. To learn more about the book, and its author, please click here to read Reading, Rioting and Libraries, an exclusive guest post by Meredith Jaffe published here earlier.
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shelleyraec | May 11, 2021 |
I’ve had some interesting neighbours in my time – from my awesome nanna (who never cared how loud the music was) to the man who went ballistic because I apparently looked at his letterbox. I think most people could share a story or two about great and great big disaster neighbours. That’s why I was intrigued by the premise of The Fence – how do relative strangers become so passionate and territorial when it comes to a perceived material threat?

The story opens with Gwen, a semi-retired woman who has lived in her house since the suburb was brand new. She knows the neighbours intimately – after all, her kids and their kids have grown up together. When her next door neighbour dies, she naturally feels a great sense of loss. But when her neighbour’s son decides to sell the house next door, Gwen can’t understand why he’s throwing away so many memories. It was at this point I started to get a bit annoyed with Gwen’s character. Yes, she’s grieving and of course she would want a neighbour that’s familiar and ‘safe’ but she fails to realise that a) life goes on outside her street and b) what’s precious to her may not be to others. So before the house next door has even been sold, she’s got a grudge.

But when Frankie, Brandon and their four children move in Gwen has more than met her match. Frankie’s move to the suburbs wasn’t a simple yearning for quiet, it’s a desperate attempt to remove her husband from temptation. Besides four young children, a lazy/seedy husband and a job that is more and more demanding, Frankie is insecure. She wants the best and there is no way she’s going to turn out like her mother. So she takes full charge of the house the way she would a boardroom, with sweeping changes and little care for human nature. By erecting a fence between her property and Gwen’s, she hopes to corral her husband and set some boundaries. While I like a strong female character, Frankie overstepped the mark and was incredible insensitive and overbearing. It made me wonder how she reacts at work when she overreacts to Gwen and her husband speaking to her children.

Each woman simply presumes that the other party is living a trouble free life without a care in the world. Gwen’s husband Eric is acting rather strangely, so the loss of the trees she first planted when she arrived in her house hits her harder. Frankie’s grip on her job is slipping away so she creates a crime out of a simple accident. Both women are hurting and take out their pain on each other. The male characters are much weaker, and can’t or won’t take action to support their spouses. While Eric was quite lovable, Brandon was a downright sleaze. He’s lazy and deceptive, hanging on Frankie’s coattails. I feel that he secretly enjoyed fuelling Frankie’s fire towards the neighbours.

It’s obvious now that the characters of The Fence had a strong impact on me. Meredith Jaffe’s writing is strong, getting to the heart of the matter. Gwen’s gardening column is also a sly, clever reflection on what’s been happening in her war with Frankie over the month. The content will incite you to reflect on your relationships with your neighbours and the characters will divide you. It’s an intriguing story.

Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia for the copy of this book. My review is honest.

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birdsam0610 | Oct 1, 2016 |


½ 3.5