True to my Inner Senshi persona of Sailormoon (known to be notoriously late and unreliable), I am more than fortnight late in posting my response to last month’s Inner Senshi Book Club title, Marchetta’s Looking for Alibrandi. (This tardiness is primarily due to my frantic churning of a Masters dissertation as well as moving from England to Ireland, but I still like the Usagi/Sailormoon reason better.)
Marchetta’s Looking for Alibrandi is a coming-of-age story set in Sydney, centred on Josephine Alibrandi, an Italian Australian in her final year of high school. I’m going to jump straight into the discussion questions, so here we go!
I want you to consider:
How do the structural features (such as narrative mode and genre) shape the meaning of the text? If ineffective, how do you think this could be improved?
For the most part, I thought the novel form was excellent in portraying Marchetta’s story. The pacing was good, and the first-person narrator worked well in exploring Josephine’s various states of mind. The bildungsroman aspect of the novel also allowed Marchetta to shape Josephine as a character who develops throughout the course of the story, culminating in a set of realisations that is sincere and well-expressed. My other problem with the structure is the dramatic ways in which Marchetta ends each chapter, as if she had been trying to sum up the main ideas of the chapter—and sometimes of the novel up till that point—in a paragraph or two. I found this didacticism extremely irritating and thought it detracted from what was otherwise a very enjoyable read.
Samantha R is interested in knowing:
Did the book meet your expectations, or were you disappointed? Why or why not?
I went into the book without any expectations, and I think that worked to my advantage because I found myself being engrossed in the story. I must admit here that I have quite a personal tendency (which is perhaps a bad habit of mine) to think not-so-highly of Australian writers, particularly since some of the more ‘acclaimed’ folks and their ‘masterpieces’ bore me to death. Despite this, after I started the book, I spent every opportunity reading it—to the extent where I stayed up in my hotel room between long days of an academic conference I attended, just so I could finish the book! (Now I don’t want to hype this book too much in case I raise your expectations, because then you might end up being disappointed…)
Meghan is wondering:
Do you feel the cover reflected the story well? Why or why not?
I wasn’t too fond of the cover of the copy I had, though I think it’s a still from a film adaptation. This is primarily because the girl on my cover doesn’t wear glasses, and Josephine does! (Yes, I’m pedantic like that. You might think the same, if you got a wispy five-foot-seven maiden on the cover of The Hobbit.)
Angel would like you to think about:
Was there a theme that jumped out strongly in the story? Did it fit the development of the characters?
The main theme that jumped out was ‘Belonging’, which happens to be the current Area of Study topic for the Higher School Certificate in New South Wales. I’m not sure if Looking for Alibrandi is a core text, but the novel would be excellent for the topic. The theme of belonging (which includes searching for belonging, and the lack of belonging) is exemplified on so many levels: familial, cultural, social. It’s also crucial to Josephine’s development, and I thought it was handled very well throughout, with each sub-theme reaching its appropriate conclusions (she says, wanting to keep this relatively spoiler-free).
Aimee’s question for you is:
How well does the setting contribute to the story? (Would a different setting have affected the book significantly?)
In some ways, the setting of Sydney is the story—the cultural background, the characters, the plot and themes wouldn’t exist without it. As I’m writing this post (in my new house in Belfast) about a book I read in Spain, it’s been eleven months since I left Sydney to do a one-year MA in England. I’ve been travelling so much lately it’s become difficult to grasp a sense of home, but I found those roots in Looking for Alibrandi. The book is simply littered with Australian mannerisms, slang, references, geography—you name it—and all those things are integral to Josephine’s identity. The main conflicts she faces are based on her cultural background (which could only be explored due to Sydney’s multiculturalism) and the tension with her peers (which was made possible by Sydney’s geography). And of course, I lapped it all up because a) I’m in a similar position culturally (as a Chinese-Australian), and b) I’ve lived in all the areas mentioned in the novel. In fact, I kept trying to pick out which particular pizza place in Glebe they went to in one of the earlier chapters. Marchetta has definitely brought the city of Sydney to life here.
This month’s host, Samantha R, has a bonus question:
Family, culture and identity all play a large role in Looking for Alibrandi. How do you feel Marchetta dealt with these issues?
Given Marchetta was appealing to a broad, primarily young-adult audience consisting of readers from all sorts of cultural backgrounds (meaning ‘ethnics’ and ‘Australians’ alike), I think she did a marvellous job of portraying all three themes, which are so intrinsically linked to Josephine’s heritage. However, as someone who has first-hand experiences of a mixed cultural background, I do think a lot of the subtlety is lost. I understand that Josephine is a strong and expressive young lady, and again, I understand Marchetta has a specific target audience, but I felt a lot of the treatment with cultural differences and identity was too blunt and almost crass. Consequently, I was a little disappointed with Marchetta’s portrayal of having one foot in each side of the cultural divide.
Here’s what the Inner Senshi think about the novel:
Read Looking for Alibrandi? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
This month, we’ve been reading Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye—you can find the discussions questions here. We’ll be posting our responses in about a fortnight, so watch this space!