Sally made some Vegemite toast to eat in front of Rage then lent a hand with the housework. Later, when her parents departed to do the weekly grocery shop, green bags in hand, Sally curled up in an armchair with the phone and rang around her friends, dying to tell them about her time away.
“Sally Boleyn! Long time, no see. When are you coming up to see our new house? It’s not a big blog so we had to build on every square centimetre.”
“Sally? What a surprise. How was your trip? Shame you weren’t back a fortnight ago or you could have come to Bali with us. Kuta rocks!”
“Welcome home, Sally! Have you heard Pippa’s news? She’s going out with a footy player. I forget his name but he’s number sixty-five; easy to remember because she tweeted that it’s because his schlong is six point five inches long!”
Despairing, Sally gave up – her adventures abroad were no contest for the banalities of local life. She had to get out of this place! But how? The last of her money went to buying her ticket back to Perth. That meant she would have to get a job.
A job?! Quelle horreur! Cue dramatic music.
I have a terrible case of cultural cringe. When a novel starts to write about my own home town I tend to recoil. I noticed it when reading Yvette Walker’s Letters to the End of Love, and it solidified when I heard Perth author David Whish Wilson talk about his efforts to invoke a sense of place in his work. It’s a terrible and completely irrational affliction that I’m trying to train myself out of. So when I picked up The Magpie’s Nest by Perth author Jacqueline Perry-Strickland I looked my discomfort in the eye and jumped straight in. The novel is set in a Perth costume shop, where Sally gets a job having returned from a year spent in London. There she meets Ruby Sullivan and discovers a beautiful green gown that has a habit of invoking Scarlett O’Hara-esque traits in the woman who wears it. The two women set themselves the task of getting to understand the mystery gown and its strange powers.
Ruby’s gaze dropped to the mass of ostrich feathers that trailed out of the old trunk. Her friends at the Maj were generous in providing her with the objects of their occasional wardrobe clean-out; she had received many a treasure from them – but never anything like the emerald gown that lay where it had fallen from her hands the day before. Her fingertips buzzed like they had when she lifted it out, before the fever had taken over.
Emerald, the precious gemstone, she thought closing her eyes. A name fought its way from the recesses of her mind. Esmeralda.
Enchantée, Esmeralda,” Ruby breathed, opening one eye. “How do you do?” Even the action of reaching for the gown made her pulse race, forcing her to lie back and fan her face until the head passed. The assistant will have to deal with you, Ruby decided, though unsure of how to go about finding one.
This novel felt like the literary equivalent of a warm cup of tea. It was comforting. Charming even. When I finished it my face was sore from smiling. Perry-Strickland invokes a wonderful sense of place, filling in her depiction of Perth with all the right details, from the unnamed newspaper social pages editor I recognised from her description to Eliza’s changing wardrobe to the wind tunnel of St George’s Terrace. Sally irritated me with her complaints about Perth life, though perhaps only because it cut a little close to the bone. Ruby was an absolute delight and I discovered a desperate desire to find myself work in a costume shop. This is a light read and I blasted through it in a matter of days. Good fun.
The Magpie’s Nest, Jacqueline Perry-Strickland: three and a half stars.
Read it: at Cottesloe Beach or at the South Perth foreshore on a long summer afternoon. Pop into the Ocean Beach Hotel or the Windsor for a cider when you’re done.