KIM KELLY Wild Chicory. Reviewed by Kylie Mason
What does it take to move your family halfway around the world? Who tells the stories of ordinary people?
Brigid is nine years old and loves nothing better than to listen to her grandmother’s yarns. There’s the tale of Lucky Pete and the matches, and the one about the mischievous little milkmaid. There’s the tragic tale, too, of Dan Kennedy, who sold his family’s ancestral land in Ireland to sail with his wife and their 13 children to New South Wales. But Brigid wants to tell her own stories, and one afternoon, while she waits with her grandmother in her grandparents’ immaculate little flat, she decides to make a start on writing them down:
I sneak over to the radiogram, at the other end of the sofa, where I’ve left my book. It’s just an old school book that I’m scribbling in the back of, to use up the pages. I’ll write a story of my own now. I’ll write one for Grandma and Granddad.
After four historical novels, Kim Kelly has turned to her family’s stories – and those of her husband’s family – to create her new novella, Wild Chicory. As she says in the author’s note:
This is a story spun from my admiration for the economic refugees who have contributed to Australia from all over the world, all you brave wanderers, the ordinary hard-working dreamers who have made and continue to make our country what it is: a colourful patchwork of beauty and bigotry both, all sewn together with love.
Wild Chicory is also the story of how Kelly became a writer, how growing up being told fables and fairy tales inspired her love of stories and her desire to share them with readers. Her passion for writing shines in this novella, and her skill with language makes for a glorious and engaging journey through the stories of Brigid’s family. Readers will be swept up by the cracking immediacy of the prose, as though they’ve been welcomed into a raucous Irish home and sat by the fire to be plied with entertaining tales and a hearty meal. Kelly’s mastery of narrative structure means each tale is expertly woven into a fascinating family tree – each branch and root is given room to breathe within the larger composition and infused with joy and sorrow, but always treated with respect. Through the legends of the Kennedys’ voyage from Ireland to Australia, and later, of Jim O’Halligan, and of the Bozskos from Poland, Kelly gives faces and names to the experiences of so many Australian families: people who are hard-working but disadvantaged, disenfranchised and dispirited, searching for a better future for themselves and their children:
When he heard the name Australia, he knew it only as a place of punishment, for his own great-grandfather had been sent there for running guns during the Irish Rebellion … so Jim O’Halligan did not especially want to go there himself. Go there he would, though.
Kim Kelly’s Wild Chicory is told with wit, warmth and courage. It’s an ode to the splendour to be found in a simple life and the hope for something better, even if you must risk everything to achieve it. It is a celebration of the love to be found in families, wherever they may settle.
Kim Kelly Wild Chicory The Author People 2016 PB 112pp $14.99
Kylie Mason is a freelance book editor based in Sydney.
You can buy this book from Booktopia here.
To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.