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In Full View

Lily Brett
Pan MacMillan, 1997. 355pp
ISBN: 0 7329 0895 7

review by Ann Skea

Lily Brett is a fine writer but her work is often painfully revealing. She is expert, however, at using laughter to temper the pain, so her personal revelations are gossipy, hilarious and harrowing in almost equal measure.

These nine essays deal with big issues like ageing, sex, death, food and love. And with some other equally absorbing issues like interviewing Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, and everyone who was anyone in the rock and pop worlds for a rock newspaper; moving from Australia to New York - "We all spoke English but not the same English...I tried some alternative pronunciations 'Raice, reace, roice'. Nothing worked."; and coping with a daughter's revelation that she is gay.

A constant theme in this book is Brett's new-found passion for exercise. A compulsive eater and dieter all her life, she forged her school bank-book when she was seven to buy biscuits and since then has been on "every diet known to mankind". Now, she has discovered power-walking, weight-lifting and healthy eating and she is as obsessive and preachy about it as any new religious convert. But she acknowledges that her concern with her body has much to do with growing up with parents who had survived the horrors of Lodz and Auschwitz:

"I created this havoc myself because of a complicated confluence of history and family. Death camps, starvation, greed, a beautiful mother who'd lost everything except her looks. It was a heady brew".

As in Brett's poetry and novels, the need to piece together the fragments that she has gradually learned about her parents' past, and to deal with the trauma they unwittingly bequeathed her, underlies everything in these essays. But she learned early that being funny paid dividends, both at home with her mother, and in communication with others. Telling stories, too, is a skill she learned in childhood and has practised all her life. Both these skills are used to their full in these essay, which give us a very candid, very human, sometimes embarrassing, "Full View" picture of the complex life and mind of Lily Brett.

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