Book Review: Personal Effects by Carmel Macdonald Grahame


Personal Effects is an intimate account of the lives of Lilith and Ross, a middle age couple, as told through the eyes of the main character Lilith. As the story unfolds, Lilith takes you on a journey about her personal life as well as on a travel journey between two main locations - Cervantes, Perth and Calgary, Canada.

Initially, it took me a while to get into the novel due to the language and style used, and whenever I resumed reading, I found myself returning back a few pages earlier in the novel to refresh myself on what had happened prior. The author comes from a literary background and this is evident in her extensive vocabulary.

Is it a novel? Or a memoir?

Personal Effects is a novel, though at times, I felt that it could possibly be a memoir of the author’s personal life, drawing on such intimate thoughts and feelings. Grahame narrates the novel to unearth Lilith’s personality in great depth, as the main character takes us on quite a journey – revealing the intimate details of her married life, and recalling past events that have left a lasting imprint on what makes her the person she is today. She also questions some of the decisions that she has made in her life.

The use of journal extracts to demarcate Lilith’s time in Calgary is an interesting aspect to way the  novel has been written – allowing the author to switch between the present time and past time to recall significant events and happenings.

I enjoyed the quotes that were used at the beginning of each chapter – the quotes captured some of the central themes of the novel – oftentimes, the questions that we ask ourselves about the meaning of life.

As I read the novel, a familiarity with some of the locations mentioned brought a smile to my face as I recalled the traditionally run Roma Italian restaurant in Fremantle, and the sheer natural beauty of places such as Cervantes, the beaches, Lake Thesis – all places that I have enjoyed experiencing.

Some of the central themes that were covered in the novel:

The onset of middle age – as we pass through the different passages of adult life, it is only natural that we question our evolving future and what may become of our future – riddled with uncertainty – it is not always easy to make decisions on how best to navigate our lives, with important choices altering the course of our future.

The sacrifices that we make – relocating to a foreign country to make a living – contrast with expectations that by this stage of her life at middle age, that Lilith and her husband would have hoped to be financially independent. How does one deal with these shortfalls in expectations?

It explores the complexities of our lives - the different roles that each of us play, in Lilith's case, whether it be as wife, mother, expat, daughter, career person etc. Things get complicated – that’s life.

The author Grahame shares the ebb and flow of events and happenings in the life of Lilith in great detail and with depth of emotion. Her emotions cycle between sadness, loss, and grief for loved ones that have past, and joy, ecstasy, and happy times shared with those close around her – her husband Ross, and her children Kate and Nan.  It is the simple things that bring joy to her life. Lilith finds that what matters is her family - her spouse, children, close friends.

Some things are passed from generation to generation – Mothers will always be special. Lilith's mother fussed over her, and in turn, she observes herself fussing over her children in the same way.

I enjoyed Personal Effects and found it to be a very insightful novel.

You will find Personal Effects a good read if you enjoy a novel that reaches deep into the inner recesses of a character's emotions and thoughts – to communicate feelings about life that are personal and intimate. The author narrates the story to reveal perspectives on life in great detail, that as the reader, we can relate to, because in a way, we all share similar fears, worries, joys, and agonies over events in our own lives. The novel explores the theme that we are all human and infallible.

Personal Effects by Carmel Macdonald Grahame is available from Perth based publisher UWA Publishing.

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Nita Teoh pens her passion for Perth at Perth Walkabout. For more reviews on books by Australian authors,

follow us @PerthWalkabout


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