ANITA HEISS Tiddas. Reviewed by Michael Jongen
The personal is political in this joyful, and poignant, novel of five women friends on the cusp of turning 40.
Tiddas is a delightful novel that covers 12 months in the lives of five friends as they struggle with life, love and lust and the consequences thereof. The story is structured around their book club, the Vixens, and the women end their year a little older, a little wiser and a little bit more worn down as they struggle with the dilemmas of career and family.
The novel opens with Izzie’s pregnancy, Veronica’s reemergence from her marriage and divorce, Xanthe desperately trying for a baby, Nadine’s drinking and Ellen’s realisation that she needs more from a man than friendship with benefits.
Anita Heiss shows the strength of the ties that bind these five, all friends since their schooldays in Mudgee, no matter how fraught their relationships may be as they reach 40 and start to take stock of their lives.
Silence fell as heavily on the tiddas as the humidity that usually blanketed the city in summer. The women looked anywhere else than at Xanthe. Izzy was pregnant. Xanthe wasn’t. Izzy never talked about wanting kids: her media projects were her babies.
Heiss has said that there is a little of herself in these characters, who are all hitting 40, as she herself has done. Izzie is at the heart of the novel, not least because it is her pregnancy – and its implications – that opens the story. Career versus family, new values versus old, are strong themes in Heiss’s writing.
There is much joy to be found in this story. Heiss has a sharp eye for dialogue and its rhythms and can throw off a funny one-liner. Conversations play an important role and move the action along:
Ellen was not going to be cornered into feeling something she was sure she didn’t.
Her tiddas laughed harder.
‘Oh no, please don’t tell me I’m in love. I can’t work with that.’ Ellen appeared genuinely distraught. ‘What should I do?’ she pleaded.
‘Tell him!’ Xanthe ordered, exasperated.
‘Tell him what?’ Ellen frowned.
‘Tell him how you feeeeel!’ Xanthe crooned.
The tiddas all nodded.
Tiddas is also a love letter to Brisbane, and the writing celebrates the fact that the women have all ended up in a city where they have a sense of place. For the Koori women in particular the need for identification with the land and water forms a strong part of their sense of self and Veronica and Nadine are also seen to have important connections to the land via their country upbringing. There is a very strong picture of five people who have found their home of choice and achieved a level of contentment with where life has taken them.
Brisbane shines as the backdrop for the women’s lives and celebrations. The cafes and restaurants are finely portrayed and there is a wonderful evocation of the vibrancy of a city emerging from being a sleepy big country town. The novel makes me want to travel there and sit in those cafes and partake of the culture.
Heiss writes strongly about identity and culture. Am I Black Enough For You? was a beautiful and important memoir that unpacked her identity from the different strands of her ancestors. Now Tiddas offers a fictional account of the strong Koori connections to ancestors and land. This is especially true when the tiddas return to Mudgee for the funeral of a much-loved aunty, in one of the strongest sections of the novel. The return helps ground the friends, and is cathartic for them all as they ponder their choices and their actions. Heiss writes about their connections to the land and the connections between the women:
Xanthe smiled at the Wiradjuri wisdom. Only her grandmother could and would say out loud what she needed to hear. It was her wisdom but she offered it with such a sense of confidence it was as if it were truth from the Bible itself.
In the end these women must adjust and compromise with their men, and it is interesting that the men seem to have improved over the last decade. Maybe in the end everyone does just want to settle down with someone, have babies and grow old together?
In Tiddas Anita Heiss shows that the personal is indeed political; this is strong and meaningful fiction.
Anita Heiss Tiddas Simon & Schuster 2014 PB 368pp $29.99
Michael Jongen is a librarian who tweets as @michael_jongen and microblogs at http://larrythelibrarian.tumblr.com
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