Roberta ‘Bertie’ Lightfoot suffers from polio as a child, and is helped through it by her tough-minded mother, along with the paper and pencils given to her by her father. The paper and pencils are a way into art, and from this point on there will be a struggle between the young artist and her beloved but overbearing mother. The family moves to Port Moresby in 1955, where a whole new world awaits. Bertie claims she can see ‘colours’ (auras) and so can often tell the truth about people, but this ability is also stifled. The Beloved is a vivid bildungsroman with believable characters and intense dramatic events. Tension arises not only from the relationship between Bertie and her mother (and the reader’s empathy for both of them), but the relationship between Bertie’s parents, and some of the immediate dangers of the Papua New Guinea environment. Annah Faulkner, winner of the 2011 Queensland Premier’s Award for an Emerging Writer, handles her characters’ desires and secrets tenderly. The novel is about two strong identities coming up against one another, the way passion (and art) can overtake a person’s very being, and the damaging effects of ‘wanting the best’ for a child who already knows who they are and what they want.
Angela Meyer is a writer, blogger (literaryminded.com.au) and former acting editor of Books+Publishing magazine. This review first appeared in the July 2012 issue of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here. This book was longlisted for the 2013 Miles Franklin Literary Award.