Nourishment by Gerard Woodward
This book started with a really promising premise – a prisoner of war (WWII) asks his wife to write him a ‘dirty letter’. His seemingly decent and moralistic wife, Tory Pace, struggles with this request until she begins an affair with her boss, a factory owner. The affair unleashes a whirl of erotic correspondence that appears to satisfy her husband, Donald.
Before you go getting excited and thinking there are rude bits, think again, the said correspondence is never presented, merely alluded to. There are two schools of thought on this one a) the writer has decided that it’s better to leave it to the reader’s imagination or b) the writer couldn’t write convincing erotic material. Personally, I found it irritating that the letters are referred to but not presented; it’s rather like someone making constant reference to a photograph but refusing to show it. (This book is about as erotic as the sight of grey underwear left drying in a bathroom.)
Part two of the book reveals that the husband, rather than being moved by his wife’s torrid writing is really using it as collateral with his fellow inmates to gain extra chocolate, food and other prison benefits. It’s at this point that the utterly uncharming character Donald Pace begins to be revealed. Meanwhile, Tory’s affair has ended leaving her holding a baby, ‘Branson’. She passes the child off as an orphan of the blitz.
Donald returns home with a leg injury, he refuses to work despite having a family to support, he sponges off his mother-in-law and also cruelly ignores baby Branson. Eventually, Donald farms out his real son, Tom, as a tyre-factory apprentice to earn money for the family. Young Tom, perhaps the book’s only appealing character and a budding inventor is the tragedy of this book. The repellant Donald destroys Tom’s university hopes by selling him into a life of drudgery and despair, which results in Tom committing suicide.
Grieving Tory continues her work as a lavatory assistant and begins a fairly meaningless friendship with one head scarfed ‘Grace’ from Melbourne.
The other Pace children, Paulette and Albertina are characters that are never developed and appear only as afterthoughts (why bother?); the male children in the family are only worthy of the author’s interest.
At Tom’s death I lost interest in this work. I began to dislike both parents, not only Donald but also the weak mother, Tory. The two central characters man and wife, in the end are surprisingly mundane and ugly. The author doesn’t stop there but also denigrates the quite human character of the mother-in-law, after she is dead and her letters reveal an affair. Was this supposed to be some kind of clever literary device to underline the theme? It didn’t work, and only alienated the reader further.
Gerard Woodward is a lecturer – was this premise his own or something a clever student thought of? (Pure conjecture!) The themes of greed, starvation and sex might have been brilliant in the hands of another writer.
Ultimately, I became unwilling to spend one more moment in the company of Tory Pace writer-of-erotic-literature and lavatory attendant. In fact, I was tempted to flush the book down the porcelain portal myself.
The first part of the book had me, like the beginning of a love affair. The second part had me throwing it at the wall and demanding an immediate divorce.
RATING Never judge a book by its attractive retro-style cover