Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Review: Ducks on the Pond, by Anne Summers

I recently read an interview by Eleanor Catton, Booker Prize winning author of The Luminaries. In the interview, Catton explains the uniqueness of novels compared to other art-forms, saying that when you read a good novel, your mind and body become so wholeheartedly drawn into it that the experience is an all-encompassing one for the reader. Nothing going on around you matters, and you want to do all you can to stay in and continue experiencing the world that's being presented to you by the author.

This all-encompassing phenomenon is one I'm familiar with. And it's one that I experienced while reading Anne Summers' remarkable autobiography, Ducks on the Pond. For those of you who don't know, Summers is an esteemed Australian writer and journalist, best known for her involvement in feminist writing, editing and publishing; including The Misogyny Factor. It was actually after reading The Misogyny Factor that I wanted to learn more about Summers, and this is how I came across Ducks on the Pond. And it didn't disappoint. Set from Summers' birth in 1945 up until 1976, I felt like I was completely transported into her world and living a double life while reading it. 

Now you may be thinking - 30 years, that's an awfully short span for an interesting autobiography. Right? Wrong. Summers' numerous achievements during that relatively short amount of time is positively astounding. From becoming heavily involved in the Australian Women's Movement in the 1970s, to opening one of the first women's-only refuges in Australia, to publishing her first book (the controversially titled Damned Whores and God's Police), it's hard to believe that Summers achieved all that she did in that little time.

However, it wasn't an easy journey. Summers' recounts growing up in the oppressively conservative era of the 1950s, where 'there were only three things a woman could do: get married and have kids, become a nun or end up an old spinster' (p.69). She details the disillusion of having to select a pathway based on these rigid archetypes, as well as the various conflicts she faced when she did not meet the expectations of her strongly Catholic family. Summers eventually left home to pursue a more liberating life, facing many challenges along the way in a world which did not support independent women. 

But while Summers did face some tough, and at times distressing, challenges, she also recounts the happier times, such as what it was like growing up during the thrilling 1960s. This was one of my favourite sections of the book, namely because the 1960s is one of my favourite eras of history, and one which I would have loved to have grown up in myself. Reading Summers' vivid accounts of going to the concerts of Bob Dylan and first discovering the music of The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Jim Morrison and the Doors was riveting - as if I had stepped back in time and was reliving it all with her. Summers captures the novelty and excitement of this era brilliantly, building up to the new ways society would re-think the social roles of men and women in the coming decade, where, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, the times they were a changin'.

Still, Summers doesn't try to gloss over how difficult it was to instigate change during this time. In this way Ducks on the Pond shed a new light on this era for me, by detailing how difficult it was for people to make changes. It can often be easy to get caught up in the excitement of the 1970s and how much change was happening then, while forgetting that there was still plenty of strong resistance against the causes people were fighting for. Nevertheless, reading about the sheer resilience and admirable persistence of Summers and her allies was inspiring and fascinating, making me question just how much effort people are willing to go to nowadays to protest against unjust causes. 

Overall Ducks on the Pond is the extraordinary story of how one woman refused to let the cultural and social boundaries of the time dictate what she could achieve. For it was Summers' firm belief in the right for women to be the subjects of their own lives which was the driving force behind so many of her actions. Summers herself realises how fortunate her life has been, largely attributing it to the power of education in freeing her. For, with education Summers says, 'I learned it was possible to have big dreams and bold ambitions. I could make my own life, and I would' (p.143). It's a fascinating, inspiring and powerful account of growing up in mid-century modern Australia, and is an Australian Story that deserves to be more widely read.

Read more: http://bloggerknown.blogspot.com/2013/02/changing-blog-page-by-page-number.html#ixzz2mUXnF3wj