Review – Conditions of Faith, Alex Miller

Conditions of Faith by Alex Miller

Once again, I won a copy of this book from the publisher, Allen & Unwin this time. Once again, it’s a good’un. From the first page, the writing is lyrical as Miller weaves the story of Emily, a young Australian woman, her life in 1920s Sydney, Paris and Tunisia, and her struggles with family expectations, societal conformity, professional ambition and the duties of a convential marriage. Emily’s father wants her to pursue an academic career following her First in history. On a whim, however, she marries Georges – a driven engineer, a man whose purpose in life is to design the biggest bridge in the world – and travels with him to Paris. Quickly bored by the confines of married life, she makes a disastrous mistake. Yet that misjudgement takes her to Carthage, where she is able to rediscover herself, her own academic ambitions and the need to make a life of her own.
Ultimately, however, she finds that there can be no success without sacrifice, particularly for a woman of her times.

It was only in the course of writing this review that I realised that the author is male – if there was any biographical information in my copy, I clearly missed it! I am now all the more impressed by his sensitive portrayal of Emily, her emotional journey and the choices she has to make. I also loved the descriptions of the landscapes of Sydney and Carthage and found the characterisation generally very strong. This is a piece of writing that stays with you.

I found the story slow going at first – the intrusion of Christmas into my reading might not have helped with that – but in the later stages I was definitely hooked. I would thoroughly recommend this book and will look out for others by the same author.

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About forwardtranslations

I'm a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. The title of my blog comes from Mary Schmich's description of reading: it struck home with me, and seems especially apt for translated fiction. Here are some of my musings on what I'm reading, re-reading, reading to my children, and translating.
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